Carpe Jugulum

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Through the shredded black clouds a fire moved like a dying star, falling back to earth–“
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Others in the series:  Equal RitesWyrd SistersWitches AbroadLords and LadiesMaskerade
Content: There’s a few jokes about sex and a bit of violence. It would be in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore if we had it.

We’re back in Lancre, and Magrat has just had a baby. They’re doing a naming ceremony, and her husband, King Verence, has decided that it would be “modern” and “diplomatic” to invite the residents of the next kingdom over, Uberwald. Which would have been a really great idea, except they’re vampires. Or rather: Vampyres, because they’re modern and sophisticated.

Thus starts a romp as Grany Weatherwax (who thought she didn’t get invited to the naming) goes into hiding as the vampyres take over, and it’s up to Nanny Ogg, Agnes, and Magrat (with some help from an Om preacher, Mighty Oats — go read Small Gods before this, because there are Easter eggs) to get rid of the infestation.

The thing I love most about Terry Pratchett’s books are the little things. Like a character named Igor, who limps and has a lisp and keeps complaining about the new vampires, saying “the old mathter did it better”. Or the page or two of thinly veiled penis jokes in the middle of a vampire fight that had me laughing out loud. Or the fact that the vampire castle is called Don’tgonearthe Castle. Or the Nac Mac Feegle (!), who show up (in an early iteration; they speak mostly gibberish and Nanny has to translate at one point. I like them better in Wee Free Men, but it was still delightful to see them). I think this is one of the better witch books: I liked how all the witches from Granny to Agnes got to play a role, and use their strengths to help.

It’s truly a delight, and a fitting end to the adult witch books. Now to dive into some more parts of Discworld!

This Savage Song

thissavagesongby Victoria Schwab
First sentence: ”
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Content: One of the main characters smokes, and there’s three f-bombs as well as a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I’m going to say this up front: this one isn’t easy to sum up.

Kate is the daughter of the North City’s main mob boss. You pay him for protection from the monsters that go bump in the night. And if you can’t pay, well… let’s just say there’s very little mercy. All Kate wants is to be accepted and loved by her father. Which isn’t easy when he’s such a cold, hard bastard.

August is one of those monsters that go bump. In a world where there are several types of monsters — the Corsai, which basically just eat you alive; the Malchai, which are like vampires — August is the “worst”: a Sonai, which use music to suck people’s souls out of them. He is at conflict with this, but awful things happen when he doesn’t “feed”.

So, when August and Kate cross paths at a posh boarding school — August is there on the orders of his older “brother”; Kate as a last-ditch attempt to prove to her father that she’s tough enough — things, well, explode.

Lest you think this is romance-y (I did, at first): it’s not. Sure, August and Kate end up  doing things together, and (I think) caring for each other, it’s not all kissing and swooning. It’s a book that swims very heavily in the grey areas. Kate’s not especially likable as a character, and she does some pretty awful things. And yet, she’s one of the “good” guys. August is more complex as a character, and yet you’re told from the outset that all monsters are “bad”. And August, too, does some pretty awful things. It’s fascinating exploring this world.

Sure, there are questions: how did the monsters come to be? Why did the United States fall apart and reform into these territories? What happens if the monsters take over and kill off all the people? What’s going to happen next?

Schwab is a fantastic storyteller, and this is definitely a unique cross between paranormal and post-apocalyptic. I’m curious to know what happens next to August and Kate, especially since the ending of this one was so, well, final. (There are doors left open for a sequel, and this one is billed as #1, so there will probably be more.) It’s definitely a world I’ll want to revisit.

The Cure for Dreaming

by Cat Winters
First sentence: “The Metropolitan Theater simmered with the heat of more than a thousand bodies packed together in red velvet chairs.”
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves my place of employment.
Content: There’s some pretty disturbing parenting, and enough horrible people to make anyone angry. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but it’d be appropriate (though they might have a difficult time understanding the politics of the situation) for younger readers.

It’s the turn of the 20th century, Olivia Mead is several things: a burgeoning scholar, the daughter of the local dentist, 17-years-old, and (most importantly) a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement.

This does not make Olivia’s father happy. So, when a hypnotist comes to town, he decides to hire the hypnotist to change Olivia, and make her bend to his will.

Fortunately, Henri the hypnotist is on Olivia’s side. Even though he does what her father wants, despicable as it is (he needs the money), he phrases the words so that Olivia will see the world as it Truly Is. Which means, her father is demonic, covered in blood. The rich socialites are bloodthirsty vampires. Women who don’t support suffrage are slowly turning invisible. And the women who do? They’re glowing from the inside out.

Sure, there’s more plot to this one than that, but who cares? This one has a strong feminist agenda and it’s not afraid of it. The father had me seething. The rich handsy boy whom the father liked made me want to smack him. Henri was nice enough, but I really loved Olivia and her struggle against the system (and the Man) and her desire to be Free. I was just cheering her on: you go girl!

I’m not entirely sure that the historical details were completely accurate, and I was kind of hoping for more of a supernatural element (like her father turned out to REALLY be a demon). But I’m not sure it matters. This is one of those books that’s just enough of a fun ride to let everything else slide.

City of Heavenly Fire

by Cassandra Clare
First sentence: “On the day Emma Carstairs’s parents were killed, the weather was perfect.”
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Others in the series: City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls
Also helpful to read before picking up this one: Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, Clockwork Princess
Content: There’s violence, some mild swearing, and some sexytimes. The sex is tasteful and protected (yay!), but it is depicted, to an extent. This entire series is in the Teen section (grades 9+).

I’m not even going to try and sum up what has happened up to this point, or even what happens in this book. Coming in at over 700 pages, to say a lot of stuff happens is a major understatement. But, everyone is here: Jace and Clary, Simon and Isabelle, Alec and Magnus, Jocelyn and Luke, as well as hangers on: Brother Zachariah (yay!) and Tessa each play a role, as do Maya and Raphael. And, of course, the big baddie, Sebastian.

It also introduces new characters in 12-year- old Emma Carstairs and her best friend Julian Blackthorn. They don’t really play a huge role in the story; mostly they just play small roles. But they — and their family — are involved enough that we get to know them. And — and this is a complaint I have — they serve as a linchpin for a start of a new series. At some point, one does have to wonder, I think, if Clare can write any stories in a different world. But then, why should she, when this one is so rich?

It was nice to hang out with Clary and crew again, to see how relationships have developed, and follow them as they try to thwart Sebastian’s evil plan. Like always, Magnus was the most interesting character, and I was thrilled to see the way he and Alec’s relationship went. There’s some heartbreaking moments, and Simon even gets to shine with his Dungeons & Dragons references.

It’s a good conclusion (of sorts) and a fun story, even for all its length.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

by Holly Black
First sentence: “Tana woke lying in a bathtub.”
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Content: Lots of violence, some of which is graphic. Very little swearing, most of it mild, and no sex (though there is some talk of it). It’s in the teen section (grades 9 and up) in the bookstore, but I’d let a 12- or 13-year-old who was interested in vampires read it.

I’m going to start this one off by saying this is, hands down, the best vampire book I’ve read in AGES. (I’m not going to add that it’s basically the only vampire book I’ve read in ages.Oh, wait.) It’s dark, it’s gory, it’s bloody, it’s creepy and yet so very awesome. It’s everything a vampire book should be.

Tana Bach, 17, lives in a world where vampirism is a plague. It’s a disease, and there is a cure — to starve oneself of blood for eighty-eight days — but there are enough vampires running around to make it necessary to set up Coldtowns, places where vampires, and humans who are attracted to that lifestyle, can live without endangering the rest of the population.

Except that they sometimes do.

Tana wakes up on the morning after a huge party to find a houseful of corpses. Somehow she managed to sleep through a terrible vampire bloodbath, though she’s not the only survivor. She stumbles into the back bedroom and finds her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, newly infected, and a vampire chained nearby. She does the only thing she could do: saves them. Thus starts her terrifying adventure.

It’s one where she meets a lot of people, some nice — like Jameson and Valentina and Winter — most not so nice — like Gavriel, the vampire she saved. And yet, it’s not a black-and-white book. It’s wandering around in the murky shades of grey, where everyone is out to protect themselves. And Tana… oh, boy does she shine. She is AMAZING. Not in a superhero way, but in that human, flaw-filled, and yet awe-inspiring way. She faces her demons, in a most literal sense, and comes out on top.

Yes, there is a romance between a 130-year-old vampire and Tana, but, as I keep telling people in person, it’s not creepy. And while it’s there (and there’s this great sexy non-sex scene), it’s also something that’s not the focus of the book, which, perhaps, is why it’s not a creepy thing.

At any rate, I couldn’t put this one down, and having finished it, I wish it wasn’t due at the library so I could start it all over again.

City of Ashes

by Cassandra Clare
ages: 14+
First sentence: “The formidable glass-and-steel structure rose from its position on Front Street like a glittering needle threading the sky.”
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Others in the series: City of Bones

Obviously, there will be spoilers about City of Bones. You’ve been warned.

Clary’s world has turned upside down: her father (previously thought dead) is an ego-maniacal super villain; she’s kind of in love with her brother (whom she didn’t know existed); and she’s discovered that she’s a part of this whole community of Shadowhunters, and that demons, fairies, vampires, and werewolves are real.

It’s not an easy transition to make when two weeks ago your biggest concern was normal high school stuff.

To make matters worse: Valentine has the Cup and is going after the Shadow Sword to raise a demon army, and the Clave won’t listen to Jace about it. Things are not looking good.

Much like City of Bones, I fell head first into this world, and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Mostly because there is SO much to enjoy. The characters — Clary is a spitfire, and Magnus is awesome, and Simon is amazing (and I’m loving what Clare is doing with his character. The humor is fantastic, and the world-building fabulous. I’m loving all the twists and turns and sometimes painfully slow reveals. I’m more than curious to see where she goes in the next one, but much of that is because M read City of Glass and said it’s her favorite one by far. You’ve got to love a series where the books just get better.

And this is definitely one of those series.

Etiquette & Espionage

by Gail Carriger
ages: 12+
First sentence: “Sophronia intended to pull the dumbwaiter up from the kitchen to outside the front parlor on the ground floor, where Mrs. Barnaclegose was taking tea.”
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I’m going to say this up front: I was drawn in by the cover and by the back, which has a very catchy and kind of awesome blurb on it:

It’s one thing to curtsey properly
It’s quite another to learn to curtsey & throw a knife at the same time.
Welcome to Finishing School.

But I couldn’t finish it. In fact, after about the first paragraph, I was questioning my desire to read it at all.

From what I can gather, Sophronia (Really? REALLY? What a terrible name. Then again, all the names are terrible) is a 14-year-old tomboy in 1850-something.  It’s a steampunkish world, with machinery and robots, but there’s also paranormal beasties (you know: werewolves, vampires and the like). Because she’s such a handful, her mother’s neighbor (I think that’s who Mrs. Barnaclegoose is; I was never really quite clear on this), takes it upon herself to enroll Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School. Which, as it turns out, has a lot more to do with finishing than Finishing. (Ha.)

I never really got the rest of the plot, because after the attack of the flywayman (double ha) and the revelation that Mademoiselle Geraldine is actually a 17-year-old student named Monique (who has an Agenda), I lost interest. I wanted this to be awesome in the over the top but way cool sort of way,  but instead it ended up just being convoluted.

Orson Scot Card said once (I think it was him) (and I’m obviously paraphrasing here) that a good story needs more than one good idea. But that’s the problem with this one: a Finishing school for assassins is a good idea. A fellow student who has an Agenda is a good idea. A steampunk world is a good idea. Werewolves and vampires are good ideas. But all of them  together? Not so much. The book felt — and granted I only got about 70 pages in — cluttered.  Crowded. It made me feel claustrophobic.

And the writing? Sure, it’s the 1850s, but this is just banal:

“Your mother is occupied in an important private audience. I was going to await her leisure. But for this, I shall disturb her. It is 1851 and I believe we lived in a civilized world! Yet you are as bad a a rampaging werewolf, young miss, and someone must take action.” (3)

Dimity sidled up to Sophronia and whispered, “Isn’t he simply scrumptious?”
Sophronia pretended obtuseness. “The coachman?”
“No, silly. Him!” Dimity tilted her head toward their new escort.
“He’s a little old, don’t you feel?” (47)

(Much talk like Yoda, hmmm?)

“Oh yes, lead on, do. To the Squeak deck.”
“What-ho.” (73)

And that sound you hear? It’s the sound of my hopes being dashed.


Shadow of Night

by Deborah Harkness
ages: adult
First sentence: “We arrived in an undignified heap of witch and vampire.”
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Others in the series: Discovery of Witches

How about this for a brief teaser: if you liked Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, you’ll probably really like this one.

The long explanation is a lot more complicated, however. There were elements of Shadow of Night that I really liked. And there were some that I didn’t. But my major problem with the book — and this is one I have with many works of “adult” fiction — is that I thought a good third to half of this book was wholly unnecessary.

Because of the conflicts set up in Discovery of Witches (which I won’t go into, but partially are caused by the love Matthew and Diana have for each other; witches and vampires aren’t supposed to mate.), and because Diana needs help figuring out what kind of witch she is (and to control her magic), they end up in the past. In England, circa 1590, to be exact. Which brings me (so soon?) to problem number one: too often, I felt Harkness was using her status as a historian to show off. I got the sense that she set the book in the past not because it best served the story (though in some ways, it did), but because she KNOWS STUFF and wanted to share. Too often I was pulled out of the story because of some name dropping (though Diana has a moment of exasperation, wondering out of all the people in England in the past, how come Matthew knows all the famous ones. That kind of helped.) and historical elements. It was hard for me to enjoy the past because she kept pulling me out of it with details about clothes, food, the weather, and blasted Christopher Marlow.

Anyway. Matthew and Diana aren’t in England very long before they cause a ruckus and get sent to Sept Tours, Matthew’s ancestral home. Where his dead father is still very much alive. And who forces them to get married. (In way too many pages. Followed by many, many more pages of [not graphic, or even titillating] married sex.) Back to England they go, where (in some of the best passages) Diana begins to figure out that she’s a unique sort of witch, and gets a handle on her magic. Oh, and manages to get pregnant by the vampire.

Before you think that Harkness went all Breaking Dawn on us, she didn’t. Oh, sure, there are influences there: Matthew is just as protective and oppressive as Edward; apparently it’s in a vampire’s “nature”. The difference is that rather than being pushed around, Diana takes him on. Thank heavens for that; in many, many ways, Diana as a character is the best part of this novel. She’s strong, interesting, clever, inquisitive, and plain fun to be around as a character.

There’s more, of course: It’s a nearly 600 page book, and Harkness finds ways to fill them out. And it’s not a bad book, per se: I did finish it. Because even with all the extra historical stuff, and the poor plotting (for my YA-saturated brain), I am invested in Matthew and Diana’s story. Which means, I’m already asking when the next one will be out.

If you’re still interested in this one after all that, I’m offering a giveaway of this book. I’ll even throw in a set of five pins, and a temporary tattoo. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did. You have until Friday, July 13th (ooooh, auspicious) to enter.

A Discovery of Witches

by Deborah Harkness
ages: adult
First sentence: “The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.”
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Although I liked this one quite a bit — more than I was expecting, actually — by the end of it, I was quite torn. So, let’s just say, up front, that my enjoyment of this one was tempered by some hangups.

The good:
I loved the world that Harkness created. It’s basically our world, except it’s inhabited by vampires, witches, and daemons. They’re generally brilliant, generally long-lived, and generally go unnoticed by humans. Our main character, Diana, is a witch who, ever since her parents’ deaths when she was 7, has shunned her magic. She’s a historian of 17th-century science, which means she dabbles in Alchemy. She’s pretty content with her life. Until she meets Matthew. Who is a vampire.

Which brings me to good point number 2: Harkness has a debt to owe to Stephenie Meyer, but she one-ups her. Matthew is 1500 years old, which makes him incredibly fascinating. (And I suppose it’s kind of creepy that a 1500 year old would fall in love with a 37 year old?) There’s a lot of history in this book, and no accident that Diana, as a historian, is fascinated by Matthew.

The bad:
It’s still True Love, and while it’s not as stifling as Edward and Bella’s love, it’s still pretty sappy. (What is it with vampires and a reluctance to have sex?) There’s also that element of over-protectiveness that drove me batty in the Twilight series. The only difference is that Diana can — and does — hold her own as a witch, though it takes her most of the book to do so. She also struggles against Matthew’s edicts, which helps with the whole damsel-in-distress thing. That, and the fact that she’s in REAL danger as opposed to supposed danger helps temper Matthew’s irritating behavior.

The good:
The plot is intriguing and complex: there’s a lost manuscript that all the “creatures” (as they call themselves) are longing to get their hands on. But, more importantly, there’s the forbidden love (really?) between Diana and Matthew: it seems the creatures aren’t suppose to cross-mate because of an age old (like centuries) covenant that the creatures made with each other. This leads to a lot of things, the most important being an impending “war” between the creatures who are okay with Diana and Matthew’s love and those who are not.

The bad:
On some levels, the idea of anyone being able to love anyone they want is a good story. But my main complaint with this book is that it’s 576 pages, and they don’t get to the point until the last 1/4. The plot pacing is bad as well: it’ll be interesting, then Harkness will divert into pages and pages of wine, food and romancing (M contended that if she cut out all the bits about wine, she would have lost about 75 pages…), none of which had anything to do with the plot. More than once, I nearly lost patience with the book.

That said, I’m invested now, and I’m interested in where Harkness is going to go with the sequel. Hopefully, it won’t be nearly as long. (Then again, she’s a historian, so I’m not really expecting a more tightly written book. Just hoping.)

Drink, Slay, Love

by Sarah Beth Durst
ages: 13+
First sentence: “‘One hour until dawn,’ Pearl said.”
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Pearl is a vampire. And she is completely happy. She’s strong, she’s awesome, she’s got a super-hot (immortal) boyfriend, a favorite snack (in the form of a loser boy who works at the local all-night ice cream joint), the approval of her Family, and she’s about to go through the Fealty Ceremony for vampires. Life is perfect.

And then Pearl is stabbed by a unicorn, which completely throws her for a loop: unicorns are supposed to be mythical, unicorns are NOT supposed to stab vampires, and — most importantly — vampires are not supposed to survive the stabbing. And be able to withstand daylight afterward.

Rather than let it be a deterrent to their plans, Pearl’s Family decides that what she needs to do is go to high school, and lure all those lovely, tasty humans to their doom in order to supply the feast for the King of New England at the Fealty Ceremony.

So, Pearl broaches the world of Daylight, of High School drama and dynamics, and finds herself, well, moved. Which completely throws her for a loop: vampires aren’t supposed to be moved. They aren’t supposed to have a conscience. Humans aren’t supposed to be interesting. And yet…

One of the best things about this book — aside from the swoonworthiness of Evan, a human guy whom Pearl falls in with (though I called the ending about halfway through) — is that Durst is plainly making fun of all the vampire books out there, even as she’s telling a vampire story. There are laugh-out-loud moments, moments in which you have to grin as she pokes fun at vampires, Twilight, and girls who swoon over the whole vampire thing. But, even aside from that, Durst’s telling an interesting story here, exploring ideas of change and reform and self-identity, as well as interfering in people’s lives (or whatever passes for a life if you’re undead). Sure, it’s a romance, and it’s fun, but at it’s core, it’s telling a story of a girl trying to figure out who she is in the face of a drastic change.

And that’s someone everyone can relate to.