Random (but not really)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Fantasy, Young Adult

This category is obviously a little bit of everything, since I wanted to put all the YA into a single group. I love YA because I can pick up a YA book and know it’s not going to have boinking. Not that there’s anything wrong with boinking, I just prefer to skip it, but sometimes there is important conversation in the boinking, so I have to skim, and, well. Yeah.

But the other thing I love about YA is that it is usually really really good.  If teenagers are done well, they are complex people who have issues that many of us adults have forgotten. It’s a good reminder for when we lose patience with them, that being a teenager is difficult. (No, I’m being serious. Fluctuating hormones combined with increasing responsibilities and a decreasing certainty about the world can be terrifying.)

But that’s not why I picked out these stories. These were picked out because they are simply good tales.

Michelle’s Best Of


Hush Money (2010) Susan Bischoff  (Talent Chronicles)

I stumbled across the short story Impulse Control (2011) and immediately wanted to know more about the world and the characters within.

This isn’t the only story about kids with special powers getting locked up by a government who fears them, which I think says something about our faith in the government. We fear that which we do not understand (I’m sure someone famous said that) and value our security more than we do our freedom. Which is terribly disheartening. Which make these stories a warning, but that’s not why I’m recommending them.

What this story has is intelligent teenagers who recognize the threat to themselves, yet are still teens and likely to do foolish things, but it’s the stupidity of lack of knowledge and inexperience. And on top of that, these kids are dealing with a new situation—they have no one to advise them, they (and perhaps their parents) simply have to work it out as they go along.

I think what I liked best about Joss is that her father did everything possible to make her safe—training her how to fight etc—but she also recognizes her limitations.

This series is two books and a novella, and I’m sorry it never got any more than that.


Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (2010) Lish McBride (Necromancer)

Sam dropped out of college and is now stuck working at a fast food joint.

My name is Samhain Corvus LaCroix, and I am a fry cook. I tried to take some pride where I could. If I was going to be a dropout loser, then I was going to be the best dropout loser. That pride came with some complications because it always depressed me to spot anyone, short of a manager, working fast food over the age of eighteen. I didn’t look in any mirrors until I got home and out of my uniform. It was better that way.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s attacked after work and doesn’t even have the slightest idea why.

First, I kinda love that she has Sam working food service because he’s dropped out of college. Because that’s something a lot of teens don’t consider. Even better, she has fast food pretty spot on, so there’s no romanticizing it.

Second, I love the world she has created here, and that Sam is a necromancer, which is not something you come across often in supernatural fantasy. I also think it’s important that people die in the story, because Sam and his friends take risks and get into danger, so it’s not surprising that someone might die. It’s not that I like it when characters die, I just think that it’s both ridiculous and unrealistic when everyone walks away uninjured from a big fight or dangerous situation.

There are two books and a short story in this series, and she has another series that I like, Firebug (2014), but I haven’t read the second story in that series yet.


Sabriel (1995) Garth Nix (Sabriel)

This is a story set in a world that is almost, but not quite ours, around a time that would approximate the 1930s.

Sabriel is the daughter of a Charter necromancer. Her father’s job is to keep dead spirits and place and to return the dead who have arisen or been forced back into a semblance of life. It is a difficult job, but an important one. Although her father sent her outside of the Old Kingdom for her education, he still made sure to educate her as a Charter necromancer, as she would be his heir when he died.

Yes, the main character is a necromancer. She has control over the dead and can step into the rivers of the afterlife. She’s awesome. She is scared, but she does what she needs to anyway, which is probably one of the best lessons any kid can learn.

But it’s also an adventure story: Sabriel has to find out what happened to her father, and right what is wrong.

Plus, she has a ridiculous cat-creature named Mogget.

Mogget didn’t answer, but sat at her feet, and made a movement that looked very much like he was going to be sick. Sabriel recoiled, disgusted, then halted, as a small metallic object fell from Mogget’s mouth and bounced on the floor. “Almost forgot,” said Mogget. “You’ll need this if I’m to come with you.”

Mogget is probably my favorite character in the series.

There are three books in this series, and all are good, although I think Sabriel is the best. He also has a short story collection, Across the Wall (2005), that is very good. There are other series, but they felt slightly younger to me, and I never got into them.


The Hounds of the Mórrigan (1985) Pat O’Shea

This is another book that I picked up because of its cover, and I immediately fell in love.

It’s a tale set in our world (although not necessarily our current world) that is full of Irish myth and folklore.

Pidge and his younger sister must keep the Morrigan from obtaining the serpent Olc-Glas, and travel to do this, receiving help from the creatures they come across, while they are chased by the Morrigan’s hounds.

On of the things I especially liked is how the machinations of the Morrigan are shown.

Whenever the Sergeant and the Manager met after that day, hostility lay like a force field between them. This was very sad, as they both loved growing roses more than anything else in the world and they could have been friends for many long and happy years.

That is a terribly simple, but also a terribly sad passage.

This book is long out of print, and unavailable as an ebook, so if you come across it, snatch it up.


ShadowshaperShadowshaper (2015) Daniel José Older (Shadowshaper Cypher)

There is an unseen world just below our own, a world of ghosts and spirits that some families have the ability to see and even control.

Sierra Santiago is prepared to spend her summer break painting murals, but strange things keep happening, and she soon discovers the world of spirits her family knows, but never told her.

This is also a story about being a teenage girl.

Further down Gates Ave, a couple of guys were throwing dice in front of the Coltrane Projects. “Why you frownin’, girl?” one of them called out as Sierra walked past. “Smile for us!”

Sierra knew the guy. It was Little Ricky; they’d played together when they were small. He’d been one of those boys that all the girls were crazy about, with big dreamy eyes and a gentle way about him. A few years ago, Sierra would have been giddy with excitement to have his attention. Now he was just another stoopgoon harassing every passing skirt.

“I ain’t in the mood, jackass,” Sierra muttered, hugging herself. She was still shaky from the horrible night and she knew any sign of weakness would encourage them.

The guys let out a chorus of ohs and pounded one another. “I’m just saying, Sarcastula,” Ricky called after her. “C’mon back when you in the mood …”

I am constantly impressed by how well Daniel José Older gets women and teenage girls. There are probably a handful of male writers that do this extremely well, and he is one. It means (to me) that he actually has listened to the women around him, to be able to write scenes like the one above, about what girls and women experience all the time (although the threat is downplayed there, which I’m fine with. I know it’s there, as does he).

But more importantly, the story is fun and often funny, because despite everything, teens do know joy, perhaps better than their elders.

“Imma write a book,” Tee announced. “It’s gonna be about white people.”

Izzy scowled. “Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you.”

“I’m being serious,” Tee said. “If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra’s grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don’t see why I can’t write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: A Culturalpological Study.”

There are currently two books and two short stories in this series. (And I already mentioned the Bone Street Rumba series, which I adore.)


The Thief (1996) Megan Whalen Turner (The Queen’s Thief)

This is a fantasy set in a somewhat medieval world. Gen is a thief who is spending time in the king’s dungeon for stealing the king’s seal. But the king finally decides he has use for such a thief and sets Gen, the king’s magus, and the mage’s apprentice out to capture… something.

“There’s something I want you to steal. Do this for me, and I’ll see that you don’t go back to prison. Fail to do this for me, and I will still make sure that you don’t go back to prison.”

This is a fabulous book. I have always had a soft-spot for rogues (in literature—in real life, far less so) so I found Gen vastly entertaining. He’s snarky and comments upon everything—sometimes he even keeps his comments to himself.

He is also far smarter than the magus give him credit for, so it is a delight to finally learn what Gen’s actual goal had been.

The other character I loved was Sophos, the mage’s apprentice.

Sophos turned red, and I wondered about the circulation of his blood; maybe his body kept an extra supply of it in his head, ready for blushing.

Sophos is sweet and innocent and lovely.

There are currently five books in this series, and I recommend reading them in order. None is a cliffhanger, but to be honest, once you read this first, you’ll want to read the second. She also writes short stories, and her collection Instead of Three Wishes (2006), is quite good, and I’d actually read at least one of the stories in a different anthology.


Sorcery & Cecelia -OR- The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (1988) Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Steampunk or Gaslamp, however you name it, is Regency or Victorian England, but with magic. Of course, it’s not always England, but it’s our past where magic or steam have taken the place of technology.

Kate and Cecelia are cousins, and when Kate goes to London for her first season, she and Cecelia write letters back and forth of their various adventures.

Aunt Elizabeth and I called at the vicarage yesterday and spent a stimulating afternoon listening to the Reverend Fitzwilliam discoursing on the Vanities of Society and the Emptiness of Worldly Pleasures. Aunt Elizabeth hung on every word, and we are to return and take tea on Thursday. I am determined to have the headache Thursday, if I have to hit myself with a rock to do it.

Aunt Charlotte was enthralled by the chance to survey the boxes in our circle. From the overture to the finale, for the benefit of Georgy’s education, she pointed out all the people of whom she could not approve. She tried several times to get my attention so that I, too, could profit from this instruction, but I kept my eyes stubbornly on the stage.

I’ve read several different books where the story is told by letters written back and forth by the main characters. It seems like a lovely way to write a story, and the epistolary books I’ve read have all been good.

There are three books in the series, the second of which I find the weakest of the trilogy. It’s not bad, I just didn’t like it as well as the first, possibly because of the different format.


Thirteenth Child (2009) Patricia C. Wrede (Frontier Magic)

Effie is the thirteenth child, while her twin brother Lan is a seventh son of a seventh son, making him a natural magician, while Effie is assumed by her extended family to be, at best, bad luck, if not downright evil.

Luckily, her parents are having none of that, and so move the family to the Frontier, just inside the Great Barrier, where their father will teach.

“I heard there are great beasts, the size of a house, that can stamp you flat as paper!” Cousin Bernie said.

“Those are mammoths,” Robbie told him. He’d been doing extra reading on the North Plains ever since he found out we’d be living there, and he enjoyed showing off his new knowledge to the rest of us. “They used to be all over North Columbia, but when the first settlers came from the Old Continent, they killed all the ones in the East.

What do I love about this story? Let me count the ways. First, there is the world building, which is fabulous. It is recognizably North America, and even some of the founding fathers are the same, but the world is also something entirely foreign, and that familiarity seems to emphasize that strangeness.

Second, are the characters. Each character is unique and easy to keep apart with, perhaps, the exception of some of Effie’s siblings, but that’s because we almost never see then (some were almost grown when Effie and Lan were born). There are some characters, like Miss Ochiba and Wash, that I absolutely adore. Additionally, there are no bad guys in this tale, just people who see things differently from each other.

And then of course there is the story, which is unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

There are three books in this series. The first can be read alone, and there aren’t really cliff hangers, but once I read the first I immediately needed to read the rest of the story.

Another quick note about this story—I especially like the cover of this book, because it doesn’t give you any idea the story is about a girl. If you want boys to read a story about a girl, not putting a girl on the cover is probably the best way to do it. Considering the next two covers, I have to think that was deliberate on someone’s part, and I appreciate it.

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