Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘suspense

cover image for The Tropic of SerpentsThe Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

Despite the tragic events of her first expedition, Isabella remains determined to continue her study of dragons.  In their natural habitat, if possible.  Now there is an added urgency to her research, as Isabella – and her colleagues and sponsor –  fear that new information about dragon skeletons may threaten their survival. When the crew set off to a spot in Eriga known as the Green Hell in search of the swamp-wryms who dwell there, they are forced to face not only inhospitable habitats, but dangerous politics as well.

As I said in my review of the first book in this series, Brennan is attempting to do a thing here that I appreciate but I’m not quite certain about: Lady Trent’s world is clearly a colonial one, with all the problems and attitudes that creates, and Isabella has not been immune to such conditioning.  Her years of travel and research have taught her to view the world slightly differently, however, and so the Lady Trent that is narrating the expeditions has a less colonialist view than the Isabella whose actions we see.  It often becomes a clever way to acknowledge the problems of colonialism while being realistic about the kind of views a woman of Isabella’s position would have. I’m just not sure that it always works.

That said, I still absolutely adore these books as they are full of wonderful things that I love to pieces. Dragons! of course. Interesting ones that are as varied as any other real genus. Clever women who do Science! You get the idea. And running through it all, Lady Trent’s engaging personality and the pleasure of reading about an accomplished woman with a full life.

The Goblin EmperorThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Maia has lived his life in exile, cast out with his mother from his father’s court.  Since her death he has been raised by a courtier who was more than happy to take his frustrations out on the friendless boy.  With three older brothers, no one ever expected the half-Goblin Maia to ascend to the throne.  But when a suspicious accident leaves the king and the elder princes dead, Maia is thrust into a dangerous and unfamiliar court.  Ostensibly the most powerful person in the land, Maia nevertheless is as isolated as ever.  Only now he’s trapped by custom and responsibility, and is almost certainly a target by those who covet his crown. Determined to do right by his people, Maia must somehow find a way to make allies and root out his enemies.

An absolute pleasure to read, The Goblin Emperor is a story of intrigue and suspense told on an intimate rather than epic scale.  Maia’s desire to be just and competent, to be the kind of ruler his people deserve, despite his lack of training, has us rooting for him from the start.  Don’t be fooled by this novel’s idealistic point of view and steady unfolding of events, there is plenty of nuance  here, and the narrative’s affirmation of the value of humanity (and goblinkind) is one based on a spectrum of experiences, not a black and white view of Good versus Evil.

I sincerely hope there is a sequel coming (or, at the very least, that we get more books by Addison) and I suspect this will become one of my comfort reads in years to come.

cover image for Up Against ItUp Against It by M. J. Locke

When disaster strikes the asteroid colony of Phoecea, it’s up to Jane Novio, manager of the Resource Commission, to figure out the logistics of how the colony is going to survive. With Jane soon dealing with a rogue AI, probable sabotage, and the Martian mob – all on top of a colony threatening water crisis and the aftermath of a tragic accident – the question quickly becomes if Phoecea will remain intact and functioning, not how.

This wasn’t a book that I fell into quickly, but when I did fall, I fell hard.  It’s not just that Jane is both competent and interesting, and old enough to have experience and history.  I also desperately loved how much the story was aware of how vital many of the mundane things we take for granted are.  Living in California, especially now, the importance of access to potable water is something that is increasingly hard to ignore, and so I found the underlying crisis both relevant and believable.  The supporting cast is great as well, and I’m realizing that I’m a sucker for good AI stories.

cover image for Let's Play HouseLet’s Play House by Emma Quay, illustrated by Anna Walker

In very few – but well chosen – words and with soft but expressive pictures, Quay and Walker show the ups and downs of playing with friends, and the joys of playing pretend.

I don’t know if I’m just looking in the wrong places, but I have a hard time finding books for children that focus on the dramatic play they engage in every day.  With the exception of Antoinette Portis’ excellent picture books, the act of imaginative play almost feels like the preschool set’s version of Fight Club: first rule of playing pretend, don’t talk about playing pretend.  Which is very odd, not only because I have memories of picture books and easy readers that talked about it when I was young (perhaps it’s just books for toddlers in which the topic is lacking?), but also because it’s extremely common for young children to preface their play with “but just for pretend.”

Which is a very long winded way of saying: when I saw this book, I had to grab it.   Short and cute, it’s perfect for older toddlers and exactly the kind of book that I’ve been looking for to add to my “imagination” story time.

cover image for Razor's EdgeRazor’s Edge by Martha Wells

When a deal to obtain supplies for a new Rebel base goes awry, Leia and Han – and crew – find themselves attempting to rescue a merchant ship from pirates.  While the rebels fight and scheme for their lives, Leia also attempts to convince one particular band of pirates, refugees from Alderaan, to give up their mercenary ways and join the Alliance instead.

Can Wells write more Star Wars novels? please? pretty please?

I’m not going to pretend that this is a Hugo worthy novel, but it was fun. And managed to have a bit of depth in addition to being tons of fun.  Best of all, Wells’ take on the characters must be very close to my own, because everything about them – Leia and Han in particular – was just spot on.

I’ve tried a few Star Wars novels before, and bounced off all but Zahn’s.  But this is one of the rare titles that I’ve gotten through Netgalley that I’ve not only finished but immediately put on my list of books to buy.

cover image for Kami and the YaksKami and the Yaks written by Andrea Stenn Stryer and illustrated by Bert Dodson

Early one morning, Kami watches as his father and older brother prepare for the day. The climbers are coming soon, and Norgay and father have been hired act as their guides.  But the family’s yaks are nowhere to be found.  Can Kami find the yaks and save the day before it’s too late?

The story was nice and the illustrations were gorgeous, but unfortunately I was extremely distracted by the badly designed layout on some of the pages, which left a significant amount of the text hard to read.

cover image for BelowBelow by Meg McKinlay

“On the day Cassie was born, they drowned her town.”

(Sorry, the opening for this book is just so perfect, I had to steal it.)

Twelve year old Cassie has lived her entire life in New Lower Grange.  But before she was born, before the damn was built, her family’s house was in Old Lower Grange.  Then, with the flip of a switch, an entire town was buried in water, leaving Cassie wondering what secrets may lie hidden beneath the waves.

Intriguing and full of wonderfully written lines (see above, also: “When I got home, Dad had a finger in someone’s eye and another in their ear.” and “Liam was clever yesterday. While I was worried about being prosecuted, he was counting his strokes.”) Below is one of those novels that I wish had gotten more attention.  While not without flaws (McKinlay’s opening lines aren’t quite matched by the rest of her writing) it’s both different and yet not, in all the ways a middle grade book should be: unique in concept, but familiar when it comes to themes and relationships.

cover image for Zebrea ForestZebra Forest by Adina Rishe-Gewitz

Annie and her brother live with their grandmother, the father dead and their mother having abandoned them.  With Gran’s brooding spells getting worse, Annie has her hands full keeping up at school and keeping the social workers of their backs.  She and Rew find their own solace in stories they make up about the father they never knew.  Until a stranger arrives and holds them hostage, and Annie and Rew learn the truth of their father’s death.

I ranted about this book earlier this year.  The short version being that my problem wasn’t so much that Annie was quick to forgive her father, but that the book did an inadequate job of exploring why, and why this might not be the safest choice for her to make.  Also, the backstory about their parents is disturbing in ways that the narrative seems dangerously oblivious to.

cover image for DreamlandDreamland by Sarah Dessen

When Cassie ran away, Caitlin lost more than a sister.  Her parents shock and grief absorbs all their energy, leaving Caitlin without anyone to turn to.  Then Rogerson Biscoe walks into Caitlin’s life and suddenly she once again has someone who listens.  But who will Caitlin turn to when Rogerson turns out to be more dangerous than she suspected?

While abuse in romantic relationships is a topic that deserves a lot more attention than it gets (in YA literature and out of it) this is, unfortunately, not the most engaging problem novel ever.  Possibly because it is so clearly a problem novel rather than a typical Dessen story about interesting characters dealing with various interpersonal issues.  Although Dreamland is far from an after school special, neither is it quite what it could have been.

cover image for The Madness UnderneathThe Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

After the events of The Name of the Star [redacted for spoilers], Rory’s parents have been understandably overprotective.  Neither they, nor her new therapist, believe her when she tells them that she’s more than ready to go back to school. It doesn’t help, of course, that she can’t tell any of them what really happened, or why she so desperately wants to return to Wexford.

I definitely did not expect this book to end up going in the direction it did.  So while it suffered from the typical middle book lulls at certain points, it still managed to push the story along in interesting ways. And yes, it made me cry.  And no, I wasn’t expecting that either.

cover image for The Garden of My ImaanThe Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia

Aliya worries about getting her homework done. Avoiding bullies at school. When she’ll finally wear a bra like her friends.  If the holidays will be still be any fun now that her disapproving great aunt is coming to visit.  Now, on top of everything else, her Sunday school friends are asking if she’ll fast for Ramadan this year; Aliya doesn’t feel ready – but she doesn’t want to be a baby either.  And when a new muslim girl arrives at her elementary school, suddenly Aliya’s Glen Meadow classmates are full of questions about why Marwa wears a hijab and only eats halal, and why Aliya doesn’t.

The Garden of My Imaan is a typical middle grade story about friends and family and navigating one’s place in the world.  Except for all the ways in which it’s very much not your typical middle grade school story.  That is to say, except for the fact that it’s about a muslim girl whose household contains four generations of Indian Americans, rather than yet another Ramona Quimbly, Junie B. Jones, or Judy Moody.  What makes this story truly unique (although it shouldn’t be as unique as it is, alas) isn’t just the parts that make Aliya different from her literary peers, but the way that Zia keeps the story focused on Aliya and her dilemmas, rather than letting it become a Very Special Lesson for everyone else.

By the by – can we please stop saying things like “Aliya…may be a young Muslim girl of Indian descent, but her story is one that will resonate with readers of many backgrounds” when reviewing books that feature characters we rarely see in (Western) fiction?  That’s just insulting all around.  Why wouldn’t her story “resonate” with all kinds of readers?

cover image for DeliriumDelirium by Lauren Oliver

Lena is almost old enough to be cured – of Love.  She can’t wait until she no longer has to worry about becoming sick, like her mother was.  But we need a plot, so of course she falls in love with another uncured before the procedure can happen.

With a different premise – one that actually makes a tiny bit of sense – this wouldn’t have been a bad book, only pedestrian.  Sadly, though, we don’t get any kind of logic.  This isn’t a Vulcan type suppression of all emotion, nor a focus on romantic love only. It is, for no apparent reason, a singling out of Love of all kinds.  Including the love parents have for their often obnoxious and time-consuming offspring. Yet no explanation is given for how this utopia managed to curb infanticide.  As this bad bit of world-building was just one of a great many things that annoyed me about this book, I strongly suggest not attempting to read it.

Cover image for Hold FastHold Fast by Blue Balliet

Early’s home has never been fancy.  But she’s always had one, and her parents have worked had to provide for her and her brother – and to fill their lives with words, poetry, and books. But when her father, Dash, goes missing and thieves ransack their apartment, Early, Jubilation, and their mother, Summer, are left with no choice but to move into a city shelter. Will Early ever have a home again? And how can she find her father when her world is in such disarray?

A respectful and suspenseful story about what it really means to be a child without a home.  The neatness of the ending stretched belief, but it’s appropriate in a novel for elementary school readers and it managed to stay away from false platitudes.  It may give some kids hope, or at least help them feel less alone, and it will certainly expose many to the challenges that other children face.

cover image for The Truth About ForeverThe Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Macy has the perfect boyfriend. The only problem is that he’s going to be away for the summer, leaving Macy to fill in at his job at the library.  But even though her coworkers hate her and she’s not a genius like Jason, Macy is determined to be perfect at it anyway. Because being perfect is the only thing that has kept everything from falling apart.

Drama! Angst! Romance!  Everything one expects from a Dessen novel, including the protagonist figuring out how to talk to her mothe.  And realizing that she deserves a better boyfriend than the one she has.  Not Dessen’s best, but entertaining enough.

cover image for Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big HillBetsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill by Maude Hart Lovelace

Betsy and Tacy and Tib are old enough to go on even more adventures by themselves, and wander even farther from home than before.  They aren’t sure that their parents would be pleased to discover that they’ve gone all the way over the Big Hill and into the town below.  But when they meet a very interesting girl from the other side of the hill while picnicking atop it, they figure they only polite thing to do is to go visiting.

Now this was a fascinating story to read.  I was rather pleasantly surprised to find not only a Syrian community in a book written almost 75 years ago, but also a fairly respectful description of said community.  Although, not one completely without Fail.  Also, the entire story culminated in a parade that wasn’t just a celebration of America, but very much about American superiority over the Syrian’s homeland.  Still, despite its faults, I’m very much tempted to keep a copy on hand for the next time someone talks about diversity in children’s books as if it were a recent liberal invention.  Not to mention the next time someone tries to argue that we’ve made great strides in that area! – yeah, not as much as you think; I’ve definitely read books that are both more racist and more recently published.

cover image for OrleansOrleans by Sherri Smith

I’m going to attempt to do a proper review for this soon, so for now all I’m going to say is that it’s awesome and you all should read it.

cover image for LiarEverybody lies.  We say that we adore gifts that we hate, profess delight in meals that are lacking, and assure our parents that yes, our homework is all done.  For most of us, the lying ends there.  Not for Micah though, she doesn’t just tell the occasional white lie, she’s a compulsive liar.  “But [she’s] going to stop.”  She has to.  So pay attention, because she’s going to tell you the truth and she’s “going to tell it straight.  No lies, no omissions.”

Layer by layer, Larbalestier peels back Micah’s deceptions to expose the truth and banish the lies, but they are rarely what you’d expect.  Micah doesn’t pretend to know bands that she has never heard of, claim to own trophies that she never earned, or fake an illness to get out of class.  Rather, she decides to wear a Venetian mask to school – and forges a doctor’s note to justify it.

There is a peculiar and unexpected honesty in Micah’s fibs.  False as they are, they also let her push against the edges of conformity and let Micah be herself without forcing her to claim to know who she is when she doesn’t yet.   At the same time, they also act as role to play and hide behind – even from herself.

When her friend Zach disappears, however, Micah discovers that her lies might finally cost her more than just the goodwill of her peers.  No longer simply a cathartic confession of past sins, Liar quickly becomes an especially twisted kind of mystery, with Micah’s admissions of falsehood and guilt taking on the urgency of someone both digging for the truth and fighting for survival.

The twists and turns that Micah’s story takes also do more than keep readers on their toes. Because of the way that the story is structured, the lies rely as much on our assumptions of what constitutes normalcy as they do on Micah’s audacity. It’s beyond brilliant, exceptionally appropriate in a novel for young adults, and Larbalestier deserves nothing but praise for pulling it off.

This is a novel that, like Micah, refuses to be boxed in.  It’s not simply that it flirts with genres the same way that Micah plays with her identity.  Rather, like Micah herself, how you classify it and how much you enjoy it will greatly depend on which parts of her story you choose to believe.

Larbalestier’s clear understanding of the fandom traditions of genre fiction bleed onto the page, demanding that the conversation expand beyond the reading of the book itself.  Liar is a novel that is meant to be talked about, it’s value and interest is fundamentally tied to comparing notes and possibilities afterwards.  The obvious conundrum is that spoilers for a book such as this – even mild ones – would also impose points of view that would limit the discussions afterwards.

So when I tell you that you must read it – and now – know that I say this not just because I adored it, nor because it is lacking flaws, but because I am eager to hear what you thought of it.

Larbalestier, Justine. (2009). Liar. NewYork: Bloomsbury.

Best for Ages: 14-18

Find the Author @:

http://justinelarbalestier.com/

@JustineLavaworm