bloggiesta - i'm doing it!

Friday, March 30, 2012 | | 5 comments
bloggiesta event buttonOh yes - that title speaks the truth.  I have finally decided, after 3+ years of blogging and watching from the sidelines, to participate in Bloggiesta.  Bloggiesta is a ‘work on your blog’ sort of event (hosted this year by Suey at It’s All About Books and Danielle at There’s A Book) and the point is to improve, spiff up, or just get caught up on some book blog-related things.  And to do so in the company of the rest of the book blogging community – like a big internet work party.  At least, I hope it’s like that!  We shall see.

What tipped the scales?  I kept seeing cool links to mini-challenges.  Things I didn’t even know I could do suddenly looked awesome and imperative.  My Bloggiesta To Do List was born.

General Items:
Write and schedule 3 book review posts
Write and schedule 2 food recipe posts
Plan a steampunk theme week for later in the spring
Listen to a steampunk podcast

Mini-Challenges:

I shall probably add more as I go, but this is it for now.  Wish me luck!  Also, please do tell: what mini-challenges or tasks have you set for yourself?  

winterling

Thursday, March 29, 2012 | | 6 comments
With some books I develop an instant affinity. I need only see the cover art to realize that it is ‘my sort’ of book. With others, I read the synopsis, and then I think to myself, ‘that sounds lovely.’ Still more books, not quite so lucky, get pushed to the outer reaches of my mind and may never be found again unless I’m vigorously prodded out of my current way of thinking. To give you an idea of what insta-love Cecelia Bedelia-style looks like, please see Exhibit A: Sarah Prineas’ Winterling.

winterling book cover
With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and invites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land.

Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the Mor rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter.

Sarah Prineas captivates in this fantasy-adventure about a girl who must find within herself the power to set right a terrible evil.

Since I knew that I’d love this book, I asked for Winterling for Christmas (and got it). I should start off by saying that it fully lived up to my expectations. This is an ADVENTURE, all-caps. It’s fairyland and winter and magic and mystery and finding a way to fix the world while remaining true to right and good.

Fer is a misfit, and she knows it. She’s also an orphan, and is somewhat content living with her grandmother until she discovers that another world lies just beyond our own. When she visits that land and finds even more mysteries, nothing will stop her until she’s unraveled it all and done her part to help the wounded and hurting.

Though it is very much a middle grade book as far as content goes, Winterling is an engrossing and excellent fantasy. It reminded me of Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, if that makes any sense. The complexity of Winterling’s magical creatures is part of the reason that it is so engaging – they’re never quite what you’d think (and thus, quite fey).

Prineas’ world-building is also top-notch, and her characterization of Fer, her fearful grandmother and the denizens of the other world are outstanding. I’ll look forward to more of Fer, Rook, and further adventures in other lands the next in this series.

Recommended for: fans of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Ellen Potter’s The Humming Room, those who like middle grade and fantasy (all ages), and anyone who enjoys a brave, feisty hero(ine) who doesn’t hesitate to do what’s right, no matter how hard or how high the cost.

waiting on wednesday (25)

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.

Last fall I took up a magical book, and it both broke and healed my heart.   It was full of the beauty and care of excellent fantastical writing.  Which is to say: Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was quite good at turning my emotions inside out, and sending them back to me with an extra helping of ‘well, wasn’t that WONDROUS?’  It is no surprise, then, that I am looking forward with glee and expectation to a second novel-length adventure in Fairyland.  Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There releases on October 2, 2012 from Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan).

the girl who fell beneath fairyland and led the revels there book coverYou’ve been waiting for another adventure in Fairyland... 

And now it’s finally here! Valente’s fans will be thrilled to revel in the lush settings, rich characters, and evocative language of September’s newest sojourn in Fairyland. 

After all the waiting, dreaming, and planning, September has made it back to Fairyland. However, all is not well there. The last time she visited Fairyland, September sacrificed her shadow to save another. Now, that shadow has become Halloween, the Hollow Queen. As ruler of Fairyland Below, Halloween is stealing shadows from the folk of Fairyland, and with them, their magic. September, determined to set things right, embarks upon a quest to Fairyland Below, a dark, wild place where everything is “slantways, sideways, and upside-down” – even the shadows of her dearest friends, Ell the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday.

What books are you waiting on?

freshman year & other unnatural disasters author guest post (+ giveaway!)

Oh happy day! Meredith Zeitlin, author of the fresh and funny debut novel Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters, is here with a guest post. And I’m adding in a sweet giveaway. Probably this combination will blow you out of the water. As it should. Read on and learn of the author’s youthful shenanigans, check back tomorrow for a review of the book, and read to the very end of the post for a giveaway opportunity!

freshman year & other unnatural disasters book cover
Note to readers: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!!

Okay. So if you've read the book – or just my bio – you've probably figured out that Kelsey's disastrous adventures are based on my own. Of course, I did do SOME work as an author – changing details, protecting the innocent, etc. So let's see if you can tell fact from fiction, shall we?


TRUE OR FALSE:
I broke my front tooth off on a bottle of Skyy vodka in my friend's living room.
A junior picked me as her special pet for torture my freshman year. 

I was forced to play Goalie (at which I had zero experience) because of a jerk who was out to get me, and I got cleated in the back by a girl on an opposing team. It hurt a LOT.

I won the “Unsung Hero” Award at a sports banquet.

After waiting and waiting for the PERFECT first kiss, I had mine at 14 with a guy who stuck his tongue down my throat and then – after I gagged and said it was horrible - told me I was doing it wrong. He was sure he was right because his “brother in college” told him exactly how to “French” girls.
I played Lazar Wolf the butcher in a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
My friend betrayed me by hooking up with the guy I liked.

I went to the Junior Prom with a guy who got kicked out for illegal activities.

My mother made me shop at Loehmann's despite my protests and hatred of the communal dressing rooms. 

A series of horrible photos of me showed up in the school paper for a year.

ANSWERS:
FALSE. It was Smirnoff, and we were in her bedroom (trick question! Bwahahahaha). I really did tell my mother that I'd done it on a bottle of old-fashioned root beer, though. That did not go over well.
TRUE. She was pissed that I got a part in the school play as a frosh and made no secret about it. I tried to make it better by sucking up – just like Kelsey does – which completely backfired. It was awful. Interestingly, I re-met my “Julie Nelson” as an adult and we became friends. She barely remembered torturing me at school! Which just goes to show that in many cases, we're all so busy dealing with our own insecurities that we don't even realize what vibes we might be giving off to other people.
FALSE. That happened to my sister, not me. I played lacrosse in high school (abysmally).
TRUE. It was, and still is, one of my proudest achievements, especially because I was totally surprised. (Thanks Ms. Cantrell!) I stank at lacrosse. Mostly I practiced baton-twirling with my stick and tried to distract the girl guarding me with chitchat. But I really did try my best when the ball got anywhere near me, and I had a ton of fun. 

TRUE. Totally, depressingly true. I'm still not over the disappointment.
FALSE. I played Tevye. Seriously. It was an all-girls' production, which only doubled the absurdity of the whole thing. There is video footage, which I've left to my best friend Sara in my will. I had to wear a gross fat suit and a snarled beard, which did in fact fall off during the show (though not quite as conspicuously as Kelsey's).

TRUE. More times than I can remember. Welcome to high school... and college.
TRUE. It wasn't even at my own school! I went to a girls' school, so we'd get asked to proms by the guys at our “brother” schools. I barely knew my date and ended up having to make new friends – fast. It was ridiculous. I don't actually remember how I got home that night, now that I think about it. What a mess.
TRUE. Did anyone's mother NOT do this to them? If so, would s/he like an adopted sister?

FALSE. That one I totally made up. Haven't I suffered enough, for crying out loud!?
Thanks for playing! How'd ya do? ;)

Wasn’t that fun? I know you want to win a copy of Meredith Zeitlin’s debut Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters. And I just so happen to be giving away one copy! Simply fill out the FORM! Giveaway open internationally, will close on March 31, 2012 at 11:59pm EST. Book will ship via the Book Depository. Winner will be notified via email. Good luck!

retro friday – heir apparent

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville that focuses on reviewing books from the past. These can be old favorites, under-the-radar treasures that deserve more attention, woefully out-of-print books, and so on. Everyone is welcome to participate!

retro friday meme button

These days I carefully curate my reading based on recommendations from fellow book bloggers and award lists. In the past (before blogging), I used to leave book selection method up to chance. I’d wander the library shelves or browse the bookstore tables until a title called my name or an intriguing book cover caught my eye. That’s how I discovered Vivian Vande Velde’s Heir Apparent.

heir apparent book cover
In Heir Apparent there are as many ways to win as there are to get killed.
Giannine can testify to how many ways there are to die—it's about all she's been able to do since she started playing. Now all she has to do is get the magic ring, find the stolen treasure, answer the dwarf's dumb riddles, come up with a poem for the head-chopping statue, cope with the army of ghosts, outmaneuver her half brothers, and defeat the man-eating dragon.
If she can do all of that, why, she just might save her own life!

Giannine is a fourteen-year-old with distant parents, a penchant for gaming, and a gift certificate burning a hole in her pocket. She’s also living in a not-too-distant future where buses are automated and ‘gaming’ means fully immersive experiences in a virtual world that doesn’t seem, well, virtual. When she chooses to play the game Heir Apparent, she enters an alternate medieval reality where survival (and being named king) depends on making the right choices. To complicate matters, protesters in the real world have damaged the machinery, and unless she can play her way out of the game, Giannine is facing her last adventure – virtual or otherwise.

Heir Apparent is based on that ubiquitous staple of middle grade years – the choose your own adventure book. Of course, it’s also based on RPGs (role playing games), but in its 'infinite ways to solve the puzzle' I always thought of it in relation to the choose-your-destiny books. Which I hated, by the way. But what I DO like? Watching someone else making the choices and gleaning hints about their character from their choices. Which is probably why I once watched a roommate play 50+ hours of Zelda, without once ever taking a controller myself. I like watching. Weird, I know.

In any case, what we learn about Giannine is that she’s plucky, stubborn in her determination to succeed, a problem-solver, and a mean strategist. She’s also just a young girl who is having a hard time of it – but you get the feeling that with her skills and attitude, she’ll find a way to win in life. The rest of the characters receive less airtime, as it were, but each add interesting elements to the game (and the book).

Though I know the ‘ending,’ I’ve enjoyed reading Heir Apparent multiple times – and I continue to appreciate its clever plotting, Giannine’s resourcefulness, and the bit-by-bit reveal that marks a well-written fantasy/mystery.

Recommended for: fans of choose your own adventure novels and gaming, young adult and middle grade fantasy and science fiction enthusiasts, and anyone who likes a good adventure, admires quick-thinking, and recognizes that sometimes you don’t get it right – on the first, second, or even third time – but the important thing is to keep trying. Enjoy!

author guest post - derek the ghost (+ giveaway)

Thursday, March 15, 2012 | | 1 comments
Do you like zombies, ghouls, vampires, and other monsters? Derek the Ghost is the author of a fun middle grade caper called Scary School that has all of those – and more! I meant to post my review of Scary School yesterday, but real life had other plans. Lucky for you, Derek is here with an author guest post. And if you read the end, there’s a chance to win a copy of Scary School. Beware!

The Importance of Middle-Grade Fiction

Or

Why Reading my Book Series Scary School is Guaranteed to Turn your Kid into a Well-adjusted, Ivy League-bound, World-beater Dynamo

By Derek the Ghost


Question: Are you actually smarter because you read, or is it just our culture’s perception of reading that merely makes you appear smarter? Here’s the answer. You’re actually smarter.

It goes without saying that reading requires a basic education. But more importantly, it requires that the brain function in a heightened state of stimulation called Alpha Mode. During Alpha Mode there’s an innumerable amount of split-second decisions taking place. The brain is constantly deciphering letters and interpreting their meaning while at the same time forming imagery to correlate with each phrase. It requires a lot of sub-conscious brain energy and millions of electrical reactions.

Because reading requires so much brain energy, the brain becomes tired quickly and wants to switch to Beta Mode. Beta Mode is when you are spacing out, vegging out, or just hanging out. You are essentially on autopilot, just taking things in, but not actively participating. When you are driving a car, you are usually in Alpha Mode. But when you suddenly look up and realize you’ve driven ten miles past your freeway exit, that’s right… you switched over to Beta Mode, buster.

The more you read, the more “brain exercise” you’re getting, and staying in Alpha Mode for longer stretches without getting tired becomes much easier. This effect bleeds over into all facets of life. You’ll be able to study longer and more effectively, retain more information, and work more thoroughly and patiently for extended hours. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did this better than anyone.

Now let me ask you this: Why were kids who had never read anything longer than a 150-page Goosebumps book so eager to read a 750-page Harry Potter book? And why were they able to do it so effortlessly, when reading just one chapter of a schoolbook feels like a Herculean labor? Because they loved it. Reading Harry Potter was as enjoyable to most kids (if not more so) than playing video games or watching cartoons. The pleasure of reading those books caused kids’ brains to squirt dopamine into their system, making them feel euphoric and self-confident. There’s something books provide that all their other forms of entertainment cannot – a deep, almost familial bond with the characters.

Which brings me to my book series, Scary School. With these books, I had only one goal: I felt that I could maybe write the funniest (not the best) middle-grade book ever. If I succeeded, what will happen when your kids read Scary School is something very magical. It may very well be the first chapter book your kid reads as well as the first chapter of a life of profound and meaningful achievement. It may also be something a reluctant reader gives a shot because it actually looks fun with that zombie skateboarding kid on the cover. Maybe the only reason your kid gets it is because I’m signing copies at the local bookstore, so you think it would be neat for your kid to have a signed book. Let’s play out that scenario:

I sign the inside jacket of Scary School Book One and write him or her a special message with a funny drawing. Your kid is much more excited to receive it than you thought he/she would be. That night, you hear laughter from across the house late at night. Your kid is supposed to be asleep but is staying up in bed reading Scary School. You figure that’s okay, so you let him/her keep reading, and you keep hearing laughter until midnight. The laughter is forging an imprint on your kid’s brain that reading=fun.

The child will continuing growing up, always reading and seeking that next great story. While other kids are watching TV and living their lives in Beta Mode, your child’s brain will be in Alpha Mode 1,000% more often. The heightened brain stimulation for long hours will increase your child’s cognitive functioning far past his/her peers. Not only that, your child will be armed with amazing moral and practical lessons learned throughout the Scary School book series that helps him/her adjust to new situations, treat people with respect and kindness, and fuel him/her with a yearning to make the world a better place.

This leads your child into doing community service, building the next great invention, and becoming class president. Harvard and Yale both offer your child full scholarships, but he/she chooses to cash in on his new invention money and attends Oxford because Scary School taught him/her the value of seeking adventure and meeting different kinds of people from all over the world.

After graduation, your child comes back home where he/she is probably a DA, a famous architect, a prodigious scientist, or CEO of that hot new startup. He/She comes over for dinner one night and puts a knapsack down on the sofa. It falls over, and amongst the futuristic gadgets, you notice an old, dusty copy of Scary School – that book your child read in one all-nighter back in middle school. That book purchased on a whim because the author happened to be signing at the store. You open it up, and read what is says where I signed the inside of the jacket:

Dear (your kid’s name), Have Fun at Scary School! – Derek the Ghost


Thanks for sharing, Derek! And now... the GIVEAWAY part! Want to win a copy of Scary School? Just fill out the FORM. Giveaway is open internationally, and will end March 24, 2012 at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be notified via email. Good luck!

waiting on wednesday (24)

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.


You’ve probably noticed by now that this month (March) is mostly about middle grade love. I mean, middle grade fiction in general is pretty lovable. It is plucky heroes and heroines just growing up. Not so much the romance and a little less teenage angst than young adult lit, but with the same emotional punch. And let’s not forget adventures and discoveries and MAGIC. Well, add in a dash of fairytales, the promise of humor and a great cover, and I’m sold. On what book, you ask? The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom releases on May 1, 2012 from Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins).


Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You've never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change. Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it's up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

Debut author Christopher Healy takes us on a journey with four imperfect princes and their four improbable princesses, all of whom are trying to become perfect heroes—a fast-paced, funny, and fresh introduction to a world where everything, even our classic fairy tales, is not at all what it seems.


What books are you waiting on?

teaser tuesday (77)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | | 14 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!


“‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ Tel Sigurdson said. ‘Five lightening strikes one right after the other. All in the same spot. Or near enough. Burned it black as pitch.’”


p. 51 of Deborah Coates’ Wide Open

liesl & po

Monday, March 12, 2012 | | 6 comments
When I need a break from young adult books and their ever-present danger, excitement, and nervous blush of first love, I turn to fantasy, middle grade, and the ketchup bottle label. Okay, so not actually the label. But this is the truth: sometimes you need a different sort of story to stir the heart, fire up your sense of wonder, and make the whole world new again.

Thus, I love middle grade fantasies, which combine two favorite elements. The original attraction may be due to fond childhood memories of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, or that I keep being pleased to bits by the middle grade books I do pick up. Whatever the case, it segues nicely into an introduction of Lauren Oliver’s Liesl & Po (which is, as you’ve probably guessed, a middle grade fantasy).


Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.
That same night, an alchemist's apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.
Will's mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.
From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.

Liesl is a small girl locked in an attic, in a world where the sun hasn’t shone in a very long time. Her father has just died when a ghost appears. That is the start of her adventure. Meanwhile, in the same city, an alchemist’s apprentice is caught in an error and must make his way in the world. And a ghost (yes, the same one that visits Liesl!) finds itself pulled into the living world and makes decisions that will change all three of them. What follows is a sweet, predictable tale about heart, finding happiness, and letting go.

After all of my blather about middle grade fantasy, I feel I should mention something. While Liesl & Po does have magic and an alternate world, I think that in its essence it is an allegory. For evidence, I present this excerpt, from page 96:

“(That was the kind of world they lived in: When people were afraid, they did not always do what they knew to be right. They turned away. They closed their eyes. They said, Tomorrow. Tomorrow, perhaps, I’ll do something about it. And they said that until they died.)”

Beyond the ‘moral’ in that paragraph, I submit that the book itself works best if looked at as a fable. It is charming and an easy read, but it is also simplistic. The edges fray a bit if you pull hard. So it is best to take it at face value, to read it quickly and appreciate its descriptions of magic and emotion, and move on. That isn’t to say I didn’t like it – I did! But I like it better when I don’t dig deeply.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the lovely artwork by Kei Acedera. Liesl & Po is beautifully illustrated, and this thoughtful touch only adds to the appeal of the story.

Side note: In the past few months I’ve read books by authors I wasn’t keen on (due to previous experience). Both times, I’ve been surprised and quite pleased to find that their recent work changed my mind. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races and Lauren Oliver’s Liesl & Po were enchanting, and I shall be looking for more from them in the future.

Recommended for: fans of middle grade fantasy and fables, and those who for one day would like to see the sun come out from behind the gray.

Fine print: I read Liesl & Po courtesy of HarperCollins' Browse Inside feature, and in conjunction with March of the Middle Grade.

the way we fall

Thursday, March 8, 2012 | | 3 comments

I didn’t grow up watching horror films or thrillers or anything too realistic, actually. I mean, I don’t count the original Planet of the Apes, because that might have been a little freaky, but it was also totally hokey. My parents were vigilant about what we saw on TV, too (read: I was totally sheltered. I’m okay with that).


This may not be completely accurate, but I think my first brush with anything really scary was in sophomore biology class when we watched the film Outbreak. Today’s equivalent is the movie Contagion. And I KNOW that on a sliding scale it’s not that freaky, but I was totally creeped out. I hadn’t thought about infectious disease’s power in that way before. I might have had nightmares and been a mini-hypochondriac for a while. Trust me, I know I’m a wimp.


It starts with an itch you just can't shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you'll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in.

And then you're dead.

When a deadly virus begins to sweep through sixteen-year-old Kaelyn’s community, the government quarantines her island—no one can leave, and no one can come back. Those still healthy must fight for dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival.

As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of friends and family, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save the people she holds dearest. Because how will she go on if there isn't?

Megan Crewe crafts a powerful and gripping exploration of self-preservation, first love, and hope. Poignant and dizzying, this heart-wrenching story of one girl’s bravery and unbeatable spirit will leave readers fervently awaiting the next book in this standout new series.


The Way We Fall is a classic outbreak story meshed with a believable young adult survival epic. Kaelyn is a high school junior interested in animals, and she’s mostly a loner (and lonely). At the beginning of the book she’s started writing in a notebook to her former best friend, Leo, to chronicle life on her isolated island in Canada for him, and as an apology for ending their friendship.


When friends, neighbors and classmates start succumbing to the virus, though, she begins to use the notebook as a ‘last testament.’ What follows is a gripping account of breakdown, sickness, grief and survival – and making your life a bit better by bringing those around you close. The plot is both eerily plausible and riveting – in a way it’s like the film Outbreak – you can’t look away, and you hope dearly for the characters’ survival.


I didn’t realize this as I was reading it, but The Way We Fall is the first of a series, and that makes sense. While it had an ending (obviously – the pages don’t go on forever!), full resolution is saved for further down the road. What the reader gets is a mesmerizing tale of a virus and the changes it wreaks on a community, and especially on one girl, Kaelyn. I liked it, and I’ll be checking out the next in the series.


Also, just a note: LOVE the cover for this book. It's reminiscent of yellow caution tape and warning signs, and the girl in the words? Perfect and slightly chilling.


Recommended for: those who like infectious disease films (a la Outbreak), fans of YA apocalyptic and catastrophic tales, anyone with an interest in young adult literature and biology and the possibilities surrounding island quarantines (think: Virals by Kathy Reichs). May it keep you up at night!


Fine print: I received an e-ARC of this novel for review via NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion.

waiting on wednesday (23)

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.


I usually keep track of my MOST ANTICIPATED books via Amazon wishlist (such a handy tool!). Notice the ‘most anticipated’ all in capital letters back there. I also keep track of 150+ books that I haven’t-had-time-to-get-to-but-would-like-to-before-I-die. That list resides on Goodreads. And it doesn’t count the two bookcases full of unread volumes in my bedroom. Needless to say, there’s a lot to read. Lately, middle grade has been near the top of the pile, and this upcoming book by Shannon Messenger continues the trend. It. Looks. Awesome. And yes, it’s on the Amazon wishlist. Keeper of the Lost Cities releases on October 2, 2012 from Aladdin (Simon & Schuster).


Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She's a Telepath—someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. It's a talent she's never known how to explain.

Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there's a place she does belong, and that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known.

Sophie has new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.” There are secrets buried deep in Sophie's memory—secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans—that other people desperately want. Would even kill for.

In this page-turning debut, Shannon Messenger creates a riveting story where one girl must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world, before the wrong person finds the answer first.

What books are you waiting on?

teaser tuesday (76)

Tuesday, March 6, 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!


“‘They’re going to question us,’ he said. ‘And I think eating us is under consideration, too.’


She answered brightly, trying to ignore the growing pain in her skull. ‘See? That’s definitely a more immediate problem.’”


p. 63 of Jenn Reese’s Above World


daughter of the centaurs

Monday, March 5, 2012 | | 6 comments
I’m just going to put this out there: Centaurs are super cool. And yes, you can judge me for my nerdiness. Greek mythology, Narnia, and Harry Potter – none of you did anything to cure me of this! And then came Kate Klimo’s Daughter of the Centaurs.

daughter of the centaurs book cover
Malora knows what she was born to be: a horse wrangler and a hunter, just like her father. But when her people are massacred by batlike monsters called Leatherwings, Malora will need her horse skills just to survive. The last living human, Malora roams the wilderness at the head of a band of magnificent horses, relying only on her own wits, strength, and courage. When she is captured by a group of centaurs and taken to their city, Malora must decide whether the comforts of her new home and family are worth the parts of herself she must sacrifice to keep them.
Kate Klimo has masterfully created a new world, which at first seems to be an ancient one or perhaps another world altogether, but is in fact set on earth sometime far in the future.

The first chapters of Kate Klimo’s book seem to promise something excellent. Deadly Leatherwings threaten Malora’s small settlement, and the scene is set with impossible choices and an interesting world. Then, everything goes south. Warning: if you liked Daughter of the Centaurs, read no further.

Oh, how many things went horribly wrong? Let me count them:

1) Third person present tense. This is the goofiest narrative voice ever. It almost spoiled the first bit of the book for me (the only decent bit, as it turned out). It is awkward. It deadens any connection between character and the reader. It. Is. Terrible. Experiment: read some of the text aloud and tell me it doesn’t sound stilted. See?

2) Twani. One of the interesting things about Daughter of the Centaurs is that it’s not all centaurs all the time. There are humans, Leatherwings, horses, other unique beings, and the Twani. Twani are described as cat-like creatures whose life goal is to serve the centaurs. In fact, they work themselves so hard that they sometimes die. In servitude. No explanation. I'll move on before I get upset.

3) Total loss of tension. As mentioned above, Daughter of the Centaurs opened well. I could overlook the narrative voice and other small annoyances as long as the plot moved along at a strong clip and Malora was going places and doing things that furthered her journey. Unfortunately, almost as soon as Malora and the centaurs made contact, the book slowed down. It eventually stalled out in info dump territory. Class tensions weren’t tense.  Family disagreements weren’t true obstacles.  Shady characters never developed into sinister villains (or anything else, for that matter). The text meandered, told, and pontificated, but the thrill that drew this reader in? Disappeared completely.

4) The wise pet.  Oops, I mean the faun tutor (and now it sounds as though we’ve fallen into Narnia, I know).  This was something that made my skin itch.  When Malora comes to live with the centaurs, one of the first beings she meets Honus, a combination tutor and pet.  It is disconcerting and disturbing to see the objectification and ‘ownership’ of sentient beings throughout the book, especially when it is NEVER unpacked.  If there was any self-consciousness evident in the writing at all, I could be reconciled to it.  Instead, there is none.  And it feels creepy.

This list is by no means exhaustive. For further insight, check out The Book Smugglers’ take. They were the ones who identified the narrative voice - I didn't even know what it was called. *le sigh* Another interesting note: according to Amazon, Daughter of the Centaurs is a young adult title. I found it to be very juvenile (and thus the label 'middle grade').

Kate Klimo’s Daughter of the Centaurs was not for me – in fact, I got to a point where I actively disliked it. I kept reading in hope… but I urge you not to make the same mistake.

Not recommended.

Fine Print: I read an e-ARC of this book courtesy of Random House and NetGalley. Thanks?

middle grade in march

Sunday, March 4, 2012 | | 5 comments
This month I’ll be focusing on middle grade (MG) books. Why? Well, they’re awesome. But also, Jill at the O.W.L. is hosting the March of the Middle Grade, featuring daily posts by middle grade authors and bloggers. I contributed a guest blog for The O.W.L. (which I will direct you to in due time), and I’ve also put together a number of posts for Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia – reviews, giveaways, and an author interview. Did I mention that MG is my new love?

Calendar:


If you want to check out EVEN MORE middle grade goodness, Novel Novice is also hosting a Middle Grade March. And remember to check out the opening post at The O.W.L. – Jill is hosting an awesome giveaway. Let’s go middle grade!

born wicked giveaway

The best bookish things about living in a big city are: 1) book conferences, fairs and festivals (sometimes they happen in your backyard!), 2) lots of bookstore options – including indie booksellers, and 3) author signings at those wonderful bookstores. I’m lucky enough to live quite close to a fabulous little place called One More Page Books. I went to their grand opening celebration, even. Next weekend I’ll head over to the store for a signing by Jessica Spotswood, author of Born Wicked, and Miranda Kenneally, author of Catching Jordan.


AND, if you’re lucky, you’ll win one of the autographed copies of Born Wicked that I plan to buy. Giveaway at the end of the post!


Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship—or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with six months to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word…especially after she finds her mother's diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family's destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate stars scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren't safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood—not even from each other.


Would you like to win a copy of Born Wicked? I’m giving away one signed (and possibly personalized if the timing works out) copy of Born Wicked to one winner. To enter, simply fill out the FORM. Giveaway open internationally, will end March 8, 2012 at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be notified via email. Good luck!

the humming room

Let’s say we have a conversation about classic children’s literature. And when I say classic, what I really mean is old/classic (books over 120 years young!). The first ones that pop into my head are Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I have read both of these novels multiple times, but the latter is one that has aged well as I have gone from child to adult. Its story and characterization never grow…old.


Ellen Potter’s The Humming Room is a retelling of Burnett’s masterpiece, and I was both excited and apprehensive about reading it – but I needn’t have been. Why? It’s really lovely.


Hiding is Roo Fanshaw's special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment's notice. When her parents are murdered, it's her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life. 



As it turns out, Roo has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn't believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river?

Inspired by The Secret Garden, this tale full of unusual characters and mysterious secrets is a story that only Ellen Potter could write.


The Humming Room is Roo’s story. When we meet her, she is hiding, she has seen it all, and she knows that there isn’t a happy ending. But even though her situation is tragic, there’s a sliver of hope: Roo has a rich uncle, and a chance for a fresh start. How she takes to her new situation will determine who she becomes, and whether she allows the world and her circumstances to change her for the better.


Potter’s character study of Roo is PERFECT. Her circumstances encourage the reader’s sympathy, even as she is sullen, solitary, and unhappy. Her inquisitive nature saves her, in a sense, and that theme is a major one throughout the book. Also stellar: the descriptions and history of Cough Rock. I was completely enchanted and mesmerized by the island world.


The plot, if you have read The Secret Garden, is no surprise. What is interesting is the way Potter reinvented it by creating a completely unique place (Cough Rock, as mentioned). She also added substantial charm to the story with the particular folklore and superstition of the St. Lawrence islands.


The Humming Room is a delightful and dear meditation on an old story, and a tale set in a new world that I long to inhabit. My only complaint is that it felt too short, and rushed at the end. I wanted more time on Cough Rock with Roo, Jack and Sir.


Recommended for: fans of Burnett’s The Secret Garden, anyone looking for a beautifully-written middle grade book with a secret at its heart, and those who have never forgotten the wonder of first discovery – of a good book, of nature, and of friendship.


Fine print: I received an e-ARC for review courtesy of NetGalley and Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan).

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