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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Tales from Mother Russia

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-56-45-pmWe’re back from a few days of rest, travel, and so much family, with yet another double post — always, as the year draws to a close, the double posts, because the good books just keep piling up. Today’s books in many ways have nothing in common — one historical fiction, absolutely realistic despite some stylistic flourishes that point to fairy tales, and the other contemporary fantasy. One is set in Russia and Sweden and England and a few points in between; the other in only a few square blocks of Brooklyn. One stretches over years, even decades when the framing narrative is considered, and the other takes place over three nights — although they are long nights, it’s true.

So what ties these two — Vassa in the Night and Blood Red Snow White — together? They share a mythologized love of Russia. They grow from Russian fairy tales, in one case because the protagonist has written a collection and in the other because everybody’s favorite wicked witch, Baba Yaga, is running a murderous convenience store that entraps our intrepid heroine.

Neither of these is a portrait of the true Russia, but both of them demonstrate the deep love affair people have with Russia, the fabled Mother Country, regardless of actual Russia, the political and geographic entity making front page news.

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The Rest of the Best

I’m a little late to the party, but more lists! More books to read! More surprises, and also more alignment around the standout YA titles of 2016!

We’ve already covered PW and SLJ (AKA the Mothership); now let’s look at Kirkus and The Horn Book from the trade side and NPR’s Book Concierge and The New York Times notable list from the mass media side.

(Obviously there are dozens more lists we could look at, and this is by no means comprehensive. If comprehensive is your thing, I heartily recommend Jen J’s spreadsheet for the trades, once she updates it, and for the list of all lists ever, Largehearted Boy is your guy.)

Alrighty, enough intro. Let’s dig in!

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The Lie Tree

The Lie Tree coverOh, The Lie Tree. For so long — since January, in fact, when I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC — I’ve been holding this up as an exemplar of great writing. Along with The Passion of Dolssa this has consistently held top billing in my head. It’s brilliant and unconventional; the writing is excellent; the themes unexpected: religion and science and feminism, oh my, with a lovely side of what it means to grow up.

And look, I still stand by this one as an excellent book. But after re-reading, I find I also have some questions. Let’s dig in!

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Railhead

railhead_cover_241x361Railhead, Philip Reeve
Switch Press, April 2016
Reviewed from ARC

Philip Reeve is underappreciated in the US. The Mortal Engines quartet was brilliant science fiction — pacy, philosophical, and heart-breaking. And then it was gone, apparently out of print. The prequel trilogy starring the incomparable Fever Crumb also failed to get as much traction as it deserved. Hopefully, the upcoming film of Mortal Engines will signal a rebirth of interest, and hopefully that will mean good things for Reeve’s latest, the unusual Railhead.

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The Thin Line

the-singing-bones-coverCover Girl Who Drank the MoonSnow White Ohelan cover

I’m going to cheat a little today, and deviate from our attempts to review in roughly calendar order.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about middle grade and YA and all ages and the fine line between the Newbery and the Printz.

We’ve had books on all ends snag awards, yes, but these are generally outliers (see: Navigating Early, Last Stop on Market Street, This One Summer). Generally, the Printz list is solidly YA, the Newbery middle grade, and the Caldecott goes to a picture book for ages 4-7. But here’s the thing: books aren’t nearly this clearcut in their appeal. And as always, we have a handful of books this year that seem tailor-made to defy easy age and award bracketing. Today I’m going to look at three of them (with an honorable mention of a fourth): Matt Phelan’s Snow White, Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones, and Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank Down the Moon. These aren’t the only potential line-blurrers: Joy’s Thanksgiving call for reader nominations raised Wolf Hollow (my honorable mention) and Some Kind of Happiness as possibilities, and the nonfiction this year is almost all on the cusp — and that’s just the ones I can name off the top of my head. But these three are the ones I see as having the most consensus as crossover books we might want to talk about, whether or not they actually have the legs to go the distance.

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Magical Realism

the-head-of-the-saint-coverA Fierce and Subtle PoisonMagical Realism is hot: It’s the label attached to last year’s Printz winner Bone Gap, and it’s been popping up all over the YA and MG scene for the past few years. This year, again, offers us a handful of books in the genre. I’ve read three so far that deserve to be in the awards speculation pool, and today I’m going to talk about two of them (the last one is a late fall pub so we’ll wait on that).

Magical Realism is realistic literature with fantastical or magical elements, but it’s something more, because that bare bones definition also covers a significant chunk of fantasy. If you extend the definition, two additional points are worth noting: first, the setting; and second, the way the magic is received. The top-billed magical realists are Latin American — Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende — and their settings are Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Chile. And in their books, the magic is not something apart — compare this to, say, Stiefvater’s Raven Boys quartet, where they all know the magic is strange, and, well, magical. Instead, in magical realist texts, the magic heightens the mundane and becomes an expression of emotion, rather than something characters step back and try to understand.

One of the two titles I’m discussing today reads to me like classic magical realism — no surprise, as it bears a dedication to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and is a Brazilian work, originally published in Portuguese and now translated into English. The second straddles the fantasy/magical realism line, but feels closer in its roots to magical realism than fantasy, so I’m going with the label.

Alright, enough introduction, and on to the books.

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Morris and Turner Contendas

Roundup photo by Flickr user Mike Mozart, CC license BY 2.0

Roundup photo by Flickr user Mike Mozart, CC license BY 2.0

Hello! It’s roundup time, today focused on contendas for awards other than the Printz.

One of these awards is a real actual award, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award; the other is imaginary but no less real in my heart. The Morris you all know about, of course, and we’ve been covering several debut/Morris contenders that we think are also Printz contenders; today I’ll be talking about some early 2016 debuts that I don’t think quite have the chops for the larger pool that is all YA, but are good enough to have been potentially on the table for the Morris committee. The other award I’m speculating about is the  imaginary — but needed! — Meghan Whalen Turner Award for Best Completed Series.

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It Begins…

PW coverToday, we interrupt our usual 3 review posts per week schedule to do our first list look.

Because yes, it’s November, and yes, we’re in the rapid dash to the end of the year, and yes, the Best of lists have begun with PW’s, which landed last week.

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The Passion of Dolssa

the-passion-of-dolssa-coverThe Passion of Dolssa, Julie Berry
Viking, April 2016
Reviewed from final copy

2016 has been, by and large, a strong year. Strong enough that I’ll be hard pressed to come up with my top 5 at the end of the season.

But my top 2 are already decided, and after rereading The Passion of Dolssa last week, I no longer have any question about which book should get the top billing this year.

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When Good Authors Go Bad

Ok, I confess: the title of this post is mostly clickbait. I’m too much of a libra (and librarian) to be able to call these books anything as absolute as “bad.” The less clickbait, more classic title could be: In which the reader is disappointed in not one but two four-star books, by authors she has previously loved, and is left wondering if the fault is hers or the authors’.

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