Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Time Only Knows by Stuart Chatwood [Prince of Persia video game soundtrack].
The idea of Monday's Muse is to introduce you to unknown, forgotten, or overlooked fiction that has been lost from regular radar. I am WriterGirl. I am in the business of saving lives, one book at a time.
What I do is go to one of several places, narrow it down to a YA field and type in a random word, any word that comes to mind. I then take a sampling of some I have never heard of before, or only vaguely heard of (and hopefully you as well). No infringement is intended for any description I take for the books. It's purely for promotional reasons. I will try and cover as many genres as possible that are fitting for the random word. Simple but it really uncovers some incredible gems. I will be doing this every other Monday. If there are any words you want to prompt me with, go ahead and fire away.
The Thief (& entire Queen's Thief series) by Megan Whalen Turner.
"I can steal anything."
After Gen's bragging lands him in the king's prison, the chances of escape look slim. Then the king's scholar, the magus, need the thief's skills for a seemingly impossible task - the steal a hidden treasure from another land. To the magus, Gen is just a tool. But Gen is a trickster and a survivor with a plan of his own.
The Demon King (and all of the Seven Realms series) by Cinda Williams Chima.
Rich characterization and exquisite world building make up for a leisurely pace in the dense first volume of a new epic-fantasy trilogy. Han Alister is a fatherless street rat, former thief lord and runner for the Clan tribes. Raisa is the Princess Heir, last in a long line of fabled warrior Queens. Their paths should never have intersected, had not both become enmeshed in the schemes of the wizards seeking to regain powers curbed for the crimes of the Demon King, a thousand years past. Now ancient talismans and grim portents herald murder and treason, and both Han and Raisa are forced to embrace heritages they can scarcely imagine. Chima forges an intricate world, alloying standard genre tropes in unexpected ways and inlaying intrigue amid a delicately crafted setting of history and legend. Dozens of characters, complex and distinct in personality, are placed with jewel-like precision, set off by dark glints of villainy. Few readers will mind reaching the end with the protagonists still separated by hundreds of miles only to realize it was naught but prelude to the real action; instead, they will clamor for the sequel.--Kirkus.
The Thief Lord by Corneila Funke.
Wacky characters bring energy to this translation of an entertaining German novel about thieving children, a disguise-obsessed detective and a magical merry-go-round. After their mother dies, 12-year-old Prosper and his brother, Bo, five, flee from Hamburg to Venice (an awful aunt plans to adopt only Bo). They live in an abandoned movie theater with several other street children under the care of the Thief Lord, a cocky youth who claims to rob "the city's most elegant houses." A mysterious man hires the Thief Lord to steal a wooden wing, which the kids later learn has broken off a long-lost merry-go-round said to make "adults out of children and children out of adults," but the plan alters when Victor, the detective Aunt Esther hired to track the brothers, discovers their camp and reveals that the Thief Lord is actually from a wealthy family. There are a lot of story lines to follow, and the pacing is sometimes off (readers may feel that Funke spends too little time on what happens when the children find the carousel, and too much on the ruse they pull on Prosper's aunt). But between kindhearted Victor and his collection of fake beards, the Thief Lord in his mask and high-heeled boots, and a rascally street kid who loves to steal, Prosper's new world abounds with colorful characters. The Venetian setting is ripe for mystery—and the city's alleys and canals ratchet up the suspense in the chase scenes.--Publisher's Weekly.
Alanna: The First Adventure (and entire Song of the Lioness Quartet) by Tamora Pierce.
"From now on I'm Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I'll be a knight."
And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventures and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day, they decide to switch places. Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.
But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna's first adventure begins - one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and the magical destiny that will make her a legend in her land.
Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott.
Eighteen-year-old Danielle—aka Sydney, Rebecca, or whatever alias her mother chooses—has been stealing since she can remember. She and her theft-savvy mother move from town to town, mining the successful men whom her mother attracts for information that allows them to find and rob the toniest homes. Dani has no school, no friends, and no home until she and her mother land in Heaven, a small, wealthy beachfront town where Dani realizes what it is like to have a best friend and also a boyfriend, who just happens to be a cop. Scott tells a surprising story that features a mature teen who longs for the straight and narrow, even as the adults around her profit from crime and corruption. Dani's first-person narrative includes a few winking references to the lucrative life theft can garner, which feel like odd, misguided shifts from the story's strongest message that Dani is a brave teen who can and does shape a strong future for herself. --Bradburn, Frances, Booklist.
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula LeGuin (Earthsea series, #2)
A finely realized fantasy set in the ancient Place of the Tombs, a desert society of women and eunuchs, where Tenar is taken at six and renamed Arha, the Eaten One, because her former existence must be cast off when she becomes high priestess to the Nameless Ones, the spirits of the tombs. The girl is raised with other neophyte priestesses until at fourteen she assumes her grand and isolated role of guardian of the sacred underground labyrinth, where light is forbidden and no one but Arha may enter. She accepts her new identity solemnly and completely, and the account of her life as a growing priestess is appropriately stately. But the story becomes more than the skilled creation of a closed, exotic world when a trespasser enters Arha's underground domain; then the stifling formality becomes a background that adds impact to the stranger's violation of the Place and drama to the girl's subsequent rebirth. The man is Sparrowhawk, the Wizard of Earthsea some years older, and he has come for the missing half of the amulet of Erreth-Akbe, which can bind the warring kingdoms and which is buried with other treasures in the labyrinth. Arha traps the wizard in the labyrinth and plans to kill him, but instead she begins to pay him compulsive visits, first to taunt, then to listen to his tales and watch his feats of illusion, finally to weep because her gods are dead. But the wizard answers that they are not dead: "They are immortal, but they are not gods. They are dark and undying, and they hate the light: the brief light of our mortality. . . . They exist. But they are not your masters. You are free, Tenar." Thus Sparrowhawk gives Tenar back her name and helps her to escape from the Place and the dark powers of the Nameless Ones. The usual tidy ending is foregone, though, just as the story is not the usual allegory; the abstractions do not so much dictate the events as rise naturally from Tenar's real struggles and transformations in her firmly structured underground world.--Kirkus.
The Storm Thief by Chris Wooding.
The latest from the author of The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray (2004) and Poison (2005) is a postapocalyptic fantasy with trappings reminiscent of the 1995 film Waterworld. The citizens of Orokos, a crumbling city surrounded by an endless ocean, live at the mercy of probability storms that "might steal a baby's eyes and replace them with buttons, or turn a house into sugar paper." Together with the chaotic conditions, the city's totalitarian government makes life miserable for marginalized "ghetto-folk" like teen thieves Moa and Rail. After the companions stumble upon a valuable artifact, they must flee pursuers who covet their find. Their journey brings them into contact with a half-mechanical homunculus and a group of rebels preparing to escape the city permanently. A familiarity with Frankenstein and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, clear sources of inspiration, will enrich appreciation of the novel, although most will simply like the inventive premise and the protagonists' tender relationship, never overtly romantic but replete with unspoken yearnings. -- Jennifer Mattson, Booklist.
The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley.
In the tradition of T.H. White's reincarnation of King Arthur, a novel that brings Robin Hood and his men--and women--delightfully to life. Compressing elapsed time into a year and a half--from Robin's escape to the forest to the band's pardon by King Richard--McKinley includes many familiar characters and incidents (e.g., Robin's first meeting with Little John, the defeat of Guy of Gisbourne) while reshaping others (Marian, in disguise, is the one who outshoots competitors at the Nottingham Fair). McKinley's band is truly merry, casually undertaking deeds of derring-do while engaging in witty repartee that recalls the Three Musketeers. After considerable research, the author has--like her predecessors--created a Robin Hood who reflects "what the teller and the audience needed him to be at the time of the telling" (McKinley's quote from J.C. Holt). Thus, her characters are idealistic Saxon guerrillas fighting invading Norman oppressors in the cause of justice; include several highly competent women playing crucial roles; and have a charmingly ironic 20th-century self-awareness--yet they also embody the perennial dream of escaping the flawed everyday world for a simple life and noble deeds in the company of well-loved companions. Enriched with entrancing details of life in the forest, graced with a neat pair of satisfying love stories, and culminating in a couple of rousing battles and a dramatic close when the king dispenses justice, McKinley's Robin should be delighting readers for years to come.--Kirkus.
Star Crossed/Liar's Moon by Elizabeth Bunce.
On the lam after a failed theft, 16-year-old runaway Celyn bluffs her way out of the city with four young nobles. She finds refuge as maid to one of them, Lady Merista, in a snowbound mountain castle. When Lord Daul discovers Celyn's thieving tendencies, he forces her to spy for him. Delving even deeper into the castle's secrets than she reveals to Daul, Celyn's eyes are opened to the myriad secrets and schemes of its many guests and occupants. In choosing her path, she confronts her own past, uncovers a rebellion that could lead to civil war, befriends a prince, contemplates religious persecution, and faces betrayal. She also encounters long-forgotten magic and comes to understand the mystical aptitude that ruined her life and set her on her path of crime. Couching her characters and setting in top-notch writing, Bunce (A Curse as Dark as Gold) hooks readers into an intelligent page-turner with strong themes of growth, determination, and friendship. Celyn's journey will leave readers asking for more, especially as the first-rate story neatly sets up a sequel.--Publisher's Weekly.
Quicksilver by Stephanie Spinner
Having given the tale of Atalanta a contemporary voice in Quiver (2002), Spinner proceeds to do the same for several other myths, by viewing them through the eyes of Hermes. Though a minor player in most of them, he's a wonderfully engaging narrator: mischievous but not malicious, hardworking, ingenious, a sardonic observer of his peers ("Seducing mortals was one of the great guilty pleasures of the gods, second only to tipping cattle and ruining the weather."). He's equally at ease among mortals and shades, ever eager to please his father Zeus, but so averse to violence that he swears off killing after helping Perseus slay Medusa and shuns Olympus rather than watch the Trojan carnage. Spinner gives these ancient tales a lively spin without inventing major new events or characters for them, downplays the sex and violence by leaving nearly all of it offstage, and ends on a light note, as Hermes throws off his gloom by springing Odysseus from Calypso's smothering embrace and settling down with the nymph himself to raise "many fine children." It's good to be a god.--Kirkus.
Heist Society (Heist Society series) by Ally Carter.
Tired of her lifelong involvement in her family's illicit dealings, teenager Katarina Bishop enrolls herself in a prestigious boarding school. Then after a mere three months there, 16-year-old billionaire Hale arranges for her to get kicked out. He informs her that five paintings have been stolen from the menacing Arturo Taccone and that her father is the prime suspect. Determined to save him by locating the real thief and stealing the paintings back, Kat gathers a crack team of larcenous teens for the heist to be pulled off before the two-week deadline. However, her resolve falters when she learns that the paintings are Nazi war spoils. She negotiates complicated relationships in an action-packed plot, and the unknown identity of the thief suggests a sequel. This irresistible light-fingered fairy tale is elevated by glamour and mystery. Carter's style is conversational, smooth, and clever, exposing Kat's wry humor and her steely determination. Amid themes of family loyalty and identity, the protagonist comes to understand herself, her beliefs, and her place in her family. Daring, delicious, but filled with a sense of purpose, Heist Society mixes classic elements of the adolescent bildungsroman into a high-stakes escapade.—Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT, School Library Journal.