The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily

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Remember Dash & Lily? Kismet in the Strand Bookstore in NY! Mysterious notebooks, book love and adventures!

Dash and Lily found each other through a series of challenges left by Lily in a red moleskine notebook at the Strand in Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, the original novel by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan. Extremely cute and clever, it gave us bibliophiles the warm and fuzzies all the way to the last page.

Now we have our sequel, The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily. Set one year after Dash & Lily fall for each other, fans of their first escapade will notice the change in tone in the initial few chapters. Quite serious and a bit sad, the book begins with Lily trying to take care of her grandpa after he has a heart attack. She isn’t her usual optimistic self, isn’t excited for christmas and to make matters worse, she and Dash seem to have drifted apart in their relationship.

When Lily ditches school, runs away from her family and feels completely unreachable; Dash decides it’s time to intervene. He arranges a set of clues to lead Lily on her own adventure. Each clue rekindles her joy in christmas and leads her back to him, and all those who love her.

Though not as warm or wondrous as the original – Dash & Lily enthusiasts will appreciate this second dose of the adorable pair. This bittersweet sequel is worth picking up to experience what happens next in their story. It brings back a little of that unique Dash & Lily magic to get you in the spirit for the holiday season.

And, fair warning, it might make you deathly afraid of glitter.

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The Girl of Ink and Stars

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I’m a sucker for a beautiful book.

I was on twitter the other day looking at what other people were reading and someone tweeted about The Girl of Ink & Stars and I admit, I took one look and wanted it. It’s not just the cover, which is lovely, but the inside pages are strewn with star trails. And it actually sounded like a great read.

Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer. He used to explore the world beyond Joya (their island) and make beautiful maps from his adventures. Then an oppressive Governor arrived. The Governor doesn’t let the people go beyond their small sectioned off part of the island, which is rigged with bells to alert his guards of anyone trying to leave. Isabella dreams of seeing beyond their little hometown after years of studying the maps on her walls and growing up with her father’s stories of the world that exists beyond their boundaries.

When Isabella’s friend from school dies in the Governor’s orchard, Isabella gets in a fight her with other schoolmate Lupe, the Governor’s daughter, and blames her. Lupe runs away into the forgotten territories to find out why their friend died. Wracked with guilt and regret, Isabella cuts off all her hair and disguised as a boy, joins in the search party to find her.

As the search continues, Isabella realizes there is much more to be saved than her friend. Their whole island is on the precipice of destruction.

Definitely written for young readers, the characters are simple and the plot is straight forward. Interwoven through Isabella’s trek into the forgotten territories are aspects of the myths she grew up with. The balance between good and evil, the concept of sacrifice for the greater good and ultimately, the end of a myth that began long before she was born.

Though it didn’t engross me the way I wish it could have, it was a fun read that kept me interested to the last page. As an adult reader, my biggest disappointment was that the characters felt flat. The author doesn’t give them enough depth that we really care what happens to them in the end.

Though it’s not a book I would highly recommend to adult readers, for a young reader just discovering fantasy and mythology, it may be a perfect choice.

All the Bright Places

  “I learned that there is good in this world, if you look hard enough for it. I learned that not everyone is disappointing, including me, and that a 1,257 bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you’re standing next to the right person.”

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the bell tower at their school. Theodore is the sometimes strange, charming and erratic young man that often does weird things or gets into trouble at school. Violet is a popular, easygoing girl who recently lost her sister in a car accident. When they climb down off the ledge together, everyone assumes Violet is the hero – she must have saved Theodore. But in truth she was up there for her own reasons and they saved each other.

In the days that follow, Theodore reaches out to Violet and partners with her on a project where they must discover the wonders of their home state. Though hesitant at first, Violet agrees to partner with Theodore. They set out on adventures to explore places neither of them ever never knew existed. As they get to know each other, Theodore slowly helps her heal. Violet starts to write again, drive again and talk to her parents about her sister. She stops letting herself hide in the shadow of her sisters memory and begins, slowly, to live fully despite her loss.

The pairing of Violet and Theodore is uplifting and sweet in the beginning. We watch Violet heal, but as much as Theodore wants to get better, he can’t. He begins to feel the edges of what he calls being “asleep” come back to him. Those periods in his life where he fights not to disappear into his head, not lose himself for months at a time. Though at one point we get a hint of his illness when a counselor tries to speak to him about being bi-polar, he erases the counselor’s messages on his family’s answering machine and runs away.

“All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven is a story about loss, love, mental illness and suicide. It explores how anyone can be struggling with these issues, whether they’re the well liked cheerleader with great grades, or the school “freak” as some bullies call Theodore.

Violet and Theodore learn together that struggling with suicide doesn’t always have a definitive reason or easy cure to a happy ending. And though we wish it could be true, sometimes love is not enough.

New releases to lose sleep over

Holidays are great aren’t they? Not only do we get to buy books for our loved ones but people give us books! And certificates for books! And money to buy MORE books! It’s the best time of the year.

Here are a few upcoming releases to be excited about this holiday season and save some of that cash for.

           To be released: December 2, 2014

Haruki Murakami will be releasing “The Strange Library” next week and if you’re a bookworm – be really excited. Book nerds like us adore authors who write about their love of literature or set their stories in a place of books. Shadow of the Wind? Dash and Lily? Ex-Libris? So many great novels revolve around books within books. “The Strange Library” is about a boy and a girl who try to escape a dark and mystical library full of nightmarish things. SO EXCITED! Who doesn’t want to read about being trapped in a dark, surreal library? It’s a dream come true.

 

 To be released: January 6, 2015

SO YOU THOUGHT FLAVIA WAS GONE? Think again. Flavia may have been packed up to be sent away from Bradshaw at the end of the last book, but her new adventures will occur in the super secret boarding school for spies. New mysteries to solve, new murders to stumble upon. And all with fellow children her age who are uncannily intelligent! It’s a whole new world and I can’t wait to see what Flavia will get tangled up in next.

 

To be released: February 17, 2015

I can only imagine this will be yet another rollicking adventure with our favorite couple, Sherlock Holmes and his badass wife Mary Russell. They are on their way to California (always an excellent choice) and decide to stop by Japan on the way over. The mystery begins aboard their steamer and continues round the world, from Tokyo to Oxford.

                  To be released: December 23, 2014

I have not actually read Sundquists’s other book but I’ve read great reviews on it and this one sounds really funny too. I’m looking forward to checking out this author and seeing if he’s worth his salt! “We should hang out sometime” is Josh humorously investigating why he can’t seem to get a girlfriend. He has many adventures and mishaps and it promises to be an amusing trip into his world.

 

I’m sure there are many more upcoming. What are some of the books you’re excited for?

Clariel (Abhorsen #4) by Garth Nix

Have you ever read Garth Nix? Wait, no. More specifically, have you ever read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series? If you haven’t, you should go out and get them. Train, plane, kindle, library, stealing/borrowing from your local bookstore (or the more traditional route of buying the book..) however you wish that will get your eager little paws in possession of these stories, it’s imperative you go for it.

The first three, Sabriel, Lireal and Abhorsen are wonderful. They’re all incredibly distinct adventures in this world Nix has created. A world that teeters between the normal world, in a city named Ancelstierre, much like our existence (no magic) and the Old Kingdom (full of magic.)

In the first adventure a young lady named Sabriel is at school in Ancelstierre when her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing. The Abhorsen is the person who protects the world from the malevolent dead. Those spirits that have been enslaved, gone astray or are naturally evil. The Abhorsen uses bells to bind and send the spirits where they’re supposed to go, beyond. So in a search for her missing father, Sabriel dones a set of bells, accompanied by a smart-aleck cat, Mogget, who talks, accidentally wakes up a prince and goes on an adventure to save her father.

In Lireal we meet the Clayr, cousins to the Abhorsens. They see the future and can give a hint to how it all ties together or what needs to be done to avoid disaster. Lireal, never having gained the sight, feels unwanted and out of place in her home with the Clayr and ends up embarking on a journey that will show her who she is and what she is meant to become.

In Abhorsen, Lirael’s adventures are extended as she learns what it will truly take to save the world from an ancient evil.

And then, comes Clariel.

Thus far, all of the Abhorsen stories have more or less ended positively. The characters undergo great losses and suffer quite a bit, but in the end they mostly end up with a brighter tomorrow for the greater good and their own life journeys. Clariel, though, is a bit darker.

Clariel is forced to move away from her beloved forest to live with her family in the city of Belisaere. She hates the masses of people, the high walls, the politics, the society and how her future is being decided for her. The King is disintegrating into his own mind and the Guiltmaster Kilp is taking control to use power for his own evil ends. Her parents are blind to all of it due to their grand new life as part of the Goldsmith’s guild. As a plot to put Clariel on the throne and overthrow the king comes to light, Clariel ends up running for her life. She seeks help from an unreliable source which eats away at the very essence of her being and changes her path to an irrevocably destructive one. Though Clariel’s intentions are good, some mistakes cannot be fixed. Though she survives her adventures, Clariel’s fate is a dark one foretold in the earlier Abhorsen books.

And though we suspect that she is who we think she is, as the ending creeps closer we can only hope it is untrue and that we’re ultimately wrong. We hope that some magical resolution will make Clariel’s story a little brighter, a little less despairing. But in the end, it is all as we feared and nothing more.

Clariel is yet another excellent addition to the Abhorsen series, if a darker, more hopeless version than anything we’ve read by Nix before.

One inescapable year

“And then it’s always that one word that makes you so different and puts you outside the overlap of everyone else; and that word is so fucking big and loud, it’s the only thing anyone ever hears when your name is spoken. 

And whenever that happens to us, all the other words that make us the same disappear in it’s shadow.” 

“Winger” by Andrew Smith starts with Ryan Dean West, 14, having his head shoved in a toilet. As he takes note of his current situation, we learn a little about him. West, also known as “Winger” because of his position on the rugby team, hates football players, and is top of his class as a junior, loves to draw and has a wicked sense of humor about the world around him.

He attends Pine Mountain, a boarding school he refers to as “the best school around for the rich deviants of tomorrow.” This year, West has been moved to Opportunity Hall, a dorm for troublemakers, to room with Chas, a fellow rugby player he doesn’t get along with. So the year starts off with some difficulty, in addition to the fact he is trying to overcome being a younger man in high school, where any kind of difference makes you stand out.

West believes that the main difference of each person, whether it be age, size, sexuality or gender, can be the one aspect that blinds those around us to anything else. No matter what else he does, he feels that his age is what defines him to his peers. Kids at his school may be known by identifiers such as “the gay guy” or “the nice guy,” but at only 14 years old, he is known as “the young guy.”

This makes him feel that he has to work hard to gain respect from his fellow students and the attention of his best friend, Annie (whom he is madly in love with, of course). As the year progresses, he tries to break out of his identifier and broaden his mind about others’.

West has many typical teen experiences. He sneaks out of his dorm at night, gets into fights with friends, falls head over heels in love, acts incredibly stupid and even gets bullied by other students.

West slowly realizes that his best guy friend is Joey, a young man who also happens to be gay, and his girl best friend, Annie, is someone worth fighting for. He gets to know students outside of his circle and watches his friends overcome their personal battles each day as he confronts his own. He does his best to be a good friend in the face of all the hormones, stupidity and headstrong beliefs that tend to fill teens with such surety when they are young.

“Winger” is hilarious, imaginative and heartbreaking. The comics included throughout the book and the sense of humor add a light undertone to balance the seriousness of some of West’s experiences.

I couldn’t help but be charmed by this book. It made me laugh all the way through and then completely broke my heart.

It begins with a statement that reverberates throughout the rest of the book – “Joey told me nothing ever goes back exactly the way it was, that things expand and contract – like breathing, but you could never fill your lungs up with the same air twice.”

And by the end, we learn with Ryan Dean West how one incredibly beautiful and inescapably hard year can change everything.

Saviors and Stereotypes

I don’t have anything against “Twilight.” OK, yeah, I do. I have a lot against “Twilight.” It’s not just the awful grammar, one-dimensional characters and trite dialogue, but the fact that Bella mostly seems to sit around crying and waiting for some guy to save her from violent situations as an abject gesture of love to give meaning to her life. Gross.

Back when these books became popular, my friend told me to read them before I judged them. So I did. And I regret it to this day. Except for the fact that I can now judge freely, so there’s that. Huzzah.

I realize that it can be enjoyable to read a book where a young man sweeps a young lady off her feet and makes everything better; I get that. I really do. I’ve never read a hardcore romance novel, but I’m sure that’s what they do in those books (among other things).

But since “Twilight” exploded all over bookstores like a burst appendix, the young adult sections have become clad in moody black covers with white rose petals and blood-red lips. The name of those sections have sometimes morphed into teen lit and, on occasion – to my everlasting horror – paranormal romance.

(If you’ve ever seen excellent writers like John Green and Markus Zusak in a paranormal romance section simply because they write YA books, you’d be horrified, too. You might even weep a little).

The ageless adventure and love plot between a young lady and a young gentlemen is being repeatedly rehashed in a lot of teen books like “Twilight” without any originality or substance. The fact, though, is that the young lady doesn’t have to be a helpless idiot for these popular plots to work.

So when I’m asked what young adult author I would recommend for a teen or adult that loves a little fantasy and a little romance, I often suggest Tamora Pierce.

In Pierce’s “Song of the Lioness” series, Alanna secretly switches places with her brother to pursue her dream of becoming a knight. In the “Immortals” series, Daine finds out she has a knack for magic, not just hunting, archery and horses. In the “Beka Cooper” series, we follow a young lady as she trains to be a member of the Provost’s Guard, a type of police officer who keeps the peace in city streets and tracks down criminals.

Almost all of Pierce’s books feature strong female characters who are pursuing their own goals in life. Sure, these young ladies engage in romance at one point or another, but they do it while still being independent, intelligent women with their own values and aspirations. And if they end up with a guy, it’s because they fell in love with someone who is their partner, not their savior.

Pierce’s books are refreshing adventures that will make a female want to kick off those petticoats and run around in pantaloons like a self-governing, forthright modern woman.

And the best part is, these books won’t make you hit your head against the wall, weeping for our future generations of young women. Not even once.