Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: YA Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Call number: Y Taylor
Book released September, 2011

“Wishes are not for foolery, child.”
“Well, what do you use them for?”
“Nothing,” he said. “I do not wish.”
What?” It had astonished her. “Never?” All that magic at his fingertips! “But you could have anything you wanted—“
“Not anything. There are things bigger than any wish.”
“Like what?”
“Most things that matter.”

Summary: Karou has always been aware of the power of wishes, growing up as she did in the Wishmonger Brimstone’s shop, learning his trade: the bartering of teeth – all kinds of teeth, from all manner of creatures – for wishes. Brimstone is a chimaera, what humans would call a monster, a devil, but to Karou he and his associates — Issa, Yasri, Twiga, and Kishmish — are her only family; he raised her after finding her abandoned as a baby. Now a talented art student in Prague and living in her own apartment, Karou’s had a ready supply of small wishes at her disposal since childhood, wishes she’s used to give herself blue hair and tattoos, erase pimples, and take small but hilarious revenge on a cheating ex-boyfriend. To earn her wishes, Karou runs errands for Brimstone, using the door in his shop, which exists Elsewhere and can open all around the world, to visit tooth traders: poachers, grave robbers, murderers, and worse. No one knows better than she the terrible, desperate things people will do for their heart’s desire. Even though Brimstone is always trying to impress upon Karou the importance of using her wishes for good, not on petty or frivolous matters, she finds his concerns unfounded, since the people he trades with are the dregs of humanity. Of course she is better than them. What she doesn’t know is what the teeth are for, and how they power the wishes she takes for granted. Still, she’s been raised to this mysterious, magical life, and she’ll fight to protect it when mysterious black hand-prints begin appearing on the human side of all of Brimstone’s doors, left there by creatures even Brimstone seems to fear: angels. Her first meeting with the angel Akiva doesn’t go well – he tries to kill her, and she reciprocates, with swords – but they eventually acknowledge their mutual intense curiosity about each other and begin to perceive each other as something other than Enemy.

My thoughts under the cut

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Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand

Author: Cynthia Hand
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Pages: 435 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Call number: Y Hand
Read in March 2011

Summary (from Goodreads): Clara Gardner has recently learned that she’s part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn’t easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there’s another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara’s less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Read my thoughts here

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, by Lish McBride

Author: Lish McBride
Genre: YA Paranormal (Horror-Comedy)
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Call number: Y McBride

Summary (from Goodreads): Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?

My thoughts: This is a hysterical, scary, offbeat story about a slacker discovering his necromancer powers. It contains: a talking head, a (benign) zombie panda, a talking cat (who is actually a mini-dragon), homicidal lawn ornaments, sassy ghosts who love waffles, witches, weres, and an evil necromancer who makes his revenants do calisthenics just to prove a point. The book could have been a disaster, with too many quirky elements to succeed, but it has such heart that it works. It’s so good it was a finalist for the Morris Award in 2010.

I know this is terrible, but I often think of books in relation to television and movies. Probably because the only thing I do more than read is watch stuff. I think this is a mix of other witty but frightening and surprisingly touching horror-comedies, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Reaper, and Dead Like Me. I’m sure I could come up with more, but you get the point.

One minute Sam is deep-frying inappropriate things at Plumpy’s, the fast food joint where he works, and playing potato hockey with his co-workers and friends Ramon, Brooke, and Frank; the next, he’s being called out by a necromancer (Douglas, who Sam calls a “madman in pressed jeans”) and forced to deal with the fact that his mother has lied to him for years about his powers as a “death wrangler”.

Right from the outset, Sam was my kind of guy, when he wondered at how humankind spent thousands of years developing complex language systems only to create a cash register with pictures on it, “just in case the cashier didn’t finish second grade”. My feelings of love were cemented when he meets Douglas at the zoo to discuss necromancy, when Sam mentions that he never watches the news because “they just don’t make very good episodes of it anymore”. His deadpan, wise guy humor and pop culture references is what makes him so fun to read, but his underlying sweetness – his love for his friends and family – and his “why me?” plaintiveness is what makes him relatable. The other characters — Sam’s friends, his mother and sister, and a were-hybrid named Brid — are all equally developed and interesting.

The ending makes it clear that there will be (or at least, should be) sequels, which fills my heart with glee. This is a highly recommended book for lovers of paranormal thrillers and who are looking from something different from the standard formula.

Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Author: Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier, editors
Genre: YA Anthology / Fantasy and Horror
Pages: 432
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Call number: Y Zombies

I guess Black and Larbalestier have been debating the merits of zombies vs. unicorns on the Internet for a while now, but I missed the hoopla until it finally spilled over into this anthology of twelve stories. At first, I thought that each story would be a death match between a zombie and a unicorn, but that would have gotten old fast, so I’m glad instead that each author represents a side: on Team Zombie, it’s Alaya Dawn Johnson, Carrie Ryan, Maureen Johnson, Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, and Libba Bray; on Team Unicorn, it’s Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Margo Lanagan, Diana Peterfreund, Meg Cabot, and Kathleen Duey.

I’ve read a lot of zombie stories (and seen a lot of movies), but my experience with unicorns is more limited: Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, and Holly Black’s short story “Virgin”, and . . . that’s about all I can remember. So, I was actually looking forward to reading the unicorn stories, just to see what’s out there in the modern day, but I ended up on Team Zombie anyway. I don’t know if I find zombies more interesting because I enjoyed the stories more, or if I enjoyed the stories more because I find zombies more interesting, but it’s still the case: overall, the zombies won out.

I liked all of the zombie stories in this collection, but my top ones were: “The Children of the Revolution”, by Maureen Johnson, the zombie babysitting story which was funny and creepy and had a killer ending; “Bougainvillea”, by Carrie Ryan, which is set in the same universe (after the Return) as her two novels and continues her excellent storytelling; and “Prom Night”, by Libba Bray, which had a subtle, disquieting ending as doomed teenagers, after all of the adults in town have been quarantined or killed, attempt to soldier on with the high school tradition of prom.

For the unicorn stories, the one I really liked was “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn”, by Diana Peterfreund, which is set in her Rampant universe and definitely made me want to read the novel. Several of the stories explored the dangerous side of unicorns, but this was the one I felt did it best. I also enjoyed Meg Cabot’s “Princess Prettypants” as a kind of as tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted revenge fantasy, and I thought two of the others – Margo Lanagan’s and Kathleen Duey’s – were both disturbing in a good way.

I thought it was curious that a lot of the zombie stories I liked had a strong romance element, involving zombies of various sentience levels, while several of the unicorn stories focused more on their dangerous side, often as a vengeful judge/punisher of wrongdoing.

Cover comments: Honestly, this book should sell based on the cover design alone. The cut-out of the zombie fighting a unicorn, and the cartoonish but graphically violent scenes of their death match ranging over hill and dale, is some of the best I’ve seen. Not only does it effectively present the focus of the book, it’s hilarious and eye-catching. It’s like looking at an I-Spy or Where’s Waldo book, but with a sick twist.

The Dark Deeps (Hunchback Assignments, Book Two), by Arthur Slade

Author: Arthur Slade
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy/Steampunk
Pages: 320
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Call number: Y Slade

First line: The boy hadn’t always been yellow.

Summary (taken from Goodreads): Transforming his appearance and stealing secret documents from the French is all in a day’s work for fourteen-year-old Modo, a British secret agent. But his latest mission—to uncover the underwater mystery of something called the Ictíneo—seems impossible. There are rumors of a sea monster and a fish as big as a ship. French spies are after it, and Mr. Socrates, Modo’s master, wants to find it first. Modo and his fellow secret agent, Octavia, begin their mission in New York City, then take a steamship across the North Atlantic. During the voyage, Modo uncovers an astounding secret. The Dark Deeps, the second book in Arthur Slade’s Hunchback Assignments series, is set in a fascinating Steampunk Victorian world. Modo’s underwater adventures and his encounters with the young French spy Colette Brunet, the fearless Captain Monturiol, and the dreaded Clockwork Guild guarantee a gripping read filled with danger, suspense, and brilliant inventions.

What I thought: I’d be hard-pressed to say whether this one exceeds the first or comes dead even. It’s always nice when a series keeps its momentum, both in terms of action and character development. Modo goes from hopping across the rooftops of London to being (albeit cordially) imprisoned on the tricked-out submarine Ictineo after he falls overboard during an attack on their steamship, leaving Octavia behind to relay the news of Modo’s possible death to Mr. Socrates. While the crew and captain of the Ictineo are zealots, with a one-sided focus on using pure science to advance an utopist agenda, their hidden underwater city near Iceland is both a marvel of technology and of tolerance, which pulls at Modo’s heartstrings as well as his intellect. Meanwhile, Hakkandottir and the Clockwork Guild are up to more of their nefarious plans, and they’ve sent after Modo a truly difficult enemy: Griff, the invisible boy.

Modo is in a difficult place in this book, even more so in the first. Managing his appearance is harder, since he is stuck in close quarters on a submarine, and he never fully manages to hide behind masks or his shape-changing ability effectively. This takes a physical toll, obviously, but an emotional one as well, since Modo is constantly on edge that someone will see his true appearance. Also, his desire to please Mr. Socrates by bringing home Captain Monturiol’s technology – thereby aiding the British Empire and sticking it to the French – is in direct contrast with his empathy for the Captain’s true intentions. She only wants to create a society where all people are equal and valued, and Modo, who looks like a monster, shares in that vision. All he wants is a place where he can show his true face without fear, where he can belong.

Of course, this book isn’t short on fascinating steampunk inventions or thrilling chases, escapes, and battles, but what I love about the series is that there’s much more than cool gadgetry and action scenes. This may prompt me to finally go out and get Slade’s other books to read while I’m waiting for the next installment.

White Cat, by Holly Black

Author: Holly Black
Genre: YA Paranormal Thriller
Pages: 310
Rating: 5 stars
Call number: Y Black

First line: “I wake up barefoot, standing on cold slate tiles. Looking dizzily down.”

Summary (ganked from Goodreads): Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

What I thought: I’ve never read one of Holly Black’s novels before, but I’ve read her graphic novel series, The Good Neighbors, and a lot of her short stories, and one thing that’s always impressed me about her is that she’s not afraid to take risks. To do the unexpected and uncomfortable. To create a sympathetic character, one you can identify with, and have him or her do something terrible. To take readers to a truly dark place.

This is not a book for everyone, because it’s not a happy story or a fast-paced one. It’s dark and subtle and you get the wool pulled over your eyes several times. You’re kept distant from most of the characters because Cassel is distant (though I think that Cassel is likable, but I don’t think everyone would agree with me.) There’s not a ton of action until the end; in fact, the plot develops slowly and you have to have patience that it’s all going to come together. The meticulous pacing allows the faint, nagging sense that something is wrong to develop, until the foreboding gets so thick that it makes up for the lack of action. In this kind of book, just when you have an emotional payoff and you’re letting out your breath in relief, something happens to stop it entirely. It’s a horror story and a heist story rolled up into one, and one of the more impressive books I’ve read this year. I have no idea where the next one in the series will go but I can’t wait.

Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

Author: Cassandra Clare
Genre: YA Fantasy / Steampunk
Pages: 476
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Call number: Y Clare

Summary: Cassandra Clare’s prequel to The Mortal Instruments series takes place in Victorian England but concerns the same hidden world of Shadowhunters (demon hunters with special powers) and Downworlders (supernatural folk like warlocks and vampires). Sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray sails from New York to London to join her older brother, Nathaniel, after the death of her caretaker, but when she arrives, she’s greeted by a strange duo called the Dark Sisters instead. Claiming to have Nathaniel captive somewhere, the Dark Sisters force Tessa to develop her previously unknown powers — the ability to shape-shift into any person, as long as she’s holding an item belonging to her target. She is eventually rescued by Will Herondale, a beautiful, arrogant Shadowhunter with a dark secret, and takes refuge at the London Institute. The other Shadowhunters, including the kind but sickly Jem and the princess-y Jessamine, promise to help her find her brother, but in the meantime, Tessa is drawn into their attempts to uncover and stop a dangerous plot that puts them all at risk. This is the first in Clare’s prequel series, The Infernal Devices. The next one will be Clockwork Prince. She is also continuing her Mortal Instruments series with a fourth book set for Spring 2011, City of Fallen Angels.

Mostly spoiler-free review under the cut