It's been a week since I last coerced you to read a book, but I have a good excuse for my prolonged absence. I was in another world called Eretz, adventuring with an azure-haired girl-who's-maybe-not-just-a-girl and her sinfully gorgeous seraph boyfriend. We had to find a way to stop the decades-long war between the races of seraphim and chimaera, and then we had to save Earth from an infiltrating evil angel overlord. After that, things got totally cray-cray, but I can't even go into all that, because spoilers. Obviously.

So anyway, it's been a busy week. Laini Taylor's hallucinatory dreamscape is a fun place to lose oneself. Her story starts simply and innocently, with a girl named Karou who lives in Prague, attends art school, has brilliant blue hair, and mucks around with her sassy friend Zuzana. Except Karou has secrets that Zuzana has learned not to ask about. She has to run errands for her boss, Brimstone, who happens to be a chimaera, a mix of different animal species all in one body. Brimstone collects teeth, and uses them in his shop for a dark purpose to which Karou isn't privy. The drawings of strange-looking beasts with human features in Karou's sketchbooks aren't evidence of a wild imagination; they're pictures of her friends and a window into her real life.

And there are aspects of her life that are hidden from her. Karou doesn't know or remember her parents. She has always been well loved and taken care of by Brimstone and his chimaera helpers, but she doesn't know where she came from or how she ended up as his foster daughter of sorts. She also doesn't remember getting the tattoos she has on the palms of her hands—open eyes in indigo ink. When she pushes Brimstone for information, he ignores her and continues stringing teeth into necklaces.

Karou has always been able to find Brimstone and his shop by knocking on the doors of magical portals that he has built, but one day beautiful shining strangers mark the portals one by one with seared handprints. Karou doesn't know who these winged creatures are, or why they want to cut off Brimstone's shop from the world, but it's clear that they are her enemies. Except somehow, impossibly, one of them recognizes her. And he may be the only one who can tell Karou who she really is and give her the answers she's always wished for. 

If you're the kind of reader-snob that I admittedly used to be, the kind who snorts at the fantasy genre and declares it beneath you, please give me a moment now to remove my lacy fingerless glove and slap your smug, self-righteous face with it. You have no idea what you're missing, up there on your high horse. Taylor has put together a trilogy that is a great escape and a fun read, and that would have been enough, but she has done so much more than that. Though her chosen world is a fantastical one, within it she reveals layered themes of racism, sexism, slavery, honor, responsibility, and the value of life. She employs a whimsical vocabulary (my favorite example: she describes someone's face as “empurpling” with rage). She imagines characters who transgress horribly against each other, but who also feel fully the weight of remorse and go to great lengths to right past wrongs. This is a masterpiece of fiction writing, is what I'm saying, and the fact that it's from the fantasy genre should not detract from it.

And with that, I think that's all I'm going to tell you. This is an adventure you're going to want to experience firsthand. Have a great time in Eretz, and say hi to the blue-haired chick for me.

Find all three books at your library: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

Find it at your library!

My mom, in case you aren't acquainted, has pretty sedate taste. When it comes to action and violence, she's more Princess Bride than Kill Bill. She reacts frownily when I curse in her presence. She describes the mild salsa at Mexican restaurants as “zippy.”

Clearly, not all the books I recommend here will be Mom-appropriate. So Mom, this book selection is for you, and for any other readers whose tastes run toward the tamer side of literature. After my last recommendation, I probably owe you this one.

Hollow City is Ransom Riggs's second venture into a strange world where children with special powers live together in a time loop maintained by an elderly benefactress. His first book, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, introduces the narrator, sixteen-year-old Jacob, and the cast of children he meets on a seemingly deserted island. Hollow City picks up the adventure where the first book left it, with the children on their own, forced out of their home and desperate to save their magical custodian Miss Peregrine. 

The book is a breathless adventure from beginning to end, with swift momentum and few lags. The children overcome one obstacle only to have another thrust immediately upon them. Each child gets a chance to contribute using his or her special talent, and even when they seem to be out of options, someone manages to spin straw into gold and keep them moving ahead. Jacob is a likable hero, a bit awkward and sometimes cowardly, but his strong moral compass always wins out over his fear. His romance with Emma, the independent, practical leader of the group (who, as it happens, can manifest fire between her hands), is sweet but not idyllic.

Beyond these elements of a good story, what sets this series apart from other YA adventure novels are the screwy, surreal vintage photographs that Riggs pairs with the narrative. You'll read a description of a talking dog with green-tinted glasses and a pipe in his mouth, and then you'll turn the page and discover a photo of a dog adorned with these exact accessories. Riggs started out by searching for photos at flea markets and antique stores, and now works with collectors to find the perfect photos to inspire his paranormal storylines.

Because the photos do so much to enhance the reading experience of these books, I strongly recommend you skip the ebook section and find a paper copy to read. I happened to read the first book on Kindle because I didn't know any better, and the grainy, black and white photos on the screen didn't carry near the weight that they do on the page.

Bottom line: Read this book, and hold the hot sauce.