February 26, 2010

Retro Friday Review: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.





I'm a sucker for reading other people's favorite books of all time. When someone tells me a certain book is one of the books of their life, I get this pressing urge to run out and secure a copy. It generally doesn't matter what genre or style of book it is. I think this is mostly because I know what it means to care so much about a book you have to have it nearby at all times. Maybe you own more than one copy so that if you lend one out you've still got a spare...just in case. Maybe you can't remember a time when you hadn't read and loved that book, those characters. I know what that feels like. And because I have such tender feelings for certain books, I want to have read the books others feel the same way about. It's almost always a rewarding experience. One of the most memorable of these times happened several years ago when a good friend of mine on Readerville was talking about what a superb novel Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams was. I had read one Kingsolver book at that point--The Bean Trees--and, while I appreciated parts of it, my overall reaction was pretty lackluster. So it wasn't with a lot of excitement that I approached Kingsolver's second novel. 


Codi Noline thought she'd left Grace, Arizona once and for all when she and her little sister Hallie escaped and went away to college. It's been ten years since then and Codi and Hallie have traveled farther than she ever expected. Even after medical school and several stints as a world traveler, she's never found a place she could call home And yet, when the call comes in that her father has Alzheimer's and can't live alone anymore and Codi returns home to look after him, she finds to her chagrin that she hasn't moved that far beyond her childhood after all. Back in Grace, she stays in her old friend Emelina's guest house and takes a job teaching biology at the local high school. With her platinum blonde hair and her checkered history with this town, she stands out like a sore thumb and she's all but sure it was a colossal mistake coming home this way. But as she exchanges letters with Hallie, deals with her deteriorating father, and strikes up a tentative friendship with Loyd Peregrina--an Apache railroad brakeman she once knew--Codi's perspective is challenged on so many levels and the lines between memory and truth and past and present are blurred so far it's all she can do to hang on to the here and now. 

Here are the opening lines from Codi's perspective:
I am the sister who didn't go to war. I can only tell you my side of the story. Hallie is the one who went south, with her pickup truck and her crop-disease books and her heart dead set on a new world.

Who knows why people do what they do? I stood on a battleground once too, but it was forty years after the fighting was all over: northern France, in 1982, in a field where the farmers' plow blades kept turning up the skeletons of cows. They were the first casualties of the German occupation. In the sudden quiet after the evacuation the cows had died by the thousands in those pastures, slowly, lowing with pain from unmilked udders. But now the farmers who grew sugar beets in those fields were blessed, they said, by the bones. The soil was rich in calcium.
I knew right away I liked Codi. I felt sorry for her and I wanted to know her better. By the end, I liked her even more, as though I understood her because I had followed her home. Kingsolver's storytelling is breathlessly evocative. I constantly found myself gasping at the way she wields the written word to move her readers and wrap them up in a vision of the world the way it is and the way it could be. Halfway through my first read, I couldn't take it any longer. I quietly returned my library copy and fled to the bookstore to buy one of my own. I had to own this book and I wasn't even finished yet! Truthfully, Animal Dreams took me completely by surprise. It had me by the throat with its motherless sisters who want to save the world, its handmade peacock pinatas, its dying town, and its gorgeous, gorgeous longing. The story of a girl searching to belong, of a town struggling to survive, and the intricate myths and culture surrounding them all completely engulfed me. To say nothing of the quiet, intense love story winding its way through the beautiful prose. There were so many other passages I wanted to quote for you but in the end I couldn't take away that opportunity of discovering them for yourself. It's just too special to intrude on in that way. When I think of those few perfect books, this one always comes to mind. I'm so glad Zanna sang its praises so emphatically. I'm so glad I listened. Because it's one of the books of my life now, too. I like having it nearby at all times. I have a lending copy...just in case. And I have trouble remembering a time I didn't know and love Codi, Loyd, and all of Grace. 


Retro Friday Roundup
The YA YA YAs review The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley

February 25, 2010

Bibliocrack Review: Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

Lately I've been feeling a bit blue. Nothing desperate. Just in need of some cheering up, some laughter, something bright inside amid all this dreary weather we're enduring outside. I found myself craving it every night when I settled down to read and just not finding it in the books stacked around me. Then about month ago Keishon over at Avid Book Reader reviewed Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie. I love Keishon's reviews and eclectic taste and I remembered I'd been wanting to give Crusie a try for awhile now. I asked for suggestions in the comments there and got several good ones. The consensus there and on a few other sites I checked was that Bet Me is widely regarded as one of Crusie's best titles. So on my next trip to the library I picked it up and settled in that night, not sure exactly what to expect, but hoping for the best.

Minerva Dobbs is ready to kill her suddenly ex-boyfriend David when he dumps her in a crowded bar a couple of weeks before her sister's wedding. Flanked by her two best friends, Liza and Bonnie, Min tries to focus on the fact that she never liked David much anyway and she's actually quite relieved to be rid of the smarmy loser who insisted she stay on a strict diet and always picked the restaurants they went to. At the same time, in another corner of the bar, Calvin Morrisey is happy to be rid of his marriage-hungry former girlfriend and is looking forward to just running his company and spending time with his buddies. He is neither amused nor interested when David Fisk bets him $10,000 he can't make it with Min within a month. Lucky for Min, she overhears the conversation and determines to beat (and hopefully humiliate) them both at their own game. So when Cal approaches Min in an attempt to get away from David, the game is on and he doesn't even know it. What he does know is this woman wants to be with him approximately as much as he wants to be with her, which is to say not even a little bit. Also, there is nothing exciting or colorful about her except the unlikely and impractical shoes she's got on. But he asks her to dinner anyway and she inexplicably accepts. Hilarity, heat, and shenanigans ensue.

Jennifer Crusie had me from page one. I liked Min and Cal so much it was perfectly delicious watching them push each other's buttons and alternately despise and surprise each other. I liked all four of the best friends--particularly the sappy-but-impossible-to-dislike Bonnie and Roger, determinedly pursuing their happily ever after no matter how hard their well-meaning friends tried to convince them it doesn't exist. Yes, it was utterly predictable fluff. But the writing was surprisingly deft and the characters were no cardboard cutouts. Every now and then I'd run across a sentence that was at once airy and light and perfectly placed to resonate with the reader or sketch out what was going on between characters at the time. There were a couple of "villains" that behaved just as you might expect, but even they turned out to be grayer than I thought. But secondary characters aside, Min and Cal make this romantic comedy. They're real and fully-fleshed out and they have histories and families and careers and it all comes into play as they try and fail to remain detached from each other. So much of why I had a ridiculously good time reading Bet Me was the nonstop humor. An early example from that first dinner:
Cal turned and saw Emilio, this time with a fragrant platter of chicken marsala, golden-brown filets and huge braised mushrooms floating luminously in dark wine sauce.
"Oh, my Lord," Min said.
Emilio beamed at her as he served. "It's a pleasure to serve someone who appreciates food. Taste it."
Min cut into the chicken and put a forkful in her mouth. She looked startled and then she closed her eyes and began to chew, her face flushed with pleasure. When she'd swallowed, she looked up at Emilio, her eyes shining. "This is incredible," she said, and Cal thought, Me, look at me like that.
"Try the mushrooms," Emilio said, happy as a half-Italian clam.
"Go away," Cal told him, but Emilio stayed until Min had bitten into one of the huge mushrooms and told him with heartfelt passion that he was a genius.
"Can I get some credit for bringing you here?" Cal said when Emilio was gone.
"Yes," Min said. "You are a genius at restaurants. Now be quiet so I can concentrate on this."
Cal sighed and gave up on the conversation for the rest of the meal. There was a skirmish at the end when Min tried to insist on separate checks, but Cal said, "I invited you, I pay. Back off, woman." She looked as though she were going to argue for a moment, and then she nodded. "Thank you very much," she told him. "You've given me a lovely meal and a new favorite restaurant," and he felt appreciated for the first time that night.
When they left, she kissed Emilio on the cheek. "Your bread is the greatest, Emilio, but the chicken is a work of art." Then she kissed him on the other cheek.
"Hey," Cal said. "I'm right here. I paid for the chicken."
"Don't beg," Min told him and went out the door.
"Morrisey, I think you just met your match," Emilio said.
"Not even close," Cal said, grateful to be without her for a moment. "This was our first, last, and only date."
"Nope," Emilio said. "I saw the way you looked at each other."
"That was fear and loathing," Cal said, opening the door.
"God, you're dumb," Emilio said, and Cal ignored him and went out into the dark to find Min.
And just for fun, here's an early scene where Min tries on her Maid of Honor dress and deals with her mother:
Min took a deep breath and popped the button on her skirt. "Look, Mother, I am never going to be thin. I'm Norwegian. If you wanted a thin daughter, you should not have married a man whose female ancestors carried cows home from the pasture."
"You're half Norwegian," Nanette said, "which is no excuse at all because there are plenty of slim Nordic beauties. You're just eating to rebel against me."
"Mother, sometimes it's not about you," Min snapped as she held her skirt together. "Sometimes it's genetics."
"Not your loud voice, dear," her mother said, and turned to Diana as she held up the corset. "We'll just have to tie it together."
"Good idea," Min said. "Then when I pass out at the altar, you can point out how slim and Nordic I am."
"Minerva, this is your sister's wedding," Nanette said. "You can sacrifice a little."
"I'ts okay, it's okay," Diana said, holding out her hands. "There's time to have one made in Min's size. Everything will be fine."
"Oh, good." Min stepped up on the platform to look at herself in the trifold mirror. She looked like the blowsy barmaid who worked in the inn behind the castle, the one who'd trash-picked one of the princess's castoffs. "This is so not me."
"It's a great color for you, Min," Diana said softly as she came to stand behind her on the platform, and Min leaned back so their shoulders touched.
"You're going to be the most amazing bride," she told Diana. "People are going to gasp when they see you."
"You, too," Diana said, and squeezed Min's shoulder.
Yeah, when my corset explodes and my breasts hit the minister.
"What happened to your eye?" Diana said in Min's ear, low enough so that Nanette couldn't hear.
"The beast hit me last night," Min said, and then when Diana straightened, she added, "I walked into his elbow. Not his fault."
"That's the wrong bra for that dress," Nanette said from behind them.
"You're not by any chance my stepmother are you?" Min said to her mother's reflection. "Because that would explain so much."
"Here, darling," Nanette said and handed her five different colored lace bras. "Go in there and put one of these on and bring me that cotton thing. I'm going to burn it."
"What cotton thing?" Diana said.
"I'm wearing a plain white bra," Min told her as she stepped off the platform, her hands full of lace.
Diana widened her eyes and looked prim. "Well, you're going to hell."
"Diana," Nanette said.
"I know," Min said as she headed for the dressing room. "That's where all the best men are."
"Minerva," Nanette said. "Where are you going"
"It's Thursday," Min said, over her shoulder. "I'm meeting Liza and Bonnie for dinner, and I don't want to talk about my underwear anymore." She stopped in the doorway to the dressing room. "Order the bigger corset--much bigger, Mother--and we'll try this again when it comes in."
"No carbs," her mother called after her as she went into the dressing room. "And no butter."
"I know you stole me from my real parents," Min called back. "They'd let me eat butter." Then she shut the door behind her before Nanette could tell her to avoid sugar, too.
Sigh. I loved this book. Clearly a case of the right one at the right time. I took it back to the library knowing I would need to go out soon and procure my own copy because I can tell I'll want to revisit these characters. I laughed so much reading it and by the time I finished everything was bright and lovely inside once more.

Note: I went on a bit of a Crusie binge after this and, four books in, Bet Me is far and away my favorite. Definitely the best of the lot.


Linkage
Book Binge Review
Dissecting Perfection Review
Kathy Holmes Review
Laura's Review
Petit Fours and Hot Tamales Review
Royal Review

February 24, 2010

Wednesday Giggles: Shakespeare Version

I don't know about you, but I've been in need of a good dose of laughter and awesome and I got it when I ran across graphic designer Mike Young's sweet cover designs for some classic Shakespeare plays. I think my favorites are the MacBeth and Romeo & Juliet covers.
Don't you want them on your shelf? Make sure to stop in and click on each thumbnail to get the full effect.

Thanks to The Olive Reader for the heads up!

February 23, 2010

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

I've been looking forward to this book ever since I finished Jellicoe Road and heard Melina Marchetta had a fantasy novel already out in Australia. It took awhile but eventually word went out that the wonderfully titled Finnikin of the Rock would be making its American debut this February and I settled back, somewhat impatiently, to wait. Jellicoe Road was my first experience reading a Marchetta book and I consider it a pretty much perfect reading experience. To say that my anticipation for her next book was high would be something of an understatement. Though the fact that it was high fantasy gave me some pause. I read quite a bit of fantasy of all kinds and I was fascinated to see how the very modern, fragmented style of writing I loved in Jellicoe Road translated to such a wildly different genre.

Once the son of the King of Lumatere's warlord, Finnikin of the Rock ran wild and happy with his best friends and rivals Prince Balthazar and Lucian of the Monts. As boys they make a blood pact to protect their homeland no matter what. Then, in Finnikan's ninth year, the five days of the unspeakable occur and the world changes. An imposter ascends to the throne, butchering the royal family and causing a curse to be laid on the the few remaining survivors. The walls of Lumatere close and the rest of its mangled population are scattered to the four winds. Years later, his mother long dead, his father long gone, Finnikin is a young man. Having spent his life wandering neighboring lands with his mentor Sir Topher, he refuses to give up hope of returning and reclaiming the land he loved and lost. When they are joined by the young novice Evanjalin, Finnikin is certain the off putting young woman who is sworn to silence will do nothing but slow them down. It is not long, however, before he discovers he could not be more wrong. For Evanjalin herself burns with a thirst for justice and it will be all Finnikin can do to keep up with her.

Truly this book has the makings of an absolutely divine epic fantasy. I was all set to fall in love. And the first section is very encouraging. However, not long after Finnikin and Sir Topher encounter Evanjalin, I began to run into problems on two fronts. First, the overall storyline began sounding eerily familiar and I realized it reminded me strongly of another epic fantasy I love and have read several times--Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Unfortunately, once I made the connection, I could not get it out of my head. The once lovely land fallen to a conqueror's control, all but wiped out and a curse laid upon its survivors that they may always remember and never reclaim what was theirs. The rebels in hiding, circling their forbidden home, determined to mount a rebellion, fulfill a prophecy, and restore a lost royalty. And though I found these resemblances uncanny, I still would have happily sunk into Ms. Marchetta's writing were it not for the characters. They were so cold, so far removed from me as the reader. As I said, all of the elements I love were present--the deceptively simple young woman with an agenda of her own, the dispossessed young man desperate to become a man like his heroic father, the dire curse, the mysterious disappearances. A few hundred pages in I was struggling to figure out what was wrong with me, why I wasn't enjoying this read, when it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't like the characters. Not one. I didn't care at all what happened to them. And, as a result, I went through the entire novel essentially unaffected by the sweeping events of the tale for a lack of caring and closeness. I found both Finnikin and Evanjalin in large part tiresome, petty, and prickly (not in a good way) and could not for the life of me feel the connection they supposedly had. Though I was told it was there, it never felt real to me. There was so much potential that just never found a grounding point. I've held off writing this review because I felt so bad about my reaction (or lack thereof), especially considering how much I assumed I'd like it. I even took time off to make sure it wasn't simply my mood at the time. But when I came back nothing had changed. They were still them and I was still me and we none of us cared much for each other so it was best we part ways. Now, I am definitely a lone dissenting voice on this one. So I certainly recommend you give it a shot because, though there was a decided barrier between me and them, I could tell that if these characters turn out to be your cuppa there's a good chance you'll love it even if I couldn't.

Linkage

February 22, 2010

Alpha Cover

Rachel Vincent just revealed the cover for Alpha--the sixth and final book in the wild ride that has been her werecat Shifters series. Personally, I think it's the best of the lot. Each cover has been fun in its way, but this one is just sort of awesome. Faythe looks in charge. Love the hair, love the tights, love the grip, love the fact that she's sitting in the chair! All kinds of subtext going on there. I've enjoyed this series from book one and I've loved watching Faythe grow and progress as a character. The fifth book, Shift, is sitting on top of my stack right now just waiting for me to crack it open and I'm so very glad Alpha will be coming out this fall so we won't have to wait too long for the concluding volume.

February 20, 2010

28 Days of Winter Escapes: A Q&A with Rachel Hawthorne

Today I'm pleased to be the official book blog partner for Harper Teen's 28 Days of Winter Escapes Tour. I'll be spotlighting young adult paranormal author Rachel Hawthorne's latest Dark Guardian novel Shadow of the Moon with an exclusive Q&A with the author herself as well as a chance to win a signed copy of the book and an iPod Touch. Please welcome Rachel Hawthorne!
Dark Guardian
Rachel Hawthorne
1. Your characters in this series are destined to be together—how do they know they’ve found the one?
They feel an immediate attraction. They can’t stop thinking about each other. But there is also an element of danger because the feelings are so intense. Sometimes they can cause one of the characters to pull back from the relationship. What the characters feel is scary, exciting, thrilling, comforting—it encompasses all emotions and makes them all seem much bigger than anything else they’ve ever experienced.
2. Transformation and love are big themes in this series—what’s your opinion about how these two things impact one another?
I believe love can transform us. It can cause us to view ourselves more positively, can give us confidence, can give us a sense of completion and feeling special. When we’re loved, it can make us strive to be more than we ever thought we could be. When we love someone, we seldom want to disappoint that person. Giving and receiving love are so intermingled that it’s difficult to separate which affects us the most, but basically love makes everything about life seem so much richer.
3. Do you believe in soul mates?
I do believe in soul mates. I don’t believe that soul mates are limited to the person with whom we’re romantically involved. I think a soul mate can be a best friend or a family member. It’s someone with whom we connect deeply and profoundly. 
4. What about love at first sight?
I think it’s rare, but I do believe it happens. Sometimes there is just a connection that can’t be explained. My parents were an example—they went to a dance without dates, looked across the room, spotted each other, and just knew the potential was there for something special to develop between them.
5. Would you rather date a werewolf, vampire, or zombie?
I would have to go with a werewolf. The animal magnetism that’s always hovering beneath the surface appeals to me. They’re warm, alive, and they have the ability to shift into a creature that will fight to defend its territory. And I think they would be terrific cuddlers.
* * *
Thank you so much, Rachel! Make sure to stop by the official 28 Days of Winter Escapes website today for a chance to win a copy of Shadow of the Moon by answering the official poll.
You can also follow the Book-A-Day giveaway tour on Twitter (using the #28daygiveaway hashtag). There are still eight more days and giveaways throughout the rest of February, so be sure to stop in for a chance to win one of the remaining books including, among others, Jellicoe Road, The Heart is Not a Size, and The Reckoning!

February 19, 2010

Evening Stops

This evening I've got several interesting links for you.

First off, Liz over at A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy has the scoop on two new Madeleine L'Engle reissues and the covers are so lovely that I have to post them here as well.
Aren't they sigh-worthy? I just love them. And since And Both Were Young is one of my favorites of her lesser-known works, I will definitely be picking up a copy. I hope these new editions and covers help both books find a new and receptive readership. They deserve it.

Second, Chelle over at Tempting Persephone has started up a new weekly feature that I think is awesome. She calls it "I  ♥ This Art" and has this to say:
I ♥ This Art is a weekly feature on Tempting Persephone. Art, no matter the medium, buoys my spirit up. Each week I’ll spotlight a piece that speaks to me, makes me want to know more, or just makes me feel.
The first spotlight she has up, "A Boy and a Girl," is so lovely. I've already been over to the artist's website and blog. Looking forward to more in this series.


Next, as you have probably heard, April of Good Books & Wine has taken on the Herculean task of putting together a Top 100 YA Books of All Time list and she's looking for our help. From now through March 17th you can stop in and nominate five titles for the list. She will then compile them all and post the list for everyone to see on the 19th. So head on over and attempt to whittle your list down to five killer titles.


Lastly, and in a similar vein, a week or so ago I joined together with several other lovely book bloggers and contributed an entry for Flashlight Worthy Books' Most Romantic Young Adult Books of All Time list. It's an extremely good list, if I do say so myself, and the blurbs each blogger wrote on their favorite pick are well worth a stop. Any guesses on the one I picked? I'm fairly predictable, right? So it can only be one of probably three titles. *grin* FYI, Flashlight Worthy is a website of themed lists of handpicked book recommendations on hundreds of topics and makes for very fun browsing. Go check them out.

Flashlight Worthy Books
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Retro Friday Review: Seaward by Susan Cooper

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
When I was in sixth grade I had a teacher who was a real fantasy reader. And the man could do the most excellent voices for every character. We sat enthralled at his feet as he read aloud to the entire class each day. No mean feat to keep a mess of eleven and twelve year olds' attention like that day after day. He's a huge part of the reason I love the genre and he is responsible for introducing me to so many of my all-time favorites, including (and perhaps most memorably) the incomparable Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper.  Not long after we, as a class, inhaled Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence, I struck out on my own looking for anything else I could find by the woman. A kind school librarian handed me a copy of Seaward. It was instant love, you guys. I've re-read my copy so many times over the years and I guess I thought all other Dark is Rising fans must have sought it out as well and I found myself frequently surprised at how rarely that was the case. I was dismayed to discover it is actually out of print now. What a shame because Seaward is that all-too-common breed of book--an absolute gem forever overshadowed by its famous big sib.

Westerly knows he has very little time. Traveling alone and on foot through a strange land, he's constantly looking over his shoulder, only able to rest for moments at a time as he flees an unnamed danger that is never far behind. Filled with visions of the violence done to his family before he was ripped away, West only knows he must be on his guard and he must head toward the sea. Cally knows something is wrong when her father falls suddenly ill and is taken away to the seaside in a last-ditch attempt to regain his health. When her mother follows shortly after, Cally is left alone in their empty house until one day she hears a voice singing snatches of a song her mother used to sing and finds a mirror into another time and place. Coming from different directions but both headed to the sea, West and Cally meet up and form a cautious friendship built on the one quality they have in common--they're the things that don't belong. As they attempt to learn why they are in this strange land and how they will survive, they encounter primal, mighty, and terrifying forces who control the land and who will do anything within their power to turn these two young people to their own purposes.

In some ways Seaward resembles the Dark is Rising sequence, with the feeling of an almost alien world existing side by side with our own. A world almost drenched in magic and characters who come to form the unshakable conviction that the tiniest of actions can have massive and far-reaching consequences, stretching across both time and space. Certain prophecies come into play as well.
A man with eyes like an owl, a girl with selkie hands, a creature in a high place.
But Seaward is a much shorter, much sweeter story, filled with the themes of love and loss, what happens once one has lost everything, and how or whether it is possible to go on in the face of the vastness of the universe and the seemingly inconsequential place one person occupies in it. What I love about this book, and what is one of my strongest memories from reading it for the first time, is that the reader is dropped into the midst of the action without so much as an apology. It makes it feel real and large and whole and it doesn't detract from the movement of the story because the two main characters are filled with questions themselves. Finding out piece by piece along with them only helps to highlight the mounting tension. And by the end of this sucker that tension level is high. West and Cally are quite different but both extremely likable and interesting people. If West is a bit more suspicious of everything, his past (as Cally comes to find out) didn't really give him a choice in the matter. Cally is strong and has a good heart, as West comes to find out as he spends more time in her company. The end is almost achingly bittersweet and every time I read it, as it draws closer, I find myself turning the pages slower to prolong what time is left. These two have been my friends for a long time now. I find myself thinking about them when I'm not with them and I know, despite the ending, we will always be finding each other again throughout the years to come. Recommended for fans of Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L'Engle, and Guy Gavriel Kay.

Linkage
Libri Touches Review
The Wordpile Review

Retro Friday Roundup
Twisted Quill reviews The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

February 18, 2010

Silver Snippet

So did you notice Patricia Briggs posted the entire first chapter of the upcoming fifth Mercy Thompson book--Silver Borne--to her website recently? I stumbled across it yesterday and let's just say it is nice and long, Adam is there (and so is Sam), and by the end I had a big, fat smile on my face. Go on. You know you want to read it...

Interestingly, Patty has the following to say about Silver Borne:
This is Samuel's book and also deals with the terrible things that can happen when you are late returning a borrowed book.
Awesome.

Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

I know what you're gonna say. "Um, Angie? Doubleblind came out like five months ago. What are you doing reviewing it in February? And you call yourself a fan..." Before you judge me too harshly, I thought I'd lost it. I've been ransacking my house for months trying to find it and hadn't replaced it because I knew it just had to be there somewhere. But it was starting to get a bit ridiculous and just when I was about to go buy another copy, I found it! I won't tell you where because it's embarrassing. But it and I were supremely happy to see each other again and I immediately dove into the Adventures of Jax 3.0 and it was like I was right at home again, as though we hadn't been apart for months on end.

Jax is growing up. Despite herself. As the ambassador to Vel's home planet of Ithiss-Tor, she finds herself forced to play a part. A part she feels supremely unsuited for. It doesn't help that she's accompanied by her particularly ragtag group of rebels, each of whom seems to have a reason to distrust her at this point. And none of them more than her former lover March. Destroyed by another war, the tough-as-nails pilot has completely withdrawn so as not to pose a quite literal threat to Jax and her mission. Now that he's just a ticking time bomb, Jax is unsure what (if anything) she can or should do bring him back. And knowing March the way she does, he wouldn't want her to. More and more it seems Vel is the only one she can count on and, now that they're both in enemy territory, so to speak, they will have to combine their not inconsiderable personal arsenals in order to forge the alliance the Conglomerate needs to mount a defense against the encroaching threat of the Morgut.

Doubleblind is a much quieter book than the previous two in the series. But it wouldn't do to underestimate it because it doesn't flash and bang quite as spectacularly as its comrades. If you're a Vel fan, this book is for you. My favorite thing about it was the scenes Jax and Vel shared as he teaches her about the world he abandoned years ago and she teaches him about friendship between outsiders. There's so much political maneuvering going on that the few quiet interpersonal scenes are quite relieving to read. As always, the charged interactions between Jax and March pack such a punch. At this point, three books in, their history is one gorgeous, messy roller coaster and all I could do was hope they made it through without killing each other. I love how tightly coiled March was and how Vel seemed to always be there when Jax was in more danger than she realized. Which is often with Jax. Usually I'm the one holding my breath while reading. In this case it seemed as though each of the characters were holding their breaths, consciously restraining themselves for fear of what horror they might unleash with one wrong move. Doubleblind did have the feel of a transition book to me and I found myself turning the pages quickly, wanting to get to the end already, my mind looking ahead to what Ms. Aguirre has in store for us next with Killbox, which is due out in September.


Reading Order: Grimspace, Wanderlust, and Doubleblind


Linkage (a.k.a. Smart Reviewers Who Did Not Promptly Lose Their Copies)
Book Love Affair Review
Brooke Reviews
Fantasy Cafe Review
Impressions of a Reader Review
Janicu's Book Blog Review
See Michelle Read Review
Smexy Books Review
Tempting Persephone Review

February 17, 2010

Ruby Slippers

Even though Valentine's Day has passed, I couldn't resist a quick post on what made mine surprisingly lovely this year. The thing is, Aaron and I, we don't really do the big day of love. Occasionally we'll get out for an early dinner but that's about it. This year the topic didn't even come up. And then, after a long frustrating day, I came home, did the whole evening routine with the kids, and turned around to find an unassuming silver bag sitting on my desk. Aaron was in the other room so I was able to read the poem sitting on top and cry in private (I'm a sucker when the boy writes me poems).

The poem was entitled, "Appropriate Footwear." You see, we have a long tradition of him making fun of me for my inappropriate footwear. Let me make it clear upfront, there is nothing wrong with my shoes. It's just that I tend to wear moccasins in the snow, sandals in the rain, no socks when temperatures are in the teens... that sort of thing. I won't spend the money to get a good pair of winter boots and he's forever making me go change out of my flip flops when I climb on the back of the motorcycle. Trust me, there have been many heated discussions on the issue.
*insert long suffering Aaronsigh here* 
So when I saw the title of the poem I assumed I'd find a sturdy pair of waterproof black boots in the box. Instead I found these:
"Ruby slippers?!" I exclaimed, delighted. 
"I wanted you to have a pair of shoes that would always take you home," he replied, smiling.

Kissing ensued. 

The poem, for those interested:
"Appropriate Footwear"

in the snow you'll find her
an impossible indian child
sockless
her thin mocassins frozen
stiff as oiled cardboard

"you will not make my feet
your feet"
she says
"you will not appropriate me"

if you forgive me
standing hotly in my boots
stubborn as a totem

i will be
your appropriate footwear

February 16, 2010

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

It's fascinating to me how, given two quite similar books or styles of book, one will leave you cold and the other has you at hello. I think about this phenomenon all the time and wonder what quality it is that pushes one over into a reading match. Most recently I found myself pondering this as I read Alexandra Bracken's debut novel Brightly Woven. The cover caught my eye back in October and, really, it is at once so attractive and nicely representative of both the book and the character. I then read several pretty exciting reviews and was delighted to win an ARC in a giveaway hosted by the generous Anastasia Hopcus. I eagerly awaited its arrival in the mail and cracked it open the day it came.

Sydelle Mirabel has always lived in a small, dusty town in a small, dusty corner of her country. An accomplished weaver, Sydelle lives a quiet life completing her chores, helping her hardworking parents, and sneaking what moments she can to roam on the hills with her childhood friend and his little brothers. Then one day an unusual person walks into town, bringing storms in his wake. In exchange for this miracle, Wayland North is given his choice of rewards. He chooses Sydelle. And before she can manage to question why or say goodbye, North whisks her away under the tattered folds of his many cloaks. Sydelle soon discovers the world is not the way she imagined it to be. And neither is North. With his capricious nature and tendency to overindulge, this unlikely wizard may hold the fate of the war and weather-torn nation in his rough hands and Sydelle is not at all sure he is up to the task. At least not on his own.

Brightly Woven is a lovely surprise of a story. In many ways it's reminiscent of a few ubiquitous YA fantasy authors, particularly Diana Wynne Jones and Sherwood Smith. North is quite an offbeat (and profligate) hero and I wasn't sure at first if he would win me over. He starts off mysterious and interesting with his swirling cloaks, his dark gloves, and his refusal to explain anything. As we, along with Sydelle, get to know him better he reminded me more and more of the infamous Howl from Howl's Moving Castle. As I don't number myself among Howl's fans (I know, I know), I was worried this would detract from my enjoyment of the story. Such was happily not the case. Alexandra Bracken manages to strike the perfect note between the humorous and the dire, the ridiculous and the heart wrenching. Sydelle is a strong character from the start. Forthright and sensible, she puts up with only as much of North's nonsense as she absolutely must to survive and, despite his vagueness and his secrecy, her focus never wavers from saving her country and her home from those who would see it destroyed. The relationship between the two of them slowly strengthens and takes on an appreciable gravity and closeness across the course of their many wild dashes hither and yon across the land. The world building matches the characters in both quirk and charm so that it was a pleasure to track their chaotic progress. I liked how North is in turn hapless and fierce, how he can never find his way but stalks off to fight a dragon or a duel at the drop of a hat. I believed in him and in Sydelle. And, in the end, what more can you ask of a read? Brightly Woven is due out March 23rd.


Linkage
Books by their Cover Review
Penultimate Page Review
Rebecca's Book Blog Review
Sophistikatied Review
Tales of the Ravenous Reader Review

February 15, 2010

Fire won the Cybils!!

Fire won the Cybils!! And, uh, several other extremely wonderful books and you should go check out the list of winners posted yesterday if you haven't yet. I served on the YA Fantasy & Science Fiction panel and pulled really hard for Fire. I'm so happy to see such a gorgeous book win such an awesome award. Congrats, Ms. Cashore and a big round of applause for the other nominated titles and authors, the hard-working panelists, judges, and organizers!

February 12, 2010

Woman's Last Stand

This is an unusually non-book-related post, I know, but did anyone else see the appalling ads run during the Super Bowl? I was disgusted by several of them, but Dodge's "Man's Last Stand" ad took the cake in the Outrage Angie department. In case you had the pleasure of not watching it, the ad features a series of haggard men enumerating the numerous things they've done for their women and announcing they deserve a Dodge Charger for all their sacrifices. *gag* I know it's hard for both men and women these days, especially when it comes to roles and expectations in and out of the home, workplace, social environment, etc. But I was very happy to see this completely awesome response/parody to the ad. Thanks to Diana for the heads up! Also, you should go read her post as well as Sarah Rees Brennan's on gender in YA, literature, and film. Because they are made of awesome and make me so energized I want to go climb a mountain.
Warning: there is a bit of language at the very end.

Retro Friday Review, Valentine's Edition: Romance is a Wonderful Thing by Ellen Emerson White

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
When I decided I wanted to do a Valentine's Day edition of Retro Fridays this time, I knew I wanted it to be something old and sappy and sweet and a favorite. And it didn't take long at all before my mind alighted on a title I am almost sure you have never heard of--Romance is a Wonderful Thing by Ellen Emerson White. Now, I regularly fly my White fangirl flag as you know, but I don't know if I've ever talked about this early, lesser known book. I'd been a devoted White reader for years before I ever heard of it and then it was only thanks to my friend Nan (a devoted EEW fangirl herself) who clued me in to its existence. So I ordered a copy off Half.com because, naturally, it was out of print. And when it arrived in the mail I devoured this trim little 188-page treat that night. First though, before we even get to the improbable title, how about that cover on the left?! It's hard to really take it in, isn't it? Just that awesome. I mean, I dare you to look at it and not burst into the theme song from The Facts of Life. Or Family Ties. I used to own the cover on the right and then gave it away as a gift. When I found a replacement copy it came with the cover on the left and I still haven't been able to wipe the grin off my face. As for the title, I don't know what to say except you're simply going to have to overlook it.

Patricia (Trish) Masters is your basic good girl. The oldest of two, blond and pretty, she's an honors student, plays on the tennis team, and is everybody's friend. Colin (Mac) McNamara is your basic screw up. The only child of a cop and a nervous stay-at-home-mom, dark and lean, he's flunking out of school, has the worst reputation of any kid in school, and is nobody's friend. But Colin likes watching girl's tennis. And one day he runs into Trish after school and, even though he makes her nervous, she finds herself wanting to get to know him better. Over the next several weeks they find reasons to run into each other again and again and both of them are surprised to find they're neither of them exactly what their reputations would have you believe. Trish is a lot less confident than she appears and she longs for someone to talk to about the changes coming into her life. Colin has a past, and even though it's not the one people attribute to him, he's its prisoner just the same. The question is can these two very different young kids overlook their differences and stick together long enough to help each other deal with their fears?

Even now it's hard for me to believe Ellen Emerson White wrote such a sweet teen romance. She generally deals in much more painfully conflicted fare than this. But I'm ever so glad that she did. That's not to say that the characters in this one, particularly Colin, don't have their fair share of trauma. And the classic White dialogue is present and accounted for in the wonderfully dry exchanges between characters. Here's a typical exchange early on:
Trish meandered through the Boston Public Library. She didn't like using the little memory-bank computers the library had instead of a card catalog, so she usually just wandered around, picking up books that looked interesting. For a minute, she watched a man reading a book upside down; then, realizing it was probably getting late, she walked toward the main staircase. Hurrying, she almost bumped into someone.
"Excuse me--" She stopped and stared, recognizing Colin.
As he saw her, he stiffened.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Uh, well." Trish frowned at her books. "The same thing you are, I guess."
He ran his free hand through his hair, unmistakably rattled.
"Sports," he said. "I like to read about sports."
"Which ones?"
"I don't know. You know." He backed up toward the stone railing, dropping two of the books when he hit it sooner than he expected.
"The Old Man and the Sea?" Trish asked, bending to pick one up.
He got to it first. "Fishing."
"How about Richard the Second?" She picked up the other one.
"Uh, murder."
She gave it to him. "What are you, a brain?"
"I gotta go, I'm late." He turned, walking swiftly down the stairs.
Trish watched him go, confused.
"Hey!" He was suddenly back. "Hey, woman!"
She looked at him uncertainly.
"It's getting dark outside." His voice was accusing.
"Oh?" She tilted her head, not sure what he meant.
"You walk around in the dark every night?"
"I only live a couple of blocks away."
"So you walk around in the dark? You know how stupid that is?"
"No," she said, grinning. "I'm not a brain."
"Yeah, well, how long you gonna be in here?"
"I don't know, I guess--"
"Well, I'll wait," he grumbled. "Don't feel like reading about you in The Globe tomorrow."
"You don't have to--"
"I said I was waiting already."
"Um, I guess I can go now." Trish started down the stairs.
He nodded, indicating that he'd be by the door.
"You really don't have to do this," Trish said once they were outside. "I can walk by myself; I do it all the time."
"Terrific, you do it all the time." He shook his head.
And, in the end, it's a love story. And an incredibly genuine and endearing one at that. Colin and Trish are easy to like and they certainly stand out as being two of the least acerbic of White's protagonists. It's impossible not to fall for Colin, with his smart mouth and terminal self-deprecation. He hides his true self exceedingly well, only letting his guard down when he's at home talking to his cat Ophelia. Or, increasingly more often, when he's with Trish. I know this is another out of print book I'm recommending, but used copies are available very inexpensively. And if, like me, you're in the mood for a cozy, utterly disarming read during this dreary season, Romance is a Wonderful Thing is just the thing.

Linkage

February 11, 2010

The Hunger Games 3 Cover + Title!

As you no doubt have already seen, Scholastic released the cover and title of the third and final Hunger Games book today. Mockingjay is due out August 24th. I love the cover and the title. It's unexpected and different from the previous two, but perfect in its way. What do you think? Yay? Nay? Any predictions? I'll give you mine.

Ahem.

But most of all:

Some other reactions around today:
All Things Urban Fantasy
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Maw Books Blog
The Neverending Shelf
Penultimate Page
Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm
Vision Quest Fail

Vintage Pretties

When it comes to gorgeous, incredibly effective covers, these three sort of hit it out of the park. Vintage Classics knows how to package a book is all I can say and I want--no, I need--these three editions in my personal library. Covers, both good and bad, have been on my mind lately and these examples just go to show what magic can happen when you let talented graphic designers who've--wait for it--Read. The. Books. create new, attractive, and inventive covers. All it takes is a glance at the twining roses set against the brick wall backdrop on this cover of North and South to send me into John-and-Margaret raptures. Similarly, the broken windowpane on Wuthering Heights instantly evokes Cathy's ghost calling out his name. As for Jane Eyre, the silhouette is perfect and I want to go re-read it right now. When you get a chance, wander on over and check out their complete catalogue. I'm a particular fan of vintage Dracula

February 10, 2010

BEA 2010 & Book Blogger Con

Last year I took the plunge and booked a flight and went to BEA. I was nervous, not sure what to expect, and feeling sort of like an impostor in someone else's club. But I went ahead and did it and I haven't regretted that decision for a moment. That trip was worth its weight in gold. If you love books and, more importantly, you love talking about the books you love with other book lovers, and you are dedicated to spreading the word on good books, then Book Expo America is the place for you. Yes, there are tons of ARCs being handed out for free. And, yes, there are scads of wonderful authors signing those ARCs. But, as mind-blowingly lovely as those two things are, they're not the main reason to go. The main reason is those connections you make when you're standing on line and you strike up a conversation with the people next to you and you exchange recommendations and contact information and you know that, even though you're total strangers and you may live in states thousands of miles apart, you're on the same level. You speak the same language. And that language is books. 

This year there's the added draw of the Book Blogger Convention being held the day after BEA ends (May 28th) right there in the Javits Center.
Book Blogger Convention
The convention organizers have put together a stellar agenda filled with blogger-led panels on topics ranging from writing and building content to professionalism and ethics in blogging to the relationship between blogger and author. Publishing industry professionals and authors will be attending as well. As for me, I've already registered and am so excited to meet so many of my blog friends there and take part in such a timely and important discussion. 

Thinking back on my experience I put together a few of the most important things to keep in mind when attending your first BEA. All the other fabulous blog tour participants have gone over these things as well, but in case you haven't read one yet or are looking for a reminder:

1. Go to the Javits Center the day before, if possible, to pick up your badge and get the lay of the land
This was a huge benefit to me. I went in the day before the crush hit and was able to quietly pick up my badge and admire it without looking like too much of an idiot. I also wandered the floors just a bit to get an idea of where I wanted to be and when. 
2. Make a schedule 
Come April, the BEA website will update with the vast and complicated schedule of which authors will be signing and the number of the line they'll be in. Some will be signing in-booth, some in the bank of lines downstairs. If you do nothing else before arriving, make sure you print out this schedule and highlight the ones you absolutely don't want to miss. Then put together your own list or spreadsheet to help map and plan out your time. In some cases authors will be ticketed and there will be detailed information on where and how to get tickets.
3. Be prepared to make the impossible choice between two excellent authors/events/panels
You won't be able to get to them all. You might think you're going to attend a panel on YA Buzz Books and then, at the last minute, end up haring off to another floor to meet Neil Gaiman and have him accidentally (but so awesomely) sign your hand. Be prepared to make that call in a split second if needs be. 
4. Save up your appetite for dinner
Take a granola bar or a banana, some gum, and a bottle of water or caffeinated beverage (particularly if you got up at the crack of dawn to get one of a limited number of ARCs of the latest Hunger Games book) to last you the day. If you're like me, you won't want to take the time to leave the center to get lunch. There is food available in house but it's fairly expensive and, compared with what wonderful food is available in NYC, not worth it. Save up for the evening and then go out with some friends for some real food. Make sure you make some time to get out and explore the city as well. I highly recommend a stop at the classic children's bookstore Books of Wonder.





5. Relax and enjoy the awesome.
Don't be afraid to approach other attendees and introduce yourself or, when appropriate, tell them you love them. Lol. There is still nothing like the feeling I had when the first person came up to me out of nowhere to tell me they loved my blog. Seriously, that's as close to rock star as I'll ever get. And the wonderful thing is I got the chance many times over to do the very same thing. When you meet an author who's been sitting there signing books for an hour or more, have your question or comment ready. Don't take up too much of their time, but be sure to let them know how you feel about their work and how grateful you are to have the opportunity to meet them and read their new book. When you're sitting in line, strike up a conversation with the people next to you. I'm still in touch with those librarians and booksellers I met those three days last year and I absolutely treasure those connections. 

And that's it for me. So. Any questions? Will you be attending BEA and/or the Blogger Con this year? I can't wait to see you there!