Monday, September 28, 2015


This debut fantasy is the most sink-in-and-enjoy book I've read in quite awhile--the kind of book that makes me stop periodically and think, "Why do I bother reading anything that I like less than this? I could be reading this!"

It is also one of those books where I, to be totally honest, just want to rip off the dust jacket and write READ THIS BOOK across the cover instead. The cover is not good. The cover is a red splodge with a vaguely decipherable dragon across the top. The book, on the other hand, is a spectacularly handled regency diversion, a funny, spirited mix of disarmingly likeable characters, court politics, personal feuds, grumpy fairies, surprise dragons, and thoroughly considered, culturally diverse magical practice.

You might be reminded of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell from the premise on its own: England is losing its magic, and everyone wants to know why. Sorcerer to the Crown's protagonists are its superpower, though. Atypically for its genre, none of the three main characters is white. More typical are the harangued young gentleman and the strong-minded young woman who leads him on a chase, but this familiarity is paired with originality; generally speaking, regency heroines aren't nonchalantly traipsing through London with the majority of England's magical power tucked in their reticules.

(The third major player, by the way, is a Malaysian witch named Mak Genggang, who is so delightful that I will just leave her for you to discover on your own.)

It's a thoroughly fun book, and I'm already excited about the sequel--check it out in our scifi/fantasy section!

What To Read Next

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer is my favorite book by the absolute queen of regency romance. There are no bodice-rippers here--she's all family friendly, the long eighteenth century by way of the 1930s. This book features a haughty man of morals finding himself aghast at the cheerfully wild behaviors of a heroine who will remind you very much of Cho's Prunella.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian is the starting point of this quintessential Napoleonic sea epic. Between battles against man and tide, you will learn so much about boats. Just, absolute loads about boats. You will not mind this, and the characters are wonderful.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin is a fantasy novel which drags a distant child of the emperor into the treacherous capital. There, barely restrained gods live, either the potential ruler's best hope for salvation, or an even greater danger to her than her vicious family.

Evelina by Frances Burney is where Jane Austen got her stuff. If you like Gossip Girl and Pride and Prejudice, it's time to back up to the 1770s, where hair is tall, gambling is rampant, and there's nothing worse you can be than a nice girl in London.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is not set in our world, but it borrows a little steampunk and drags it back to the seventeeth/eighteenth centuries. Much like Sorcerer's Zacharias Wythe, newly enthroned Maia is racially an outcast, insecure as the new emperor. It's not an action book. Instead, intrigue, threats, and all, it moves slowly and gently through Maia's growth in a role he never expected.

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik is the natural fantasy counterpart to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels, featuring sentient dragons piloted by humans into the Napoleonic wars by brave men (and the occasional woman). Book-loving dragon Temeraire by far outshines everything else in the series, but the action is great and the human hero is noble--which I assume is something you like a little, if you like this genre at all.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell  by Susanna Clarke is a period fantasy that features Dickensian characters, heaps of intricate description, and a particularly good scene with the gargoyles of Yorkminster coming to life.

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix is an upcoming (2016) young adult novel by the author of the Abhorsen series, mixing regency romance, magic, and mystery.

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter is a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery featuring a whiningly naive member of the East India Company paired with a jaded ex-member of same, trekking across India in search of a missing author and finding death and corruption along their trail. Complex, textured, and very aware of exactly what kind of role the British had in colonized India, it's a quick-paced, highly readable, fun adventure, absolutely packed with historical goodies.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Alex Is Reading...THE KIDS' CLASSICS

A lot of grown-ups looking for good readalouds come into the store trying to find more than the old standbys. This is understandable, and also wise: there is an endless flow of amazing writing for kids coming out all the time, and by sticking to the oldies, you can easily miss out on lifelong literary loves. A couple of years ago, however, I started to get both nostalgic and curious about the classics I'd been read as a child. My family (which contains no children, but if you don't read aloud to your fellow adults now, you should absolutely give it a try) started reading them over again. To my delight, the books that felt old and important and personal when I was five and six and seven feel freshly wondrous today.

So, to any parent groping for the next good bedtime book: pick something new, and pick a classic. They won't be stale for a child who has never read them, and you may be surprised at how bright and lively they feel to you.

Here are six children's classics that have not stopped making perfect bedtime, daytime, and anytime together reading.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame--The Wind in the Willows is a book with the same satisfactions as Frog and Toad, but much, much longer. The touching friendship of a brave mole and his easygoing companion the river rat is balanced perfectly against their disastrous friend TOAD, who gets way to into motorcars, and especially into motorcars he doesn't own. The book comes in a million and one editions, but I love the big gifty hardcover linked here and seen above, with full-page illustrations by Inga Moore.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett--This one may have to be taken with several coarse grains of Victorian salt, but the saintly Sara Crewe and her troubles are still satisfying to read about. You still envy her that perfect doll, suffer with her as she slaves away for the dreadful Miss Minchin, and there's still smug gladness in watching her get her just rewards. But boy howdy does Frances Burnett look down on her poor friend Ermengarde!

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien--My own mother read me The Hobbit twice, at ages five and eight. I wasn't too troubled by the fatalities of the climactic battle, but as I child I loved (and loved again recently) the appealing pettiness of the dwarves, their various adventures, and the struggles of poor Bilbo (who would rather be home drinking tea) through goblin kingdoms, past hungry trolls, out of Gollum's slimy clutches, into the lair of Smaug, who is as good and greedy and well-spoken a dragon as you're ever likely to find.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis--Okay. Publishing order dictates that you don't start with The Magician's Nephew, and I grant you that it doesn't go down as easy as some of Narnia. But as a kid I was enamored of all the little treasures in this book: hidden attics, magic rings, evil uncles, wild music, practically sacred woods filled with almost dangerous peace, an ancient broken world from which a bone-crackingly terrible queen escapes.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers--Julie Andrews made her look 90% nice, but Mary Poppins isn't nice. She's interesting. As the hapless Jane and Michael Banks (and younger siblings) follow Mary Poppins at her whim, half of the wonder is in the adventures they have, and half is in the awe and love everything they encounter feel about Mary Poppins. You might start to notice repetitions in the themes if you read beyond the first book, but I recommend going forward. There is enormous comfort in Mary Poppins, the snippy, vain, and glorious.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum--The shoes are silver, NOT red. The series doesn't have the melodrama or black and white morals of its recent adaptations. It is delightfully bizarre, a string of slightly brutish heroines tumbling through nonsense-adventures which leave you scratching your head, but glad about it. I link here to the first omnibus, which goes as far as Ozma of Oz and its plucky Bill the Chicken, but the full color Usborne edition of the first book we carry in the store is beautiful and highly recommended.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Fall Is Falling!

Whew! We have been bustling this week! School is closing in on our students, and there's still time for some last-minute vacation reading on top of those assigned books (which, by the way, you can still find at the back of the kids' department). Meanwhile, in the book world, FALL is closing in. Fall is book season in the same way that fall is apple season--you can get new and delicious books all year around, but when fall arrives, the books come out in bushels. I have definitely caught the first hints of autumn air on my walks to work this week--and in the store, it's getting harder to pick which amazing new release to talk about first.

Aside from Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes and The Day the Crayons Came Home, here are a few more (okay, more than a few) titles that have come out in the last month or so that we are delighted to share with you.

Clarissa's Picks:

Baba Yaga's Assistant is a witchy, folk lore-ish graphic novel by Marika McCoola, with art by Emily Carroll of Into the Woods. In this graphic novel a girl named Masha does the unlikely--instead of keeping out of notorious witch Baba Yaga's way, she figures out how to become her apprentice. It's a great new take on Russian folklore if you've heard the stories before, and a great introduction if you haven't.
Court of Fives is fantasy writer Kate Elliott's first young adult novel. High-stakes sports in an otherworldly setting mix with the complex and inescapable forces of class and race in a dense but pacy fantasy with a heroine you will love.

Amy's Picks:

Moira Fowley-Doyle's The Accident Season is a YA novel about secrets, family, and one family in particular that, each October, suffers violently bad luck. If you like Holly Black, or Diana Wynne Jones's Time of the Ghost (unforgivably out of print), this book should be very much up your alley.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia is about Alex, a girl whose schizophrenia gives her delusions that she can't always separate from reality. It's manageable, until she meets a boy named Miles. Miles starts to change Alex's ideas about what kind of life she's allowed to live--the question is, did Alex make him up?

Alex's Picks:

I have been waiting MONTHS for Alex Gino's George. It's a middle grade novel, accessible, heartfelt, and with wonderfully real fourth-grade voices, about a transgender girl named George. She's still figuring herself out and hasn't come out to her family when the book begins, but George wants to live as the glorious girl that she is. It will just take a little planning. Great for fans of Wonder or Fish in a Tree.

The Sky Is Falling by Mark Teague is the story of Chicken Little, but with way more dancing. Can chickens outsmart a fox with their smooth moves? Well, if you have read James Marshall's wonderful Wings, you know a chicken can do anything she sets her mind to.

The last books up there are officially multi-bookseller picks: 

Amy has read Stephanie Tromly's Trouble Is a Friend of Mine THREE TIMES. I have read it once. (I haven't given Amy her book back. Yet. Yet!) Zoe has new girl problems--and then she has Digby, the obnoxious, obsessive, voracious food-thief who suddenly wants her to break all kinds of laws to solve one or two missing persons cases. It's a quick read that will happily blindside anyone who loves Sherlock Holmes, but also kind of wants to give him a punch in the nose.

Finally, a new and terrifying YA horror anthology: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by  April Genevieve Tucholke. We've all been passing around our staff advanced copy of this one, and I saw bookseller Kat taking her own copy home. If you're already preparing yourself emotionally for Halloween (and I assume you are), start here. Here is a very good place to start.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Alex Is Reading...LOIS LANE: FALLOUT

Lois Lane: Fallout is a YA novel about amazingly wonderful teenager Lois Lane moving to Metropolis, joining the Daily Planet's experimental student arm, and immediately putting it at jeopardy by threatening the big, the bad, the powerful, and their crafty weapon design program that uses zombiefied teenage virtual reality MMORPG players as guinea pigs.

It is kind of like reading the book distillation of Veronica Mars (or iZombie, maybe?)  plus Batman Beyond. There is peril, there is bravado, there is technologically questionable science, there is THIS MYSTERIOUS AND CHARMING PERSON ON THE INTERNET WHO ONLY GOES BY SMALLVILLEGUY. I really love these things, you guys. They make such a fun book together. SUCH a fun book.


But Lois is not the only mystery-solving girl in the world of kid/YA fiction. There are more, and they are so wonderful, and you should read about all of them.


Cam Jansen series by David A. Adler -- Even more than Nate the Great, Cam Jansen introduced me to mystery stories. She is one cool character. Also, she has a photographic memory, which I pretended I also had for about two years after my first Cam Jansen book. You can find her BOTH in our leveled readers and in First Chapter Books.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry -- I think I threw this at every gift-buying adult shopping for a 9-13 year old that I met in November and December. This is the completely delightful and very funny story of a Victorian girls' school after the headmistress and her brother die mysteriously one night at dinner. With these two buried in the back garden, the girls are free for the first time ever! But someone is going to find those bodies...and someone killed them to begin with.

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction et. al. -- Yessss, at last a Marvel comic gets onto one of my blog posts. Hawkeye is about two Hawkeyes: the sad Clint Barton man Hawkeye, and the exceptionally perfect, sublime, and superior Hawkeye Kate Bishop. The first two books are about both of them (and you should read them, because they completely rethink what superhero comics are allowed to do, and are beautiful), but in book three, Kate is all on her own. How does that go? We just got this series into the store, and I am so stoked about it.

Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene -- THE CLASSIC. We have the first couple books in stock in Intermediate fiction, as well as some volumes of three different spinoff series in our First Chapter Books section! You may also find some vintage books in our Used Book Cellar, in various states of expurgation.

Scarlet Undercover by Jennifer Latham -- What is this?! A black Muslim orphan girl detective? OH YES. If you like Gwenda Bond's Lois Lane, you will definitely love Scarlet, whose gradeschool client is absolutely right in thinking that her brother is up to something really, really not quite right.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin -- Okay, I've DEFINITELY written about this before, but come on! Halloween, dead millionaires, an underwhelming girl named Turtle who is secretly (not that secretly--how could you love any character more than Turtle?) the very, very best, and a delicious ending that is probably only one small part of what got this book its Newbery.

Sammy Keyes series by Wendelin Van Draanen -- I ate these up so fast in middle school. Sammy is just the coolest and best. Her adventures are always action-packed, the plots are quirky, and at least one of them involves nuns. You can sometimes find a few of the books used downstairs, sold only, I imagine, in a truly desperate moment by their former owners.

In conclusion: if you have other favorite girl detectives, please immediately tell me everything.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Silly Alarmed Bookseller

This happens not infrequently. I should be used to it.
If I am supposed to know you and I don't...I have no excuse.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Alex Is Reading...UPROOTED

As soon as it came out, I heard about a dozen ravingly positive reviews of Naomi Novik's new adult fantasy novel Uprooted (including Clarissa's--check out her shelf talker in Sci Fi). I finally pushed aside the vast piles of upcoming kids' books I absolutely have to read, and gave Novik's departure from Napoleonic dragon battles some precious reading time. Verdict before plot: if the first fifty pages don't grab you, KEEP GOING. It will be reading time well-spent. From that moment (really, page fifty, I mean it quite literally) 'til the end of the book, Uprooted is a tense, fast-pasted, highly creative and sometimes (satisfyingly) gruesome fight-for-your-life against the raging, dangerous and extraordinary power at the heart of a forbidding wood.

The plot of Uprooted is basically this: seventeen-year-old apparently average village girl Agnieszka is snatched from home by a magician called the Dragon, who protects the villages from the evil powers of the forest, but no one likes him much because he's a jerk. Everyone is surprised her pretty friend doesn't get taken instead, but it turns out this is because Agnieszka is incredibly magical, and in a really weird way, too. Which is good, because it turns out her weird way of doing magic is the best chance local humankind has of stopping the woods in its tracks before it kidnaps, murders, and buries the entire country in malevolent carnivorous trees.

A lot of the most interesting stuff, aside from the monsters, is how Novik writes about magic in this book, especially when the ways that Agnieszka and the Dragon experience the same spells are completely different. Complicated, original magic is one of the coolest things about good fantasy. Smart girls learning magic (and possibly frightening everyone in the process) is even better, and as it turns out, that is a genre that exists for all ages. So please, pick up the Novik, but do not stop there. Here are some suggestions for the entire family.


Among Others by Jo Walton -- (Found in SF, and currently on our bargain table) The magic learning doesn't really take place in school in this book, but the protagonist, while plowing through hundreds of sci fi novels and processing the death of her twin sister and the looming threat of her mother, is forced to learn how magic works, in order not to do any more damage than she already has by using it.

Circle of Magic by Tamora Pierce -- (Available online; recommended for middle school+) This quartet gives one volume to each of four young students of magic, who all use a different medium. The first three books are about girls Sandry, Tris, and Daja. The magic is neat, and the characters are among my favorites by Tamora Pierce. 

Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness -- (Fiction/SF) You can find this trilogy of magical academia, Oxford, and women's friendships in both adult fiction and science fiction, and they delight our readers from both sides of the aisle.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett -- (SF) Like most Discworld novels, this one stands alone just fine, as it tackles collegiate sexism through a girl who has the appalling gall to want to study magic at university.

Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell -- (Kids' Graphica) Antimony Carver is a poker-faced girl with a mysterious past, going to a boarding school populated with possessed students, sentient robots, ghosts, and monsters. She also learns magic from the gods that live in the nearby wood. This is an awesome, awesome graphic novel series that unfolds slowly, beautifully, and sometimes painfully, page by page.

Lirael by Garth Nix -- (YA/SF) The sequel to Sabriel stands firm enough without its predecessor. The first large chunk of it takes place in a vast library inside a glacier. There, teenage Lirael learns step by painstaking step how to use a power she does not want to gain the things that she does. The mythology of these books is always tremendous, and Lirael fails to make right choices in all the places that result in an extremely satisfying story.

I've previously mentioned Nnedi Okorafor's upper middle grade Nigerian fantasy Akata Witch, and I emphatically continue to recommend that. I'd also advise anyone who digs around in used bookstores to keep their eye out for Monica Furlong's Wise Child, Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics and Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. They're three very different but all very good books that I'd put in your hands if I could get them into my own. Last of all, it's not quite in the theme of the list, but I recommend Patricia A. McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and truly all McKillip novels for a delicious sense of place, magic, and wildness in full flower.