One – Sarah Crossan

One is a very adventurous book. Its the story of two conjoined twins, as they grow into themselves, told entirely in verse.

I like poetry, and this was well-paced, short poems interspaced with longer to move the story along. The choice to only ever hear one twin’s voice was well-chosen, giving us a view of Grace as her own person alone, even as she is never apart from Tippi.

As young adult fiction it shows two girls with difficult lives making choices and growing to share lives with others and move into the difficult word of alcohol and sex. I think it stood up well as a book without the final dilemma they are faced with. That dilemma was handled well, with the choices well-framed and the unexpected ending bringing a tear to my eyes.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The premise of this book, that Death is telling a story is often forgotten throughout this book, only reaching in when Death touches Liesel’s life directly. Otherwise we see the world as a generic third-party narrator, following Liesel directly.

But it is a compelling tale, speaking of bravery, learning and compassion in a small town during the rise of Nazi Germany. Leisel relearns love and friendship in her foster home, as well as poverty and cruelty. And throughout the common theme is the stealing of books, and what that give to her.

Whilst the cover and the description did not make me pick this up with any degree of urgency, once I was a chapter in I needed to keep reading to find out Liesel’s fate.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

I’ve previously read Novik’s Temeraire series, although apparently none since I began this blog. Unsurprising as although I enjoyed the concept, it got a little tedious towards the end. I was therefore glad to see her approaching new ideas, and new worldbuilding, so picked this up as soon as I saw it.

It has an intriguing start, with details gradually added to the world as it becomes clear how it diverges from our own. As we learn about Agnieszka she begins as a normal young woman, and gradually more is learned about the ever-present threat she, her valley and realm face. She of course is the key to tackle this, reluctantly at first, and then embracing it and all it means in true YA troupe style.

I do object to the romantic development in this Рit felt unnecessary, forced and unethical. Why not just develop a good strong friendship bond instead? See the Pierce books for how this can work really well.

ETA: This is post 200! Given all the changes since I began this blog, its something I have maintained steadily for what feels like a long time. I’m glad to have my readers, and enjoy being part of the book-blogging community.

So You Want to Be a Wizard – Diane Duane

Nita is a stereotypical YA heroine. Chased by bullies, she seeks sanctuary in the library (because what else would appeal to bookworms). But there she finds a book to change her life, amongst the career advice she finds “So You Want to Be a Wizard“.

Of course, it is simply that book that enables her to change her life. To move into a previously unseen world where magic is real and there is a steady battle against evil entropy and death. It is a pleasingly modern urban fantasy world, where the settings are merely a step sideways from the world we know.

Its a well-paced book, ramping the tension up effectively to a satisfying end. Despite this, it leaves things sufficiently open to allow the series to continue. My only quibble is that I don’t like characters instantly becoming super-powered. Some development time and time for mistakes and weakness is good, especially for a book which is part of a longer series.

I’ll pick up the next and see how it goes…

The Circle Opens Quartet

In the background I’m still following Mark Reads, and we have just finished the Circle Opens quartet. I’ve loved the new journeys with the Circle of Magic characters, who are refreshingly committed to their own development and friendships, and being fourteen.

Circle of Magic

Time being what it is, the first few books are less fresh in my mind, and all I can think of is Shatterglass with Tris’s journey to become a mage-teacher, and take on adult responsibilites by choice.

If she had a motto it was “New learning couldn’t hurt anyone”

She of course finds the perfect student to tackle her own stubborness and we see how she has grown as a person from the Magic in the Weaving. She still has that hurt deep inside, but she has learnt what she can do in the world, and made a family of choosing to compensate for her earlier suffering.

“…My family deals in all kind of goods.” She smiled crookedly. “Except defective ones. Those they don’t handle very well”

The idea that a child left feeling such a way makes the progress Tris did is inspiring. That she is fictional just sets a template for others to follow.

Of course this book is primarily a murder mystery and about untangling Keth’s life, and letting him work out what his power permits. So there is glass magic, and playing with lightning and the odd new mage disaster. All the things I needed this book to be.

Niko is there too, being himself in the background. Not practical, but loving and supporting Tris as she develops a plan for who she will be as an adult.

When I first read them I was disappointed that the Circle kids were apart for the quartet. Now I understand just how perfect it is that they get the chance to find their own places in the world, safe in the knowledge that for each other they will always be home.

Love Lessons – Jacqueline Wilson

As a child and young teen Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors. I read her books as they appeared in the local town library or bookshop and one of my cherished possessions is the handwritten letter she wrote back to me when I was about 10. So when during discussion about the widespread opinion of her, commentators I know and respect were critical I was surprised and made a mental note of the title of the books which caused opposition.

Love Lessons is of course that book and the basic premise is Prue, a socially isolated 14 year old girl, starts at the local rough school where she doesn’t get on with anyone and “falls in love” with her art teacher, “Rax”. The problematic aspect is the degree to which this is reciprocated and the way the fallout from this is presented. Rax constantly acknowledges that what is going on is irresponsible¬† of him but at no stage does he actually stop anything from happening in an effective manner. Any reasonable adult reading of this quite clearly gives the viewpoint that he is grooming her, and at the end when them running away together is in the balance its shown how well he did this.

In addition the school as ruling institution presumes that it is Prue who has led her teacher astray so must be sent away from the school. There is no acknowledgement that as her teacher and an adult he had the responsibility to prevent this from happening and instead encouraged it. As young adult fiction I would expect a bit more sympathy for Prue and at least some reflection that she’s happy with the outcome, rather than a “by chance” lifting of stress and a feeling that she’s been punished.

Interestingly Wilson handled this much better with Girls In Love where there was another crush on an art teacher but he sensitively and kindly reinstated boundaries. Its a shame that she then went on to write this.

Seraphina – Rachel Hartman

Seraphina coverSeraphina is a novel about family and racism in a divided community. This is set up in the prologue when we really do start “at the beginning” with the birth of Seraphina and an appropriate amount of shock.

The book then doesn’t mention what was so shocking but instead begins by setting the scene in a pseudo-medieval city with an implausibly talented and senior fifteen year old heroine. We firstly view the racism through the prism of it being something “others” suffer, although there is always compassion for them, and then the prism twists slightly and it all becomes much more personal.

There is of course a love interest, although I was satisfied that this was concluded realistically as I spent a good portion of the book worried that something utterly infeasible would happen. Friendship and family ties is a much stronger theme though, even as decisions made due to desire are acknowledged.

I like the magic involved and how much of it is just taken for granted as “technology” except by the fearful mob leaders. Of course such things wouldn’t remain wondrous for long and would quickly be assumed to just be how life is. These days we all carry a portal to a vast database of knowledge in our pockets.

Trickster’s Duology – Tamora Pierce

Tricksters ChoiceAnother Mark Reads project which ends today! Whilst I’m very familiar with these books, the chapter-by chapter discussion has made me consider them in an entirely different fashion.

This is a well-crafted pair of books, not a quartet as Harry Potter had shown publishers that YA fiction did not have to be under 200 pages a book. Writing the “Daughter of the Lioness” books and not making them very like any of the prior series was impressive.Tricksters Queen

It is another coming of age story, and we start with a bit of teenage rebellion as Aly who has been trained all her life as a spy in the fantasy setting of Tortall isn’t being permitted to make that her career by the newly cautious and protective George Cooper. Instead she runs away, is captured and ends up in the divided county of the Copper Isles, enslaved and trying to work out how to survive and prove herself to take advantage of the circumstances.

I had never before considered the problematic issues that Nawat has with consent, pushing Aly’s boundaries and ignoring what she says. Or how Aly never stops to consider that her attitude to life comes in part from being brought up by Tortall’s elite who changed their country for the better in a generation. Of course Alanna had had to fight such restraints a generation earlier though.

That said, I still enjoy these books for what they are: a spy drama and a reclaiming of a native land by an oppressed people. With magic and gods and immortals obviously.