Top Ten Tuesday: FREEBIE: Top Ten Forgotten Favorites

Top Ten Tuesday
I decided to do something different for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. It’s a freebie this week, and instead of writing about books that I love and remember well (or books that I hate and will never, ever read), I thought about the books that I had mostly forgotten, but when I wrack my brain, I vividly remember reading these… Even if I’ve forgotten everything but the title (or, in the case, of Wizard’s Hall, which I had forgotten the title but remembered the cover). None of these come up if you ask me for my top ten favorite anything, and most of them were only borrowed from the library, not bought, so I don’t have copies at home. But once I remembered that they existed, I felt a pang of fuzzy nostalgia for these books. Some of these were exciting new discoveries (the mystery and intrigue of Dead Girls), while some fed my appetite for ghost stories (Here There be Ghosts), and others held me over while I was starving for the next Harry Potter (Wizards Hall). I don’t give these books enough credit.

So, from left to right, top to bottom:

  • The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, Gerald Morris
  • Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters, Gail Giles
  • Little Butterfly, Hinako Takanaga
  • Chobits, CLAMP
  • Heir Apparent, Viviane Vande Velde
  • Here There Be Ghosts, Jane Yolen
  • Wizards Hall, Jane Yolen
  • Demon Diary, Kara
  • The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm, Erin Datlow and Terri Windling, editors
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Irregular Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Darkest Part of the Forest The Darkest Part of the Forest
Holly Black
★★★★☆ (I really liked it.)

Goodreads summary:

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

I was so excited to finally get a chance to read this. I was not disappointed.

The Good

I’ve mentioned before that Holly Black’s Tithe was life changing for me as a sixteen-year-old. It introduced me to urban fantasy, and I spent the next several years reading everything I could find. All because this one book turned me onto this genre and I couldn’t get enough.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is Tithe, if Holly Black wrote Tithe ten more years into her writing career. I’m not saying she’s recycling ideas or characters, and this isn’t a reboot of the Modern Tales of Faerie series. It’s a return to themes and concepts of those books, by a more mature writer: conflicted family relationships, trying to protect the ones you love by lying to them, a childhood (mis)spent with faeries, a town on the edge between reality and fairy land. There’s even a faerie revel like in Tithe, but instead of just being about Kaye and Kaye’s problems, Hazel has to worry about her whole town – and that was better handled than when the courtless fairies run amok over Kaye’s town in Tithe. The diversity felt more authentic and less weirdly Mary Sue-ish, and the realities of growing up with irresponsible bohemian artist parents were more realistically addressed.

I’m not putting down Tithe at all here. I loved Tithe. I just think The Darkest Part of the Forest is better, at least, technically.

The Bad

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a the better book, but I think Tithe is more fun. Maybe just because Roiben is so dreamy. Swoon.

My only other criticism? Why, at least in the books by Holly Black that I’ve read, which is not all of them, is the main character a straight girl and the secondary character a gay boy? Although, once again, even that was better handled than Tithe‘s Kaye and Corny; Ben was much more fleshed out and interesting as a person.

The Verdict

This is a good book, and you should read it – especially if you liked Tithe in particular or urban fantasy in general. The Darkest Part of the Forest weaves together a contemporary, character-driven novel with an urban fantasy adventure story, and it was very well done.

I really liked the shout out/potential future tie-in to Tithe, and Roiben’s old queen and the new king on the East Coast.

Then Now Next Thursday (April 30, 2015)

The Darkest Part of the Forest THEN

I finished reading (and reviewed) Virgin: The Untouched History. Since I last posted a round up, I’ve also started and finished Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest. That’s the quickest I’ve finished a fiction book, like, all year. I’m just having such a hard time concentrating, but man, it’s so good.

NOW

I’ve been really into nonfiction this year, so I read the intro to Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, but then found that I wasn’t really interested in the stories, so I put it down and picked up How to be a Heroine, which I like a lot, even though I haven’t read most of these classics, except Anne of Green Gables.

NEXT

Karen Jensen on Teen Librarian Toolbox proposed the #SecondChanceChallenge, to give a book you dropped a second chance. I signed up and said I would try to read and finish The Twistrose Key and Shadowplay. Both were very good (like, I loved Pantomime, which is the first book in Shadowplay‘s series) but just not what I was looking for at the time, so I’ll give them both another chance.

Irregular Review: Dragon’s Danger, Edward Branley

When I signed up for Story Cartel, I went straight for the fantasy and kidlit selections because, well, that’s what I read and that’s what I felt most comfortable reviewing. I chose Dragon’s Blood by Edward Branley because it had a nice cover. You know what they say, “never judge a book by it’s cover”? Well, they say it for a reason. Dragon's Blood

Dragon’s Danger
Edward Branley (Blood Bound #1)
☆☆☆☆☆ (No comment.)

Goodreads summary:

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet!
Joey, Anne Marie, and David are three teens from New Orleans. They’re smart enough to understand this. Imagine their surprise when a “dragon’s egg” they bought online turns out to be from an ancient trading company that sells “collectibles and curiosities”. Suddenly it’s more than just kidding around, as they help their dragon avoid danger and evolve to its full potential!
For over a thousand years, the dragons have used the merchant concern, Hassan’s Collectibles and Curiosities to help identify those worthy of becoming the “Blood Bound” — humans who are willing to hatch dragon eggs and nurture the hatchlings to adulthood. The methods used by Hassan’s have changed over time, but the results are the same. The dragons live!
It’s never been easy to be a teen. Asking a teen to hatch a dragon egg is a big request. That’s why it’s important to choose a teen who has friends to help. Better yet, get three inseparable kids to do the job!

The Good
The cover art, as I mentioned, is what drew me to the story. The premise reminds me of Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, a book I loved when I was a kid, but if Jeremy had internet access.

The Bad
I didn’t finish this. I’m not one of those people who powers through when books get boring. There are only so many hours in the day. I dropped this book partway through the first chapter. Why? I didn’t feel like anyone had taken the time to edit it. So why should I take the time to read?

Sentences like, “Typical of New Orleans in February, it was cold for two days, today’s high would be much warmer,” and “Since most of New Orleans’ Catholic high schools are all-boy or all-girl, the boys ended up at one school, and Ann Marie at another, but regularly re-unite on holidays and in the summer” threw me out of the story while I tried to figure out what they meant. (Those were on facing pages, p7 and p8.)

Look, I don’t demand perfection, but two glaring editorial failures like this, in two pages, in the first chapter is unacceptable. I tried to look up the publisher, but was unsuccessful; if Elysian Fields Press has a website, they’ve done a mighty fine job of hiding it. (Goodreads lists the publisher as Smashwords, but the author’s profile doesn’t list any books.)

What really killed the book for me, however, was this:  “’Fuck you, Joey!’ she said, without even looking away from the TV.”

Dragon’s Danger is billed on StoryCartel as a “middle grade contemporary fantasy.” SFWA quotes agents and editors as defining MG as for children age 8-12. Dragon’s Danger has a casual F-bomb in the first chapter; searching the e-book pulls up an additional twenty five instances of the F word. His author bio rather defensively states, “he can attest that sixteen-year olds attending Catholic school do swear like the Trio do,” and while I’m sure they do, this is inappropriate language for a MG book. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting this in my students’ hands.

So why was this a MG book? The characters are rather old for a normal MG protagonist (they’re all sixteen or so) and the language was more suited to a YA audience. This was the real lack of editing that made me decide not to finish this book, more than some awkwardly worded sentences.

I received a free digital copy of this book from StoryCartel.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Read in 2014

Top Ten TuesdayTop Ten Books I Read in 2014

With the caveat that I am not quite finished reading for this year – I still have two whole weeks and seven books left to meet my goal! – here are the Top Ten Books I Read in 2014 So Far.*

*in no particular order

  • AfterworldsDoll Bones, Holly Black When I was sixteen or so, Holly Black was my favorite author ever (except for maybe JK Rowling). I adored her book Tithe. Despite that, I never really read much else by her, except for short stories in anthologies. But when I saw this one, I somehow knew I had to read it, and it was just so perfect… all about make believe and growing up and losing the magic or maybe it was never real anyway. I loved it.
  • Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld This was another new book by an author I loved in high school. Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday was the defining book of my years at tech school (junior and senior years), but, like Holly Black, I never got into any of his other books. But this was the year I read books about books – Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones – and this one was the best of them all.
  • The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien I’m way late to this party. Guess what? I also loved The Lord of the Rings in high school, but despite multiple attempts, could never get into The Silmarillion. I still think The Music of the Ainur is possibly the most boring chapter of fiction I have ever read, at least voluntarily, but the rest of it was so good. I have a lot of feeling about elves.
  • Akata WitchAkata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor Okay, finally something new. Oh, man, was this new. It was excellent, and everything I like in a book – contemporary fantasy and magic and best friends – but also totally unlike anything else I had ever read before. Okorafor was on my list of Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2014, too.
  • Welcome to Bordertown, Holly Black This must have been the year of returning to my roots as a reader, because although I had never read any Bordertown books before, I remembered most of these authors from the Firebird anthologies I devoured in – guess what? – high school. I enjoyed this so much that I wrote fanfic of it for my Camp NaNoWriMo short story.
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post, emily m. danforth Speaking of high school, what would I have given to have this book back then? I would have given a lot. This book was just so perfect. Usually, when I finish an excellent book, I have a “book hangover” and I can’t decide what I should do with my (reading) life. This one was so good it just left me starving for something, anything, to keep that feeling alive.
  • Boxers & SaintsCastle of Shadows, Ellen Renner This one was totally new to me, but again, it had a lot of my beloved tropes of tomboyish, clever girls wearing trousers. It was a lot darker than I was expecting. I picked it up completely on a whim, devoured it, and can’t wait until I can share it with my students – and get the next book in the series, City of Thieves.
  • The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani This is definitely in the running for most fun book I read in 2014. I’m not going to lie, sometimes fairy tale retellings get a little old. I don’t want to say there’s a finite number of things we can do with Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but it takes a lot to stand out. This is not strictly a retelling, but it uses fairy tale tropes – and turns them on their heads – so cleverly that it really grabbed me.
  • Boxers & Saints, Gene Luen Yang Oof. After I finished reading this, I just sat on my bed, saying “holy ****” over and over again because I didn’t know what else to say about it. Just “holy ****.” It was so good. It really stuck with me, and I can’t shake it.  I still get parents who complain about their kids reading comic books. Maybe next time, I’ll give this to them. (The parent. It’s not really for my elementary students.)

Okay, I said that this wasn’t an ordered list, and it’s not, except:

  1. The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, Laura Miller This is it. This is the book of 2014. I read it in late summer/early autumn, but it is the defining book of 2014. It’s the best thing I read, and it completely changed how I read. I don’t even care for Narnia, really, but the idea, the idea of the Magician’s Book, that one book against which all others are measured, and the difference in a childlike grace and a grown-up grace as a reader. I understand my reading completely differently now, and it’s, well, magical.
    The Magician’s Book also set me on a path of reading nonfiction. I dabbled a bit earlier in the year, which is what lead me to reading this, but The Magician’s Book taught me that nonfiction can be every bit as fun and moving and enjoyable as fiction.

The Magician's Book

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Among Others

My fiend and I have this thing about Among Others. Neither of us can decide if we like it. I liked parts of it and didn’t like other parts of it, and I’m not sure I’ll ever reconcile those bits into a book I have a definite opinion about. We’ve talked about this a lot, so when I saw the Japanese edition for sale at Village Vanguard, I snapped a photo and sent it to her.

Among Others

I thought it was a strange design choice, because it doesn’t hint at all about the fantastic/magical realism elements that make this book this book – but it is right there in the title, 図書室の魔法, “Library-room Magic,” or “The Magic of the Library,” as best as I can translate. But it looks, visually, like a school story; I get an almost Anne of Green Gables-ish vibe out of these. My friend said they looked much “younger” than the book; I think this is just “kawaii” in action.

Among OthersI read this in ebook format originally, and thus I rarely even saw the cover as I was reading – one of the major drawbacks of ebooks, if you ask me. I have a lot of opinions about cover design, which is why I write this series. (Obviously.)

So of course, I went to Goodreads to investigate.

We got talking about the other editions of this book. My friend said she didn’t like the American edition: Morwenna’s injury and her subsequent disability is a major part of this book, and the American edition (left) shows a slender girl frolicking in a field, wearing a floaty white dress. I think the hazy photograph captures the feeling of the book, but maybe not the orange.

Among OthersThe French edition, retitled Morwenna, has the same vibe: a white girl in a white dress, skipping and surrounded by stars or glitter or fairy dust for some reason. This one is a little more excusable; I think this is little girl Morwenna, before the accident, working magic somewhere as a young girl.

What gives with the frolicking? Morwenna is a protagonist with disabilities. The French and American editions erase that part of Morwenna’s character which, in an age of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, is honestly a bit disappointing. Even the oddly kawaii and not-at-all magical Japanese edition clearly shows her with a cane in the first book, though she’s lost it in the second where she’s holding hands with her friends.

(*Note on Japanese books: many longer books are published in two or three sections to make them smaller and easier to carry. Among Others is split into two, 上 and 下 (first half and second half); other books are divided into thirds, 上, 中, and 下.)

Among OthersThe Spanish-language version ignores Morewenna’s cane and looked too genre for the book, which I guess is a strange thing to say about a story that’s a love song to science fiction/fantasy genre fiction, but I don’t think that’s the tone of this story. This cover comes off too paranormal romance for my tastes. This isn’t a book I would be “selling” to my students, but if I was trying to get a friend to read it, I’m not sure this cover would tell them what I want them to know, going in, about the story I’m asking them to read.

I ask people to read this book a lot. I’m always saying, “I don’t know how I feel about this, please read it.” I want someone to make up my mind for me. I want someone to work out the tangle of opinions I have about this book, because I can’t decide how I feel, and so I ask people – smart people, people I trust, people whose book recommendations I always accept – what they think.

Among OthersIf I had my pick of any cover, I would go with the Polish edition. Morwenna is depicted, and although you can’t see her cane in the cover art, it also isn’t not there; there’s no reason that it’s not just out of the frame. I think this artwork captures some of the magic of the story, carrying over the sparkles and stars from the French and American editions without any frolicking in sight.

It also recalls a specific scene for me, which I think is strong cover design. I like the aha! moment when you read a book and realize, this is that picture. Maybe that’s just me, though.

The reflection is a nice touch. I don’t want to spoil the story, but I think that adds a lot to my fondness for this cover. This is the one I would most like to give to a friend and say, “read this.”

Among Others

The next-best option would be the Turkish edition. Morwenna isn’t depicted at all, which is un/fortunate: fortunate, because at least she’s not depicted frolicking, and unfortunate because it missed the opportunity to say, this is a book about a protagonist with disabilities. But it gets the mood right for the story. It highlights the awards won, and the Ursula K. LeGuin review quote signals what kind of fantasy we’re in for, here; Among Others is a magical realism/urban fantasy border story. It’s an ode to the kind of story that Ursula K. LeGuin writes, and the kind of story that wins genre awards.

I would hand this book to my friends, if any of my friends read Turkish.

Among OthersI think the Polish cover deserves a special mention. It’s got the genre (although this “reads” a little more sci-fi and a little less magical realism, but that could just be me), the awards, and it very prominently features Morewenna as she’s described in the book, using her cane. I wish I liked this cover better. It has everything that I said I wanted, but somehow it doesn’t speak to me. However, if I were buying this book for the secondary library, this is the edition I would want… too bad our collection is mostly in English, not Polish.

I think I would actually like to suggest this for the secondary library. Regardless of how I feel about it, it won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the British Fantasy Award. There are kids in my school who need to read this novel, and this is the cover they’ll first encounter in my library:

Among Others