Margo Lanagan is an artist, and Tender Morsels is a potent story, rich in magic and full of feeling. Liga, with a babe in arms and another on the way – both forced on her in the most unpleasant ways you care to imagine – is rescued from her miserable life by an elemental creature, removed to her Heart’s Desire: her personal heaven, a world that narrowly overlaps her real pre-industrial, vaguely-historical, sort-of-European one. The boundary is firm for a while and Liga raises her daughters in peace and safety, but eventually people start poking their way through – in both directions. What follows is a meditative, surprising, totally unique tale of self discovery, familial and romantic love, magic, fear, and growing up. It’s slow paced and knotted with complex, beautiful language. It’s brilliant and mature and devastating, but uplifting at the same time. Tender Morsels is based on the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. It fills in the bones of that story, adding motivation to the characters and a reason to the movements of the plot, which always bends to fit the whims of the magic, and never the other way around.

 “You are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart.”

This book isn’t for everyone: the plot hinges on violence and sexual abuse, so those who are uncomfortable with those topics will be unhappy with this book. It’s written for a teenage audience, but the complexity of the writing and some mature content mean that it’s better suited for older teens or adults who read YA.

Some more novels based on fairy tales:

I can’t believe I’m about to recommend a horror movie. This feels weird. But The Cabin in the Woods is the kind of movie that creates a lot of confusing emotions, and I bet that’s the kind of praise that producer and co-writer Joss Whedon would hope for. Five college kids enjoy a road trip to an isolated mountaintop cabin, complete with a peaceful lake, sinister locals, and a cellar full to bursting with creepy memorabilia. If it sounds too much like a stereotypical slasher, that’s because it is: this cabin is being controlled remotely by a full staff of suited, vaguely government-looking people who are manipulating the kids’ behavior the way the Gamemakers manipulated The Hunger Games (Push the red button for more fire, pull the green handle to unleash monsters, that kind of thing).

This film was shot in 2009 – well before the success of Thor and The Avengers made Chris Hemsworth bigger than his small but hilarious role as the not-so-stereotypical jock – but it wasn’t released until 2012. If you’ve remained unspoiled since then, somehow, I won’t ruin your fun in watching this movie unspoiled. But I will say: it’s darned surprising. Every time you think you have this film figured out, you find out it goes just a little bit further, and gets a little bit better, than you’d imagined. But this recommendation comes with a warning: The Cabin in the Woods is funny, and smart, and satirical, and downright fun, but the fun of lampooning horror movies can’t be had without actually showing a horror movie, so there are lots of seriously graphic scenes here – definitely stay away if you can’t handle on-screen violence. But if you can, and if you’ve ever wondered: “why?! Why on earth do people like these dumb slasher flicks? What are we, as a society, and as an artistic culture, getting out of it?!” here’s a well-made movie that will offer some interesting answers.

Luke Pearson’s Hilda graphic novel series is whimsical, funny, and excruciatingly charming.  Hilda is a blue haired girl living in a magical world filled with trolls, invisible tiny people, exotic birds, flying giant cats, and a lonely wooden man.  Hilda is a kind, thoughtful person, and her character develops nicely throughout the series. Although created for children, this series is a delight for all ages.

hildafolkHildafolk is the first and the shortest book in the series.  This quick introduction to our curious heroine takes the reader on an adventure through (what Pearson calls) the Scandinavian wilderness (with a large dose of magic).  Hilda camps in the rain, draws some interesting rock formations, and has a run-in with a troll.

Hildafolk is followed by the remarkable Hilda and the Midnight Giant.  In this hildamidnightsequel, Hilda begins finding tiny letters demanding that she and her mother move away.  Isolated in the countryside, Hilda cannot figure out who would be demanding that they move (particularly in such a tiny fashion.)  As Hilda solves the mystery, a beautiful hidden world is revealed and Hilda and her mother must decide if they should stay in their beloved home and risk stepping on their neighbors, or moving on to start a new life in the city.

hildabirdHilda and the Bird Parade takes place (spoiler!following their move to the city, where Hilda is trying to learn to fit in.  Used to being able to roam the countryside free of supervision, Hilda and her mother are both trying to navigate city the new dangers and lifestyle changes brought on by city life.  When Hilda befriends a talking raven, she has an adventure that shows her that her new home could be just as exciting and beautiful as the one that she left behind.

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 :)

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

aladyneverlies

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)

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.

Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s co-authored epistolary novel has a very long title: Sorcery and Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: being the correspondence of two young ladies of quality regarding various magical scandals in London and the country. Please don’t judge it by this wordy title or by its tragically hideous cover. It’s great!

It’s Regency England, magic is real, and cousins Cecelia (Cecy) and Kate correspond over the course of a summer, unraveling alone and together the mystery surrounding the titular enchanted chocolate pot and the “Mysterious Marquis.” The action is very exciting, the letters brisk and forthcoming, the characters sympathetic, the romance delightful, the magic subtle and delectably menacing. It’s a delight – the only complaint I can offer to temper my enthusiasm is that Cecy and Kate are virtually indistinguishable. I cannot recall a single difference between them, whether in temperament, opinion, age, physical appearance, or letter-writing style. The only difference between them is that Kate is in London and Cecy in the country; or did I switch that around? I’ll have to look back at the letters to check.

By sheer good luck, my reading of this novel overlapped with my listening to the also epistolary, also long-titled, also co-authored, and also excellent The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This was an enormous hit with book clubs a couple of years ago, but if you missed out on it then, treat your ears to this audiobook right away! It has become my standard audio fiction recommendation, even surpassing At Home and Twenties Girl. Juliet Ashton corresponds with and befriends the people of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel which was occupied for 5 years by the Germans during World War II. Each character’s letters are read by a different voice actor, and the result is entirely winning. It’s a lovely book read by lovely people, and it’s about resilience and friendship and bravery and the love of books. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, the librarians who write for this blog LOVE A Song of Ice and Fire. We really can’t seem to stop writing about it. If you do too, these two brand new items are definitely worth a look:

Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones by Bryan Cogman: an in-depth look at the HBO series, with material from both the first and second season. Interviews of the cast, behind the scenes photography, stills from the show, family trees, interviews with production designers and costume designers and conceptual artists: everything you could really want. If you’ve combed the extra material on the DVD sets, most of this isn’t new, but it’s gorgeous anyway.

 

The Lands of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin: This brand new non-book is more than it appears: it’s a set of twelve full-color poster sized maps folded up and packaged in book shape. But when you unfold them, it’s a fantasy reader’s dream! Detailed, beautiful maps with tons of new information: before now, the exact parameters and proportions of Martin’s vast imagined world were not exactly defined. But now, NOW we finally know where the Dothraki sea sits in relation to the Red Waste; where the Shadow Lands and Asshai are; the layout of the canals of Braavos; and oh, behold the new details of the smoking ruins of Valyria!! It’s glorious, but a warning: if you are a show-watcher and not a book-reader, there are spoilers inside!

(And in case you’re just starting out, you can find the novels at many Rivershare libraries.)

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman is the first in a trilogy of fantasy novels, but don’t worry: since they’re written for a YA/mature child audience, it’s not nearly the kind of time commitment that most fantasy series are. The first novel follows Lyra Belacqua, a precocious 12 year old girl who lives in a universe parallel to our own: in her world, each human is accompanied at all times by an animal daemon – a physical manifestation of their soul and a lifelong companion. For children like Lyra, the form of the daemon is in flux, taking the shapes of different animals depending on the person’s mood or circumstances. Lyra is a wonderful fantasy heroine: she’s tough and smart and relatable, and her journey isn’t just an adventure but a moving tale of growing up. She sets out to rescue a friend who’s been kidnapped by the mysterious, possibly malevolent Magisterium; on the way, she meets gypsies and witches and powerful Magisterium officials, and learns how to use a device called an Alethiometer that can answer any question with absolute truth.

The next two novels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, follow Lyra’s further journey to fulfill her destiny. The trilogy has been banned or challenged on the grounds of Political Viewpoint, Religious Viewpoint, and Violence. To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.

If you adore Harry Potter, do yourself a favor and check out Harry Potter: Page to Screen, the Complete Filmmaking Journey. It’s a big, heavy, hardcover behemoth absolutely stuffed with photographs and text from all 8 Harry Potter films. Interviews with the cast and crew give insider information, and viewpoints from the set designers, costume designers, directors and actors show how meticulously the details of these movies were planned. From the small things – Hermione doesn’t wear red or green, as “those are Ron colors,” the story behind Harry’s blue eyes (a controversial change from the books’ oft-referenced bottle green), and the talon design of Bellatrix’s wand – to the big things: hours of makeup for dozens of actors cast as goblins; the complex design of the set for Snape’s final scene; the massive miniatures built to stand in for Hogwarts castle, and the equally massive undertaking of covering those miniatures with “snow” for the winter scenes (and then meticulously brushing and cleaning that “snow” away before the salt it was made of could corrode the material beneath).

Whether you’re into the boy wizard or just into movie magic, you’ll adore this book. It inspired me to re-read the novels and re-watch the movies, which of course launched a relapse of full-on Potter mania at my house! These are some of the other library items I’ve been checking out: