Two high school girls have a romance while they're taking college classes at a summer camp for gifted kids. The only way this could have possibly been more up my alley would have been if "gifted" was in the "Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters" sense.

Nicola, amateur artist and aspiring archaeologist, narrates the book in first person, with occasional excerpts from her diary, also in first person but with a different typeface and no capitalization. This may sound annoying, but it's actually adorable. Here's an excerpt from her diary. The "angst crows" are Goths, and the context is that she's looking around campus to see if she can spot any other queer kids:

and there's another boy i've seen, i think he's in katrina's class, who often wears long velvet skirts and lots of black eyeliner. but i believe this to be a fashion statement rather than a declaration of sexuality, since i have observed him making out with various angst crows.

i suppose he could like boys, too, though.

i of all people should remember that.


Though the romance between Nic and the remarkably named Battle Hall Davies is the main plotline, Ryan spends a lot of time on an ensemble of new friends, their friendships and romances and individual character growth, classes and picnics and dances. The emotions are realistic and sometimes angsty, but the whole summer has a shimmery nostalgic glow. The book is also very funny. Ryan has a great gift for comic setup/payoff, of which one of my favorites, a small moment but one which made me laugh and laugh, involved a boy's attempt to bypass the disgusting cafeteria food by claiming to keep kosher.

On the one hand, this is a perfect little book. On the other hand, I wish it had been longer. Battle had a lot of stuff going on that I got, but would have liked to have seen explored more. Also, I just wanted to keep on reading.

It reminds me a bit of Maureen Johnson's The Bermudez Triangle, another very funny book which mostly takes place over a summer and involves female friendship, female romance, and the complexity of sexual identity.

Empress of the World
A paper collection of the first 20 chapters of the webcomic, which is also available for free online.

An oddball, inventive steampunkish fantasy set in a bizarre boarding school, combining tropes from… well, basically everything ever, but most prominently the English boarding school story and world mythology.

A rather peculiar girl, Antimony Carver, who grew up in a hospital where she hung out with all the psychopomps who came to escort the spirits of the dead, is sent to a boarding school in which students build robots and bring the Minotaur to class to do a presentation on himself, counsel ghosts on the best methods of terrifying unsuspecting students, and have romances end tragically when one of them turns into a bird.

Somewhat surreal and often funny, this reminds me a bit of the earlier volumes of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. At first I had a hard time with the art, especially the bizarrely angled heads, but it improves as it goes along. By the end of the volume, I liked it a lot, and the characters and story as well. I’m having a hard time describing this, but I enjoyed it and will read the rest online rather than wait for the next volume to come out in print.

Thanks to the multiple people who recommended this.

Gunnerkrigg Court
There is very little I can say above a cut about this excellent YA fantasy, which is mostly about the consequences of the startling plot twist at the end of the first book, other than that I enjoyed it very much. The story continues to be gripping, disturbing without being grim or depressing, lively, and thoughtful.

But I did want to give a heads-up that the theme of the book is primarily consent, both sexual and non-sexual, (and secondarily, I would say, identity), so if that may be disturbing, well, now you know. It does not contain anything that I would classify as rape, but on the other hand, since the whole book is about consent issues, others might draw the line elsewhere. If you've read the first book, you can undoubtedly figure out what I'm referring to. Basically, Black takes a plot trope which I've seen about a million times before, and explores the potentially very dark indeed implications at length.

I don't want to make it sound tract-like - it's basically a fantasy mystery-thriller with a very twisted central romance. It's a lot of fun to read. But it's also got some interesting issues driving the plot.

Red Glove (Curse Workers, Book 2)

Giant spoilers below cut. The link above goes to Amazon.

Read more... )
Please reminisce, fondly or not, about any of these, or other books read in childhood, especially if they seem to have, deservedly or undeservedly, vanished from the shelves. I'd love to hear about non-US, non-British books, too.

[Poll #1720139]
Please reminisce, fondly or not, about any of these, or other books read in childhood, especially if they seem to have, deservedly or undeservedly, vanished from the shelves. I'd love to hear about non-US, non-British books, too.

[Poll #1720139]
A semi-autobiographical YA novel based on Efaw’s own experience attending West Point. For teenage runner Andi Davis, military academy is an escape from the unrelenting brutality of her family’s emotional abuse. There she faces institutional sexism and her own tendency to judge women more harshly than men, and, like any cadet, struggles to survive in a deliberately harsh environment. But she also finds, for the first time in her life, a sense of belonging and people who value her strength.

The novel covers only basic training (“the Beast,”) and so is catnip to anyone who enjoys training sequence – except for the very first chapter, the entire thing is a training sequence. It’s very well-written, well-characterized, and realistic.

Though it’s much more about the day-to-day experience of military training than rah-rah patriotism, don’t expect any critique of war, America, America’s military policies, the military-industrial complex, because you will not find it here. It’s an intense, in-the-moment book about a young woman taking the first steps toward becoming a soldier, and how that changes her. I liked it a lot.

Battle Dress
Sponsored by [personal profile] erinlin.

A while back, I picked up a YA novel called Madapple because, based solely on the title, I thought it might be re-telling the story of the Garden of Eden in a modern American high school. It turned out to be about something else entirely, and I thought I would have liked my imaginary book better. Fallen doesn’t exactly retell Eden, but it does place reincarnations or descendants of Lucifer, etc, in a modern American high school. It is surprisingly boring. I still like my imaginary book better.

In a prologue in 1854, an emo guy mopes around and woefully tells a girl that they can never ever be together, apparently because every time they reincarnate and kiss, he or she or both of them explode or something, it’s not made clear. They kiss. Then they explode. Or something.

Cut to modern USA. Teenage Luce (short for Lucifer Lucinda) has been diagnosed as psychotic because she sees menacing shadows. Then she kisses a guy. He bursts into flames and dies, and she’s sent to Hell a reform boarding school, Sword & Cross, where many people have names like Gabbe (Gabriel, I assume) and Diante (Dante.) There she sees a hot guy, Daniel Grigori, to whom she is instantly drawn and who seems strangely familiar.

Over the next 100 pages, he flips her off, ignores her, tells her to go away, and tells her to stop stalking him. Then a statue of an angel almost falls on both of them. Meanwhile, another boy, Cam, actually interacts a bit with her, and gives her the highly symbolic gift of a bit of serpent snake skin. At this point I am rooting for Cam, insofar as I’m rooting for anyone, on the basis that Cam and Luce have had an actual conversation.

For the next 100 pages, Luce stares at Daniel, who ignores her, and flirts with Cam, who gives her a guitar pick. She is still menaced by shadows no one else can see. Then the school bursts into flames, and shadows apparently rescue Luce but kill the boy she was with. This apparently prompts Daniel to start flirting with her, or possibly that was coincidental. I’m still rooting for Cam, though clearly he is not The One and is possibly Sat-am, again because there has been actual interaction.

For the next 100 pages, Cam and Daniel flirt with Luce. Cam displays superhuman strength, and Daniel the ability to scare off the shadows which he denies that he can see. Then a girl, Gabbe, superhumanly beats up Cam, and Daniel FINALLY decides to tell Luce what’s going on. Sort of. He informs her that he is immortal, and every seventeen years, he meets Luce, and they fall in love, and somehow that kills her, whether or not they kiss. But this time, they kissed and she did not drop dead. Woo-hoo! Not sure why he doesn’t think it just hasn’t happened YET. Inexplicably, Luce does not question him further.

The school librarian (Sophia, wisdom) confirms that they’re both damned. Inexplicably, Luce does not question her further.

Then Luce remembers! ”You’re an angel,” she repeated slowly, surprised to see Daniel close his eyes and moan in pleasure, almost as if they were kissing. “I’m in love with an angel.”

In the last twenty pages, stuff finally starts to happen. There is a revelation I wasn’t expecting. Unfortunately, it’s a supremely stupid one. The climax and ending tip over from slow and dull into hilariously ridiculous, but it’s too little, too late. Though I did like the random introduction of a helpful Vietnam vet with a private plane with which to ferry around a winged angel.

Fallen
This is the vampire—excuse me, vampyre finishing school book.

Zoey Redbird has normal teenage problems – her stepfather is in a whackadoo Christian cult, her boyfriend is not too bright and drinks a lot, and she fears geometry – until she’s marked by a vampyre. Excuse me, Marked.

Wham! Next thing she knows, she’s attending vampyre boarding school. This point was a little unclear, but apparently the Mark doesn’t turn you into a vampyre, but is given to you after you’ve already spontaneously mutated in order to warn you to get yourself to vampyre academy. Once there, you become a fledgling trained in the ways of vampyres. But there’s a catch: about ten percent of all fledglings have their bodies reject the Change, and drop dead before graduation.

This is obviously not going to happen to Zoey, though, because she is extremely special. How is she special? Let me count the ways:

1. Her crescent moon Mark, which is normally just an outline on fledglings, is filled in.
2. The vampyre Goddess Nyx came to her in a vision and told her she had some sort of important mission.
3. Her personal advisor is the headmistress.
4. She craves blood, which normally doesn’t happen till much later.
5. Her wise Cherokee grandmother imparted special Cherokee wisdom to her.
6. She sees ghosts (or possibly zombies).
7. A very few full vampyres can control ONE of the five elements. Zoey, though still a fledgling, can control all five!

Though I mock, I actually quite enjoyed this. It’s kind of terrible and trashy, but the fun kind of terrible and trashy.

For all her specialness, Zoey is a likable character with a sense of humor that’s often actually funny. The academy is a fun setting, with its classes in Vampyre Sociology 101, cat companions, snobbish blood-sucking sororities, and secret rituals in the dead of night. The pace seems fast even though objectively not a whole ton of a lot happens, and though I never feared for any of the major characters, the Casts do a good job of making the possibility of sudden death hang over the characters’ heads. And despite the obligatory presence of a predictably boring male love interest, Erik Night (!), it’s overall very female-centric.

The novel is told in first person, and one of its main strengths is that, with some lapses, it really does read like a teenager wrote it: casual, teenage-cynical alternating with teenage-earnest, simultaneously frank and judgmental about sex. And one of its main weaknesses is that it REALLY reads like a teenager wrote it, complete with bad sentence structure, pointless rambling, etc. It also has a lot of teenage-plausible casual offensiveness – I winced, for instance, every time she called something “retarded.” However, that isn’t just Zoey being in character. There’s also the wise old magical Indian grandmother, not to mention the sympathetic gay guy who isn’t weird and femme like those other gay guys. Etc. That being said, that sort of thing is kept to a relatively low murmur, and there’s clearly an effort, however hamhanded, made at being inclusive.

What really made me want to read more, though, were the hints at the end that all was not as it seemed, and that some standard plot and character tropes might not go in the way I was expecting. Though I could be wrong about that. Anyway, I tore through this and will check the library for the sequel.

View on Amazon: Marked (House of Night, Book 1)
This is the vampire—excuse me, vampyre finishing school book.

Zoey Redbird has normal teenage problems – her stepfather is in a whackadoo Christian cult, her boyfriend is not too bright and drinks a lot, and she fears geometry – until she’s marked by a vampyre. Excuse me, Marked.

Wham! Next thing she knows, she’s attending vampyre boarding school. This point was a little unclear, but apparently the Mark doesn’t turn you into a vampyre, but is given to you after you’ve already spontaneously mutated in order to warn you to get yourself to vampyre academy. Once there, you become a fledgling trained in the ways of vampyres. But there’s a catch: about ten percent of all fledglings have their bodies reject the Change, and drop dead before graduation.

This is obviously not going to happen to Zoey, though, because she is extremely special. How is she special? Let me count the ways:

1. Her crescent moon Mark, which is normally just an outline on fledglings, is filled in.
2. The vampyre Goddess Nyx came to her in a vision and told her she had some sort of important mission.
3. Her personal advisor is the headmistress.
4. She craves blood, which normally doesn’t happen till much later.
5. Her wise Cherokee grandmother imparted special Cherokee wisdom to her.
6. She sees ghosts (or possibly zombies).
7. A very few full vampyres can control ONE of the five elements. Zoey, though still a fledgling, can control all five!

Though I mock, I actually quite enjoyed this. It’s kind of terrible and trashy, but the fun kind of terrible and trashy.

For all her specialness, Zoey is a likable character with a sense of humor that’s often actually funny. The academy is a fun setting, with its classes in Vampyre Sociology 101, cat companions, snobbish blood-sucking sororities, and secret rituals in the dead of night. The pace seems fast even though objectively not a whole ton of a lot happens, and though I never feared for any of the major characters, the Casts do a good job of making the possibility of sudden death hang over the characters’ heads. And despite the obligatory presence of a predictably boring male love interest, Erik Night (!), it’s overall very female-centric.

The novel is told in first person, and one of its main strengths is that, with some lapses, it really does read like a teenager wrote it: casual, teenage-cynical alternating with teenage-earnest, simultaneously frank and judgmental about sex. And one of its main weaknesses is that it REALLY reads like a teenager wrote it, complete with bad sentence structure, pointless rambling, etc. It also has a lot of teenage-plausible casual offensiveness – I winced, for instance, every time she called something “retarded.” However, that isn’t just Zoey being in character. There’s also the wise old magical Indian grandmother, not to mention the sympathetic gay guy who isn’t weird and femme like those other gay guys. Etc. That being said, that sort of thing is kept to a relatively low murmur, and there’s clearly an effort, however hamhanded, made at being inclusive.

What really made me want to read more, though, were the hints at the end that all was not as it seemed, and that some standard plot and character tropes might not go in the way I was expecting. Though I could be wrong about that. Anyway, I tore through this and will check the library for the sequel.

View on Amazon: Marked (House of Night, Book 1)
Teenage Miles Halter, who is obsessed with the last words of famous people, goes away to boarding school in Alabama and becomes even more obsessed with one of his classmates, troubled wild girl Alaska.

If you have read a lot of YA novels, I bet you can correctly predict exactly what happens just from that one-sentence description. Party game: comment right now, without reading the rest, with your prediction of what happens!

It's a well-written novel which I didn't like as much as it probably deserved, primarily because I have read so many YA novels with nearly identical plots, characters, and themes that I always knew exactly where the story was going. For a novel with this plot to really stand out to me it would either have to be extraordinary rather than merely good, or have a narrative voice which I fall in love with, or have other elements which I enjoy for their own sake, like psychic powers.

The totally unsurprising outcome! )
This is probably the best YA fantasy I've read all year: complex, compulsively readable, beautifully plotted, emotionally intense, and intelligent. I highly recommend it.

It begins somewhat uninspiringly, in the usual medievaloid vaguely-English landscape, with a village girl with a talent. That is Sadima, who can communicate with animals but must keep her talent a secret since magicians are, apparently, all frauds, and one of them was involved in the death of her mother.

Her story alternates with another one which is seemingly unconnected: in a time when magic is easily available to the wealthy, a rich man's despised son is packed off to the wizard's academy. Without any onstage gore or theatrical sadism, this is the single darkest portrayal of the fantasy standard, the school of magic, that I've ever encountered.

A great deal of the pleasure of reading this book involves slowly piecing together the connections between the two stories. One of the most important ones, not made clear within the book itself until about a third of the way in, is given away on the cover; I suggest that you read the book without reading the inside or back cover first.

Though it ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, I found it to be a very satisfying read on its own, and the structure of the first book is so cleverly and carefully thought-out that I would be very surprised if the subsequent books were disappointing.

Run! Run! Buy it now: Skin Hunger (A Resurrection of Magic)

Massive spoilers below, only read if you've already read the book. Spoilery comments welcome; don't read those if you haven't read the book. Read more... )
While doing rewrites on my memoir, I looked up some bibliographies of boarding school books to refresh my memory on ones I read as a child.

It's scary how many I read: Enid Blyton's St. Clare's and Malory Towers series, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series, which was set in Switzerland and was full of local color, and many more. It is my theory that the popularity of Harry Potter has less to do with fantasy than with the introduction of the traditional British boarding school story to an American audience. They're wish-fullfillment fantasies in which the wish was that school was fun.

Boarding school books for girls have uniformly female casts, and so offer girls the chance to occupy every school story archetype: the brave one, the sensible one, the dreamy artist, the bully, the hero, the dummy, the actress, the jock, the horse-crazy girl, the shrinking violet, the snob. Competitive sports play major roles, and performing arts a slightly smaller one. Midnight feasts are frequent.

Macho girls, who may go by male names like Bill, often become best friends with very femme and timid girls with names like Mary-Anne, and fantasize together about never marrying and living together in a small cottage, where Mary Anne can keep house and Bill can break horses. In light of this, I enjoyed seeing the title, which was apparently translated from Phyllis Matthewman's original Swedish, The Queerness of Rusty.

Other sample titles: The Turbulence of Tony, Jill's Jolliest School, The Darling of the School, The Chums of Study Ten, Miss Prosser's Passion, 'Play Up, Buffs!', So this Is School!, and Gay from China at the Chalet School.

http://home.swipnet.se/flickbok/collect.htm
While doing rewrites on my memoir, I looked up some bibliographies of boarding school books to refresh my memory on ones I read as a child.

It's scary how many I read: Enid Blyton's St. Clare's and Malory Towers series, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series, which was set in Switzerland and was full of local color, and many more. It is my theory that the popularity of Harry Potter has less to do with fantasy than with the introduction of the traditional British boarding school story to an American audience. They're wish-fullfillment fantasies in which the wish was that school was fun.

Boarding school books for girls have uniformly female casts, and so offer girls the chance to occupy every school story archetype: the brave one, the sensible one, the dreamy artist, the bully, the hero, the dummy, the actress, the jock, the horse-crazy girl, the shrinking violet, the snob. Competitive sports play major roles, and performing arts a slightly smaller one. Midnight feasts are frequent.

Macho girls, who may go by male names like Bill, often become best friends with very femme and timid girls with names like Mary-Anne, and fantasize together about never marrying and living together in a small cottage, where Mary Anne can keep house and Bill can break horses. In light of this, I enjoyed seeing the title, which was apparently translated from Phyllis Matthewman's original Swedish, The Queerness of Rusty.

Other sample titles: The Turbulence of Tony, Jill's Jolliest School, The Darling of the School, The Chums of Study Ten, Miss Prosser's Passion, 'Play Up, Buffs!', So this Is School!, and Gay from China at the Chalet School.

http://home.swipnet.se/flickbok/collect.htm
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