Slayers by C.J. Hill

This amazing book comes out today! I was lucky enough to win an ARC (advance reader’s copy) on C.J. Hill’s blog last week, so I’ve already read it.

And loved pretty much every second of it.

Tori Hampton, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a senator, has to talk her parents into letting her go to St. George and the Dragon Camp. She’s wanted to go for years, but once she’s there, well, she’s not sure she really wants to stay. First of all, the camp is a little primitive. When the camp director sends her off with a couple of buff boys to the advanced camp–hidden in the trees two miles away, complete with its own stable, gun range, and mysterious large building–the only way she decides to stay is to prove herself to the other advanced campers who somehow have it in their minds that she’s pampered and unable to handle the rigors of advanced dragon camp.

Even after Tori finds out about the other campers’ special powers she still isn’t convinced she’s where she wants to be, and it goes double when they tell her that dragons really do exist and, oh, by the way, she’s got special DNA from her ancestors that makes her a dragon slayer.

Not exactly what she was looking for in a summer camp.

While dragon camp wasn’t exactly what Tori was looking for, this book is exactly what I was looking for.

It has all the things I look for in a great book: a strong voice, interesting characters, a little magic, and kissing. There were some unexpected twists in the plot that were believable and enjoyable, as well as some awesome fight/battle scenes. And a dragon, naturally. This is the first book in the series, so be ready for a conclusion that isn’t entirely conclusive, as well as a couple of major plot points/mysteries that carry on to the next book (which I am already anxiously awaiting).

This is a great YA fantasy pick. Simply thumbing through it to refresh myself with a few details to write this review made me want to start from the beginning and read it again.

Summerland by Michael Chabon

Product Details

I realize I’ve been neglecting this blog. What can I say? Stuff happens, and I’ve had a lot of ‘stuff’ that has happened to me throughout the past ten months that hasn’t been all that pleasant and didn’t exactly fit into my life plan. Which, interestingly enough, is one of the reasons I ended up liking this book so much.

Don’t get me wrong: this book is weird. It isn’t my normal fare, and I didn’t understand a lot of it. (There’s some part of my brain that shuts down after 12 different kinds of magical creatures are introduced. I can’t help it. So the shmucks put into the story after that get quickly dropped into ‘supporting cast’ and I hope for the best.) However, I think one of the great tests of a book is how it resonates. This book completely resonated with me.

Ethan Feld is our hero, a 10- or 11- or 12-year-old boy who lives alone with his father on an island off of Washington state. His mother died a year previously, so they moved from Colorado to a property where his dad had the space to perfect the mini-zeppelins he had invented. Anyway, the book goes on (and on and on–it’s pretty long) where Ethan–who is not really very good at baseball–is the champion needed to save this world along with the three others that are connected to it. In the end, it comes down to (you guessed it!) a baseball game.

There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but the part I liked the most is near the end. Ethan can’t find any of his friends and he seems surrounded by evil henchmen (although I guess they would actually be called ‘henchwolves’ and other things like that, since they weren’t men) and he is completely exhausted. In his hands, he holds the last thing that keeps the four worlds from collapsing, a baseball bat carved from The Tree. He tries not to fall asleep, but he’s just so very tired.

It’s this moment when Coyote (the bad guy) sends in his weapon: the ghost of Ethan’s mother. She’s crying, and she comes to Ethan, and this is what happens:

“Her sobbing ceased, then, though its ghost or echo shook her frail body from time to time. He could feel the bones through her skin, just as he had when she lay dying in the hospital in Colorado Springs, those hollow angel bones of hers. The sweetness of that bitter memory, of her embrace, of holding her again and hearing her voice, filled his heart so full that all the old healed places in it were broken all over again. And in that moment he felt–for the first time that optimistic and cheerful boy allowed for himself to feel–how badly made life was, how flawed. No matter how richly furnished you made it, with all the noise and variety of Something, Nothing always found a way in, seeped through the cracks and patches.”

Just as Ethan is about to give in and hand the bat over to his mother, it catches on an injured part of his hand. The pain wakes him up enough to realize that it isn’t really his mother, simply La Llorona posing as her. Ethan yanks the bat back and she goes away, and then this:

“The grief of his mother’s death was returned to him, then; it resumed its right and familiar place: a part of life, a part of the story of Ethan Feld, a part of the world that was, after all, a world of stories, tragic and delightful, and, on the whole, very much the better for it. The memory of Dr. Victoria Jean Kummerman Feld was Something, unalterably Something, a hodag’s egg that no amount of Nothing could ever hope to touch or dissolve.”

The writing is completely mesmerizing, and I think the resonance comes because that beautiful writing and that complicated story have, at the core, truth. There were so many truths for me, at this time of my life. The truth that life is full of tragic and delightful parts; the truth that even when you feel inadequate you still need to give it the best you’ve got; the truth of good friends; the truth that painful experiences become a part of our own personal stories and that without them the story isn’t the same; and the truth that sometimes pain gives us the power to do what we need to do.

Read this book. See if it resonates with you.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Smedry has a problem. Well, he has lots of problems, actually, but his biggest one seems to be breaking everything he touches. He’s been that way his entire life, bouncing from one foster home to another, “cared for” by his slightly snide case worker, Ms. Fletcher. On his thirteenth birthday, Alcatraz receives a gift in the mail from his parents.

Wait a minute. If Alcatraz has parents, why is he living in a foster home?

That question and many others are answered  in this wonderful “fantasy” book by Brandon Sanderson. From breaking things to arriving late to tripping on nothing at all, many talents are used to thwart the evil librarians in their quest to take over the world and subdue the Free Kingdoms.

And not only that: Alcatraz finds his family.

Well, parts of it, anyway.

Publishers Weekly said this book is “like Lemony Snicket and superhero comics rolled into one . . .” A very winning combination indeed.

Highly recommended (along with its sequel, Alcatraz and the Scrivener’s Bones) for ages eight and up.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Let me start out by saying how I excited I was to discover this new author last year. Not only because she writes great books (because she totally does) but because I know her! I feel a teensy bit famous or something. Forget seven degrees from Kevin Bacon–I’m ONE degree from Jessica Day George! She and I played in orchestra together, had the same speech class, and graduated from high school together. We were friendly acquaintances although I was always jealous (in a nice, small way) of her incredibly gorgeous red hair. I wonder: if I had incredibly gorgeous red hair would it make me write great books?

Answer: nope. That part only comes from being talented and working hard, which scientists have shown has no direct correlation to hair color. But I will continue being just a little bit jealous (nicely) and enjoy her magical writing.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Our hero, Galen, comes home from the war–except it isn’t really home, as his entire immediate family perished some way or another in the conflict. He makes his way to the capital city to find the family of his mother’s sister, whom he has never met. This aunt and uncle allow Galen to stay with them, and Galen begins working with his uncle in the palace gardens.

There are differences between the fairy tale I’m familiar with and this retelling, but the story is strongly told. I loved Galen right from the start. I mean, who doesn’t love a man that knits? (My brother knits, and trust me–it’s much manlier than you think.) Jessica also did a great job of giving the princesses–all 12 of them, and all with flower names–distinctive characteristics. Of course, in the end Galen marries Rose, but it wasn’t all just magic that saved the day–besides wool and herbs, Galen uses his brain (!) and the help of the princesses to defeat the King Under Stone and his 12 creepy sons.

Jessica has written three other great books–Dragon Slippers, Dragon Flight, and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. They are all beautifully written, wonderful fantasy reads. Great job, Jessica!

I recommend this book for ages 8 and up.