Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Changeling

Delia Sherman. Changeling.

This book is delightfully clever. Sherman's vision of New York Between, in which fairly tale creatures from all sorts of countries and mythologies mingle with new urban fairies native to New York City. The setting and ideas in this novel bring new pleasant surprises on every page. The novel tells the story of Neef, a mortal changeling girl raised among the fairies of Central Park. When she snoops into a forbidden fairy dance, she is exiled from the park and must go on a quest to be allowed to return to her home.

I love the ideas of this book. The characters and setting are excellent. Even better is the portion of the book set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I would love to see whole adventures set in this fairytale version of the museum in which the exhibits act as docents and the Curator maintains order. Neef is a darling protagonist and her adventures are daring and clever in perfect fairytale storybook fashion.

However, twice I started this book and stopped around page 50 before I finally managed to get engrossed in the story and read it all the way through. I wonder if perhaps that would not be true for someone of the reading level intended for the book (12 and up according to Penguin). Once I got through to page 55 or so, where the real adventure starts, I very much enjoyed the book, but overcoming the inertia of putting it down and not picking it up again was a serious problem for me and one that I don't understand. Intellectually I enjoyed this book very much, but for some reason it just didn't keep me coming back to it.

Anyway, this is a great book for young urban readers who will love and understand the magic of that lurks in the City. I now want to read The Good Fairies of New York for comparison purposes, and re-read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for more Metropolitan Museum action. What is it about the Met that I love so much?

Favorites: Megan Whalen Turner

Megan Whalen Turner. The Queen's Thief series.

I read The Thief and I was hooked. This series is the absolutely delightful story of Gen, a young thief sent by his king on a dangerous and nearly impossible mission to prevent a war and save the kingdom in which he grew up. I love the way Turner creates a clever, talented, resourceful hero who I nonetheless find engaging and funny rather than arrogant. He gains in power and maturity throughout the series in surprising and compelling ways. The story takes twists and turns that kept me reading avidly from one book to the next (and waiting anxiously for the third book). While Gen is clearly the hero (and personally I prefer female leads), all of the characters are interesting and the plot takes some unexpected twists and turns that kept me hurtling from page to page. It really is simply delightful storytelling at its best, and I recommend it to anyone who likes young adult fantasy and adventure.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Guilty Pleasure(s): Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter

Laurell K. Hamilton. Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter.

These are definitely a guilty pleasure. They infuriate me if I think about them too hard, and all of the errors make me want to become a copy editor, and yet I find myself staying up all night to finish them and picking them up compulsively one after another. I believe I read the 15 books in the series currently out in paperback in two or three weeks. I had the first novel, Guilty Pleasures, languishing on my bookshelf for years before I picked it up on a whim as part of my recent urban fantasy kick. They're incredibly addictive, if you don't think about them too much.

This is a series focused on Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter in the city of St. Louis. She raises zombies as a profession and consults with the police on supernatural investigations as a sideline. Over the course of the series, she faces increasingly powerful vampires, wereanimals, and various other forms of supernatural bad guys. I very much enjoyed the attempts to make a kickass female heroine with a lot of power. Sometimes it didn't work, but for the most part I appreciate the fact that she could handle herself in a fight and that the boys weren't the only ones with supernatural powers.

The best and worst aspect of this series is the sex. The novels progress from our female protagonist agonizing over who to date to lots of explicit sex scenes as it gets further into the series. Sometimes I found the scenes kind of fun, but sometimes I was overwhelmed by the amount and explicitness of the (pretty much always heterosexual) sex. I was also annoyed by the heroine's occasional stabs of conscience and the weird combination of prudery and licentiousness. The ambivalence about increasing kinkiness and the awkward attempts to reconcile old beliefs with new desires and behaviors feels very authentic as Anita struggles with her own sexuality, but it was at times annoying to read no matter how realistic it might feel.

Overall, this is a fun series with lots of good vampire, werewolf, and zombie power, complete with a kickass female lead who even sometimes manages to do some investigation. The Dresden Files are better in terms of developing the investigation and private eye aspects, but there's a lot more sex and relationships in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Overall, I'd say it's good, dirty fun but not for the faint of heart.

Favorites: Maureen Johnson

I love Maureen Johnson as much for her blog as anything else. She has an amazing, fabulous sense of humor and an irreverent wackiness that always makes me laugh.

I first picked her up because Bermudez Triangle deals with three girls who are friends while two of them struggle with coming out and their growing feelings for each other. This isn't, however, my favorite mj book - I found it a little bit traumatic. Perhaps it hits a little too close to home.

mj really impressed me with Devilish and Girl at Sea. These are sweet, fun, playful teen chicklit romances with lots of adventure and humor. They're great for reading at beaches and coffeeshops and anytime I need a pick-me-up. When I finish, I always want more. I'm super excited for Suite Scarlett, which comes out in paperback this month. I will totally be devouring it the minute it arrives!

Favorites: Boy Meets Boy

David Levithan. Boy Meets Boy

I like a lot of David Levithan's work. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is super fun and Wide Awake presents a beautifully aspirational political vision, but Boy Meets Boy is by far my favorite. It creates a high school world in which friends love and accept each other in all their queerness and individuality to such an extent that it feels like science fiction even though there's nothing futuristic about it. It feels surreal just because it has hope and acceptance instead of the pain and suppression that most of us associate with high school. I read this book while trapped in an airport and scuzzy motel in Vegas when a flight was delayed and cancelled. Even though it was the worst travel experience I've had so far in my life, I was laughing and crying and happy because of this book. I love the beautiful, hopeful, accepting world and the vibrant, unique characters that Levithan creates. This is a book for anyone who has struggled with acceptance and identity and I found it wonderfully healing for a sweet gay love story.

Favorites: Shannon Hale

I'm not even sure which Shannon Hale novel I read first or why. It may have been Austenland, because I do love a good reimagining of Pride and Prejudice and this one was quite fun.

My introduction to Shannon Hale may have been The Goose Girl, but if so it was probably because of a review from bookshelves of doom. Anyway, whatever the reason, I have read all four of the Books of Bayern. I love the fairy tale feel of Hale's stories. They're lovely, sweet, compelling stories with just a touch of magic. The vaguely medieval world is beautifully described and each of the four Bayern novels focuses on a different character, but each has a strong, compelling personality. These are books I've passed around to all my friends because it's so easy to fall in love with them!

Favorites: The Dresden Files

Jim Butcher. The Dresden Files.

I thought I'd introduce myself by telling you something about some of the books I love. My favorites change frequently, but I've been on an urban fantasy kick recently, and my love for The Dresden Files series is both a cause and a symptom. I picked up Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1) on a whim, and pretty much stayed up all night reading it. I read the whole series compulsively and now I'm dying for more. I can't wait for Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, Book 11) to come out in paperback. I love the combination of the fantasy genre with the hardboiled independent protagonist of a mystery novel, and Jim Butcher does it just right!

The Dresden Files focus on Harry Dresden, a wizard in Chicago as he fights vampires, faeries, warewolves and even other wizards, when he only wants his wizarding skills to support himself as a private eye. Soon, he'd consulting for the police and fighting plots within plots in supernatural politics. The books have an amazing sense of humor and great character development, and I highly recommend them for anyone who likes urban fantasy for more than just the romance. Think Buffy meets Raymond Chandler.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hello, internet

I'm newly amused with reading blogs about books. I've always been a bookworm of diverse interests, so I'm enjoying very much hearing a lot of different perspectives on what they're reading and what's out there. I'm a sci-fi geek at heart, and thus have been following Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi for years. I also try to keep up with the reading at The Sword and Laser and Galactic(a) Watercooler.

I'm also reading a lot of YA books. For the purpose of full disclosure: I am fully a grown up, and exceptionally over-educated, so all I can say is, they're fun, quick reads and there's a lot of really good writing in the YA classification. I started reading YA books as a break from my dissertation, and I find the genre addictive and delightful. My favorite writing about YA lit out there is at bookshelves of doom. I also totally enjoy reading the blogs of Maureen Johnson, Justine Larbalestier, and Sarah Beth Durst on a regular basis.

However, just recently I stumbled into a wider reading circle, and all of a sudden I find myself reading Wands and Worlds, SciFiChick, Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf, The Shady Glade, The Story Siren, A True Reality, YABOOKNERD, SciFiGuy, GreanBeanTeenQueen, Worth the Trip and I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?

As you can probably tell from my blog selection, I read a lot of sci-fi, fantasy, and urban fantasty, queer lit and some young adult and chicklit. But really, I'll read anything and I love to talk about fiction, so if you have suggestions, I'll take them.

My plan is to start out with a few posts about some of my favorite authors and series to sort of introduce myself and get started, but then to report as I'm reading. So we'll see how it works.