December 31, 2009

Best of 2009

You can check out my best of the year category rundown over at The Book Smugglers, but today on New Year's Eve I'm posting my Best Books of 2009 list.
Best of 2009
(in order of publication)

FYI, that's 3 urban fantasies, 6 YAs (2 contemporary, 2 urban fantasy, 2 scifi/dystopian), 2 mysteries, 1 contemporary, 1 fantasy, and 1 historical.

Best New Discovery of 2009
aka MWT, The Turner, the fantabulously gifted, clever, smarter-than-me author of the all kinds of awesome Queen's Thief series, and creator of my
Favorite Character Discovery of 2009

The Thief Eugenides

*a moment of silence, please, for my biggest character crush of the year*

As you can tell, it was a banner year and I'm looking forward to another great batch of reads and discoveries in 2010. Happy New Year!

December 30, 2009

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

It seems as though The Demon's Lexicon has been on my radar for ages now. I can't remember where I originally heard about it, but I've had a good feeling from early on, ever since I heard it was about two brothers who fought dark forces. What can I say? I'm a sucker for brothers. It's a relationship you don't often see done really well. Or not as often as you'd like. I really hoped this one was done well. As the reviews came rolling in, they all certainly seemed to indicate Sarah Rees Brennan's debut novel was spectacular. I'm only sorry it's taken me so long to get around to it. I was happy to find it nominated for a Cybils award and looked forward to it coming up in my towering nightstand stack.
A note on covers: I've posted the UK cover here because I am just so in love with it. That is what Nick looks like. Dark and confused and angry, with the silhouette of ravens and the city behind him. Not like the model dude on the U.S. cover. Sunlit and glowing and coy, with lips so pursed he must kiss you or they will fall off.

Nick and his big brother Alan are on their own. It's been that way for years now and they've learned how to cope. Real well. With their crazy madwoman-in-the-attic mother in tow, they live a life on the run, moving from town to town, dumpy apartment to dumpy apartment, avoiding the darkness that haunts their footsteps. Together, Nick with his sword and Alan with his gun, they can handle anything the bloody magicians send their way. That is until kind-hearted Alan takes in a couple of strays in need of their particular brand of expertise and all hell breaks loose in their living room. Rather the opposite of kind-hearted himself, Nick is determined not to let any harm come to him or his brother just because quirky Mae's little brother Jamie got himself a demon mark. Or three. But Alan won't abandon them and Nick won't abandon Alan. So the four of them set off together, first stop--the Goblin Market--where magical folk gather periodically and where the Ryves boys hope to acquire the information they need to remove the demon marks and fend off the Circle of magicians hunting them and the demons they ride. The novel's opening lines:
The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink.
He rescued it, wiped the steel, and absently tested the edge with his thumb while water flowed out onto the kitchen floor. Once he'd laid it aside, he realized the knees of his jeans were already soaked through.
Alan brought Nick his toolbox.
"Care to lend a hand?" Nick inquired without much hope.
"No, I'm too busy cooking," Alan said. "You do the heavy lifting around here. I'm more the sensitive intellectual type."
Nick raised his eyebrows. "Oh, get in the kitchen and bake me a pie, woman."
He peered into the cupboard again. The pipes made an ominous gurgling sound, and the bottom of the cupboard became the site of the world's tiniest waterfall.
"I can be a sensitive intellectual type as well," he said at length. "If the other option is drowning under our sink."
"Save us all from a watery grave or cook your own dinner. It's entirely up to you."
It was a compelling point. Nick could cook his own dinner, but Alan actually worked at being a good cook. He made everything from scratch, and the sizzling sound of food hitting the pan and the sudden rich smell of frying vegetables made his argument for him.
Nick glared, which was effective when dealing with everyone but his brother. Then he took the knife out of his wrist sheath, laying it carefully alongside his sword, rolled up his sleeves, and got to work.
As you can see, right from the word go you get a tangible feel for who these boys are and the intense kind of relationship they have. This was key for me because, with every page that passed, it became clear that Sarah Rees Brennan had knocked it out of the park as far as Nick and Alan go. These boys are the real deal. They were so awesome I kept picturing them as comic book heroes, busting into a den of magicians, back to back, sword and gun ablaze. And while the characterization is stellar, the writing is a cut above as well. I was repeatedly caught delightfully unawares by a suddenly perfect turn of phrase. This tale is a particularly dark one and just when I felt I might be sucked down by a nasty undertow, an especially effective passage or an exquisitely potent scene between Nick and Alan would surface and carry me through. The world itself is as dark and twisty as an underground grotto and I happily immersed myself in its frightening intricacies. I could not put this book down. I was so scared for and so enamored by these characters that it was literally a race to the finish to find out if they would survive and still resemble themselves by the time all was said and done. Reading The Demon's Lexicon was an unbelievably satisfying experience. It exceeded all my expectations and I cannot wait for the sequel, The Demon's Covenant, to come out in May. Standing ovation, Ms. Brennan!

Linkage

December 29, 2009

Evening Stops

Just wanted to drop a few links this evening for your browsing pleasure. The Best of 2009 lists are popping up all over the place and, until I finish trimming mine down, I wanted to highlight just a few of my favorites thus far.
Be sure to check out Michelle's list over at See Michelle Read. Her categories are great, including Best Throwback, Best Author Discovery, and Best YA...Period. Unsurprisingly, I'm with her in every particular.
Pamela over at The Discriminating Fangirl has posted her Top Ten of 2009 list and it's solid. Some I've read, some I haven't, a shout out to the new Star Trek movie *love*, and even a Shallow Honorable Mention category. Hehe.
Amy of My Friend Amy has put together a rather fun, awfully sweet list entitled 2009--Blogs I Have Loved, in which she highlights bloggers who have touched, challenged, and entertained her this year. Definitely give it a read-through.

And last but certainly not least, if you haven't dropped by Ilona Andrews' site in the last few days, you really should. As a Christmas gift to their readers, Ilona and Gordon posted Part 2 of the cage scene from Magic Strikes from Curran's point of view. As you might expect, it's a little slice of awesome. Gordon rocks.
Have a lovely evening!

December 28, 2009

Blood Promise by Richelle Mead

I know, I know. There's been a huge gap between my reviews of the first three Vampire Academy books and this review of the fourth one. All I can say is it's been insane this month with the holidays and the Cybils reading, my little boy's birthday, and my anniversary, etc. On the bright side, it has all combined to give my thoughts time to percolate somewhat on Blood Promise. I had been warned in advance that, give my reactions to the first three books, this one might not be my favorite. At the same time others encouraged me with the promise of a measurably higher Adrian quotient in this installment, which might well factor into shoving the Siberian chunkmeister that is this book to the forefront of the series. Either way I was very interested to find out just how Rose handled the fallout from the painfully messy end of Shadow Kiss.
A WARNING: beyond this point lie unavoidable spoilers for the series. Proceed at your peril.

Rose is leaving St. Vlad's once again, this time on her own and possibly for good. Against everyone's wishes, she leaves her best friend and charge Lissa behind and heads for Siberia, where she is certain Dimitri would have gone after becoming Strigoi. Once there Rose manages to infiltrate the local dhampir culture and relentlessly hunts for someone to direct her to the home and family Dimitri described to her in such loving detail. Eventually she succeeds and is forced to meet his family and explain to mother and sisters just what happened to their beloved son and Guardian. Meanwhile, back home, Lissa and crew are failing rather spectacularly to cope with life without Rose and post-attack. Lissa and Christian are on the outs, there are a couple of interesting new characters in town, and Adrian is the only one who seems to grasp what is happening. He appears in dreams to Rose, urging her to tell him where she is and to impress upon her the importance that she not throw away her life and that she return as soon as possible. Everything, of course, changes when Rose finally encounters Dimitri once more...

So there were some ups and downs with this one. I missed St. Vlad's. I really did. I like the school, I like the world Richelle Mead has created there, and the majority of this book took place on the frozen planes of the Middle of Nowhere, Russia. Since I am no longer a Rose/Dimitri fan, it was not a fun process watching Rose relive all their precious moments together in the presence of his family and mourn for what seemed like endless pages the loss of the love of her life. Honestly, Dimitri sort of fell out of my head with surprising rapidity what with being absent for so much of the book and then present in his evil Angel Strigoi form. I looked forward to every scene in which Rose psychically eavesdropped on her comrades back home and her dreammeets with Adrian most of all. Call me crazy, but the dude gets more interesting with each passing page and, for the life of me, I can't understand the undying Dimitri lovetorch everyone seems to be carrying. Along those same lines, why must they all persist in being so oblivious? These are smart kids. Sure, they're blinded by love and daily scrapes with death and dismemberment, but I would think by now they'd have learned to trust each other a little bit more than they do. Most of all I was bothered by a particular turn Rose's character takes in the latter half of the book. I mean it rubbed me so wrong I was livid. And, though I feel things ended on a strong note (minus one annoyingly predictable twist at the very end), I hated seeing Rose that way. Perhaps I'm merely too impatient and things will progress more apace in the next installment. My anger on her behalf does seem to indicate I'm on her side. We shall see.

December 25, 2009

And To All A Good Night

It's late Christmas night here and we're all cozy and warm and ready to turn in for the night. I hope yours was merry and bright and full of wonder and good books. Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2009

Hangin' with the Book Smugglers

Today I'm guest blogging over at The Book Smugglers as part of their 2nd annual Smugglivus celebrations. This is my second time posting for Smugglivus and once again I'm handing out awards for my favorites of '09 and talking about what I'm looking forward to in 2010. I hope you stop by and say hi!

December 16, 2009

Daughter of the Flames by Zoë Marriott

I've had my eye on Zoë Marriott's second novel, Daughter of the Flames, since I read Chelle's review lo these many months ago. So I was happy to see it pop up on my Cybils reading list. I've read several books lately that have had an Asian/Middle Eastern flavor to them and was surprised and very much pleased to find Daughter of the Flames did as well. This was my first novel by Ms. Marriott and I was both looking forward to giving a new author a shot and in the mood for some more traditional fantasy. It's also worth it to point out the rather lovely cover this novel sports. The flames and curlicues are swirlingly lovely, enough so that the fact that Zira doesn't look quite as I pictured her isn't any kind of stumbling block at all.

Zira is a trained warrior. A novice with a face full of scars and a forgotten past, she perches right on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday. At the same time she anxiously awaits her superior's decision on whether she will join the ranks of the namoa or be sent to tend the temple livestock for the rest of her days. Born a Rua, Zira belongs to a conquered people. The Sedorne rulers overran the peaceful country of Ruan and the current king, Abheron, rules with an iron fist, encouraging his lords to crush the Rua under their feet. But behind the deceptively peaceful temple walls, rebellion is in the wind. When a surprising series of events lead Zira to save a young Sedorne lord's life, she is set on the path that will lead her to places she never expected, where, frankly, she would rather die than set foot. But it is Zira's fate to be more than she is, to combine the hopes and fears of two races in one body, and to be savior to a nation.

I was drawn in very quickly. There are all kinds of familiar fantasy elements at play here that Marriott handled quite well, wrapping them up in a nice bit of world building, full of heady descriptions of cuisine, vegetation, and light and shadow that had me salivating and oohing and ahhing at will. Zira's past is appropriately murky and, when it comes to light, it is in no way surprising. And yet Ms. Marriott weaves in some interesting implications that keep you reading. The same is true of the villain. He is dastardly and despicable and, after one particularly grisly scene, I was convinced he was truly evil. But he wasn't surprising or very complex, really, until about 250 pages in when his character development takes a truly masterful turn. Literally between the space of one page and the next I was fully invested, desperate to see how these heretofore unknown layers worked their way into the plot to wreak havoc. Unfortunately, this was a bit too late as there were only about 80 pages left in the book. If only he'd become more interesting 100 pages earlier. Because this book has a truly excellent climax, full of fighting and mayhem and excitement. The romance followed the same lines. I loved how unconventional it was, how it was all arranged as a matter of strategy and convenience and whether or not they might actually be capable of falling in love with each other was considered of only minimal importance. This slow pace was delicious and I bought their hesitance and awkwardness and loved every minute. But things began to fall apart at a certain point and I felt like this central relationship never quite got back its former fervor by the time the story wound to a close. Despite these inconsistencies, there is some real talent here and I will definitely be picking up Ms. Marriott's next book.

December 14, 2009

New Sevenwaters Book Title

Just a quick post to note that Juliet Marillier's next Sevenwaters book--the sequel to the wonderful Heir to Sevenwaters--now has a title! Seer of Sevenwaters will be out December of next year (!) and will feature Clodagh's younger sister Sibeal. If you're like me, you've been waiting for Sibeal to get her own book ever since Child of the Prophecy came out. *rubs hands together*

Red & Black Pretties

Three (actually, four) authors I absolutely love. Three red and black covers to drool over. They all write and work in different ways and I am very much looking forward to their latest offerings.

Brought to you by the author of Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines and the author of Love is the Higher Law and co-author of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Will Grayson, Will Grayson tells the story of two boys with that same name who are about to meet one night in Chicago. Told in alternating point of view chapters, this collaborative novel has been in the works for awhile. And with these two authors at the helm there are two things guaranteed: I'm going to laugh and I'm going to care about these characters. Absolutely cannot wait to read it. Due out April 6th.

Ever since I closed Ironside, I have been impatiently waiting for Holly Black's next Big Thing and White Cat--the first in Black's new Curse Workers trilogy--is it. What little information is available indicates it is about a boy named Cassel and takes place in a private boarding school, features a family of grifters, and is about curse magic. Oh, and a white cat. And is a fairy tale retelling. And, well, you get the picture. It's basically another pile of awesomeness from one of my favorite modern fairy tale writers. Due out May 4th.

Last but certainly not least, we have the first YA offering from urban fantasy author Jeri Smith-Ready. Her WVMP Radio urban fantasy series about a group of rather charmingly out-of-pace vampire DJs is in my top three favorite urban fantasy series. Given how much I dig her writing, it's a no brainer that I will be picking up her first YA book. Shade follows a girl named Aura whose boyfriend is dead. But he just won't leave her alone. To find out why she, and others her age, can see ghosts, Aura must uncover the real relationship between the this world and the beyond. Due out May 18th.

December 8, 2009

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

As soon as I heard about Sarah Beth Durst's retelling of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon fairy tale, I felt that old familiar tug. I've read Edith Pattou's East and Jessica Day George's Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow and enjoyed parts of both of them very much, though neither captured my imagination the way I really wanted them to. You see, as it is basically a Norse version of Beauty and the Beast, I've always felt I ought to love this fairy tale more than I do. But I've been vaguely but persistently dissatisfied with every retelling I've read. I'm beginning to think this is a problem with the source material, a mismatch between us if you will, and not necessarily with the retellings themselves. As I've talked about before, it's a problematic storyline in many ways and particularly difficult to pull off in novel form, I think. Yet somehow I eagerly anticipate each new attempt, hoping this one will be the one.

Cassie loves ice. She was raised on it and has very little inkling of or interest in the world outside the Arctic research station that has been her home for the past eighteen years. As a little girl raised by her dedicated researcher father, she lived for those nights when her grandmother would tell her the story of her mother. Even though she knew it was only a fairy tale, Cassie never tired of the story of the rebellious daughter of the North Wind who defied her father and escaped an arranged marriage to the Polar Bear King to run away with her father, only to be blown away to the land of the trolls for her transgressions. To a little girl desperate for her mother, this story serves as a precious dream about what life would have been like if it had all gone well. But when she turns eighteen, Cassie's life changes. An ancient and enormous polar bear shows up and talks to her. He tells her her time is up and he is there to collect on his end of the bargain her mother made with the North Wind. He will have Cassie for his bride and carry her off to his ice palace. Being the smart cookie that she is, Cassie makes her own deal. If the bear rescues her mother from the trolls in that land east of the sun and west of the moon, she will marry him. The bear achieves the impossible and off they go.

The first half of this book is extremely strong and utterly enjoyable. I loved that Cassie had such a forceful personality, and I loved even more that Bear was allowed to be a vibrant character. In my past experience with this tale, so much of my problem with it seemed to stem from a lack of development of the bear's character and, therefore, a distinct lack of depth to the relationship between the girl and her intended. This was not a problem at all in the first half of Ice. Cassie is rugged and determined and smart with it. Bear is equally intent on achieving his goal and on his responsibilities as a munaqsri, or guardian of souls. This aspect of the world building was especially strong. I loved how unique it felt and the way Durst drew on Inuit legends and folklore felt very organic and fresh. As a result of these strengths, combined with the fact that she actually gave her leads time to get to know each other, I was immediately drawn to their developing relationship. It is sweet and slow and readable and just an all-around treat. One moment when Bear is in his human form standing behind Cassie as the two of them gaze out at the beauty of sunset over the frozen tundra actually had me catching my breath it was so lovely. At about the halfway mark, the bear is captured and it's up to Cassie to rescue him. This is normally the point where things get awesome in a story and I am 100 percent behind the heroine going in, guns a-blazin', and getting the job done. Unfortunately, everything slowed down just when it should have sped up. Bear is out of the equation and, unfortunately and rather surprisingly, Cassie doesn't hold the whole thing up on her own. She's traveling, traveling, traveling in the ice and snow and some things happen but never to their full potential. By the time she finally reaches the trolls I've lost interest in whether she'll win or not. The momentum and narrative thread are scattered in ten different directions and the final page in which things wrap up can't make up for the loss. Once again I'm filled with a sense of so much potential somehow unfulfilled. I truly loved the first half, but it drifted slowly downhill from there. And yet. I remain hopeful. Maybe the next one will be the one.

December 7, 2009

So the Cybils reading...

...has been keeping me insanely busy lately. Werewolves and banshees and selkies, oh my! But I promise to have some reviews up this week. In the meantime I'm leaving you with a couple of buttons I managed to whip up in my "spare time." You know, in case you wanna slap one up somewhere. Now you can pick your poison:

December 3, 2009

In which I require a holiday read

I love the line in 84, Charing Cross Road where Helene writes to Frank telling him,
I require a book of love poems with spring coming on.
Do you ever feel that way? You can feel a particular season or time approaching and you start to itch for a certain read you always associate with that time or season. It happens to me regularly and last night I realized I require a holiday read with Christmas coming on. I evaluated my shelves and discovered that I don't have a specific book I read every Christmas season or even every winter. This is clearly Not Okay. And so I'm putting the question out there, asking for your recommendations. What are you favorite holiday reads? Because I'm craving a good one.

December 1, 2009

Tuesday Giggles: New Moon Version

I knew it wouldn't be long after the New Moon movie came out before the highly talented Cleolinda would have her New Moon in Fifteen Minutes up for public devouring. So for this version of Giggles, hie thee to Cleo's place and laugh yourself silly over her rundown of the latest offering from the Twilight verse. While you're there, check out her other hysterical recaps, including Twilight! And while you're here, did you see the flick? I did. What did you think?

Magic Bleeds Cover

Here it is! The cover for Ilona Andrews' fourth Kate Daniels novel--Magic Bleeds. I am seriously aching to get my hands on this one. As you know, Magic Strikes (the 3rd Kate book) knocked my socks off and I can only imagine what the contents of the next one will do to me. What do you think of this cover? I love all the snow. And His Furry Majesty, of course. And Slayer. Ilona has written a post addressing some readers' concerns about what will happen in Magic Bleeds. She talks about trusting the author to know what's best for her characters and her world and it's just the most fabulous post. I highly recommend you go read it. In the meantime I'll just be here admiring the pretty cover and vainly wishing it was May 25th already!