Category: Mythology

Norse Mythology

Cover image for Norse Mythology by Neil Gaimanby Neil Gaiman

ISBN 978-0-393-60909-7

“There were things Thor did when something went wrong. The first thing he did was ask himself if what had happened was Loki’s fault. Thor pondered. He did not believe that even Loki would have dared to steal his hammer. So he did the next thing he did when something went wrong, and went to ask Loki for advice.”

In the beginning, there was nothing but the mist world and the fire world. From these came Ymir, a giant both male and female, the first of all beings. Ymir was slain by Odin, called the all-father, for Odin both created the gods that you will read about here, and breathed life into the first humans. In these pages, Thor will acquire his famous hammer, the mighty Mjollnir. Loki will get his fellow gods into and out of trouble countless times, until he finally plays the trick that will lose him their trust once and for all. Witness the creation of the great walls of Asgard, the genesis of the gift of poetry, and the source of the gods’ immortality, as retold by Neil Gaiman.

Norse Mythology begins with a brief introduction chronicling Gaiman’s fascination with the Norse myths that have been carried down through the centuries. This section lasts only about six pages, and I would have been interested in further reflections on the place of Norse myths in our contemporary world, and how we relate to them today. Given the role these myths have played in Gaiman’s own works, he seems ideally suited to ponder the topic at greater length than the introduction affords. In this introduction, Gaiman identifies Ragnarok—the final battle—as a crucial element in his fascination; the Norse myths felt cyclical and alive thanks to this tradition of death and rebirth, and the inevitable end of all things, even the gods. Gaiman also briefly points out Norse gods whose names we know, but whose stories we do not have, because they were not recorded or passed down, before getting down to actually retelling the stories that are recorded.

Gaiman arranges the stories in a sequence that begins with the genesis of the nine worlds, proceeds through the creation of humanity, and finishes (or begins again) with Ragnarok, the “final destiny of the gods.” This arrangement speaks to the tantalizing cyclical nature of Norse mythology that Gaiman points to in the introduction as having so thoroughly captured his imagination as a child. The stories start out short, more informative than immersive, laying the necessary groundwork for understanding the mythos. Then Gaiman digs more heartily into the body of the work, obviously delighting in tales such as “The Mead of the Poets” and “The Last Days of Loki.” The tone ranges from humourous to epic, though much of the dialogue can be curiously modern throughout.

Most of the stories in the book are about Odin, Thor, and Loki, though other gods feature as well. My favourite of these was Kvasir, even if his role in the narrative is rather gruesome. As Gaiman points out in the introduction, there are many stories we don’t have, and gods who are remembered by name alone, their deeds and powers mostly forgotten. But Gaiman works well with what remains, particularly with the relationship between Loki and the other Asgardians. Gaiman mines the strange reliance and concurrent mistrust of this clever figure who was adopted among the Aesir. This relationship is particularly evident in “Freya’s Unusual Wedding,” in which Loki is charged with helping Thor retrieve his stolen hammer. Before going to Loki to seek help, Thor must first ask himself if Loki was responsible for the theft.

It is interesting to see in these tales similarities and connections to other mythologies and religious systems. Odin hangs from the world tree, his side pierced by a spear, not unlike Christ on the cross. There are three Norns, sisters very similar to the Fates of Greek mythology. The first man and woman are called Ask and Embla, not unlike the Christian Adam and Eve, though the Norse versions are created from wood rather than clay. The connections run deep and wide as the different traditions echo in surprising ways. Of course, as Gaiman points out in the introduction, the Norse myths that have come down to us were recorded after the coming of the Christianity, and it can be difficult to trace what was the root, and what was added later through comingling.

Norse Mythology includes an eight page glossary, which is helpful if you are reading the stories over a period time, because minor characters or artefacts reappear later, often with greater significance. I got quite confused at one point over whether Vali was the son of Odin or the son of Loki, but as the glossary so helpfully points out, there are actually two Valis. Many of the stories Gaiman chooses to retell here are in some way significant to the coming of Ragnarok, which is the final tale in the book, so the glossary is especially welcome as you reach that final convergence.

What begins with a patient laying of groundwork for the Norse mythos builds into epic levels of tension and mistrust as Ragnarok approaches. The gods in Gaiman’s hands are both powerful heroes and petty grudge-holders, sometimes magnanimous, but often untrustworthy. It is a retelling that feels at once fresh and accurate.

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You might also like Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

Odd and the Frost Giants

Cover image for Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Chris Riddellby Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Chris Riddell

ISBN 978-0-06-256795-6

“Nobody knew what Odd was feeling on the inside. Nobody knew what he thought. And in a village on the banks of a fjord, where everybody knew everybody’s business, that was infuriating.”

When Odd’s father dies while off raiding with the other Vikings, his mother eventually remarries. Feeling unwelcome in their new family, Odd decides to go live in his father’s old woodcutting lodge in the woods, even though it has been an unusually long and cold winter. It is in the woods that he meets a bear, a fox, and an eagle, but these are no ordinary animals. In fact, they claim to be the gods Thor, Loki, and Odin, banished from Asgard by a frost giant. So Odd sets out to help the gods reclaim Asgard, and bring spring back to the human realm of Midgard.

Originally published in 2008 for World Book Day in the UK, this is a newly illustrated edition of Neil Gaiman’s story. This new version imitates the style and design of Chris Riddell and Gaiman’s 2014 collaboration The Sleeper and the Spindle, though Odd and the Frost Giants is a little less opulent. It lacks the semi-translucent slip cover, and the silver highlights used here provide a less striking contrast than the gold used in The Sleeper and the Spindle. However, the silver does give an appropriately cool feel to this wintery tale. Riddell’s highly detailed line art remains consistently excellent.

It might stretch credulity that a human boy is called on to solve a problem that has stumped three Norse gods. But Gaimain has an interesting take on the gods; as immortals their natures are fixed, their personalities immutable. The frost giants have exploited those weaknesses to seize Asgard.  As a mortal, Odd is not just clever—Loki, obviously, is plenty clever—but he is also able to learn, change, and adapt, enabling him to tackle a problem that has stumped the immortals. He makes for an endearing protagonist, both resourceful and determined.

Early in the story, Odd injures his leg trying to cut wood after his father dies. He ends up with a limp and uses a crutch, but still strives to maintain his independence, especially since his new family can be cruel, calling him a cripple and an idiot.  A common trope in fantasy fiction featuring characters with disabilities is for them to be magically cured as result of their heroic deeds. A partial version of that takes place here, when Odd is rewarded by the goddess Freya. She heals his leg as best she can, taking away his pain, though he still ends the story with a limp, a cane, and one leg that will never be as strong as the other. Feelings about whether this is good disability representation could go either way.

The story here remains unchanged from the original, making this a beautiful new edition of a fun children’s adventure into Norse myth. And it will no doubt help whet the appetite of fans who are excited for Gaiman’s Norse Mythology collection, due out in February 2017.

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More by Neil Gaiman:

Cover Image for The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Fortunately, the Milk 

The Wrath and the Dawn

Cover image for The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdiehby Renée Ahdieh

ISBN 978039917161

“I will live to see tomorrow’s sunset. Make no mistake. I swear I will live to see as many sunsets as it takes. And I will kill you. With my own hands.”

Shiva was just one of many young girls who wed the Caliph of Khorasan, only to be executed at dawn the following morning, without explanation or apology. But her best friend, Shahrzad is determined that she will be the last. So Shahrzad volunteers to be the Caliph’s next bride, vowing to stay alive for as many nights as it takes to figure out how to kill him and liberate Khorasan. Using her skills as a cunning storyteller, Shahrzad baits Khalid’s curiousity to buy herself time as she struggles to unlock the inner workings of the palace. Expecting a fearsome monster capable of murdering her best friend, Shahrzad is unsettled when instead she encounters a tormented young man who pays too much heed to his uncle and advisor, the Shahrban. Khalid does not seem to want to execute her, and yet also seems to believe that he must, for reasons he steadfastly refuses to disclose. Meanwhile, unaware of what is transpiring inside the palace walls, Shahrzad’s father, Jahandar, and her childhood sweetheart, Tariq, attempt to rally a force to overthrow the Caliph before he inevitably has Shahrzad executed.

Shahrzad goes to the palace determined to put an end to the Caliph’s reign of terror. Desperate to survive the first night, she strikes on the idea of storytelling, unaware that she has hit a particular nerve by doing so. But once she succeeds in avoiding execution, at least temporarily, she finds herself caught in her own trap; if she is constantly buying herself time by teasing Khalid’s curiousity, she also finds herself being drawn into the mystery of what made him the way he is. And what logical reason could there possibly be for the murders? She is able to wring some little information out of Despina, her handmaiden, and Jalal, Khalid’s cousin and captain of the guard. But Khalid himself is closed to her, and any effort to get him to reveal himself only seems to drive him away, putting her plans at risk. Alone in the palace, unable to truly trust anyone, she begins to wonder if she might be able to save this strangely appealing boy-king, instead of killing him.

This unusual romantic turn is made possible in large part by the fact that Shahrzad’s best friend Shiva is not a character we meet or are made to care about; she is only a memory. This distance is necessary in order to accept Khalid as a viable love interest, but still rather troubling, to Shahrzad as well as the reader. The result is an intriguing if somewhat disturbing romantic dynamic. Then again, all the men who love Shahrzad are a little disturbing in their own ways. Jahandar seems willing to throw caution and morality to the wind to save his daughter, while Tariq overrides her wishes and second guesses her judgement at every turn. Khalid then becomes appealing by virtue of his willingness to let Shahrzad stand her own ground, though her situation obviously puts her under some implicit duress. Then again, how do you control the behaviour of someone whose life is already forfeit?

In addition to requiring a delicate hand to strike the romantic balance in The Wrath and the Dawn, it also needs an excellent writer to retell the tale of a master storyteller. For the most part, Renée Ahdieh is up to the challenge, though her prose can be a little purple. She lavishes a lot of attention on beautiful clothes, sumptuous furnishings, and decadent meals. But in between, she draws you in with Shahrzad’s retellings of the 1001 Nights myths, and intriguing tidbits about Khalid, Despina, Jalal, and the silent and mysterious Rajput, who is assigned to guard Shahrzad so that she will die at no one’s order but Khalid’s. But the real magic is in how elements of the 1001 Nights tales seep out of Shahrzad’s retellings, and into her own life. Soon enough, the pretext falls away, and Shahrzad is not narrating for her life; she is living the stories. This makes for a fresh take on a classic while also fitting squarely into the contemporary young adult genre.

Ultimately, The Wrath and the Dawn is not a stand-alone, so questions about how well this all comes together remain. A sudden twist in the final pages sets Sharzhad up to confront whether what she has learned inside the palace walls will remain true on the outside. Can a romance forged in such peculiar and insulated circumstances survive in this world that is on the edge of war? The Rose and the Dagger, due out on May 3, 2016, will have to reconcile these elements.

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Cover image for An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir You might also like An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Serpentine

Cover image for Serpentine by Cindy Ponby Cindy Pon

ISBN 9781942664338

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2015. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“Was this what growing up, becoming a woman, meant? To show only certain, acceptable sides of yourself to others, even to those you love?”

Skybright has served the Yuan family all her life, ever since she was left on their doorstep as a baby. She has been a handmaid and companion to Zhen Ni, the Yuan’s youngest daughter, since her birth. They are as close as sisters, though their relationship has been complicated by their differing social status. On the cusp of womanhood, their lives are about to change dramatically, as Zhen Ni will soon be married to a man of her parents’ choosing. And as the Festival of Ghosts approaches, opening a breach between the worlds, Skybright discovers her own change when she awakens one night to find she has transformed into the serpent demon of myth from the waist down. Keeping a secret from Zhen Ni for the first time, Skybright grapples with her demonic heritage even as a battle between demons and mortals begins sweeping across the Kingdom of Xia.

Inspired by Chinese mythology, Serpentine is set against a rich backdrop, but the core of the story is about female friendship. Skybright and Zhen Ni have been together day and night all their lives, made both intimate and disparate by their mistress-servant relationship. Skybright bathes and dresses Zhen Ni, but they also play games together, concoct schemes, and keep one another’s secrets. Skybright helps Zhen Ni hide that fact that she has officially entered womanhood from her mother, buying her a few more months of precious freedom before she will be wed. But however close they have always been, Skybright continues to hide her demonic side, sure that no one, not even Zhen Ni, will be able to accept it.

In addition to new secrets, Zhen Ni and Skybright find their long friendship complicated by new relationships. Intrigued by a young man who is studying at a nearby monastery, Skybright begins sneaking out to meet him, drawn by both Kai Sen himself, and his access to the information about demons in the monastery’s library. Meanwhile, Zhen Ni has formed an intense new friendship with Lan, who is visiting the Yuans for the summer, and Skybright finds herself become jealous of her mistress’s new companion.

Cindy Pon’s writing style is straight-forward and the story moves along quickly. Though the interpersonal relationships take centre stage for much of the tale, there is also a good amount of action as the monks do battle with the demons who have slipped through the breach between the worlds. An additional element of mystery is present in the in the figure of Stone, an immortal who seems to hold the answers for many of Skybright’s questions about her newly discovered demonic heritage.  The great world and characters shine beyond the plain writing that conveys them.

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Cover image for The Young Elites by Marie Lu You might also like The Young Elites by Marie Lu

The Ghost Bride

the-ghost-brideby Yangsze Choo

ISBN 978-0-06-222732-4

“This practice of arranging the marriage of a dead person was uncommon, usually held in order to placate a spirit. A deceased concubine who had produced a son might be officially married to elevate her status to wife. Or two lovers who died tragically might be united after death. That much I knew. But to marry the living to the dead was a rare and, indeed, dreadful occurrence.”

The Pan family of Malacca was once a great house, but its fortunes have declined, its mistress dead of smallpox, and its master permanently scarred by the disease and lost to his opium addiction. Eighteen year old Li Lan is the daughter of the house, but she has few marriage prospects now that her family’s fortune is mostly lost and her father has retreated from the world. But the Pans are still respectable, so the wealthy Lim family approaches them with an offer for Li Lan to marry their deceased son, becoming a ghost bride, and a member of the Lim household. Li Lan refuses, but soon Lim Tian Ching is haunting her dreams, trying to persuade her to become his spirit wife. Though she has no desire to join the Lim family as a ghost bride, she is drawn to the ghost’s cousin, Tian Bai, who is now the Lim family’s heir. However, the more time she spends in the Lim mansion, the more dark secrets she uncovers, and soon she is forced to ask questions about her own family as well. Drawn into the spirit world in an effort to rid herself of Lim Tiang Ching, Li Lan travels to the Plains of the Dead where she hopes to find a way to sever their connection.

1893 Malaya is a curious mixture of Chinese, Muslim, and British influence, with some hold overs from its time a Dutch colony. It is a place where, “in this confluence of cultures, we had acquired one another’s superstitions without necessarily any of their comforts.” Although Li Lan’s father is a Confucian scholar who eschews superstition, events begin to force Li Lan to admit that Chinese spirit world appears to be very real. However, it requires a lot of information and explanation in order to bring a Western audience up to speed with the relevant folklore, and while the information is interesting, it is rarely integrated into the story in a way that feels natural, leading to one information dump after another. The foreshadowing is equally heavy-handed, causing the story to feel predictable even when Choo makes unusual choices.

Li Lan herself isn’t a very compelling protagonist or narrator. After her sheltered upbringing, she bumbles into one mishap after another, largely as a result of being willing to believe everything she hears. She rarely seems to have a plan, and when she does, it is inevitably bad, although she is depicted as smart. She doesn’t show much in the way of personality, except in her interactions with the mysterious Er Lang, who has all too little page time given that he seems to bring out her better qualities. Despite being a first person narrator, Li Lan feels like a cipher, and the plot drags along behind her as she wanders cluelessly around the spirit world. Choo does bring the novel to a rousing finish, when Li Lan returns to her body, only to discover that it has been possessed by a vengeful spirit in her absence, but this is a relatively small part of a novel that otherwise feels over-long and somewhat directionless.

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Alternative Suggestions:

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Dead Set

Cover image for Dead Set by Richard Kadreyby Richard Kadrey

ISBN 978-0-06-228301-6

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher as part of the Harper Voyager Super Reader program.

Zoe had plenty of secrets in the real world, but she’d never kept one in her dreams before. It was depressing because it meant that, in the end, she wasn’t safe anywhere.”

Zoe’s life has come unraveled since her father died suddenly of a heart attack. Unable to collect his life insurance, she and her mother have been forced to sell their house in Danville and move into a dumpy apartment in San Francisco’s Tenderloin while her mom looks for a job. Zoe has only recently gotten out of the hospital herself, and while she isn’t cutting anymore, the temptation is ever-present. School is a drag, and her only friends are miles away, leaving sleep as her only escape, where she can slip into a dream-world where a treehouse and an imaginary brother wait for her. But lately she’s been dreaming about a black dog, in a dream world where her brother is nowhere to be found. By day, she goes about her life as usual, stumbling upon a used record store that allows her to feel close to her father through their mutual love of punk music. But Emmett, the proprietor of the record store, says he can do her one better—that he has a way Zoe can see and even speak to her dead father. And it will cost practically nothing at all…

In Dead Set, Richard Kadrey weaves together punk rock, underworld mythos, and urban fantasy elements into a fast-paced narrative about a girl who must overcome her grief and self-destructive behaviours in order to save someone she loves. Kadrey’s rich knowledge of mythology is obvious, and Dead Set is full of enough references and symbolism to give this relatively short novel great depth. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s creepier works with young protagonists, such as Coraline and The Graveyard Book, Kadrey has all of that darkness, but more grit; he handles grieving and self-harm honestly, without coddling the reader. Trading with Emmett is a devil’s bargain, but it allows Zoe to catch a glimpse into the world of adults, to understand her parents as people who are fallible, but also more complete than her idealized childhood images of them. Zoe’s emotional journey and the rich mythology were enchanting enough to keep me going, despite the fact that the novel got a bit out of hand in second half, with a lot of running around, and almost-goodbyes that felt more tedious than tense.

Something about this novel niggled me as I read, though it took me a long time to put my finger on it; I wouldn’t know who to recommend this book to.  I picked it up thinking it was a YA novel, but it is dark and violent enough that plenty of parents would object to it. My local library shelves it in the adult fiction collection, and it is published by Harper Voyager, the adult fantasy imprint, rather than Harper Teen. But violence, language, and dark themes aside, this feels like a YA book in most respects; it deals primarily with Zoe’s coming of age, and there are undoubtedly teens who need books that will deal this honestly with grief and self-harm. However, even that assessment was thrown off by Kadrey’s writing style, which in this story sometimes feels better suited to Middle Grade fiction. Moving at a fast pace, he lays things out quickly and simply, but the foreshadowing is extraordinarily blunt. When a character tells Zoe where to meet him if they happen to get separated, they will, of course, get separated. If a character warns Zoe not to go down any unlit streets, you can bet that she will end up down an unlit street in short order. This kind of stark foreshadowing is fine for Middle Grade readers, who are still learning the conventions of storytelling, but it feels heavy handed in a YA narrative, and even more off-putting to the adult reader. This isn’t a book that coddles the reader when it comes to the dark subject matter, so this hand-holding in the storytelling department is even more perplexing, and it left me with mixed feelings about the book.

Solstice

Cover image for Solstice by PJ HooverP. J. Hoover

ISBN 9780765334695

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

Every single person in the Elysian Fields looks like they’re having the best day of their lives. I guess really it would be the best day of their deaths, since everyone here is dead. But if a single person is sad about being dead, they aren’t showing it. I spot three beach volleyball games, at least fifteen couples making out, and enough sandcastles being built, it’s like an entire kingdom made of sand.”

High school senior Piper Snow lives in Austin, Texas with her mother, but longs to go away to college in California with her best friend, Chloe. Unfortunately for Piper, her mother is extremely protective, having spent eighteen years hiding Piper from her father, a convicted terrorist. Austin, like the rest of the world, is living under the growing threat of the Global Heating Crisis, including deadly heat bubbles which form spontaneously and spike temperatures to heights no human can survive. Piper’s eighteenth birthday sets off a string of unusual events, and when her mother is called away on secretive business, Piper makes a bid for freedom. Piper’s rebellion, unremarkable in any other teen, turns out to have serious consequences, attracting the attention of variety of mythological beings. The crisis in Piper’s world is mirrored by unrest in the realm of the gods. The Underworld has been breached, and the gods are squabbling among themselves. According to the Fates, Piper alone can resolve the crisis, but no one in the supernatural realms seems to be willing or able to help her. Originally independently published in 2011, Solstice has been picked up and released by Tor Teen.

Solstice might be described as Percy Jackson with a female protagonist; Piper, ostensibly a normal human girl, is abruptly thrust into a world of capricious gods and fearsome monsters. Unfortunately, Hoover doesn’t bring Greek mythology to life with nearly the dexterity of Rick Riordan. While some scenes were richly imagined, others felt like they were proscribed by a checklist. Visit to Tartarus: Sisyphus, check; Tantalus, check, etc. In general, Hoover’s above-ground global warming dystopia was much stronger and more interesting than her use of Greek mythology, and I wanted to spend more time in that world.

The mystery of Solstice is relatively thinly veiled. In fact, at the ALA Book Buzz event where I received an ARC, the publisher’s representative stated outright that it was a dystopian retelling of a particular myth. Based on the way this was openly discussed, I was surprised to find that the mystery of Piper’s identity was a key element in the plot. Most readers will figure it out very quickly. Nevertheless, I was curious enough about how and why the events came about to read through to the end. Unfortunately, I had to endure a cast of thoroughly despicable characters—Piper included—to get there.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in a book based on Greek mythology—which is rife with incest, patricide and debauchery—the interpersonal relationships in Solstice are deeply screwed up. Piper does not have a healthy or normal relationship with anyone in her life, including her two new love interests. (Haters of love triangles, this book is not for you). At less than two hundred pages, Solstice is quite fast paced, so that the relationships inevitably feel like the dreaded insta-love. Though the book ultimately explains why the relationships develop so quickly, insta-love is a deal breaker for so many readers that Hoover will likely lose many people long before they ever get to the why. Writers such as Neil Gaiman and Rick Riordan have ably portrayed the unusual character dynamics of the gods in a modern setting, but Hoover has been far less successful.

Spring/Summer Fiction Preview

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. In addition to attending workshops and hanging out with other folks in the library profession, I was able to attend a Book Buzz event, and visit publishers at their booths on the exhibit floor to find out about the new fiction titles coming this spring and summer. I didn’t get much reading done this past week, so in lieu of sharing a review, here’s a peek at some of the forthcoming titles I am excited about for the first half of 2013.

Blood of Dragons (978-0-06-211685-7)
Cover image for Blood of Dragons Well known for writing fantasy trilogies in interlocking worlds, Robin Hobb is adding a fourth and final volume to The Rain Wilds Chronicles after a cliff hanger ending in volume three. The dragons and their keepers have reached Kelsingra, and the rebirth of the Elderlings is imminent. But although Kelsingra is no longer lost, the legendary silver wells on which the dragons depend are nowhere to be found. The keepers must steep themselves in the magical memories of the city to try to find out what has become of the wells before the dragons die. This series Harper Voyager continues April 9, 2013. (Update: read my review.)

Categories: Fantasy

Golden Boy (978-1-4767-0580-4)

Cover image for Golden BoyThe Walkers seem to be the perfect family. Karen Walker is a high power criminal attorney, and her husband Steve is about to stand for the British Parliament. Their son Max is the popular golden boy of his school. But for Karen, it all feels like a charade, and one that could fall apart at any moment. Steve’s candidacy for public office means that their lives are about to be laid bare to intensive media scrutiny. Between the publicity and the return of one of Max’s childhood friends, the Walkers are afraid that the secret of Max’s intersex condition will be exposed. Abigail Tarttelin’s novel is due out from Atria Books (Simon and Schuster) on May 21, 2013.

Categories: LGBT, Contemporary

The Golem and the Jinni (978-0-06211-083-1)

Cover image for The Golem and the JinniIn Helene Wecker’s debut novel, an unusual pair of magical immigrants arrive in New York City in 1899, creating an improbable connection between Jewish and Arabic mythology.  Ahmad is a fire jinni, accidently release from his lamp into the streets of the city. Chava is a Golem whose master, a Kabbalist magician, dies on the voyage from Poland to America, leaving her to make her way alone in a new country. United by their common immigrant experience, but then driven apart by their disparate heritage, only a “powerful threat” can bring them together again. HarperCollins is recommending this title for fans of The Night Circus, A Discovery of Witches, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Look for this HarperCollins book on April 23, 2013.

Categories: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology

If You Could Be Mine (978-1-61620-251-4)

Cover Image for If You Could Be MineSara Farizan’s debut novel is a young adult title about forbidden love in Iran. Sahar and Nasrin are best friends, but they are also in love, and in Iran homosexuality is a crime. Nasrin must marry the prosperous doctor her parents have selected for her. The girls keep their love a secret, passing only as friends in public. When Sahar learns that while homosexuality is a crime, being transgender is not, she must consider whether it would be worth transitioning in order to be able to love and even marry Nasrin openly. The only problem is that Sahar doesn’t identify as a man. This title is due out from Algonquin on August 20, 2013.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBT, Romance

The Rithmatist (978-0-7653-2032-2)

Cover image for The RithmatistTor is hyping this title as Brandon Sanderson’s YA debut, since his previous books are classified as either middle grade or adult. Rithmatists are powerful magicians who use their skills to bring creatures known as Chalklings to life from two-dimensional chalk models. These Rithmatist-controlled creatures are all that protect the American Isles from being overrun by Wild Chalklings. The son of a chalkmaker at the Rithmatists’ academy, Joel dreams of being a Rithmatist himself. It seems more likely that he will follow in his father’s footsteps, until students at the school begin disappearing, and Joel must help solve the mystery. Following shortly on the heels of the conclusion of the Wheel of Time series, The Rithmatist is due out on May 14, 2013.

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

I received ARCs of a number of these titles, so look for reviews closer to the release dates.