waiting on wednesday (84)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 | | 1 comments
Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

This meme will be the death of me. No, nix that. To give credit where credit is due: my own book hoarding desires will be the death of me. It'll happen when an overstuffed bookshelf falls on me as I try to fit just one more precious volume onto the shelf. All that to say, yes, I'm still longing for new books, even though I have hundreds of unread lovelies at home. I'm working on it (kind of). One book I love LOVE loved, and wouldn't have discovered if it hadn't been for blogging, was Kate Elliott's Cold Magic. That book was/is a perfect Cecelia book, and though I didn't love the rest of the series with quite the same passion, I've been watching Elliott's releases with a close eye to see if there'll be another HIT! in my future (the all CAPS bit was necessary). Lo and freaking behold, Elliott has a YOUNG ADULT FANTASY coming out next summer. You may recall that this is my favorite genre. I'm thrilled. Beyond thrilled, even. Yay, so excited!* Court of Fives will be released by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Hachette) on August 18, 2015.

court of fives by kate elliott book cover
A teenage girl secretly competes in her city's prestigious athletic competitions in this high-fantasy adventure that can be pitched as Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games meets Little Women.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott's first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

Jessamy's life is a balance between acting like an upper class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But at night she can be whoever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multi-level athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom's best competitors. Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an unlikely friendship between a girl of mixed race and a Patron boy causes heads to turn. When a scheming lord tears Jes's family apart, she'll have to test Kal's loyalty and risk the vengeance of a powerful clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death. 

What books are you waiting on?

*All of the expression in today's post was absolutely necessary. I'm feeling giddy.

over and under the snow

My close friends are having children.  I've spread the word that I intend to contribute to (or manufacture out of whole cloth) the picture book libraries of these little ones.  I realize that my thoughts on the proper curation of picture book libraries = perfect blog material, but I haven't gotten myself 'together' enough on a Tuesday to do a themed post of Top 10 Books for a Baby's Library.  I have thoughts, though... oh! so many thoughts.  It will have to happen soon.  One of the books that would definitely make my list (for girls and boys) is Kate Messner’s nonfiction picture book, Over and Under the Snow.

over and under the snow by kate messner cover art
Over the snow, the world is hushed and white.

But under the snow is a secret world of squirrels and snowshoe hares, bears and bullfrogs, and many other animals who live through the winter, safe and warm under the snow.

A parent and child cross-country ski through on a winter's day, discussing the various animals that hibernate, burrow and survive winter in their unique snowy habitat.  While they travel along, some animals meet them above ground, while others stay hidden, under the snow.  The book's action is (ostensibly) carried along by an afternoon skiing trip, but the pages focus on the animals in the woods rather than the human travelers observing them.

This book is a beautiful, refreshing entry into the winter-themed picture book canon.  First off, it is really lovely: Christopher Silas Neal's mixed media artwork is fantastic, and brings the wintry, wooded landscape to life.  The contrast of colors and materials show the animals and their habitats in detail, and draw the eye to different parts of the page for each separate scene.  Whether the reader pays any attention to the text or not, he/she is sure to be engaged by the images, for they tell the story very well on their own.

And that's not to say that the text lacks anything!  It's got a great rhythm to it, with just the right mix of repetition, interest and action that the whole comes together into an ordinary/extraordinary adventure.  Add in thought-provoking facts about animal habits, and you have a book that is entertaining, educational, and all-around a work of art.  The mix of fantastic storytelling through art and text will keep the interest of readers of all ages.

Another (small) thing I appreciated about this book is that it references winter without any of the holiday touchstones which might throw kids for a loop.  My friends work in public schools with extremely diverse student populations, and for some of their students, Christmas, Hanukkah and other winter holidays are foreign concepts.  This book is about snow and animals.  The turn of seasons is universal (and unexceptionable)!

Recommended for: anyone looking for a new classic children's picture book to add to their collection, and fans of Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day and Levi Pinfold's Black Dog.

top ten new-to-me authors i read in 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | | 6 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

This week most of my fellow Top Ten Tuesday meme compatriots are sharing their 'Best of 2014' lists, but I'm nowhere near ready.  My best-of-the-year list will likely appear... in late January, if tradition holds! I haven't yet shared my favorite new (to me) author finds from 2014, so that's what's happening today.  I look forward to what these authors will do in the future, and in the case of a few, delving into their backlists.  New author discovery is a wonderful thing!

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2014


1. Rosamund Hodge – If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I feel strongly about fantasy world-building, good writing, and that I'm a sucker for fairy tales retold.  Hodge wrote two fantastic standalone stories that combined all three this year (Cruel Beauty and Gilded Ashes).  I can't to see what she does next.

2. Malala Yousafzai – Recent Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala is an inspiring figure and a whip-smart student.  Her memoir I Am Malala makes it clear that this girl/woman is destined for even greater things.  I hope she continues to write, because her story and her drive make for fantastic reading.

3. Emily Croy Barker – Dear the world, I would like to see more intelligent, thoughtful, feminist adult fantasy out there.  Take The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic as an example, and we'll all be fine.  Seriously!  Love, Me.

4. Sylvia Izzo Hunter – One debut author this year wrote just the sort of book that gives me warm fuzzy feelings.  The Midnight Queen was a gem.  Can't wait for more in this world!

5. Rachel Neumeier – I've had several people tell me over the years that I should really try Neumeier's books.  Charlotte at Charlotte's Library is a big fan, and I felt bad that the one book I'd picked up previously went back to the library mostly unread.  Enter Black Dog.  I was smitten with the heroine of this book from page one.  I get the hype now!


6. Ben Hatke – Do you like comics/graphic novels/picture books?  Basically, anything that counts as story+illustration on paper?  Get thee to a Ben Hatke book!  His middle grade sci-fi graphic novel Zita the Spacegirl and totally adorable picture book Julia's House for Lost Creatures turned me into a huge fan.  

7. Maya Angelou – Here is a sad thing: Sometimes it takes an ending to get the ball rolling.  In this case, I knew of Angelou, but I had never read her.  I was inspired to pick up her cookbook Hallelujah! The Welcome Table after her death in May, and I was impressed, inspired and all-around entertained by her writing.  The only negative emotion around here is regret, that I didn't get to her work before she passed.

8. Kat EllisBlackfin Sky.  This book!  It's quirky and weird and the kind of morbid that I find funny.  It's also got a circus, a dead girl, and one (or several?) murderers.  Just the sort of thriller-y read for a cold winter's night, and just the sort of push I needed to start following Ellis.  I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

9. Lydia Millet – Lydia Millet made me want to read dystopian YA again, just when I thought I couldn't handle any more.  Her eco- and pharma-apocalyptic diary Pills and Starships hit all of the right notes (for me).  I'll happily look into her backlist now!

10. Leah Cypess – How did this author win me over?  With assassins, magic, a corrupt political system and a cave.  Also, love?  And plots!  Death Sworn was a roller coaster of a book and I'm always up for fantastical adventures...

I’m excited to go hunting through posts of best new authors from last week.  Tell me, who were your new favorite authors in 2014?

monday memories – the lion, the witch and the wardrobe

Monday, December 15, 2014 | | 1 comments
Emma of Miss Print and Nicole at The Book Bandit have started a new weekly feature called Monday Memories.  To participate, all you have to do is take a photo of one of your books (or a library book that means a lot to you) and talk a bit about why it made an impression.  Today I'm going to talk about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.


I grew up on the Chronicles of Narnia series.  My mother read the books aloud to those of us who would listen (I was… seven, maybe?), going all the way through the series, even though we didn’t really ‘get’ The Last Battle.  Several years later, she reread them again, so that my brothers (who had been toddlers the first time around) could get the same experience.  I remember that first time through the series with fondness – I fell a little in love with Mr. Tumnus and Puddleglum – but I got to see the books through my brothers’ eyes the second time.  They adored Mr. & Mrs. Beaver, and Reepicheep the mouse, and all of the sword fighting and battles.  There’s something very special about seeing a book you love come to life for a loved one.

When my mother was reading through the books the first time, she borrowed library copies, but the second time around, my grandmother had sent her own copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  It stayed with us.  When my parents were paring down their own book collection a few years ago I snagged it for my shelves.  And last night, when I was photographing it for this feature, I realized that it is a first edition. 


WHAT.

Needless to say, I will be careful with it forever after.  I already loved this book, but now it’s precious.  Oh, books!  May my love affair with you never end.

the darkest part of the forest

I spent a large portion of this year’s Book Expo America standing in lines.  It was my sister’s first time, and she wanted to meet Jason Segel and Jane Lynch and other ‘high profile’ authors whose lines stretched (or seemed to stretch) into oblivion.  That meant that I had a lot of quality time to chat with friends.  One of those friends, Emma from Miss Print, said she had an extra copy of Holly Black’s forthcoming fairy book. Intrigued, I asked if it was a standalone (I’m so weary of series!). She responded in the affirmative.  It was a done deal.  So when The Darkest Part of the Forest arrived at my house, I read it in one marathon session, staying up late into the night and savoring the enchantment that is a Holly Black book.  Oh yes, it’s good.

the darkest part of the forest by holly black book cover
Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Fairfold is a tiny town tucked away in a forest, where the locals live alongside the Folk… and (mostly) aren’t troubled by the fact.  Tourists disappear every year though – that’s part of the bargain.  Hazel and Ben grew up in Fairfold, and except for a few years away in Philadelphia they have lived their entire lives there.  Fairfold, with its horned prince lying in a glass casket in the woods, with its acknowledged fairy changeling, and with the strange mix of dread, denial and dreaming that lies thick over everything. When Hazel begins to find sinister messages and ‘lose’ bits of time, she believes her idyll is running out.  For Hazel, even though she knew the consequences, once made a bargain…

Hazel lives like there’s no tomorrow, in part because she doesn’t believe she has (or deserves) one. Her fear and numerous falsehoods are tied up together, but she cares for her brother deeply, and desperately needs crusade, a reason to save others – even if she can’t save herself.  She kisses boys she doesn’t like to distract herself from the other bad decisions she’s made.  She’s outwardly strong, and always, always fights for what is right.  Hazel works to forget the things she doesn’t want to remember, and carries her secrets, doubts and sorrows close to her chest.  She’s both strong and fragile, complicated and not, full of guilt and self-loathing, while wishing (or often not letting herself wish) for good things.

In a way, her brother Ben sees some of these troubles – and sometimes he misses them completely.  He’s a fish out of water himself – gay in a small town, gifted in music through a fairy touch, and counting down the days until he can find something different.  Ben has chosen to fight his Folk-entwined fate, and he’s in love with the fairy prince in the casket.  Ben and Hazel’s friend Jack, the only changeling in Fairfold, sees more than Ben, but he has his own reasons.  And all of them are twined together by love, secrecy, and power.

What is this story about?  It’s got the typical Black twistiness and it’s unnerving and strange, like an otherworldly fairy people would be.  At the same time, it’s about justice, sibling love/rivalry, about the dreams that make it seem worth it to sacrifice your life.  Black asks (through her beautiful prose): What are you willing to sacrifice, and who are you willing to sacrifice it for?  What changes when love comes into the picture?  How do you deal with a society entirely ‘other?’  The answers are chilling, honest, and hopeful by turns.

Oh, and yes, there’s kissing.  And diverse characters.  And a mystery that unravels like a con.  My only complaint, as it were, is that the ending ties up a bit too neatly (I’m one of those few who prefer a loose end or two).  However, I read a very early advanced reading copy, so there’s a chance things will change.  I should note that the conclusion did not in any way affect my enjoyment of the book. I thought it was a delicious read: all dark and dangerous.  Black’s writing is (as always) addictive, vibrant, and delightful.

Recommended for: fans of Charles de Lint, Emma Bull and Sarah Rees Brennan, and anyone who likes young adult fantasy and fairy stories, the darker the better.

The Darkest Part of the Forest will be released by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Hachette) on January 13, 2015.

Fine print: I read an ARC version of this book that I received from a book-reviewing friend.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

top ten books i’m looking forward to in 2015

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 | | 8 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

Oh hello there!  It’s been a while.  I have been busy reading not-books (uhm… fan fiction?) for the past few months and have sadly neglected my reading schedule, real-books, and the blog.  I’m back now.  And I have brought with me… three months worth of reading guilt (as you do)!  All of those books I didn’t get to during my months away are languishing… and I’m here today talking about more books that aren’t even published yet?!  Yes, yes I am.  [insert proverb/pithy saying about the reading heart/brain wanting what it wants]  So yeah, these are the books I can’t wait to get my hands on.  Sorry/not sorry. *grin*

Top Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2015


1. Tear You Apart by Sarah Cross – I read Cross’ first book Kill Me Softly, and while I thought the writing was decent it was really the concept that captured my interest (fairy tales crossed with the modern world plus added danger).  I couldn’t put it down.  I’m excited to see what happens next in Beau Rivage.

2. Omega City by Diana Peterfreund – I really liked Peterfreund’s two recent YA sci-fi/historical mash-ups, and I can already tell that I’ll love this middle grade book, too.  It has been likened to City of Ember.  Need I say more?

3. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Totes cheating on this one.  I’ve already read it.  And it was FANTASTIC.  I can’t wait to purchase a finished copy.  It will be so beautiful!

4. Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge – Can we talk?  Let’s talk.  I liked Hodge’s debut novel Cruel Beauty.  But I loved her novella Gilded Ashes.  What does this tell me? I will likely ADORE (with all caps!) her next book.  Here’s hoping!

5. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente – You know the type of story that you want to distill into a cordial because you’re very sure drinking it would make you live forever or some such?  I feel that way about Valente’s Fairyland books.  I will gladly make a place in my heart for another one.


6. The Apple Throne by Tessa Gratton – Do you like Norse mythology, kissing and/or fantastic alternate universes?  Good, me too.  Now, have you read Tessa Gratton’s United States of Asgard stories, starting with The Lost Sun?  Go do that.  Unfortunately, the series was canceled after book #2 (we won’t go into how sad that made me…).  GOOD NEWS alert!  Gratton will be self-publishing the final book in the series.  It sounds amazeballs.  I haven’t even read the novellas set in the same world yet, but I’m excited.  Also, did I mention that one time Gratton wrote crossover Avengers/USofAsgard fanfiction?  *love*

7. Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop – I've read the previous two books in The Others series (starting with Written in Red) on the day they came out.  I mean that in an I-didn't-sleep-and-then-went-to-work-and-then-reread-the-books-the-very-next-day kind of way.  I'd call it a problem, but it's so enjoyable...

8. Beastkeeper by Cat Hellison – The beautiful book cover caught my eye, and then I saw the words beast and curse in conjunction.  SOLD!

9. Stone in the Sky by Cecil Castellucci – First book Tin Star was a serious win.  Intelligent, beautifully-written young adult science fiction?  Yes, I'll have some more.

10. The Just City by Jo Walton – Time travel + education + philosophy + Greek mythology = Oooookay, I'll read it.  With pleasure!

Honorable Mention: Ebon by Robin McKinley – I know there’s slightly less than a snowball’s chance in heck that this one will come out in 2015 (Goodreads status notwithstanding), but I remain *hopeful* because I just like to torture myself that way.  ONE DAY!  Hopefully soon-ish.  Le sigh.

What books are you looking forward to in 2015?

i am malala (giveaway!)

Today I’m over at the BookPal blog with a review of I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick.  I loved it, and I'll be giving (and recommending) it as a holiday gift to many.  Here’s a little snippet of what I had to say:
i am malala by malala yousafzai book coverI Am Malala is not only a good book, but an enjoyable, intelligent and affecting one as well, highly recommended for all readers (but especially grades 5+).

To read the full review, head over to BookPal.  And now... I’m hosting a giveaway of the book!  To enter, simply fill out the FORM.  For one extra entry, read my review at BookPal and let me know that you did so in the comments here.  Giveaway open internationally, will end on November 18, 2014 at 11:59pm EST.  Winner will be notified via email.  Good luck!

Fine print: I am hosting the giveaway, and I did not receive any compensation for this post. 

julia’s house for lost creatures

The folks at First Second (Macmillan) have found a gem in author/illustrator Ben Hatke.  I read his graphic novels in the Zita the Spacegirl series this summer and enjoyed their energy, intergalactic travel and art immensely.  I was very interested in seeing his first picture book, Julia's House for Lost Creatures, and can I just say… it does not disappoint.  I’ll be picking up everything Hatke creates from here on out.

julia's house for lost creatures by ben hatke book cover
When Julia and her walking house come to town, she likes everything about her new neighborhood except how quiet it is! So Julia puts a sign up: "Julia's House for Lost Creatures." Soon she's hosting goblins, mermaids, fairies, and even a dragon. Quiet isn't a problem anymore for Julia...but getting her housemates to behave themselves is!

The simple, sweet text of this picture book by New York Times best-selling Zita the Spacegirl author/illustrator Ben Hatke is perfectly balanced by his lush, detailed, immersive watercolor illustrations.

Julia is a resourceful girl.  When she and her house set up shop by the sea, she realizes that it is too quiet.  She makes a sign and waits… and soon finds a new group of friends with which to share her house.  The magic of friendship might be strained by mess and bother, but Julia knows how to fix this problem too… and in the end, peace (if you want to call it that) is restored.

While the text of Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is quite brief, it is still funny, charming, fantastical and sweet.  It also tells a short story, but the ending leaves the door half open for imagination.  Children and adults alike may find themselves wondering “What happens next?” and the beauty of it is that Hatke introduced so many varied characters in the space of a short book that anything is possible (and very likely probable).  And after all, what is better than a book that can carry you away in a daydream?

The art is really the thing about this book, and it is just adorable.  I really don’t know another, more refined way to put that.  There are the main things: Julia running to and fro making signs and answering the door, the lost creatures themselves, the house! by the sea, and then there are also the unexpected details and lovely watercolor washes and the sense of a whole world that anyone could invite inside.  I used the word charming before, and that’s really the sense of the whole book: it’s delightful and whimsical, and it should (with any luck) make the reader’s heart happy.

Recommended for: fans of picture books (especially those enthralled by inventive art and fantastical themes), and anyone who liked Levi Pinfold’s Black Dog.

Fine print: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

waiting on wednesday (83)

Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

I've read one Justine Larbalestier book, How to Ditch Your Fairy.  I thought it was quirky, fun, and I know it would have appealed to teen me (I was a very dedicated teen athlete as well as a bookworm, and I never thought there were enough books for my demographic - especially books featuring girls-who-play-sports!).  I also checked out the short story collection Zombies vs. Unicorns, which she co-edited with Holly Black. Those (positive) reading experiences led me to Larbalestier's blog and Twitter, and I've found that she's articulate, funny, and interesting on social media as well as a great writer of fiction.  So I was quite disappointed when I heard that her latest book hadn't sold in the U.S.  It seemed like pure bad luck.  But hey, that's changed!  It's coming!  I'm super stoked.  Razorhurst will be released by Soho Teen on March 3, 2015.

razorhurst by justine larbalestier book cover
Sydney’s deadly Razorhurst neighborhood, 1932. Gloriana Nelson and Mr. Davidson, two ruthless mob bosses, have reached a fragile peace—one maintained by “razor men.” Kelpie, orphaned and living on the street, is blessed and cursed with the ability to see Razorhurst’s many ghosts, and she sees the cracks already forming. Then Kelpie meets Dymphna Campbell.

Dymphna is a legendary beauty and prized moll of Gloriana Nelson. She’s earned the nickname “Angel of Death” for the trail of beaus who have died trying to protect her from Mr. Davidson’s assassins. Unbeknownst to Kelpie, Dymphna can see ghosts, too, and as Gloriana’s hold crumbles one burly henchman at a time, the girls will need one another more than ever.

As loyalties shift and betrayal threatens at every turn, Dymphna is determined to not only survive, but to rise to the top with Kelpie at her side—and to save Kelpie from both the living and the dead.

What books are you waiting on?

top ten fantasy series i want to start

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | | 8 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

There are over 300,000 new books published in the United States each year. I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 books per year (and no, my Goodreads stats won’t back that up – I’m choosy about what I claim on the internet).  This means I am missing… so many books.  And I will never catch up!  Even if we narrow it down to fantasy novels, there are still too many for any one human being to read.  So.  How do I ever choose?  I take suggestions, I store bits of conversations in my brain, and I bide my time.  This week’s list is about series I know I want to start (and for some of them, I've known this for years) – books that have stellar recommendations from readers whose taste I trust.  I can’t wait to dive in!

Top Ten Fantasy Series I Want to Start


1. Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce – Take away my YA fantasy fan card, I've never read ANY Tamora Pierce.  I know.  I know.  I plan to fix that soon (probably when I find the entire series at a used book sale).

2. Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor – I've had internet and IRL (in real life) friends telling me to pick up this series for a while now.  I even have all of the books.  Just need to dive in!

3. Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier – Angie of Angieville is a huge fan of this series, and she's never steered me wrong before.  Plus, the cover artwork is gorgeous.  I show a consistent weakness for pretty things... (but especially books!)

4. Temeraire by Naomi Novik – Dragons + Napoleonic Wars.  It's the kind of crack-y concept that I would have devoured back in the day when series were just an excuse to spend more time buried in books (these days there's a bit more of a time crunch). This series would make a good holiday gift for my youngest brother - and of course it's only polite to read the books along with him so we can discuss!

5. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – I've read one Sanderson book, The Rithmatist, and that was enough to convince me that I need to check out his other worlds.  This series also came with a very high recommendation from a real life friend.  So there's that.


6. Cecelia and Kate by Patricia C. Wrede – Well, you'd think I'd have picked this book up on the series title alone, since one of the characters and I share the same name and all.  But.  I've been holding off, Not sure exactly why, except that I always love Wrede's books, and maybe I'm hoarding for a later (bad) day.

7. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin – Here's what I know about these books: they're complex, epic, political fantasies with well-developed worlds, written by an author of color, and very well received by fans of fantasy.  Also, the first one is on my shelf.  

8. The Queen’s Thief by Megan Whalen Turner – When I moved home to Seattle in 2009 after leaving grad school (I abandoned a PhD program), I did a bunch of odd, part-time jobs until I made the move to DC and found full-time work.  One of those occasional things was to drive a family friend's teenage son to tutoring.  He had a well-loved copy of The Thief in his backpack, and he was so in love with the book (and eager to tell me all about it) that I promised to eventually give it a try.  I now have a copy on my Kindle app, and given the amount of love I see everywhere for this series, I know I need to read it.  Soon.

9. The Books of Raksura by Martha Wells – I can't remember who recommended this series so strongly to me... but I remember thinking, "Oh, those sound like my sort of books."  I promptly purchased the first one, and it has been waiting on my e-shelf ever since.  It's kind of my M.O. at this point.

10. The Dreamhunter Duet by Elizabeth Knox – Emma (Miss Print) convinced me to move these books up my TBR (to be read) list, and I broke down and bought myself copies a month or so ago.  I just need to move from owning to reading.  Which shouldn't be hard, because I adored Mortal Fire, the only other Knox book I've read.

What is one series you’re excited to start reading?

monday memories – clariel

Monday, October 20, 2014 | | 3 comments
Emma of Miss Print and Nicole at The Book Bandit have started a new weekly feature called Monday Memories.  To participate, all you have to do is take a photo of one of your books (or a library book that means a lot to you) and talk a bit about why it made an impression.  Today I'm going to talk about Clariel by Garth Nix.


True story: I haven’t read this book yet. 

Given that I’ve re-read Sabriel and the other Abhorsen stories over and over (too many times to count!), you’d think I would have already jumped into this one.  Especially since I picked it up at Book Expo America in MAY, and it is October now.  Somehow this book has become a charm.  In my head it has become the thing that’ll pull me out of a terrible day, the antidote to reading malaise, the cure for all that ails me! 


I may be putting too much pressure on this book.  I’ll stop, I swear. 

Oh look at that – it’s me meeting Garth Nix in person and getting his signature.  I was SO EXCITED (I’m in the middle, that’s my sister on the right, beeteedubs)… it doesn’t show in the photo, but my heart was beating like mad and I almost forgot how to speak.  I just… authors are my rock stars, you know? 


So yeah.  Even though I haven’t read this book, it means a lot to me.  It’s potential wonder, the continuation of a favorite universe, and the meet-and-greet of the year.  Dear book, I don't know you yet, but I love you.

If you'd like to see more Monday Memories posts, head over to this week's link list.

waiting on wednesday (82)

Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

One of my very favorite books of 2014 (so far) is Tin Star, a young adult sci-fi novel set on a mostly-abandoned space station that orbits an abandoned planet.  I adored the world-building, the heroine's emotion and trust issues, and the way the story played with what it means to be human. I was seriously, seriously impressed, and I can't wait for the sequel.  WHICH IS COMING SOON, thank Thor (and yes, that was a nod to my current Avengers fanfiction addiction)! Cecil Castellucci's Stone in the Sky will be released by Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan) on February 24th, 2015.

stone in the sky by cecil castellucci book cover
In this thrilling follow-up to Tin Star, Tula will need to rely on more than just her wits to save her only home in the sky.

After escaping death a second time, Tula Bane is now even thirstier for revenge. She spends much of her time in the Tin Star Café on the Yertina Feray—the space station she calls home. But when it's discovered that the desolate and abandoned planet near the station has high quantities of a precious resource, the once sleepy space station becomes a major player in intergalactic politics. In the spirit of the Gold Rush, aliens from all over the galaxy race to cash in—including Tula's worst enemy.

What books are you waiting on?

top ten books for readers who like character-driven novels

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 | | 7 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

I think most of us know instinctively when we're reading character-driven books.  There's a focus on character growth: characters grow older, grow into themselves, make decisions that will change the trajectory of their lives or confirm previous choices... and then find ways to deal with that.  The story is more about personality than plot.  I enjoy plot-driven books as much as the next young adult fiction fan, but I have a soft spot in my heart for reads where the heroes and heroines have rich inner lives.

Top Ten Books for Readers Who Like Character-Driven Novels


1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – Conor's mother is ill, and he is being visited by a monster.  Though there's plenty of story here, the focus is Conor, dealing with denial and grief on the way to adulthood.

2. Chalice by Robin McKinley – Beekeeper Mirasol is faced with a seemingly impossible task, and must rely on her strengths, develop her talents, and trust in order to save her world.

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – It feels like cheating to include a classic, but this one really is character-driven.  Jane is a prickly person capable of deep feeling, and it is (almost) her downfall.

4. Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach – Felton is the best.  This book is the best.  Whenever I think of the genuine awkward that is teenage life, I think of this book.

5. Relish by Lucy Knisley – Yes, this is a graphic memoir, and thus the author is writing her (own) character.  I think the medium gives Lucy's story a bit of distance, and the result is all about growing up in your own way.


6. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – This is a very autumnal book... and while I liked the human (and equine) characters very well, my favorite was the island of Thisby.  Which was very much a character of its own, thank you very much!

7. The Humming Room by Ellen Potter – This reimagining of The Secret Garden is carried by main character Roo, who has a haunting past, a mysterious present, and possibly a positive future ahead.

8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – Junior comes to grips with the differences between his home life on the Rez and his white, farm town school in his hilarious, tragic and haunting diary.

9. A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle – This is a book about family, history, and a ghost.  It has the best dialogue I can remember reading, and some of the most memorable female characters.  

10. Plain Kate by Erin Bow – FEELS.  All of them.  Just... read this book!

Honorable Mention: Anything/everything by Sharon Shinn – Shinn writes really great fantasy and sci-fi with fantastic worldbuilding, and she ALSO writes beautiful, genuine characters.  Who often fall in love.  Mmmm...

What is your favorite character-driven novel?

stitching snow

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 | | 4 comments
I’m considering renaming this blog ‘Cecelia Ever After.’  Well, not really.  BUT.  The number of fairy tales retellings in my to-be-read (TBR) pile is… getting out of control.  I can’t seem to help myself whenever I see a new one pop up.  Example: R.C. Lewis’ debut young adult novel Stitching Snow.  There I was at the BEA Bloggers Conference, minding my own business, when I saw that title and cover.  Immediately, I suspected fairy tale retelling.  The ARC might have been in my hands even before my mind finished making the connection.  That turned out to be a good life choice*, because it's a can’t-put-it-down genre mash-up of a book (a.k.a. fun times).

stitching snow by r.c. lewis book cover
Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

Essie is a tough-as-nails teenage mechanic making her way on the ice planet of Thanda by repairing mining drones.  Princess Snow is a long-missing royal heir from Windsong, the most powerful planet in the star system.  Dane is a young man who crash lands a Garam shuttle onto Thanda, ostensibly in search of ‘treasure.’  And none of these young people are exactly who they seem.  However, their actions and adventures will decide the fate of their planets – if they can survive assassination attempts, kidnapping, and double crosses.  Buckle up!

Stitching Snow is a planet-hopping sci-fi adventure for a generation that grew up watching Star Wars.  It’s the story of unlikely heroine Essie, who pays for spare parts for her drones (and lost boy Dane’s shuttle repairs) by cage fighting on the icy planet Thanda.  Seriously, one of the opening scenes is a cage fight!  From there, the story marches on to Garam, a desert world with protected bio-domes and advanced tech, and there are two more planet-hops before the end of the story.  All of this movement is aided by non-stop action and political necessity, so that the pace feels urgent, even breakneck in spots.  Unfortunately, the never-ending action leaves… let’s call them gaps… in believability and world-building. 

Some of the things you have to take on faith: 1) Two teenagers can effectively infiltrate a military/government compound, 2) A girl can remember and understand nuances in relationships/politics from a childhood situation that she hasn't been immersed in for years, 3) Same girl who was betrayed by family at an extremely young age immediately trusts strange boy, 4) Being a royal is pretty simple to pick up, and 5) There weren't any retroactively-planted listening devices.  Most of the above won't make sense until you read the book, of course.  The good news is that the reader can overlook most of it because: entertainment value!

Though Stitching Snow is supposedly a Snow White-gone-science-fiction retelling, I'd say it has a different flavor.  It has some of the trappings of the fairy tale – apple, dwarves, jealous stepmother – but it's mostly a political thriller set against the backdrop of a star system.  It also draws from other tales and traditions, and includes a sadistic king who plays with others' lives and a rebellious group, the Exiles.  My favorite character/bit of scenery was the drone Dimwit, who combined the best of Star Wars' R2-D2 and C-3PO, and was set up as the adorable sidekick early on, alongside another drone, Cusser (who provided comic relief without the need to even say the requisite 'cuss words').

One of the things that R.C. Lewis did well was to write dynamically.  The book starts with that cage fight (a great hook!), and even when characters are training or talking or engaging in other downtime, the flow remains constant.  Another thing I liked was Lewis' mix of future tech and the archaic.  Sci-fi lets you play a bit with advancements in tech and/or traditions, but Stitching Snow had a good balance between things that may be automated, and what will remain manual.  This helped integrate some of the expected 'fairy tale' trappings as well.  A third 'like' goes down to the fact that this is (as far as I can tell) a stand-alone.  I could see places where the story might have been teased out into a series, but I'm very glad it wasn't, for both the pace of the book and on the romance side of things (oh yes, there is a bit of romance...).

In all, Stitching Snow was a fun YA sci-fi novel with political games, near escapes, assassination attempts, kidnappings and cage fights.  Oh, and a nod to fairy tales.  Everything I like (everything exciting!) all in one place.  It wasn't perfect, but I enjoyed it, and I think it will be very popular.

Recommended for: fans of Marissa Meyer's Cinder and Star Wars, and anyone who is partial to light science fiction, stories with breakneck pacing, and heroines who are smart and tech-savvy.

*Other good life choices include (but are not limited to): eating salads for lunch, participating in a real-life book club, and maintaining a sense of humor while riding public transportation.

Stitching Snow will be released by Disney Hyperion on October 14, 2014.

Fine print: I picked up an ARC of this book at the BEA Bloggers Convention in May.  I received no compensation for this post. 

monday memories - the four and twenty blackbirds pie book

Emma of Miss Print and Nicole at The Book Bandit have started a new weekly feature called Monday Memories.  To participate, all you have to do is take a photo of one of your books (or a library book that means a lot to you) and talk a bit about why it made an impression.  Today I'm going to talk about The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen.


On Saturday I went to the Baltimore Book Festival for the first time.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day on the Inner Harbor, with dozens of tents set up all around the waterfront to host author talks, panel discussions, signings and book sales.  I took the train up with Sajda and Ashley from my DC Forever Young Adult book club, and we went to several panels together.  I was most excited for the 4pm feature at the 'Food for Thought' stage.


The Elsen sisters founded a pie shop in Brooklyn (I've never been there, but I follow on Instagram), and a cookbook soon followed.  I first heard about their cookbook through... blogging!  In the past few years I've become the pie master (not an official title) at Thanksgiving, and I tend to perk up whenever I see a pie recipe or crust variation.  Every year I live in genuine fear that my crust will turn out wrong, so anything that could help the cause is always of interest.


So, I was excited to see the Elsens in person.  AND IT WAS AWESOME!  They held a pie crust clinic right in front of us, took questions from the audience, and had a lovely volunteer named Laura (she's on the left side in that photo above) join them on the stage.  I drank in the whole experience.  During the presentation they served samples of their Bourbon Pear Crumble, and it was kind of unbelievably delicious.


Afterwards I had to have my newly-purchased copy of their cookbook signed (obviously!).  Emily and Melissa are/were super sweet, and talked a bit with me about pie (again, obviously).  I'm really looking forward to reading this cookbook cover-to-cover and trying out the recipes for myself.  The day was a huge success, and this book signing and cooking demo were a huge part of it.

If you'd like to see more Monday Memories posts, head over to this week's link list.

h.o.r.s.e.: a game of basketball and imagination

Emma of Miss Print and Nicole at The Book Bandit have started a new weekly feature called Monday Memories.  To participate, all you have to do is take a photo of one of your books (or a library book that means a lot to you) and talk a bit about why it made an impression.  Today I'm going to talk about Christopher Myers’ picture book H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination.

h.o.r.s.e.: a game of basketball and imagination by christopher myers book coverOne day at the basketball court, two kids, a familiar challenge--H.O.R.S.E.? But this isn’t your grandmother’s game of hoops.

Not when a layup
     from the other side of the court
             standing on one foot
                       with your eyes closed
                                  is just the warm-up.


Around the neighborhood, around the world, off Saturn’s rings, the pair goes back and forth.

The game is as much about skill as it is about imagination.

A slam dunk from multi-award-winning author/illustrator Christopher Myers, H.O.R.S.E. is a celebration of the sport of basketball, the art of trash-talking, and the idea that what’s possible is bounded only by what you can dream.

I met author/illustrator/very-tall-person Christopher Myers this last spring in New York at a breakfast event put on by Egmont USA.  Myers is a talented artist AND an entertaining conversationalist, and he kept our entire table amused with basketball stories.  It was special to hear straight from the author about his inspiration for his Coretta Scott King Honor book.  Afterward he was kind enough to personalize a copy of H.O.R.S.E. for me.  It was an early meeting, so I can’t say I was my most sparkling self, but I remember the morning fondly, and the book is of course a beautiful reminder.


But what about the story?  It’s a conversation between two kids in the city, united by their love of basketball and wide imaginations.  They know the game H.O.R.S.E. by different names, and they may have different ideas of the parameters – but once it starts, their dreams expand.  It’s half trash talk, half tall tale, and a joy to read.  It’s a testament to the power of sport (or any shared interest) to unite people and fire imagination.

The artwork, though!  It’s another step up.  Mixed media (some paint, some altered photographs) blend to create the setting: first the basketball court, then the cityscape, and then the planet and space.  The two unnamed main characters are African-American kids with a passion for the game, and Myers has distilled their gangly adolescence in these pages, as well as the boastful reach of their dreams. 


In all, H.O.R.S.E. is a beautiful book and an homage to a game, a friendship, and telling stories.

Recommended for: all-ages fans of art, picture books, and basketball.

I read and reviewed this book as part of the #diversiverse challenge.

diversiverse

If you'd like to see more Monday Memories posts, head over to this week's link list.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.

hallelujah! the welcome table

I read a lot as a child and young adult (I brought stacks of books on weekend camping trips… #justsaying), but I mostly read from lists of “classics” until I went to college.  Then, some modern (and by modern, I mean contemporary) American writers and poets crept into my consciousness via syllabi, regular newspaper reading, and the internet.  Still, I’d never read one of Maya Angelou’s books until a couple of weeks ago.  This despite having my interest in her history (and stories) rekindled when she passed away this past spring.  Given my focus here on the blog, it makes sense that the first Angelou title I would pick up would be her first cookbook, Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes.

hallelujah! the welcome table by maya angelou book cover
Throughout Maya Angelou’s life, from her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, to her world travels as a bestselling writer, good food has played a central role. Preparing and enjoying homemade meals provides a sense of purpose and calm, accomplishment and connection. Now in Hallelujah! The Welcome Table, Angelou shares memories pithy and poignant–and the recipes that helped to make them both indelible and irreplaceable.

Angelou tells us about the time she was expelled from school for being afraid to speak–and her mother baked a delicious maple cake to brighten her spirits. She gives us her recipe for short ribs along with a story about a job she had as a cook at a Creole restaurant (never mind that she didn’t know how to cook and had no idea what Creole food might entail). There was the time in London when she attended a wretched dinner party full of wretched people; but all wasn’t lost–she did experience her initial taste of a savory onion tart. She recounts her very first night in her new home in Sonoma, California, when she invited M. F. K. Fisher over for cassoulet, and the evening Deca Mitford roasted a chicken when she was beyond tipsy–and created Chicken Drunkard Style. And then there was the hearty brunch Angelou made for a homesick Southerner, a meal that earned her both a job offer and a prophetic compliment: “If you can write half as good as you can cook, you are going to be famous.”

Maya Angelou is renowned in her wide and generous circle of friends as a marvelous chef. Her kitchen is a social center. From fried meat pies, chicken livers, and beef Wellington to caramel cake, bread pudding, and chocolate éclairs, the one hundred-plus recipes included here are all tried and true, and come from Angelou’s heart and her home. Hallelujah! The Welcome Table is a stunning collaboration between the two things Angelou loves best: writing and cooking.

This cookbook combines 28 vignettes (they could be called short stories or flashes of memory, too) centered around a particular recipe or meal menu, often connected to a friend or family member that made an impression on Angelou at some point in her life.  The cookbook progresses from her younger years growing up in her grandmother’s store to learning to cook Creole cuisine out of absolute necessity to recollections from later years and mentoring relationships.  It’s a story of a life, food and how it helps people to interact and connect with each other, and how cooking and hospitality can be used to understand the human condition.

The prose sections are easily the best part of this cookbook.  Angelou offers a variety of experiences and stories: some poignant, some funny, others tragic, courageous, homey and inspiring.  The selection is superb and ranges the entire emotional spectrum, much of the twentieth century, and geography that varies from the American South to Europe to California and back.  It's a window into Angelou's extraordinary life and experience as an African-American woman, artist and academic.  She lived, and wrote beautifully about it.

The food doesn’t sound half-bad, either (see: understatement, definition of).  There’s a mix here of southern comfort food, Cajun, traditional American classics and French fare.  It’s a combination born of a lifetime of moving, settling in somewhere new, and adapting to a changing world and new friends.   The recipes themselves are focused on main courses and sides suitable for lunch or dinner, and a few desserts.  It’s not very vegetarian-friendly or health-conscious, though there is one section at the end dedicated to vegetarian recipes. 

I tried two recipes: Crackling Corn Bread (Maya’s grandmother’s recipe, which she claimed was better than other peoples’ Sunday cake), and Pickled Peaches.  The peaches were a success!  Different than anything I’ve ever made before, in a good way.  They’d be perfect served with (regular) cornbread, chicken, and green beans.  The Crackling Corn Bread… was a flop.  I think this may have been due to my source of cracklings (chicharrones) more than the recipe itself.  It did smell amazing while it was baking!  But here, have the recipe that worked:


Pickled Peaches

INGREDIENTS

6 medium nearly ripe peaches, peeled and pitted
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespooon whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks


DIRECTIONS

Put peaches in large post, add sugar, salt, vinegar, juice, cloves, and cinnamon sticks, and cover with water.  Boil for 30 minutes. Take off stove, and let cool.  Put in refrigerator in its own liquid.  Discard cinnamon and cloves.  Serve cold.

pickled peaches

One downside (if you want to call it that) of the cookbook is that the recipes have few “fine” directions. For example: Water necessary for the recipe isn’t listed in the ingredients section.  There aren’t any warnings like “do not overstir,” no mention of how many minutes to mix, or how fine to chop the ingredients.  The recipes are clearly meant to be more of a guide than precise chemistry.  If you’re the kind of cook who interprets things loosely and puts their own spin on recipes, this method will suit you down to the ground.

Hallelujah! is a treasure of a book, whether you try the recipes or not.  It’s worth owning for Angelou’s stories alone, though the food sounds mouth-watering as well. 

Recommended for: anyone who likes good food and a story well-told, and especially anyone interested in food culture and the American South.

I read and reviewed this book as part of the #diversiverse challenge.

diversiverse

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking!
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