Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore, a graduate of Williams College and Simmons College, has lived in quite a few of the major cities of the world. Recently she’s settled in Cambridge, MA. She’s apparently been writing for the children’s educational market for a while, and she’s published two YA fantasy novels under her own name: this one and its companion, Fire (review forthcoming). There is a third book, Bitterblue, which is still in the process of being written, also set in the same world, to be published, well, some time after it’s finished, and I have no date on that yet.

In the land of the Seven Kingdoms, some babies are born with eyes that are both the same color, but by the time they are toddlers, their eyes change to be two different colors, such as blue and green or silver and gold. If so, they are said to have a ‘Grace,’ to be possessed of some sort of gift. It may be as innocuous as being able to make the best bread ever–in which case they will probably go work for the kitchens in the royal castle–or it may be like Katsa’s: killing. Katsa is the niece of one of the kings of the Seven Kingdoms, and she has been used as an assassin many times over the years. This is the story of Katsa coming to terms with, well, being gifted at killing. Continue reading Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

The Demon’s Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan

I decided to read this book after I read a companion short story that the author posted on her blog; that story is available here. Reading the story doesn’t require knowledge of the book, and vice versa; however, it will fill in a few bits of backstory that may be interesting to some readers. Sarah Rees Brennan, who is Irish, just turned twenty-six, which makes her a smidge over a year younger than I am, and has an MA in writing. This is her first published novel, and it’s the opening of a trilogy.

Nick and Alan are brothers and have been on the run from a coven of evil magicians (all magicians are evil; they feed people to demons) for a very long time now. When a classmate of Nick’s (named Jamie) gets into some possibly supernatural trouble, his sister Mae asks around and finds out that Nick and Alan are the ones to talk to. Unfortunately, of course, Nick and Alan have problems of their own; the coven is about to find them. Unfortunately, Jamie and Mae end up caught up in their drama. Just why are these magicians after Nick and Alan? And why does it seem like Alan is hiding things from his brother? Continue reading The Demon’s Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan

City of Stars (Stravaganza, book 2), by Mary Hoffman

A few days ago I reviewed the first book in this series and expressed my desire to read more. Fortunately, there are (at this point) four books in the series, and I am currently in possession of all of them. (I am also confused as to why they decided to redesign the series starting with book 4. I like it when all volumes in a series match, but apparently other people don’t care as much.) Ms. Hoffman, a Cambridge and University College London graduate, has been writing for children for nearly forty years now; this series has won awards and other kinds of recognition from various sources, including a 2009 nomination for a Carnegie medal for the fourth volume (City of Secrets).

Georgia O’Grady, a twenty-first-century fifteen-year-old English schoolgirl, is more likely to be mistaken for an English schoolboy, with her short, spiky hair, indifferent manner of dressing, and pre-adolescent figure. She’s also horse-mad, and when she finds a winged horse figurine in an antiques store, she saves up for and buys it. Of course, it turns out to be a Stravagating talisman, and she falls asleep and finds herself in Talia. She ends up in a stable in Remora, an analogue for Siena, and they mistake her for a boy, renaming her Giorgio Gredi. There, she finds herself swept up in the annual horse race, to be held shortly. Of course, though, because she is a Stravagante and this is Talia, there’s more going on than just a simple horse race . . . Continue reading City of Stars (Stravaganza, book 2), by Mary Hoffman

Impossible, by Nancy Werlin

Apparently Nancy Werlin primarily writes ‘literary suspense’ novels for YA/teen readers. She began publishing in the mid-1990s, and Impossible is her first book that is explicitly on the border of fantasy. She has a B.A. from Yale College, and won an Edgar Award for a novel entitled Locked Inside at some point. She was born in Peabody, Massachusetts, and has worked as a technical writer for various software and internet companies, in addition to her fiction writing.

Lucy Scarborough is a normal twenty-first-century girl, living in Massachusetts. Well, a normal girl with a crazy mother who is a bag lady in town, but she’s got a wonderful set of foster parents, Soledad and Leo Markowitz, some good friends, and a date to the junior/senior prom coming up shortly. Until an unfortunate event occurs at the prom, she turns up pregnant, and she finds her mother’s diary. In the diary, she finds out that all of the women in her family, as far back as anyone can remember, are under a curse; they all become pregnant at seventeen and when they give birth at eighteen, if they haven’t completed three impossible tasks (as detailed in a variant of “Scarborough Faire”), they go crazy. Fortunately, she has help, but not much time. Can she accomplish these things and stay sane? Continue reading Impossible, by Nancy Werlin

City of Masks (Stravaganza, book 1), by Mary Hoffman

Mary Hoffman is English; she was born in a railroad town, but moved to London when she was quite small. She has a degree in English Literature from Cambridge and a diploma in linguistics from the University College of London. Just after that, in 1970, she started writing children’s books; to date she has published around eighty of them, mostly shorter works. The Stravaganza series contains her longest works to date. She is married; her husband is half-Indian, and of their three daughters, one (Rhiannon Lassiter) is a published author. In her spare time, she takes Italian classes, presumably at least somewhat as research for this series, at Oxford.

Lucien Mulholland is a fifteen-year-old twenty-first-century English boy, who is unfortunately dying from a brain tumor. Arianna is a fifteen-year-old sixteenth-century Talian girl living in an alternate universe where Remus founded Italy instead of Romulus. The connection? A journal, that allows Lucien to travel in his sleep from England, where he is doing poorly, to Talia, specifically Bellezza (an alternate Venice), where he is hale and healthy. Arianna wants nothing so much as to be a mandolier (gondolier), despite her gender, so she sneaks into town for the trials. There, she meets Lucien, recently traveled and confused, and they get caught up in the politics and plotting of the time. The Di Chimici (Medici) family wants nothing so much as to kill Bellezza’s Duchessa — can two teenagers help stop that from happening? Continue reading City of Masks (Stravaganza, book 1), by Mary Hoffman

Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli is a linguistics professor at Swarthmore College and an author of children’s books. She used to have a cat named Taxi, for the sheer joy of calling the cat and watching the neighbors make faces. She takes modern dance and yoga classes for fun, and bakes bread. She has also coauthored a scholarly paper on frogs. I’ve reviewed a couple of her books before — here and here — and while they aren’t always my favorite, I seem to keep coming back for more.

The Cinderella story is a common one throughout many cultures, and Ms. Napoli has chosen to set her variant of the tale in Ming-Dynasty China. Xing Xing’s mother dies when she is very small, and her father remarries, to a woman with a daughter close to Ping’s age. The stepmother (called Stepmother) has decided to bind her daughter (Wei Ping)’s feet, in order that she will be able to attract a man of a much higher social status. And of course, once the father dies, Stepmother treats Xing Xing as if she’s the lowest kind of servant, even so far as to sending her off to try to sell green dates as some sort of false miracle cure to raise money. One day, there is a fair in town, and Xing Xing finds some of her mother’s old clothing (including shoes) to wear into town . . . Continue reading Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli

Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier is the author of a number of books, one of which was Wildwood Dancing, which I read and reviewed earlier. This novel is a companion (not a direct sequel; it follows a different character) to that one, and continues the story of the Transylvanian sisters. Ms. Marillier is a musician by training and a writer by vocation; she has been a full-time writer since 2002. Her family emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand many years ago, and she lives in a cottage in Perth, Australia.

Paula is Jena’s younger sister, the scholarly, studious one. She has been helping her father with many of his business matters, and dreams of starting her own rare-book collection. When he mentions that he is going to travel to wherever-it-is, Paula immediately clamors to go along — and is allowed. For in the city, there is a woman named Irene who has her own scholarly haven for women, and Paula would like to study there. They get to town, hire a bodyguard for Paula, and she begins her studies — but something is strange about the piece they have come to town to buy, called Cybele’s Gift. Many people are after it, and things are starting to happen — attacks, sudden withdrawals from the bidding, and the involvement of strange individuals including a pirate . . . Continue reading Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier

The Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic, book 1), by Patricia C. Wrede

Patricia C. Wrede is one of my auto-buy authors. Based in Minnesota, she’s probably most well-known either for the Sorcery and Cecelia series of YA epistolary Regency-set fantasy novels co-authored with Caroline V. Stevermer, or for the quartet of YA books starting with Dealing with Dragons. Less well-known are her Lyra novels, set in a fantasy world during various eras and containing such obscure titles as Caught in Crystal, The Harp of Imach Thyssel, and The Raven Ring. She has also written two novels set in roughly the same world as the Sorcery and Cecelia books, Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward, neither of which features any of the main characters from the YA series. Another obscure work of hers is Snow White and Rose Red, a contribution to the Fairy Tales series (like Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin).

The Thirteenth Child is set in an alternate universe, where North America wasn’t settled by Asians via the Bering Strait, and mammoths, dragons, and other various megafauna still roam most of the country. Eff Rothmer is the second-to-last child in her family — the thirteenth, to be precise — and the twin sister of Lan, who is the seventh son of a seventh son. He is considered particularly lucky and possessed of an amazing ability to do magic, and it was suggested to her parents by more than one relative that they should have drowned her at birth. When the twins are still young, the entire family moves out to Mill City, which is just on the edge of the frontier. Mr. Rothmer has gotten a job as a professor at the brand-new college there, and besides, it would be best to move somewhere where no one knows that Eff is the thirteenth child and Lan is a double-seven. Out there, they find all sorts of adventure — on both sides of the Great Barrier that keeps the rest of the country safe from the frightening flora and fauna that characterizes the wilderness. Continue reading The Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic, book 1), by Patricia C. Wrede

Incantation, by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman has written a number of books for both adults and young adults; three of said novels (Practical MagicAquamarine, and The River King) have been made into movies, starring some rather impressive actors. Born in New York, she attended Adelphi College and later Stanford, getting degrees in creative writing, and in 1983 she wrote the screenplay to a movie entitled “Independence Day,” but not the one with Will Smith and aliens. She currently lives in New York and Boston. Previously on Someone’s Read it Already, I reviewed a novel of hers, The Foretelling.

Estrella de Madrigal is a young woman in sixteenth-century, small-town Spain; her best friend is Catalina, who lives nearby. The girls are very close to each other until Estrella pays a little too much attention to Andres, Catalina’s cousin whom she is intended to marry. Unfortunately, this sets off a streak of jealousy and vindictiveness in Catalina. The town, Encaleflora, is undergoing some awful changes; it’s the time of the Inquisition (although they don’t call it that) and all the Jews and Muslims in town are suspect, even the ones who converted years and years ago. Estrella’s family behaves strangely — is it possible that they are secretly Jewish? And how will they survive? Continue reading Incantation, by Alice Hoffman