Lovecraftian Old Ones and teen angst: the horror!

Title: The Mirrored ShardMirrored Shard cover

Author: Caitlin Kittredge

Publisher & Release Date: Delacorte, Feb 2013

The Hook: I read the first two, and was fascinated at the twists in mythology that Kittredge builds into her stories. The very personal is pitted against the good of the universe in Aoife’s choices – and I had to see if where the decision would finally fall.

The Lowdown: Aoife Grayson must face death to win back Dean, shot in the arctic north while trying to save her. But her path to the Deadlands will set her up against enemies new and old, force her to cross worlds and come face-to-face with an ancient being that knows only hatred.

Overall Impressions: A fast-paced quest to find a way to access the Deadlands, Aoife, her ghoul friend Cal and brother Conrad leap from peril to peril. There’s a distinctly creepy vibe to this book, between the villains and the dead – Dean is definitely not frolicking in the Elysian Fields. From we see of the worlds, the current structure is rotten and about to break, and the looming presence of the Old Ones makes for an interesting subtext.

The Highs: Kittredge’s world-building is excellent! I loved seeing more of the country of the Iron Lands, and the Deadlands was a creepy and intriguing version of Hell.  Great visuals and the awesome mix of magic, technology and lore that sucked me into the first book continues to intrigue. Aoife more often stood her ground in this book, or came up with clever ways to find solutions, rather than being fooled or blackmailed into disastrous decisions.

Buzzkills: Aoife’s short-sighted focus on saving those she loves at any cost have made me cringe through the entire series, especially when she should have started recognizing the danger of this around the seventh time it backfired.

Excepting the last, they bounce so quickly from enemy to enemy that there isn’t much of a build-up of tension.

Personal peeve: Dean’s nicknames for Aoife, “princess” and “darlin’.”

The Source: Public library

Disclaimer: No chocolate or other faerie ambrosia was provided by the publisher for this review.

Shh… we’re going on a dragon hunt

Cover art for A Natural History of Dragons

Title: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

Author: Marie Brennan

Publisher & Release Date: Tor Books (Macmillan), 2013

The Hook: A memoir by “the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist.” Or a fantasy novel. Your call.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

“Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.”

Overall Impressions:  For some reason, I had it in my head that this was an alternative history fantasy and the main character found dragon bones in a cliff like Mary Anning did with dinosaur bones. So wrong. Instead, it’s the story of a young woman struggling to navigate society expectations and her passion to know more and her scientist’s heart. And because Isabella tells the story as an older woman looking back, she acknowledges her at times impulsive behavior (yes, follow a strange man out of the village at night time) and lack of patience for and understanding of other cultures. And it is an impressive tale of a person not so much coming of age as coming into herself.

At 14, she disguises herself as a boy to go on a wolfdrake hunt because she wants so badly to see a dragon; she meets her husband Jacob Camherst because of their joint interest in natural history, especially dragons. When she miscarries, studying sparklings (a kind of miniature dragon) is what ultimately pulls her from her depression. When given the opportunity to meet Lord Hilford, a noted explorer and naturalist, she introduces her husband to him and encourages their friendship, eventually talking the two of them into allowing her to accompany them on his forthcoming expedition.

Brennan creates an amazing world. I kept trying to correlate it to ours – it felt like it should be, except that dragons are real. They’re not great and magical beings, but creatures her society doesn’t know that much about – curiosities to some, fascinations to others – somewhat like the great mammals of Africa to Europeans in the 19th century.

The expedition – a mix of scientific study combined with unexpected mystery and adventure – is where Isabella really starts her journey into the renowned scientist she will become. She has the opportunity to first-hand study dragons and her eyes open to other cultures. Her slow-growing friendship with Dagmira will influence how Isabella interacts with every other society she will visit.

The Highs: Brennen injected a hint of Georgette Heyer‘s writing flavor into Isabella’s story, particularly her relationship with Jacob. They like and respect each other when they marry, but they don’t really know each other, and it’s fascinating and rather beautiful to watch their relationship develop.

Isabella’s father, who may expect her to behave in a way befitting her place in society (think 1800s England) but also understands and loves her enough to give her a list of eligible men with excellent libraries and a willingness to share said library with a wife. There’s also a shorter list of those men who own Sir Richard Edgeworth’s “A Natural History of Dragons” – the book that fastened her on dragons. He tells her she doesn’t have to choose from that list but he thinks she might find those men good candidates.

I see from the publisher’s website that this will be a trilogy! I look forward to reading more of Lady Trent’s story.

Buzzkills: Spoiler [highlight to see- – Major character death].

The Source: Borrowed from public library.

No chocolate or dragon rides were exchanged for this review.

How far would you go to be with the one you love?

Cover art for If You Could Be MineTitle: If You Could Be Mine

Author: Sara Farizan

Publisher & Release Date: Algonquin Young Readers, Aug. 20, 2013

The Hook: Just read the summary.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

“So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they had before, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

“Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants in the body she wants to be loved in without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?”

Overall Impressions: Sahar is an intelligent, studious, responsible young woman living with and caring for her father, lost in grief still five years after her mother died. She wants to be a doctor and loves Nasrin. Frankly, Sahar’s awesome and Farizan does amazing things with her growth over the course of the book.

The announcement of Nasrin’s engagement shatters her carefully balanced world, and she fastens on the idea of sex reassignment surgery as a way to keep Nasrin. Her focus narrows to this goal, and she will lie and scheme her way to it.

In her quest, she begins attending Parveen’s transition support group. The stories the other members share make it clear having the reassignment surgery is not a magic reset button. Some families support them, some do not. Some find work, some do not. Their bodies may finally be right, their lives not so much, so the support group is vital to them. Their stories are both heartening and heart-rending. One member, Maryam, is miserable and she sees through Sahar. Maryam was a man in love with another man; when her brother discovered the relationship, he required the surgery or he would turn them in.

The glimpses of Iranian culture and family life are fascinating and compelling. The relationships between Sahar’s and Nasrin’s families are multi-layered, especially Nasrin’s mother.

Everyone lives in their own little piece of the world, their own understanding of how things work and net of people they know and care about. By the end, very few of the characters’ worlds are unchanged, and it all happens believably,

Nasrin, I think, doesn’t see that marrying Reza will lose her Sahar. Or rather she sees it, but she doesn’t fully grasp what this means. She does love Sahar, but she comes across as a shallower person, more immature.

Farizan poses a fascinating question: How far would you go to be with the one you love? Sahar was born female and identifies as female. The only other story I could think of that involved someone changing gender to make a relationship work was in Marvel’s Runaways, and in that case Xavian was a shape-shifter who was happy to take whatever form Karolina wanted. Would you change your sexual gender if it meant you could be with the one you loved? The tragedy is that for some people it’s not a fascinating question but a real one.

The Highs: Parveen, who is just wonderful. She has an enormous heart.

How Sahar and Ali obviously care about each other even as they don’t always see eye to eye.

The complexity of Sahar’s character as she weighs what the surgery would mean.

A particular conversation Sahar and Nasrin’s mother have near the end of the book.

Buzzkills:  Graphic (well, realistic, no punches pulled) surgery description. I read that section rather lightly.

The Source: Digital galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Disclaimer: No chocolate or Mercedes were exchanged for this review.

Antici… pation (August 2013)

August titles we think sound fascinating!

Title: Fingerprints of You

Author: Kristen Paige Madonia

Publisher & Release Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Aug. 7

The Hook: Debut novel about a teen who learns she’s pregnant, struggles with the feeling she’s repeating her mother’s mistakes, and sets off “on a cross-country road trip, intending not only to meet her father, but to figure out who she wants to be.” (And a gorgeous cover!)

Title: If You Could Be Mine

Author: Sara Farizan

Publisher & Release Date: Algonquin Young Readers, Aug. 20

The Hook: Sahar has loved her girlfriend Nasrin since they were children. But in Iran, their relationship is illegal and could even get them killed, so they meet in secret. When Nasrin’s parents announce her engagement to a young doctor, Sahar despairs – and then she learns that a man born in a woman’s body is seen as a mistake and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, she could marry Nasrin…

Title: The Bitter Kingdom

Author: Rae Carson

Publisher & Release Date: Greenwillow Books, Aug. 27

The Hook: Conclusion to the Fire and Thorns trilogy! I’m so excited to see the next part of Elisa’s story!

Title: Two Boys Kissing

Author: David Levithan

Publisher & Release Date: Knopf Books for Young Readers, Aug. 27

The Hook: “….Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.”

 

Cover art for Fingerprints of You    Cover art for If You Could Be Mine

Cover art for The Bitter Kingdom    Cover art for Two Boys Kissing