Shadowplay by Laura Lam
Official Summary: “Micah has another juggling act to perform—he must help Maske, the magician who takes in he and Drystan, at his last chance for redemption, escape those who pursue him, see where his feelings for Drystan will go, and find out how he and Cyan are tied into the mysteries of ancient and modern Ellada.”
Shadowplay by Laura Lam picks up where Pantomime left off. Because the world has already been developed in the first book, Lam is able to immediately jump into the story of how Micah and Drystan attempt to elude capture after being pursued their involvement with the deaths of several members of their circus troupe. They end up end up taking refuge with Maske, a magician that Drystan knows from his life before the circus. While there, they must learn to hide in the plain sight within the city and must also pick up the art of illusion and magic. All the while, they are pursued by a Shadow who seeks them out for unknown reasons. As Micah shifts into this new life, he must also contend with the mystery of his true heritage.
The world that Lam has created remains fascinating and in this book she takes time to develop more details of the world making it even richer and more compelling. However, I found that this book didn’t quite capture the magic of the last one for me since Micah’s central mystery was revealed to the reader and those closest to him by the end of the first book. However, having said that, this book still manages to conjure and impressive amount of suspense throughout. Readers will find Micah to be a very relatable character. I would definitely recommend the book for fans of the first, though I would caution that it won’t work very well without reading the first book in the series; if you haven’t already read Pantomime, I highly recommend starting there.
Check it Out: Shadowplay will be released on January 7th.
Readalike: If you haven’t already read Pantomime, as I mentioned above, you should start with that book. For more books with a similar feeling or setting, try The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
Curses! Foiled Again by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Mike Cavallaro
Official Summary: “Aliera Carstairs is back. This time she’s got her cousin—and best friend—Caroline in tow, and the stakes are higher than ever. The realm of Seelie, the fairy kingdom of which Aliera is the hereditary defender, is under attack, and only Aliera and Caroline can set things right. Caroline, fragile and wheelchair-bound, may seem like more of a liability than an asset, but Aliera knows there’s more to her quiet cousin than meets the eye. Curses! Foiled Again, a follow up to graphic novel Foiled! is Jane Yolen at her best, reunited with her partner in crime, the fabulously talented illustrator Mike Cavallaro.”
Curses! Foiled Again by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Mike Cavallaro picks up where Foiled left off. Aliera is still a high school student and still a world-class fencer, but now she also knows that she is the Defender, an inherited role that comes from the grandmother she never knew. She also knows that her lab partner isn’t just the new boy at school but is instead a troll who is now bound to her as her liege since she saved his life. But these are not destined to be the only changes that come to her life now that the trolls know that she is the Defender and that her practice foil is actually the hereditary sword of the Defender. But, when the Unseelie come after her and try to find her weaknesses, she has no choice other than to confront her new destiny and deal with the betrayal of those around her.
I greatly enjoyed Foiled, the first entry in this series, so I couldn’t wait to read this book. While I recently finished Foiled, I appreciated the way that Curses! Foiled Again refreshed readers about the events of that first book, in a way that makes it accessible to those who haven’t read Foiled and eases those who might not have read the first book in a while back into the story. After this brief recap, the book picks up the pace quickly and remains action-packed throughout the rest of the story. Aliera finds herself alone in many ways throughout the story. She isn’t sure whether she can trust Avery now that she knows that he is secretly a troll, but he refuses to leave her alone since she saved his life. She even feels a bit removed from her best friend and cousin Caroline since she can’t openly talk to her about the new aspects of her life. Over the course of the book, Aliera not only learns to trust her own instincts, but also reaches out to those around her.
This story will definitely please fans of the first book and will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end with its breakneck speed. The illustrations continue to add a lot to the story and the way that Cavallaro uses grayscale to distinguish the “real” world from the fairy world is still one of my favorite parts of the look of this series. Aliera’s character remains believable and relatable and the side characters were given a bit more of a chance to develop in this volume. I admit that I was a bit disappointed that Caroline didn’t feature more in the story given that the description made it sound as though she might, but I nevertheless enjoyed the book. I am looking forward to the next book in the series and would recommend the series to any fantasy or fencing fan.
Check it Out: Curses! Foiled Again is currently available.
Readalike: If you haven’t already read the first book in the series, Foiled, I definitely recommend starting with that one first. For another story of high school, try Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks or for another adventure story, try Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff.
My 2013 ALAN Workshop Wrap Up Post
Over on YALSA’s The Hub today, I have a new post that highlights some of the best sessions I attended at this year’s ALAN Workshop. If you are interested in young adult literature, it is well worth checking out!
Celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities With These Books
My latest post at The Hub offers a number of books featuring characters with disabilities and set around the world. Check out the list to find the perfect book to read in honor of International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Find Gifts for Everyone on Your List with The Hub Holiday Gift Guide
Check out my latest post on The Hub, which is a guide to great gifts for book lovers with contributions from many of the Hub’s bloggers.
Foiled by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Mike Cavallaro
Official Summary: “A quirky, fast-paced urban fantasy by esteemed author Jane Yolen
Aliera Carstairs just doesn’t fit in. She’s always front and center at the fencing studio, but at school she’s invisible. And she’s fine with that … until Avery Castle walks into her first period biology class. Avery may seem perfect now, but will he end up becoming her Prince Charming or just a toad?”
Foiled by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Mike Cavallaro is the story of Aliera Carstairs, a high schooler with a passion for fencing. She splits her time between school, competitive fencing and role playing games with her cousin who has rheumatoid arthritis. Beyond this, her major activities are being embarrassed by her mother’s love of bargain hunting and attempting to cut the weird, fake gem off of the secondhand sword her mother bought for her. But, when an attractive new boy shows up at her school and ends up as her lab partner, Aliera’s life suddenly seems poised to change.
With its focus on fencing, Foiled avoids many of the cliches that are found in both school sports stories and fantasy novels. Aliera is cast as an unknowing hero who has no idea that a fantastical world exists beside her own, but nonetheless has a rational reason for knowing how to sword fight. Her fencing prowess is also a nice touch since it offers the book a rare opportunity to highlight a strong, athletic and competitive female character who is otherwise just like any other young girl that you might read about. Aliera is relatable despite her unique circumstances. Yolen and Cavallaro make good use of the fact that she is colorblind to portray much of the book in shades of dark blues and grays with only the fantasy elements appearing in brilliant color. I also liked the secondary characters in the book. While Aliera’s parents didn’t appear much in the story, they were well-characterized and her slightly embarrassed view of them seemed realistic for a teen. Including her cousin, who uses a wheelchair due to her rheumatoid arthritis was also a nice touch. The book seems to set up further involvement of her cousin in future stories, which I look forward to.
Overall, Foiled is a quick and fun read that will appeal to fencers, fantasy fans and anyone who enjoys a fun high school story. I would definitely recommend it and I am looking forward to reading the sequel.
Check it Out: Foiled is currently available.
Shall We Play A Game?
This week on The Hub, I wrote about books that have games at their core. Check out the post for a list of books on virtual reality, roleplaying games and more.
The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini
Official Summary: “From Ned Vizzini, the best-selling author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story and the co-author of the New York Times bestseller House of Secrets, comes this geektastic tale about role-playing and growing up. The Other Normals is a story from one of the most brilliant voices in teen literature about the winding and often hilarious path to manhood.
Given the chance, fifteen-year-old Peregrine “Perry” Eckert would dedicate every waking moment to Creatures & Caverns, a role-playing game with magical creatures, spell casting, and deadly weapons. The world of C&C is where he feels most comfortable in his own skin. But that isn’t happening—not if his parents have anything to do with it. Concerned their son lacks social skills, they ship him off to summer camp.
Perry is bracing himself for the worst summer of his life. Everything changes, however, when Perry gets to camp and stumbles into the World of the Other Normals. There he meets Mortin Enaw, one of the creators of C&C, and mythical creatures from the game. Perry’s new otherworldly friends need his help to save their princess and prevent mass violence. As they embark on their quest together, Perry realizes that his nerdy childhood has uniquely prepared him to be a great warrior in this world, and maybe even a hero. But to save the princess, Perry will have to learn how to make real connections in the human world as well.”
The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini is the story of Peregrine “Perry” Eckert. An avid fan of the roleplaying game Creatures & Caverns, he has never had anyone to play the game with. But shortly after meeting a new friend who shares his interest in C&C, his parents announce that they are sending him off to summer camp so that he can learn to be more social. Eight weeks stuck in the middle of nowhere sounds terrible to Perry and things hardly improve when he arrives at the camp and has a confrontation with with one of the other campers. Alone in the wilderness while bemoaning his fate, Perry discovers Mortin, a mysterious individual who looks just like one of the characters in C&C. Next thing he knows, he is in the World of the Other Normals, a parallel universe that is very much like the world of C&C. This world is undergoing major upheaval and Perry learns that he will be instrumental to the fate of the World of the Other Normals.
While The Other Normals wasn’t quite what I expected when I first started reading it, I did enjoy this tale of one teen learning to embrace adventure and grow into himself. Although the story has a fantasy setting, the heart of the book is about Perry’s growth. He starts the book lacking in friends and confidence in himself. He feels invisible at school and at home and never really seems to feel that he fits in. The book doesn’t pretend that he magically transforms through his time in the World of the Other Normals, but over the course of the book he does develop greater confidence and finds his courage in a way that feels believable rather than overdone. Vizzini does a great job of creating the World of the Other Normals and the creatures that exist there.
While some of the surprises at the end might feel a bit obvious to readers, this is an enjoyable book that I would recommend.
Check it Out: The Other Normals is currently available.
Readalike: If you enjoy this story, try one of Vizzini’s other young adult novels, such as It’s Kind of a Funny Story. If the roleplaying elements of the game appeal to you the most, you might want to try Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf.
Radiator Days by Lucy Knisley
Official Summary: “A collection of journal comics by popular cartoonist Lucy Knisley.”
Radiator Days is a collection of a multitude of short comics by cartoonist Lucy Knisley. The comics run the gamut from autobiographical pieces to graphic diary entries to short stories, but a majority of them relate to Knisley’s life at the time she was creating them. This means that readers gain a particular insight into Knisley’s life during her final year as an undergraduate art student in Chicago and the start of her time in graduate school at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. Knisley also offers a window into her artistic and creative process, which will be particularly interesting for those who are cartoonists or who are interested in the art form.
As someone who has read several of Knisley’s other works, I enjoyed this collection. While some of the pieces were uneven, I liked the fact that it collected works of many different styles and that several of the works were those that she had created more quickly, including one that she drew while at her college graduation. The different artistic approaches on display in this collection show the range that Knisley is capable of. The pieces that focus on her work in the cheese department at Fox & Obel in Chicago will be of particular interest to fans of Relish and they also deal with Knisley’s love of gourmet food and her thoughts on working in the food industry. I also particularly enjoyed her short story about a woman who worked in an independent bookstore that was in the process of shutting down.
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as an introduction to Knisley’s work, I would definitely recommend it to those who are already her fans. It is well worth tracking down if you want to see the range of styles with which she is comfortable.
Check it Out: Radiator Days is currently available.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Official Summary: “When an eccentric millionaire dies mysteriously, sixteen very unlikely people are gathered together for the reading of the will…and what a will it is!”
I first read The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin several years ago, but I recently decided to reread it. The book tells the story of Samuel W. Westing, an eccentric and mysterious millionaire who creates a game out of his own death. At the reading of his will, sixteen of his heirs are pulled into a game that pits them against one another to discover how his life ended. The winner is promised the opportunity to inherit his $230 million estate. Tensions mount as the heirs, most of whom live in a new apartment building near Westing’s mansion, get snowed in at their building and bombs start to go off. With everyone looking over their shoulder and trying to surreptitiously figure out what clues the other teams have received, the atmosphere of mistrust starts to make residents question their neighbors. Many of the residents have secrets, but who will figure out which of these secrets are significant and find the solution to Westing’s game?
With more twists and turns than most mysteries, The Westing Game will keep almost any reader guessing until the very end. Even though the reader has access to more information than any of the characters, Raskin has plotted the book in a way that slowly reveals secrets without ever giving away the conclusion. The book has funny and suspenseful moments and includes a diverse cast of characters. But, rereading it after so many years made me realize that it is in some ways a product of the time when it was written, but, despite being written over 30 years ago, the mystery itself remains fun and engaging. I think this Newbery Medal winner will still appeal to modern audiences, though some of the anachronistic elements might warrant explanation.
Check it Out: The Westing Game is available as a Puffin Modern Classic.
Readalike: If you enjoy this book, try one of Ellen Raskin’s other books, such as The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) or The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues.