Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dreamdark: Silksinger

Dreamdark: Silksing by Laini Taylor
September 2009

I was so excited when I open the package with this ARC inside. It was made all the better because I wasn't expecting it. A friend who reviews for an industry magazine as well as reads for various committees of ALA got a copy of the trade paper of Dreamdark: Blackbringer and the ARC of Silksinger. She never mentioned it, but passed them on to me because she remembered I was such a fan of the first book.

There was a tiny part of me that was worried about the second book. So many fantasy series have great first books, but the second book falls flat or is used to simply set up the grad ending in the third book of a trilogy. Taylor didn't fall into that trap! Silksinger is just as rich and detailed as Blackbringer, maybe more so. Her skill at world-building is astounding. Maybe it's because she's also a visual artist, but the world she created for Faeries of Dreamdark (or as the publisher seems to be calling the series now Dreamdark) feels like a place you could visit.

The characters don't play second fiddle to the world though. Taylor's characters, both 'good' and 'bad', feel real. They are multifaceted and unlike many books which jump viewpoints, the Dreamdark books don't feel choppy. Getting a peek inside the different characters' heads makes them more real and more sympathetic. This is a young adult book and I really felt that the characters, who are mostly the faerie equal to teens/twenties, acted and reacted in ways that teens will relate to and understand. I loved the fact that though the big bad guy is undeniably bad (and I'm consciously using the word bad and not evil), he does have an element of sympathy and motivation beyond just 'I was power' or 'I want money'.

Earlier I mentioned that Taylor didn't use Silksing to just set up the next book in her series, Silksinger is a full and complete story. It might be a bit difficult to just pick it up and read if you have not read Blackbringer, but it wouldn't be impossible. Silksinger picks up where Blackbringer left off for Magpie and her friends, but it also starts the story of Hirik and Whisper. Like Blackbringer, the stories pick up in progress so if you like a slow building and lots of explanation, these aren't the books for you. That being said, there was never a time I really felt that I didn't know what was going on. Taylor has a knack for explaining the history and other background of the world within the action of the story or the dialog of the characters. So most of the time there is no need for lengthy passages which explain how magic works in this world or why one clan hates another. There are a few times where this does happen, but they don't distract from the story.

I've heard critics of fantasy (of all genre's really) say that current authors depend on cliched archetypes and that nothing reads as original any more. I'd love to give them the Blackbringer books. Taylor does use fantasy archetypes. There is the quest to save the world, the poor orphan alone in the world, the young man out to regain family honor, and others. You know what, that's OK! For each of those elements, they are twists that make them fresh and new to these stories. The orphan for instance, doesn't start the book that way. The readers get to see her lose the last few members of her family and that draws them into her pain and confusion.

Though I've said Silksing is a full and complete story on it's own, it does also set up further books in the Dreamdark series. I'll be eagerly waiting to read the further adventures of Magpie, Talon and their crow family. I'm still hoping for a chance to meet Magpie's family. So it was said about Blackbringer that if you read one fantasy that year, make that the one. I'd second that for Silksinger. If you read one fantasy....if you even read one sequel, make it Silksinger and you won't be sorry!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Need by Carrue Jones

I put off reading Need by Carrie Jones for months. Even though it was recommended by a number of people. It's got a better cover than Twilight and I think maybe I was afraid that was the only think better than Twilight. I'm glad teens are reading Stephanie Meyers, but I'm not a huge fan and so I've been a bit suspicious of the newer supernatural romances.

I'm glad I finally picked the book up though. Jones does have a certain Twilight-esque feel to it. There is a girl who always seems to need to be rescued, there's a guy with a protector complex, and a semi-secret supernatural world. The differences are what make Need a much better story to me.

Zara (the damsel in distress) isn't blindly falling into traps and problems, but usually actively trying to help others and stand on her own two feet. Nick, the hero, may be stubborn and wish he could wrap Zara in cotton to protect her, but also realises that she's a person who will ultimatly do as she chooses. Even when time proves him right on more than one of his warnings to her, Nick seldome says "I told you so" or takes an additude of "Can't you see how much smarter and more capable I am than you....just do as I say" which I found quite common in many other supernatural teen romances. Maybe the difference is that Nick isn't a 100 yr old Vampire. No matter the beyond human part of the story, he's still a teenager.

Jones also did an interesting job with the mythos of her supernaturals. No happy peaceful elves who only want to protect nature, she's brought back a more traditional version, Pixies. And these Pixies arn't evil or good, they are somewhere inbetween. I could wish that we saw more of the Pixies and got more character development out of them, but what she showed was promising. No cookie cutter monster with no feelings and no morals, instead one caught in the trap fighting what he is and a girl who firmly believes that no matter who you are you can decide what and who you become. I hope this isn't the last I see of Jones and her Pixies.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman

I'm so in love. I've always liked Neil Gaiman. I liked Coroline and have been not to patiently waiting for my libraries copy of Graveyard Book to come back so I can read it again at a more relaxed pace. When the new picture book, Blueberry Girl came in I knew I'd want to read it, but it didn't really sound like Gaiman's normal and I usually hate pictures books written as a ode to my child. Books like Billy's Crystal's which basically would be a vanity press book if he weren't famous and says nothing but "Oh Boy I'm glad I'm going to be a Grampa!"

There is nothing wrong with being happy your going to be a grandparent (or parent) but don't crank out a sappy dumb picture me there are enough of them out there. And just so Billy Crystal fans out there don't think I'm picking on him....the same goes for Madonna's picture books which are slightly better and try to have a story, but are heavy handed with their message and some have messages way above a picture book audiences' age level and the same also goes for Jamie Lee Curtis' books, which I know some parents love, but leave me cold.

So I was a little leery of Blueberry Girl, after all it promised to be Niel Gaiman's version of a aren't babies great book. He wrote it as a blessing for a friend who was about to become a mom of a little girl. By the second page.....not even by the time I opened the book, I was in love. I don't know how I could have doubted Gaiman....his wishes for the little girl are eloquent and heartfelt and perfect. It's spiritual without being heavy handed about it...though to be fair I guess it leans more toward a goddess centered view. Gaiman's wishes for the girl do not end with a healthy and happy childhood, but stretch into her maturing into a strong and independent woman who is curious enough to explore and wise enough to solve life's problems (or deal with them).

Vess' artwork is in no small part why this book is so great. I didn't recognise his name, but now I'm going to go looking for more of his work. I love love love the illustrations in Blueberry Girl. The fanciful watercolors (?? I think they are watercolors anyway) are just insanely perfect with Gaiman's words. The girls in the pictures range in ages from baby through young adult and their skin tone range from pale peach to deep mocha leaving the book open for children and mothers of all ethnic backgrounds to connect with it. The illustrations also use nature as a backdrop, but there are touches of a suburban window here and a city wall there again leaving the book wide open to all who will read it.

And if all this wasn't enough for me to love the book, on the end flap there is an adorable drawling of Neil and Charles done by Vess which is probably my favorite author picture/photo of at least the last year if not ever. If there is a new mother of a baby girl or an expectant mother of a girl in your life, get her this book!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some Fantasy I've been reading

Like the last post this list will be mostly paperbacks, some are new and some are older ones which have been on my reading list but I didn't have time to read until recently.....some I don't even really count as fantasy, but that's where you will find them in the book store.

Temping Fate by Ester Friesner
Ilana is relieved to get a summer job, but she wonders if she's made the right choice when the Divine Relief Temp Agency sends her to Tabby Fabricant Textiles. When she is given an unusual typing assignment, Ilana wonders aloud why a textile business would be issuing death certificates. Georgette calmly replies, "They're not death certificates, dear....They're death receipts. We're the Fates. It's what we do." Soon Ilana discovers that everyone employed by the agency works for the gods or the heroes. A must read for myth buffs and those who remember odd summer jobs.
Friesner also wrote stories for the Chicks in Chain mail anthologies. That's where I first found her and I often seek out her books and stories when I want a slightly twisted look at things. In Temping Fate, I had a blast trying to spot all the gods, goddesses, and mythical creatures before Ilana caught on to who and what they were. Very light, lots of fun.

Second Sight by Amanda Quick
The first of Quick/Krentz's Arcane Society series, Second Sight draws readers into the romance of the Victorian age and the paranormal secrets of the Arcane Society. Twenty-year-old Venetia Milton, finding herself with no prospects of marriage since she is the sole support of her siblings and maiden aunt, decides to take matters into her own hands. She sets out to seduce the handsome Gabriel Jones - but Gabriel is the descendant of Sylvester the Alchemist and heir to the Arcane Society, a clandestine association of alchemists, scientists, and dabblers in psychic phenomena. Secrets abound in this suspenseful romance.
I'm not usually a fan of books set in Victorian England, but I did like this one. It is a romance more than a fantasy and most of the mystery/suspense plot takes a backseat to the romantic action. Again light and a quick read.

Hell to Pay by Simon Green
John Taylor is back in (not quite the latest) Nightside book. I love, love, love, love, LOVE this series. It's one of the series that brought me back to mysteries and John Taylor has become one of my favorite private eyes. In this installment, Nightside is still recovering from the Lillith Wars and John is not always the most popular guy to have around, but since the Wars his reputation has gotten even scarier. One of Nightside's richest residents calls in John to find his granddaughter. Not a problem for Nightside's first private dick with a knack for finding things, but one problem....a BIG one! Someone, or something, POWERFUL is blocking John's gift. So he has to resort to finding the girl the hard way. Along the way, he learns maybe more than he wanted to about the immortal Griffons. Can John find the girl and save the day...and make a ton of cash? Of course and as always with style....but you'll have to go find this paperback to get the details!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Some New (to me) Mysteries

I've been cycled off my library system's Youth Service Committee for a year or two. This means that this year I will have a bit more time to read more books of my choice since I won't have a Mock Newbery or a Mock Printz list to read for officially.In the past two months or so, I've used this extra time to hunt up some new series, authors, and to catch up on some I found while working on adult book lists for our BCCLS Visor site. In that time, I've also neglected to post any blogs about books (or anything else).

This will be the first of a series of posts about some of the new authors, series, and books I've read.I tend to read mostly science fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance for my own light reading, but recently I've found my way back to mysteries. In part, this is thanks to series like Vampire Files, Dresden, and even Anita Blake. While I picked them up for their humor, monsters, or fantasy aspects, I was reminded of how much I enjoy a good mystery. Here are some of my discoveries which are new or at least new to me.

Goldy Culinary Mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson
Sweet Revenge
This actually was a series I was catching up on. I first read Davidson a few years ago when I saw drawn in by the title Dying for Chocolate and the awesome cover art on the paperback. If you haven't seen it, her covers often look like yummy food at first glance, then you look again and see the dead body shaped cookie cutter, or skull in the dripping sauce. Reading Sweet Revenge was like catching up with old friends. Goldy's now married to a detective she'd met while solving some previous murders and her son is now well into his teen years plus this mystery starts with a murder in the library. I give Davidson huge kudos for actually advancing her character's stories. Often in mystery series especially, the life of the main sleuth doesn't change much, after all an author might hesitate to have the sleuth get married because some romantic tension would be lost or have a child because said child must age and what was cute and comic relief in a 9 or 10 yr old is just bratty or silly in a 14 or 15 yr old. I do start to wonder why everyone is still so shocked at murders though after all they seem to happen so often. As always the mystery is served up with a set of recipes for the not so beginner chiefs. I'd recommend these mysteries for the cold winter days when you want to curl up in your window seat or for a lazy read on the beach, but be prepared to get hungry just from reading her descriptions of food!

Sophie Metropolis Mysteries by Tori Carrington
I picked up Dirty Laundry and fell in love with Sophie Metropolis' voice. Sophie is a Greek-America from Queens who works for her Uncle as a private investigator, much to the embarrassment of her mother. While working on some mundane cases for her uncle, Sophie always seems to get involved in something more series. In Dirty Laundry, her mother who hates Sophie's job but isn't above asking Sophie to help find Uncle Tolly (Apostolis Pappas) the local dry cleaner and husband of a friend when he goes missing. There is action, some romantic tension with the hot and mysterious Jake, and of course tons of comedy with Sophie's lovable and interfering Greek-American family. I'd recommend this series for fans of Stephanie Plum mysteries or for fans of movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The mystery takes center stage, but it's the multiple (sometimes confusing to by Sophie & Readers) story lines, the family & friends who surround Sophie, and Sophie's own humor which makes the books! As soon as I finished Dirty Laundry, I went looking for Working Stiff and Foul Play. I had to hunt much hard for the first book of the series, Sophie Metropolis.

Chocoholics Mysteries -
Chocolate Puppy Puzzle by Joann Carl -
I pick this one up with high hopes. Again, I was sucked in by adorable cover art and some really cute titles...Plus CHOCOLATE how can you go wrong writing about a chocolate shop! You can. I read a couple of this series actually before I gave up, I was just so sure that I would love the characters in time, but I just never was able to connect. I was also hoping for chocolate recipes as I had gotten cookie recipes in the Hannah Swenson books and food recipes in the Goldy books. Carl did include some chocolate tips and trivia, but nothing new for me..:( I'd pass on these books unless your all out of stuff to read and need to feed your addiction whether it be for chocolate or mysteries or books in general.

Hannah Swenson Mysteries -
Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke
Technically I have not yet read this book, but I've read everything in the series up to this point. Cream Puff Murder is the 11th book about Hannah and her friends & family who live in small town Minnesota. Another culinary mystery series...Fluke's recipes are almost exclusively cookies/desserts. Hannah owns a cookie shop and for various reasons gets dragged into murder investigations. While she's a bit unwilling the first couple times, her success and her curiosity make her more bold as the series continues. Fluke, like Davidson, does advance Hannah's story and that of her other secondary characters. My one complain would be in the romance department. At this point in the stories, Hannah's been 'dating'/'seeing' whatever you want to call it, both men in her life for a long while. I don't know about them, but I'd be pretty annoyed by this time if I were them. Maybe in this book it will happen, maybe not...either way I'm looking forward to reading about the latest murder and the cookies involved! This is a great series for the baker in your life....WARNING detrimental to your diet! Every time I've tried her recipes they have come out perfect.

It Happened One Knife by Jeffrey Cohen
Set in NJ, already a plus. Punny titles...another plus. It Happened One Knife is the second book about Elliot, a all-comedy theater owner. The first Some Like It Hot-Buttered, I found while browsing the paperback in my library. It was a cute mystery with an unusual narrator. The mysteries in the two books are different. The first begins with a man found dead in the theater after the movie is over. While searching the place, the police find pirated DVDs and Elliot's projectionist goes missing. The second mystery begins because Elliot gets to meet one of his heroes of comedy and said hero tells him that his former partner murdered his wife and burned the house to hide the crime 50 yrs ago. Lots of snippets of NJ scenery, film trivia, and movie trivia too. I was more impressed with the first and was looking forward to the second, but am finding myself slogging through it a bit. These are definitely worth the read if your a NJ fan or a comedy fan, but if your not...maybe pass on these until you have surplus free time.

That's all for my recently found mysteries....