Monday, January 30, 2012

The Warrior's Apprentice

The fact that, although there are so many wonderful books out there I have yet to read, I still take the time to reread the books in this series should tell you how wonderful these books are.  Even if you think you don't like science fiction, I urge you to take a chance on this series.  It is beautifully written, with brilliant characterization, intricate and surprising plots, humor and a dash of subtle social commentary.


The first two books of the series feature Cordelia Naismith, and at the end of the second book, Barrayar,we are introduced to Miles Vorkosigan.  This third book, The Warrior's Apprentice, features Miles, who is now a teenager, and his life on a planet that abhors genetic mutations has not been an easy one, despite the fact that he is the son of one of most politically important people on the planet.  As a result of exposure to poisonous gas when he was in utero, Miles has a fragile bone condition that has forced him to under go dozens of surgeries, and he is very short, with bones that break easily, a crooked spine, and leg braces. (He would be quick to point out that his disability is purely physical; he is not a mutant, but in the eyes of Barrayarans, that distinction makes little difference in the way he is treated.) He wants nothing more than to attend Barrayar's elite military academy in the tradition of all the Vorkosigans, and he has passed the written exams with flying colors. The physical exams, however, are another matter.  


Miles, needing a change of scene, travels to his mother's distant planet, Beta Colony, and where a series of events sparked by his good intentions see him suddenly in charge of a mercenary fleet. It doesn't occur to him, however, that his father's political enemies might spin the rumors of Miles' activities to look like preparations for a military coup. Miles is a brilliant strategist, creative and resourceful, but he is, after all, still a teenager, and he has a whole lot to learn.

I had just as much fun rereading this book as I did the first time around.  It lends itself beautifully to being read aloud, and Grover Gardner does an excellent job with the narration, giving the characters' voices their own unique style and infusing the story with just the right amount of emotion and drama.  Miles is one of my very favorite characters, and I know I'll be dipping into this series again and again because the books are just that good.


Books in the Vorkosigan Saga
1. Shards of Honor
2. Barrayar
3. The Warrior's Apprentice
4. The Vor Game
5. Cetaganda
6. Ethan of Athos 
(almost a spin-off) 
7. Brothers in Arms
8. Borders of Infinity
9. Mirror Dance
10. Memory
11. Komarr
12. A Civil Campaign
13. Diplomatic Immunity
14. Cryoburn


The Warrior's Apprentice (#3 in the Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold; narrated by Grover Gardner (Blackstone Audio, 2006)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Possibly regretting a New Year's resolution...


Not the resolution that I'd get caught up with my book reviews - I've been pretty pleased with my progress there, although I still have a ways to go.  No, the one that I'm feeling uneasy about these days is where I said that I'd try my best to read every book that my children recommend to me.  And they are crazy about a book that I've been doing my best to avoid (while claiming that yes, at some point, I'd be reading): The Hunger Games.

What's up with that?  I've been thinking about my possibly unreasonable aversion to reading this novel.  Some of my very favorite book bloggers have been raving about it, as have some of my favorite young readers at my library. I read Gregor the Overlander and quite liked it.  I've decided what my reluctance boils down to is the fact that I really, really dislike feeling emotionally manipulated by books.  Not moved by books, which is totally different.  I'm talking Old Yeller-like emotionally manipulated.  It seems like a cheap shot to show me a puppy, let it grow up all roly-poly and wiggly adorable, then make it be the very best friend to a lonely and possibly abused child, and then oh, no, it died!  What a moving metaphor for growing up and the loss of childhood innocence.  Not.

So there are some books I stay away from. I will never read The Bridge to Terabithia, The Yearling or Where the Red Fern Grows. I'm sure they are fine books, but no thanks, not for me. My husband teases me that I'm perfectly fine watching movies like Shaun of the Dead as people get torn apart by zombies, but I have never been able to get myself to watch Schindler's List. Yup. I never said I make sense. It's just how I am.

I didn't know all that much about The Hunger Games beyond the fact that it takes place in a dystopian society in the distant future, in which children are sent to fight to the death as televised entertainment.  But that sounds to me that by opening that book, I'll really be setting myself up for some serious emotional manipulation. I'm going to get attached to these kids, I just know it. And, you know, like in The Highlander: There can only be one.  Do I really want to put myself through this?

So my resolution has been immediately put to the test.  And the fact my daughters have used Christmas gift cards to purchase the entire series for their Nooks (which immediately makes them available on mine) means that I cannot claim that it's on a waiting list (and has been at my library on and off for years) to put off reading it.

At the same time, I have to say that my kids have been intensely captivated by this series. My older daughter (who's thirteen now) was assigned it as a group reading book in her 7th grade English class.  She is never one to blindly follow fashion, so she started reading it with a very skeptical attitude.  But before she was even halfway through the first book, she was totally hooked.  My eleven-year-old saw how much her sister was enjoying the book, and she asked to read it, too.  I gave her a content advisory warning, and she said she was okay with it, and off she went.  They have been so involved with the series that they have spent the last few weeks as inanimate bumps on various pieces of furniture that grunt a bit when prodded. They emerge to eat or, if poked vigorously enough, to set the table, do homework, or unload the dishwasher.

I have taken the plunge.  Already I can tell that reading The Hunger Games trilogy is not going to be easy for this wimpy reader, but I can why it has such appeal to so many people.  I already have a sinking feeling that someone I'm growing attached to is going to be offed before the end of the series, and I don't like it.  But I made my resolution, and I'm sticking to it.  And you all get to hear me whine about it!

We'll see how it goes...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wrapped

Seventeen-year-old Agnes Wilkins is invited to a mummy unwrapping at the house of the dashing Lord Showalter just days before her official debut into Society.  Agnes is dubious about the process of unwrapping mummies - it seems rather disrespectful and a bit ghoulish.  But when Lord Showalter singles her out to unwrap the mummy in question, right in front of everyone at his elegant party, Agnes feels pressured to comply with his wishes.  When she ends up with an artifact, unnoticed by the rest of the guests, she hides it rather than be the unwelcome center of everyone's attention once again.  After all, it can't be very important, as it has no jewels or anything.  But when a series of robberies occurs in the wake of the party, Agnes realizes that the little metal dog she has might be more than it seems.  She teams up with Caedmon, an infuriating but handsome young man from the British Museum, and together they discover a plot that is as far reaching as it is dangerous.

This is a fun Victorian romp with mystery, romance, suspense, and a dash of humor to spice things up.  While the novel appears to be targeted toward teenagers, I think that it's perfectly suitable for younger readers as well.  I particularly enjoyed Agnes's relationship with her father, which reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Bennett's relationship with her father.  That resemblance may not be an accident, as Agnes is utterly obsessed with Jane Austen (to whom she refers as "A Lady," the pseudonym Austen used at the time).  While I found the ease with which Agnes goes haring off on her own at night to spend time alone with Caedmon in the British Museum, risking ruining her reputation, to be a bit unbelievable, I did appreciate her independence of mind.  Teens who enjoyed the Theodosia books when they were younger will be sure to enjoy reading about Agnes' adventures, as will fans of period romances and historical mysteries.

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury; narrated by Elissa Steele (Listening Library, 2011)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Succubus on Top

I started this series last year and enjoyed the first one enough to continue with this second book.  Our heroine is a succubus, as the title suggests, and while she would appear to be working for the dark side, she has quite a few redeeming qualities.  In fact, one aspect of this series that I'm enjoying is the shades of gray, rather than the blanket, superficial good-vs-evil plot line that is more usual in these kinds of books.  Not that there isn't a good-vs-evil plot here, but it's a bit more thoughtful than that.

In this second installment, independent-bookstore clerk (succubi need day jobs, too) Georgina notices that one of her coworkers is behaving oddly.  At first she chalks it up to the general weirdness of young mortal men, but soon it becomes clear that he is caught in a self-destructive spiral, along with the members of his suddenly successful band.  The more Georgina looks into the matter, the more she suspects there is a supernatural reason for the situation.  At the same time, her life has become complicated by her relationship with Seth, the shy but devastatingly handsome author she met in the first book.  Because she is a succubus, she runs the risk of draining his life force, so she cannot act on her feelings for him.  But why do those feelings have to be so strong?

This is a fun supernatural mystery, one of my favorite genres, with interesting characters and a nice mixture of the ongoing personal lives of the characters and the supernatural mystery at hand.  I am always skeptical about starting a new series in this genre, but with this second book, I'm officially in.

Books in the Georgina Kincaid series:
1. Succubus Blues
2. Succubus on Top (aka Succubus Nights)
3. Succubus Dreams
4. Succubus Heat
5. Succubus Shadows
6. Succubus Revealed

Succubus on Top (#2 in the Georgina Kincaid series) by Richelle Mead (Kensington Books 2008)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Aliens on Vacation

I couldn't resist this book once I'd heard the premise: Scrub (aka Dave) is forced to visit his eccentric grandmother in Washington, only to discover that she runs a secret intergalactic hotel, and her guests are aliens looking for a primitive, backwater world as a vacation spot. His grandmother needs some help around the hotel - it's a tough place to run all by herself, but secrecy must be maintained, or the intergalactic B&B organization will shut her down. Scrub is happy to help - it's a fascinating place, after all, but trying to keep things secret is incredibly difficult. There's the town sheriff, who is suspicious and hostile, and a very pretty, very nice girl who is way too interested in aliens for Scrub's peace of mind.

This is a funny, sweet story that should appeal to both boys and girls.  Scrub is an easy kid to like, and he tells the story in an accessible, entertaining way.  I did have some trouble suspending my disbelief throughout the course of the book, but I doubt most young readers will share my reservations.  The story is exciting and suspenseful and dishes out a few fun surprises.  I'm not sure I feel the need to continue with this series myself, but I will certainly be recommending it to young readers at my library.

Books in the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast series:
1. Aliens on Vacation
2. Aliens on a Rampage


Aliens on Vacation (#1 in the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast series) by Clete Barrett Smith; narrated by Joshua Swanson (Brilliance Audio, 2011)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Wild Ways

I absolutely fell in love with the first book in the Enchantment Emporium series, with the unforgettable Gale family and their scary but funny aunties who bake charms into their food, the magical shop with mysterious items on its shelves, and the quirky cast of characters who often had me giggling as I read.  So imagine my delight when I discovered the sequel!  I had been hoping, but as the first book ended with a satisfying conclusion, I wasn't too certain if one would be forthcoming.

This second one certainly did not disappoint.  I felt the usual resistance to switching point-of-view characters - this one features Allie's musical cousin, Charlie Gale, instead of Allie herself - but I was quickly drawn into the story and found myself enjoying Charlie's company as much as, if not more than, her cousin's. Charlie is a rolling stone, a musician who travels with various bands and stops by to visit family from time to time. Her magic is a wild power, but somehow her life has settled into something a bit less than wild.

But then she finds herself playing for a Celtic band at a festival that just happens to be near a contentious potential off-shore drilling site that is also a breeding area for seals - or what appear to be seals. She also finds herself babysitting an adolescent shape-changing dragon with a penchant for mayhem.  Nefarious schemes involving enchantments and seal skins ensue, in an action-packed, twisting, turning tale that will keep readers guessing all the way to the end.  The relationships among the characters make these books shine, and as with all good fantasy novels, the themes resonate on a more serious level that extends well below the surface of a fun magical romp.  Fans of Charles de Lint and Nina Kiriki Hoffman will be sure to love this series.  Here's hoping for another sequel.  Not to be greedy or anything.  But I'd sure love some more!

Books in the Enchantment Emporium series:
1. The Enchantment Emporium
2. The Wild Ways

The Wild Ways (#2 in the Enchantment Emporium series) by Tanya Huff (Daw Books, 2011)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Barrayar


Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga is at the top of my list of very favorite series.  I tend to prefer fantasy over science fiction, although I love them both, because too often (for my personal taste) science fiction novels tend to go off the deep-end with world building and indigestible lumps of exposition regarding the future at the expense of character development and forward momentum.  Bujold's books, however, are never guilty of that sin, and her characters are so complex and dynamic, and the plots so well constructed and surprising that I am committed from the very first pages of every book she writes.  And she writes beautifully.

I have already read every book in the Vorkosigan Saga, but I've been having a delightful time listening to the audio versions as read by Grover Gardner. Barrayar is actually the second book in the series, and the last one to feature Cordelia Naismith as its main character.  The subsequent books focus on her son Miles, one of my all-time favorite fictional characters.

Cordelia has married a man from a different planet, a (to her mind) backward, conservative, violent place full of closed minds, sexism, and seething political intrigue.  Her husband has been appointed regent, as the Emperor is too young to rule, and many of the noble houses are vying to oust the regency and rule in their own right.  Despite the fact that all Cordelia wants is to have a safe place for her new family, she gets thrown into the middle of the upheaval, in a society where appearances are often deceiving.  Luckily she is clever and politically savvy, taking nothing at face value.  Even so, it is impossible to stop every political maneuver, and events soon take a deadly turn...

It is always a joy to return to Barrayar and spend some time with characters I've come to adore over the years.  There is action and adventure, and a close look at the darker side of human nature, but also humor and brilliant world building as well as characterization.  Even if you think you don't like science fiction, you should give this series a try.  It is best to start at the beginning, but readers often begin with the third book, The Warrior's Apprentice, which is the first novel to feature Miles as the main character.  I hope to listen to more books in this series during the coming year.  Even with all the new books that are on my list to read, it is so worth it to take some time to revisit this series.  The books are that good.

Books in the Vorkosigan Saga:
1. Shards of Honor
2. Barrayar
3. The Warrior's Apprentice
4. The Vor Game
5. Cetaganda
6. Ethan of Athos 
(almost a spin-off) 
7. Brothers in Arms
8. Borders of Infinity
9. Mirror Dance
10. Memory
11. Komarr
12. A Civil Campaign
13. Diplomatic Immunity

14. Cryoburn

Barrayar (#2 in the Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold; narrated by Grover Gardner (Blackstone Audio, 2009)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chime

Seventeen-year-old Briony Larkin knows she's a witch - her stepmother told her so, and she knows that because of this, it is her fault that her twin sister is, well, the way she is, and that a flood nearly destroyed their house, and that she is also responsible for her stepmother's death.  She can communicate with the Old Ones who live in the swamp, and if anyone in the village finds out, Briony will be hanged as a witch.  She can feel the rope around her neck every time she thinks of it.

As the story unfolds, the reader becomes aware that there is more to the tale than meets the eye, and as bits and pieces of the past are skillfully woven into the narrative of the present, the startling and disturbing truth of the situation is gradually revealed.

What a wonderful book this was!  I originally picked up the audio book when I learned Chime had been nominated for a National Book Award, and then I found out that this audio version won the Audiofile Earphones Award - and it certainly deserves it.  Susan Duerden's narration is delightful; it fits the evocative and atmospheric tale just perfectly, and the rich language and sensory details of the narration make me remember the book as though I've seen the film version. It is that vivid.  Unforgettable characters, powerful supernatural elements, disturbingly creepy villains, a swoon-worthy romantic hero, and a complexly woven, moving tale make this one of my favorite books of 2011.

Chime by Franny Billingsley;  narrated by Susan Duerden (Listening Library, 2011)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Witches Abroad

Every time I sit down to review a novel by Terry Pratchett, I find myself a bit stymied, wondering how I can possibly do justice to the book. It's difficult because the books are so clever and funny; they are sometimes are parodies of various literary works; they're full of jokes, ridiculous puns and slapstick humor.  But they are so much more than that.  The characters are complex and delightful, not two-dimensional caricatures; the plots are surprising and intricate, and the themes are anything but superficial. The novels are smart and dense and light and funny, and often moving, too - and how on earth he pulls it off so well, I have no idea. To me, each book is a gift, and I always feel so fortunate and grateful every time I open one.

This twelfth installment in the Discworld series opens with the death of Desiderata, fairy godmother. She has not taken the time to train a replacement, but she has chosen her successor, a young and relatively inexperienced witch named Magrat Garlick. Just before her death, Desiderata sends her magic wand to the very surprised Magrat, along with instructions for her first fairy-godmothering mission. There is a dark situation brewing in a foreign land, and before she quite realizes what is happening, Magrat finds herself traveling to distant Genua in the company of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.  It quickly becomes clear to Magrat that the older witches don't have much confidence in her abilities, particularly when the only thing she can get the magic wand to do is turn things into pumpkins.

The narrative follows the adventures that take place during the witches' unforgettable, action-packed road trip, and culminates in Genua, where Desiderata's nemesis has been hard at work shaping the city to her own ends.  It is a funny and delightful novel, but as always there are more serious things being examined here, too.  There is the idea of the power of narrative and how it shapes our lives - in good ways and in bad, depending on how much power we give the stories in our lives.  It takes a look at the influence of archetypal symbols from folktales and fairy tales, and the way our expectations allow us to simply accept certain things without thinking because it's easier than paying attention and accepting the responsibility to act.  It examines free will, and the results of imposing our will upon others, or of taking away someone's will, even for the best of motives. These more serious aspects of the book are, as always, handled humorously and with more subtlety than you might expect, and the added depth of this thoughtful side of the book makes the funny, punny side that much more enjoyable.

I loved spending time with the witches, and the audio version of this had me laughing out loud, as always.  I encouraged my 11-year-old and 13-year-old daughters to listen to this one, too, because they are enormous fans of the Tiffany Aching Discworld books (the few books in the series that are written with younger readers in mind but are enormously appealing to adults as well).  While I'm sure some of the humor flew straight over their heads, they loved getting more Granny Weatherwax and certainly could identify with Magrat's situation.  They enjoyed this one just as much as I did, and I certainly wasn't surprised.

Books in the Discworld series:
1. The Color of Magic
2. The Light Fantastic
3. Equal Rites
4. Mort 
5. Sourcery
6. Wyrd Sisters
7. Pyramids 
8. Guards, Guards
9. Eric
10. Moving Pictures
11. Reaper Man
12. Witches Abroad
13. Small Gods
14. Lords and Ladies
15. Men at Arms
16. Soul Music
17. Interesting Times
18. Maskerade
19. Feet of Clay
20. Hogfather
21. Jingo
22. The Last Continent
23. Carpe Jugulum
24. The Fifth Elephant
25. The Truth
26. The Thief of Time
27. The Last Hero
28. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
29. Nightwatch
30. The Wee Free Men
31. Monstrous Regiment
32. A Hat Full of Sky
33. Going Postal
34. Thud
37. Unseen Academicals
39. Snuff

Witches Abroad (#12 in the Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett; narrated by Nigel Planer (Isis Publishing, 1996)

Also reviewed at:
A Book a Week "I love the witches. My inclination is always to say that my favourite Discworld character is the one with whom I've most recently spent time, but the truth of the matter is that Granny Weatherwax tops them all."
Somewhere I Have Never Traveled: "I started off not in the right mood and so was unsure if the book was going to work for me, but by the time I finished the book, it was exactly what I needed. Silly and smart and playful and pun-y and joke after joke after joke."
The Wertzone: "Pratchett's grasp of character, humour and pacing is as expertly-handled as ever. The characters of the three witches continue to expand and be explored in greater depth..."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

All Men of Genius

In this steampunk novel inspired by Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest, Violet disguises herself as a man (using her twin brother's clothing and advice) in order to attend the prestigious Illyria College, a place where mechanical geniuses create amazing marvels.  She is brilliant and talented, and she just knows if she can be accepted as a student, she will have to tools to create such wonderful things, she will prove once and for all that women should have a place there as well.

It is difficult disguising her sex, particularly when she discovers that the Duke of Illyria, the headmaster, is a very attractive man indeed.  When his daughter is smitten by Violet, believing her to be a dashing yet sensitive gentleman, the fun begins.  The plot thickens, narrated through alternating viewpoints, and involves mysterious creatures and rooms in the vast basement of the college, killer robots, blackmail, diabolical plots, schemes of revenge, and all the other usual college antics.

This was a lot of fun - I enjoyed the characters and the parallels with Twelfth Night.  It did stretch my sense of disbelief to the utter breaking point several times - the ease with which characters manage to put together remarkable inventions, for example - even characters with little to no experience - was a bit over the top.  I also found that the build-up of tension for the evil Mal Voglio's plan to far outweigh the actual execution of it, which was a bit disappointing.  But really, it was a very enjoyable read, and its a great introduction to the steampunk genre for those who are interested in giving it a try.  This appears to be Rosen's first published novel, and I will be interested to see the direction he takes from here.  He clearly had a whole lot of fun writing this book, and that made it a lot of fun to read.

To hear Lev discuss his book, and how and why he used Twelfth Night as inspiration for the novel, check out this post from The Mad Hatter's blog.

All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen (Tom Doherty Associates, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Fantasy Book Critic:  "All Men of Genius succeeds because it hits the right balance in both style and content, while it charms you from the first page in accepting the over-the-top happenings that could easily transform the novel into pure farce."
In Which Our Hero:  "All Men of Genius is far from essential reading, but if you've always thought that what Twelfth Night really needed was some killer robots, this will make you very happy indeed."
Sci-Fi Fan Letter:  "As a steampunk novel there's a lot of experimentation going on, but very little scientific explanation, so those who want a more hard SF feel should look elsewhere, while those wishing for a book to ease someone into genre should think of this as the perfect gift."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Sandman: Brief Lives


It's been quite a while since I read a book in the Sandman series, but even so, I was sucked right back into the surreal world of Dream, Death, Delirium and their other Endless siblings.  I tend to eke out the series I love as much as possible because I'm always sad when they end, and there is no more discovery, just rereading.  There's a fine line that I tend to walk with my favorite series, between letting things go for too long so that the story threads grow misty in my memory, and reading through too quickly to really savor each one.

As usual, I advise anyone who is interested in this complex, fascinating series that runs that gamut from fantasy to horror, to read the first book first (which collects the individual comics that were first published), Preludes & Nocturnes. Start with that one and read the rest of the series in order or risk being lost and confused. Don't say I didn't warn you.

This seventh volume (only three to go!  Sigh.) focuses on Delirium, an Endless that hasn't had a whole lot of screen time so far.  She is a fascinating character: fickle, sweet, immoral, enthusiastic, confused - very much the embodiment of delirium.  Learning about her earlier incarnation imbued the story with a sense of loss that was always present as the plot unfolded.  At any rate, one of the Endless, Destruction, abdicated his role years earlier, and has effectively disappeared.  He was Delirium's favorite, and she misses him dreadfully - so dreadfully that she's going through a self-destructive downward spiral.  She turns to Dream for help in finding him, and their journey to discover the whereabouts of their missing brother becomes a metaphoric journey that ties together many previous plot strands and elements touched upon in earlier books.

The artwork is among my favorite in the series so far (there are many artists who have done illustrations for the various stories, but the writing is all by Gaiman), and it skillfully evokes the bizarre, surreal feeling of the story that's being told.  I enjoyed the more cohesive feeling of this installment, as well as the way the story reveals so many new things about the various characters, things that make events from previous stories much clearer.  I continue to enjoy the creative and surprising storytelling of Sandman, and I look forward to continuing the series - but not too soon.  I'll be so sorry when it's over!

Books in the Sandman series:
1. Preludes & Nocturnes (collects The Sandman #1-8)
2. The Doll's House (collects The Sandman #9-16)
3. Dream Country (collects The Sandman #17-20)
4. Season of Mists (collects The Sandman #21-28)
5. A Game of You (collects The Sandman #32-37)
6. Fables and Reflections (collects The Sandman #29- 1, #38-40, #50, Sandman Special #1 and Vertigo Preview #1)
7. Brief Lives (collects The Sandman #41-49)
8. World's End (collects The Sandman #51- 56)
9. The Kindly Ones (collects The Sandman #57-69)
10. The Wake (collects The Sandman #70-75)

Brief Lives (#7 in the Sandman series) by Neil Gaiman (Vertigo, 1994)

Also reviewed at:
Bibliofreak Blog:  "Wow. This volume of The Sandman is so full of awesomeness. It has got to be my favorite of the series so far."
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist "In the past, I have complained that the plotlines are often all over the place, without any sort of continuity, that many of the stories appear to be vignettes that have little or nothing to do with one another. Yet the great thing about this story arc is that it does tie a lot of what seemed to be loose ends together."
Stella Matutina:  "It’s a culmination; the point at which everything that happened in the last six volumes, every little way that Dream changed, every small hint, comes together."

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Red Herring Without Mustard

This historical mystery series, set in England in the 1950s, is at the top of my list of favorite whodunits.  The mystery element of each book is intricate and fascinating, yes, but it is the characters, in particular the 11-year-old chemistry genius, Flavia de Luce, that have me hooked. 


The protagonist may be a child, but these books are very much for adults, and there is a certain darkness to the stories that can be very disturbing indeed.  However, that darkness is brightened by the humor of the books, much of which comes from Flavia's delightful narration.  I listened to the audio version of the first book of the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and Jayne Entwistle's reading lent itself so perfectly to the telling of the story that this has become one of those series that I listen to exclusively because reading it on my own just wouldn't measure up. 


This story begins with Flavia visiting a gypsy fortune teller, and old woman who tells Flavia things about her dead mother that she couldn't possibly know.  A chain of events follows that involves a fire, a decades-old kidnapping of a little baby, a brutal assault, the discovery of a dead body, and a bizarre religious sect.  Flavia's curiosity takes her to some unusual places, and during her investigation she uncovers some interesting things about her own family's past.


Flavia is a lonely child, and it would be heartbreaking that her closest friend appears to be Gladys, her bicycle, if it weren't for the fact that she manages, despite the utter dysfunctionality of her family situation, to lead a stimulating and very interesting life.  It was fun to see her having to relate with a younger person, someone nearly her own age (who is not an odious, backstabbing sister) - Flavia is good at manipulating the adults in her life, for the most part, but a peer?  That is unexplored territory for her.  Once again it was a delight to spend time in Flavia's company as she intrepidly follows the course of the investigation, and I look forward to many more installments in this outstanding mystery series.


Books in the Flavia de Luce series:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag
3. A Red Herring without Mustard
4. I Am Half Sick of Shadows  
 
A Red Herring Without Mustard (#3 in the Flavia de Luce mystery series) by Alan Bradley; narrated by Jayne Entwistle (Books on Tape, 2011)


Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "I am still loving the writing, the characterization, the descriptions, the pacing. There are just so many things to love!"
Savidge Reads: "Some people might say that these are cosy crime novels and yet I think in every one of Alan Bradley’s novels so far there is a real darkness, along with a certain camp, that make them so addictive."
Stainless Steel Droppings:  "I don’t often read mysteries, but the Flavia novels have become must-reads and are numbered among the more special books in my collection."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas?

Last month when I was working at the information desk at the public library where I work, a woman came up to me who was desperate to find something for her daughter to read during winter break.  Unfortunately her daughter wasn't with her, which always makes readers advisory more challenging, but I asked the woman what kind of books - particular titles if possible - her daughter enjoyed.  She said that Martha Freeman was her daughter's favorite author, and that there was something about the humor in the books, and the character of the cat, that her daughter just adored, and no other books were hitting the spot for her.  Did we have anything like Martha Freeman that she could check out?

Well, I was embarrassed to admit that I'd never read a single thing by Martha Freeman - and that woman has written a lot of children's books. I tried to think of books that have humor and mystery in them to recommend.  The mother didn't seem interested in any of the book in the series section (Alphabet Mysteries, Geronimo Stilton, etc.), so I gave her The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise, The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney, a Wayside School book, and a couple others that seemed like good possibilities.  I hope she'll come back and let me know how it went.  As soon as she left with the books, I put Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas on hold for me.  Clearly, this was an author I needed to read.

The story is about a nine-year-old boy named Alex and his best friend, Yasmeen, who live in a cul-de-sac called Chickadee Court.  Every Christmastime, the twelve houses in the cul-de-sac put up decorations with the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Each house features a day and its corresponding decorations: swans a-swimming, ladies dancing, geese a-laying, etc.


The holiday display is so popular that people come every evening to drive through Chickadee Court to see it and listen to the "Twelve Days of Christmas" carol that is pumped through speakers to accompany the lights and decorations.

When the parts of the displays begin to disappear from people's lawns, Yasmeen wants to solve the case.  Alex, whose mother is a police detective, isn't too sure that detection is all that appealing.  But Alex's cat sure seems interested - he is the first one to notice the disappearance of a decoration in the first place, after all.  As the decorations disappear - and return - the plot thickens, and Alex finds himself drawn to discover the culprit despite himself - and learns a whole lot he never would have imagined about his neighbors, too.

This is a delightful middle-grade mystery, and a great choice for a holiday read-aloud.  I can certainly see that this series would be appealing to a wide range of children with its mix of humor, friendship issues, an engaging cat character, mystery, action and adventure.  There are more Martha Freeman books in my future, and I'm definitely going to be recommending them to young readers at my library.

Books in the Chickadee Court Mysteries series:
1. Who is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas?
2. Who Stole Halloween?
3. Who Stole Uncle Sam?
4. Who Stole Grandma's Million-Dollar Pumpkin Pie?

Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas? (#1 in the Chickadee Court Mysteries) by Martha Freeman (Holiday House, 2003)

Also reviewed at:
Pillbee.books: "A fun read aloud to kids of all ages for the month of December. Who doesn't want to try their hand at solving a mystery?"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cast in Fury


This is the fourth book in Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra series, and it did not disappoint.  Our heroine is Kaylin Neya, and she's certainly come a long way since Cast in Shadowthe first book of the series.

This installment has two main plot strands.  In the first, Kaylin and her friend and partner Severn are called to work with a playwright.  He is a grumpy, temperamental artistic genius, and he has been commissioned by the dragon emperor to write a play about the events that concluded the previous book, Cast in Secret, in order to sway public opinion and diffuse a potentially violent situation


The Tha'alani, a telepathic race that used to terrify Kaylin, are misunderstood, and the majority of the human population of the city suspect the Tha'alani caused the devastating tidal wave that nearly destroyed the city - when in reality they are the ones who saved the city from destruction.  The playwright is clueless about the Tha'alani, and the play he has written is ignorant and insulting to their race.  In short, the situation is a diplomatic nightmare, and violence against the peaceful Tha'alani is brewing.  Kaylin, the most undiplomatic person possibly in the entire city, is supposed to work with the playwright to sway public opinion in the Tha'alani's favor.

The second plot strand involves Marcus, a member of the lion-like Leontine race.  He is not only Kaylin's sergeant, but the closest thing to a father that the orphaned woman has known.  He is accused of murder, and when he does not refute the charges, Kaylin has to investigate the matter and unearths a complex web of danger and deceit.

One of the reasons I love this series so much is that it is so different from the other fantasy series that are out there.  Instead of relying on the same old, same old vampires, werewolves and fairies, Sagara has created a world with distinct races with complicated, believable and fascinating cultural differences that truly define each race.  These differences are inextricable from the way the plot unfolds and the characters interact, and that makes for some compelling and entertaining reading.  Because of the complexity and the overarching plot that continues from book to book, it is crucial to read this series from the beginning, in order - and even then, the books can be a bit confusing at times.  Confusing in a good way, though - a way that makes me think and rethink events in the series from time to time and consider them in a new light.  Great worldbuilding, sympathetic characters, and plots that twist and turn and surprise - these are all elements that combine to make this one of my favorite fantasy series.

Books in the Chronicles of Elantra series:
1. Cast in Shadow 
2. Cast in Courtlight 
3. Cast in Secret 
4. Cast in Fury 
5. Cast in Silence 
6. Cast in Chaos 
7. Cast in Ruin

Cast in Fury  (#4 in the Chronicles of Elantra series) by Michelle Sagara (Luna, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books:  "There is vague in storytelling and there is way too vague. I think this series falls a little too deep into the way too vague category at times. And yet I love the series. I need more when I am done with a book."
Sci.Fi.Guy: "...the love of her characters and world she has constructed shines through page after page. The central mystery delivers plenty of action and plot twists."
The Steel Bookshelf:  "The realm of Elantra is slowly revealed, as bits and pieces of its history and myths show up in each book, and it grows stranger and more intriguing as time goes by."

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Mortal Bane

This is the first volume of an historical mystery series sent in medieval England.  The story is told from multiple points of view, but the two main characters are Magdalene, the mistress of a whorehouse known as the Old Priory Guesthouse, and Sir Bellamy of Itchem, who serves the Bishop of London.  The whorehouse is a high-class one, clean and discreet, and it is literally located at the former guesthouse of  a priory, and rent is paid to the local bishop (much to the dismay of certain monks a the nearby church).  Magdalene is not an ordinary whore (and this is how these women are referred to in the book - they mince no words); she can read and write, and she is clearly from an upper class (if mysterious) background.

When a man is brutally murdered on the very steps of the church, the residents of the Guest House are immediately suspected - after all, they are sinners, so why wouldn't they murder a man?  Perhaps to prevent him from confessing after visiting their shameful house and thereby damning his soul?  Not all the residents of the church are so quick to blame the whores, but those who do are very vocal about it.  Magdalene worries about her women and their living, and when Sir Bellamy of Itchem is sent to investigate the murder, Magdalene joins forces with him in order to clear the Old Priory Guesthouse and its residents of suspicion.  The stakes are raised when it is discovered that the victim was a Papal messenger, and Magdalene has some secrets that she does not want to reveal, even to the handsome and charismatic Sir Bellamy.

Politics, intrigue, scandal, hidden agendas - it's all here, and the tight, skillful storytelling, vivid historical setting and fascinating characters make for a compelling read.  Despite the fact that the story is set in a whorehouse, there are no steamy sex scenes.  True, it is their job, and it is discussed as matter-of-factly as people who work together would discuss whatever business they are involved in, and it was often amusing, particularly as Madelene's women discuss their various patrons.

The narrator of this audiobook, Nadia May, was new to me, and I found her a skillful reader, and her accents and vivid expression really added to the story.  This is one of my favorite new series that I read in 2011, and I will definitely be continuing with the next books.  Fans of Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death books would be sure to enjoy this series, too.


Books in the Magdalene la Batarde series:
1. A Mortal Bane
2. A Personal Devil
3. A Bone of Contention
4. Chains of Folly


A Mortal Bane (#1 in the Magdalene la Batarde series) by Roberta Gellis; narrated by Nadia May (Blackstone Audio, 2005)

Also reviewed at:
Aneca's World:  "I have no idea if whores could rent from the church but I think Gellis wrote a compelling story that seemed to me with a believable medieval atmosphere."
Beth Fish Reads:  "In A Mortal Bane, Gellis draws us into the world of medieval England, and we get a peek at the politics of the early church. Greed, murder, overzealous piety, politics, prejudice, and simple jealousy must all be sorted out before the murderer can be found."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Havemercy

I picked up this book because I read a mention of it somewhere, and it sounded like a fun read, with metal dragons, magic, romance, and fun steampunk action and adventure. The book is told from multiple first-person points of view, and it is more introspective and character-driven than I expected. Which is fine - I enjoy delving into characters, and there are some interesting, if not always entirely likable, ones here.

The setting is Voltov, a city that has been at war for years, and it has been maintaining the upper hand because of its corps of magical, fire-breathing, metal dragons - a weapon the enemy has been unable to replicate, due to Volstov's unique magical source.  The airmen (and yes, they are all men) in the dragon corps are so vital to the survival of Volstov that they are full of themselves and very poorly behaved - because, after all, they can get away with it.  When an incident occurs that results in an international scandal, a timid, intellectual university student is sent to live with them, in order to teach them some manners.  He is not at all welcome.

Meanwhile, Royston, a young wizard, is exiled to his brother's estate in the country, far away from the city he adores, as punishment for a too-public affair with the crown prince of a neighboring country.  He sinks into a deep depression, but is eventually distracted by the handsome young tutor who is teaching his brother's young children.

The narration switches back and forth, quite leisurely, as the reader comes to know the characters and as the enemy is slowly putting into motion a devious, dastardly plan, one that will strike at the heart of the magic that powers the metal dragons, and will put in harm's way everything that each of these young men holds most dear.

There were many things I liked about this book - the writing was solid, and the characters were interesting.  The plot unfolded well and was skillfully pieced together from each disparate point of view in a very effective way.  I enjoyed Royston's goofy adolescent romance with Hal, although at times I did feel like shaking them and telling them to get on with it, already!

Other things didn't work as well for me.  I found the complete absence of a single, strong, positive female character to be distracting and a bit distressing - it does seem odd, given that the novel is co-authored by two women.  I found the lack of time spent with the dragons to be surprising, too, given that the dragons are an important part of the story, and that one of the dragons is the absolute most important thing to one of the main characters.  I think the book would have packed more of a punch had the dragons been given more "screen time," so to speak.  All in all I did enjoy the book, though.  It took me longer to get through it than it usually does for me to read a book because I never felt compelled to get back to the story, and I can't say I'd feel the need to read further if a sequel were to be published.  The book ends with a satisfying conclusion, and I'm content to leave it at that.

Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett (Bantam Books, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Fantasy Cafe:  "Although it is not the best character-driven novel I’ve ever read, Havemercy is an excellent debut and well worth reading for those who prefer a slower paced look at some different characters to heavy action, a fast-moving plot, or massive worldbuilding."
Stella Matutina:  "Overall, it was a great read. Fun, character-based stuff with a good setting. I'll admit, I've kind of been waffling back and forth over whether I loved it or just rather liked it, but I think I'm settling down into the loved camp."
Tia's Book Musings:  "Havemercy has some good ideas and characters. Truthfully, I had a lot of fun bashing it in my head as I read, but it didn't come together as a great book."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Curse of the Pharaohs

This is one of those series that I started reading years ago, but then sort of got lost along the way, and when I rediscovered it I knew I'd have to start at the beginning to refresh my memory.  I think I'd only read the first few books, so I clearly have a long way to go.  I'd heard great things about the audio versions, so this will be in my audio series list, along with a few other favorites (Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, J.D. Robb's In Death series, and of course Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, to name a few).

I was lucky enough to find the first book, read by Barbara Rosenblat, in my library's collection, as I'd heard her recommended above the other audiobook reader.  But this second one was only available as read by Susan O'Malley, so I downloaded it from my library's digital book provider, and went with it.  And wow, what a difference.  It was hard to find Amelia very believable when she was speaking with an American accent!  Honestly.  I did try not to let the reading affect my enjoyment of the book, but I have to admit it did.

This mystery series is set in the Victorian era in Egypt, and is best read in order, as the lives of the characters progress from book to book.  I will do my best to avoid spoilers, but you might want to check out my review of the first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, if a humorous historical cozy mystery is appealing to you.

In this installment, Amelia and Emerson return to Egypt to take over an archaeological dig after an acquaintance of theirs dies in suspicious circumstances.  It isn't long before it becomes clear that something nefarious is afoot.  This second book in the series is a more traditional mystery story, along the the lines of a classic Agatha Christie mystery, but Amelia's opinionated storytelling voice adds a lot of humor to the tale, and makes it all the more enjoyable.  It is fun to watch her relationship with her husband, Emerson, progress, and I love the way that even though she is narrating the story from her point of view, it becomes humorously clear to the reader (but not necessarily to her) that Amelia is not always as brilliant at sleuthing as she thinks she is, and sometimes the reader is a few steps ahead of her.

This is one of the series I often recommend to teenage girls who are transitioning from the YA section to the adult collection at the library where I work.  Amelia is a funny and energetic character that teens are likely to relate to, and there is little content that might be considered inappropriate or objectionable.  I have heard that this is one of those series that just gets better and better as the books progress, and I look forward to returning to Egypt with Amelia and Emerson to solve some more archaeological mysteries.

Books in the Amelia Peabody series:
1. Crocodile on the Sandbank
2. The Curse of the Pharaohs 

3. The Mummy Case
4. Lion in the Valley
5. The Deeds of the Disturber
6. The Last Camel Died at Noon
7. The Snake, The Crocodile and the Dog
8. The Hippopotamus Pool
9. Seeing a Large Cat
10. The Ape Who Guards The Balance
11. The Falcon at the Portal
12. Thunder in the Sky
13. Lord of the Silent
14. The Golden One
15. Children of the Storm
16. Guardian of the Horizon

17. The Serpent on the Crown
18. Tomb of the Golden Bird
19. A River in the Sky


Curse of the Pharaohs (#2 in the Ameilia Peabody series) by Elizabeth Peters; narrated by Susan O'Malley (Blackstone Audio, 2005)

Also reviewed at:
A Book a Week:  "I'm still recommending this series to anyone looking for a lighter cozy mystery with a fascinating, out-of-the-ordinary setting. Amelia's love of place (and perhaps Elizabeth Peters'?) shines through in her descriptions of Victorian-era Egypt."
Kay's Bookshelf:  "This is sort of an Agatha Christie-like book, as we have a bunch of characters in the same household, each with his own secrets and schemes, which sometimes can seem enough to become murder reasons. "
Outlandish Dreaming:  "I laughed out loud dozens of times during the course of this book, Amelia, as usual, is always right - even when she's not! Her asides and the way she phrases things to make herself look good are hilarious."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Succubus Blues

Richelle Mead's Georgina Kincaid series is one of the few new series I started in 2011.  I am a total sucker for modern-day fantasy stories featuring tough heroines and an interesting supernatural element, but I have grown leery of trying new ones because there are so many that just seem like weak copies made of recycled material, and I hate wasting my reading time.  But still, I love the genre, which has become my go-to place when I need a little vacation from the routine of my daily life, so hope springs eternal, I guess.  I try to keep my expectations reasonable -  and also to give series books a few installments if I can, because often writers are honing their craft in the early books (I didn't get hooked on Kim Harrison's Hollows series till the third or fourth book, for example, and I'm glad I stuck with it).

Earlier in the year, I read the first in Richelle Mead's Dark Swan series (Storm Born), and while I fully intended to continue with it, I just sort of forgot about it.  In fact, I didn't even realize this was the same author - or even an author I'd read before - when I picked up this book.  I think someone recommended the series to me.  I really do need to keep track of who recommends books to me - I'm sure it was one of you, but I can't remember!  Anyway, Mead's Vampire Academy books are very popular with teens at my library, but I'm a bit tired of vampires these days, so this series looked like a fun one to start with.

Our heroine is a succubus, a sort of demonic entity who roams the earth, never aging, garnering souls for the dark side.  I couldn't help but wonder how the author was going to make this character sympathetic enough for me to want to root for Georgina, but she pulls it off without much trouble at all.  Georgina has an interesting back story that is slowly revealed, and she has a sense of honor that does conflict with her duty from time to time.  She's also a hopeless romantic, which helps. As a former book store employee, I enjoyed the fact that she works in a book store, and I loved the literary crush she has on her favorite writer.  It was lots of fun to see her, normally very strong and confident, fall to pieces when she meets him in person.  The supernatural element is fresh and interesting, although at this point I'm left with many questions on how it all actually works and what the connections are - but that's okay, since I intend to keep reading.  

Georgina is tough, but not too tough, and she's smart and resourceful, but despite her immortality she is still very human and has human failings.  I enjoyed the mixture of fantasy, romance and mystery, and the characters are interesting and believable.  I think this series would appeal to fans of Jennifer Rardin (although it does lack the supreme quirkiness and humor of her books - but most books do, so there you are) and Carrie Vaughn. I'm glad I've added this to my ongoing series, and I look forward to continuing.

Books in the Georgina Kincaid series:
1. Succubus Blues
2. Succubus on Top (aka Succubus Nights)
3. Succubus Dreams
4. Succubus Heat
5. Succubus Shadows
6. Succubus Revealed

Succubus Blues (#1 in the Georgina Kincaid series) by Richelle Mead (Kensington Books, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Bloody Bookaholic "One of the things that I loved about this book was that the lines between good and bad were blurred, nothing is what it seems, and rules that would apply in other installments have been banished."
Patricia's Vampire Notes:  "I found this book to be in the "I don't want this to end" category. Mead creates such an imaginative, captivating world. I had no desire to leave it."
Tez Says:  "I’d gone in expecting a succubus-in-love story with a chick-lit voice. Not really my thing. But once Georgina got serious and the plot developed, I was surprised, and mightily impressed."

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lucky for Good



I found myself reluctant to read the third volume of the Hard Pan trilogy that began with the Newbery-award-winning The Higher Power of Lucky because I've come to adore Lucky and the quirky inhabitants of Hard Pan, a tiny desert town in California, and this is the final installment.  I knew I'd be so sad to say goodbye!

In this last book, Lucky finds herself wishing that her stepmom Brigitte's restaurant weren't quite so popular.  Restaurants are a lot of work - and it's the kind of work that is always being undone and having to be done all over again, like cleaning tables, washing dishes, and sweeping floors.  Plus because the cafe is only open on the weekends, that cuts into any fun time Lucky and Brigitte can have together.  But when a health inspector shows up and it looks like the cafe is going to be closed down, Lucky realizes that despite the hard work, the cafe is an important part of their lives - and the lives of Hard Pan's residents, too.

This book is about much more than the cafe, though.  Questions raised throughout the trilogy are addressed, such as Lucky's relationship with her absentee father, and while Lucky, as usual, makes some rash decisions and a few mistakes as the story progresses, readers will be rooting for her all the way.  Funny, fresh and honest, this book contains all the things I loved about the first two, and culminates in a moving, satisfying conclusion.  I will miss Lucky and the memorable residents of Hard Pan, but I'm looking forward to whatever Susan Patron decides to write next.  It is nice to know the Hard Pan trilogy will be there, though, waiting for a reread, whenever I decide to go back for a visit  And I'm sure I will

Books in the Hard Pan trilogy:
1. The Higher Power of Lucky
2. Lucky Breaks
3. Lucky for Good



Lucky for Good by Susan Patron (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!  Although why is that baby New Year always a little boy?  I say it's time for a little girl New Year, don't you think?

At any rate, I'm so bad at doing wrap-up posts of any kind, mainly because I'm always feeling behind with reviews, but I do think it is important to stop and reflect on things from time to time.  After all, there are far more books out there than I can ever hope to read in this lifetime, and so stopping and deciding on a better focus or more defined goals can only be a good thing.

Reflecting on what I've read and listened to makes me realize that I read different things for different reasons.  I read a lot of picture books and children's/YA fiction because it helps me have a broad range of books to suggest to the young readers who come into my library. I am much more willing to stretch out of my comfort zone with children's books because of this.  Books for adults tend to be longer, so I'm less likely to devote my time to them unless I really think the payoff will be worth it.  Right now my life is so very busy, with kids, work, my own writing, tennis, friends, family, chores, etc.  So when I open a book I want to be in a good place, or at least an interesting or exciting one.  Now is not the time in my life to wade through dry tomes or unappealing books.

Looking back over the books I've read this year, I see there's a pretty good mix of children's and adult books, graphic novels and audio books, and I've managed to continue with most of the series I've been following.  I'm very pleased that my daughters, who are now eleven and thirteen years old, continue to enjoy my reading aloud to them, although we don't have as much time to do that as we'd like, given their homework and social activities.  Still, we made it through a  few books this year, and finally finished  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children last week.  It was the book we chose for our annual Halloween read, and it took us that long to get through it!  They loved it, though, and I enjoyed the reread.

My favorite series that I continued reading this year include the Disworld series by Terry Pratchett, the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, the Mediator series by Meg Cabot, and the Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance.  I look forward to continuing with them, and I'm also excited to read the next installment in some series I've been waiting forever for, including the new Maisie Dobbs, Bloody Jack, Flavia de Luce and some others.

I can't narrow down the books I read this year to a top favorite, because I enjoyed so many of them.  The YAs that stand out include The Five Flavors of Dumb and Jellicoe Road (yet to be reviewed).  I also discovered an historical mystery series (My thanks to whomever recommended it to me - I can't remember who!) called the Magdalene la Batarde series, set in medieval London.  I have so many graphic novels on my tbr list right now, and I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I don't read as many as I'd like because they are such quick reads, and I'm always so far behind on my reviews that I keep waiting to be more caught up.  I'll have to remedy that in the coming year (although I failed tremendously in that resolution for 2011).  I also discovered the audio versions of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books, which lend themselves perfectly to that format.  I thoroughly enjoyed rereading those this past fall.  I think my favorite audio book I listened to this year would have to be The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.  As far as graphic novels, my favorites are Zita the Space Girl, Anya's Ghost, and Page by Paige (yet to be reviewed).

I think my favorite new author that I discovered would have to be Rosemary Clement-Moore, who wrote Prom Dates from Hell and Texas Gothic.  There's something about her quirky characters and the fun mix of horror and humor that just tickles me, and I look forward to more of her books this year.

Top reads altogether?  It's hard to pick!  I loved the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley (The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag and A Red Herring Without Mustard - still to be reviewed).  Franny Billingsly's Chime (to be reviewed) was wonderfully atmospheric and gripping, and of course Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight was delightful.  Patricia Briggs' River Marked was much anticipated and definitely did not disappoint.  My kids and I found Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to be our favorite read-aloud of the year.

As far as aspirations for the coming year are concerned, I'd first and foremost like to get caught up on reviews!  I don't like when blogging starts feeling like a chore, but when I fall behind it becomes a bit daunting to get caught up.  I'll continue with the short reviews and do my best to catch up within the next month or so.  I may have to go shorter, which is so hard because it's hard to shut me up when I talk about books.  I'd like to make some headway on my to-be-read list, and also to read more books that I own but have set aside in favor of library books.  And, now that my girls are older and branching out to so many things I've never read, I want to make an effort to read every book they recommend to me. We'll see how that goes!

Best of luck to you all in this coming New Year.  I hope it will be prosperous and happy for all of us!