The Sweetest Dark

sweetestdark By Shana Abe [LibraryThingGoodreads]

In 1915, penniless orphan Eleanore “Lora “ Jones is sent from war-torn London to the uber-posh boarding school of Iverson in peaceful Wessex. But Lora is different from the other girls, and not just because they’re daughters of the peerage and she’s a charity student. She hears music from the sky and the stones, and dreams of turning to smoke. And at Iverson, her true nature will be realized – along with a connection to two boys, one fair, one dark, and both as far from human as she is.

[Small-to-medium spoilers ahead; proceed at your own risk!]

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Ivy and the Meanstalk

ivyandthemeanstalk By Dawn Lairamore [LibraryThingGoodreads]

Fourteen-year-old Princess Ivy is an intrepid sort, so when an enormous beanstalk erupts out of the castle grounds, she and her dragon buddy Elridge fly to the top to get to the bottom of it. There they discover an enraged – and exhausted – giantess. Ever since a kid named Jack stole her magic harp – and killed her husband – hundreds of years ago, she hasn’t been able to get a wink of sleep. Ivy and Elridge must hurry to the kingdom of Jackopia to retrieve the harp before the giantess wreaks her vengeance – but the king of Jackopia is none too keen to give up his ancestor’s treasures.

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

fairyland By Catherynne M. Valente [LibraryThingGoodreads]

When the Green Wind shows up at September’s window and invites her to Fairyland, she sees no reason to say no. And sure enough, Fairyland is thrilling at first, especially once September makes the acquaintance of a Wyvern and a Marid. But all is not right in Fairyland, and to set it right – and rescue her friends – September must find courage she never knew she had – and possibly lose all that she holds dear.

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Summer and Bird

summerandbirdBy Katherine Catmull [LibraryThingGoodreads]

When Summer and Bird’s parents disappear in the middle of the night, the girls go looking for them, and find themselves in the strange world of Down, trapped in perpetual winter since the queen of the birds disappeared. While Bird finds herself tangled in the lies of the bird-eating, power-grasping Puppeteer, Summer tries to find her lost sister, their mother, and the secret route to the birds’ great migration. But there are secrets hidden in Down and in the sisters’ past that may break the bond between them forever.

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The Friday Society

fridaysociety By Adrienne Kress [LibraryThingGoodreads]

It’s turn-of-the-century London, and strange things are afoot: murders, robberies, and a conspiracy involving the Crown Jewels, the floating mineral cavorite, and a mysterious weapon. Luckily, three teenage girls are on the case: tech-savvy Cora, who works for a steampunk inventor; beautiful Nellie, a flamboyant Magician’s assistant; and serious Michiko, fight assistant and samurai in training. With the three of them working together, no villain stands a chance.

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Zombie Mommy: A Pals in Peril Tale

zombiemommy By M. T. Anderson [LibraryThingGoodreads]

With Lily spending so much time starring in books, her mother is starting to get worried about her own fate, since moms in books often don’t fare so well. However, her health-and-sanity-restoring vacation takes her to Todburg, the most haunted town in America. And the thing that returns may look like Lily’s mother…but it very definitely is not.

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The Diviners

diviners By Libba Bray [LibraryThingGoodreads]

When Evie’s parents ship her off to New York City to live with her Uncle Will, she’s expecting a positutely wonderful new life in the city that never sleeps, Prohibition be damned. Maybe the glitz and glamour can help her forget about her brother, killed in World War I, or the weird power she has that keeps getting her in trouble. But that’s before a serial killer starts cutting a swathe of ritualistic murders through New York – murders that Uncle Will thinks might be calculated to bring about the apocalypse. Throw in a Harlem poet with healing hands, a charismatic pickpocket digging up government conspiracies, a Ziegfield Girl with a troubled past, plenty of hooch, and a whole lot of secrets, and New York may just be more than Evie bargained for.

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The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

cavendish By Claire LeGrand [LibraryThingGoodreads]

Belleville is the perfect town, neat and clean and organized, which is just the way 12-year-old Victoria likes it. But then rumpled, unconventional Lawrence, her best – and only – friend, disappears. Naturally, it’s Victoria’s job to look for him. But when she does, she uncovers a terrifying conspiracy, a world of nightmares that all revolve around the spooky Cavendish Home, where “odd” kids either come out different – or not at all.

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Active Voice Discussion #1: Most Despised Tropes

Jess and I have decided to try out a new feature here at AV. Once a month, we’ll be posting a discussion question centered around some of the topics we’ve always wanted to talk about here but either haven’t had a chance to bring up in reviews, or want to focus on outside of reviews. And of course, we’d love for everyone reading to jump in with their own answers in the comments.

So without further ado, here is our first question: Which tropes do you hate the most when you run across them as you’re reading?

Jess: Well, as I’ve noted before, I will immediately close any book that has no significant female characters. I think we’re all also aware that I’m not a fan of supernatural romance, though that’s more of a genre than a trope. Anything that villifies teenage girls (most common in books aimed at little boys – think Phineas and Ferb-style humor) makes me see red. I don’t like unearned power-ups (“Lo! By touching the Orb of Odin you have gained the knowledge you need to defeat the dragon!”) or unnecessarily cryptic mentors (“I could tell you you’re the Chosen One, but I won’t, because then the book would be over too soon”).

But one of my biggest pet peeves is something I’ve seen with increasing frequency since the successes of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket: “wacky” child abuse. Look, let’s call a spade a spade. Harry is abused by the Dursleys. The Baudelaires are abused by…everyone. But Rowling and Snicket are able to hit a really delicate balance of making you feel bad for the protagonist(s) while keeping their suffering kind of unreal and funny, especially in the lighter early books of both series. The Dursleys are funny, so their emotional neglect of Harry doesn’t initially come off as horrifying. The Baudelaires are asked to do things so ludicrous it doesn’t read as upsetting (i.e. a pre-verbal infant working in a lumber mill).

Too many books have attempted to copy that and instead landed on “…That’s not okay.” (The Sisters Grimm, chained to a radiator by a foster parent, spring to mind.) To pull this sort of thing off, you need to have a) really funny prose, b) a slightly unreal “real” world, and c) a sensitivity to what reads as believable child abuse, so that you can avoid it. Not nearly enough books have all three, and feeling like you need to call Child Protective Services is not a good way to start a fun adventure novel.

Becky: Oh man, Jess totally hit on one of mine, which was the wizened mentor thing. “Yes, young protagonist, I know you have a lot of questions, and I will answer them all…when the time is right.” Yet the right time is never before the protagonist almost gets killed because s/he doesn’t know what’s going on. It irks me because it’s just so sloppy. If your story would fall apart if someone gave the protagonist a primer on who’s trying to kill them and why, then you need more there there. Withholding exposition for no reason is a totally false way of creating suspense.

Here’s another trope I’ve come to hate, thanks to some prominent cases in the last couple of years: big final battles where a whole lot of people die to up the drama and angst. During HP7: The Campenating, a handful of characters died in the background – but it was so background that I actually didn’t realize Lupin was dead until his ghost showed up. Mockingjay was an offender, too. Come on, after building up Finnick so much, you’re going to kill him offscreen as Katniss scrambles away? Bah. Humbug. There are plenty of ways to create drama and angst; wholesale slaughter can be one of them, but it can also make things lose emotional impact instead of giving them that emotional gutpunch you’re going for.

So those are our worst offenders. What tropes do you hate?

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The Crimson Crown

crimsoncrown By Cinda Williams Chima [LibraryThingGoodreads]

In the final book in the Seven Realms series, Raisa has finally been placed on the throne as Queen of the Fells – but that doesn’t mean she’s safe. The wizards still hope to replace her; the clans are willing to go to war to get her to marry one of their own; neighboring kingdoms threaten their borders. And her bodyguard, street lord-turned-wizard Han Allister, is determined to marry Raisa himself. Though Raisa returns Han’s love, she knows she has to make a political alliance for the good of the kingdom. But a thousand-year-old secret just might make Han the most powerful match of all.

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