July 31, 2009

Retro Friday Review: Life Without Friends by Ellen Emerson White

When I started Retro Fridays, I knew at one point I would have to do an Ellen Emerson White book. I realize I've gone on about my love for her novels at length on the blog. This is not breaking news. But that's sort of the point. I also realized I've only actually reviewed her most recent book--Long May She Reign--the fourth in her President's Daughter series. And that's a wonderful book, and it is an excellent series, but to really get to the root of my EEW love we're gonna need to go back to the beginning. I must have been fourteen. I saw Life Without Friends sitting faced out on the bookstore shelf and thank goodness for whichever prescient bookseller it was that faced it out because it was the cover that sold me. I would never have picked it up if all I'd seen was the spine. The title is, as my husband would (and has!) said, possibly the most depressing book title of all time. But the cover. I love it. Because the girl doesn't look depressed. Thoughtful? Yes. Lonely? Most definitely. But something in her face told me she was tough. Then there's the park bench, the leaf in her hand, the ivy-covered tree, the Boston Red Sox cap awkwardly perched on her head, and the city skyline in the distance. SOLD.

Beverly has had a bad year. She was involved in a series of murders that took place at her high school during junior year. Involved in a The Murderer Was Her Boyfriend kind of way. The story opens as she is returning home from the trial with her father and stepmother. Things are understandably tense in the Johnson household these days. But it's been that way for years now. When her mother died, Beverly came to live with her father the stodgy Harvard professor, his young and quirky wife Maryanne, and their happy-go-lucky five-year-old Oliver. Shortly after she got involved with what could delicately be termed "the wrong crowd" and things spiralled downward from there. Now she spends her days trying to ghost through the rest of her senior year, avoid contact with anyone including the psychiatrist her father makes her see, and not wake up screaming from her increasingly disturbing nightmares. One day on a walk through the Public Gardens, Beverly meets Derek--a boy who works landscaping for the city--and an uneasy friendship is born.

This book kind of ate me alive at fourteen and I have re-read it pretty much every year since. It's become what you might call a Monster Comfort Read. The ones you practically have memorized, yet you still get that tingle down your spine as you turn the page, just knowing what delights are on the other side. Much of the storyline revolves around Beverly trying to come to grips with her role in the crimes and whether or not she could have stopped things before they really got out of control. This lion's share of guilt is compounded when she dares to make a friend who doesn't know who she is or what happened last year. Beverly is caught in an agony of uncertainty over whether or not to tell him and lose someone who has somehow become important or hide her past and retain a friendship based on lies. This book is a companion novel to White's first book, Friends for Life, which focuses on the actual murder story itself. Beverly is a minor character in that book and I have to give it up for White's audacity at making the character you previously despised the protagonist in a follow-up book. But she pulls it off flawlessly. The entire cast of characters gets under your skin and you realize, just as Beverly is not the bad girl you first took her to be, none of the other characters are any kind, shape, or form of black or white. While the wonderfully stilted and layered interactions between Beverly and Derek steal the show, all of the characters sparkle and resonate with me. I am particularly fond of the weekly psychiatric sessions, which are like a minefield for Beverly, as well as pretty much any conversation between Beverly and Maryanne.

As an example of the dialogue I love and just the general feel of a White book, I'm including an excerpt from a very early scene between Beverly and Derek:
He walked over to the cast-iron fence, leaning against it, staring out at the street. "Can't figure what you want me to do."
"Who says I want you to do anything?"
"Well, I dunno," he said, turning around. "Seems like you keep getting mad."
"I'm not mad."
"Still can't figure what you want." He put his hands in his pockets, the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. "Like, if you weren't so totally weird, I'd ask you out." He frowned. "You'd prob'ly call the cops 'r something."
Beverly looked at him slouching against the fence, hair tousled, cigarette hanging. "Is this your James Dean imitation?"
"Give it more pain," he said, and slouched lower, demonstrating. He straightened. "So, do I ask you out, or what?"
"Couldn't we just be--friends or something?"
"Friends," he said.
"Well, yeah. I, uh," she coughed, "don't have so many right now."
"There something wrong with you?"
She tightened her arms, hunching over them.
"Sorry," he said. "That was mean." He took the cigarette out, studied it, then put it back in. "Actually," he exhaled, "I don't have so many myself."
"What's wrong with you?"
He shrugged. "Lots prob'ly. Anyway," he shifted his weight, "you don't seem like you'd be too bad of a friend."
Beverly also shrugged, her fists nervously tight. "Might not be that great."
Neither of them said anything.
"So, uh," he spoke first, "you doing anything tomorrow afternoon?"
"No, I--" Dr. Samuels. She sighed. "Yeah. I have a doctor's appointment."
He looked suspicious. "For real?"
"Oh, yeah," she said. "This is starting off great."
"Guess you really have a doctor's appointment."
She nodded.
"Well. You busy this weekend?"
"I don't think I can go out at night," she said uneasily.
"You turn into a werewolf?"
She shook her head.
"We could do something during the day." The part of his mouth without a cigarette grinned. "Hear friends do that sometimes."
She nodded.
"Can I call you? Like to--"
"No," she said quickly. "I mean--my father's strict."
"How strict?"
"Look, you want to meet here at one? On Saturday?"
He looked around the graveyard. "Here?"
"Why not?"
"Why not," he said.
"Okay." She took a first nervous puff of her cigarette. "Then, I'll--I'll see you then."
"Okay," he said, giving her a James Dean grin. "See ya."
She nodded, turning to leave.
"Hey, yo."
She paused.
"What's your name?" he asked.
So, yeah. There you have it. While I sit here with a big, dumb grin on my face, you go see if you can rustle up a copy at your local library. Used copies are also available pretty cheap right now. I'm just sayin'...

Linkage
Retro Friday Roundup

July 29, 2009

Marillier Pretties

I'm ridiculously late on this one, but here on the left is the U.S. cover for Juliet Marillier's upcoming Heart's Blood (due out November 3rd). Gorgeous is what it is. I'm putting the UK and Australian covers next to it for comparison. Amazing the range you can get for a single book, isn't it? Which is your favorite?

A snippet from the blurb on Ms. Marillier's site:
A haunted forest. A cursed castle. A girl running from her past and a man who's more than he seems to be.
A tale of love, betrayal, and redemption...
Sigh. I cannot wait.

Book Burning Memorial

As part of The New Yorker's lovely 1,000 Words feature, in which they showcase "great images of books from around the world and the web," they've highlighted a picture of a book sculpture created in memory of German writers and poets in the Bebelplatz in Berlin. The Bebelplatz is notable for being the site of a Nazi book burning in which more than 20,000 books went up in flames in a single day. It's such a striking image. And an important one. Go take a look.

July 28, 2009

Tuesday Giggles: Harry Potter Version


And we're back at the side splittingly funny Cleolinda's for this version of Giggles. She's got her Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Fifteen Minutes up and I love it so very, very much. If you've seen the movie, you have to check this out. I am a huge fan of Cleo's recaps. They are raucously funny and irreverent and completely awesome. Enjoy!

July 27, 2009

Guest Blogging: Young Adult Appreciation Month

Today's post can be found over at The Book Smugglers. Ana and Thea kindly invited me to guest blog over there today as part of their most excellent Young Adult Appreciation Month. Come by and weigh in as we talk about young adult literature and why we read it and love it.

July 24, 2009

Retro Friday Review: Sword-Dancer by Jennifer Roberson

I read Jennifer Roberson's historicals long before I discovered her fantasy books. But after downing her two Robin Hood retellings and one Scottish massacre novel, I discovered she was actually much better known for her earlier Sword-Dancer saga. I loved her historicals for being so character-driven. I loved them for their strong women. And I loved them for their chunkiness. So I went into Sword-Dancer--the first book of six in the Sword-Dancer saga--with a sense of happy anticipation but with no knowledge of what they were about. The covers are a mixed bag, the cover artist changing with every two books. I prefer the first artist, as the third is just cartooney looking, while the middle one makes my beloved Tiger and Del look like members of an 80s Glam Metal band. *shudder* Of course, right after I finished the series DAW re-released all six in three trade paperback omnibus editions, natch.
A look at the original cover for the first book and the cover of Volume I of the omnibus editions:














The story opens in a backwater cantina on the edges of the great Southron desert known as the Punja. The mighty sword-dancer the Sandtiger is ensconced in his usual corner, enjoying the wine (and the cantina girls), when in walks trouble in the form of a woman from the north with ice-pale hair, a sword strapped to her back, and vengeance on her mind. She gives her name as Del and seeks to hire Tiger to be her guide through the Punja on a journey to find her brother, free him from slavery, and kill the ones who stole him. Always up for a challenge, particularly when it comes in such a lovely package, Tiger agrees to her terms and the two set off. Amid sandstorms and sandtigers, in between venomous insults and first-rate swordfighting, these two opposites are forced to learn a few things about each other as well as themselves and Tiger, for one, realizes that when the dust settles the world as he knew it may be virtually unrecognizable.

I will just go ahead and start by saying you will not like Tiger at first. You will not like him at all. He is irascible and monumentally arrogant. He is a womanizer and lazy to go with it. And he narrates the story! But then he is a living legend, after all. He slew the sandtiger that was systematically decimating his village and has the claw-shaped scar on his cheek to prove it. He completed his master-level training at an unprecedented speed. To a certain degree, his attitude is to be expected. But you must remember this is how it begins. Trust the storyteller. Tiger has a long way to go and plenty of pages in which to make a transformation of sorts. And the wonderful thing, the thing that had me jumping up and down inside as I read this book for the first time, is the fact that Del is just as remote and prickly and hard as Tiger is annoying. Having sacrificed everything to exact revenge for her brother, she has given up most of her humanity along with it. And so it's not a case of her getting him to come around or him breaking through her icy exterior and either of them "fixing" the other. On paper they are the definition of heroes, but as you get to know them you realize how very far they really are from their outer personas. It takes guts to start a series off with two such difficult, problematic characters. But rest assured, by the time the end of the first book rolls around your hearts will be won over. The fighting is awesome, the stakes emotional and high, the magic complex and everchanging, and the romance subtle and stretching out over the whole series. I hope you'll want to continue on as each book gets better and better. Another wonderful example of a series staying true to itself. Reading order: Sword-Dancer, Sword-Singer, Sword-Maker, Sword-Breaker, Sword-Born, and Sword-Sworn. As usual, I highly recommend all six.

Linkage
Retro Friday Roundup

July 23, 2009

Authors Behaving Fiercely

Lately I've run across a few authors I love behaving fiercely. Since that is one of my favorite traits in a book, a character, and an author, too, I wanted to highlight them together. When an author I've enjoyed for some time is interviewed and says something striking or blogs about something important or inspires me in some way to work harder or think harder or just be better in general, a little bell strikes somewhere in the back of my mind and I find myself straightening my shoulders. Here are the three that caused that bell to strike most recently:

1. The National Coalition Against Censorship interviewed Chris Crutcher as part of the Kids' Right to Read Project. Mr. Crutcher spoke about his experience as one of the most challenged authors ever, how he deals with the controversy, and reader responses to his books. My favorite bit comes at the end, when in response to the question, "What would you like youth to know about books that have been challenged or banned?" he says this:
That they aren't really banned. They can get them at the library or the bookstore or Amazon.com. This is America.
I just freaking love that response. This is America. You can't stop the signal, Mal.
2. Ilona Andrews answers a question about writing and motivation and feeling like a poser. She addresses the issue of self-doubt with crushing honesty and shares the four rituals she uses to ward off the writing demons: develop a routine, set a quota, keep an eye on the finish line, and my personal favorite--screw it. It's some great advice and she finishes by recommending you get all your doubts in a row and:
You just have to bash those suckers down and plow through their corpses. Ask yourself, do you want to do this? Yes or no? If you do want it, don't stand in your own way.
See what I mean? Fierce.
3. Last of all Robin McKinley had a delightful experience in which a lady noticed a Robin McKinley bookmark sticking up out of her book and came up to her to tell her she and her daughter read Robin McKinley books together years ago and loved them and had she read any of them herself? LOL. As you might expect, Ms. McKinley tells the story of this hilarious, short, and rather sweetly affirming encounter better than I ever could. You can read it here. Few authors rant as entertainingly as Robin McKinley and she did not disappoint this unwitting admirer:
This was too much for my self-control and I burst out into my little rant about how thirty years ago I assumed the shortage of strong female characters would be a thing of the past by now which is in fact far from the case, rant rant rantrantrantrant.
I do love a good rant. Shoulders straight. Ding goes the little bell.

July 21, 2009

Ratings System Query



I've been wondering for awhile if I should start implementing a ratings system here at Angieville. The intent would be to give readers a slightly clearer idea of how well I liked (or disliked) the books I review. So I wanted to get your opinion on the matter. What do you think? Would a ratings system help? Stars? Scale of 1 to 10? What are your favorite book review rating systems and would you like to see one here?

July 20, 2009

A Winner

Graceling wins the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for children's literature! Congrats to the lovely Kristin Cashore. A very well deserved honor.

Appreciation

Bloggers extraordinaire The Book Smugglers have just kicked off their Young Adult Appreciation Month, which runs from July 19 through August 15th. Ana and Thea were gracious enough to invite me to participating by doing a guest post over there on the 27th. But they have got a serious lineup of events to delight and entertain for an entire month. Rumor is they'll be reviewing The Thief. *fistpump* You can catch the first week's lineup here. They've even extended an open invitation to anyone interested to send them a link to a post on YA lit or a review you've written of a YA book and they'll post links to them all on August 15th--the last day of the celebrations. Be sure to check in regularly!
My Friend Amy has put together the second annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week and it's got its own site! Stop in anytime between now and August 15th to nominate your favorite blogs in a variety of categories. There's even a place to nominate your favorite single post! You don't have to have a blog to participate and it's a great way to show your love for some of those bloggers out there who keep you in books.

July 17, 2009

Retro Friday Review: The Prince of Ill Luck by Susan Dexter

I ran across a copy of The Prince of Ill Luck in a southern California bookstore I'd never been to before. The year was 1994. I went in in an attempt to prove to a skeptical friend that the smell upon first entering a bookstore is one of the true pleasures of life. That you have to pause just after walking in and savor it. Pressed pages and promise. It's a heady combination, my friends. The book had just come out and was faced out on the shelf. I bought it because I liked the boy on the cover and the blurb on the front declaring it to be a delightfully funny book. I was in the mood for some laughter. As luck would have it it turned out to be a two birds with one stone scenario as I was not only rewarded for my impulse buy but managed to prove my point to my friend. He closed his eyes and let out that happy sigh. You know the one. All in all, an incredibly satisfying outing.
Leith is a prince. But that's where the blessings stop. He is also cursed with ill luck. The kind of ill luck that not only affects him on a minute by minute basis, but bleeds over onto any companions or random strangers in his general vicinity. After singlehandedly destroying a temple (well, it was actually an earthquake but the villagers were certain he caused it) and getting himself shipwrecked off the coast of Esdragon, Leith finds himself the unexpected owner of a rather singular stallion called Valadan. The stallion does not seem to mind Leith's deplorable luck and, what's more, he seems to be able to communicate his thoughts to Leith via some sort of spiritual connection. In an effort to hang onto the remarkable warhorse, Leith climbs to the top of a glass mountain retrieving the gold ring at the top. But in true Leith fashion this single act rains down what is undoubtedly the worst his curse has to offer. By retrieving the ring Leith finds himself betrothed to the most displeased of princesses--Kessalia. She had set the task certain no one would ever be able to complete it and she would never have to marry. Leith cannot fathom wanting to marry the beautiful harpy and agrees to release her from their engagement if she allows him to accompany her on her search for her witch mother. You see Leith is harboring the secret hope that the witch will be able to relieve him of his curse.

This book is, first and foremost, delightfully funny. It's humor is its most endearing quality. The reader's sympathies entirely belong to the hapless and loyal Leith. And Valadan the warhorse is wonderfully mystical and powerful. Kess is another matter entirely. I have to say I loved how prickly she was. I mean I hated her, really despised her at times. But I loved hating her, you know? And Susan Dexter writes her characters so skillfully that you absorb their background, their motivations, their hopes and fears in such a slow and seamless way that it's a delight and not a burden accompanying the spiteful Kess and the dogged Leith on their journey. There are no clear heroes and heroines here. Leith is not particularly powerful or strong. Kess is certainly no bed of roses. But she's so magnificent in her heinousness that it's pure entertainment watching her scratch and claw her way to what she wants, even if it means sabotaging or attempting to poison Leith. Poor guy. As I said, you feel an affinity for him from the start. The magic is mysterious, the world is interesting, and the romance is...not what you'd expect. In a good way. These two are good and truly opposites. They don't belong alongside the more predictable bicker-and-smolder set. Theirs is a relationship that has to be bought and you will have to be the judge of whether, in the end, the price is too high. This book is the first in the Warhorse of Esdragon Trilogy. Reading order: The Prince of Ill Luck, The Wind-Witch, and The True Knight. All three are out of print but availabe used quite cheap. I recommend all three.

Retro Friday Roundup

July 16, 2009

The Laurentine Spy by Emily Gee

Thanks go to Ana of The Book Smugglers for recommending this lovely little book. It was her review that first brought it to my attention a couple months back and sparked my interest. I picked it up at the bookstore shortly after, brought it home, and then promptly set it on the nightstand stack to marinate for awhile. I looked at it speculatively from time to time but other books kept nosing in and getting in the way. Then when I suddenly needed something incredibly engrossing about characters who elicited my sympathy to pull me out of my post-The Actor and the Housewife funk, there it was. On top of the stack with its pretty cover and its hinting at a sort of irresistable blend of fantasy, intrigue, romance oh my!

Deep in the bowels of the Corhonase citadel, among catecombs and crypts and crumbling columns, three cloaked and hooded personages meet in secret. They utter their passwords to the mysterious Guardian and enter:
Her shoulders brushed rock on either side as she slipped through the narrow opening. The block of stone swung quietly back into place, shutting her in stale darkness.
She was no longer alone. She saw nothing, heard nothing--but she knew.
Saliel drew her knife. She gripped it tightly. "I saw three rings around the moon tonight."
"I saw none."
Saliel relaxed at the familiar voice. She sheathed her knife.
"You're late."
"Yes." She'd left the ball as early as she dared, but it had taken the maid long minutes to unlace the gown, to unpin her hair and replait it in a single long braid, to bring hot water to wash her face and warm honeyed milk to drink. "I apologize."
Known to each other only as One, Two, and Three, by day these three spies masquerade as nobles and servant in an enemy court, while by night they plot to steal top-secret code books on behalf of their homeland of Laurent. Different spies rotate through Corhona and there have always been a One and a Two. A noble and a servant. But now, for the first time, there is a Three. A woman. Saliel is Three and it is her job to stay close to the women of court, to the Prince's Consort, and feed her fellow spies and their Guardian any information she can glean about military movements, plots, and maneuvers. It is Saliel's dream to earn enough money to quit espionage and settle down in a solitary cottage by the sea and never have nightmares of her dark past or her danger-fraught present. Though they have no idea just who the other masquerades as during the day, One and Three develop a tenuous bond forged of mutual respect, curiosity, and a desire to protect the other from harm. But when the prince brings in a professional Spycatcher, that bond is stretched to the breaking point as Athan and Saliel are unwittingly pitted against one another, forced to tiptoe through their days, terrified of being caught, and uncertain as to whether or not they will ever escape Corhona alive.

I devoured The Laurentine Spy. It was precisely what I needed--a really emotionally involving, heart-thumpingly exciting yarn. Within three pages, Emily Gee had me completely committed to these two characters and their secret-shrouded mission. The entire premise is a recipe for success: two spies who have never seen each other's faces, who interact with each other daily without knowing it, and who spend whatever available mental energy they have worrying about the other. Worrying and wondering. The suspense is palpable throughout the novel and I found myself glued to the page, aching to find out what turn they would take next, which corridor they would follow, and who would be lying in wait around the corner. And, of course, I was on pins and needles waiting to see if they would ever meet in person, face to face, and utter aloud the thoughts they've had circling in their heads for months on end. My heart was in my throat for the majority of the story and I rooted very hard for Saliel and Athan as they played out their assigned roles, despite living in a near constant state of numb terror, despite having no one to whisper their fears to, and despite the knot of secrets threatening their lives. A cracking good read recommended for fans of Sharon Shinn, Susan Dexter, and Moira J. Moore. I will definitely be picking up Emily Gee's first novel--Thief With No Shadow.

July 15, 2009

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

I'm going to warn you upfront that I had an extreme reaction to this book. An extreme and unexpected reaction. Just ask DH. He had to listen to me rant ad nauseam until I'd exorcised the demons enough to move on. The thing is I haven't reacted so strongly to a book for quite some time and it took me a bit by surprise. Oh, well, who are we kidding? It threw me for one hell of a loop and I had an extremelyhard time shaking it off. Despite all this I'm going to try to continue my tradition of spoiler-free reviews and, as a result, won't be able to tell you the precise reasons why I reacted the way I did. I won't be able to go into excruciating detail explaining exactly how and when my emotions bounced back and forth. But let's be honest. That's probably for the best. So.

Becky Jack is a Mormon housewife living in Layton, Utah, pregnant with her fourth child. She has just sold a screenplay to a film agency in LA and is meeting them there to sign the contract, when in walks Felix Callahan--sexy British star of Becky's favorite romantic comedies. The two of them clash right from the start and, despite their visible disdain for one another (and the fact that Felix has long been Becky's movie star crush), they find themselves staying at the same hotel and eating dinner together that night. Becky returns to Utah sure it was some fluke, a fun story to tell the fam, and that she'll never see Felix again. Au contraire, Becky. Turns out Felix hasn't been able to get their abrasive encounter out of his head and the next time he has a layover in Salt Lake City, he turns up to see her and figure out what the deal is. From there these two unlikely characters become the very best of friends. Talk on the phone daily, stay up all night long talking, drop everything to jet off to New York at a moment's notice kind of BFFs. As you might expect, a whole host of factors get in the way of their "friendship," including at times concerned/jealous spouses, their different faiths (or rather Becky's strict one and Felix's utter lack of one), their diametrically opposed lifestyles, etc. Self-proclaimed platonic lovers, these two weather the small and large storms of life as their friendship and story stretches out over a decade and more.

I'll preface my comments by saying I have read all of Shannon Hale's YA books. I love her Books of Bayern and thought her first adult novel Austenland was a fun, light romp for Austen fans. I expected to like this book just fine. I knew it would be quirky and different and fun. I certainly didn't go in expecting a happy ending because, well, given the subject matter who would? I laughed my way through the first 100 pages because any scene Becky and Felix share sparkles. I even cried. Once. At a scene about 80 pages in or so that was just so real (and a little close to home) it struck me in the gut. However, I felt that the next 250 pages were an uneven roller coaster ride of conflicting emotions, increasingly hard-to-swallow turns of event, and very inconsistent characterizations. Every aspect of the story felt so deliberate and pre-planned that it got in the way of my reading experience. It was strangely a prime example of too much telling and not enough showing. The narrator and Becky herself told me over and over (and over again) how much she was in love with her solid-as-a-brick-wall husband, how little Felix meant to her compared to Mike, how she would never do anything to jeopardize her marriage, etc. Her actions spoke differently. The actual depiction of her marriage was lukewarm at best. The rock Mike was too vague an image to grasp onto. Next to Felix he was a mere smudge. Felix clearly meant an inexplicable amount to Becky. And vice versa. These two cannot function properly without each other. They will always be returning to each other. The crystal clear, most evocative, and resonant depictions were of Becky and Felix. And it was simply too difficult for me to buy everything Becky was saying in the face of what she was showing me page after page. The Actor and the Housewife is an exploration of whether or not married men and women can be friends and just friends. The answer is, of course, yes. But that is not what Becky and Felix are. I know that's what they're supposed to be. But they're not. They are intimates. They are soulmates. That is the way every encounter, ever glance, every touch is characterized. The intent seemed to be some sort of Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman-Paul Henreid triangle a la Casablanca. The result was a Rock Hudson-Doris Day-Tony Randall anti-triangle a la Pillow Talk. And by the time the overwrought, rushed ending arrived I felt so completely jerked around I was unable to deal with the melodrama a moment longer.

I'm really sorry it ended this way, The Actor and the Housewife. I know you've gotten a lot of positive reviews and it's quite possible it's me and not you. In case that is true I'm including a rather longer list of other reviews than is my norm. So readers can decide for themselves. As for you and me, I think it's time we start seeing other people.

July 14, 2009

Shelved by Color

My friend Alishka Babushka over at All's Fair in Love and War pointed me to this lovely post at Design Mom, in which she reshelves the books on her living room bookcases by color. I know this has been done before, but so many of them are sort of neon crazy or they don't look like books anyone would actually own. This one is just very simple and real looking and particularly pretty on the white shelves, I thought. I don't know if I could ever do it myself (I'm kind of addicted to the nice clean order of my oh-so-original alphabetical by last name system), but I think the result might really be worth seeing. Enjoy.

P.S. How do you shelve your books? And do you go through and change the system from time to time just to shake things up a little?

Ask and You Shall Receive

I mentioned wanting a Twitterfied Harry Potter. And here it is! (Much shorter than the P&P one).

I would now like a million dollars! *waits*

July 13, 2009

Creepy Pretties

Frank Portman has his second YA book coming out August 25th--Andromeda Klein. It's about a girl whose life changes when she begins predicting real events through her tarot card readings. Things only get creepier from there. I love this cover!
Carrie Vaughn's Kitty books are sitting in my TBR glancing at me longingly. I'm looking forward to digging in. I'm also excited about her upcoming YA foray--Voices of Dragons. Vaughn herself has described the book as, "the rock climbing jet fighters alternate history dragon book." Ahem. I am so in.
Lastly comes the third and final novel in Lisa McMann's incredibly addictive Wake trilogy. I can't wait to read Gone but I'm gonna be honest and tell you that that empty green chair is making me nervous. Janie? Cabel? You have to be okay, okay?!

July 10, 2009

Retro Friday Review: Seventeen Against the Dealer by Cynthia Voigt

I'm pretty sure my mom handed me a copy of Dicey's Song during one of our summer reading list deals. Surely you're familiar with the concept. I read so many of the books on the list and she, in turn, gave me some sort of reward. You see this was back in the pre-Chronicles of Narnia phase in my life. The early days when I would rather be rolling down hills or jumping on beds than reading during the summer. Frankly, it's hard for me to look back now and remember such a time even existed. I'm pretty sure it was a list from the local library and that most of the books on it were award winners of some sort. As Dicey's Song was the Newbery winner for 1983, it was definitely on the list. Looking back I'm actually glad I didn't pick it up that summer. Instead I held out long enough to have fallen in love with reading a year or two later as well as discover that it was actually the second book in a series of seven. The Tillerman Cycle follows the four Tillerman kids on their journey in search of home. The entire series is spectacular and covers quite a span of years, at times following close family friends and, in one instance, a relative before returning to the original four in the concluding volume--Seventeen Against the Dealer. This final book is the one I'd like to focus on today because I think it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. I'm still unable to pick my favorite of the series. Dicey's Song is an absolute classic and A Solitary Blue is breathtaking (and won the Newbery Honor a year later). But Seventeen Against the Dealer grips my heart every time I re-read it and is an all too rare example of an author managing to end a long-ish series flawlessly.









Dicey is now 21 years old. Having raised her three siblings in almost every sense of the word, she is now ready for that independence she's been longing for for so long. James is dealing with colleges and scholarships. Maybeth is taking care of Gram and keeping the house together. Sammy is playing enough tennis for four teenage boys. And Jeff is away at school. The perfect time for Dicey to stretch her wings and open that boat business she's always wanted to. After sinking every penny she ever earned into setting up shop and accumulating the necessary tools, Dicey spends all day every day working to pay her rent, with precious few moments leftover to craft that perfect boat she has in her head. In fact, Dicey spends the majority of her time in her own head now. She's always been introverted but she takes it to a new level here, unable to really bring anything else into focus. In the meantime, several important things go by the wayside. Her siblings need her but fear to intrude. Jeff tries to maintain their relationship, give her space at the same time, and not lose himself in the force of Dicey's indomitable will. After her shop is broken into, Dicey reluctantly admits she needs help and takes in a drifter by the name of Cisco Kidd who may be just what he says he is. Or he may turn out to be much, much more than that.
A favorite excerpt:
Jeff had finished the song. Before he could start another, and before Dicey could answer that question, Mina called across to him, "You know what I want to hear? A love song."
"What kind of love song?" Jeff asked. "True love? Love betrayed? Love lost, faithless love, or false love?"
"Let's go for true love," Mina laughed. "Never mind the odds."
Jeff looked at Maybeth, who nodded at him. He started to play a song Dicey had never heard before, but before she could wonder, Maybeth was singing. "'The first time ever I saw your face,'." Maybeth sang to a guitar accompaniment as single and clear as the golden voice Maybeth cast out around the room, where--like the animated drawing of a ribbon--it curled around and around everyone, then tied itself into a perfect bow. The song brought tears into Mina's eyes, Dicey saw, and had Phil Milson sitting so still, watching and listening so hard, that you could almost see the way the beating of his heart pushed the blood up into his cheeks, and turned them pink.
Maybeth sang, "'I thought the sun rose in your eyes.'" On the last word, her voice rose up a third and then down and around, a turning of melodic line as smooth as a curving ribbon. "'And the moon, and the stars,'" she sang on, "'were the gifts you gave to the dark and the endless skies...'"
Dicey couldn't remember the first time ever she saw Jeff's face. Jeff's gray eyes, dazed with the song, were on Maybeth. Then he turned to look at Dicey, as if he'd known she was looking at him, and she knew that he did remember the first time he saw her. She thought she ought to be able to remember, but she couldn't, not the time. The season, that she could, but she ought to be able to do better than that. Then she stopped thinking and let the song wind itself around her and pull her into the room to sit on the floor beside him.
All the long afternoon they sang, and talked, and ate, and Dicey didn't think about her boats, the ones she was working on or the ones she was dreaming about, except once, when they came to the line in Momma's old song that said "bring me a boat will carry two." She could see that boat then, as real as if she had already built it.
Voigt's writing wraps itself around me just the way the song wraps around Dicey. I never want to leave. By book seven, I love this family and these characters so much they feel as though they're mine. There' s just something about the Tillermans that' s impossible not to admire. And Dicey herself has long been one of my most beloved characters in all of literature. When I was 12 I wanted to be her so much it hurt. Truth be told, I still want to be her. She tackles her problems with nothing but her own two hands and an inability to fail. She is the definition of tenacity. To a fault sometimes. But she knows what's important and she takes care of her own. That's why it's so beautiful to find this last story was hers alone. And to find that after everything she's been through, she's so far from perfect. She still has things to learn about life and loved ones and not taking any of it for granted. This story is so real in its depiction of the painful entrance to adulthood, the monotonous grind of daily labor, and the process of learning how to love someone the way they need to (and ought to) be loved. It takes my breath away every time. Seventeen Against the Dealer stands on its own, but don't cheat yourself and start with the last. Read all seven books for the full experience. If you're short on time you could probably get by with just the three (Dicey's Song, A Solitary Blue, and this one). But only if you're short...

Retro Friday Round-Up

July 9, 2009

First Lines Answers + Giveaway Winner

Aaaaand we have a winner! ProdElektra was the first to get all seven first line quotes right. Impressive. Particularly as #5 is out of print and I wasn't at all sure anyone would pick up on it. Speaking of, ProdElektra, how did you know that one? :)

The answers:
4. Westmark by Lloyd Alexander
7. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
ProdElektra, make sure to contact me and let me know which book you'd like and your mailing address. I, naturally, recommend them all. Highly. Thanks for playing everyone! What are you favorite first lines? I'd love to hear them.

Thursday Giggles: Austen Version

Mad over at Under the Mad Hat has written a Twitterfied version of Pride and Prejudice. The hilariously talented lady has titled it "Pride and Twitterverse" and it is, in fact, the entire novel as told through a long series of tweets. Those of you on Twitter are guaranteed to find this one particularly funny. My hat off to you, Mad. This is right up there with Emma Thompson's madly witty Golden Globe acceptance speech for her Sense & Sensibility screenplay. In fact, I think I'll go ahead and include that here for your related viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
Edited: I've since been informed there is a Facebook P&P as well as the Twitter one. I should have known....So for all you Facebook peeps, knock yourself out! (It really is hilarious).

July 8, 2009

First Lines + Giveaway

Jackie over at Literary Escapism had this First Lines meme up the other day and, because I absolutely love a really killer first line, I figured I'd put one together as well. Jackie included the first lines from a stack of books sitting next to her. I'm going to cheat and give you a few of my all-time favorites. Some are technically the first couple of lines. See if you can guess which books they're from. The first person to get them all right (or the person with the most correct answers) wins! I'll announce the answers and the winner can pick one book from the list of seven.
1. "Three children lay on the rocks at the water's edge. A dark-haired little girl. Two boys, slightly older. This image is caught forever in my memory, like some fragile creature preserved in amber."
2. "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."
3. "My name is Elizabeth but no one's ever called me that. My father took one look at me when I was born and must have thought I had the face of someone dignified and sad like an old-fashioned queen or a dead person, but what I turned out like is plain, not much there to notice. More Daisy than Elizabeth from the word go."
4. "Theo, by occupation, was a devil."
5. "On Christmas morning, Rebecca lost her moral virginity, her sense of humor--and her two best friends. But, other than that, it was a hell of a holiday."
6. "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."
7. "I am going to pack my two shirts with my other socks and my best suit in the little blue cloth my mother used to tie round her hair when she did the house, and I am going from the Valley."
There you go. Let me know your guesses and, if you put together your own list, I want to see it.

July 7, 2009

Confessions of a Cover Snob

Last week I ran across Brian James' article on judging books by their covers and it got me to thinking. I try not to be a cover snob. I do. I try and fail and try again in the hopes that one of these days I'll learn my lesson. This is a near-constant topic of discussion within the circle of friends and family members I'm constantly pushing books on. A bad cover that conceals treasures within forces you to go on the defensive. I suppose it just hones my bookselling skills but I hate the number of times I've had to say, "Don't let the cover get to you, it's a freaking awesome book. You will love it!" Oftentimes I actually love these covers, but for one reason or another, they're hard to hand other people. The Mercy Thompson series is at the top of this particular list for some reason. I love Daniel dos Santos' cover art. I really do. I'm particularly fond of the cover of Blood Bound.
She just looks like Mercy to me. I love the composition, the way she's standing, the tattoos (even though she doesn't have them all), the whole bit. But Mercy the character wouldn't be caught dead in that particular state of undress. Not out and about at her shop anyway. And when I'm introducing the whole urban fantasy genre to an unsuspecting newbie, it can be hard to get the general gist of the complete and utter awesomeness of the Mercy books across when they're staring doubtfully at the covers.

The same goes for the number of times I've not picked up a book that a large part of me wanted to just because the cover was unappealing in some way. Case in point, the cover for Sharon Shinn's Archangel.
I avoided it for years. Years! Because I thought the girl on the cover looked stupid. And what was up with the feather and the orb and the look on her face? Like she was about to give up the ghost or dissolve in a series of ecstatic shivers. I just couldn't get over my initial impression. This despite the many positive reviews I'd read. It's a powerful instinct, that first judgement call. And now, of course, Archangel is right up there with the Sevenwaters books and Robin McKinley when it comes to my top comfort reads. Serves me right. But I still maintain the Rachel I know and love would never look that overcome by anything. Glowing orb, indeed...

Lastly, there are the simply silly covers. The ones that drive away good readers because they simply can't imagine something weighty or worthwhile or even intriguing inside. It requires too far a stretch of their admittedly stretchy imaginations. Most recent example of this form of cover snobbery--Moira J. Moore's Hero series. Behold:














Too cartooney for words, right? I mean he looks like Lancelot himself and she's polishing his boot for crying out loud! Like some awful parallel version of Beauty and the Beast gone horribly awry. Combine the covers with the titles and I'm near tears trying to get them into good homes. Because these books? These books are good. They have heart. They're funny and extremely moving at times. They have a hero and heroine deserving of your love. Sometimes you pick up a book with a lame cover and you get burned, it's true. But sometimes you make out like bandits. That's how I felt when I went ahead and took this series home.

In his article, James looks at the cover issue from an author's perspective and notes that:
An author's relationship to a book after it's published is a strange one. By the time it hits store shelves, your involvement with it is long gone. It's out in the world on its own. A common metaphor for the experience is that of a parent sending their child out into the world. Taking that metaphor, the cover would be the child's clothing. You want your child to look presentable and you want them to express themselves. Too often books, like kids afraid of not fitting in, are simply dressed to look like everyone else even if that's not who they are on the inside.
What a wonderful analogy as well as a nice reminder. There are so many books deserving of better covers to really show us wishy-washy readers just what's inside and why they're worth taking home with us. For each off-putting cover out there there's an author hoping you'll see past the awkward exterior to the heart of gold inside. May we all be a little more openminded and a little less snobbish in the future.

July 3, 2009

Retro Fridays

I'm starting a new feature here called Retro Fridays and anyone and everyone is welcome to join in. Kath from Bookworm Nation has already got her first post up today as well. She reviews Summer of Monkeys by Wilson Rawls here. I'm tickled others are into the idea and will plan on posting a round-up of Retro Friday reviews here with mine each week. So if you want to join in simply send me the link to your review and I'll include it in the round-up. My address is angieville.reviews (at) gmail (dot) com. It should be noted that Pattie of Pattinase hosts a similar Friday's Forgotten Books feature so check that out as well if you're interested.
Thanks everyone. You guys rock!

Retro Friday Review: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

DH is the one I have to thank for first introducing me to Guy Gavriel Kay's body of work. He was a fan of the Fionavar Tapestry and felt sure I would like them. And like them I did. So much so that you will no doubt be hearing more about them at some future Retro Friday date. But for this inaugural edition I felt myself gravitating toward Kay's slightly later work--Tigana. Originally published in 1990, Tigana is an epic romantic fantasy and was nominated for both the World Fantasy Award and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. First off, because I am an unabashed cover hound, a look at the changing cover art then and now:














Kay prefaces his story with the following shiver-inducing passage from Dante's Paradiso:
All that you held most dear you will put by
and leave behind you; and this is the arrow
the longbow of your exile first lets fly.
You will come to know how bitter as salt and stone
is the bread of others, how hard the way that goes
up and down stairs that never are your own.
The story takes place in the Peninsula of the Palm--a world based on medieval Italy. Like Italy of old, the Palm is divided up into nine city-states, or provinces, each with its own distinct flavor and character, yet each bound together through the music and art that runs through the veins of the inhabitants. The prologue opens on the eve of battle. The prince of one of the provinces is about to go forth on the morrow to meet the sorceror-king Brandin of Ygrath. Sure that he faces certain death, it is a brief, hushed scene, full of poignance and honor. The story then jumps forward a number of years to a troupe of musicians preparing to perform at the funeral of the Duke of Astibar. Devin d'Asoli, a gifted singer, and his tempestuous female counterpart Catriana d'Astibar are bickering as usual, while the piper Alessan and drummer Eghano tune their instruments and ready for the performance of their lives. As we follow this group of itinerant musicians, it becomes clear that the world has changed significantly. Brandin did indeed win the battle of the prologue, but he paid a high price. His eldest son died in the battle and, in his grief and rage, Brandin not only destroyed the province but utterly wiped away the merest memory of its existence. From that time forward, no one but the people born there could remember or even speak its name. The people of the Palm now live under the shadow of Brandin and his rival conqueror Alberico, both of whom are intent on destroying the other. But as we follow Devin and his friends it also becomes clear that not everyone is who they seem to be and that there is a slow but persistent rebellion growing, the likes of which the world has never seen.

First and foremost, Tigana is an absolute feat of storytelling. It hits every one of my requirements for epic fantasy by combining a fully realized world with nuanced characterization and language so lush you want to wrap yourself up in it. Music and magic form the backbone of the story and pave the way for a detailed and riveting exploration of the meaning of history and valor, right and wrong, and how and where they meet and interlock. In his afterword written for the tenth anniversary edition, Mr. Kay had this to say:
Tigana is in good part a novel about memory: the necessity of it, in cultural terms, and the dangers that come when it is too intense.
Truly this was my favorite aspect of the novel. The thread of cultural memory, how far a people can be pushed before they relinquish it, and what you might be willing to sacrifice to regain it. I loved the depth this thread gave the rest of the novel, but it helped that I fell almost immediately in love with the cast of characters as well. They're the kind of characters you just know are going to break your heart and you might as well be all in because you can also tell they're so worth it. The story bounces back and forth between the Palm and Brandin's home island of Chiara, with the result that the reader is given an unexpectedly intimate view of both the rebels and the tyrant. And neither are purely good or evil. My sympathies were exercised on behalf of both and so, though it is a beautiful read, it is also a painful one as both sides cannot win and it is hard to love or hate either unreservedly. Whenever I read Tigana I am at once in love and conflicted, consumed with near equal parts hope and despair. And when an author can elicit that complex an emotional response without making me feel manipulated, my hat comes off. It's a stunning tale. Recommended for fans of Jacqueline Carey and Patricia McKillip.

Linkage

July 2, 2009

Retro Fridays

So I'm starting a new feature called Retro Fridays, in which each Friday I'll be reviewing a book from the past. This will generally be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book I think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. In this way I hope to be able to spend a little precious blog-time discussing a few reads that are *gasp* Not Brand New. They will also come from a slightly wider variety of genres and perhaps give us a chance to talk about reading influences, reader's nostalgia, and other topics near and dear to my heart. First review will be up tomorrow. Hope you enjoy!

Silent Pretties

These are Mira's UK covers for Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series and I want! I've always been a sucker for a matched set and these are just so delightful and fun. Particularly in light of the fact that my original copies will always and forever be hodgepodge as they made a major series cover art shift with the release of Silent on the Moor. Sigh. I particularly like the "A wickedly witty Lady Julia Grey mystery" tagline on the second two. But since these are only available in the UK, the total cost is currently prohibitive. So for now I will simply covet from afar...