Carry On: A Review

cover art for Carry On by Rainbow RowellSimon Snow is not the chosen one anyone expected. He might not even be the chosen one we deserve. But he’s the only one we have.

Simon is supposed to be the most powerful wizard alive. But most of the time his wand doesn’t work properly, he can’t remember spells when he needs them, or he starts massive fires. All told, Simon would much rather spend his time eating sour cherry scones than trying to fight the Mysterious Humdrum–the magic eating monster that’s been tormenting Simon, and the rest of the magical world, since Simon arrived at Watford School of Magicks when he was eleven.

On top of that Simon’s girlfriend just dumped him and his roommate is missing. Baz being out of the picture might actually be a plus. Except Baz is from one of the most notoriously evil magic families out there. Also he’s a vampire so he could be causing all sorts of trouble while he’s away.

Simon doesn’t know what to expect from his last year at Watford but he certainly didn’t realized he’d be spending so much of it worried about Baz–or at least worried about Baz hurting people–in Carry On (2015) by Rainbow Rowell.

Carry On is partially inspired by Rowell’s earlier novel Fangirl–a book which included slash fiction written by one character about a Harry Potter-esque series. Rowell takes those elements and reworks them in this story. I will say up front that this book was a lot more fun and a lot smarter than I expected it to be given the story’s origins.

Carry On is witty, sexy, and just familiar enough to catch the in-jokes. It also offers a fascinating commentary on what it means to have a chosen path only to realize it might not be the path you want—aside from being completely wrong–as Simon struggles to figure out what his future will look like outside of Watford.

The novel alternates narration between Simon and Baz (who is tragically absent for the novel’s first act) which works well to showcase the dynamic between these characters while also amping up the tension as they shift somewhat reluctantly–and much to their own dismay–from sworn enemies to boyfriend and boyfriend. While the romance is fun, the subversion of the usual nemesis tropes are also well done as both Simon and Baz are forced to admit that the person they thought they hated above all others might also be the only one who might understand them.

I will say I still have trepidation about whether this romance between two boys is a story that a straight woman should be telling. But at the same time, Baz is a vampire and Simon is a wizard so there are a lot of reasons this book is positioned differently than if it were a truly contemporary story.

Carry On is a fun, campy boarding school fantasy with two precious idiots doing the best they can. Recommended for readers who have read Harry Potter a zillion times and are looking for something different but still familiar.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, Fence by C. S. Pacat, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, Timekeeper by Tara Sim, Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

Fake Blood: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Fake Blood by Whitney GardnerAJ didn’t grow over the summer. He didn’t have any exciting adventures. It feels like he’s starting seventh grade exactly the same while his best friends are charging full speed ahead.

AJ’s crush on Nia Winters is in the same place too–standing totally still. Nia is cool and interesting and obsessed with vampires so AJ is pretty sure she’d never like someone as vanilla as he is.

After they are paired for a project on Transylvania, AJ hatches the perfect plan to win Nia over: Pretend to be a vampire! Changing his hair and attitude to be more like a vampire gets Nia’s attention–but not the way he imagined when she reveals that she doesn’t like vampires. She slays them.

While AJ tries to convince his crush that she should hang out with him instead of staking him, both Nia and AJ realize that there are bigger threats lurking in Spoons Middle School in Fake Blood (2018) by Whitney Gardner.

Fake Blood is Gardner’s graphic novel and middle grade debut.

Fake Blood is a delightful send up of some familiar vampire tropes including charming nods to Buffy and Twilight. Gardner’s full color artwork is vibrant with clear panels and distinct characters. AJ’s transformation from seventh grade boy to vampire is handled especially well with a lot of visual cues adding to the story.

Fake Blood is a funny and authentic story about embracing individuality and learning that doing things your own way is often the best way to get through life. And, of course, it’s also filled with tips for fighting vampires–whoever they may be. Recommended for readers who looking for something a little funnier and a little quirkier than your typical paranormal romance fare.

Possible Pairings: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell, Slayer by Kiersten White

Vampire Academy: A Review

Vampire Academy by Richelle MeadRose Hathaway and her best friend Lissa Dragomir have been on the run for two years. After so long away from St. Vladimir’s Academy, the girls thought they were finally free. They were wrong.

Dragged back the Academy, Lissa is once again drawn into plots and machinations as Moroi vampire princess. Rose’s return is less welcome and comes with several firm conditions including extra lessons from an equally attractive and infuriating instructor. Worse, no matter how much Rose uses her dhampir strength and her bond with Lissa, it might not be enough to keep the other girl safe.

With danger circling from every side, Rose and Lissa can only trust each other in Vampire Academy (2007) by Richelle Mead.

Vampire Academy is the first book in Mead’s Vampire Academy series.

Vampire Academy is a breath of fresh air in the world of paranormal (romance). Mead has created clever, capable heroines in both Rose and Lissa. The premise here is also interesting with different castes/types of vampires as well as loads of intrigue and action.

Although Mead throws lots of world-specific vocabulary at readers early on, the story moves as fast clip without falling into the usual paranormal fantasy tropes. The story here is interesting and will definitely have appeal for readers looking for a campy paranormal–romance or otherwise as this does include some romance elements in addition to other plots.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger,  Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Midwinterblood: A Review

“The sun does not go down.

“This is the first thing Eric Seven notices about Blessed Island. There will be many other strange things that he will notice, before the forgetting takes hold of him, but that will come later.”

cover art for Midwinterblood by Marcus SedgwickIn June 2073, Eric Seven arrives at Blessed Island chasing a story. It isn’t the first time his work as a journalist has brought him to the far reaches of society. Nor is it the first time he has encountered strange locals.

But as Eric investigates the strange island and a rare flower rumored to be found there, Eric also begins to feel a strange familiarity toward the island–especially toward a local woman named Merle.

As Eric and Merle come closer to the truth it becomes apparent that their journey, if it is a journey, is only just beginning. Or perhaps just nearing its conclusion in Midwinterblood (2011) by Marcus Sedgwick.

Midwinterblood was the winner of the Printz Award in 2014.

Midwinterblood presents seven intersecting stories of love, loss and rebirth in this deceptively slim volume. Although the stories vary in scope, all are grounded firmly in the landscape of Blessed Island where the more things change, the more some constants remain the same.

These stories span time and theme ranging from the unique problems faced by an archaeologist hoping to unearth a find to make a career to a story of two children in a viking colony plagued by an impossible monster. The loves presented here come in all forms with varying results for those involved.

Sedgwick presents a carefully plotted and delicate story over the course of this novel. It is very rare for a book to work as well when read forwards as it does read backwards, but Midwinterblood does just that. With plot points that transcend individual stories this is a rich, meditative story that begs to be read and read again.

Possible Pairings: The Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox, The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Etiquette & Espionage: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail CarrigerFourteen-year-old Sophronia is used to her mother’s disapproval and punishments. Even the idle threats of being sent to live with vampires hold little sway when Sophronia is faced with a situation in which she can attempt something daring instead of being painfully, boringly proper.

What Sophronia could not have guessed is that Mumsy would take matters further by sending Sophronia to a finishing school. Nor could she have anticipated exactly what that will mean when the initial pronouncement is handed down.

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is unlike any finishing school Sophronia could have fathomed. While she can’t be completely sure, Sophronia is fairly certain Mumsy didn’t have this kind of finishing in mind when she sent Sophronia away.

But then who is Sophronia to argue when there are friends to be made with fledgling evil geniuses, inventors with whom to collaborate and all manners of conspiracies to investigate. Manners and dress will certainly be in the curriculum. But so will diversion and deceit in Etiquette & Espionage (2013) by Gail Carriger.

Find it on Bookshop.

Etiquette & Espionage is the first in Carriger’s YA Finishing School series. It is set in the same world as her bestselling Parasol Protectorate series for adults.*

Carriger has already mastered the skills required to write a supernatural, steampunk, historical fantasy. Her alternate history with elements of steampunk and fantasy tropes blend together exceptionally well with the Austen-like tone of her narration.

The world is well-realized and fascinating although often under explained. It’s impossible to say for sure but it seems likely some shorthand was used in world building (or at least world explaining) since so much groundwork has been laid in the earlier Parasol Protectorate books.

With virtually zero romantic entanglements and numerous high-action sequences Etiquette & Espionage is ideal for readers of any age. The story handles several topics (race and class divisions, friendship, wealth and status) very well adding a nice dimension to the plot. At the same time, unfortunately, the pacing often feels off with an immense amount of  setup in the first half of the novel only to lead to a plot resolution that feels rushed in the final pages.

Etiquette & Espionage is a fine start to a series with a cast of characters that are appealing in every sense even if their world might take a bit too long to come fully into focus.

*Etiquette & Espionage functions as a standalone but readers of both series will likely recognize characters in common.

Possible Pairings: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare, Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman,  My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackWhen Tana wakes up after the Sundown Party it takes her a few moments to realize everything has gone horribly wrong.

Then she sees the blood.

Then she starts passing the dead bodies.

Then she hears the vampires waiting in the dark.

The only other survivors of the massacre are Tana’s ex-boyfriend–infected and on the verge of becoming a vampire himself–and a strange boy who seems to know much more than he says.

Possibly infected and with no other options, Tana starts heading to the Coldtown in Springfield. This walled city is supposed to keep the monsters from running loose in the rest of the world. It’s supposed to contain the vampires and leave them to rule a decadent city filled with fresh blood and ruin.

Entering Coldtown is a terrible risk. But it’s also the only option Tana can think of that might actually save all three of them. With time running out and no good choices, Tana will have to embrace the monsters in Coldtown if she wants to avoid becoming one in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (2013) by Holly Black.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is an unflinching story of vampires and a meditation of what it really means to fear the monsters in the shadows–especially when you might become one of those same monsters.

A slow beginning (in the first hundred pages) is easily forgiven as the story gains momentum within the walls of Coldtown. Flashbacks and vignettes from other characters help to evoke a well-realized world for both the human and vampire characters. Epigraphs at the start of each chapter from famous writers’ musings on death add a suitably eerie tone to the book.

Tana is a pragmatic, sympathetic heroine who tries to make the right choices even when she is forced to admit that sometimes there are no good choices. Her progression throughout the story is completely logical and marks her as an appealing and utterly real character complete with flaws and poorly made plans.

Black’s vampires are a terrifying blend of charm and sharp teeth in a story that understands the unique blend of terror and fascination commonly associated with vampires (or any monsters really). This story is gory, violent, and sometimes even disgusting. Yet, like the vampires themselves, it is still so delightfully compelling.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Halloween Reads: Spooky Stories and Spine-Tingling Books

Happy Halloween!

I’ve written off October for most other reasons but I still stubbornly enjoy Halloween (even with it essentially being cancelled last year thanks to Hurricane Sandy). I will be handing out candy later tonight even though I won’t be dressing up or going to any parties. To keep in the spirit though I do have to spooky Halloween-appropriate reads to share with all of you, dear readers!

Companions of the Night coverFire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne JonesThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackOnce a Witch coverConjured by Sarah Beth DurstThe Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

  • Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde: The first vampire book I read and still arguably the best. Ethan is fascinating and repellant and Kerry is one of my favorite heroines.
  • Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones: Honestly, you should read this retelling of Tam Lin any time of year, but with the spooky, atmospheric setting and Polly’s eerie double memories it’s a most excellent read for this time of year.
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black: This books is icky and gory and creepy but it’s also romantic and hopeful. Leave it to Holly Black to make a book about monsters into something kind of beautiful.
  • Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough: I talk about this book all the time too. But what’s Halloween without a story about a witch?
  • Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst: It was a touch call to put this one or Drink, Slay, Love on the list but with a heroine who knows nothing of her past and is being hunted by a serial killer, this one definitely is the scariest.
  • The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni: Verity Boone expects to find her father and her fiance when she returns to her birthplace. And she does find them. But she also finds two caged graves and a haunting secret.
  • Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff: A heat wave is on, a killer is on the loose, and only Hanna and the ghost of her best friend can stop the killer before it’s too late.
  • The Archived by Victoria Schwab: A library where the dead are stored like books? Enough said.
  • The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: London. Ghosts. A Jack the Ripper copycat. And a girl who can see ghosts. The only problem? The ghosts can see her too.
  • The Diviners by Libba Bray: Evie is thrilled to be exiled to New York when her flapper antics go too far. But strange things are happening to city and Evie isn’t the only one heading East. Dark forces are coming too. Darker than anything Evie has ever seen before.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix: Sabriel is her father’s daughter, learning his work as Abhorsen using their bells to send the dead back where they belong. But when her father disappears Sabriel is left alone to face a monstrous creature and find out the truth about the old kingdom.

Paper Valentine by Brenna YovanoffThe Archived by Victoria SchwabThe Name of the Star by Maureen JohnsonThe Diviners coversabriel

The Clockwork Scarab: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen GleasonMina Holmes is used to working alone. It’s hard enough to get anyone to take her deductive abilities seriously as a young woman in London in 1889. It’s almost impossible to get anyone to appreciate them–even if she is the daughter of Mycroft Holmes and the niece of Sherlock Holmes.

Evaline Stoker, on the other hand, is a veritable social butterfly by comparison. Much to her own chagrin Evaline finds herself spending far too much time at social gatherings when she could be using her preternatural strength and speed for their intended purposes–killing vampires.

This unlikely pair is brought together one foggy night in London with a summons to the British Museum. Soon both young women are recruited into the service of the Princess of Wales for a mission of the utmost secrecy.

Young women of quality are dying in London and it’s up to Stoker and Holmes to figure out why.

But with obstacles at every turn and odious young men underestimating their skills, both young women will have to stay sharp to solve this supernatural mystery before it’s too late in The Clockwork Scarab (2013) by Colleen Gleason.

Gleason creates an intriguing alternate London where Sherlock Holmes is real and the Stoker family is the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. In this London electricity is illegal and steampunk elements abound in this steam-powered city.

These backdrop elements, combined with a mystery based in Egyptology (the scarab on the cover is not just for show) promise a most excellent mystery novel with just a few fantastical elements to taste.

Then a time traveler shows up.

Then not just one but both heroines find themselves in painfully contrived love triangles.

And then one of the biggest mysteries of the story isn’t resolved at the end of the book. (It is clearly going to be a thread that develops in later installments, but still.)

The Clockwork Scarab has so much potential that, unfortunately, is never realized as the plot becomes mired in these extraneous plot points and devices.

Mina and Evaline are interesting heroines (though far too quick to gush over handsome young men–because all of the men in this book are handsome) though their first person narrations often sound surprisingly similar.

Short on violence and high on action, this is an ideal choice for younger readers looking for excitement without the gore. It would also be a great stepping stone for readers who want to move onto something else besides the Theodosia books or the Kane Chronicles. That said, readers looking for a purer steampunk read (or a better plotted mystery) would be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Sorcery and Cecelia by Caroline Stevemer and Patricia C. Wrede, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Black City: A Review

Black City by Elizabeth RichardsAlthough the war is over, things are far from peaceful in Black City. The city’s cinder block buildings still burn. Tensions are high between the Sentry rulers and the workboot commoners. The boundary wall still stands, separating the humans from the Legion ghetto where the Darklings live.

Ash Fisher is the only twin-blood Darkling left in Black City–a dubious honor when his survival hinges on blending in. Unfortunately blending in is hard when you’re a foot taller than everyone with the addition of fangs and the lack of a beating heart. Not to mention the necessity of dealing Haze to stay afloat.

Natalie Buchanan would much prefer to be in the metropolitan capital city of Centrum where she could forget about her father’s murder and the rest of her family’s troubles. Unfortunately her mother had other plans and now Natalie is struggling to fit into a city she isn’t even sure she likes.

When Ash and Natalie meet it’s intense dislike at first sight. But then why does Natalie keep thinking about Ash? And why does Ash feel so strange when Natalie is near him?

Black City is dangerous at the best of times. With rising political unrest and threats of arrest at every turn, things are only getting worse. There couldn’t be a worse time to take a stand, let alone fall in love in Black City (2012) by Elizabeth Richards.

Black City is Richards’ first novel as well as the first book in The Black City Chronicles.

Richards dives right into the action leaving little room for explanations or background information. The opening pages are somewhat confusing with a lot of new terms thrown around and many characters introduced. While some explanations are offered as the story progresses, the pacing of the story remains uneven. In an effort to build suspense, Richards plays some plot elements close to the vest. Unfortunately instead of raising curiosity most of these secrets only led to anti-climactic reveals or underwhelming or predictable elements.

Black City alternates between Ash and Natalie’s first person narrations. While the change in viewpoint is effective in terms of plot development, the two voices are impossible to distinguish save to for Ash’s use of swear words and Natalie’s sheltered view of Black City politics.

Black City itself was evocative enough to be a character in the story. It felt like a supernatural version of Gotham City come to life and was marvelously described. Sadly the characters populating it were not as compelling. Having noticed the similarities, it’s impossible to think of this book as anything but a mash-up of Twilight and The Hunger Games. That said, readers who are fans of both titles are sure to find Black City immensely entertaining.

Possible Pairings: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Legend by Marie Lu, Twiligth by Stephenie Meyer, Misfit by Jon Skovron, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Team Human: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees BrennanMel Duan is nothing if not a realist. She appreciates that vampires are a part of her town’s heritage. She understands that living with vampires nearby is a  fact of life in New Whitby. She even admits that some people do actually choose, for reasons beyond all comprehension, to willingly become vampires and give up everything (like chocolate!) for the tedium of, well, forever. When forced to, Mel can even grudgingly accept that her best friend Cathy is fascinated by vampires.

None of that means that Mel has to actually like vampires.

It certainly doesn’t mean she has to watch quietly when a vampire tromps into her school and catches Cathy’s attention. It most definitely does not mean that Mel is going to let her best friend date a vampire (named Francis of all things) when it could prove lethal on so many levels.

The only problem is Mel seems to be the only one solidly avoiding Team Vampire. Worse, Mel has a lot more to worry about than just keeping Cathy and Francis apart. Mel is used to having a lot on her plate as a high-achieving, athletic senior trying to figure out her life, but even she is going to have a hard time thwarting this romance, investigating a disappearance, working with a curt vampire cop, and trying to understand a most unusual boy in Team Human (2012) by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan.

Team Human is the first book Larbalestier and Rees Brennan have co-written. It features one consistent narrative voice.

Given the title of the story, it’s no surprise that Mel is not a vampire fan. At. All. Mel is funny, and maybe a bit snarky, but as she expounds the many, many faults with vampires* she is often just mean–a hard quality to sell in any heroine but especially in a first-person narrator.

Mel’s personality flaws, such as they are, are only magnified by the structure of Team Human. The book follows a logical progression with action, banter, jokes, and of course vampires. At the same time, there is not a lot of plot. While Mel is often shocked during the story, readers will be harder to surprise with plot elements that are sometimes more transparent than mysterious.

But for most readers all of that will be irrelevant.

Team Human was written in secret by the authors after they began wondering what it would be like if their best friend was dating a vampire. Team Human was written as the antidote to every book where the heroine runs blindly into the arms of a bloodsucking fiend and not one friend stops her to ask if she has lost her mind. In other words Team Human was written for fun. To celebrate good friends. Though she might sometimes be misguided, Mel is always good to her friends–even when it might not seem that way to them (or her).

Team Human is very funny. Readers of Larbalestier or Rees Brennan’s solo books would expect nothing less. The story gracefully walks the fine line between gravity and levity with smoothly written jokes and touching moments.

While Mel’s view of vampires is narrow at the beginning of the story, her outlook expands along with the plot and the world of the book. Team Human is a fresh take on the old vampire conventions sure to appeal to anyone who prefers their vampires with a complement of sarcasm and comedy instead of bats and shadows. A must-read for anyone who is pro-vampire, Team Human will have just as much appeal to anyone who is anti-vampire.

*Such as being cold, not funny, unable to eat chocolate.

Possible Pairings: Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (eds.)