Leah Cypess, Mistwood

In the forest, lived a girl. Only she wasn’t really a girl. She was the King’s Shifter, bound magically to protect him from all harm. And now the Prince has come to bind her to him, once more. Only … it’s more complicated than that. Way more complicated. She has to figure out who and what she really is before she betrays herself and the man she loves before she even realizes who she is or that she loves him.

Some books are like dreams. You dream them, then you want to dream them again.

This is one of those books. There are few recent books that actually have something in them of the enchantment I felt years ago, reading books like The Forgotten Beasts of Eld or Bridge of Birds.

This one comes awfully close. Dream with me a moment …

Ven stood with his eyes closed, swaying unsteadily on his feet. The air around him was full of shimmering translucent colors, like sunlight seen through lowered eyelashes, patternless and beautiful and threatening all at once.

Enough said! Read it.

April Genevie Tucholke, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Violet is a poor little not-rich girl. At 17, she lives in a run-down mansion with her brother Luke, and nobody else, because her (perhaps a bit irresponsible) artist parents have taken off for Europe and her grandmother, Freddie, recently died. And she needs money to make ends meet, because the money her parents left before they took off has just run out. She puts an add out to rent the guest cottage — but does not expect anyone to answer. That’s why, when handsome River West drives up in a classic car, she doesn’t know how to react to him. Maybe she’s already half in love with him, after five minutes. There’s no question that he is rich, and handsome, and very fun to be with. But wherever he goes, bad things happen …

I’m not quite sure whether I should classify this book as YA fantasy or YA horror. It’s got elements of both. What’s scary about it is how effectively we find ourselves seeing River West through Violet’s eyes. It’s a creeping sensation, one that sneaks up on you. The more you know, the more horrific the situation becomes, yet like Violet, you don’t actually want to escape from it.

This is a really, really good book. Read it. Or don’t, if you’re the kind that gets nightmares. Yet the wonderful — and horrific — thing is, that at the end, you have the sense that River and Violet aren’t done with each other. Oh, no. Not at all.

The sequel should be fun.

(I bought this book after a friend recommended it. I have no other connection with the autho or publisher)

Rachel Hawkins, School Spirits

She’s been raised to hunt monsters. But when Izzy nearly gets killed by a vampire, her mother decides she needs to try something simple and easy for a change. Like handle a simple school haunting. At a high school. Which means enrolling as a student.

School? What’s school, when you’re ten kinds of ninja. Should be a piece of cake.

Not.

This is a fast, fun read, and if you’re wanting what this book promises, it delivers.

The girl’s name is Isolde. Mom is Aislinn. Pronounced Ashleen. There’s a wizard trapped in a mirror, a witch raising the dead, a wild party with a police raid.

Naturally she falls in love. With a high school student. And doesn’t want to leave.

I’ll classify this one as around a three out of five. It’s fun, if a bit too much of a perfect tongue-in-cheek romp down a bunch of urban fantasy tropes. Definitely worth a read.

(I got this book from the local library. I have no connection with author or publisher.)

Elizabeth Knox, Mortal Fire

Canny is different. She knows it, but she doesn’t know how. She simply knows that she doesn’t quite fit in with other kids. She’s the native kid in a classroom full of Anglos. She’s the girl who’s helping her team win the National Mathematics competition, who perceives mathematical relationships. When she sees a bridge, she sees not the physical shape, but what makes it strong. Sometimes, she sees a hint of something more, as if someone told that bridge to be stronger than it had any right to be, and it obeyed. But Canny has no idea that she has access to magic, until she goes on vacation to a distant rural corner of the country, and sees a house, and the magic designed to keep anyone from ever noticing it or trying to reach it.

I love it when a fantasy book actually has a concept of magic that isn’t off someone’s cookie-cutter list of traditional ways to conceive of magic. That’s this book all over.

I love it when a fantasy book has a deep sense of place, when the locations come alive. This book is clearly set in a fantasy alt-New Zealand called Southland; but what’s so great about it is not the New Zealand-ness, but the rootedness that comes from drawing on what is different about that place and time, compared to a more usual setting.

I love it when the protagonist in a fantasy isn’t Everyman or Everywoman, but has a distinctive personality. Canny is so true to the experience of the smart kid who never quite fits in. I won’t exactly say the socially awkward kid, because Canny isn’t that exactly. It’s more that she’s looking at the social world from outside. She may be able to take the pieces apart and figure out how they work, but she doesn’t live IN it. This is an experience that not all teens have — but the kids who have, like I was at that age — oh, they’ll recognize the experience instantly.

I also love it when the plot is not a standard quest, but something else — in this case, Canny’s got to figure out both her own heritage AND and the past that led to a particularly nasty magical present, involving a young man who’s trapped where he is like a fly in amber.

Great stuff. My one complaint? The author slightly undercuts the meaningfulness of Canny’s differences with other people with her plot resolution. Canny’s offered a cheap out for why she’s different (the magic made me something not wholly human). And I don’t buy it. Canny is a real, human girl, and don’t anyone forget it.

I read this book after checking it out from my local library. I have no other connection with the author or publisher.

Third time’s the trick

My coauthor, K.W. Gish, and I, are busy working on the sequel to Daughter of the Signs.

It’s an odd thing. This will actually be the third time we’ve been at this point — but then, twice, we decided that the first book needed reworking.

It’s a strange feeling now, looking back and seeing the difference between ‘ready’ and ‘we thought we were ready’.

Have a good fifteen pages we’ve both been over, and a whole load of stuff Kim wrote this summer that I’m now doing my phase of the process on.

Coauthoring is a strange process, too. You have to keep your ego out of it, and trust that your partner is working magic.

Usually that’s the way of it round this way. 🙂 So it’s a fun process.

But one that almost always brings surprises … to us. And hopefully (and pleasantly) for you, our future readers ..

Ai Mi, Under the Hawthorn Tree

Anansi International, ISBN 978-1-77089-350-4

It is 1974. The Cultural Revolution in China is in full swing. Teen student Jingqiu is sent to a distant rural village with other students who have done well in her school’s essay-writing competition. Their job: to document a ‘history of the peasants’ to be used as a school textbook. It is all very much in line with party policy. But when she meets the son of a cadre — a Communist party official — she will begin to learn what love is, even if love, real love, between the son of a cadre and a girl with a “bad class background” is not merely impossible — it is unthinkable. If their love is discovered, the consequences could be dire …

I don’t usually read books like this — I’m much more a fantasy and SF reader than a reader of romance. But this book deserves the wide readership it has gotten in China, and deserves an equally wide readership in its English translation.

What is striking about this book is the tension between youthful innocence and the world in which that innocence must live — a world in which everyone is under suspicion of bourgeois thinking, in which anyone can be denounced, and people can be banished to the country, never to return. Within this world, Jingqiu must maneuver to survive — and learn whether the love of her life loves her or is about to turn her life into another cautionary tale. The language is simple, but the effects are deep. Jingqiu’s innocence provides a lens that makes the corruption around her all the more heart-rending because she takes it completely for granted.

Read this book. You won’t regret it.

I got an advance review copy of this book at Book Expo America. I have no other connection with the publisher. It will be released in October, 2013.

The Brightstone Saga, by Paul B. Thompson

Book I: The Brightworking, ISBN 978-1-4644-0169-5, 160 pages.
Book II: The Fortune-Teller, ISBN 978-1-4644-0265-4, 160 pages.
Book III: The Battle for the Brightstone, ISBN 978-1-4644-0267-8, 176 pages.

Summary
The boy Mikal is ‘gleaned’ by the magician’s guild, and brought to their guild-house far from his home. There he makes friends with a girl named Lyra, and becomes apprentice to the magician Harlano.

Unfortunately, Harlano is up to no good, and Mikal and Lyra have to work together to survive. They escape the ruin of the guild-house, carrying a talking head — far more important and powerful than they initially realize — and try to make a new life.

But Harlano is not done with them. He wants the talking head back. He wants to destroy the Brightstone, the source of all magic, and if Mikal and Lyra don’t find a way to stop him, maybe he will end the world as they know it.

Comments
This is a middle-grade fantasy. Each volume is slim, and the style and action are very much suited to a middle-grade audience. For an adult reader, this sometimes has its disadvantages. The world just — happens. Bad things just — happen. Sometimes, unexpected good things — happen. The kids take everything in stride. But that’s probably true to the way a middle-grade reader experiences the world. Kids in an adult world find that things — happen — to them, and they have to deal.

There’s a lot here for a reader to love. The action is nonstop. The characters are lively and determined. The adventures are presented pretty vividly.

All in all, if you have a middle-grade reader looking for a fun fantasy read, these books are a good choice for a gift. It’ll be an easy read, and I think most middle-grade readers, especially boys, will find themselves really identifying with Mikal’s struggles.

I received free copies of these books at Book Expo America, including an advance review copy of The Battle for the Brightstone. I have no other connection with the author or the publisher.

Jay Posey, Three

On the surface this book can be described pretty simply: postapocalyptic SF. (To be precise, post-zombie-apocalypse with high-tech zombies.) Just below the surface, things still look familiar. The tropes come straight out of an old Western: a lone gunman with a checkered past protects a dying mother and her young son, even though all his survival instincts tell him he should leave well enough alone. To save them, he must escort them on a dangerous journey toward a distant haven.

But it would be a mistake to stay near the surface, because this book has depths.

The characters aren’t quite what you’d expect from the tropes, in part because other tropes are combined with them in unexpected ways. Are mother and son simply innocents to be rescued? Or are they more like a gangster moll and her brat on the run from the mob? Or are they perhaps some strange variant on Madonna and child, coming home from Egypt? Though the protagonist fits the Western loner-gunman trope rather closely, there are hints of something darker.

That’s another way this isn’t quite what you’d expect from the tropes. This is science fiction, but the world-building is handled like classic fantasy, where the reader is dropped into the middle of things and is expected to infer what’s going on along the way. The world that emerges is one in which the zombie apocalypse happened to a society undergoing the Singularity of futurist projection. We are all wired, and the zombies use our data-trail to hunt us down.

The book has the hard-edged, gritty feel of postapocalyptic fiction. The dialog is terse; the action sequences pound along. But don’t think you’ve escaped into a world without tenderness. It’s there, even if in some cases its encased in armor and eclipsed by the need to survive.

And don’t expect the plot to go where you expect. There are some major twists. I’ll not spoil them. But trust me, you won’t expect the ending.

This book is really, really good. Read it.

I got an advance review copy of this book at Book Expo America. I have no other connection with the author or the publisher. It will be released July 30, 2013.

An explorer's reports from worlds of the imagination …