Graceling by Kristin Cashore


Graceling
has been out since 2008, but because the third book in the series was recently released, I thought it was high time to catch up!  And I’m glad I did; Graceling has the kind of rich, pulse-pounding fantasy adventures I love to read about.  As a bonus, it stars one of the coolest female protagonists I’ve read about in a while: Katsa.

Katsa is a Graceling, which means she has a magical talent.  But unlike other Gracelings who might be good cooks or dancers, Katsa is Graced to be a talented killer.  She hates her Grace and longs for the freedom to be something other than a hired thug, which is the only job she’s ever had.  When she meets Po, a Graced fighter who has a very different view of Katsa’s potential, she begins to realize she has the freedom to help people instead of hurt them.  It’s good timing, because she and Po soon uncover a truly scary conspiracy, and only two people with Graces like theirs have a chance at stopping it.

If you’re a fan of Katniss from The Hunger Games or of any of Tamora Pierce’s books, you’ll love Katsa.  And if you’ve gotta have some romance with your fantasy, well, there’s a little of that too.  A great summer read (Katsa’s trek through the snowy mountains will make you feel freezing cold!) and a great overall fantasy adventure.

—Emily

Graceling by Kristen Cashore; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 9.99; Ages 14+

NPR’s List of 100 Best Teen Novels is Out!

NPR Books is known for their “Top 100” lists, which tally votes (from listeners like you!) for the most beloved titles in a given category. This summer, it’s all about the young adult books—click here to check out the list of the 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels!

We were stoked to see a lot of our favorites on the list, including a few we’ve raved about on this very blog:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Scholastic

Megan says: Collins’ characters are incredibly compelling, and she knows how to layer on the action like nobody’s business. If you haven’t read these yet, DO IT NOW. You won’t regret the decision. Just be warned that you may not be able to sleep until you’ve torn through all three novels.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; Dutton Books (Penguin)

Amanda says: Hazel and Augustus meet in the most unusual place — a cancer support group. Though the setting alone may lead a reader to believe the story will be heavy and depressing, it’s anything but. Filled with sarcasm and hysterical wit, you’ll be both laughing and crying through the entire book. Sometimes both at the same time!

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen; Speak (Penguin)

Maryam says: Auden is a serious student who as a kid did not have time for riding a bike because she was too busy studying and sitting in on literary discussions at the dinner table. Due to her parents’ constant arguing when she was a child, she learned to stay up all night, which only gave her more time to study.  Now,  the summer before she starts college, she goes to visit her father, step-mother, and newborn step-sister, and her entire life turns around.  In her late night wanderings she meets Eli, who helps her on her “quest” (as he phrases it) to do everything she missed out on as a kid.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; St. Martin’s (Macmillan)

Megan says: Set in the 1930s, when England, like [protagonist] Cassandra, was teetering on the brink of the modern age, this is one of the most satisfying titles I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Cassandra’s narration is frank, witty, and utterly hilarious. This is one of those books you’ll want to read over and over. Cracking open that cover is like seeing an old friend!

If I Stay by Gayle Forman; Speak (Penguin)

Megan says: The gentle, unassuming writing style of If I Stay lends itself beautifully to the telling of this haunting and hopeful story. As author Gayle Forman weaves together past and present narratives, she creates a lovely, memorable tale that will thoroughly engage teen readers.

Chaos Walking Series by Patrick Ness; Candlewick (Random House)

Maryam says: Todd is a boy who has grown-up his whole life in New World (think of Earth 2.0). To the settlers’ surprise, when they landed on New World, they could suddenly hear everyone’s thoughts, nothing is secret. When Todd is told that he needs to leave his town before his next birthday, trouble arises; after all, how can you keep thoughts secret when everyone can hear them?

This is a mere sampling of the books on NPR’s list that we absolutely love! Drop by the store to check out more of the 100 Best Teen Novels!

Any books you think should have been included on the 100 Best list? Post a comment! You can also see the full list of 235 finalists here.

Attention Grownups: Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Grownups, this one’s for you. Throw it in your beach bag and thank me later.

I don’t need to waste a lot of time spouting Arcadia‘s praises. For that, read this glowing piece  in the New York Times or this starred review in Publisher’s Weekly or Ron Charles’ review in the Washington Post. The book world clearly loves this novel. And I do, too.

Told in three parts, this is the story of one man. Nicknamed Bit, he is raised in a hippie commune in upstate New York (the titular Arcadia). Lauren Groff’s tale is rich, detailed, atmospheric, and engrossing. Her landscapes spring brilliantly to life, and Bit’s story avoids the “flower child” cliches that it so easily could have embraced.

This is one of those reads that will take over your brain. The beauty, scope, pain, and confusion of Arcadia are vividly rendered, and it will take some time to tear yourself away. Believe me, you won’t want to.

Arcadia is the perfect intelligent, emotionally relevant pick for the savvy summer reader. It’ll make a great book club pick for the fall, too.

Read on!

Megan

Arcadia by Lauren Groff; Voice/Hyperion (Simon & Schuster); 25.99; Ages 16-adult 

Dragons Are Cool Again: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I never got on the Eragon train. All the best to Mr. Paolini, but I just wasn’t interested in dragon fantasy and there were other things to read, so I moved on, and missed most of the recent dragon craze.

I picked up Seraphina because the positive buzz on the interwebs was almost deafening. I gave in to peer pressure. And, possibly for the first time ever, that ended up being a very good thing.

I usually hesitate to assign the title “best” to any particular book, because reading is so subjective. As we’ve established, I like some books better than others, but elevating just one above all the rest seems impossible and unfair. So I won’t say that Seraphina is the best book of the summer. But it’s probably my favorite.

Enough with the wishy washy attitude. It’s my favorite.

As decreed by treaty, dragons are permitted to live and work alongside humans in the kingdom of Goredd, provided they assume a human shape. In theory, there is peace between the races. In reality, prejudice and anti-dragon sentiments are rising, inspired by the recent mysterious murder of a member of the royal family, a murder that is rumored to have been committed by a dragon. Into this tenuous situation enters Seraphina Dombegh, hired as assistant to the head court musician. Seraphina is no ordinary girl with a talent for music–she is also half dragon, a horrible secret she must protect at all costs. Drawn into the court’s investigation by Lucian Kiggs, captain of the guard, Seraphina finds her stamina for concealment challenged almost beyond what she can bear.

But as the drama and intrigue swirls around her, Seraphina is surprised to learn that she may not be alone. There are others like her, halfbreeds with various skills and gifts who just might be able to help. Gradually, Seraphina begins to come to terms with who she is, and, strange as it seems, begins to wonder if perhaps her dragon ancestry is something to be proud of. Perhaps what she has striven to hide is in fact the key to bringing peace once and for all.

Rachel Hartman’s world building in this novel is simply fantastic. I loved the little historical and societal tidbits that she dropped casually along the way, never overloading me with information, but giving me enough to imagine clearly the landscape she was creating. Goredd is the perfect blend of the recognizable and the strange. And the characters are compelling, sympathetic, and layered. There’s plenty to discover here! Hang on for some awesome twists and turns, too. A spectacularly fun read!

P.S. Hey, Game of Thrones fans! This book is for you. Read it and make the season three wait more bearable.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman; Random House; 17.99; Ages 14+

Miss Megan’s Favorite Summer Reads

There are some books that are just better during the summer. They’re good all the time really, but they’re all the more memorable if you’re reading them on the beach with an ice cold lemonade in your hand.

These are my favorite books for summer, as synonymous with the season as the smell of sunblock or the taste of watermelon. (Yum!)

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall; Yearling Books (Random House); 6.99; Ages 8-12

Four sisters spend the summer on a grand estate and have all sorts of adventures! There’s plenty to discover and plenty of mischief to get into, especially when there’s a boy next door who’s ready to play and a rambunctious dog frolicking about. I like to compare this delightful read to a modernized version of Little Women with younger characters. It’s got that kind of winning, classic feel that’s impossible to resist! And, with four sisters, there’s sure to be a heroine for every reader to identify with. Indiebound says: “Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day.”

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker; Balzer & Bray/Harperteen (HarperCollins); 15.99; Ages 9-12

When unexpected events leave Stella and Angel alone for the summer in a house on Cape Cod, the girls must work together to stay afloat. As the summer progresses, they make surprising discoveries about themselves and each other. At the end of the day, this is a novel about family, the family we are born into and the family we choose. I love Gary Schmidt’s (Okay for Nowdescription: “Beneath the comedy and the suspense and the horror and the wit of this remarkable read lies the deepest secret of all: that we can learn to love each other.” Read my full review here.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han; Simon & Schuster; 9.99; Ages 12+

You’ve gotta love a heroine with a quirky nickname. Our central character in this charming novel is Isabel, but she’s known as Belly. See? You want to read it already, don’t you? Every summer is the same for Belly, spending the season with her family and best-friends-who-are-boys in their beach house. But this year is different. This year, Belly isn’t a little girl anymore. This summer, as the title hints, Belly has turned pretty. You may think you know what happens next, but you’d be surprised by the poignant twists Han gives this coming of age novel. And, lucky for you, there are two more books in the series: It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have SummerThis is a great adult/teen crossover book for the beach this year!

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder; Razorbill (Penguin); 17.99; Ages 14+

This book is seriously good. Seriously well written, seriously hilarious, seriously awesome. I laughed out loud more times than I could count. And, yes, the main protagonist has cancer. Don’t run away! Debut novelist Wendy Wunder has created a wondrously creative, hilarious, and ultimately satisfying read that will keep you glued to the very last page. Heartfelt without being sappy, sarcastic without being rude, Wunder’s characters are brimming with energy and warmth. This is most emphatically not a book about cancer–instead, it’s a book about family, first love, baby flamingoes, Polynesian dancers, and the small miracles of everyday life. I loved every moment. Read it read it read it!

BONUS PICK FOR GROWNUPS: Pure by Julianna Baggott; Grand Central Publishing (Hachette); 25.99; Ages 14+

I’m sort of cheating with this one. It doesn’t take place during the summer. At least, Julianna Baggott never indicates that. But it’s made of pure awesome. And isn’t that what you want to read in your hours and hours of summer leisure time? I know I do. Give me fantastic dystopian world building (check), non-stop action (check), multiple perspectives to keep me interested (check), and some shocking twists and turns (check, check). And while you’re at it, make sure this dystopian world is super creepy and weird and unsettling. In a good way. I dare you to put this book down without finishing it. Give yourself some uninterrupted time, because you’ll want to tear from cover to cover in one sitting!

Come by the store anytime and ask our other booksellers for their favorite picks for summer. If there’s anything we love doing, it’s matching people up with the perfect book!

The Curse Workers series by Holly Black

  

Holly Black is best known for her delightful middle-grade fantasy series The Spiderwick Chroniclesbut here she departs big time from her adventure-quest style for the dark world of The Curse Workersa teen series where magic is dangerous and nobody can be trusted.

The three books, White Cat, Red Glove, and the recently released Black Heart, are set in an alternate America where a small percentage of the population has the ability to change other people’s emotions, memories, or luck just by touching them.  “Curse working,” as it’s called, is illegal, so almost everyone who has it is somehow involved in the criminal underworld.  Cassel Sharpe is the only normal person in a family of curse workers, and he’d like to keep it that way.  But like any curse worker family, his has secrets, and soon his family’s secrets threaten to drag him down into the world of crime.

Cassel’s quest to unravel the conspiracy around him is gritty and thrilling, full of noir mystery and morally gray characters that keep you guessing.  Cassel also narrates in a very believable guy voice, a rarity in today’s field of mainly female-targeted teen novels.  I got so wrapped up in the unfolding plot, and Cassel’s struggle to be a “good guy” in a bad environment, that I finished the whole series in about two weeks.  I bet you will too!

The Curse Workers series by Holly Black: White Cat, 8.99; Red Glove, 8.99; Black Heart, 17.99; Margaret K. McElderry Books; Ages 14+

New in Paperback: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this remarkable novel until now. It’s absolutely brilliant. Along with Breadcrumbs and A Monster Calls, it was one of my favorite books of 2011—and now one of my favorite books of all time! Everyone else here at HFB seems to agree, because it made our Newbery shortlist in January.

Here’s a big statement: everyone should read this book. Everyone. Even adults. Especially adults.

When a young, plucky girl named September is spirited away from her home in Omaha by the jovial Green Wind, she’s in for the adventure of a lifetime. Drawn into Fairyland, September is confronted with an epic quest: to unseat the cruel Marquess, the childlike tyrant who holds Fairyland in her tight grasp. Joined by A-Through-L, a library-oriented dragon, and Saturday, a quiet, loyal Marid child, September attempts to right the wrongs done in the kingdom.

Catherynne M. Valente’s imagination is magnificent, and her storytelling is breathtaking. September’s tale is given such incredible depth that it belongs in the hands of readers of all ages. This is a tale about growing up, becoming brave, and embracing the truth, even if it’s dangerous. This is a tale about friendship, creativity, and sacrifice. Anyone who has loved the rich, dark, classic works by greats like C.S. Lewis, J.M. Barrie, or Lewis Carroll will be utterly entranced by The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland.

I obviously can’t recommend this book enough! Read it immediately. (Pretty please with a cherry on top.)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, illus. by Ana Juan; Square Fish (Macmillan); 6.99; Ages 10-adult