teaser tuesday (74)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 | | 16 comments

It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted every week by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:


Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page (or if you're reading on an electronic device, pick a random number and scroll to that section). Post two or more sentences from that page, along with the book title and author. Share your find with others in the comments at Should Be Reading, and don't give anything vital away!


“On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost.


She was lying in bed in the uniform gray darkness of her small attic room when in one corner the shadows seemed to crimp, or flex, and suddenly standing next to her wobbly desk and three-legged chair was a person about her height.”


p. 5 of Lauren Oliver’s Liesl & Po


the bards of bone plain

Saturday, January 28, 2012 | | 5 comments

There are a couple of authors on my "auto-buy" list. Patricia McKillip is one of them. She writes marvelous high fantasy that is so painstakingly created and populated that I equate it in my head with delicate embroidery on an enormous, exquisite tapestry.


While McKillip has written middle grade in the past, her recent books have been adult fantasy (with definite YA crossover appeal). Her latest publication is The Bards of Bone Plain, which I requested for Christmas in 2010, received, and read in early of 2011. In fact, I was quite sure I'd reviewed it here. Well, there's no time like the present!


With "her exquisite grasp of the fantasist's craft" (Publishers Weekly) Patricia A. McKillip now invites readers to discover a place that may only exist in the mystical wisdom of poetry and music.

Scholar Phelan Cle is researching Bone Plain – which has been studied for the last 500 years, though no one has been able to locate it as a real place. Archaeologist Jonah Cle, Phelan's father, is also hunting through time, piecing history together from forgotten trinkets. His most eager disciple is Princess Beatrice, the king's youngest daughter. When they unearth a disk marked with ancient runes, Beatrice pursues the secrets of a lost language that she suddenly notices all around her, hidden in plain sight.


McKillip's strength is in her prose. Her intricate descriptions of places, knowledge, and human relationships with story sweep you into the tale, and from there it’s mystery, romance, history and a dash of danger. Her genius creeps up on you as you become enmeshed in the story, and her words take on lives of them own, so that you can see, hear, and understand magic.


However, even the strongest world-building must have some plot, and the story must make you love/hate/feel for its protagonists. While McKillip’s latest offering leads you on a merry chase of history, the ‘plot,’ such as it is, seems rather thin on the ground. The big reveal has been guessed at long before the last page is turned. And the characters themselves are secondary to their discoveries and music. What it comes down to is that McKillip has written other books about the magic of music, and I like them better.


One of the most interesting thematic threads in The Bards of Bone Plain is that of archaeology and history. While Phelan is searching through music, he’s also sifting through written records and historical anecdotes. At the same time, his father is engaged in digging up bits of history, and has taken on Princess Beatrice as his assistant. These practical, physical actions balance the music and folklore fairly well. If you’re a history nerd, this might be the book for you.


Recommended for: Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley and Sharon Shinn devotees, those who revel in high fantasy, and anyone who has had the thought that music and magic must be one and the same.

a monster calls

A couple of years ago, I went on a dystopian reading bender (snaps to Rhiannon for that craze), and I was most impressed by Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go. It was raw and amazing, and I resolved to keep an eye out for Ness’ books. Last summer I started hearing trickles of praise for his latest release, A Monster Calls. Then Kiersten White wrote about how much she loved and cried over it. I placed it on hold at my local library and that was that.


An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting – he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd – whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself – Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.


Patrick Ness has a talent for pulling emotion out of the most reluctant reader. He writes stories that reach the hidden thoughts we all carry with us. It’s unsettling, it’s beautiful, and you end up wrecked and happy and feeling as though you SURVIVED. In A Monster Calls, Ness stays true to form (and delivers a masterpiece).


I’ve discovered that I enjoy Ness’ books when I go into them blind. You don’t need to know in advance what the main conflict is in order to enjoy it. So my usual summary is brief: Conor meets a monster, and it shows him true things. True, terrible, unthinkable things – about himself, and stories, and the sometimes unbearable road of life.


Of course, the beauty of the hardcover volume (delightful presentation might be my weakness) does not hurt. A Monster Calls is filled with fantastic illustrations by Jim Kay, all done in black and white and focused on texture and shadow. Add in the jacket and endpapers, along with the content, and it may be THE perfect gift book. I’d even put out on a coffee table for people to admire.


To recap, A Monster Calls is bitter, sweet, and lovely on the inside and out. It may (probably will) touch your soul.


Recommended for: anyone with a heartbeat. It is beyond excellent.

chicken soup for... you.

Friday, January 20, 2012 | | 5 comments
It has finally started to feel like winter here in Washington, DC (complete with a weather advisory tonight…what?), and this means it is soup season! Soups are perfect for warming you up from the inside out, curing what ails you, and making your house smell like home. I’ll admit that I usually buy canned soup for convenience, but over Christmas I helped my mother make this tasty version of traditional chicken noodle, and I give it my highest recommendation!


Chicken Soup (from a cooks.com recipe)


INGREDIENTS


1-2 lbs. chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 turnip, diced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

3-4 parsnips, peeled and diced

1 large white or yellow onion

1 Tablespoon dill weed

1 lb. egg noodles

2-3 cartons chicken stock (64-96 ounces)

Salt and black pepper to taste


DIRECTIONS


Place chicken in large pot. Sprinkle vegetables around chicken. Add chicken stock (make sure you have enough that it covers everything). Add salt and pepper to taste. Add dill. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce heat to simmer and cook for two hours. Do not cook for more than three hours.


In separate pot, boil egg noodles in salted water for 10-12 minutes, drain, and add to soup.



As you can probably tell, there’s some wiggle room with this recipe (or any soup recipe, really). Depending on how ‘soupy’ you want it, you can add more or less liquid, add more or less spice, and adjust the types and numbers of veggies. The way we made it, though? Pretty freaking good. We doubled the recipe and it was gone in two days. YUM.


Recommended for: a cold day, a delicious homemade soup staple, and anytime you feel under the weather (or as a preventative!).

waiting on wednesday (19)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 | | 11 comments

I’m participating today in "Waiting On" Wednesday. It is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, and its purpose is to spotlight eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.


None of you compulsively check an author’s website to see when their next book comes out, do you? 'Cause that would be weird. Oh wait, I do that. I mean, I MUST know when the next Robin McKinley, Neil Gaiman, and Garth Nix book will appear (not to mention about 30 other authors added on the the list). I’m a geek like that. So when I checked Garth Nix’s website for the eleventy-billionth time in the last 5 years and saw that he actually has a novel out THIS YEAR? I might have wallowed a bit in glee and expectation. Can’t. Freaking. Wait. A Confusion of Princes will be released by HarperCollins on May 15, 2012.


A grand adventure that spans galaxies and lifetimes, A Confusion of Princes is also a page-turning action adventure.

These are the three deaths of Prince Khemri. Told in his own words, we follow him as he trains to become a Prince of the Empire, an enhanced human being, equipped with biological and technological improvements that make him faster, stronger and smarter than any ordinary person. Not to mention the ultimate benefit: should he die, and be deemed worthy, he will be reborn…

Which is just as well, because no sooner has Prince Khemri graduated to full Princehood than he learns the terrible truth behind the Empire: there are ten million princes, and all of them want each other dead, because there can only be one Emperor…


What books are you waiting on?

best of 2011 (+ giveaway)

Monday, January 16, 2012 | | 51 comments
For three Januaries now I’ve told myself that NEXT YEAR I’ll be proactive and write my ‘best of’ post before the calendar actually flips. And every time the holidays come around, I sabotage myself with poor time management. But if that’s the worst of my blog failings, I figure I’m doing well.


The following books weren’t necessarily published in 2011, but I picked them up and blogged about them during the year. Note: if you find yourself wanting to give one a try, please check out the giveaway at the end of this post. Without further ado, my ‘best of 2011’ list!


Cinder by Marissa Meyer – A sci-fi/fairytale mashup with a unique premise, fun characters, and a wonderful hook. I’ll be looking forward to Marissa Meyer books for years to come.


Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham – I’m a big Willingham fan, and this foray into middle grade adventure only solidified that affinity. Talking animals and a grand chase? Yes please!


Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve – One of the things that has impressed me with YA authors taking on steampunk is that the books tend to be smart, epic, AND emotionally riveting. Can’t wait to read more in this series!


Pegasus by Robin McKinley – Robin can do no wrong (as far as I’m concerned), and in the best of her books, she sets the whole world right. Pegasus is the first portion of a longer story that already has a place on my ‘all time favorite’ shelf.


Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry – An excellent meditation on human nature, this gritty novel explores what people can, and cannot, stand to witness. Also: zombies.


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente – The most beautiful story I’ve read in years? Perhaps. Certainly the one with the loveliest language and sweetest imagination. +10 points and an extra happily ever after.


The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson – I finally read a Maureen Johnson book, and I liked her prose even more than I expected to. This is SUCH a good story, besides also being the perfect teen book. It’s well-written contemporary, with tiny splashes of horror.


The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell – I have a thing for fairy tales retold. This middle grade fantasy set in Middle Ages Eastern Europe was especially good, and reminded me of Karen Cushman’s award-winning historicals.


The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson – The lone non-fiction selection on my list, this book offered conversational fodder for six months and proved to be an unexpectedly good present for Mother’s Day.


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – One of the books that truly took me to another place and showed me its magic, history and heartbreak. An honest and beautiful story, especially as it was so unexpected.


Honorable Mentions:


Witchlanders by Lena Coakley – A strong debut fantasy with excellent world-building and an epic plotline.


Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt – A sweet story about an slightly OCD girl dealing with family tragedy and finding new ways to cope.


And there you have it – my top ten of 2011, plus two honorable mentions. I’ll give away one book from this list to two lucky winners. To enter, simply fill out the FORM. Giveaway open internationally (books to be shipped from the Book Depository); it will end January 30th at 11:59pm EST. Winners will be selected randomly and notified via email. For an extra entry, comment on this post telling me some of your favorite books of 2011 (and feel free to link your blog post, if you have one). Good luck!

the survival kit

Thursday, January 12, 2012 | | 6 comments

Unless you follow me on twitter (and even then), you may not know that I’ve become an intense hockey fan in the last year. Weird, huh? Here’s what happened: I moved to DC from Seattle, my hometown. I had years of indoctrination in Seattle sports fandom, and I wasn’t about to adopt my new city’s teams. HOWEVER. We don’t have NHL hockey in Seattle. And DC has a dynamic team, the Capitals. My friends are Caps fans. It took almost a year, but they converted me. *happy sigh*


What does this have to do with books? Well… Steph Su mentioned The Survival Kit on her blog last year, and I was caught by the mention of a hockey player. What?! Hockey never shows up in YA books. Neither does water polo (my own sport), for that matter. If you have a sports reference, it’s inevitably football/cheerleading, or at least that’s the way it seems. So, I decided that I’d read this book, come he-double-hockey-sticks or high water (see what i did there? i’m hilarious.).


When Rose’s mom dies, she leaves behind a brown paper bag labeled Rose’s Survival Kit. Inside the bag, Rose finds an iPod, with a to-be-determined playlist; a picture of peonies, for growing; a crystal heart, for loving; a paper star, for making a wish; and a paper kite, for letting go.

As Rose ponders the meaning of each item, she finds herself returning again and again to an unexpected source of comfort. Will is her family’s gardener, the school hockey star, and the only person who really understands what she’s going through. Can loss lead to love?


Rose, the recipient of the Survival Kit that gives this book its name, is dealing with grief and loss. She’s turned off emotions, she’s avoiding conflict, and she’s having trouble keeping it together. Enter a special kit, good friends, and a possible distraction in the form of schoolmate Will… and you have Rose’s perfect storm. Nothing is easy for Rose, and that, combined with descriptions of hope and struggling through pain, turn this from a clich├ęd ‘Mother dies’ novel into a complex rendering of an unthinkably sad situation.


What I liked: well, obviously the hockey. Unless you break out in hives at the mention of sport, this inclusion should be interesting to you. And yes, there are mentions of football and cheerleading to round things out. Freitas also does a great job of incorporating life (friends, guys, family dynamics) in with honest dialogue. The emotion was real. I teared up a time or two.


What I didn’t like: actually, the only thing I will mention here is the prose itself. And that was one chapter. The majority of the book worked, in other words. Just uneven in one, solitary place. I warned you.


Recommended for: fans of Sarah Dessen and Susane Colasanti (good YA contemporary romance, in other words), and those who find themselves even the tiniest bit curious about hockey.

teaser tuesday (73)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 | | 30 comments

It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted every week by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:


Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page (or if you're reading on an electronic device, pick a random number and scroll to that section). Post two or more sentences from that page, along with the book title and author. Share your find with others in the comments at Should Be Reading, and don't give anything vital away!


“Conor sat up straight on the settee, breathing heavily again.


12:07, read the clock.


‘Dammit!’ Conor said. ‘Am I dreaming or not?'


He stood up angrily –


And immediately stubbed his toe.”


p. 64 of Patrick Ness & Siobhan Dowd’s A Monster Calls

plain kate

It sometimes takes me a while to ‘catch on’ and read a fantastic book. It might get all of the accolades in the world, but if I haven’t been seduced by the cover art or simply think to myself, “that sounds good, I should read it” and immediately act on the impulse, it can take years to rise to the top of my To Be Read (TBR) pile.


As you may suppose from the title of this post, such was the case with Erin Bow’s Plain Kate. I heard nothing but good things about it, especially from Shelf Elf and bookshelves of doom (two blogs I trust implicitly for recommendations, and you should too. they know their books, yo. yes, i just said yo. i’m ashamed.). Thankfully, I remembered that I wanted to read it as I was perusing Kindle recommendations on the Metro platform. I frequently make impulsive reading decisions during my commute. Good ones, mostly. But let’s get back to Plain Kate!


A knife-sharp debut novel that leaves its mark.

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. When Kate's village falls on hard times - crops fail, and even Kate's father falls victim to a deadly fever - the townspeople look for someone to blame, and their eyes fall on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he'll give Kate the means to escape the town that seems set to burn her, and what's more, he'll grant her heart's wish. It's a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes that she can't live shadowless forever – and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.


Plain Kate is a woodcarver’s daughter from a tiny village somewhere in the middle of Russia. Her skill with a knife brings her mingled returns: when her father dies, it’s her living, but it is also her curse, for her fellow villagers believe her a witch. When life becomes too dangerous in her birthplace, Kate is forced to make a dark bargain, and sets out into the world, accompanied by her cat Taggle.


Most young adult and middle grade books address the theme of finding a place in the world. What the best of them do is show the reader that that process never ends. Erin Bow not only writes beautifully and evocatively of loss, friendship and choices made in desperation, but she has populated her story with characters who are brave, cowardly, reckless, mad and kind – all of the flavors of humanity.


Added to that, Plain Kate has a storyline that continuously builds tension, that seems both unbearably sad and incredibly hopeful, and that leaves room for both folly and redemption. It is quite simply a lovely book, and it is too good to miss.


Recommended for: fans of Patricia C. Wrede’s Lyra books and Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s The Moorchild, those with a penchant for outcasts, cats and/or gypsies, and anyone looking for a strong, affecting fantasy without a typical romance but imbued with heart.

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