Books

Dogears: An Unscripted History of Dragons

My Unscripted LifeMy Unscripted Life Lauren Morrill Delacorte (Random House) October 11, 2016
Lauren Morrill
Delacorte (Random House)
October 11, 2016

Lauren Morrill is a comforting voice in YA fiction, with contemporary romances that aren’t surprising but still engaging. But My Unscripted Life is the least captivating of her books thus far—it’s a novel that elevates romance at the expense of character development and story growth. Dee is a cookie-cutter character, and I struggled throughout the novel to differentiate her from other contemporary YA romance protagonists who find themselves in close quarters with celebrity boys. Parallels are easy to draw between this novel and Jennifer E. Smith’s This Is What Happy Looks Like, and unfortunately Morrill comes out lacking.

Dee and Milo’s relationship is the cornerstone of My Unscripted Life, but I found myself much more interested in the intricacies of filmmaking, as experienced by Dee in her role of props assistant. I enjoyed seeing the background work of making a movie, and the people who make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Milo himself was the least interesting part of that plotline, and I didn’t feel that he and Dee were really a good match. Morrill’s writing never quite pushes either character into situations that challenge them or enlightens them for the reader, and I finished the book without extreme feelings one way or another.

—Angel

A Natural History of DragonsA Natural History of Dragons Marie Brennan Tor Books February 4, 2014
Marie Brennan
Tor Books
February 4, 2014

I basically fell in love with this book as soon as I saw its cover. As a kid, I had very well-worn copies of Dragonology and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them that are probably to blame for my love of fictional memoirs, histories, and the like from fantastical settings. As such, I was pretty stoked about this book, and committed to it from the start.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when it exceeded even my own very biased expectations.

Though a work of fiction, I expected A Natural History of Dragons to read more or less like nonfiction, with all the predictability that comes with it (though slightly less so, because, you know, dragons). Instead, I found a masterfully crafted story that applied elements of nonfiction to fantasy so well that I would look up for a moment and forget where I was. I thought Isabella was a fun and charming main character despite her flaws, and Brennan distinguishes her voice while balancing adventure and action with the social politics that inform each of Isabella’s decisions. The attitudes of Isabella’s fictional homeland are very Victorian, and this landscape provides both external obstacles and internal distress as she attempts to find harmony between her expected duties and her passion for studying dragons. Without these challenges, I think the book would be far less interesting. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series and discovering what other challenges await her.

If you like books about bookworms (bookwyrms?), or are fascinated by crypto-/magizoology, you will love this book.

—KM

Angel’s Blood (Guild Hunter #1)Angel’s Blood (Guild Hunter #1) Nalini Singh Berkley Sensation January 1, 2009
Nalini Singh
Berkley Sensation
January 1, 2009

Much like Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Elena Deveraux hunts vampires and is, of course, the best at what she does thanks to her preternatural skill and her own confidence and training. Now she’s tasked with hunting something far worse than a vampire, at the request of Archangel Raphael who isn’t about to take no for an answer. Go ahead and check cocky leading lady with a dark past who gets caught up in deadly intrigue and must wrestle with her desires for the super hawt bad boy (also with a dark past) that might as soon kiss her as kill her off the list of the many sexy urban fantasy tropes! But where I soured on Anita Blake novels, that eventually became focused on Anita having sex all the time, I’m only just starting the Guild Hunter series, so I can sit back and enjoy the ride with a fresh start in a genre that I otherwise don’t much care for. Angel’s Blood still has the typical troublesome sexy relationship, but at the very least, I’m pleased that Elena does not accept it until it’s on her terms. She is quick to call Raphael’s attempts at mental manipulation exactly what they are—rape—and he in turn has some moments of introspection about this and seeks to do better.

Elements that I am fond of include the fact that Elena, while she works alone, does not work within a vacuum of I-Must-Be-Aloneness. She has great colleagues, and her best friend (and boss) in particular is a relationship that I look forward to seeing more of.

The story is mostly told through Elena’s eyes, but we often see the inner workings of the archangel’s through Raphael, wherein we learn about their politics, and seeds are sown for a much greater story beyond the monster of the week. And while the changes in Elena and Raphael’s relationship by the end of the book are pretty drastic, I would like to think that Singh is setting things up for a solid overarching plot. Or it could just be an excuse for lots more hot angel/vampire sex. Which is okay, as long as we don’t go overboard.

And finally, the book features many PoCs, including Elena herself (despite what some of the book covers show), which is a very welcome change from the usual smattering of occasional background characters of colour.

—Wendy Browne

Between The World and MeBetween The World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates Spiegel & Grau July 2015
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau
July 14, 2015

Between The World and Me came as a bit of a system shock for me because it’s so unlike any other media discussing the contemporary black condition in America. Whether it’s The People Vs OJ Simpson, David F. Walker and Sanford Greene’s Power Man and Iron Fist, or even Coates’ own work for The Atlantic, there’s a sense that matters of race need to be discussed with pinpoint accuracy in recognition of the scrutiny that black hypervisibility inspires. Coates visibly discards that burden in the opening paragraphs of the book, describing the peculiar kind of sadness that washed over him during a TV appearance when he was presented with an image of a child hugging a police officer as a symbol for hope in a future without racist police violence. No matter how persuasively he articulated himself, “The Dreamers” as he calls them, us, just are not going to get on board with the reality that the system isn’t broken, it’s working as intended. With that out of the way, he loosens his prose into what is probably best described as a poet’s novel.

It’s definitely a work of non-fiction, but the book is informed by an unburdened lyricism and flow that is relatively unique among memoirs. Coates isn’t waiting for anyone to catch up, you either have to accept that the United States is a country built on plunder or close the book. With that said, Between The World and Me deals in emotional truths, guiding the reader through the particular calculus of survival necessary in the urban Baltimore of his youth to his formative years at Howard University and finally adapting to the realities of living in New York with a family of his own. His time in Paris is perhaps the most illuminating passage in the book as he describes the feeling of liberty from the tensions of blackness in America while holding France accountable for it’s own history of colonialism and racist repression. It isn’t enough to say that Between The World and Me is required reading for white readers because no one is rolling out a red carpet here. If you want to engage with it, you have to be able to accept the world as Coates sees it.

—Emma Houxbois

The NestThe Nest Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney Ecco March 22, 2016
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Ecco
March 22, 2016

I have been seeing The Nest everywhere this spring, so it was only a matter of time before I had to see what all the buzz was about.

The novel introduces us to one dysfunctional New York family. Each one of the four siblings has their own quirks and these quirks have resulted in some sticky financial situations. None of which they were particularly worried about because they would eventually have access to “The Nest,” a fund set up for them by their father, to be released on the 40th birthday of the youngest sibling. But when Leo, the oldest, gets into a car accident almost the entire fund goes to paying off the young girl who was in the car with him. Family drama and antics ensue.

The Nest is really being pushed as the big book of the spring/summer. And I can see where the appeal lies. Sweeney is a talented writer, and the book manages to be interesting but stay light–ideal for vacations or simply lounging around in the sunshine. But the same qualities that make it so great for vacation reading also make it a tad forgettable. None of the characters feel particularly new and unique, we’ve seen them all before. And all of the drama and scandal and laid on the table in the opening chapters. The tension never increases and the ending feels anticlimactic. It’s a fine novel, but certainly not a timeless one.

—Christa

GuileGuile Constance Cooper Clarion Books March 1, 2016
Constance Cooper
Clarion Books
March 1, 2016

I’ve been feeling a little burned out on Young Adult fiction lately, but I was drawn to Guile because it just sounded so different from everything I had been reading. The story takes place in a New Orleans-inspired fantasy world, where the magic is heavy with a mysterious kind of magic known as guile. Objects that spend enough time in the water (for example lost jewelry or supplies from a sunken boat) can then become infused with that same magic. The average person can’t tell whether or not an object is full of guile, or what the guile might do, but not knowing can sometimes have dangerous consequences. Which is where Yonie Watereye comes in. She makes her living “reading” objects for guile (although in actuality it’s really her cat LaRue with the magical abilities).

I found this book so charming and was immediately transported into this dark and wonderful world. The magic is unique and it was interesting to see how it affected each object differently. Yonie herself is a treasure. She’s sassy and brazen but also kind-hearted and charming. And I personally love when fantasy novels have a talking animal companion. If you’re anything like me and you’re looking for something different from your YA fantasy Guile is definitely worth checking out.

—Christa

The Winner’s KissThe Winner’s Kiss Marie Rutkoski Farrar, Straus and Giroux March 29, 2016
Marie Rutkoski
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
March 29, 2016

This month was about finales for me and The Winner’s Kiss was a great end to a fantastic series. Rutkoski gave us a book that stripped its lead characters bare and removed the manipulation as well as the power moves in their relationship to allow for true honesty. It was fantastic watching Kestrel grow from a young woman who was blinded by her privilege to a young woman who truly understood the role of her privilege in the conquering of a people. It was great watching Arin grow into his leadership role and most importantly, it was great to see a final book dedicate itself to its final confrontation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a series that would waste time rehashing issues from the previous books and then dedicating the last hundred pages to the the very purpose of that final novel.

I was never bored even during the quiet moments because I could see the stitching or re-stitching of these relationships whether it was the brotherly bonds of Roshar and Arin or Kestrel’s relationship with her father. I liked that the series has always been routed in power and love and the role of manipulation in both. I enjoyed watching how different characters dealt with being hurt by love because it’s painful regardless of the type of love it is. I could go on but I’ll recommend the series instead because it’s fabulous.

—Ardo Omer

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic, 2015
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press
April 26, 2016

Oh God. I’ve been waiting for this finale for a long time and I even did a re-read to prepare myself for it. So much happened but I will tell you three (non-spoilery) things.

1) I gasped, awed  and cried (Happy? Sad? You’ll have to read to find out) very loudly while I read because it was jam packed with so much feelings that it seemed impossible to contain it all in a human body.
2) There were failings. Stiefvater threw in characters and left scenes dangling which hurt the book.
3) Depending on what you wanted out of the book, you’ll either love it or be disappointed in it. I do think that the failings will still be evident regardless of how you felt.

I personally loved the book but I also realized the relationship between Blue and the Raven Boys were why I was reading it and I think those relationships were handled really well. I definitely think it was a weaker finale than what I was expecting for this series but it is by no means a terrible finale. You could clearly see what Stiefvater wanted to accomplish but it’s all about whether or not she did so effectively and I don’t think she did. At least, not completely. I do recommend the series because it’s a series that has so many layers and plenty of things to dissect with friends.

—Ardo Omer