June 30, 2008

Rites of Spring (Break) by Diana Peterfreund

So Real Life intervened last week in the form of the plague, and Villa Angie was torn asunder. We are just now managing to square our shoulders and shake off the gloom. In my plague-ridden state, I still had the presence of mind to send DH out for my copy of Rites of Spring (Break) the day it came out, and reading it got me through. That and the phenergan shot. Ouch! Unfortunately, it's taken till now to review it. So this comes after much grinning, applauding, and re-reading of the most favorite of parts (of which there were several).

In this third installment of the Ivy League Novels, Our Girl Amy finds herself sludging through the gloom that is New Haven in late winter/early spring, wondering who named her whipping girl in the latest intercollegiate secret society rumble. Meanwhile, her ex-friend-with-benefits makes a sudden reappearance in her life and the already nigh unto crippling confusion factor gets ratcheted up a dozen or so notches. Fortunately, the annual Rose & Grave spring break excursion to Cavador Key looms on the horizon and Amy is given a chance to escape and recoup. Her only problem now is avoiding getting in the water while living on an island for an entire week. Natch.

This book...how I loved this book. I loved the increasingly mature way Amy deals with her friends. Her experiences with Jenny in the previous volume have made her more sensitive, I think, to the delicate emotions and motivations at work among her fellow Diggers. Despite their rank, wealth, brains, looks, or attitude. I loved how the class of D177 coalesces in this book. They stand up for each other. They notice things. They're not so quick to judge. And I loved that Poe takes it upon himself to give Amy swimming lessons. Because the swimming lessons? They are top notch. And the sneak peak at the first chapter of the fourth and final Ivy League Novel? It is tinglingly good. If only it wasn't a year till it comes out. Ah, well. Either way, Diana Peterfreund is now on my automatic buy list.

I hereby confess: I find myself with a sudden craving for Life Savers.

Links
Book Daze Review
Darque Review
Love, Finny Review
Teen Book Review

June 26, 2008

The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison

It's rather a lovely cover, don't you think? More than one person has told me the cover was what caught their eye in the bookstore and insisted on being taken home. It's also a rather lovely 400+ pages. Plenty of time to get to know the characters and their world, which is good as they are both quite intricate. Despite the cover (and title), the princess and her hound are not the main characters in this story. The narrative centers instead on a boy named George. Prince George, to be exact. And Prince George possesses a pack of problems. His mother died when he was young, leaving him alone in the world with no siblings to share his grief and a father who knows how to rule a kingdom but understands nothing of how to be a father. On top of which, George has the dubious gift of animal magic. He can speak their language and feels most comfortable out in the wild, conversing with the animals, than around humans. Trouble is, animal magic is feared and loathed far and wide in George's world and he quickly determines he must keep his talent a secret if he wishes to live long enough to inherit the throne.

When it comes time for George to do his princely duty and marry to preserve the kingdom, he goes forth to meet his betrothed with a strong sense of duty, if not alacrity, for the task at hand. The Princess Beatrice proves to be a particularly fierce young woman whose life has been as bleak as George's own and who has a few painful secrets of her own to guard, as well as a hound she refuses to be separated from. It's clear to the reader from the moment these two meet that they need each other desperately and would do well to stick together, that is if either of them could see past their own troubles long enough to recognize what's standing right in front of them. Beatrice, however, shows even less interest in the match than George, and the two of them are rarely ever in the same room together long enough to go about the business of getting to know each other. And marriage negotiations aside, there is a truly creepy mystery running throughout the book, to do with a potentially mad doctor moving from kingdom to kingdom bent on revenge.

Yep, it's a recipe for success. And it succeeds...for the most part. I liked the dark, creepy feel that pervaded the majority of the story. This is not a gentle fairy tale, by any means. Characters such as Beatrice's father and the mysterious doctor brought to mind the evil Cabbarus of Westmark fame (never a bad thing), and I liked George's journey from frightened boy to capable ruler. There were a few very poignant scenes, particularly between George and his father, that struck me. I even liked Beatrice, despite how off putting and seemingly lacking in all emotion she was throughout the book. The problem was in the unrealized potential between these two characters who needed each other so badly. Yes, I realize Beatrice's secret made realization a bit difficult on the whole but, when it finally did come out, things wrapped up rather quickly and coldly and I couldn't quite buy into the abrupt shift. I felt like they needed more time to cement things between them. And, I will admit, the ramifications of the revelation proved a bit too bizarre even for me to stomach. On the whole, The Princess and the Hound was a complicated and intriguing tale which I felt need a little more refining to smooth out the bumps and cracks along the way.

June 23, 2008

Cry Wolf Excerpt

Patricia Briggs has posted an excerpt from her upcoming Alpha and Omega novel Cry Wolf. This is the first in a new series set in Mercy Thompson's world following Samuel's brother Charles and a new wolf named Anna. It comes out July 29th. The sample chapter is delicious and will hopefully tide you over till then. For background on these two characters, pick up the original short story "Alpha and Omega" in the anthology On the Prowl. It's superb.

June 18, 2008

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

This one has been getting lots of good press and was a National Book Award Finalist for 2006. Keturah and Lord Death is a sort of Scheherezade meets Beauty and the Beast meets the Persephone myth, in which a young woman is forced to spin a new tale each night to keep her captor from killing her. In this version, her captor is, in fact, Death himself (hence the Persephone connection), and he actually lets her go on the condition that she will return the following night with the end of the tale. Should she be able to find her true love in that time, he will release her from her promise and Death will no longer stalk young Keturah.

The story is set in the rather charmingly vague village of Tide-by-Rood, located at the far edge of the country of Angleland. The setting exuded a sort of Canterbury Tales feel, while the townspeople reminded me of the denizens of a Hawthorne novel, everyone suspicious of everyone else and nobody with the guts to question the status quo or talk about the things that need talking about. In the course of trying to save herself from Lord Death and her village from the plague, Keturah steps up and speaks out in order to unite the villagers under a common cause. I liked the setting, the names, and the people. The world Martine Leavitt set up is full of dark shadows and possibilities.

It was about 100 pages when things started to pick up for me. It felt like Leavitt sort of found her stride at that point. The writing felt a little deeper, the pace a little more controlled. The thing is, the book is only 216 pages long and the halfway mark proved a little to late to really suck me in. I felt like I was reading the abridged version of a full-length work. It needed to be either 100 pages shorter or 200 pages longer. As is, it felt too abbreviated. I never could get a handle on Keturah or Lord Death. Neither one felt fully formed. They were both shadowy compositions and every time I tried to glimpse them clearly, they slipped behind a tree and out of sight. I really did want to get to know them better but never got the chance because the book was over, she'd made her choice, and I was left with just a taste of something that could have been delicious but now I'll never know.

Links
Bookshelves of Doom Review
Las Risas Review
New York Times Book Review
Reader Rabbit Review
Semicolon Review

June 13, 2008

Under the Rose by Diana Peterfreund

Reading Secret Society Girl put me in righteously indignant mode for two days straight. Now, admittedly, it doesn't always take much to send me there but, since my indignation was on behalf of fictional characters and couldn't hurt anyone, well, real, I figured it was okay to let the wrath reign. Besides, some of those dudes really deserved it. My wrath, that is. Reading Under the Rose was an entirely different experience. I spent the majority of the time grinning madly, silently egging certain characters on while berating others for their a) lack of the barest trappings of a conscience or b) inability to just come out and say what's really bothering them.

And boy was there a lot of bothering going on. At the start of the book, it quickly becomes apparent someone within the secret society is leaking information to outsiders intent on destroying them. Amy, known within the Rose & Grave annals as Bugaboo, is dismayed to find out she's lived up to her society nickname when none of the other Diggers will listen to her pleas for help investigating the leak. Caught up in their own lives and dramas, her fellow Diggers leave Amy alone to fret and fester over the fraying society she's been so loyal to (and so instrumental in saving in the last book). And Amy has her own heady distractions in the form of her senior thesis, her roommate Lydia's love life woes, and the persistence of one George Harrison Prescott.

I thought Under the Rose was an even stronger story than its predecessor. The pace never flagged, the dialogue was sharp, and the characters became more interesting and more dear, as evidenced by the fact that my heart went out to two of them who'd done nothing but irritate me in the first book. I love it when that happens! I was particularly enamored by the unwilling alliance Amy forms with a certain caustic law student and the verbal sparring that ensues. Ah, the things she gets roped into doing in the name of the greater good. This book was a smooth, delicious treat and when I closed it I felt like we'd all of us had a good time. And now was a darn good time to discover this series as it's just a week and a half till Rites of Spring (Break) comes out. I'm all jumpy.

Links
Book Divas Review
Darque Review
Speed-Reading Book Nerd Review

June 12, 2008

Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

Bookshelves of Doom first brought this book to my attention and, after browsing Diana Peterfreund's blog, I found myself charmed and went and snagged a copy of Secret Society Girl. And though I didn't almost get hit by a car, I did stay up too late two nights in a row finishing this one. I found myself alternately morbidly fascinated by and completely frustrated with a world that (though "real") was so utterly alien to the one I experienced at college. More to come on that further down.

Amy Haskel is your average overachieving junior at Eli University. Editor of the school's lit magazine, she's up to her elbows reading War and Peace, sorting writing submissions, and negotiating a very tenuous friends-with-benefits relationship with her assistant editor. Amid all this, Amy is shocked when Rose and Grave, the most prestigious secret society on campus, taps her for their annual initiation. Btw, it's clear from the get-go that Eli is not-so-loosely based on Yale, while Rose and Grave is patterned on the infamous Skull and Bones secret society.

The notion of a secret society is so outside my realm of experience, that that alone made the book interesting. It's hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that these groups actually exist and have persisted into the present day, albeit in altered and, one would hope, slightly more enlightened forms. In fact, the admission of women forms the backbone of this story as Amy's initiation class is the first to include a female contingent. Rather unsurprisingly, I spent a good portion of reading time railing away in my head at the archaic, misogynist, preposterous ways the men of Rose and Grave viewed the world. Don't even get me started on the so-called "patriarchs" who threaten (and come through on said threats) to make Amy's and the other girls' lives a living hell if they insist on remaining members, aka Diggers. Suffice it to say, I was ready to lose it long before Amy did. And I'm not at all sure I would have made the choice she did in the end.

That said, I sank into Peterfreund's clean, light prose. Just when the whole thing seemed too much to take, she'd include a quiet scene where Amy reminded me why I liked her so much. One of my favorite quiet scenes, in which Amy tries to apologize to the steadfast Brandon for being MIA so much lately:
"Ever notice how we get five times the submissions for the commencement issue as we do for every other issue combined?" I placed my bag on the desk. "With the other issues, we're scrambling for stories or reduced to whipping up something at the last minute ourselves so the layout isn't all ads for Starbucks and stationery shops."

Brandon turned a page and kept reading.

"Of course," I went on, taking my seat and swiveling to face him, "you've always been better than me at that. Writing stories on the fly, I mean."

His eyes paused their back-and-forth scanning, and he blinked. "Thanks."

"I'm better at the scrambling."

"You're certainly demonstrating that now."

I swallowed. Too far.

Brandon nodded his head toward a neat stack of manuscripts at the corner of the desk. "Those four are possibilities."

And the Terse Award goes to. . .Brandon Weare. "I'm sorry about last night."

He finally looked at me, for all the good it did. I couldn't tell one thing from his expression. "Which part?"

Any part that hurt his feelings.
I like this girl. I just do. I finished the book still conflicted over Amy's choice and that of her fellow Diggirls. Still unsure which (if any) of her male friends can be trusted, particularly the intriguing GHP. Still supremely relieved I'm not living her life. And still satisfied in an I'll have another dish of pie, please, kind of way. I've got the sequel on my nightstand and I'm thinking I'll "dig" right in.

Links
Book Daze Review
Bookshelves of Doom Review
Speed-Reading Book Nerd Review
Trashionista Review

June 11, 2008

Thin Air by Rachel Caine

I can't believe this is the last Weather Warden book currently in print. For awhile there it started to feel like there was a limitless supply at my fingertips. But now I am forced to wait until August to continue the series and find out what happens next for Jo, David, and Lewis. I have decided Lewis needs someone. And I'm really not quite certain it should be Rahel. I think she could really put the hurt on good ole Triple-threat (all powerful, yet surprisingly fragile) Lewis. In any event, my hopes for the upcoming Gale Force include someone to help ground Lewis and some time and space for Jo and David to talk and decompress. I mean, when you're both so busy throwing yourselves in front of oncoming traffic to save each other's lives, you don't really get enough down time together, you know?

Thin Air was a refreshing change of pace from the rest of the series. Her memory (and complete identity) stolen by a demon who now looks just like her, Jo wakes up in the middle of the woods with no idea who she is or how she got there. Lewis and David quickly turn up and attempt to jog her memory. But nothing seems familiar to her and she quickly feels very ill equipped to deal with the pretty heavy emotions that start swirling around once she realizes her relationships with these two guys go way back and that it's particularly painful for them (especially David) to watch her not remember any of it.

I liked this hard reset we got on Joanne's character. In many ways it revealed what kind of person she really is when the layers of burden, grief, and guilt were removed and she was able to respond afresh to the chaos around her and the various people trying to save/love/manipulate her. She responded very well, IMO, and often very humorously. Such as when her internal dialogue runs to the, "Good grief, was I really that kind of girl?" variety. I was particularly taken with the direction her relationship with Kevin takes as that storyline has remained compelling. I hope it continues on in the next volume and that the repercussions of the events in Thin Air carry over and aren't neatly brushed aside in favor of more Utter Peril. This was a great installment and I look forward to the next.

Links
Darque Review

June 10, 2008

Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready

I first discovered Jeri Smith-Ready through her highly unique urban fantasy Requiem for the Devil. A sort of sequel to Paradise Lost told from Lucifer's point of view, I thought it was beautiful, disturbing and, in the end, unexpectedly hopeful. When I heard she was writing an urban fantasy about vampire DJs and a female lead who is a con artist, I was eager to get my hands on it. It took forever for my local store to get it in, but when if finally did I snatched it up immediately. Wicked Game didn't disappoint in the least. In fact, it had me laughing out loud several times.

One of my favorite passages:
Finally I find what I'm looking for, behind an unopened container of fennel seed. I climb off the counter, clutching the little plastic jar.

"Be right back," I tell Lori as I blur past her.

In my room I shut the door and advance on Shane, who's sitting among the CDs again.

"Get out!" I twist off the red cap and hurl the contents of the jar at him.

He sputters and spits, then wipes his mouth. "What the--salt? I'm a vampire, not a slug."

"Keep your voice down. It's garlic salt."

"It is?" He brushes the stuff out of his hair and sniffs his sleeve. "How old is that jar?"

I glance at the bottom, which bears a faded price tag (89 cents) instead of a UPC code. "Maybe a decade, or two. It came with the apartment."

"I'd say it's past its peak freshness." Shane rubs his arm. "Although I am a little itchy." He stands up, and I step back. He holds up his hands. "Relax, I won't hurt you. If you wanted me to leave, all you had to do was ask."

"I'm pretty sure I did."

He points to a stack of CDs between us. "Here's A through Bowie, in order. That was as far as I got before you started throwing condiments."
In this delightfully original world, vampires are surprisingly vulnerable creatures. Psychologically stuck in the decade they "died" in, they dress and talk the same as they did when they were alive, unable to make sense of the cold, hard fact that the world has moved on without them. As a form of dealing, they develop extremely specific obsessive compulsive coping mechanisms such as meticulously organizing CDs alphabetically, by genre, decade, etc. When confronted with the task of saving WVMP, the failing radio station this group of vampires work at, former con artist turned part-time marketing intern Ciara Griffin finds herself unexpectedly protective of this group of oddball vampires who will begin to mentally deteriorate and slowly fade away completely without their jobs to link them to the contemporary world outside.

Fortunately, she is more than up to the task and her daring marketing campaign triggers a series of hilarious and life threatening events. Ciara is a complicated girl. In many ways, she is tough as nails. Her rough past gives her the tools to step up and protect the few people she cares about. At the same time, her unsavory upbringing haunts her every step. Each time she tries to make the right decision or accept the hand of someone reaching out to her, the temptation to take the easy way out and avoid entanglement or responsibility threatens to overwhelm her desire to do good. These qualities make her a very sympathetic, very unpredictable character who I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with. Fortunately, I'll get to spend more time with Ciara, Shane, and the whole crew, as Ms. Smith-Ready is at work on the sequel, Bad to the Bone, due out next May. In the meantime, I'll be listening to the Wicked Game Playlist.

Links
Ann Aguirre Interview
BookLoons Review
Darque Review and Interview
In Bed With Books Review
Urban Fantasy Land Review

June 6, 2008

A Marillier and a Shinn























At last the covers of the upcoming Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier and Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn. Both are sequels (of sorts) to Marillier's Sevenwaters Trilogy and Shinn's Novels of the Twelve Houses respectively. Heir to Sevenwaters follows Liadan's niece Clodagh and takes place about 3 years after the events of Child of the Prophecy come to a close. Fortune and Fate follows the Rider Wen who leaves the royal city and the Riders behind at the end of Reader and Raelynx. The best part, you ask? They come out the Same Day. So mark November 4th on your calendars and start trying to decide which one you're gonna read first.

Firestorm by Rachel Caine

The no holds barred, pedal to the metal pace of these books is going to be the death of me. I didn't even feel like I read this one. More like it was downloaded to my brain in a series of high-speed images and I was left to make sense of it all after the fact. In this installment, the Wardens organization is a complete shambles. Both David and Lewis have inherited unwanted leadership burdens, becoming the unwilling de facto leaders of what's left of the free Djinn and the Wardens respectively. Inextricably tied to both men and both groups, Jo finds herself stretched to the breaking point trying to maintain her loyalty and avoid dying. Again.

Firestorm also introduces the concept of the Oracles--supernatural, primal beings who serve as connections between the Djinn and Mother Earth herself. Something dark and nasty begins targeting the Oracles in an attempt to gain entrance to this world and Jo finds herself racing from one Oracle to the next trying to keep the dark and nasty at bay. I felt like Jo was left more alone than she's ever been in this book. Every side character seems to have multiple allegiances and not one of them can be trusted to Be There. Period. And honestly, I don't know if any of them deserve her. The possibility of any of these groups (Wardens, Djinn, Ma'at) co-existing peacefully is also seeming less and less likely. I have to say, though, I did like what happened at the end. Although if I'd had to wait a year for the follow-up book, I probably wouldn't be so enthusiastic about it. As it was, I simply set Firestorm down and calmly started in on the first page of Thin Air.

June 5, 2008

Ellen Emerson White Covers


So these are the covers for the paperback reissues Feiwel & Friends is releasing in July. They match the cover of last fall's Long May She Reign, the sequel to The President's Daughter trilogy, as they all fall into the famous paintings theme. Not only have the books received a face lift, but Ellen Emerson White has subtly updated them to reflect the changes in society and technology since they were first published in the '80s. This is a series I have loved for years and has been out of print far too long. So it is such a thrill to see the first three books being released anew so that a whole new generation of readers can find them and love them.

Links
A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy Review of the Series
My Review of Long May She Reign

June 3, 2008

Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair

I decided to follow up my first Linnea Sinclair book (Gabriel's Ghost) with Games of Command and I am so glad I did. What a fun, fun book this is. I inhaled it over the weekend and wished there was a sequel lying around somewhere when I was done. Games of Command follows main characters Captain Tasha Sebastian and Admiral Branden Kel-Paten as well as secondary characters Dr. Eden Fynn and Captain Jace Serafino. As in Gabriel's Ghost, the two main characters have a history from the get-go and I love that. Makes me feel like I've stepped into something real and multifaceted, like the characters didn't just begin to exist when I opened the book but have instead been living their lives just fine without me and are now generously letting me peek in on what's going on.

When their respective employers form an alliance, the former nemeses find themselves working together on the same ship. Tasha and Kel-Paten both have a few very potent secrets to hide, from each other and the Alliance. But just when they think they've reached a professional balance of don't ask, don't tell, notorious pirate Jace Serafino lands on board the Vax, injured and fairly leaking information that could expose a number of people and set off a few nasty time bombs. Add to that the fact that Kel-Paten is a biocybe (half human/half machine), Serafino is a telepath, Tasha is a former mercenary, and the games are on. The point of view alternates between the four lead characters and this helped shape the flow of the story and propel it forward, giving the reader some insight into each characters' motivations, hopes, and flaws leading up to the conclusion.

I liked Gabriel's Ghost, but I loved Games of Command. A big reason was because Tasha and Kel-Paten are both good guys, completely and compulsively likable. He is not a reformed scoundrel, she is not a heartless opportunist. They're both simply in over their heads trying to claw their way out of the mess they've stumbled into. They enjoy taunting each other to a degree (naturally) but there is little to no run-of-the-mill bickering inserted just to show how insufferably domineering he is and how incredibly sassy she is. And that was utterly refreshing. I cared about them, wanted the best for them, and they didn't let me down by being petty or stupid. Reading this book was just plain Fun. Definitely a keeper.

Links
Dear Author Review
Janicu Review
Nalini Singh Review
Rosario's Reading Journal Review

June 2, 2008

Robin McKinley Reissues























I know. Another cover art post today. But I couldn't not feature these awesome new covers for the mass market reissues of Sunshine and Dragonhaven. These two are due out this fall. Seriously. The Sunshine cover is too delicious for words. I love that scene!

Breaking Dawn Cover Art


And here's the cover for Stephenie Meyer's fourth and final book in the Twilight series--Breaking Dawn. Very Fraught with Tension, no? The original Twilight cover is probably still my favorite, but I quite like this one. What do you think?

P.S. You can also read a sneak preview from the first chapter of Breaking Dawn here. Enjoy.