March 31, 2010

Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dark King

So I've been fairly itching to know where this series would go after the third book--Fragile Eternity--came out last year and utterly realigned my loyalties as far as the faery courts go. Well, that's perhaps not entirely accurate. They were already leaning heavily in that direction after Ink Exchange. But the developments in Fragile Eternity cemented the shift so firmly, I wondered if I would ever recover my early fondness for some characters or if, alternately, anything on God's green earth would be able to uproot my newly acquired devotion to others. Where Fragile Eternity was a more direct sequel to Wicked Lovely, Radiant Shadows is a sequel to Ink Exchange. Given the way I loved Ink Exchange, I, for one, was definitely looking forward to a couple of fresh, new characters, a possible mention of how Leslie was doing, and being back in the Dark Court with less tiresome Keenan and Ash and more magnetic Irial and Niall.

Ani is a halfling. Daughter of the Dark King's chief enforcer and a mortal woman, she sits astride the precarious line between several worlds. Raised among the Hounds, along with her two halfling siblings Rabbit and Tish, Ani comes into her own when she makes a rather unsettling discovery. Like the Dark Court she feeds off emotions, but she is also able to feed from actual contact with both humans and faeries. And it's not just a desire, it's a compulsion. Restricting her impulses, following her father's innumerable rules, Ani is on the brink of wasting away. Only the former Dark King Irial truly understands what she is. He helps her when he can, occasionally allowing her to feed off his own emotions, as he searches for a way to use her powers to benefit their people and keep her alive in the process. Devlin is the High Queen Sorcha's brother and assassin. Known as the Queen's Bloody Hands, it has been his eternal task to negotiate a path betwixt his two sisters--Order and Chaos--and maintain the balance between their opposing powers and purposes. And Devlin has never shirked his duty or fallen short in any way. Except one. When he inexplicably spared a life he was ordered to take. Since then he's stayed away, shoved any treacherous instincts he's had aside, and worked tirelessly on behalf of the High Court. Until one day he encounters the mortal who's life he spared. And all hell breaks loose as a result.

This series is wreaking havoc with my emotions and that is all there is to it. The thing is, I thought Wicked Lovely was wicked fun. I thought Ink Exchange was impossibly dark and achingly good, despite leaving me feeling a little bruised. I found Fragile Eternity problematic in many ways, but was glued to the page for the last third of the book and emerged in deep smit with a couple of Dark Kings who shall so not remain nameless. And I do mean deep smit. My love for Irial and Niall is deep and wide and full of shadows. And, as far as I'm concerned, this book (and any other she writes in this world) is worth the hardcover purchase price just for the few scenes they are in together. I am dead serious, people. I don't know how she did it but Melissa Marr has me wrapped around her little finger when it comes to the former and the current King of Nightmares. Just tell me one or (preferably) both are going to make an appearance and I am there. Their tortuous, touching relationship slays me. And such was the case here. I never really connected with Ani or Devlin, despite the fact that I thought he had some crazy good potential after his role in Fragile Eternity. I mean I love the Gabriel Hounds and their awesome steeds and pack culture. And Bananach--the War faery--is deliciously heinous and I simply love it when she tromps through a scene, bloody feathers and all. But, for some reason, I didn't care that much what happened to Ani. Not like I cared what happened to Ash or Leslie or Seth in the previous three books. And the dream subplot just did not hold my attention at all. Now, I will freely admit the possibility exists that I am actually so far gone on my two Dark Court boys that I have become insensible to the charms of lesser fae. But I'm pretty sure I'm fine with that. As long as I get more Irial and Niall in the next book--Darkest Mercy. Which, as it is also the final book in the series, is going to have to be enough to last for me a very long time indeed.

Radiant Shadows is due out April 20th.

Reading Order: Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, Fragile Eternity, and Radiant Shadows

The Book Bark! Review
Ellz Readz Review
I Just Wanna Sit Here and Read! Review
The Librarian's Bookshelf Review
Literary Escapism Review
The Optimistic Pessimist Review

March 30, 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

After reading and loving both of Sarah Addison Allen's first two books I just went ahead and popped her on over to my auto-buy list and sat back to wait for The Girl Who Chased the Moon. I was lucky enough to discover Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen only a few months ago and so it hasn't been that long a wait. But Garden Spells was perfectly delightful and The Sugar Queen was quite literally an example of the perfect book at the perfect time. I can't wait to re-read it again. So I found myself just about as anxious to find out what delights Ms. Allen had in store for us next as I would have been had I been forced to wait a year or more as is so often the case when I discover a debut author. I suppose that's just the way of things with the good ones. And, given how much I enjoy these reads, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Emily Benedict is seventeen and motherless the day she moves in with her Grandpa Vance in the out of the way town of Mullaby, North Carolina. Having never been to the town where her mother grew up, Emily hopes to get to know her unusually tall grandfather and find out more about her extremely private mom. Her first night there, Emily meets her next door neighbor Julia Winterson, when she knocks on her door bearing a welcome cake and a warm smile to go with it. Julia is a native of Mullaby who hasn't been home in a long time and is now living a determinedly temporary existence there just long enough to sell her dead father's diner for a tidy profit and get the hell out of Dodge. She never loved it there and the memories are bad enough to have her faithfully marking off the days on her calendar. Chief among those memories is Sawyer Alexander. The golden boy of Mullaby. The soccer playing, scholarship getting, beautiful boy who seemed to understand and even like her for the briefest of moments in high school and then forgot all about her. Unfortunately, try as she might (and for various reasons), Julia was never able to quite forget about him. Now he haunts her bakery and upstairs apartment trying to reforge that old connection just as she evades his attempts in a desperate bid to leave the past where it belongs. But as Julia befriends Emily, they both discover truths that make their lives difficult in so many messy ways.

As with her two previous novels, The Girl Who Chased the Moon features a sleepy Southern town, a couple of young women in need of healing and a whole lapful of magic, loss, and longing. The narrative shifts back and forth between Emily and Julia's experiences and I have to say I wish it had spent more time with Julia. I've realized that with Allen's novels I tend to identify more with one of the two protagonists and in the past they have both been the characters with the most page time as well. But in this case I just didn't connect very well with Emily and her adventures with the infamous Coffey family, so her sections were a bit harder to get through. Not that the lovely writing is ever anything like a chore, but I kept speeding my way through those portions to get back to Julia and Sawyer and their wonderfully aching history. Because it was simply a delight to read and I found myself fingers crossed, full of hope for them. A favorite passage:
As Julia took two towels out of her bag and spread them out on the sand, Emily shaded her eyes from the glare of sun and looked around. "Were you meeting Sawyer here?"

"No. Why?" Julia asked as she shimmied out of her white shorts, revealing the bottom half of her red bikini. She left her gauzy long-sleeved shirt on over her red bikini top, though.

"Because he's coming this way."

Julia immediately turned to see him walking down the beach toward them. Sawyer stood out too much to blend in anywhere, but the closest he came was here, with the sun and the sand. He was golden. A sun king.

"He's nice," Emily said wistfully. "The moment I saw him, I knew he'd have an accent like that. I don't know why."

"Some men you know are Southern before they ever say a word," Julia said as she and Emily watched Sawyer's progress, helpless, almost as if they couldn't look away. "They remind you of something good--picnics or carrying sparklers around at night. Southern men will hold doors open for you, they'll hold you after you yell at them, and they'll hold on to their pride no matter what. Be careful what they tell you, though. They have a way of making you believe anything, because they say it that way."

"What way?" Emily asked as she turned to her, intrigued.

"I hope you never find out," she said.

"You've been spoken to that way?"

"Yes," she said softly, just as Sawyer stopped at their towels.
And that's why I love Sarah Addison Allen books. Because, like Sawyer's smile and Julia's cakes, they make me feel wistful and warm, sated and full of good things. This book was just as well written as her books always are, but I think it suffered a bit from uneven pacing and the unfortunate placement of the more compelling storyline in the background. That said, I was captivated with Julia's story. She was an incredibly sympathetic character and I wanted to sit on the banks of Piney Woods Lake with her, eating apple stack cake, talking about Southern men, and worrying about nothing at all.

Dear Author Review
Peeking Between the Pages Review
S. Krishna's Books Review
See Michelle Read Review

March 29, 2010

Late Morning Stops

Just a few interesting places to stop on your rounds this Monday morning:

You've heard me go on enough about the wonder that is Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series. Well, now (for a limited time) you can read the first book--The Thief--for free online over at Harper Collins' site. Go see what I've been blathering on about. If you're looking for another push, go read Ana's review of the latest installment over at The Book Smugglers

Next, (because I can't help myself and I loved the book and they're making a a movie!) here is the official movie trailer for Beastly--the film adaptation of Alex Flinn's novel. 
Who can say for sure? But it's got NPH and this can only be a good thing. Really, if you haven't read the book and you enjoy B&B retellings, definitely give it a shot. 

And lastly, the story of a father-daughter reading streak that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Seriously, if you don't tear up just the teensiest bit there might be something, well, wrong with you. I'm just sayin'. (Thanks to Martha for the link!)

March 27, 2010

On Angels, the Prettiness/Fickleness Thereof

So we've all watched the angel trend swoop down on YA in recent times. And is it just me or do these books get the most beautiful of beautiful covers? It's got to have something to do with the subject matter. That or all the Paradise Lost possibilities go directly to these cover designers' heads, and the result is we get little slices of heaven like these:
Just no denying how gorgeous they are.
Or these, which, if not quite as stunning, are still nothing to turn your nose up at:
And now here is the latest bit of angelic cover loveliness: 
Seriously? Are they trying to kill me with this cover? It's so swirly and golden, with the wings and the hair and the...

Now. The thing is, I've read Hush, Hush and Eternal and found myself seriously underwhelmed. And I've been warned off Fallen for reasons similar to why I did not like the other two. These are issues of personal taste, of course, and not meant to warn anyone else away from trying them. And the Blue Bloods series just hasn't struck my fancy. So. I'm optimistic, as always, about this new angel book Halo. But worried, nonetheless, that it will be another case of the outside outshining the inside. I'm ready for the real deal, you know? It seems as though the angel books I've loved the most have had the most off putting covers. The irony of it all...
Witness the covers of two of my all-time favorites:
So, yeah. Not exactly in the same league as the ones above. But the insides--they're prettier than you would believe. Such rich, solid, beautiful storytelling. Now, to be fair, The Darkangel trilogy did get a face lift not too long ago and they are much better for it, I think.
So I will try (and most likely fail) not to be influenced by the prettiness of Halo's cover, along with my own superstitions regarding the lure of angel stories and the packages they come in, and I will undoubtedly be picking it up when it is published in September. The one big thing it's got going for it is that Feiwel & Friends is publishing it. Not only do they clearly know how to package a book, but they've got a great track record with me. They republished my beloved President's Daughter series, after all. And I've enjoyed several of their recent offerings. So here's hoping! What angel books do you love? I'm always looking for recs.

March 26, 2010

Interview with Carolyn Crane + Mind Games Giveaway!

I jumped at the chance to interview Carolyn Crane when she contacted me as part of her blog tour celebrating her debut novel Mind Games. Partly because I've been a fan of her blog for quite some time now and particularly as I thoroughly enjoyed the book itself and was curious as to how she came up with this most unusual of scenarios. You can read my review here. So, without further ado, please welcome CJ to the 'Ville!
First things first: When did the idea for Mind Games first hit you and what (if anything) did you know right off the bat?
I got the idea from reading a really depressing quasi-philosophical book (Straw Dogs) and  I felt quite disillusioned by it, and I thought, this would be a book you would give to an enemy. In fact, I don’t know why I’m telling everyone this, but I recommended it to somebody I was angry with, like, ‘Oh, you should read this book!’  Anyway, then I thought, what if people did that for money? Affected others on an emotional or psychological level?  I was reading a lot of Laurel K. Hamilton at the time, and it occurred to me there was an urban fantasy in it.
You know what’s really funny, though? If you notice, the hit squad is called “the disillusionists” but they don’t actually disillusion people. It’s more like they force breakdown and transformation. In early incarnations what they did was a lot more like disillusionment than it is now. The more UF-ey I made it, the less philosophical it became.
Give us an idea of your path to publication? High points? Low?
I’ve written all my life—I took writing classes in college, been in writing groups and all that. But I’ve been writing novels really seriously for like 10 years  - a couple novels I slaved at, and I had super high hopes for them and they always almost got picked up, etc, but not. Knowing a book you’ve put years into will never be published is distressing. Honestly, my high point is now. I have a first book out there. People have all this goodwill toward it. It is honestly like a dream.
 I love the whole idea of a hypochondriac heroine and the underground psychological hit squad that recruits her! What made you decide to give Justine such a unique (and painful) handicap?
Partly, it’s a case of write what you know, because I used to be a pretty serious hypochondriac. I’m better now. Though, I did give Justine a fear of brain hemorrhages, whereas my area of fear was always cancers in specific organs. I would never have given her that fear, because I would have had to think about it too much.
Another thing is that hypochondria is a total liability with zero upside, so the idea of turning it on its head felt exciting and challenging. You know who I love who did that? Jacqueline Carey, with Phedre in Kushiel’s Dart. Who would think a masochistic courtesan who gets off on pain would have spy potential? It’s a fun way of stacking the odds against a character. 
I also love that your girl has a classic comic book hero/heroine alliterative name—Justine Jones. How did you go about naming your characters?
Can you believe Justine was originally named Barbara? But, I have this old writing mentor who was like, character names have to mean something, on a linguistic root level—they can’t just be based on people you have known. And that made sense to me. I chose Justine, because Justine is concerned about being just and fair. Packard was a placeholder name that stuck, but his first name, Sterling, suggests to me a kind of internal purity, but that can be tarnished. As for Jones, it was as you suspect, just chosen for a cool sound.
Speaking of, there’s a strong sort of X-Men/Dark Knight comic book vibe running throughout Mind Games. Are you a comic book fan? If so, who are some of your favorite characters?
I spent a long time being into Judge Dredd - I loved the irony and humor of it, but I don’t consider myself a real comics connoisseur, like my husband who idolizes all things Jack Kirby and esp. Hulk, so I have spent the last 20 years seeing every comic movie, and we have literally thousands of silver age comic books here in our home.
Is there a Mind Games soundtrack? Do you regularly listen to music while writing and/or plotting?
I write first drafts by hand, and I hate first drafting, so as a treat, I listen to music, but it has to be melodic—Aimee Mann, Blur, Elliott Smith, Cat Power. And, I have to listen to half of this one Led Zeppelin CD first thing; it’s an OCD thing. If I start with a different CD, things won’t work out. When doing easy editing on the computer, there is more rock and metal involved. Otherwise, it’s silence.  There is no Mind Games soundtrack. 
Do you have a particular time of day and/or place that’s best for writing?
Yes! The morning, in a specific chair or at my computer in my home office. Though, I don’t always have mornings free because I’m a freelance writer (ads, magazine articles), and meetings and deadlines can get in the way. But I fight hard to keep my mornings free.
Clearly this cannot be the end for Justine. There must be a sequel in the work. Musn’t there? Tell me what we have to look forward to?
Oh, yes! This is a trilogy, and book #2, Double Cross, comes out in September! 
What’s the one book and/or series you’ve been gushing about nonstop lately?
I recently finished Broken by Megan Hart, and just, wow. I am in awe of her books. That whole vaguely connected group of books she wrote  - Dirty, Tempted, etc. I love it! I’m also dying for there to be more of Kelley Armstrong’s Nadia Stafford hitwoman series.
And just for fun, what’s the first word that comes to mind when I say:
Justine: Justice [but, that’s because of #4]
Books: Reading [These answers are so boring!]
Packard: [I  get a picture of Kevin McKidd looking really fiery and no words]
Music: Blur
Otto: I think of his hat here. A beret.
Writing: Pen
Hero: Armor
Work: Deadlines
Sexy: Sweet
Villain: Mustachio [why? IDK!]
Urban Fantasy: controversy
Home: Office [OMG! I’m a workaholic! Hellllp!]

Thanks so much, CJ!
Thank you Angie! This was fun. You ask great questions! 

And now for the giveaway! Carolyn was so kind as to provide a signed copy of Mind Games to give away to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is tell us what your superhero (or evil mastermind!) name would be. This giveaway is open internationally and will run for one week, closing at midnight on Friday, April 2nd. I'll announce the winner on Saturday. Please be sure to leave me a way to contact you. 

March 25, 2010

Brightly Woven Giveaway Winner!

And the winner is . . . Kath!

Please contact me with your mailing address and we'll get your signed copy of Brightly Woven sent out to you right away. I have to say you all made me laugh with your favorite wizards (and witches!) and why you love them, and how long you have loved them, and how much you're looking forward to meeting North and Sydelle. The top favorites were overwhelmingly Harry Potter, Howl, Gandalf, and the Weasley twins. Other honorable mentions included Ged, Merlin, Dumbledore, and Harry Dresden. Fine choices all of them. 

And to Lizzy, who questioned my lack of love for the revered Howl, what can I say? I still feel bad about it to this day. I just never connected with him. I definitely see the literary lineage between he and Eugenides. And, magical/wizardy elements aside, they are both adept at role-playing when it serves their purposes. But the difference (for me) is in the glimpses we see of the real Gen--so packed with visceral emotion. The kind that steal my breath and force me to utter oaths of undying loyalty and devotion. Howl never elicited oaths, undying or otherwise, from me. I suppose my lack of Howl-love could be characterized as sad. But there it is. As characters go, you fall in love with some so much you can't remember a time you didn't know them. With others, you're okay just remaining casual acquaintances. And that's how I feel about Howl. The thing is, I don't feel too bad for the guy. He's got enough admirers to last him several lifetimes. 

Mind Games by Carolyn Crane

I've been eagerly awaiting Carolyn Crane's debut novel Mind Games for what seems like ages now. If you're not familiar with the name, I suggest you head on over to Carolyn's hilarious blog The Thrillionth Page and acquaint yourself with CJ and her hilariously eclectic style and wit. One night a few weeks ago I was lying awake in bed scheming on how I could get a hold of an early copy of Mind Games and then--POW--Carolyn contacted me wondering if I'd be interested in a review copy. I love it when the fates align like that. This is the first in the Disillusionists trilogy--and I really do love this cover. I love the tangle of highway behind her and her cool stance and watchful expression. The knife doesn't hurt. Or the blurb by Ann Aguirre at the top.

Justine Jones is on death's door. At any moment she could drop dead. Of this she is absolutely certain. But she's also aware that she is a hypochondriac in the worst way and her life has been one long, tense struggle not to give in to her disorder. And while she knows she's prone to over analyze her health (understatement much?), she also knows that her mother died from the rare vein star syndrome and, as her symptoms continue to mirror her mother's, Justine fears she's not long for this world. Then one night she goes to dinner with her numbingly normal boyfriend Cubby and meets Sterling Packard--the proprietor of the Mongolian Delites restaurant in which they are dining. Packard, it turns out, is a "highcap"--a human with mutant/super abilities. In Packard's case, he has enhanced psychic powers that allow him to channel emotions, which is how he zeroed in on Justine as she sort of blares pain and neuroses on the psychic plane. He makes her a deal she can't refuse when he offers to siphon off her constant, crushing fear and paranoia in exchange for her services on his elite psychological hit squad. As Justine delves further into Packard's history and the underground forces at work in her city, she grows increasingly uncertain as to what is right and wrong and who is worth fighting for. Or against.

I have to give props to Carolyn Crane for her insanely unique and clever idea for an urban fantasy series and protagonist. Your run-of-the-mill hypochondriacal dress shop manager turned psychological assassin fighting for justice on a vigilante special forces team headed up by a spatially challenged, rakishly handsome, possibly amoral mastermind? Genius. I lapped it up like cream. And I liked Justine from the start. I liked how torn, yet accessible she was. How she longed for normality or at least the illusion of it, almost to the exclusion of all else. How certain she felt that she was broken beyond fixing and how certain Packard felt that she wasn't and how fascinating he found her. It's alternately funny, sad, and charming to watch her find a group of friends and comrades in the other desperate misfits that made up Packard's squad. And, as much as it pained me at times, I appreciated how no single character was entirely black or white and how their abilities made them both strong and dangerous, highlighting those grays in between admirable and unbearably flawed. I will say that there is a love triangle of sorts and that, though I see pros and cons to both sides, I feel strongly inclined in one direction. It comes on a bit late in the game for me and a few more romantic scenes felt a bit awkward and/or rushed. I, of course, don't trust either of her love interests as far as I can throw them. Unless I was one of the awesome mutant throwing highcaps tearing about Midcity. In which case I would hurl both of them about at will for some of the pain they inflict on our girl! But what I enjoyed most about this story was the unquenchable comic book hero theme running through it. From the heroine's classic alliterative first and last names to the Gotham City-like atmosphere and truly disgusting villains to the normal person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Made of awesome, my friends.

The good news is the sequel--Double Cross--is due out September 28th. That's right, this September! Also be sure to drop by tomorrow for my interview with Carolyn. We'll be giving away a signed copy of Mind Games to one lucky commenter!

All Things Urban Fantasy Review
The Book Smugglers Review
Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings Review
Penelope's Romance Review
Read React Review
SciFiGuy Review
Tracy's Place Review

March 24, 2010

How It Ends

On Monday, Lesley over at LesleyW's Book Nook wrote an excellent post entitled "The End?" in which she ruminates on a few of her favorite book endings as well as some of her "least favorite endings EVER." This is a follow-up post to the one she did on first lines. I love both these topics and it often seems like they are so hard to nail. Lesley poses the question of whether or not a book's ending can change your opinion of the novel--for good or bad--and I've been thinking about it ever since. I've decided the most obvious example of that for me is the ending of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. Up until the end I was reading along, enjoying my time pleasantly enough, but not overwhelmed with the awesomeness that was the story. Until the end that is. Within the span of literally just a few pages, the tension and excitement levels shoot off the charts and so many heretofore unexpected things become clear that your mind is suddenly spinning and your mouth is smiling at the sheer audacity and perfection of it all.

As far as an ending changing my mind negatively, overall I don't think that happens quite as much. It really has to go downhill fast for me to not see it coming a mile away and start feeling queasy earlier on. Though recently I did read one that I was just thoroughly enjoying until the last third spiraled downward to the point that it ruined the experience for me. I'll be reviewing that one soon, though, so I'm not going to go into it just yet. Along related lines, there are a couple of endings that are just a bit off for me in what is an otherwise perfect book. These are the ones I still love despite the ending, the ones I read and re-read and always love, but always wince just a bit at the gap between the end that might have been and the end that was.

As for the books that have what I would term "perfect endings," there are those that have literally perfect last lines and then there are those that have perfect final scenes and/or resolutions (atmosphere + language + emotional punch). There are even those special few with both perfect first and last lines. The mind boggles at this particular level of awesome and they become immediate keepers. I won't quote any of the last lines here, of course, so as not to ruin anything for those of you who haven't read them yet.

But the books I can think of off the top of my head with perfect last lines include:

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess (seriously--left the widest kind of grin on my face)
The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (suh-woon--that is all)
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (sort of like every other sentence in this gem--perfection)
The Blue Sword and Deerskin by Robin McKinley (the way only she can end them--bittersweet and strong)
Looking for Alaska by John Green (I think about this one all the time--love it)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (see Meg Rosoff above--every freaking line)
How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (also one of my all-time favorite first lines!)
Sword-Born by Jennifer Roberson (came out of nowhere and hit me in the gut--a very happy final line)

And the books that possess what I consider to be perfect final scenes and/or resolutions as far as how they make me feel and how well they cap off the tale:

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (what a book--I couldn't see this ending coming but I loved it so much when it did)
Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs (rather rare in urban fantasy--a quiet, resonant, and thoughtful ending)
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn (also owner of a pair of perfect first lines--absolute comfort read)
Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn (an example of holding out till the very last page to reveal whether it will be perfect or not--it is)
Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier (possibly my favorite Sevenwaters book--Liadan & Marillier both rock)
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver (I always tear up at this one--every single time)
Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti (because it's just so sweet--and I wanted it so much)

Which books do you think have perfect endings? Are there things you look for or tropes that drive you nuts? And do the final pages make or break it for you one way or another?

March 23, 2010

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

I can't believe it's been over a year since I first read Perfect Chemistry. I think it feels more recent because I've been singing its praises (to the tune of "Somewhere" from West Side Story) ever since. I've only re-read it once, but I found that it held up very well the second time around. And, along with the rest of you who fell madly in love with Alex and Brittany, I was giddy with anticipation when I heard Simone Elkeles was writing a sequel featuring Alex's cocky little brother Carlos. And then the other day a lovely little package arrived in the mail out of the blue and made my day (thanks Bloomsbury)! Just look at that cover. What kind of sacrifice do you think Ms. Elkeles made to secure such freaking awesome covers? I mean, seriously. I love the Perfect Chemistry cover because that is exactly how I picture them (and how often can you say that?) and because, as my friend Trisha said, "Boy, does it do it's job well." And now I could just sit around and stare at the Rules of Attraction cover because, well, I think it speaks for itself. But, having read it, I love it even more because it is an actual scene from the book.

Carlos is fighting mad. Being carted off to Mexico without so much as a by your leave after his brother Alex got himself jumped out of the Latino Blood and took off for parts west, Carlos is less than pleased to find himself sent back to the states just when he was getting comfortable. But losing his job at the sugar mill and getting in good with the Guerreros--the local Mexican gang--earns him a one-way ticket to his brother's dumpy subsidized student apartment and a life of boredom attending Flatiron High in Boulder, Colorado. Kiara Westford is a model student at Flatiron. An avid hiker and amateur grease monkey, oversize t-shirts and hiking boots are pretty much the extent of her wardrobe. When her friend and mechanic Alex asks her to look out for his little brother Carlos, Kiara is certain she's up to the challenge. It's her senior year after all and she'd like to go out with a little more flair than is her norm. Suffice it to say, the two of them do not hit it off. True to his nature, Carlos attracts trouble almost the minute he arrives at school. When the police find his locker full of drugs, he's escorted from the premises and forced to attend a strict youth outreach program. To top things off, Kiara's father (who is also Alex's college professor and on a crusade to save the world one troubled teen at a time) offers to let Carlos move in with them until he can get back on his feet, so to speak. And the rest is history.

It was so fun to be back in this world again. Amazingly, that's what it's become for me. An entire world where impoverished Latino gang members and privileged white girls make good. Where sparks fly, attraction builds, and people stretch out of car windows to kiss in the pouring rain. But, just like its predecessor, what makes it all work even when it shouldn't are the connections between the two protagonists. Simone Elkeles somehow manages to make those points of connection feel almost unbearably real, thrummingly vibrant, and sweet as hell. I'll be honest and say I had a harder time warming up to Carlos than I did Alex. He's arrogant as all get out and I felt like Kiara's heart was on the line sooner than his and that fact made me nervous. I shouldn't have worried, though. Because when it does hit him it hits like a ton of bricks (which he deserves) and is gratifying to watch. I really liked Kiara and her kind and loving family. Similar to the gulf between Alex and Carlos, Kiara is nothing at all like Brittany (not popular or gorgeous, etc) and I liked her very much with her unselfconscious approach to life and her honest and forthright attitude. Though Carlos' overabundance of charisma and attitude throws her off her game, she refuses to let on and it seemed perfectly natural to me that he would find her both unsettling and intriguing. There is inherently less drama in this story than in Perfect Chemistry and I didn't find myself quite as involved with the characters. Carlos and Kiara are both slightly less volatile and their relationship assumes a somewhat quieter and certainly less dire arc. But I was delighted to follow its progress and perfectly happy with its resolution. Almost as delighted as I was with the brief glimpses I got of my favorite Fuentes brother and his girl. I may have giggled once or twice. Definitely recommended for fans of the first one.

The Compulsive Reader Review
Ellz Readz Review
A Good Addiction Review
la femme readers review
Sharon Loves Books & Cats Review
The YA YA YAs Review

March 22, 2010

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

The other day Trisha over at The YA YA YAs posted a review of Courtney Summers' Some Girls Are that had me convinced I needed to get a hold of a copy as soon as possible. Trisha's reviews often have that effect on me. Especially when she starts off with lines like these:
Courtney Summers' debut novel Cracked Up to Be won a Cybils Award last month, and I think Some Girls Are is an even better book.
First of all, for me there's nothing like the almost mystical lure of hearing that an author's second book is even better than her first. Especially when it's an author I've never read before. Second, having been involved with the awesome Cybils Awards, I am always interested in reading books by Cybils winners. I'd never read anything by Summers, though I'd certainly heard of both her books, and so later that day I went out and bought a copy of Some Girls Are and started it--like I have so many others--in the parking lot outside the bookstore.

Regina Afton was recently frozen out of her ultra-exclusive school clique. Known as the Fearsome Fivesome, this cadre of girls rules the school with their iron manicured fists. And Regina has played first attendant to her "best friend" Anna'a queen bee for years now. All she ever wanted was to belong. To have people, a certain consequence, and--perhaps most importantly of all--some control over her life. But being frozen out is akin to being jumped out of a gang it turns out.  It is exquisitely painful. It is over surprisingly quickly. And it is effective immediately. And just like that Regina walks into school  the next morning amid jeers and scowls to find her life is a living nightmare of sabotage, dirty tricks, and vengeance. And just as the other girls (and their cronies/lackeys) deal it out, Regina both suffers and soaks it up as she desperately scrambles for a way to fight back, to prove she's not responsible for the crime that landed her on the outside, to turn the tables on her tormentors and . . . rejoin them? But as she becomes a fixture at the outcast table at lunch, along with a boy named Michael who she helped ruin when he first moved into town, Regina gets a taste of what it's like on the other side. And as she gets to know Michael and some of her other former victims better, the question is how far is she willing to go anymore to recapture what she lost?

Trisha warned me that this was not a happy, ducks-and-daisies sort of book. That it was not a fun read, but an important one. So I knew approximately what I might be getting myself into going in. But was she ever right. This is one painful book to read. Because as petty and harmless as the above description of bratty divas and vindictive bullies  may sound, these girls are not messing around. They are out for blood. Literally. And I lost count of the number of times I cringed in horror at the "tricks" they "played" in order to put each other in their place. A third of the way in I was begging for it to stop, for Regina to be free of it all, for the whole vicious Greek tragedy to come to a screeching halt as the deus ex machina swept in and carried Regina and Michael off to some sort of ducks-and-daisies post-high school Valhalla. None of which happened, of course, and it's a good thing too. Because that would have ruined this complex, arresting, and fully awesome novel. Also because it already has a perfect ending as it is and I wouldn't change a thing. I loved Courtney Summers' eerily quiet writing style that served as such a fine counterpoint to the atrocious events splashed across the novel's pages like so much blood. At the same point I was begging for it all to end I knew that Some Girls Are was automatically going on my Best of 2010 list. I could not put it down until I turned the final page and drew a shaky breath. Highly recommended.

The Book Chick Review
Book Nerds Review
Presenting Lenore Review
S. Krishna's Books Review
Sharon Loves Books & Cats Review
Steph Su Reads Review
The Story Siren Review
The YA YA YAs Review

March 21, 2010

For Him

I don't usually blog on the weekends (a girl's got to take some time off, right?!), but I couldn't let the day end without wishing my man a happy birthday. If I were cool like he is I'd write him an awesome poem to mark the occasion. But as I am not cool like unto him, I'll play to my strengths and make a list.

Why I Love Him

•He's the reason I get up in the morning. (If you knew how much I loathe getting up, you'd understand just what a big deal this is).
•He's the owner of, hands down, the best smile in the world.
•He writes me poems. He's like, really good with words.
•He takes the prettiest pictures in all the land.
•His voice sends shivers down my spine.
•He thinks my blog is cool (along with the reading habit that fuels it all).
•He's SuperDad. He's got the cape and everything.
•He makes me laugh out loud. At least once every single day.
•He dances with me. Down grocery store aisles, past fountains, in other people's kitchens.
•He took my hand that day and didn't let go.

Happy Birthday, babe. I love you. Three gobs at least.

March 18, 2010

How I Live Now: The Movie

I am so thrilled to tell you that Meg Rosoff has announced that she sold the film rights to her fabulous dystopian novel How I Live Now! They've got a director and a script and everything. This book is one of my most beloved. Perfect in every way. I even named my daughter after one of the characters in it. Even though they could screw it up royally, I will be seeing it the day it comes out. Because what if they got even one scene just exactly right? Like, say, the day they go swimming. Sigh. Ms. Rosoff has a hilarious FAQ post up on her blog in which she assures readers they will not cast Meryl Streep as Daisy, the story will not be reset in Orange County, and the film will most likely be released late next year. All of which is music to my ears.

Star Crossed Cover Art

Here is the very nice cover art for Elizabeth C. Bunce's upcoming sophomore novel--Star Crossed. I got all jumpy when I saw it as I have been really looking forward to this release ever since I went absolutely wild over Bunce's A Curse Dark as Gold. The writing was so stunning, and the reworking of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale so surprising and pitch-perfect that I vowed to read whatever the woman wrote. Star Crossed features a thief/spy named Digger, a land where magic has been banned, and a rebellion in the works. I simply cannot wait. Star Crossed is due out October 1st.

March 17, 2010

Interview with Alexandra Bracken + Brightly Woven Giveaway!

I fell in love with the cover of Alexandra Bracken's debut novel--Brightly Woven--last fall and the scant synopses I could find at the time certainly piqued my interest. After managing to get my hands on an ARC, I found myself surprised and pleased with this unique fantasy. You can read my review here. As the release date approached, I invited Alex to participate in an interview and giveaway here on the site and, despite her crazy busy schedule, she kindly accepted. Enjoy!
First things first: When did the idea for Brightly Woven first hit you and what (if anything) did you know right off the bat?
I remember the exact moment it hit me—what I was doing, who I was talking to, what song was playing on iTunes.  :)  I had just come back from Winter Break my sophomore year in college and was sitting on my bed chatting with my mom.  Sophomore year was pretty remarkable in terms of the insane weather that we had in Virginia (where I was in school) but it had also been a bizarre year in Arizona, too.  That’s why I wasn’t all that surprised when my mom gasped in the middle of her sentence and said, “Oh my God, it’s actually snowing outside!”  I grew up in central Arizona, right around Phoenix, so while it had flurried once or twice while I was younger, it hadn’t snowed that heavily in a while.  (And by “heavily,” I of course mean that none of it stuck in Phoenix, but some of it did in Tucson, where my sister was in school!) 
So you can imagine that I was a little annoyed that I had missed the Arizona snow by ONE DAY, but my mom only laughed and said, “Well it’s your fault.  You jinxed us.”  I still don’t really know what she meant by that, but I took the idea of someone unconsciously affecting the weather and ran with it. 
The only thing I knew when I started was that I wanted an angsty and mysterious wizard with a somewhat tragic past.  I’ve always found it interesting that North’s character came to me right from the start and he never really changed, regardless of how many revisions I did.
Your path to publication was a bit of a whirlwind. What were the high and low points along the way?
I think it must have looked like a whirlwind from the outside, but, for me, it was actually a very long haul.  When things happened, they happened fairly fast, though—for instance, I was only querying for two months when I was offered representation.  And later, when Brightly Woven was on submission with publishers, it took maybe two and a half weeks to get the offer from Egmont.
Between those two bursts of activity was a very long stretch of revisions—almost a full year!
I love North’s multitude of colorful (and magical) cloaks! Where did you get that idea?
Excuse me for being a HUGE dork, but I love cloaks!  I think it might be because I had a childhood fascination with Darth Vader’s cloak--just watch the opening scenes of The Empire Strikes Back
Just kidding (not really). 
I had it in mind that all of the wizards in Palmarta would carry a talisman that reflected their personalities.  It’s explained in the story that a wizard’s magister (their mentor and teacher) is often the one to choose the talisman for them.  In terms of North, I didn’t want to give him an actual weapon, because I don’t see him as having an aggressive personality—I see him as being someone who is very protective, and someone who has many layers.   On the other hand, Oliver, the boy he trained with when he was young, has a sword because he is very direct and combative.  
How do you go about naming your characters?
Thank you for asking this question!  I agonize over character names, to the point that I often can’t start writing until I have a definite name in mind.  North really did come to me fully formed, and that included the name North.  When I was looking for a first name for him, I sort of happened upon “Wayland,” and I ended up really liking it.  It’s the Old English cognate of the Germanic name Wieland, which I believe breaks down into “war” and “land.”  In Germanic mythology, Wieland was said to be a craftsman of unequaled skill.  But, mostly, I picked it because it was the closest name I could get to the word “Wayward.” J
Sydelle’s name is slightly less interesting—I honestly just liked the name and thought it was familiar but different enough to set her apart in a reader’s mind.  I also have to confess that I pulled a lot of names from the classes I was in at the time, namely my two British Lit classes.   Oliver’s last name is pulled from Jonathan Swift, Sydelle’s last name is Mirabil, which I stole and modified from John Dryden’s poem "Annus Mirabilis" ("The Year of Miracles/Wonder"), and Lady Aphra was named after Aphra Behn, who is pretty much a bad ass.
I kept getting a strong Diana Wynne Jones/Sherwood Smith vibe while I was reading Brightly Woven. I think it was because of the skillfully woven elements of humor, adventure, and tension in the story. What would you say some of your literary influences are?
What’s kind of embarrassing about my answer is that I hadn’t read any Diana Wynne Jones until after someone mentioned that North reminded her of the wizard Howl.  (I really wish someone had pointed me in the direction of her books when I was younger!)  I always say that Roald Dahl was my first and foremost influence, because he was the reason I grew up wanting to write for children.  I also consider JK Rowling to be a major influence, since Harry Potter was such a huge and lasting part of my childhood and teens.  What can I say?  I like my Brits!
Is there a Brightly Woven soundtrack? Do you regularly listen to music while writing and/or plotting?
Yep, there’s a soundtrack that you can find here.
I have to listen to music while I write.  I got in the habit while I was in school—I was almost always working in computer labs or on the floors of the library where you were allowed to talk, so I needed something to tune it out.  Music definitely affects your mood, and I often need it to get in the right mindset for a particular scene.
You have a day job in addition to writing. How do you fit everything in and do you have a particular time of day that’s best for writing?
Wellllll… I will say that it was much easier to write while I was still in school, because I was constantly being presented with pockets of time to write throughout the day.  Now, because I work from 9 AM straight through to 5 or 6, I can only ever really write at night or on the weekends.  I like to write in long stretches of time, so I get the most done on the weekends.  I’m still trying to figure out how to make it all work!
I felt that the story wound to a satisfying conclusion. Do you have any plans to revisit this world or these characters? And what do we have to look forward to next?
I hope I can come back to Syd and North one day!  There are no definite plans for a sequel or companion book at the moment, but those two won’t stand for being ignored too long.   In terms of what I’m working on next… you’ll have to wait and see. J
What’s the one book and/or series you’ve been gushing about nonstop lately?
I’ve been singing the praises for Before I Fall for months, but I’m also a huge fan of Rachel Hawkin’s Hex Hall.  Both just came out this month, so go find them!
And just for fun, what’s the first word that comes to mind when I say:
North:  Hug
Books:  Work
Sydelle: Fiesty
Music:  Please
Star Wars: Dad
Writing: Always
Chocolate: Yuck
Work: Books
Sexy: Confidence
Stormy: Mysterious
YA: Amazing
Home: Desert
Thanks so much, Alex!

And now for the giveaway! Alex has generously offered up a signed copy of Brightly Woven along with several signed bookmarks to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is leave a comment telling us your favorite fictional wizard. If you *gasp* don't have one,  just let us know why you're looking forward to reading this book. The contest will run for one week and will close at midnight on Wednesday, March 24th (the day after the book comes out)! It is open to U.S. and Canada residents only. I'll announce the winner on Thursday. Please be certain to leave me a way to contact you.

March 16, 2010

Mystical Pretties

I'm really quite enamored of all three of these covers. All young adult. All fantasy. All filled to the brim with magic and promise. Who knows where the contents will take you?  Through a burst of feathers, an intricate keyhole, a hidden passage...the possibilities are endless. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not even read Incarceron yet! I simply haven't been able to get my hands on a copy. But I will. Never fear. In the meantime, can you believe what gorgeous covers Dial is throwing at these books? Talk about enchanting. For those of you who haven't heard, Sapphique is the second in this two-book set and follows Claudia and Finn and the prison known as Incarceron. Due out December 28th.

The Fire Opal by Regina McBride
Award-winning novelist McBride makes her YA debut with this tale of young woman named Maeve who embarks on an impossible journey to save her mother and younger sister from a fate worse than death. I like the girl on this cover. I like her dress and her simple shawl and all the Celtic overtones. I'm looking forward to accompanying her on her quest for the magical stone that will bring her family home once more. Due out May 11th.

Not long ago I read my first Sarah Beth Durst novel--Ice--and, though I found it a bit uneven, I enjoyed her take on the East of the Sun, West of the Moon fairy tale. I have to say, I think this new cover rocks. At once you can feel the modern collide with the Gothic and you want to know more. This one follows college-bound Lily as she tours Princeton and stumbles across a portal to another world. Also--talking gargoyles! Due out October 12th.