EEOnce I devoured Gail Carriger’s excellent Parasol Protectorate series, I was delighted to see that Etiquette & Espionage represents her return to the same steampunk universe of  Soulless et al. It is also a first foray for Carriger into the field of YA. This is a true YA title – it’s perfect for, and I’d recommend it heartily to, almost any teenager/YA reader. It takes place at school; the main character is 14; the gore/sex/four-letter-words are tame or nonexistent. There’s a lot of emphasis on self-discovery, resourcefulness, learning, and intelligence, as well as bravery and friendship. The only element of a typical teen novel missing? ROMANCE!

In Carriger’s adult series, romance and sex were a huge driving force behind both the plot and the characters’ motivations. Without ever being crass or gratuitous, those books are about the way adults fall in love and stay in love – emotionally and physically. But in Etiquette & Espionage, the much, much younger teenage characters are motivated by entirely different things. Sophronia, the main character, is a “covert recruit” at a floating school for future spies; here, she’ll be trained to curtsy perfectly, measure poisons precisely, and wield sewing scissors to deadly ends. Sophronia is interested in boys, and she knows about feminine charms and how she might need to deploy them in her career as a spy, but her motivation is never reduced to the moronic, unimportant whine of “I want a boyfriend!! Why doesn’t a boy love me?!” – a fixture of many other YA titles. As the series goes on and Sophronia grows up, I fully expect Ms. Carriger to allow her to expand her romantic interests in a way that is intelligent and logical for her age, but in the meantime I’m thrilled to read a novel about the teenage experience outside of the desperate “need” for a boyfriend. Etiquette & Espionage is refreshing, exciting, and leaves the door open for a bevy of sequels that will be even better now that the groundwork has been laid.

As you can reliably guess from the fact that I write for this blog, I am a librarian. So I knew I would love Among Others by Jo Walton as soon as I read the dedication page:

This is for all the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.

among othersThis book is for me! Awesome!* And this Hugo & Nebula award-winning novel is a treat. Mori is a well read 15 year old who has already accomplished a lot: she overthrew her mother, an evil witch, in a magical battle that killed her twin and left Mori with a shattered hip. She’s read just about everything that’s ever been published in the SF genre (well, everything before 1979, when this novel is set), besides Philip K. Dick, whom she dislikes. In the Wales of Mori’s childhood, magic and fairies are very real, but they aren’t all-powerful. Magic isn’t even the focus of this story; what could have been a bombastic, typical tale of good triumphing over evil (at a great cost) in a climactic magical duel  is instead a bildungsroman, the story of a smart, confident, magical girl discovering her identity. Mori’s most important challenge is discovering the value in her life now that her deed is done and her twin is dead.

When you are the hero, when you’ve already saved the world, and you’re a teenager stuck at boarding school based on the whim of a father you’ve never known, where the other girls taunt you for your Welsh accent and your limp, and where both the fairies and the magic of your childhood and your twin – your other half – can never reach you, what is the point of living? On Halloween, Mori sees the ghostly remnant of her sister near a portal to the next world and is tempted to follow and join her in death, but:

…I was halfway through Babel 17, and if I went on I would never find out how it came out. There may be stranger reasons for being alive.

Her love of books, libraries, writing, and the other worlds of the SF genre buoy Mori through the turbulent year after her sister’s death and lead her to the path her adulthood will take, so though her tale may sound grim, it’s really effervescent and uplifting.

Among Others is a fantasy novel, but Mori’s engagement with the realm of science fiction is so cogent, meaningful, and pervasive in the novel that this is a must read for fans of both genres.


*I have to add, though, that we do a lot more than sit and lend books! Sometimes we stand and lend DVDs 🙂

Pinterest logoFor even more recommended reads from your favorite blogging librarians, check out DPL’s new Pinterest page! On Pinterest, we share book recommendations and read-alikes, DVD selections, information about library events and programs, fun facts, library photos, and much more. To make it even better, every pin is a direct link to that item in our RiverShare catalog, making it easy for you to place a hold on anything you see!

  • Have you ever been frustrated by trying to browse our book club kits in the online catalog? Select your book club’s next title from our board “Book Club Kits @DPL
  • Curious about Zinio? Browse our selection of free digital magazines on “DPL’s Zinio Magazines
  • Fascinated by local history? Explore images from bygone Davenport on “Special Collections @DPL
  • Are eBooks your thing? Check out our selection on “eBooks available via DPL
  • Is your family getting excited for the 2013 Summer Reading Program? Visit our SRP pin board for program info, book recommendations, and fun stuff for the theme “Dig Into Reading!

When the Iowa weather is gray and bleak, it can be a relief to enter the colorful world of picture books! Here are a few books that have thrilled me lately from the “E” section:

  • beware of the frogBeware of the Frog by William Bee: vividly colored illustrations and a sinister frog make this twisted fairy tale unforgettable.
  • And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano: more lovely illustrations from Caldecott winner Erin E. Stead of A Sick Day For Amos McGee. Here, the story is about seeds planted at the beginning of a long gray spring and the anticipation that follows. A gradual increase in color and warmth marks the passage from winter to spring, and as in Amos, touches of humor are added in the illustrations that aren’t part of the  text.
  • oliviaOlivia and the Fairy Princesses: Ian Falconer’s beloved pig is NOT just going to be a pink frilly fairy princess like all the other girls (and some of the boys)! Olivia is at her feisty finest in this tale of individuality and being true to yourself. I adore the contrast of turquoise and pink on the cover, too!
  • Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters: Of the picture books I’ve written about, this is the only one in which the text was more memorable than the illustrations (although the pictures are great too). For example: “Cousin Clara’s cottage was consumed by a crocodile…[Lester] added crocodiles to his list of Suspicious Stuff Starting with C.” Thus, cousin Clara comes to live with Lester and his family, and as a “curiously speedy knitter,” Lester’s wardrobe is soon bursting with hideous handmade creations that he is forced to wear to school, leading to the inevitable humiliation and eventual sweater-murdering. Lester is a brainy, neurotic young man, and the way he squirms out of this pickle is satisfying.
  • this is not my hatThis Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen: Klassen’s second book exactly mirrors the plot of his first, but from the point of view of a thief, rather than a victim. Also, it’s fish instead of woodland critters. Just as beautiful, just as funny, just as appealing as I Want My Hat Back.

whathappensinlondonThe Good: What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

This is the perfect Regency romance. It’s funny (actually funny, not just peppered with lines that the characters laugh at but the reader never would), heartwarming (but not schlocky), and steamy (but not gratuitous). There’s a fussy, arrogant Russian prince, a heroine who scorns novels and reads every word of the Times, and a dashing hero who wears funny hats. It’s historically accurate (mostly), but it never gets boring by slogging through too much detail. I devoured this in just two very enjoyable sittings. (Available via WILBOR)

The Bad: A Lady Never Lies by Juliana Gray


Oh, dear. This is the kind of book that always made me hate romance novels. It’s nonsensical, it’s boring, its characters have no substance, and the romantic moments are gratuitous and badly written. Gray tries to heighten the drama by having everyone be cagey about their pasts/financial situations/parentage but honestly, it goes over like a lead balloon. Three single young women and three single young men accidentally rent the same Tuscan castle for the summer! They decide to keep both leases and stay in separate wings! They make a wager not to interact with one another to prove some bologna 21st-century-argument that the author has needlessly inserted into an allegedly historical novel! I wonder what will happen!!!???

soullessThe Awesome: Soulless by Gail Carriger

I never thought I’d like a book about vampires, werewolves, and parasols, but I was deeply mistaken. Soulless is a steampunk novel (steampunk: a sub-genre of SF in which the industrial revolution of Victorian times has gone into hyperdrive, producing steam powered dirigibles and other retro-futuristic contraptions and necessitating a lot of metal eyewear with round lenses). Alexia Tarabotti is half Italian and half an orphan, hardly a favorite in London society, but her appearance and parentage aren’t her only problems: in the middle of a ball, she has just been attacked by a vampire. The encounter breaks all the rules of supernatural etiquette AND destroys her plate of treacle tart! Miss Tarabotti soon finds herself in the thick of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences for the supernatural vampires and werewolves she befriends and for herself. Alexia is fierce, fun, and generally unforgettable. The romance is well balanced against the world building and it makes sense for the characters, all of which are interesting, exciting, and well written. Brava, Ms. Carriger! I can’t wait to read the other four books in this series. (Available via WILBOR)

beetle book“Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle.” If your reaction to this fact is an uncomfortable mix of fascination and horror, get your hands on The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. In this fact-filled picture book (written for children, but hey, this twenty-something learned a lot reading it), there are big, beautiful illustrations of bugs: hissing cockroaches, June bugs, fireflies, dung beetles, ladybugs, and hundreds of other creepy crawlies – all of them beetles. The full-color bugs are set against ample white space and accompanied by thematically grouped facts. Small (or big!) all-black silhouettes on every page show the actual size of the beetles that have been magnified for illustrations. Staring down the five-inch mandibles of a six-spotted green tiger beetle gets a lot easier when its 3/4-inch-tall silhouette reminds you just how tiny the beast really is!

A few other great books for the budding naturalist or the latent scientist:

  • A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, an artistically illustrated look at the life cycle of a butterfly. Lots of facts and gorgeous images make this appropriate for all ages. (if you like this, look at her others: An Egg is Quiet, A Rock Is Lively, and A Seed is Sleepy)
  • Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder, a poem about the beauty and variety of nature illustrated with huge, zoomed-in photos of insects and plants.
  • You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim, a rumination on the interconnectivity of nature and humanity accompanied by lovely, lighthearted illustrations.

ivanThe 2013 Newbery award winner, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, is everything you might expect it to be, plus a little extra. Ivan is a silverback gorilla, a natural-born protector and warrior of the animal kingdom; as the narrator, his stream-of-consciousness thoughts and memories make up the novel. After poachers pluck the infant Ivan away from his home in the jungle, his domain of 27 years is a run-down circus, and his only friends are the other few animals there. But with the arrival of Ruby, a baby elephant, Ivan suddenly has someone to protect, and he sets off on a course to change all their lives for the better.

Like other winners, Applegate tackles a delicate, powerful subject and makes it accessible to children. Also like others, the writing is elegant and spare, made accessible to a young audience but no less sophisticated for it. There’s humor and heartbreak, but they don’t exactly balance each other – if you can’t handle sad animal stories you will have to stay far, far away from Ivan. Despite a hopeful, happy, neatly-wound-up ending, the grim tone of this book and its experimental structure make it an unusual book for children, but one that I’d recommend to them as wholeheartedly as I would recommend it to an adult. It’s a story of friendship and adventure and creativity, and a great addition to the list of Newbery winners.

scoundrelsIf you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven (or virtually any other high-tech/high-energy heist film), you’re familiar with the plot of Star Wars: Scoundrels. Danny Ocean – I mean, Han Solo – enlists a crack team of a eleven people with specialized skills to steal a ridiculous amount of money. Headed up by Han, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian, this handful of ne’er-do-wells makes a bold attempt to steal 163 million credits in a make-or-break heist that could get Han out from under Jabba’s thumb for good. Or, it could get him (and all his accomplices) killed. There are two surprises at the end of this novel – one of them involving a whip and a gigantic boulder – and for those two alone, it’s worth reading. It’s also a lot of fun to re-enter the world of Star Wars and Han Solo: they’re enduring favorites for a reason, and this well-told, twisty tale does justice to that legacy.

Scoundrels takes place in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the first Death Star (aka, right after A New Hope). The general public has only sketchy information about that debacle: they know that Alderaan is a cloud of space debris, and that the Death Star is now gone, but rumors of Rebel involvement are hardly realistic – surely a scrappy ill-funded few could never stand against the might of the Empire? And that, the central theme the original Star Wars is built upon, is what makes Scoundrels a success too. Surely this band of misfits can’t beat down the impossible odds against them and come away alive, let alone successful? But instead of Palpatine’s evil Empire, it’s a high-security vault owned by a powerful criminal organization. And instead of Danny Ocean, it’s Han Solo (who absolutely, positively, shot first).

seraphinaRachel Hartman’s Seraphina is my new favorite book of dragon fantasy. In it, dragons – an unfeeling, coldly mathematical species which can fold themselves into human shape – have shared an uneasy peace with Seraphina’s homeland of Goredd for 40 years. Prejudice and naked hatred between the two races exists everywhere, and on the eve of the peace treaty’s fortieth anniversary, tensions are running high. Add to this mix a murdered prince (whose missing head strongly suggests dragon involvement) and a smart, curious young woman with a unique ability to understand dragon culture and you have a recipe for intrigue. Seraphina is a gifted musician and the assistant to the court composer, which makes her a minor member of the royal court. Her talent is making her famous, but she has secrets to keep; preserving those secrets while at the same time investigating a royal murder and befriending the presumptive heirs (Princess Glisselda and her fiancé, the bastard Prince Lucian) puts Seraphina in a lot of tight spots. Her friends; her life; her sanity; her secrets – what will Seraphina sacrifice to protect the peace?

I have no complaints about this novel; it’s perfectly paced, gorgeously written, and well imagined, all of which shines through a multi-layered and complicated plot that never gets out of Hartman’s control. The characters are inspirational in their intelligence and bravery yet relatable in their worries and failures. There’s intrigue and mystery as well as philosophy and breathless action, and even a bit of romance. Seraphina’s romance with Lucian is wonderfully subtle and genuine – a true meeting of the minds. Hartman is so busy writing about their meaningful conversations and compatible personalities that I’m not even sure I know what Lucian looks like! Seraphina has more important things to think about than the color of his eyes.

code name verityThe less said about the plot of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, the better. “Careless talk costs lives,” say our heroines, and in a tightly plotted and breathlessly suspenseful book like this, you won’t doubt it. Verity is a prisoner of the Gestapo in occupied France, writing out her confession. Maddie, a young woman pilot, is a part of that confession. As Verity writes, she confronts and examines her beliefs and her fears.

And that’s about all I can tell you.

I am not (usually) a lover of war stories or YA novels, but this one is just too good to miss. The characters are vivid, the plotting is superb, and the immersion in wartime Europe is complete. I loved reading about women in war – active, brave, brilliant women – instead of men. It’s more than a story of torture and war and espionage: it’s about life-changing friendship, love, incredible bravery, and the difficult choices we face (whether our lives are ordinary or extraordinary). Everything about this book was refreshing, surprising, exhilarating, and beautiful (even when it was terrifying). I wanted to reread it as soon as I turned the last page!