Summer Reading Roundup

Greetings, readers and writers! It’s been a while since my last posted review, and I am woefully behind simply on tracking my reading, let alone writing reviews of anything. Lots of travel this year has really hampered my remaining time and energy, and of course there’s work, and family commitments, and mental health, and all of the miscellaneous life stuff that creeps in through the cracks like pesky roaches that take up residence in your unused garage drainpipe and leave poop on your garage shelves (OH DID THAT HAPPEN? YES IT DID!).

ANYWAY. I did want to at least mention a few highlights of my reading list from spring and early summer, because this year is zooming by. Soon enough it’ll be fall—my favorite season—and things will be ramping up with school starting and Cybils getting underway. So, without further delay, What I Read On My Summer (and Late Spring) Vacation.

First, and most egregiously overdue, is The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst, the most recent novel tied to her Queens of Renthia series. Not strictly YA, this series (and its companion books) make excellent crossover books for teens who read a lot of fantasy. I would have loved them growing up, and I love them now! I received my review copy of this courtesy of the author, far too many months ago now to be anything but embarrassing, and I sincerely apologize for that.

This book, a companion to the main series, takes place on the Islands of Belene, where the would-be Queen must survive the deadly Island of Testing to become heir—or live in silent exile if she fails or refuses the call. Mayara, an oyster diver, is happy with her life and keeps her power over the ferocious nature spirits hidden, until she is forced to use them to save her village from a storm. Her powers now revealed, her fate is sealed: she’s taken to be tested. While this one has some of the Hunger-Games-like excitement of a testing situation, there’s so much more to the story—and, as often happens with Durst’s books, the ultimate resolution challenges the idea that gaining power means losing yourself. Fans of the other Queens of Renthia books won’t want to miss this one.


Yeah, so earlier this summer I accidentally read an Alien tie-in novel. How did I “accidentally” read it, you ask? Well, it was simple. I failed to notice the punctuation in the title of Alien: Echo, but at the same time I did notice it was written by Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire), and had a rather exciting plot with sci-fi exploration, action, and an imaginative new world. As I began reading this tale—in which Olivia and her sickly twin sister Viola settle in on an alien world with their xenobiologist parents—I peered more closely at the descriptions of the frightening alien creatures and thought, “gee, this sure owes a lot to the Aliens franchise.” Massive Attentiveness Fail! What a dork. In any case, it was a fast-paced, entertaining read, and anyone who enjoys a good space adventure might want to give it a try.


I also went post-apocalyptic for a while, with a new series (The Last 8 by Laura Pohl), a new-to-me series (The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken), and a new book in an existing series I like, Broken Lands, which is the latest Rot & Ruin book by Jonathan Maberry. While post-apocalyptic, each has a different fantastical focus: The Last 8 has aliens, The Darkest Minds has psychic powers, and Broken Lands, of course, has zombies. All were quick, fun reads, and took my mind off the actual ways in which we are all hurtling toward possible oblivion.

That’s it for this post—and it’s plenty. There will be more to come, to be sure. The only question is when…and it’s a very good question…

Source: Dispatches From Wonderland

Books That Never Left Me: GOOD OMENS by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Dear Reader,

This is a preface to explain what I hope will be a semi-regularly recurring series of posts thanking authors for books that had an indelible effect on me while I was growing up—either as a child or a teen. I eventually settled on “Books That Never Left Me” after considering and rejecting subpar options such as “Books That Touched Me” (ew, no), “Books That Grabbed Me” (same), and “Books That Influenced Me” (yawn).

In most cases, these ARE books that have never left me—they’ve taken up residence in my heart, but there’s also a good chance they’ve continued to take up space on my bookshelves because I can’t bear to part with them. Indeed, for many of these, they require periodic re-reading. Good Omens is one of those books, and I recently gave it a re-read in honor of the upcoming TV series with David Tennant (SQUEEEEEEE). It was one of my favorites in my young adult and early adult years. So, I hereby inscribe my thanks to its esteemed creators. May the honorable Sir Pratchett continue to rest in peace and enjoy this brief missive, even if he is currently a resident of the great…uh…Ankh-Morpork in the sky.

Yours,

Sarah “Aquafortis” Stevenson


 

This is the cover of the old-ass version I had, which I’m pretty sure came from my mom’s Science Fiction Book Club catalog

Dear Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett,

Let’s jump right into it, shall we? Otherwise I’ll have to start this letter with a tedious litany of obsequious and awe-filled blandishments. Let’s just not and say we did. Or just sum them up with another SQUEEEEEEEEEE. That’ll do.

Anyway: I don’t think you’ll ever have any idea how formative Good Omens was for me as a teenager. I first picked it up in high school—I’m pretty sure it was the first book by either of you I’d ever read—and I ended up somewhat obsessively re-reading it several more times over the succeeding years. It was comfort. It was a pick-me-up. It never failed to put a smile on my face, make me laugh out loud, or leave me with a sense of hopeful cynicism and/or cynical hope. It had a profound effect on my sense of humor and deepened an already irreversible Anglophilia. And it fostered a whole new appreciation of riding in the car with my high school friend Matt F., blasting the Best of Queen.

I’d love to be able to say it made me want to become a writer, but how I became a writer is a complicated story for another time. (Or a simple one: I’ve always enjoyed writing. Then at some point, but not right away, I decided to start doing it professionally. Hmm; I guess that wasn’t so hard after all…) I can say that it’s the type of book that immediately takes me back into the mindset of being a reader, that gets me gleefully lost, that not only suspends my disbelief but flings it away, never to be seen again.

So, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Sarah

Source: Dispatches From Wonderland

A Return and a Poem for Poetry Friday

Dear Wonderland Readers,

It’s been a while since I chimed in. Luckily, Tanita has held down the fort with her insightful commentary in the meantime. My only contribution so far has been the font in our header graphic! (Hey, font searches are nothing to sneeze at. If you’re a designer, that’s a serious internet rabbit hole.)

ANYWAY. I’m back. And I’m ready to start fresh, with less of a predetermined goal for my posts and (hopefully) less stress. I’m going to try to adhere to the advice on the post-it on my desk–advice from my one-time Figure Drawing professor, Dewey Crumpler, who once said to the class: “DO NOT BE AFRAID TO STEP INTO THE VOID.” And in accordance with that, I offer you a poem I wrote–a poem about fear, about being afraid to write and to show people what I’ve written, something that often paralyzes me and keeps me from blogging. As an introvert and someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I often find myself simply remaining silent. However, at the poetry workshop where I wrote this, I decided to address that silence.

Readers, enjoy.

Sarah (aka aquafortis)

A Poem About Writing A Poem

Because it feels dangerous
Because I am afraid of the sound of my own words
Because I’m afraid of someone else’s words
Because I’m afraid of the noise–
or of no sound at all

Because it hurts to think about this (or that)
Because it hurts to talk about him or her or you
Because I might cry
Because you might cry–or laugh

Because the words aren’t good enough or strong enough–
or not enough or too much
Because somebody might read them
Because nobody might read them
Because I don’t look right or because I do–
too different or not different enough or the wrong kind of different

Because everybody will be looking at my naked soul
Because you will judge me
Because I will judge me
Because the sun and the moon and the stars
are watching
Because
and because
and because

Source: Dispatches From Wonderland

Monday Review: NEVERWORLD WAKE by Marisha Pessl

Synopsis: It’s Groundhog Day. Well, sort of. It’s a lot less funny and a lot more scary, even when your four ex-best-friends are in it with you.

It’s been a year since graduation; a year since Beatrice’s boyfriend Jim died under mysterious circumstances deemed a suicide, with his body found in a quarry near their exclusive Darrow-Harker School. It’s been almost that long since Beatrice has seen the rest of the members of their group, but out of the blue she accepts an invitation from her former best friend Whitley to join them at her family’s estate up the coast, Wincroft. Beatrice is sure they’ll know something more about Jim’s death, and she’s ready to find out.

Problem is, while they’re all there, the five of them end up stuck in a time loop—a splinter, according to the mysterious Keeper who shows up at the door of the estate. Each time the time loop ends, they have to vote—and AGREE—on who gets to survive and live on, because only one of them can get out of the time splinter alive.

Observations: There are multiple sources of suspense in this one: Beatrice’s quest to find out what happened to her boyfriend Jim, and also the group’s repeated attempts to foil, fake out, or otherwise exit the time loop. Each day, something different happens, except when it doesn’t. And each character copes differently: Kipling (the one character I was a little less sold on, because I couldn’t buy his character quirks) and his drinking and attempts at suicide; Cannon the computer genius, who disappears for days at a time; Martha, the odd one, who brings her considerable intellectual faculties to bear; and Whitley, who seems determined to party and commit mischief until the end of time.

I’d only read Marisha Pessl’s book for adult audiences, Night Film, which was both strange and suspenseful as well. This one combines elements of the supernatural and time theory with the classic page-turning greed of a thriller. Despite a few lingering questions about the how and why of it all, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit.

Conclusion: If you’re looking for a fast-paced, exciting, dark thriller, and aren’t put off by hints of the supernatural, then you might enjoy this one. Also, fans of timeslip, time travel, and alternate universe fiction should give it a try.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library’s ebook collection. You can find NEVERWORLD WAKE by Marisha Pessl at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Dispatches From Wonderland

No Kids in Cages

We don’t usually get overtly political over here, but there are times when it’s unavoidable. Times when something is so unconscionably, unimaginably WRONG that speaking out is not an option. Over the past few days we’ve seen the rights and well-being of migrant children, of “their” children, clearly articulated as less important than the rights and well-being of “our” children, doing irreparable damage to thousands as a result. Even with the promised incremental change to policy, kids have already been harmed, and it’s inexcusable.

A vast swath of the kidlit community has come together in protest of this policy, publicly signing an open letter in opposition to the conditions under which these immigrant children are being held, and raising an incredible $173,533 so far for donation to Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and a handful of other organizations providing services to immigrants and refugees at the border. You can read more and donate here.

The final thought I’d like to leave you with is this tweet from fellow author Carrie Jones:

Source: Dispatches From Wonderland

Monday Review: THE STONE GIRL’S STORY by Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: It’s hard to resist a story about stories. We are the stories we tell about ourselves—that’s the theme that shines through in Sarah Beth Durst’s newest middle grade fantasy, The Stone Girl’s Story. The stone girl is Mayka, just like a twelve-year-old girl in most respects except that she was carved out of stone by her father, a Master Carver. He gave her life, as he did with so many other stone creatures with whom she shares her cottage, and he carved her story onto her stone skin.

The story has a rather sad, poignant beginning, though. It’s been a long time that Mayka has been caring for the cottage and its inhabitants on her own—stone lives longer than flesh, after all. We join the story long after Father has gone, but Mayka is saying goodbye to another longtime companion, Turtle. His marks have faded, and he has slowed to a stop. Mayka, determined to find another Master Carver who can recarve the marks and save her friend, leaves her remote mountain for the first time and ventures in the direction of the city of Skye, where she’s sure to find someone skilled enough. She also, of course, finds adventure.

Observations: There’s a classic quality to Mayka’s journey—a quest that brings danger, new friends, and surprises, and ultimately ends in Mayka realizing (minor spoilers – highlight to read) that what she seeks lay within her all along. At the same time, she’d never have experienced that empowerment without going on her journey. The friends she meets along the way, and the wondrousness of the setting and its magical stone creatures, provide a nice counterpoint to the notes of sadness and urgency that are inherent to Mayka’s situation.

The story itself, as I mentioned earlier, is really ABOUT stories, and the idea that our experiences carve themselves upon us and make us who we are. It’s a gorgeous idea, and one that is echoed in the idea of tattooing, which for many people does tell a story of who they are, and who they might be. But don’t be deceived into looking only at the surface–this book is also about power, who wields it, and who has the right to tell someone else’s story. As in all of Durst’s books written for younger readers, the simplicity is deceptive, and along with the whimsy are complex ideas shining through.

Conclusion: I feel like this is one of Durst’s strongest middle grade books yet. Its starred reviews are well deserved, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s an award contender—but whether it is or not, I highly recommend it for fantasy fans and fairy tale enthusiasts of all ages.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the author and publisher (thank you!!). You can find THE STONE GIRL’S STORY by Sarah Beth Durst at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Dispatches From Wonderland

Happy Summer!

Between early-summer travel, summer school class prep, copious novel rewriting, and some much-needed down time, it’s been quiet here on the blog, but here’s me and Tanita just cruising in to say HAPPY SUMMER and we’ll be back with some more book reviews and other fun stuff soon! In the meantime, enjoy this happily reading hippo I found.

Source: Dispatches From Wonderland