Saturday, April 24, 2010

Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier

Reason Cansino, so named by her mother who wanted her life to be governed by nothing but logic, has grown up constantly moving around the Australian bush.  Her mother ran away from home when she was 12 because, as she tells Reason, her mother is a terrible, evil person who "thinks" she is a witch.  Unfortunately for Reason's mother, the book opens with her being committed to a mental hospital, and Reason being placed in the custody of her grandmother, Esmeralda.

Reason's fear and distrust of her grandmother is surprising to her new neighbor, Tom, who thinks that Esmeralda is the greatest person ever-- and small wonder, because she's been teaching him magic.  But despite their diverging views on Esmeralda, the two teens find common ground when Tom reveals that his mother is in the mental hospital too.  Reason puts her plans to run away on hold while Tom teaches Reason more about her family history and the secrets of her grandmother's house.  Namely, the back door's portal to New York City...

The first in a trilogy, Magic or Madness is a new and unique take on how magic works, while also serving as a backdrop to the many culture clashes that occur in the story.  The title refers to how in this world, something as powerful as magic takes its toll on the human mind-- an amazing idea that almost never gets explored in witchy fiction (yes, we all love karma and the Law of Three, but not all consequences are external!)  I loved the way Larbalestier described Reason's upbringing from her own perspective-- as if there was nothing unusual about moving around every few months, not always knowing where you are going or where your next meal is coming from.  Likewise, she presents very nuanced points of view between the different "factions" of characters: New Yorkers vs. Aussies, the pro-magic Tom and Jay-Tee vs. the anti-magic Reason-- even touching upon the subtle and not-so-subtle racism the half-Aborigine Reason faces in both countries.

This is the first book I've read (that I can remember) that presents magic as more of a problem than a power, and by the end you'll hope that they can find a way to get rid of their powers without losing their minds.  I have every intention of reading the rest of this trilogy and strongly recommend it!

If you're not convinced you can read the first two chapters on Larbalestier's website!


Friday, April 23, 2010

Balefire news!

I mentioned in my Balefire review a few weeks ago that the series will be collected in an omnibus edition around Decemberish.  Well, today Cate Tiernan posted the new cover of the bind-up on her blog:

I love it, though I would like the series title to be a bit bigger.  I can't wait for this to come out.  Even though I already have the individual books, I'm a sucker for big fat books, so I'll probably get this too.

(If I had to name who was who, I'd guess that Thais is the one on top and Clio's on the bottom--it's the look of innocence vs. experience.)

Still no Amazon listing or anything on the Penguin website yet.  I'll keep you posted.

Write Books! Win Books!

Exciting news today from two witchy novelists!

First up, Laurie Faria Stolarz, author of the The Blue is for Nightmares Series will be teaching three writing workshops for teens in Massachusetts this spring and summer.  The first one is this Saturday in Salem (appropriately enough) for $75.  I know, it's such late notice, but do not despair!  For she will be in Marblehead in July, offering a 4-day writing workshop on the 13th, 15th, 20th, and 22nd, with an afternoon session for 9-12 year olds from 4-5:45pm, and an evening session for 13+ from 5-7:45pm.  See the Books Make Great Lovers blog for more details.

Secondly, the latest book in the Seer series is coming out in October (the first book, Don't Die, Dragonfly is on deck to be reviewed here soon!) and author Linda Joy Singleton is having a contest!  You can win a full set of the first five Seer books, plus a complete set of her Dead Girl trilogy.  Also, if you're a YA or MG writer, she will critique the first chapter of your book!  Check out her blog for the full details of how to enter.

And finally, for those on the West Coast, you get your own really short notice alert-- Nancy Holder, co-author of the Wicked series, is appearing at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend.  Admission is free, and her schedule is on her blog.

(Isn't it reassuring to know that this isn't turning into a full on comic book blog? ^_^)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Comics News out of C2E2

This weekend was the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Experience (aka C2E2), and some witchy stuff came out  of there.

First up, the return of the Scarlet Witch!  She's been an Avenger and an X-Man, and she's the most famous Super-Witch of all time!  But she's been out of the picture for a few years, and many fans have been wondering when she would be coming back.  At C2E2, Marvel writer Allen Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung announced that she will be returning in July in the pages of their miniseries, Children's Crusade.  The mini will be a follow up to their 2005 series Young Avengers, about a team of teen superheroes, whose own Super-Witch, Billy Kaplan (a.k.a. Wiccan) has a mysterious connection to the Scarlet Witch.  I'm planning Super-Witch Profiles for both of them which will be posted before the mini starts.

Secondly, not really news, but writer/artist Terry Moore, who recently finished a stint on Runaways, posted a sketch of Super-Witch Nico Minoru that he did for a fan at the show.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Tasmin Greene was supposed to be the most powerful witch in the history of her family.  Supposed to be.  But when her powers fail to manifest at the right age, she withdraws from her family and tries to live as normal a life as possible, going to boarding school in New York City and dodging questions about her home life.

Until the day that Alistair arrives at her family's New Age shop and confuses her for her sister, whose power is to find anything.  He asks Tasmin to find an old family heirloom--a clock--that has been missing for over 100 years.  She takes the job, determined to prove to her family that she doesn't need her own powers to do what they do.  Ultimate relying on her childhood friend Gabriel's Finding powers, they travel back in time to the clock's last known location--and then things get weird.  Alistair may not be as he appears, and Tasmin may not be as powerless as she thought...

Once a Witch is a phenomenal book.  Tasmin's alienation from her family is eminently relatable, even for those of us from non-magical families.  It manifests itself in all-too-human minor rebellions--from flagrant smoking, to sneaking into clubs with her fake ID to her crush on an older man.  Her relationship with Gabriel is sweet but cautious, both because of their years of seperation and because of her self-consciousness at her lack of Talent.  And as her destiny unfolds, the magic crackles, leaving you begging for the sequel (Always a Witch, due next spring!)

You can read a PDF of the first chapter on Amazon.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Balefire Series by Cate Tiernan

I'm reviewing the Balefire series as a whole because, while it is currently out of print, it will soon be reprinted in one volume some time around the holidays.  However, I'll try not to give too much away in case you want to hunt down the original volumes (A Chalice of WindA Circle of AshesA Feather of Stone, and A Necklace of Water).

Clio Martin and Thais Allard are twins, separated at birth by their grandmother, Petra, to protect them from the questionable machinations of people within her own coven.  Thais goes with her father to live in Connecticut, while Clio remains with Petra in New Orleans.  But when they are 16, their father is killed in a mysterious accident, and Thais finds herself in the hands of strangers in a city she never thought she had any connection to.  Running into their twin the first day of school is the least of the surprises the girls face as they both discover their family's true history, one that goes back further than either of them ever imagined.

It is a mystery that these books ever fell out of print, and it is a blessing that they will be brought back.  Clio and Thais's world is vividly drawn.  Tiernan's New Orleans is a character in itself, emanating from the page.  The Balefire coven is filled with rich, complex characters, from the duplicitous Luc-Andre, the penitent Marcel, the haughty Axelle, the wise Petra, and the fiery Richard.  The system of magic in this series is so organic to the world and very believable.

One complaint is the somewhat rushed ending -- Tiernan had planned a 15 book series, but low sales required it to end at four.  However, she has tweeted her intentions to smooth it out for the reprint.  Also, it switches perspective between Clio and Thais every other chapter, which I don't mind, but I know that annoys some people.  Overall:


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Circle of Three: So Mote It Be by Isobel Bird

Kate Morgan, a 16-year-old, popular basketball player, is assigned a term paper on the witch trials of the 17th century.  Amongst the pile of books she checks out of the library, she finds an actual spellbook.  Skeptical at first, she decides to try a love spell to attract the football-playing senior of her dreams.  When the spell goes haywire -- earning her the attentions of every guy in school and the ire of all their girlfriends -- she begins wishing that magic wasn't real after all.

Out of desperation, she discovers who checked out the spellbook before her, revealing two unlikely allies -- science whiz Annie Crandall and punk rocker Cooper Rivers.  As they work together to undo Kate's spell, Kate finds herself questioning everything about her world and is faced with a choice -- to leave magic behind completely, or to pursue this new path and see where it leads.

This book is a solid introduction to a wonderful series.  Admittedly, on its own it has its flaws -- a lot of the secondary characters feel like stereotypical "high school students".  However, the injection of Wicca and magic spices it up enough to keep the reader interested.  By the end of the book, we se all three girls make small but cruicial steps towards growth and self-discovery that make the rest of the series worth reading.

Circle of Three is unique in that it's probably the most realistic series we'll review here.  Isobel Bird wrote the books specifically to show the real world of Wicca.  And while some of the books dip into the more explicitly supernatural (book 3 Second Sight, book 5 In the Dreaming, book 11 The House of Winter), it basically takes place wholly in the real world and showcases actual Wiccan practices.

Sadly, the series is out of print.  However, the fansite Enter The Circle has a good rundown of all of your purchase options on their "Buy the Books" page.  And you can read an excerpt on the HarperCollins website.

Book 1:    Series:    
Web Statistics