an enchantment of ravens

A few months ago I was wandering the internet (as you do) when I saw an extremely gorgeous book cover and title combination, and stopped in my tracks. That book was Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens. I read the description and didn’t immediately think “must have it now!” to myself, but I did swoon a bit longer over the cover art before going on my merry way. And then… [cue dramatic music] I kept seeing it pop up, usually with the very highest recommendation. Like, it got to a point where I was pretty sure every book person on the interwebs whose opinion I trust had LOVED it. I knew I had to have it, and then when I got it I loved it EVEN MORE THAN EXPECTED. Ughhh good book is SO good! Friends, I read it twice in one weekend and had to put it IN THE BOOKCASE so as to not keep rereading it every time it caught my eye. It is absolutely charming.

an enchantment of ravens by margaret rogerson book cover
A skilled painter must stand up to the ancient power of the faerie courts—even as she falls in love with a faerie prince—in this gorgeous debut novel.

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

An Enchantment of Ravens is seventeen-year-old portraitist Isobel's story. She lives in the never-changing summer of Whimsy, and her clients are dangerous, inhuman fair folk. The folk crave Craft, or human creations, and none so much as Isobel’s masterworks. When she makes an unforgivable mistake by painting human sorrow in the eyes of the autumn prince, Rook, she must risk all that she is to survive.

How fast did I fall in love with this book? By page two! I knew there was a spark of something on page one, when we’re introduced to a fae named Gadfly, who is having his portrait painted while wearing yellow. That’s it, that’s all it took. What can I say, I swoon for allusions and hidden meanings and even if the author didn’t intend it I was picking up something – something charming and lovely and playful. And then on page two, I knew I was 100% in love when Isobel thinks to herself, “Rudeness was not an affordable mistake.” There’s dry humor here, I thought, and I was hooked.

Another reason I found the book so enjoyable was the absolute drama of the fair folk, and especially Rook. He's a wizard Howl (of Howl’s Moving Castle) -level diva and kind of adorable. If you’re not convinced yet, I’ll spoil you very gently by saying this is a “the heroine saves herself” sort of story, and the best kind, at that. In addition to infusing humor and evoking the danger inherent in the fairy realms, Rogerson excels depicting the art of painting, creating relatable (human) family dynamics, and describing the natural world and season-specific foliage in lush details. TL; DR it is a beautifully written book as well as a fun one!


How much did I want and like this book? I stalked my local bookstore last week to pick up an early copy. I canceled my online preorder and went in person and bought it as soon as I could, because I was pretty sure it was going to wreck me (in a good way). Like I was so excited for this book that I couldn’t wait an extra few days until official release day THIRSTY. And it was all warranted.

In all, Rogerson’s debut is a thoroughly delightful take on fairies, and a must-read for young adult fantasy fans.

Recommended for: fans of Diana Wynne Jones, young adult fantasy in general, and any reader who imagines themselves as a smart and capable hero/heroine in their own adventure.

cookiesaurus rex

As an occasional baker and a fan of children's books, I knew I had to check out this picture book. It is only September (and not even chilly out yet!), but I'm already thinking about the winter holidays, frosting cookies, and warm mugs of chocolate and cider. If you bake and will have any small children at hand this winter, Amy Fellner Dominy and Nate Evans’ picture book Cookiesaurus Rex, illustrated by A.G. Ford is a fun read-aloud pick. 

cookiesaurus rex by amy fullner dominy and nate evans book cover
As soon as Cookiesaurus Rex comes out of the oven, he declares that he is King of All Cookies. He should be frosted before all of the standard-shaped cookies, in a nice bright green. But the other cookies are getting sprinkles, or shiny stars, or even gumdrops . . . WAIT ONE STINKIN’ STOMPIN’ MINUTE! Cookiesaurus wants a do-over. Problem is, he might not end up with the kind of “do” he wants. Readers will love the funny back-and-forth between this cheeky cookie and the hand that frosts him. See who gets his licks in at the end!

Cookiesaurus Rex is looking forward to be decorated, but that excitement quickly turns to frustration when he sees his fellow cookies decorated with stars and sprinkles while he only has simple green icing and a black top hat. So Cookiesaurus decides to go rogue – except he doesn't get quite the revenge he wanted. He's decorated as a dinosaur ballerina, a duck, a baby (complete with chocolate chip poo!) instead. In between those episodes he decorates himself as a ninja and a superhero, only for it all to be wiped away. In the end he goes hog wild with decorations and declares himself the King of All Cookies - but there's a catch!

Cookiesaurus Rex is engaging and silly fun, with a cookie main character full of attitude. The dialogue will make kids laugh and adults smile, and the content (and ideas for decoration) would make it the perfect complement or preview to a cookie decorating session. In fact, I was inspired to buy a T. Rex cookie cutter myself and try my hand at recreating some of Cookiesaurus' looks. Unfortunately, I didn't use icing tools so it ended up a little sloppy!


Of course, you don't have to wait for winter to have a cookie-baking and -decorating session, and there's no hint of holiday affiliation in the book itself, so this title works for everyone and year-round fun. Cookiesaurus' antics are sure to amuse and inspire all who read the book.

In all, Cookiesaurus Rex is a fun, sassy picture book suitable for all ages, and especially for bakers and their minions.

Recommended for: fans of baking, cookies, dinosaurs and dialogue-heavy picture books (the ones you do voices with!).

Cookiesaurus Rex will be released by Disney-Hyperion on September 26th, 2017.

Interested in other food-related posts? Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

Fine print: I received an advance copy of this title for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

spinning blog tour - interview with author tillie walden

Today’s post is part of the blog tour for Tillie Walden’s illustrated memoir, Spinning. Walden is the author of one of my favorite webcomics, On A Sunbeam, and is a decorated comics artist as well as an all-around lovely person. Read on for an interview and a brief review of Spinning!


It seemed like one of the themes of this book was solitude and a sort of loneliness, even when deeply involved in a team sport. Do you/did you recognize that as you put together the story?
Honestly, no! I noticed it afterwards. Which is hilarious to me now. It’s amazing how blind we are to ourselves and our patterns. But I’m glad that comes out in the book. I think it’s very easy to believe that team sports are an endless show of camaraderie and togetherness, but I found it all extremely isolating. And I imagine I’m not the only person to feel that way. Ice rinks, to me, are also especially lonely places. They’re freezing cold, and they’re either full of bright lights or kind of stuck in the shadows. And those locker rooms were just depressing. Full of leftover air from the ice and stressed out girls in full make up.

Writing and illustrating a memoir means drawing younger you a lot - did you find that easy/difficult/in-between? Did you refer to pictures?
I didn’t use pictures to reference. I was pretty easy to draw, luckily. I had long blonde hair and glasses, and I just sort of ran with that. I knew going into it that my drawings of myself would be interpretations, so I was ok with any inaccuracies.

What's the last thing you read (aside from your own work), and what are you reading now?
Omg, I love this question. I wish people asked me this more. SO, the last thing I read was The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, and it was totally amazing. But all the prose I read is almost entirely mystery or crime dramas. I’m a little obsessed. And currently I’m reading the next book after The Devotion of Suspect X, which is called Salvation of a Saint. They’re detective thrillers set in Tokyo. Come on, how could I not read this?

tillie walden
Tillie Walden is a two-time Ignatz Award–winning cartoonist from Austin, Texas. Born in 1996, she is a recent graduate from the Center for Cartoon Studies, a comics school in Vermont. Her comics include The End of Summer and I Love This Part, an Eisner Award nominee.

Interested in reading more about Spinning and Tillie? Check out the full tour schedule here, or just click on any of the links below!


Have I convinced you to pick up Spinning yet? If not, check out my mini-review below!

spinning by tillie walden book cover
Figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing in glitter and tights. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But as Tillie's interests evolve, from her growing passion for art to a first love realized with a new girlfriend, she begins to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fits in.

Poignant and captivating, this powerful graphic memoir captures what it's like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

Tillie Walden grew up figure skating, and while she found success on the ice, she faced many challenges off it. Those awkward, weird, and sometimes wonderful young adult years are detailed in her beautifully illustrated graphic memoir, Spinning.

I identified strongly with Tillie’s experiences skating as both an individual and in a team – I was a competitive swimmer all the way through college. The isolation of competition, the gossip and enforced together-ness of the team all resonated. Pair that with Tillie’s scholastic struggles, her forays in youthful friendship, burgeoning artistic talent, and her relationship with her first girlfriend, and the book is brimming with all of the bits and pieces of life that seem to come at you 100mph during the teenage years. It’s not easy, of course, and Tillie’s experiences with bullies and worse are detailed as well. Tillie has written and illustrated not only her life from memory, but also a highly relatable book for teens and young women everywhere. It’s honest and beautiful and poignant and sad and all of the things that life is while you’re living it. I loved it.

Recommended for: young women ages 11 and up, especially introverts, artists, and those into sports.

Fine print: I received an advance copy of this title for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

#bookstagram

Monday, August 21, 2017 | | 1 comments
Are you on Instagram? I am! It’s fun! If you follow/have followed me there, I changed my handle to @ceceliareads in June. It’s all books all the time. My personal handle (for photos of not-book things – most likely scenery, sports & coffee) is still live, too.


After I changed my handle I mentioned to several real-life friends that I’d started to do the “bookstagram thing.” Most of them couldn’t see any difference between my feed then and my feed now, so I guess we’ll chalk that up to me being extra on-brand with bookstagram. I did get one complaint about too many photos of socks, but what can you do? #socksunday, y’all.

For those not in the know, bookstagram (with or without the #) is the bookish community on Instagram. Participants take photos of books or book-adjacent things, use the hashtag for easy discovery, and then (as far as I can tell), go around telling people how beautiful their photos are and how excited they are to read [insert book title here]. It’s pretty great.

I was inspired by a few bookstagrammers I met at the Fierce Reads party at Book Expo. I looked them up after the fact and thought, yeah, I could do that! And then I had to figure out how to take tons of photos of books without getting really boring and repetitive.

Well folks, aside from the #socksunday idea I was stumped about how to make my photos stand out. I don’t collect book swag (bookmarks, trading cards, branded knick knacks, etc.), I don’t subscribe to any book delivery services, and I can’t afford to spend a fortune at the craft store – nor do I want to. Then I had an awesome brainstorm: could I use the flowers at work?

an example of a typical bouquet at our office. see those orange mini roses?

Work for me is in a nice-ish building in downtown DC, and the office has a standing Monday morning bouquet order with a local florist. It makes the reception area look really classy. But from Friday at close of business through Monday AM, the last week’s flowers just sit there (rotting!) – and so I asked the receptionist if I could start taking them on Fridays after the end of the day. Thus, Cecelia’s Friday book & flower photoshoots were born. I now take a stack of books with me to work on Fridays and look forward to the end of the day, when I’ll get to deconstruct the current week’s vase of flowers and create a few looks to fill my feed for the following weeks. I’ve included an example of the before-and-after so you can see what I mean!

the petals made for a beautiful #bookstagram look!

Of course, the flower and book thing is a little precarious – it depends on the goodwill of the office staff and me staying late every Friday night. So, what else should I feature on my bookstagram? Hit me up with ideas!

the one that got away

I know we’re almost at the end of summer, but if you need one last read for the beach or the Labor Day weekend, I’ve got the perfect recommendation. Melissa Pimentel’s The One That Got Away is a funny and fairly adorable modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. It’s a touching, feel-good story, and a must-read for anyone who has watched Austen adaptations with a smidge of envy.

Ruby and Ethan were perfect for each other. Until the day they suddenly weren't.

Now, ten years later, Ruby is single, having spent the last decade focusing on her demanding career and hectic life in Manhattan. There's barely time for a trip to England for her little sister's wedding. And there's certainly not time to think about what it will be like to see Ethan again, who just so happens to be the best man.

But as the family frantically prepare for the big day, Ruby can't help but wonder if she made the right choice all those years ago. Because there is nothing like a wedding for stirring up the past…

Ruby is a New York career woman through and through, and she’s mostly content with her life. However, with her best friend decamped to New Jersey with baby #2 on the way and her younger sister about to be married in a castle in the UK, she’s reevaluating some things – and worried about seeing her successful ex Ethan at the wedding. What follows is a then-and-now tale of love, loss, and figuring it all out again years after the fact.

Given that Pimentel’s novel is a retelling of Persuasion, you can likely guess the ending. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t some unexpected twists and turns along the way though – this is a thoroughly updated version. I won’t say any more, because I think this book deserves to preserve the surprises it does have.

Beyond the plot, it’s clever and entertaining, and I found myself chuckling several times, or at least smiling down at the book with gentle amusement. Pimentel knows her audience and her pop culture, and I think she infuses the right amount of cute into a familiar storyline without edging over into sappy. I very much enjoyed The One That Got Away.

Now, I do want to be fair and mention things that brought me out of the story a bit, though they didn’t dampen my enjoyment: the first chapter is a bit of a slow set-up, and you have to just push through it and get adjusted to Ruby’s first-person narration. Don’t worry, she’s intelligent and unpretentious, and if you’re anything like me you’ll end up liking her immensely. The second thing is that the book is set up in Then chapters and Now chapters, so you slide between Ruby’s first person present and third person from the past. Third thing: there are several Briticisms scattered about that I don’t imagine would naturally be flowing through an American’s head. But, as the book was published first in the UK, this does not surprise me. And as I mentioned, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

In all, The One That Got Away is a satisfying, charming read with a heroine to root for and the perfect dose of English scenery.

Recommended for: fans of modern Jane Austen adaptations, and anyone who likes light, smart, and funny women’s fiction, à la Marian Keyes.

The One That Got Away will be released by St. Martin’s Press on August 22, 2017.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post. 

it’s been four months. how do i like my kindle?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017 | | 5 comments
I resisted getting an e-reader for a long time. At the beginning of the rise of ebooks (it sounds kind of apocalyptic written out like that, right?), I was dead broke and a grad student. My money was going towards essentials, and as much as I love them, books are not essential to human survival. Neither is toilet paper. TMI? Anyway, I didn’t have money for an e-reader and friends & family didn’t gift me one, so I didn’t have one.


Then I left grad school, moved across the country twice, and got an office job. While I was slightly less broke, I couldn't justify the purchase of a dedicated device while I had a perfectly serviceable iPhone and Kindle app. This whole time, Amazon sent me “deal of the day” emails, and I bought so many discounted ebooks that browsing my ebook library started to scare me. Also by that point people in my book club were shocked I didn't have an e-reader and maybe everyone in my life assumed I was making a deliberate choice not to own one?

Fast forward another couple of years, and I fractured my eye socket playing rec league floor hockey (...). While my face healed and my vision got back to 20/20, the muscles around my eye deteriorated *just* enough that reading on my phone late at night wasn't fun or easy anymore. So it was e-reader time! And that's how I bought a Kindle Paperwhite.

What do I think of it? Well, it’s perfectly nice. I don’t mind reading on/with it. It’s certainly easier on my eyes than a phone screen. And yet… it functions more as a security blanket than as a reading device. I take great comfort in the fact that I can stick it in my bag and have hundreds of books at my fingertips. I do not actually take it out of my bag to read that often (sighhhhh). So, that’s where we are.

I may still change my habits with time and find it really useful, but in the meantime I will continue to load my Kindle up with ebooks that I very rarely read, and take pleasure in the opportunity rather than the reality.

Do you have an e-reader? Do you use it regularly?

interview with molly knox ostertag - comics extravaganza blog tour

Today’s post is part of First Second’s Comics Extravaganza blog tour. It features an interview with the super-talented Molly Knox Ostertag. Ostertag did the art for one of my favorite books of the year, Shattered Warrior, and both wrote and illustrated one of my most anticipated 2017 reads, The Witch Boy. Read on to learn more about her!


I’ve been reviewing (and reading!) more graphic novels, and I’ve been so lucky to find not only fun books, but also discover brilliant artists. From Alex Puvilland, the artist behind Scott Westerfeld’s magnificent Spill Zone, to Matt Phelan (Snow White), to Andrea Offermann, I’ve been checking out and getting a feeling for different art styles in young adult graphic novels. And today I get to feature an interview with Molly Knox Ostertag – I couldn’t be more excited. Check it:

Tell us your first memory of reading a comic or graphic novel.
My very first comic books were the Tintin comics. For some reason we only had the French editions in our house, but Hergé is such a clear and dynamic cartoonist, so I could follow the action perfectly even without understanding the words. In high school, The Sandman series showed me that adult comics didn't have to be exclusively about superheroes, and I was hooked! 

What's your favorite comic or graphic novel, and what do you love about it?
This is one of those impossible questions, but one I think about a lot is THAT ONE SUMMER by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. I love how the story is structured, the drawings are detailed and gorgeous and restful and full of atmosphere, and I appreciate how it's a young adult book that doesn't talk down to its readers.

Tell us a little about your latest graphic novel. 
I have two out this year. SHATTERED WARRIOR, out from First Second, is a collaboration with fantasy/sci fi romance novelist Sharon Shinn, and is about survival and finding love in a dystopian society ruled by tyrannical aliens. THE WITCH BOY, out from Scholastic this fall, is my first solo project, a story about a boy who wants to become a witch, even though in his family traditionally only women are allowed to be witches. 

What comic or graphic novel are you reading now? 
I just read ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson because I'm trying to catch myself up on all the excellent middle-grade graphic novels that have come out in the past few years. I loved it! It's a sweet and boisterous story about roller derby and pre-teen friendships with a moral that I really appreciated. 

Molly Knox Ostertag grew up in the forests of upstate New York and read far too many fantasy books as a child. She studied cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys the beach year-round but misses good bagels. While at school she started drawing the award-winning webcomic Strong Female Protagonist, which continues to update and be published through Kickstarter and Top Shelf Comics. She draws comics about tough girls, sensitive boys, history, magic, kissing, superpowers, and feelings. mollyostertag.com

Interested in reading more from comics authors and artists? Check out the full tour info here, or just click on any of the links below!

7/10 – YA Bibliophile interviews Shannon Hale
7/10 – Fiction Fare interviews Tillie Walden
7/11 – A Backwards Story interviews Landis Blair
7/11 – Bluestocking Thinking interviews Mike Lawrence
7/12 – Book Crushin interviews MK Reed
7/12 – Miss Print interviews Scott Westerfeld
7/12 – Ex Libris Kate interviews Box Brown
7/13 – Love Is Not a Triangle interviews Nick Abadzis
7/13 – I’d So Rather Be Reading interviews Alison Wilgus
7/14 – The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia interviews Molly Ostertag
7/14 – Adventures of a Book Junkie interviews Nidhi Chanani

Oh, and if you haven’t checked out Shattered Warrior yet, you totally should! Here’s the synopsis (or read my review!):

shattered warrior by sharon shinn and molly knox ostertag book cover
It is ten years after Colleen Cavanaugh's home world was invaded by the Derichets, a tyrannical alien race bent on exploiting the planet's mineral resources.

Most of her family died in the war, and she now lives alone in the city. Aside from her acquaintances at the factory where she toils for the Derichets, Colleen makes a single friend in Jann, a member of the violent group of rebels known as the Chromatti. One day Colleen receives shocking news: her niece Lucy is alive and in need of her help. Together, Colleen, Jann, and Lucy create their own tenuous family.

But Colleen must decide if it's worth risking all of their survival to join a growing underground revolution against the Derichets.

heartstone

At fourteen, I was that student determined to read every single book on the pre-college reading list that my freshman year English teacher handed out. I didn’t care that there were well over a hundred “classics” listed, and that you only had to read two for her class. I was determined to be well read by the time I graduated high school, through sheer determination if need be. Luckily, I started with Jane Eyre (which I loved to pieces). With a good experience at the start, I forged on. Not every book hit the right notes, but between the failures *cough*Lady Chatterley’s Lover*cough* I scoured my local library for books about magic and dragons. And so I discovered McCaffrey’s Pern and Wrede’s Enchanted Forest at the same time as Austen and Hardy and the Brontë sisters, and I loved both kinds of books with different but equal passion. Elle Katharine White’s Heartstone is a mashup for every reader who grew up loving both dragon books and Jane Austen.

heartstone by elle katharine white book cover
A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride & Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms.

They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers…something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

Elle Katharine White infuses elements of Austen’s beloved novel with her own brand of magic, crafting a modern epic fantasy that conjures a familiar yet wondrously unique new world.

I went into this book thinking it would have some vague Pride and Prejudice vibes, like Jo Walton’s dragonish comedy of manners, Tooth and Claw – but I was wrong. This is a straight up mythological creature retelling, with almost-identical plotlines, similar names (Aliza Bentaine instead of Elizabeth Bennett, anyone?), and even some of the same exact language in the epistolary sections. If you’ve read P&P, there will be few-to-no surprises. And that’s okay! But be aware  - it’s basically a fanfiction AU with dragons (and gnomes, and gryphons, and so on).

So, how was it? So-so quality-wise, and yet enjoyable. Heartstone is dialogue-heavy (to the point that sometimes you’re not quite sure who is speaking). It is also written from a first-person perspective (rather than the omniscient narrative of the original), without much set-up or description. It doesn’t feel like epic fantasy, which is usually heavy on worldbuilding. I’m sure this is due in part to the fact that most readers will already be familiar with the source material, and not need introduction to the characters, their situation in life, or their relationships to one other. There’s also the juxtaposition in this case of titles, manor houses, and a class hierarchy, and informal language. It’s a bit jarring at the start, and something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (if you read that).

I didn’t like: the baby talk and dialect of the hobgoblins (when no one else seemed to have appreciable accents, even when noted in the text), that there was no resolution to the *spoiler* Elsian Minister’s plot *end spoiler*, and the necessary narrowing of perspective and characterization that a first-person tale necessitates.

In a case like this, where most of the work of plotting and characterization is either already set or expected, it is up to the author to surprise the reader, and if possible, to improve upon the source work. Heartstone didn’t accomplish either task, but it was an agreeable read, and I don’t regret spending my time with it. I think it will appeal greatly to anyone who, like me, loves both dragons and Austen.

Recommended for: devoted fans of both Jane Austen and dragons.

snow white

Do you keep track of the different publishers and imprints of the books you read? I didn’t for the longest time, even when I started blogging – I thought that the good books would rise to the top, and I’d find them no matter what. Well, my feelings have changed a bit – I have imprints or publishers that I *know* will put out good books, or that I can trust for a certain kind of experience (arty, dreamy, plot-driven, and so on). When I figure this out, I end up paying a bit more attention to their catalogs, their tweets, and I’m more likely to put their books on hold at my library. I know from experience that Candlewick publishes thoughtful, beautiful books, so that’s how Matt Phelan’s graphic novel Snow White ended up on my to-read list. Well, that and I’ll read almost any fairy tale retelling under the sun. ¯\_()_/¯

snow white by matt phelan book cover
The scene: New York City. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

As you might expect from a book called Snow White, this graphic novel is a fairly faithful retelling of the popular fairy tale. The back story will be familiar: widowed father raises his daughter alone, then remarries – to a beautiful woman – who becomes increasingly jealous of the daughter. A “huntsman” is dispatched to kill the girl, but has a change of heart (punnnnnnnnnn). The daughter (Snow/Samantha), alone now, falls in with a group of seven little men (orphan boys), etc., etc. It’s all recognizable, and the ending is assured. So, why read this book?

The art, of course! Matt Phelan’s past work is award-winning, and he is no less talented in this volume. The mix of watercolor and pencil/ink line work is subtle, dark, and atmospheric. It fits this 1930s, noir-ish iteration of the fairy tale very well. While there aren’t any true plot surprises, the enjoyment is in the subtle changes, differences, and the play of dark and light through the lens of Depression-era New York City. I also LOVED the Art Deco typeset used on the front cover – actually the simplicity and design of the front cover may be my favorite thing about the book.

From the story, I liked that there’s a hint of uncertainty about whether it’s actually magic that the stepmother uses, or solely allure. I also thought the use of the ticker tape instead of the mirror on the wall was a clever substitution. The evil queen re-imagined as the star of the Ziegfeld Follies fit the time period, but the Follies and their context might not be familiar to readers in the intended age group. In some cases, that’s fine, because it will prompt research, but in this case it’s doubtful (tweaks to a familiar plot may trump interest in context).

Things I didn’t like: this story is very light on dialogue. Since this story will be familiar to many readers already, not a fatal flaw, but in parts it simply feels quiet, rather than menacing (which I’m going to hazard a guess is the intent of some of the panels, but certainly not all).

The second (and more substantial) criticism I had was from the point in the story where Snow White referred to opulent Christmastime department store window displays as a demonstration of ‘the magic of the city.’ The beautiful ‘magic’ of the displays in itself was not a problem – in fact, that window dressing is famous (and now traditional) and rightfully so. My issue was Snow’s audience: homeless boys who must huddle around a trash can fire for warmth, and to whom she was not offering (or able to offer) and real change in their circumstance. This juxtaposition lacked nuance and verged on needlessly cruel.  Snow entreated them to find magic and beauty in something they could not have and would not have (at that point of the story), while they were struggling for survival. Some readers may not notice this scene, or dismiss it given later developments in the story, but to me it struck a tone of privilege.

In the end, Snow White is a beautifully illustrated, if not innovative, take on the popular fairy tale.

Recommended for: die-hard fans of fairy tales, and those with an eye to beautiful graphic novel design and illustration.

york: the shadow cipher

Deckle edges. If you're a book worm like I am, you've probably come across them before. The uncut, random-looking pages (instead of a smooth cut) give a book that certain "something." Deckle edges convinced me to purchase my own hard copy of Laura Ruby’s York, and I'm so glad they did. This book could be defined many different ways (spec fic, alternate history, diverse sci-fi, a cross between The Mysterious Benedict Society and Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan...), but the thing that stands out to me is that it is incredibly, unbelievably of the moment. I know how long it takes to make a book, but if I didn't I'd think it was written two weeks ago. York is important and empathetic along with being smart and entertaining, and I think it might just be the perfect book for this year, for everyone.

york by laura ruby book cover
It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment house—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.

From National Book Award Finalist Laura Ruby comes a visionary epic set in a New York City at once familiar and wholly unexpected.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their neighbor Jaime Cruz live in a city that is like New York City, but not. In this version of York the famous Morningstarr twins started inventing and building a fantastical array of dwellings, transportation, and life-like machines in the late 18th century, and the present-day result is a steampunk-like mashup of technological wonder. When they left, the Morningstarrs also left a trail of clues to rumored treasure – the mysterious Old York Cipher. For Tess, Theo, and Jaime, solving the Cipher may be the only way to keep their home safe from an avaricious real estate developer – but the clock is ticking. Will they solve the Cipher and save their building in time?  

One of the things that this book did so well was establish the motivations of each of the main characters in an authentic way. Ruthless real estate developer Darnell Slant wants to make money, and doesn’t care who he displaces (sound familiar?) or whether he destroys history. His hirelings Stoop and Pinscher possibly want something even more sinister, and they’re the everyday ‘face of evil.’ The Biedermann twins want to keep their home and life, their parents want them to face reality, and the whole family is still reeling from the absence of grandfather Biedermann, the one-time occupant of the building penthouse and former president of the Cipher Society. Jaime wants his father in his life, good things for his Mima, and to draw superheroes. Six-year-old neighbor girl Cricket wants to be a spy. And what did the long-gone Morningstarrs want? Why did they set up this treasure hunt? It’s a question that Tess, Theo and Jaime keep asking themselves, and bits and pieces of answers emerge throughout the story. The grand themes? The line between technology and life, injustice (racial, gender, socioeconomic), the definition of family (in its different forms) and home, and erasing the past for the sake of the future.

Now on to the things that I liked particularly (a different kettle of fish from admiring a well-constructed plot & characters, or great writing!)(which this book has in spades): parents who are alive (how many times do you see that in a kidlit book?!)! A diverse main character and secondary characters! A main character with anxiety and a service animal. A cool map of alternate New York and great descriptions of that feeling of insignificance you get in big cities. Social justice (pro-immigrant, pro-education, pro-affordable housing) baked in. Added to that, this is just such a smart book, with believably smart characters. Author Ruby doesn’t hold back – her characters use big words and think big ideas because they are intelligent, and Ruby obviously believes her readers are as well. I love that trust in the reader, and I think readers will sense it immediately.

I cannot forget to mention Chapter 7 (and then later Chapter 27), or as I am calling it, “In which we find out that six-year old Cricket (real name: Zelda) is HILARE” (hilare = hilarious without those pesky final two syllables)(a made-up word for the modern age which I am probably too old to use, but whatever). I want to be Cricket when I grow up. WHAT A RIOT. One of my favorite lines from a York (it consistently made me laugh out loud, btw) is in Cricket’s voice, from page 122: “What would a deathmetalhead raccoon wear? A helmet of course. Probably one with antlers.” I die.

What did I dislike? One solitary thing, folks. And that is that it took until Chapter 2 (really Chapter 3 because there was a prologue) to get to the hook. Until then it’s a lot of set-up and I wasn’t sure why I should care. BUT ONCE THERE, well. I was on my way.

In all, York hit all of the sweet spots: it was a funny, intelligent, and exciting read, and it made me think, feel, and reflect. I hope you’ll give it a chance!

Recommended for: middle grade readers on up, and anyone who likes mystery, alternate cities, and clever speculative fiction.

book expo 2017 recap (+ a GIVEAWAY)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017 | | 2 comments
I went to BookExpo (for those not in the know, the biggest book conference in North America)(aka “BEA”) last week. I’ve been going every year since… oh… 2012? I’m insanely lucky and predictably nerdy, yes. I go for blogging, obvi, but I also manage the digital presence at my nonprofit, so this year I registered through work. I wasn’t sure how the “we’re cutting down on bloggers” direction the show was going would relate to me, an inconsistent small-timer, so I didn’t bother to try registering as press or as a blogger. If you saw me at the show, I was wearing a badge that said “Cecelia, Digital Content Strategist, [nonprofit name], NON-PROFIT.” Pretty VIP (but only on opposite day).

Let me recap: somehow I manage to attend a huge BOOK CONFERENCE every year and hang out with BOOK PEOPLE all day. It’s basically heaven!!!


Here’s what I saw and did, and also there’s a giveaway at the end if you’re into that kind of thing (yay!).

On Wednesday I worked a half-day and then took the bus up to NYC. I checked in to my friend Liza’s hotel room (thanks, dude!) and headed over to Blogbound Con for the evening. I attended Blogbound in July last year and had a fantastic time – it was free, had great programming, and a diverse audience. This time around it seemed a little less fabulous, but I definitely enjoyed the two panels I stayed for (Writing for 3rd Party Outlets & Tackling Problematic Books in Our Current Political Climate). Afterward, a non-blogging friend and I hit up Buvette, a tiny French cafe that I can’t recommend enough. Like, the food KILLED, they had a pop-up menu, and it was adorbs. Also $$$, but I like to splurge on good food once in a (long) while, so. And then I went back to the hotel and crashed, b/c I had to be up v. v. early the next morning.

Thursday morning started SO EARLY I CAN’T EVEN believe it in retrospect. I was out of the hotel room by 6:50am because…. I had a hair appointment! No, really, for real. When I checked out the hotel amenities online I noticed that they had a blow dry bar on site. And I’ve never been to one, but every time I get my hair done for anything (weddings) I request a braid, so I was like, why not? AND CAN I JUST TELL YOU, the braid was a *great* decision. Everyone complimented it and it still looked fabulous late that evening. Solid choices, past me.


I arrived at the Javits (the conference location) a little after 7:30 and lined up for a Maggie Stiefvater autograph ticket (which I got!) for her upcoming standalone All the Crooked Saints. And then I lined up for the show floor, which opened at 9, and met some lovely people and had a tote bag and ARC (advanced review copy) handed to me by an enthusiastic bride as promotion for a book that released today (the book is The People We Hate at the Wedding). When the show floor opened I wandered around a bit and ended up at the Macmillan booth, where the author of said book was hanging out with the Flatiron Books staff and the bride. The bride serenaded me, author Grant Ginder signed my book on the spot, and the whole thing basically made my morning.


And then… it was book after signing after panel after book, all in a big rush until lunch (with Emma & Nicole in the food court). My friend Sajda ended up with a last minute attendee badge, so we spent the rest of the day palling around together and taking ridiculous photos. And then after a healthy dinner at The Little Beet (veggie-friendly fast casual!) Liza and I met Sajda at the Big Honcho Media Stay Golden party, b/c of course. Afterward we headed home and fell into bed after having the same Uber driver on the way to AND from the party. Felix dropped some dating advice on us and we were like… o.O


Friday seemed crazier. Was it crazier in reality? Dunno. BUT. I didn’t really stop at all that day (minus a few fun photo opps). I met Leigh Bardugo and she told me my hair was so cute she wanted to punch it. She also signed a copy of Warbringer (the Wonder Woman YA novel!) for me. For a bit I was a booktubing group’s unofficial photographer. I also snagged Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince with some creative planning and line watching. It… was a lot. At the end of the show I shipped my books via UPS onsite, and then I sat down for like a half minute before heading off to the Fierce Reads author-blogger party. WHICH WAS GREAT. I chatted with Tomi Adeyemi (I added her book to Goodreads!) & Tillie Walden (comic artist I supported on Patreon!), some ladies from Forever Young Adult, and hugged author Emmy Laybourne twice (may have been tipsy by then). Publicist Gina from First Second gave me an amazing MCU fanfic rec. So, a successful party all-around.


AND THEN I TOOK THE BUS HOME.

Whew, I got tired writing that all out! I hope you can tell that it was the most fun. B/c it totes was.


And! To celebrate, I’m currently hosting my first ever Instagram book giveaway! Check it out. To enter you need to like & comment over on insta. Giveaway includes the items shown and ends tomorrow, June 7 at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be selected randomly and notified via the ‘gram.  Good luck!

shattered warrior

Today’s review is part of the blog tour for Sharon Shinn's new graphic novel, Shattered Warrior, illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag. It’s sci-fi, with a resistance fight and a love story (sounds a lot like Star Wars, eh?)(read it and find out!).

shattered warrior by sharon shinn blog tour



Sharon Shinn! Oh man, talk about one of the greatest discoveries of my blogging life – I found Sharon Shinn’s books through a blog challenge, and now I keep a sharp eye out for everything she does. It may or may not hit all of my sweet spots, but her work is always emotion-inducing (by which I mean I usually cry AND want to throw her books across the room/hug them in equal measure). tl;dr Sharon Shinn makes me read books/plots/subgenres I didn’t know I wanted, and like it. Folks, when I heard she had a sci-fi graphic novel coming out with one of my favorite publishers, I was IN, 110%, YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU, and I was not disappointed.

shattered warrior by sharon shinn book cover
It is eight years after Colleen Cavanaugh's home world was invaded by the Derichets, a tyrannical alien race bent on exploiting the planet's mineral resources.

Most of her family died in the war, and she now lives alone in the city. Aside from her acquaintances at the factory where she toils for the Derichets, Colleen makes a single friend in Jann, a member of the violent group of rebels known as the Chromatti. One day Colleen receives shocking news: her niece Lucy is alive and in need of her help. Together, Colleen, Jann, and Lucy create their own tenuous family.

But Colleen must decide if it's worth risking all of their survival to join a growing underground revolution against the Derichets ... in Sharon Shinn and Molly Knox Ostertag's Shattered Warrior.

Not long ago, Colleen Cavenaugh was a beloved daughter of the great house of Avon, and she and her sister were showered with luxuries. Then the Derichets came and Colleen lost her whole family, and everyone on the planet lost their freedom. Now Colleen lives alone in her empty house and works in a factory sorting precious minerals for the Derichet overlords – and does not let anyone or anything touch her heart. That fragile cocoon is broken when a band of Chromatti threatens her safety, her lost niece is found, and the Valenchi resistance turns from rumor to real. Will she act, or will she try to preserve the status quo? The answer could change her planet’s future.

One of Sharon Shinn’s trademarks is delicious world- and character-building, and though the graphic novel format limits prose a bit, Molly Knox Ostertag’s art adds layers of history and meaning. Colleen’s world is restricted to places she can reach on foot, by bike, or by treadway (underground public transport on moving walkways), and so the scope of the book is narrow – this isn’t a grand starship journey. That said, there is plenty to explore on-planet – the opressive Derichet (who look like nothing so much as the Dark Elves from the 2nd Thor film!) pose an ever-present danger, but the Chromatti (ex-miners tattooed with phosphorous ink who roam about in bands) threaten as well, and Colleen is a particularly vulnerable target as a member of the former upper class, a woman, and a person with dependents.

Colleen herself is marked by loss. She lives one day at a time, trying to keep her head down, trying to stay safe and sane. But of course, it wouldn’t be a story if there weren’t things to knock her out of her comfort zone! One of those things is a Chromatti man named Jann, who both frightens and intrigues her in equal measure. It’s one of those “they would never have met if it weren’t for the ‘end of the world’” type of relationships. The delicate communication that Colleen and Jann cultivate ultimately leads to more, and it is one of the best parts of the book.

Colleen is also changed by her eventual involvement in the resistance. Though I didn’t love that it took a Derichet’s violence against a woman (this trope is still used to signal evil?! …yeah) to make up her mind, Colleen does get involved in a small way. Officially, the Valenchi “don’t exist,” they blow up transport a la French resistance fighters in WWII, and Colleen does her part but does not immediately become the leader – something that I’ve seen before in stories that always rings false. Subtlety = yesssss!

Other things I liked, because this review is getting really long: the stakes are high (plot could mean death!), gender equality in facing danger and putting everything on the line, old class system & wealth break down in the face of occupation (like Star Wars!), found family, diversity (seems like it was probably an artist decision more than an author one, but I’ll take it), and a bisexual love interest (heavily implied)(yay!).

Things I didn’t like: I wish there had been more page time for the legend the book title is based on, and I also wish there was more of this story, period. I think that further development of the Lucy-Colleen relationship would not have gone amiss. But. If my only complaint is that I wanted more, you know I liked the book!

So that brings us to the art, which is just fantastic. Molly Knox Ostertag really takes this story and makes it shine – the illustrations up the stakes, ground it in a place (make Avon & Comstock city come alive!), make you see and feel the characters’ changing emotions and attachments. The art is where the diversity in skin color, architecture, and clothing all tell their own stories – and come together to make the book something more, to show you a history that is unusual and interesting. I’ll be checking out everything Ostertag has ever done, and I usually don’t say that about art (I’ll say it once in a blue moon about an author, so this is a big thing).

In all, Shattered Warrior is a high-stakes rebellion/unexpected love story mash-up with to-die-for art. Read it!

Recommended for: fans of Princess Leia, the Saga graphic novels, and older teen and up audiences who enjoy science fiction with love stories and diverse characters.

Interested in more reviews of Shattered Warrior? Check out the rest of the blog tour:

May 15th – The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia 
May 16th – Writing My Own Fairytale
May 17th – The Novel Hermit
May 18th – Ageless Pages Review
May 19th –  Here's To Happy Endings
May 22nd – me
May 23rd – School Library Journal
May 24th – The Hollow Cupboards
May 26th – Bluestocking Thinking 

Fine print: I received a copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher. I did not accept any compensation for this post.

spill zone

Scott Westerfeld is a favorite author – an old favorite at this point. I read his YA just after I started blogging (so many years ago omg)! He remains a favorite partly because many of his stories are about girls doing things. The other part is that he writes reliably engaging science fiction (his Leviathan books are so my jam it isn’t even funny). When I found out that he had a graphic novel coming out (with Alex Puvilland illustrating), I couldn’t add it to the to-read list fast enough. Spill Zone is a mysterious, action-packed, creepy-weird story, and it is ELECTRIC.

spill zone by scott westerfeld and alex puvilland cover
Nobody's ever really explained the Spill. Was it an angelic visitation? A nanotech accident? A porthole opening from another world? Whatever it was, no one's allowed in the Spill Zone these days except government scientists and hazmat teams. But a few intrepid explorers know how to sneak through the patrols and steer clear of the dangers inside the Zone. Addison Merrick is one such explorer, dedicated to finding out what happened that night, and to unraveling the events that took her parents and left her little sister mute and disconnected from the world.

Addison’s world changed after the Spill. With her parents gone, her sister altered and mute, and her hometown irrevocably twisted, she had to rework her life to carry on. Officially, no one is allowed in the mysterious Spill Zone, and the authorities won’t say what happened there – but Addison explores it, and she has her own rules for survival. The only constant in the Zone is that things will get weird. When the terms change, Addison may be ready – or it might be more than she can handle.

Westerfeld sets up a story with a lot of unknowns (re: how the Spill happened, what it did to people, why some kids survived), family tragedy, a sisterly bond, weird, physics-defying phenomena, and art for survival’s sake. While main character Addison works to unravel some of those unknowns and keep her family together, there are other actors who have their own motivations, knowledge based hearsay, and less-than-ethical tactics. Combine that with a daredevil on a dirt bike, and you have the set-up for a thrilling graphic novel. And of course, Mr. Westerfeld delivers.

There were two bits of the story in particular that sold me on Spill Zone. The first was Addy’s initial trip into the Zone (that we see as readers, anyway), where she does a bit of a mini-tour with her rules for survival. This scene not only gives the reader the set-up they need to grasp the scope of the Spill, it also establishes danger, immediacy, and Addy’s motivations. And to be completely honest, it reminded me of my favorite part of the film Zombieland.

The second genius scene is one where *spoiler* Addy is having a one-sided (she thinks) conversation with her little sister, Lexa. Lexa is having her own telephathic conversation with her creepy and sarcastic doll, Vespertine. I had accepted the weird and threatening nature of the Spill Zone at that point, but I hadn’t gotten the sense of wrong Westerfeld was trying to evoke quite yet. That interaction sealed the deal.*end spoiler*

While the story gets a solid A, the art gets an A++++. No offense, Mr. Westerfeld, but the art is the BEST PART OF THE BOOK. That’s as it should be, since pictures are kind of the point with a graphic novel. Alex Puvilland’s illustrations and Hilary Sycamore’s colors bring the action, the eerie atmosphere, and the characters to life. I can’t imagine what the book would have been like in anyone else’s hands. The weirdness of the Zone seems neon, without actual neon burning the readers’ eyes, and the Zone’s unnatural creatures contrast with those untouched by the Spill (but not so much that you feel like you’ve left Earth).

Add to the art truly gorgeous book production, and you have a coffee-table-beautiful piece. I’m not kidding. The interior pages are black, the cover is blue metallic foil, and even the chapter pages are intricately detailed. For such an unnerving story, it’s quite pretty in places. To lure the unsuspecting reader in, I’m sure. :)

In the end, Spill Zone is beautiful, bizarre, and 100% readable. I can’t wait for book 2 (it’s a duology, did I mention?).

Recommended for: fans of young adult science fiction, adult science fiction, dark spec fic, and horror, and anyone who perks up at the mention of Scott Westerfeld and/or graphic novels.

Fine print: I received a final copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher. I did not accept any compensation for this post.

free books for the summer

Thursday, April 27, 2017 | | 1 comments
I love books (obviously). You probably love books. Can we agree that free books that you get to keep forever are a good idea? Okay, great. I’ve got a couple of tips for you: there are free books out there for the taking, all summer long. Let’s go.

audiofile sync program free audiobook
AudioFile’s SYNC program allows you to download TWO audiobooks per week over the course of the summer, starting today. The program pairs a young adult book with a “classic,” and this year’s titles include the just-optioned-for-TV Shadowshaper and award-winning bestseller Between Shades of Gray, among others.

Any individual may participate by downloading the OverDrive App to their device of choice and returning to the SYNC website each Thursday after 7am Eastern Time to download the new audiobook pair for the week. Each title is available for one week only, but once downloaded they can be kept forever, so the opportunity to listen can extend well beyond the term of the summer program.

Tor.com’s eBook of the Month Club allows you to download the selected ebook each month – you’ll get an email reminder to download the book when it becomes available. This offer is good for every month, not just the summer! Selections are drawn from the Tor/Macmillan list, and are a mix of adult science fiction and fantasy (usually really great SFF, at that!).

Barnes & Noble’s Summer Reading Program allows kids in grades 1-6 (ages 6-12) to claim a free book at a Barnes & Noble store between May 16th & September 5th.
Kids need to read any eight books and record them in a B&N-provided Summer Reading Journal, along with what their favorite part of each book was, and why. Once they present a completed journal at a B&N store during the claim period, they can select a free book from the list on the back of the journal.

Do you know of any other ways to claim free books? Let me know!

binti

Monday, April 24, 2017 | | 2 comments
I am not super conversant in the wider science fiction universe, but I read Tor.com regularly because they 1) have great (free) original short-form SFF content, 2) a lot of it is by diverse authors, and 3) they do a good job of reminding me to read their articles via Twitter. I saw the cover art for Nnedi Okorafor's Binti there when it was first released, and I put it on my to read list straightaway. I mean, LOOK AT THAT ART! It’s so beautiful and haunting and distinctive. I didn’t finish the novella until recently (one of my lovely secret sisters gifted me with the Kindle version, and it was the kick I needed), but guys, I can’t believe I waited to read this little book. It’s A+ feminist sci-fi entertainment.

binti by nnedi okorafor book cover
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Binti is a young woman from an insular and mathematically talented desert people. The Himba are known for wearing clay on their skin and in their hair, and they cherish this part of their identity, even as it marks them as different. As the heir to her family’s astrolabe-making legacy, no one expects Binti to leave home – it just isn’t done. But Binti has surprised herself by getting into the most prestigious university in the galaxy, and she longs break taboo, leave, and to meet like-minded fellow students. What Binti cannot know is that her fateful decision to step into the unknown will change her, and the course of history, forever.

This compact story (under 100 pages) packs a punch. The plot isn’t overly complex (how could it be in so few pages? especially with any attention to world-building), and neither are the descriptions of tech or mathematics (no matter that the main character is a math and tech prodigy). However, Binti has one of the best senses of place that I've read in a long while - maybe ever! Okorafor also engages the reader with visceral, immediate and vivid descriptions of her heroine and her standing in her culture, along with her sometimes-dark inner thoughts and feelings.

I’ve made an honest effort recently to note the themes in books I like, rather than just enjoy them (in hopes of refining my book taste, I suppose). What I noticed in Binti: transformation, cross-cultural understanding, racism/othering, isolation/loneliness, and bucking tradition. Okorafor also played with some standard SFF tropes: a school for the gifted in space (on another planet in this case), and reimagining "the chosen one."

While Binti is a quick read, the pace is a bit slow at the very start as the reader settles into the setting and Binti's head (there’s some repetition as she focuses/convinces herself to do something). Then it’s danger, action, and suspense to the very end. 

I loved this book to bits, and I thought it had just enough worldbuilding and character development, but I guess I’m used to over-exposition common in most science fiction and fantasy. Basically, I came away with questions about the world: What is an astrolabe? Why the Khoush are so dominant? Why did Binti’s people have to learn the history of the Meduse, even though it is not their fight? What is going on with the Meduse and how did their contact with the Khoush start? How did math become central to everything Binti's people do? With all of these unanswered questions, you can imagine how excited I was to find that there’s a whole series of Binti novellas in the works. I can’t wait to read more Nnedi Okorafor!

In all, a satisfying sci-fi novella with world class description, a healthy dose of originality, and first person characterization.

Recommended for: fans of character-driven sci-fi, anyone looking for a book with a smart, strong heroine, and fans of Sarah Beth Durst's Vessel
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