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.

With the winter 2011 release of the penultimate fourth film, this franchise is enjoying yet another surge in popularity. Whatever your reason for bypassing this phenomenally popular quartet of books, these suggestions will point you in the right direction!

If you loved Meyer’s style (quick-reading prose for young adults with paranormal elements and pervasive-yet-tame romance) and want to read something similar, you should try

  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. In this tale, Sam is a werewolf who must return to his lupine life when the temperature drops (rather than when the moon waxes). Grace, his human lover and best friend, must find a way to deal with this intrusion of the supernatural on her typical teen life. Like Twilight, this is the first in a series.
  • Josephine Angelini’s debut novel Starcrossed spins a similarly romantic, exciting tale full of unusual and fantastic elements; in this novel, shy Helen Hamilton discovers that she has an extraordinary part to play in the modern continuation of the Greek myth of Helen of Troy. (first in a planned trilogy)
  • Marked by P.C. Cast, the first entry of a vampire series for teens that takes place in a world where vampires have always existed and train together at an elite school known as the House of Night. Zoey Redbird, a 16 year old fledgeling vampire, negotiates her new life at the school in this multi-volume series.

If you adore vampires, shapeshifters, and paranormal oddities but were left cold by Meyer’s teen-focused love story, try these titles for a steamier scare:

If your interest in vampires and supernatural forces hasn’t abated but you crave a more challenging text with a literary feel, try…

The thing about librarians is, they’re always reading about books and hearing about books and reading books. So they’re bound to know the best books. Here’s the next in our end-0f-year recap of best books.

Rita listened to her favorite book, Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. “When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer. Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans – and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.

“This recording kept my attention from beginning to end. It is the first in a trilogy and I can’t wait for the next one. The writing is excellent, her description and use of words is brilliant. This book is for anyone who enjoys good literature and fantasy”.

With the movie version of the book Eclipse due to hit theaters any day now, everyone is checking out what came before it to get pumped up for the film’s release.  After the mega-success that was her first book, Twilight, Stephenie Meyer penned its sequel, New Moon.  This book starts off with a bang:  while celebrating her 18th birthday, Bella gets a papercut, and her blood fuels an attack by Jasper.  This attack leads Edward and the rest of the Cullens to decide that it is time for them to leave Forks, and Bella cannot come with.  Bella spirals into a depression, which she is only brought out of through her blossoming friendship with Jacob Black.  Bella once again finds herself caught up in supernatural occurances that she never expected to face, including finding out that her new best friend is a werewolf and racing through an Italian city filled with celebrating vampires.  This book is a good follow-up to Twilight and contains a bit more action, though Edward fans might not enjoy his limited appearances in the novel.

Following the success of the movie version of Twilight, production was immediately started on the next film.  New Moon follows along very closely with the book, including the birthday party, Sam rescuing Bella in the forest, and and the confrontation between Bella and Laurent.  One of the biggest changes from the book is that not only does Bella hear Edward’s voice when she is doing something dangerous (as she does in the book), she also sees him.  This was no doubt done to keep Team Edward fans happy, since his character didn’t really appear in the book much.  The movie includes some very intense fight scenes, especially once Bella, Alice, and Edward reach Volterra.  The special effects have greatly improved over the first movie, likely the result of a higher budget due to the massive success of Twilight.  As in the first movie, some of the dialogue comes across a bit cheesy, but true Twilight Saga fans won’t mind.  Overall, I think that fans of the book, and even those who wish Edward had been featured in it more, would enjoy this movie adaptation.

Though the book and its companions are often found in the Young Adult section of the library, this series is not just for teens.  People of all ages are engaging in heated debates of Team Edward vs. Team Jacob, and they’re all clearly invested in who Bella ends up with at the end of the saga.  This series is guilty pleasure reading at its best, and the movies have so far stuck to what is in the books, making them a lot of fun to watch.

Some of today’s most popular movies and television series started off as books.  Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris is a mystery starring Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic barmaid from Bon Temps, Louisiana.  The story takes place after vampires have made their existence known to the world and are beginning to be accepted into mainstream society in America.  One night at work, Sookie’s dream comes true and a vampire named Bill walks into the bar.  After rescuing Bill from a couple attempting to drain his blood, Sookie and the vampire embark on a romance and Sookie learns that there are many more interesting creatures in this world than she ever knew of before.  If you like vampire novels with a splash of romance and mystery, this book is for you.  It’s an entertaining bit of light reading that will force you to leave the comfy confines of your home and race back to the library for the sequel.

Following the success of this book and its sequels, HBO adapted it into a television series.  Starring Anna Paquin as Sookie, True Blood: The Complete First Season follows the events of Dead Until Dark.  The main storyline remains the same, with Sookie and the residents of Bon Temps trying to figure out who is murdering local women.  Not everything is exactly the same as the book:  characters who are minor in the novel are given their own important storylines (with Sookie’s brother Jason becoming addicted to vampire blood), and characters who don’t appear until later novels are transplanted into this first season and are given new personalities (like Tara and her new “don’t take any you-know-what” attitude).

Personally, I enjoyed the book much more than the TV series.  While the HBO series was spot-on concerning the main events of the novel, the changes that were made from what was originally in the book didn’t seem fitting to me.  However, the casting is excellent and most of the characters are exactly as I saw them in my head while reading the book.  My only other complaint is that I am a bit squeamish, and due to the graphic nature of the show, some of the scenes were a little hard to watch.  But overall, reading the bok and watching the show are both fun escapes from reality.

But enough about what I think.  Which did YOU enjoy more:  the book, or the DVD?

May 11

Daybreakers – Willem Defoe, Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill

In the year 2019, an unknown plague has transformed the world’s population into vampires. As the human population nears extinction, so does the blood supply. Now the vampires must find a blood substitute before time runs out. Researcher Edward Dalton and a clandestine group of vampires have made a remarkable discovery, one which has the power to save the human race.

May 18

Extraordinary Measures – Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser

On the fast track and ready to taste the success of corporate America, John Crowley walks away from it all in hopes of finding a cure for two of his fatally ill children. With his wife Aileen by his side, he teams up with brilliant but unconventional scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill, and together they form a company to develop a life-saving drug. But just when it appears that a solution may be found, the relationship between the men is tested and the fate of John’s children is at stake.

Invictus – Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

Nominated for two Oscars

Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.