May 31, 2010

The Demon's Lexicon & The Demon's Covenant Giveaway Winner!

And the winner is . . . Charlotte!

Congrats, you lucky duck! Please shoot me an email with your mailing info and your books will be winging their way to you shortly. A big thanks go out to Sarah for being such a good sport, participating in the interview, and offering up such highly coveted copies of her books. I also loved Sarah's question about your favorite literary family dynamics. Reading through your comments was extremely interesting and fun. Many of you named as your favorite families Scarlett Martin's family from Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever, Clary and Jace from The Mortal Instruments trilogy, Simon and Derek in the Darkest Power trilogy, Felix and Mildmay from the Doctrine of Labyrinth series, the Powers family from The President's Daughter series, and the Weasleys from the Harry Potter books. Thanks for all your comments and kind words. 

May 21, 2010

Retro Friday Review: Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my weekly post. 

Originally published back in 2001 in the UK, Noughts & Crosses is the first book in a series by British author Malorie Blackman. I first encountered it as part of the Young Adult Reading Group (YARG) over at Readerville. It was chosen as one of our monthly selections and a dear friend of mine actually picked up copies for several of us while she was in England and mailed them out so we would have time to read them before the discussion. Those were just the kind of people that filled the YARG in those days. Sometimes I miss them all so much it hurts. But my copy (pictured above left) came just in time to take it to Italy with me to visit my parents. And I read it while sitting on their terrace watching the waters of the Mediterranean lap the shore below. When I got back, we had a marvelous discussion and pondered as to why it hadn't been published here in the states. It took four more years for it to come out in hardback in the U.S. (pictured above center), and I quite like the U.S. cover, even if they did change the spelling of noughts to naughts. A couple of years after that the U.S. paperback was released with a different cover and, strangely, a different title (pictured above right). Personally, I'm not a fan of the most recent cover or title. Why mess with something as awesome as Noughts & Crosses? Why talk down to American teenagers just because they might not be aware that in England Tic-Tac-Toe is known as Noughts and Crosses? It's beyond me and I'll hang onto my hardback and UK copies, thank you very much.

Sephy and Callum are best friends. As kids they don't see any problem with a girl from the privileged Cross class playing with a nought boy from the wrong side of town. And their parents let things slide for reasons (or secrets) of their own. But as growing teenagers, Callum particularly is highly aware of the differences in not only their skin tone, but their education, opportunities, and circumstances. Sephy doesn't want anything to change. She wants to go on tutoring Callum in maths, roughhousing with him on the seashore, and crossing her fingers he gets accepted to Heathcroft High and will maybe be in some of her classes. But Callum walks home everyday to his hovel of a dwelling place and watches the hope in his parents' eyes slowly die. He watches his older brother Jude grow angrier and more volatile by the day. And he watches his sister Lynnette draw farther inside of herself, so that even the family can no longer tell how much of her is left anymore. But Callum does get into Heathcroft. And he and Sephy do strive to keep their unsightly friendship alive. And things, both inside and outside of them, grow more and more complicated just as they grow more and more beautiful. Until one day the pressure becomes too much and something happens that threatens to blow the whole fragile relationship into infinitesimal, unrecognizable pieces.

Set in an alternate, present-day England, Noughts & Crosses explores what the world would look and feel like if the ruling class were black and the oppressed, subservient class white. The two main characters--Sephy and Callum--each belong to one "side" and the crux of the problem arises as they grow up and continue to reach out to each other across enemy lines. I won't lie to you--this dystopian Romeo & Juliet setup worried me in the beginning. I felt like I'd read it before, like it would come off as impossibly melodramatic and tired. But from the very first page it was apparent that such was definitely not the case. As unlikely as it may seem, everything about this story feels new and every passage seems chosen and placed carefully for proper effect as Ms. Blackman swiftly and impressively navigates the deep, gray waters of racism and adolescence amid a stifling society at large. Sephy and Callum are easy to like, their personalities are distinctive and strong, and nothing, repeat nothing is easy. But my emotions were captured instantly and held for the entire, intense and heart-palpitating read.
An early passage that, I think, highlights Callum's desperate situation:
We walked into the downstairs room. Lynette and Dad sat on the sofa. Jude sat at the dinner table poring over what looked like a map--not that I was particularly interested. Mum sat down next to Dad and I sat next to Lynette. It was a squash but a cozy squash.

I looked at my sister. "You okay?"

Lynette nodded. Then a slow-burning frown spread out over her face. And that look was back in her eyes. My heart plunged down to my shoes and bounced back up again.

Please, Lynette. Not tonight . . . not now . . .

"Lynny, d'you remember my seventh birthday?" I began desperately. "You took me to see my first film at the cinema. There was just you and me and you got annoyed with me because I wouldn't take my eyes off the screen, not for a second. D'you remember you told me that I could blink because the screen wasn't about to vanish? Lynny . . . ?"

"Why am I here?" My sister's troubled gray eyes narrowed. "I shouldn't be here. I'm not one of you. I"m a Cross."

My stomach lurched, like I was in a lift that had suddenly plunged down at least fifty stories in about five seconds flat. Every time I convinced myself that Lynette was getting better, she'd get that look on her face . . . She'd stare at us like we were all strangers and she'd insist she was one of them.

"What're you talking about? You're a naught," Jude said with scorn. "Look at your skin. You're as white as the rest of us. Whiter."

"No, I'm not."

"Jude, that's enough," said Dad.

"No, it's not. I'm fed up with this. Keeping Lynette in this house so she won't embarrass us by telling everyone she's a Cross. She's barking mad, that's what she is. And Callum's just as bad. He thinks he's better than us and as good as the Crosses, even if he doesn't say it."

"You don't know what you're talking about," I hissed.

"No? I've seen you looking up at this house when you've come back from your dagger friend. I've seen you hating it and hating us and hating yourself because you weren't born one of them," Jude spewed out. "I'm the only one of the three of us who knows what he is and accepts it."

"Now listen here, you brainless--"

Jude sprang out of his chair, but only a couple of seconds before I did.

"Come on then, if you reckon you're hard enough," Jude challenged.

I stepped forward but Dad got between the two of us before I could do little more than clench my fists.

"See?" Lynette's small, puzzled voice rang out as clear as a bell. "I don't behave like that. I can't be a naught. I just can't."

All the fight went out of me. Slowly, I sat back down again.

"Listen, Lynette . . . ," Mum began.

"Look at my skin," Lynette spoke as if Mum hadn't. "Such a beautiful color. So dark and rich and wonderful. I'm lucky. I'm a Cross--closer to God . . ." Lynette looked around at all of us and smiled. A broad, beaming, genuinely happy smile that lit every line and crease on her face and squeezed my heart.

"Stupid cow," Jude muttered.

"That's enough!" Dad shouted at him.

Jude sat, a sullen, brooding look on his face. Lynette looked down at her hands, stroking one over the other. I looked too. All I could see were pale white hands, blue veins clearly visible through the almost translucent skin. She looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back. Forced it really, but at least I tried.

"Don't you think I'm beautiful, Callum?" Lynette whispered.

"Yes," I replied truthfully. "Very."
Make no mistake. This book will wring your heart out. You'll need to breathe a few times rather deeply when you're finished and I wouldn't advise winding it up in public. But it's utterly worth it, a not-to-be-missed hidden gem from the wonderful Malorie Blackman.
Reading order: Noughts & Crosses, An Eye for an Eye (novella), Knife Edge, Checkmate, Double Cross

May 20, 2010

Ascendant Cover

And here, in all its awesome, is the cover for Ascendant--the second book in Diana Peterfreund's killer unicorns series. I love it. I love it from the complicated look on Astrid's face, to the scroll work on the sword, to the slightly lighter overall tones. Yep. It's gonna look just swell next to my copy of Rampant. What do you guys think? And if you'd like a chance to win an ARC of Ascendant, Diana's giving one away right now! I love what you have to do to enter--comment with a 6-word work of fiction. Check it out.

Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews

You May authors, you. What are you trying to do to me? I toss and turn in reading slump hell for what seems like weeks on end and then you present me with a string of top-notch books and it's like emerging from a drought into hip-deep water. With mermaids. And flying fish. And seals. What? I like seals. I have to thank the tremendously benevolent KMont of Lurv a la Mode for seeing that an actual living, breathing (oh, you know what I mean) copy of Magic Bleeds made it into my hot little hands before I expired from the intense longing I've been suffering from ever since I closed the cover of Magic Strikes just over a year ago. I thought husband-and-wife duo Ilona Andrews raised the stakes incredibly high in that third installment in the Kate Daniels series, launching it instantly into my top two urban fantasy series right up there neck and neck with Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson books. And I have to say, it's been an absolute delight getting to read the latest volumes in both series within two months of each other. Spring is a killer season when it comes to my favorite urban fantasy and I just love it.

Kate is pissed off. And I love it when Kate is pissed off. It means that all manner of mayhem can and will happen. It means she's gonna be swinging her enchanted sword Slayer in seven different directions. It also frequently means Curran will be involved because, quite often, the Beast Lord is the cause of Kate's fury. These are just a few of my favorite things. And the opening of Magic Bleeds is no exception. All of the above apply. Except that Kate manages to rein in her anger to a degree, enough to set her issues aside and answer the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid's call when they need an agent to head out and investigate a bar brawl gone horribly wrong in the seedy outskirts of Atlanta. Once there, she encounters the damning detritus left in the wake of a powerful, cloaked being who skewered a shapeshifter and left a plague-like calling card. With a ponderous amount of mythical lore at her fingertips, Kate tries to  work with the Order, the Mercenary Guild, the government, and the Pack to uncover the villain's identity before Atlanta becomes a wasteland, its population decimated by any number of heinous diseases. And because the murder involved a shifter, Curran will inevitably want to control matters. Tightly. As things are not going so well in Kate-and-Curran land of late, sparks (and body parts) may fly when they're forced to face (and work with) each other to stop the threat to the city they both call home.

So I could just say, "Every single expectation met. And then some." And leave it at that. But that wouldn't be any fun. You guys really wanna know how good this book is, right? It's so good I stopped more than once mid-book to immediately re-read whole sections, savoring the interaction between these characters I've come to care about with a fierce kind of love. It's so good I laughed out loud. On multiple occasions. Loud enough to make DH smile at me, nod knowingly, and say, "I love it when you're in love with a book like this." It's so good it surprised me, even when I thought I knew it so well. With its addictive blend of a non-stop parade of monsters, and hell beasts, and demons, oh my! and quiet, revealing scenes between Kate and the people she loves most (even if it is wholly against her formidable will), Magic Bleeds had me at hello and didn't let go its choke hold on my throat and emotions until the final page. Things played out even better than I imagined. And that's saying something, as I wanted so much for Kate. You see, she tries to keep her hope, along with her heritage, hidden in case the worst happens and everyone she loves is forced to suffer for her sake. Me, I'm willing to lay all mine out on the table. If anyone deserves happiness and safety and love, it's her. And, come hell or high water, I want her to have it! And yet, everyone remained themselves. No one sacrifices integrity for the sake of moving the plot forward. Including the hilarious and most excellent Saiman, who, judging by his actions in this one, may actually have a death wish. But, amoral propositions aside, I love the guy. I'm glad Kate has him, even if he does put her in the most awkward situations. This book goes a long way toward addressing all these issues and the question of whether or not her background and training will, in fact, be too much to overcome when it comes to having such dangerous things as friends, family, and relationships. And, as with the last installment, we get another piece in the puzzle of both Kate and Curran. Such pieces never come without a price. And these two warriors know it. Perhaps too well. But they're not that strong for nothing, you know? It was the highest kind of pleasure spending time in their company. My expression shifted from wide grin to intense focus to desperate concern throughout the course of the book. But I closed it with a grin on my face. And you will, too. Because there's nothing but awesome here. Happy reading, my friends.
Magic Bleeds is due out May 25th.

Linkage
The Book Lush Review
Lurv a la Mode Review
Smexy Books Review

May 19, 2010

What I'm Going to Read: Round 2

Alrighty. The randomly selected winner is Northlander by Meg Burden as suggested by Charlotte!

I actually already own this book and just haven't gotten around to reading it yet. So this works out well. I've heard lots of good things and I just love Charlotte's reviews and recommendations. Looking forward to it!

Here is the full list of suggestions:
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (sbjames)
The Light of Asteria: Kailmeyra's Last Hope by Elizabeth Isaacs (Book Crazy Jenn)
A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott (Katy)
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner (lustyreader)
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Holly)
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Emily)
Nothing But Blue Skies by Tom Holt (Diana)
Spellbent by Lucy A. Snyder (Sullivan McPig)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (Lauren Jean and Michelle)
Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder (Christine)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Bookie)
Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch (MarnieColette)
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Julie (ASmAcc))
Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman (Ellyl)
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (Kristi)
Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews (Christina)
Madapple by Christina Meldrum (Emily)
Audrey Wait! by Robyn Benway (KarenS)
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer (Li)
Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Emily)
Precious Bane by Mary Webb (melissa @ 1lbr)
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (JoLee)
The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce (Amy)
A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (Ceci)
Transformation by Carol Berg (Kristen)
A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith (Chachic)
The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier (Chelle)
The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LeZebnik (Ginger)
Nobody's Princess by Esther Friesner (Rosey)
Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony (Alexa)
A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers (pirate penguin)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Alison)
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (Lan Nguyen)
Katherine by Anya Seton (Suey)
Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls by Jane Lindskold (Kerry)
Garden Spells, etcby Sarah Addison Allen (Tiffany M.)
French Kiss by Sarra Manning (emilyandherlittlepinknotes.com)
The Karma Club by Jessica Brody (Britt)
One for the Morning Glory by John Barnes (ladyjoust)
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (Lorraine)
Fat Cat by Robin Brande (Jacqueline C)

Even more than last time! You guys are awesome.

Of these, I have already read:
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (my review)
Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews (!)
The Circle series by Tamora Pierce
Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, and The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen (my reviews here, here, and here)

All right. I'm gonna try to get to Northlander as soon as I can. Thanks for your wonderful input, all of you!