If the bookstore that I currently worked at had a Staff Recommendations Shelf, these would be my top picks (at least for this month). As much as I wish our bookstore did have staff recommendations—it was ridiculously hard to compile this list. I tried to limit myself to five books—an almost impossible feat. So here are five books I would gladly recommend to customers and sometimes I do—when they ask me. Always ask a bookseller for a recommendation, even if you don’t need one or you don’t end up taking it—it seriously makes our day.
I also did not allow myself to choose more than one book per author.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
I really, really love Raven Cycle books by the same author, but Scorpio Races is the one that makes it onto my shelf because I really, really admired the characters in the story and the way in which Stiefvater wrote the story (as oscillating back and forth between the two main characters). I won’t be riding demon-crazy, sea ponies anytime soon, but I really enjoyed being caught up in the world of the races that Stiefvater creates.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Seriously, my entire recommendation shelf could be filled with Neil Gaiman. It was torture to choose just one. However, since I am to be limited to one—this would be it. This is an amazing, amazing story about a scared little boy, a brilliant girl, and monsters that haunt our world, whether we our adults or children.
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
Some will criticize me for including this book, I know, as it is the romantic adventures of a fourteen-year-old, British schoolgirl. While her struggles may seem “trivial” to some, I would recommend this book because of Rennison’s genius sense of humor. There are a lot of sad books out there, but how many brilliantly funny ones are there? Plus, Georgia is a soul mate to any and all of us who have felt awkward in adolescence.
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
There are fairies; there are vampires, forbidden dancing and parallel worlds that touch ours only for a night. There is the natural beauty of Transylvanian wildwoods and princes under enchantment. Need I say more?
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This is the book I am currently reading and it makes the shelf because IT IS SO GOOD. Seriously, buy this book TODAY. You will read more about this awesome book when I review it once I am finished.
Needless to say, I’m going to have to repeat this exercise multiple times, with themes. For example–I’m already thinking of a Halloween recommendation shelf and a shelf for my favorite literary classics, too–so many!!!
Clariel is a prequel to Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series. It chronicles events that happened about six hundred years before Sabirel. Clariel has one dream, one goal–to live in the Great Forest that is her home and be a Borderer (basically Old Kingdom park rangers). But no one takes her goal seriously. Her parents have relocated to the city of Belisaere to schmooze with highfalutin folks (Clariel, is, after all, a close cousin of the King and the granddaughter of the Abhorsen). Her mother, Jaciel, mostly ignores her child and better half to make pretty gold things. While Clariel’s father takes care of the administrative/business duties. Neither one of them seem to care about what Clariel wants. Clariel attempts to do what she can, both to honor her parents, but also to achieve her dream of being free in the Great Forest. Disasters happen, both as a result of her obedience and her defiance. One thing is for sure, after moving away from her beloved forest, Clariel will never be the same. One of my favorite quotes (which also makes an appearance in the other books in the series): “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”
Other reviews have called Clariel a failed tragedy, but I disagree. I don’t see this novel as a failure at all. Clariel is an extremely nuanced, complicated protagonist. I love that about her. I love that she is not a straightforward heroine. Don’t get me wrong, I love rooting for the straightforward heroine. If she’s interesting and well-written. Clariel is both. But from the very beginning the reader can see how confusing it is to be in her own mind. Free Magic or Charter Magic? Good or Evil? Kind or Cruel? Clariel is both…all of these things. She’s extremely multidimensional for a character who has one simple desire, one simple passion. I don’t think the cover artist could have chosen a better tagline: “A passion thwarted will often go astray.” One of the characters also says this towards the end of the novel, after Clariel has made some life-altering decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be best friends with Clariel the way I did with Sabriel. I didn’t see a kindred soul in Clariel the way I did in Lirael. Clariel is sometimes tough to like. But to me the story and the characterization didn’t disappoint. I recommend this book and the entire Abhorsen series to anyone who loves fantasy, particularly fantasy that sometimes reads more like historical fiction or realism.
The Dark Divine tells the story of siblings Jude and Grace Divine: your average preacher’s kids living in Minnesota with average high school struggles. Jude is, of course, the Golden Child. Grace isn’t quite as holy as her brother, but she does her best to be self-sacrificing. Everything is, of course, disrupted by the sudden reappearance of the Divine’s prodigal adoptive child, Daniel. Grace was always in love with Daniel and just a little bit worshipful of his beauty and his natural artistic ability. And three years after he and Jude had some sort of incident, Grace finds that she still has feelings for him (despite his less than charming bad-boy attitude). Despite Jude expressly forbidding her to speak with him, despite everyone’s warnings (including Daniel’s own) about his character, Grace helps him find a place within their community and continues to love him, no matter how much of a monster he might be.
The Dark Divine explores the idea of monsters living amongst humans–and the struggle to define what a monster truly is. Definitely an interesting take on the werewolf mythology–the idea that werewolves started out as protectors of humanity. I enjoyed the book although I think there were definitely weak points in the writing (Grace’s friend April was a particularly flat character and I also think Grace’s mom never quite got much explanation or sympathy). I did find Grace’s decision to either be loyal to her brother or to be with Daniel to be fascinating. It’s the same struggle Maggie has in George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. Also, there are of course parallels to Wuthering Heights–they can be found in nearly every YA paranormal romance (though of course the hero usually turns out to be MUCH nicer than Heathcliff ever was). I’ve got the sequel, The Lost Saint, sitting on my shelf. Eventually I will read it, but for now I have quite a lot of other books to finish–including the third installment in Meg Cabot’s Abandon series and also Wild by Chery Strayed.
Also, as an added bonus, I think Hozier’s song “Take Me to Church” is the perfect song to go with this book. And I love Ed Sheeran’s cover: