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Cat Girl's Day Off
by Kimberley Pauley
Cat Girl's Day Off is a hilarious contemporary fantasy about a girl who is a member of an illustrious family of magics, and her magic is the stupid one--all she can do is talk to cats. But it turns out that talking to cats can be useful, after all, when a famous movie star is kidnapped, replaced by a double, and only her cat can tell the difference. Then follows a series of fun sketches where Natalie and her friends help to save the world--with cats. I loved the relationships between the trio of friends. I loved the high school scenes when the teens are trying to coordinate test taking with world-saving and magic. I loved the rivalry between Natalie and her sisters. I loved the parents who are far from perfect but very real. Most of all, I admit it--I loved the cats and the dogs. I felt like the conversation from them was absolutely spot-on (!) and wanted a whole series of books in the same vein. And I am not a cat lover.
Heroes Adrift
by Moira J. Moore
Heroes Adrift by Moira J. Moore is completely different. It is set in what feels like a Victorian England on the slant, with a magical system that relies on pairs of Sources and Shields. Lee and Taro are a fun couple, he the fashion-obsessed dandy with a string of ladies waiting for him, she the uncomfortable, serious woman who gradually shows her flashier (and more passionate side). I found the unfinished romance interesting in terms of variations on a theme. I found the magic gradually more intriguing. I found the story of Aryne, the granddaughter of the queen who is raised in the tropics unknown and unknowing, even more interesting. The novel ends not with a cliffhanger but not with real closure, either. But I was content to tell myself I would get the next book and read on. A fun combination of romance and fantasy for a light day (or week) of reading.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
by Eric Metaxas
Bonhoeffer is one of those Christians that makes you proud to be a Christian, if you are one. He wasn't a social Christian. He wasn't interested in being comfortable with his Christianity. He wasn't much interested in being saved personally. He was interested in figuring out what was right to do and doing it, no matter the cost. He spent a lot of time trying to figure out what a good person does when a government likes Hitler's takes over his country. And he decided that hiding behind the idea that murder is bad was a coward's way out. Saving his own soul wasn't his interest. If he made a mistake that damned him and saved the world, he was fine with that. I admire his courage and am persuaded by a lot of his arguments still.
by Mike Mullin
This is the stuff great dystopians are made of. The level of research done on the fallout of a volcano like this seemed superb to me, a lay person. I loved the landscape of the escape. There’s no need to do massive worldbuilding until Alex gets out of the hot zone, but once we’re there, enough is hinted at that it feels that the author has done a lot of thinking about widespread consequences of this singular event. And to me, the more important notes of characters in an apocalypse were right on, too. I cared about this dystopia because I cared about Alex and Darla. A lot.

by Bryce Moore
I expected to like this book, since it was edited by a friend of mine who has great taste. I expected to find smart, ethnically diverse characters. I didn't expect how funny it was, nor how smart the relationships between the main characters (good and bad) were. I loved the interspersed quotes from the book on death. I loved the gradual unfolding of the mythology of the world. I loved how everything came together and made sense. I also loved how smart it was to have the main character an American who is going back to the old world. This was a great way to give the reader a way to see the old world from the beginning (a more typical way is to have the character from our world and time use a wardrobe or other magical device to go into the other world). What else can I say? The mysteries were clever. The details about the castle and the Roma were excellently done, not too much but enough to make me feel like I was there. This is Europe, a Europe I've both lived in and written about and the novel was able to make me feel like it was both the same Europe and a new Europe at the same time. A great book.
The Book of Blood and Shadow
by Robin Wasserman
This is a book that doesn’t have any easy answers about love, betrayal and forgiveness. It won’t give you a warm romantic feeling. You won’t want to reread the most romantic moments when you’re sick or need comfort. It’s not a book that’s an easy read in any way. It’s fast paced, and it certainly has romance in plenty, the expected and unexpected kind. It’s also a book about religion and science from a time when there was very little difference between the two translated into our world, where the two are enemies. The main character isn’t a believer, and even at the end, she would prefer to believe a more rational explanation than the one which her senses and memory give her.

Why We Broke Up
by Daniel Handler
Daniel Handler's Why We Broke Up made me feel everything Min felt, which I think is about the highest compliment I can offer a writer. I also find myself explaining my first name to people, why my parents named me that, and a history of my various aliases. I have no interest in old films, but the detail that Min uses to talk about them astonished me. She almost made me want to give up some of my own hobbies and follow hers. Again, a compliment for a writer if there is any. If you can make a reader who has never heard of something before feel the passion of the character for it, you are doing your job.
Glamour in Glass
by Mary Robinette Kowal
I loved the first book in this series (Shades of Milk and Honey), and I was both surprised and satisfied by this new edition. Surprised because Austen's own books are not about married couples, but about the uncertain phase of courtship. When the declaration of love has occurred, the story is over. But in Glamour in Glass, the same couple (Vincent and Jane) are now married and embarked on their honeymoon trip to the Netherlands to visit a friend of Vincent's who is also skilled in glamour. Jane discovers a new twist (literally) on the magic of glamour and she and Vincent also become involved in the return of Napoleon after his first exile. One of the things I most enjoyed about the story was the moment when Jane is told by the doctor (with a shock of dark hair--who, Mary told me is meant to remind us of my favorite doctor, David Tennant) that she mustn't use glamour while she is pregnant. It's right for the time period for there to be prohibitions. It also felt right for me that Jane would end up having to stretch those rules for herself, as all good heroines do. There are consequences for this choice, and they are devastating. But who knows what will happen next.

Black Heart
by Holly Black
I don't know what to say to those of you who haven't found Holly Black's noir/fantasy series that begins with White Cat. It crosses so many genre boundaries it's hard to even begin describing it. Imagine a world where the mob is magic, and the whole government is about circumventing that magical system. Or imagine a world where kids don't know what magic they have and can never be entirely sure of the explanations that adults give them. In other words, imagine our world, just tilted slightly to the side. I just finished Black Heart, the final book in the series, and all I can think of is the quote from Oliver, “Please, sir, can I have some more?” It isn't just the brilliant plot twists and turns that make this series great, although those alone would make it worth reading—and reading again. It isn't just the finely drawn characters who are worth reading—although I would love to sit in a room with any of them and pick their brains and hearts. It isn't just the core-deep sense of world building that is going on in this book that seems to seep past the pages like a painting that has no frame. It's the language that makes me tip my hat to Holly and say—you are not only a writer, ma'am, you are a poet.
Fair Coin
by E. C. Myers
Fair Coin by EC Myers is about a young man who comes home to discover his mother has attempted suicide because she believes he is dead. Whoever it was in the hospital morgue looks a lot like him, has a library card identical to his—and a coin. And in addition, at school the next day he finds a message that tells him to make a wish and flip the coin. He does this, and his wishes begin to come true. Except that this isn't your ordinary fantasy. It twists into something rather different, and I must say, I was truly impressed at how tight this plot was and how the threads were all tied up at the end. When you change history, you've really got to work hard to make me believe it works, and this book faces a similar problem. I read quickly, eager to find out what happened next. The prose flows easily and the characters are well-drawn. If I had any quibble at all, it is that the author stole the idea from an old manuscript of mine from years ago. But then did it better.

The False Prince
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen is about an orphan named Sage who survives by trickery and theft on the streets of the kingdom's capital city. But he is captured himself one day, and drawn into a dangerous and treacherous plot. I don't want to reveal too much of the plot here, but I will say that the book reminded me strongly of Megan Whalen Turner, in all good ways. Sage is a smart-mouthed kid who has a heart. When others mistreat him, he seems to see more deeply to the truth. And like The Thief, the story is told in first person, which has the intended effect of making it feel intimate and honest, while at the same time somehow disguising information or making light of it and then revealing the truth at the end in a bravado climax that made perfect sense. I really fell in love with the character of Sage, and though there was a moment where the plot seemed to take the obvious turn, I ended up not caring because it was so well done that I forgot about the plot twist and became caught up in the character development. I say to students a lot that they make a mistake in thinking that it's the most original story that is going to sell. Being original is not nearly so important as being simply a good writer, and that is what Jen Nielsen is.
Memory of Morning
by Susan Sizemore
This book was just Regency enough to interest me and just not Regency enough not to annoy me. I liked Megere and her family, found the various heroes charming and believable in their own way, and most of all, liked the world that was in the background here, where it should be. No pages long descriptions of the history of the disease, no annoying names to try to pronounce. The name "Loudon" for London was a perfect introduction to how the author would play this twist. Exactly like London, but with one letter changed. And how one letter can make a difference! I often tell writers who want to try fantasy to change just one thing, but be rigorous about all the implications that one change will make. That's what's going on here, I think. I also loved how fantasy and science fiction blended a bit. No reason fantasy can't steal, eh?

The Book of Mormon Girl
by Joanna Brooks
I connected to this story in a lot of ways. Joanna Brooks grew up in Southern California as a Mormon in the 70s and 80s, probably less of a minority than where I grew up in New Jersey around the same time. She sang pioneer songs in Primary, made handiwork as a Beehive, and admired the Osmonds. Like her, I felt a deep sense of belonging at church and not belonging at school. I moved to Utah at 9, and then had to deal with being a Mormon in a group of Mormons that suddenly didn't seem to fit as they did before. It was a lot different seeing people at church once a week than it was seeing them every day at school and at church. Or maybe Mormons in Utah really are different. It is so hard to tell and I don't like to make sweeping generalizations.
42 Miles
by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer is a beautiful book of poems that tell the story of JoEllen, who lives two lives, one with her mother, and one with her father. She even has different names. She goes by Ellen in the city with her mother and Joey with her father on his farm. Everything in her life seems to be divided now that her parents are divorced. She thinks about herself in terms of what characteristics she shares with her mother, and which she shares with her father. I am not a poet. I do like poetry, even though I read it rarely. What Zimmer does in this book that is truly amazing is that she makes me believe that each of these poems might actually have been written by a teen girl. They are just rough enough, found enough, and sound easy enough for me to hear them in a girl's voice.

The Righteous
by Michael Wallace
After I read my Kindle sample of the book, I knew I had to buy it. And I was so, so glad that I did. I ripped right through it in one day. The character of Jacob feels so real to me, his doubts about the church seemed like they came right out of my head. And yet he continues to live the life, faking it until he makes it, which is part of what I do. It's never obvious if this is "right" or "wrong," and I loved that ambiguity. I also have to say that I loved the female characters in this book. The author is male, and I am sometimes dubious about men writing female characters, even some of my favorite male authors. In addition, this book begins in the head of Amanda, a character who dies at the end of the first chapter. I hate that! I kept reading it, realizing that all of this sympathy I felt for her was going to be wrenched away from me and I was going to have to identify with another character. To me, that is one reason why I dislike reading adult fiction of all kinds. I don't like head hopping. But like George R. R. Martin, Michael Wallace's writing was so well done that I immediately liked the next pov character, Jacob, and his sister Eliza. In fact, all of the female characters were done perfectly, all interesting in non-stereotypical female ways. They are polygamists, but they aren't stupid polygamists, which is part of the plot. But I don't want to give too much away.
A Talent for War
by Jack McDevitt
This isn't a new book, but I loved it. I started reading this book expecting classic space opera. There are lots of war scenes with cool space explosions and intrigue. Lots of gadgets and explanations of time warp and other spacey things that made me feel like I was really smart, even being able to grasp what was being talked about. But often books that offer no more than cool stuff leave me pretty, well, cold. This book about Alex Benedict was not like that at all. In the end, my favorite parts were about the philosophers quoted at chapter headings, and comparing them to Socrates and Demosthenes and others. I guess this appeals to my retelling nature. I think in the end all authors are doing retellings and some are just more honest about it than others. McDevitt is honest about where he is stealing from, and the what ifs he is playing with. The aliens are left very alien. They are telepathic, but not all powerful. There's lots of room for other books in this series, and I can't wait to see more romance develop between the two leads.

The Thorn and the Blossom
by Theodora Goss
I read about this book and knew I had to have it. The gimmick is that the book is a romance written from both the male and female point of view. The book has no spine, so you can read the male romance on one side and you flip it over for the other. It is just the kind of book I love because it is about two characters in an academic department coming to understand that the fantastic literature they are writing about is real. Something about this writing style felt so clean to me, so easy to read. I love that. So melodic and yet not self-consciously so. I loved this book in a special way.
Midnight in Austenland
by Shannon Hale
I have been waiting with great anticipation for Shannon Hale's sequel to Austeland. I loved the first, but I wasn't sure how she would manage to write a sequel that didn't feel like a retread. I should have trusted Shannon's brilliance more. She wrote both the sequel I wanted and a new book that was surprising all along the way. The problem is that saying too much about the plot truly ruins it. She tips her hat to Austen's Northanger Abbey here. She tells a story about a woman finding love again after a terrible marriage. She also does a great job of twisting romance expectations. This is the perfect beach read, but it's also a great book club read. I can just imagine all the women arguing over when they knew the moment that the "real" romance was obvious. Or when they knew who the killer was. Or when they wanted to lynch the ex-husband. Once again, I wish I was Shannon Hale.

Catching Jordan
by Miranda Kenneally
I loved the idea of a girl as a high school quarterback. There was a part of my brain that kept insisting that this was sheer fantasy, that it could never happen. Because girls are too fragile, too weak, and the prejudice is just too much against them. But the author was clever enough to give that voice a name in the book, and doubly clever to make that voice Jordan's father, who is a professional NFL player. I am not a football fan. I'm a triathlete, that's what I geek out over. But I understand enough about football to get what's going on, and I loved the descriptions of practices and games. To me, an athlete, they felt very real. The romance was almost a second thought to me, much less important. I'm not sure if I liked it because there's no reason that a jocky girl can't have romance, too, or if I felt like it made the book too girly. I think that my internal debate in and of itself tells me something about how well the author did her job. Until the reality of girls playing football, this book will open the gap.
Cloud Roads
by Martha Wells
A young man who can shape shift lives among humans who can't until the day when he sees another shape-shifter and discovers that he is a lost "consort," an important member of the court of shape-shifters. And they want him back. Or they mostly want him back. The court is not a simple place to be, and they are under attack by other creatures who are genetically related but "evil." How those genetic relationships are going to play out is something for another book, but this is a rich, full story. I loved the twists in the relationships between the male and female characters. On the one hand, this is a story of the lost princess who is found and then betrothed to the prince. Only it's not a princess, it's a lost prince. And he isn't sure if he wants to be married to the queen. She has power over him that really frightens him, magical power that "unmans" him to a certain extent. And the cost of coming back into this world that has forgotten him is giving up everything that he used to be. Loved, loved it!

by Robert Parker
I finished reading Sixkill, Robert Parker's final Spenser novel. I've read all the Spenser novels. I've liked all of them to one degree or another, and this one was good. I thought that the character of Sixkill was a little too much like the wisecracking Hawk only less politically correct. I liked the mystery itself and how it unfolded. I always like the sparseness of Spenser novels. It's something I aspire to, to write so cleanly and say so much in so few words.
Death Comes to Pemberley
by P.D. James
Yeah, so I love Pride and Prejudice and this was an easy sale. It did a lot of the things I wanted, like do a passable Jane Austen voice so that I could almost imagine this is what Jane Austen would write, if she did murder mysteries. It also brought Wickham, Elizabeth, and Darcy back together in tense circumstances. Wickham was not quite a villain, but never the hero, either. I don't want to ruin what happens, but it was a fun read. Not a romp, really, because everything goes at a very staid, Austenesque pace. What it didn't have was any of the romance I love with Jane Austen. It had some fun ties to other Austen books, and the mystery itself worked well. I enjoyed going back to Pemberley. If you are a diehard Austenhard, you probably will, too.

by Ben Dobson
I really loved this book. It had a first person narration, which is always a draw to me, and one of the reasons I tend to prefer YA. It's also a book that is contained in one volume, another draw. And it isn't tedious in digressions, making it a thousand pages long. The "Scriber" of the title is Dennon Lark, a flawed hero who doesn't know his own worth. He brings death to all around him, and he hates himself for it in the way that all heroes should. But my favorite part of the book is probably Bryndine and her band of women warriors. These are women who for various reasons no longer have a normal female place in the world, some abused, some simply misfit. But they come together for a cause and under Bryndine as their leader. She is physically large, nearly 8 feet tall, but also large in heart. She protects her women fiercely and even her kingdom, though it has rejected her. There are some sweet romance moments, but it isn't a romance. It's an epic with a lot of the updated kinds of notes that I need to love epic.
by Matthew Kirby
I read and love The Clockwork Three in 2010 when it came out. Icefall is similar in some ways. It feels like a fantasy, but doesn't actually have any magical elements except perhaps some vague legendary hints. On the other hand, instead of The Clockwork Three, this one has a single narrator, Solveig, who is telling her own story as she learns how to become a storyteller. Now, normally I am annoyed by movies about filmmakers and novels about writers. But this story really worked for me. I loved Solveig's journey from undervalued daughter to heroine. I also loved the deeper threads of meaning about what storytellers do and who they are. Liars, yes, performers, yes. Twisters of the truth depending on who is listening, that, too. But the act of storytelling as heroic is dealt with in a multi-layered way that I am still thinking about as a storyteller myself. Kids will love it, too, with plenty of action, suspense, a forbidden romance, the Nordic setting in winter, and the happy ending.

Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2012 all rights reserved.
Last revised June 29, 2012.