The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Cover_ravenboys_300Book Series – Richard Gansy III is the scion of a privileged Virginia family, the prep school princeling golden boy with the impossible, magic dream.  Ronan Lynch is rage and sharp edges under a thin veneer of skin, sneering at the world through the window of a muscle car.  Adam Parrish is the impostor in their midst, hiding his accent and his bruises as he works three after-school jobs to pay his own tuition.  And Noah Czerney is… around, usually, if you don’t think about him too hard.

They are the Raven Boys, high school students at prestigious Aglionby Academy, and local girl Blue Sergeant–a passionate activist growing up in a house full of psychic women–hates them all on principle.  Until she meets them, anyway.  Until she gets to know them.  Until she is drawn with them into an impossibly high-stakes mythic quest that will transform them from five teenagers into an unbreakable brotherhood, wielding ancient and unimaginable powers, facing down curses and demons and kings.

I read the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, a little more than a year ago.  While I did find the characterization exceptionally well done, I was ultimately neither disappointed nor inspired.  But I’m so glad that I picked the series up again when the fourth and final book arrived in April (Book 2: The Dream Thieves; Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue; Book 4: The Raven King), because book two hits the ground running and doesn’t let go.  By its later chapters, The Raven Cycle became a reminder for me of what really good fiction feels like: its magical ability to transform the world and make the reader genuinely believe and care about its characters and plot, its potential to be fresh and original and at the same time seem like a story you’ve always known.  I devoured the last book in a day, and feel both bereft and energized now that it’s done.

TL;DR: If you like fantasy fiction even a little, read these books.  And if you like audiobooks even a little, try them that way, because we offer the whole series through both Overdrive and Hoopla, and narrator Will Patton knocks it out of the park.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

040c0679daa5bcf596b6a726d51444341587343Book–Did you hear the Harry Potter fandom squeal with excitement and anticipation on July 31st when the new Harry Potter “book” came out? It was a big day for all Potter heads. J.K. Rowling finally gave us a glimpse of life after the Battle of Hogwarts.

The Cursed Child begins with Harry Potter, now 37 years old, dropping his children off at King’s Cross. James, the oldest, is a second year and full of mischief like his grandfather. Albus is heading off to his first year at Hogwarts and is worried that he will be sorted into Slytherin. Harry gives him the pep talk we saw the Deathly Hollow‘s epilogue and Albus heads off for his first year at Hogwarts.

Unfortunately for Albus, life at Hogwarts is not as easy for him as it was for James or even his father. This causes conflict between Albus and Harry as the two try to connect with each other but keep failing. It is not easy being the son of the man who saved the world.

While the book is titled Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, we spend most of the time focusing on Albus and his time at Hogwarts. I really liked this. From the moment I read the epilogue in Deathly Hallows, I wanted a book about Albus. His character is so interesting and different from Harry’s. Where Harry succeeded, Albus struggles and that makes for a great character.

Some fans struggled with this book, but I think that it was worthwhile and a very quick read. The script format helps with the speed of the book, but I also missed Rowling’s amazing descriptions. If you have read it, feel free to come talk to me about it! If you have not, grab a copy, read it, and then find me to discuss it. Mischief Managed.

Life As I Know It by Melanie Rose

6919827Book – Imagine waking up in the wrong body.  Lying in a hospital bed with strangers gathered round–a man who claims to be your husband.  Life As I Know It by Melanie Rose explores this unique scenario, in which Jessica wakes to a nightmare, trapped in the wrong body.  The last thing she can remember is talking to the cute guy at the dog park and lightning striking her.  She wakes up in the body of Lauren Richardson, mother and wife.  The doctors insist this is who she is and she is simply suffering memory loss from the accident.  But Jessica knows in her heart that this woman is not her.   Against what she knows to be true, Jessica goes home with the Lauren Richardson’s husband.

When her head hits the pillow at her unfamiliar “home,” Jessica wakes up again in the hospital, but this time back in her own body, where the cute guy from the dog park has been waiting for her.  She is so relieved to find that it was all just a dream.  However, as she goes to sleep after the exhausting day, once again Jessica wakes up in the body of Lauren Richardson. Each time she falls asleep, Jessica switches lives, from her own to the rich high life of Lauren, husband to Graham, and mother to three young children.

Caught between two worlds–the one that is her life to live, and the one of obligations to a young family that relies on her support–will life ever return to normal for poor Jessica?

 

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

indexBook – Tara Abernathy is a contract lawyer. Wait, no, don’t run away – I swear this is a fantasy novel, and a really good one, too. In Gladstone’s post-war fantasy world, contracts regulate and control the use of magic, called Craft. In recent history, Craftsmen (and women) overthrew the gods, shifting control of magical power into mortal hands. But remnants of the old religions still exist. And the old gods do, too – so long as they abide by their contracts.

That’s what Tara and her boss are investigating: Kos Everburning, a god of the city of Alt Coulomb, has died and defaulted on his contract. In order to keep the power on, and to forestall political upheaval, they have to prove that Kos was murdered.

Three Parts Dead isn’t always the easiest book to read (Gladstone subscribes to the “throw them in the deep end and see if they can swim” school of worldbuilding), but it’s never boring. This is the first in Gladstone’s ongoing Craft series. The sequel, Two Serpents Rise, features an entirely different cast of characters in a city halfway around the world from Alt Coulomb, but as the series goes on, the storylines begin to converge. It’s deep, fascinating, twisty stuff, and totally worth the effort it can sometimes take.

The Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust

49281Books – Vlad is an Easterner (a human, to us), but he’s lived his whole life in the strictly regimented, caste-based Dragaeran Empire, among Dragaerans (whom his grandfather calls Elves). Most Dragaeran Houses are a matter of birth, but Vlad’s father bought his family into the House of the Jhereg, best known for putting the “organized” into organized crime. He lives a little in both worlds, rising in the ranks of the Jhereg while learning Eastern witchcraft from his grandfather – which is how he came by his long-time companion Loiosh, who is also a jhereg. All the Dragaeran Houses are named after animals, you see – a jhereg is a small flying lizard, about the size of a housecat. No, they don’t breathe fire. They’re not usually telepathic, either, but Loiosh is a witch’s familiar, after all.

The Vlad Taltos series – part of Steven Brust’s larger Dragaeran universe, which also includes a five-book trilogy and a stand-alone novel set in the East – is really something different; I don’t know of any other fantasy novels like them. They’re all narrated by Vlad in the first person, and Vlad’s voice is one of the most delightful things about them. Think something of a cross between Sam Spade and Strider (who becomes Aragorn). And each book is also about a different Dragaeran House and what that House stands for in Dragaeran society – Jhereg, the first in the series, is about Vlad’s life in the Organization; Dragon, another good starting point, is about war. You learn a little more about the universe with every book. There are fourteen books so far, with five (and lots of questions) left to go.

The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger

51uTzSLdKwL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Trace sees spirits. They’re kind of everywhere, but he doesn’t dare tell anyone he knows about what he can see, because every time he does they wind up dead. Even his partner Boz doesn’t know – until they’re hired by a rich old English lady to retrieve some property for her, and it turns out that she doesn’t need Trace’s skills as a trapper and guide so much as for what he can see that so few others can.

This is a terrifically fun Weird West story, with all the trappings – cowboys, werewolves, ghosts and sorcerers. Messinger does a good job with the diversity of the West, too: Boz is black, and the ghosts of Chinese rail-workers play a role in Trace’s difficulties. The overall plot isn’t too unique (and it’s clearly set up as the beginning of an ongoing series), but the unique twist on monsters and magicians, as well as Boz and Trace’s relationship, make for compelling reading. I’m interested to see where this series goes from here.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

51hNZ0nGxXL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Imagine that every time you do something wrong – tell a lie, steal something, think an uncharitable thought – everyone can see it, in the form of a little puff of smoke that comes up from your body. It leaves soot on your clothes, your pillowcases, your furniture. You must be perfectly good at all times, or clean everything constantly, or both. And if not – everyone will know.

That’s the world of Smoke, a tremendous new literary fantasy by Dan Vyleta. In Victorian England, the aristocracy are trained from childhood to never Smoke, to repress all their baser instincts to demonstrate their inherent superiority over the lower classes. But what if it doesn’t really work that way? What if Smoke isn’t sin, but something else? Thomas and Charlie, two boys at an elite boarding school in the countryside, begin to question what they’ve been told after a trip to Smoke-filled London, and before long their whole world is unraveling.

I loved this book and its incredible explorations of good and evil, sin and repression. In addition to telling the story of Smoke, it’s also full of all the things that make Victorian novels great – family secrets, corrupt leaders, criminals with a heart of gold, murder, disguise, horse chases, and romance.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprootedBook – Agnieszka grew up next to the dark enchanted wood, in the shadow of the Dragon’s tower. The Dragon is a wizard, not a fire-breathing lizard; he doesn’t eat the girls he takes, but he does take one every ten years or so, and she never comes home again. At least, not for very long. Everybody knows that he always takes the best, the cleverest, the most beautiful, the most talented girl, so they’re shocked when he picks Agnieszka instead.

But unlike the other girls, Agnieska’s been picked for a reason – she has the talent to become a wizard herself, and by the king’s law, she must be trained. (No matter how much she hates it.) And then, as  war threatens and the enchanted wood begins to overflow its borders, spilling monsters and poison out into the surrounding lands, she has to learn, if she wants to save her home and everyone she loves from a terrible end.

I absolutely adored this book, and I resented everything that made me put it down until I could finish it. While it has a lot in common with fairy tales, it’s also a deep, complex story full of very human people who make the wrong decisions for the right reasons (and sometimes the right decisions for the wrong reasons), and how they face the consequences of their actions. Fans of Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon series and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor will love this, too. It also has a Hungarian flavor that would go very well with Steven Brust’s Dragaera series.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

indexBook – When I started reading this book, I didn’t know much about it, other than that it had a glow-in-the-dark octopus on the cover. And really, what else do you need to know? The octopus, fortunately, is a character (although he doesn’t glow in the dark) – Katsu, a mechanical octopus made by the titular watchmaker, Mori, a Japanese nobleman who has moved to England to practice the art of making tiny things out of even tinier gears. We meet him through Thaniel Steepleton, a telegraphist recently recruited by Scotland Yard, who is being used by his superiors to investigate Mori as a suspect behind a high-profile bombing.

This is fantasy only by the thinnest hair, and steampunk only because of the prominence of Mori’s fantastic clockwork creations (and their proximity to Japantown’s fireworks shops). The plot circles around the investigation of the bombing, but Thaniel and Mori’s relationship is the real core of the book, growing slowly through mistrust and uncertainty into a deep, heartfelt connection. I was a little iffy about it for the first few chapters; by the end, I was entirely in love.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

rookBookThe body you are wearing used to be mine. So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her. She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

The single most important thing in a book written in the first person is that the reader likes the main character, preferably right away. Fortunately, I liked Myfanwy within about a page and a half. She has an entirely reasonable reaction to waking up surrounded by dead bodies without knowing who she is: she checks herself into the most expensive hotel she can find and panics. And then she thinks, I have got to figure out what is going on. And she does.

Myfanwy is that rare character who strikes a perfect balance between perfectly normal and exceptionally capable. The way she handles her job as supernatural administrator is hilarious – lots of “um, sure, okay, let’s move the meeting with my colleague’s second body up by half an hour.” If I have a complaint, it’s that the mystery behind the whole plot of the book is a little slight. There are so many characters coming and going that when the traitor was finally revealed, it took me a few minutes to remember who he was.

This reminded me delightfully of China Miéville’s Kraken and Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series; readers looking for more deeply weird urban fantasy will like those as well. The sequel, Stiletto, is due out in June.