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Fantasy You Don’t Want to Miss, a Two-fer

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 9.55.31 PMLet’s talk about heart books. Because today I want to call your attention to two books that are long shots at best, but which I loved them dearly as a reader. More than that, despite the flaws that I predict will ultimately sink them, these are strong books that deserve close attention. Both are contemporary fantasy, one in the magic realism vein and the other in the send up all the tropes and take no prisoners vein. (Ok, that’s a pretty niche vein, but still.) Other than genre, their bisexual protagonists (something I didn’t put together until halfway through this review), and their likely distance from medal territory these don’t have much in common – but that’s ok, because every book deserves to be considered on its own.

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Thick as Thieves

Thick as ThievesSo, today’s post was scheduled to be about two new books in familiar worlds with thieves in them. But after rereading Thick as Thieves I decided to split them up — because really, both books (the other is Wein’s The Pearl Thief, of course) deserve full posts to themselves. Thick as Thieves delighted me when I read it for the first time, back in February, but I wanted to love it so much that I wondered if maybe I had loved it despite issues. After rereading it, I’m convinced I didn’t love it enough the first time around, because once I was past that first read to find out what was going to happen, I was able to sit back and really be blown away by Turner’s writing, which is frankly genius.

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Strange the Dreamer

Strange the DreamerDo I start with why this is not going to win an award, or with why it should?

Let’s start with the issues: it’s fantasy. It’s the start of a series. We’ve all heard this song before, and I don’t have faith that this is the book that will change the tune – but man, I loved it, and also it’s a sharp piece of writing from an author who just keeps improving – so I’m going to make a case for why it continues to be a travesty that this book (and books like this — quality, serial fantasy) don’t even make the speculation conversation most of the time, because I can’t help thinking this is exactly the kind of fantasy that best exemplifies the genre — no fancy genre-blending or crossover, just full on, gorgeous fantasy — and that we should recognize that even if RealCommittee’s rarely do.

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The Reader

The ReaderThe Reader by Traci Chee
Putnam, August 2016
Reviewed from an ARC

This is a book I’ve been saving the whole season, saving until the end because I knew I’d love it and I wanted to savor it. I’m not alone in loving it — it has four stars, it’s on the SLJ Mothership’s year end list, and it’s fantasy, and there’s action, and there are pirates, and it’s atmospheric and beautiful, and there are magical reading powers, and that cover is so wow, and and AND! What can I say? Sometimes you feel like possibly a book was designed, down to a molecular level, to be a You Book. This is one of those times for me. But now that I’ve actually read it, and sat with it for a bit, I’m going to do my best and try to have a balanced take for our Printzly purposes.

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Historical(ish)

blog2So much fun! History is full of so many unexplored paths! What if you were a child of immigrants who bribed her way into a posh school? What if you were a doomed teenage king? What if you were a doomed teenage queen? What if you survived the San Francisco earthquake? What if you took on racism in your posh school? What if you, I don’t know, SHAPESHIFTED? Just laying out the options here, amiright? OK, OK, we’re sort of smooshing historical fiction and history-tinged fantasy, but it’s the end of the year, we’re trying to get through the books, this is a fun pairing, and I’m happy to bounce between Outrun the Moon and My Lady Jane. Will either of these titles find their way to the table for RealCommittee? [Read more…]

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 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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Rebel of the Sands

rebel

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Viking, March 2016
Reviewed from a final copy

OK, I’m a day late with this review because, well, I wanted to talk about this book and then I wasn’t sure if I ought to talk about this book, but I just wanted to keep thinking about this book and it was distracting me from the other books I was considering writing up this week. And basically, if we’re going to move past this week and get this review up, we’re just going to have to push our way through this review all together. 

To actually talk about Rebel: this is a title with three stars. We didn’t include it in our original official nomination list. It’s a debut title, and it’s also the start of a new series (and series books and the Printz don’t always work well together, although Morris has had some love for that). All of this may mean I’ll be talking to myself here. But I’ve got things to work out, and a blog, and, uh, I’m all out of bubblegum. Or something. [Read more…]

The Dark Days Club

dark-days-club-titleI’m going to tip my hand right at the outset: this is a fantastic slow burn of a novel that is also the first in a series, so let’s face it: award recognition here probably goes beyond long shot and right into impossible. But sometimes you sit down to write up the book you meant to write up and you find yourself thinking “Wait! I WANT to say something about this other book, because it’s GOOD.” So I’m saying something.

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The Radiant Road

The Radiant Road coverThe Radiant Road, Katherine Catmull
Dutton, January 2016
Reviewed from final e-book

I mentioned last week that each of us has to assess excellence for ourselves, as well as coming to consensus when it comes time to pick a winner (or, for us, Pyrite winner).

For me, excellence is deeply tied to language. I was an English major; I’ve been know to read poetry for fun. I love puns. It doesn’t have to be highfalutin’, but show me real skill manipulating language and I’m likely to be lined up reaching for that book with both hands.

So no surprise, my second book this season once again is one that hits it out of the park when it comes to pure old-fashioned word-smithing.

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