December 31, 2010

Best of 2010

It's New Year's Eve and so here, without further ado, is my Best Books of 2010 list:
Best of 2010
(in order of publication)
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (review to come!)

FYI, that's 3 fantasies, 4 contemporaries, 5 urban fantasies, 2 historicals, 1 dystopian, 1 retelling, and 1 short story.

Biggest Character Crush of 2010
Alan Ryves

*a moment of silence, please, for the one and only Alan--the most adorable armed compulsive liar I've ever met*

Biggest Author Crush of 2010
Ilona and Gordon are awesomesauce and that's all there is to it. I look forward to their fun and funny blog posts and to the occasional delectable treat for their readers, such as tasty snippets or hysterical Kate/Curran twitter convos.


Best Books I Read in 2010, Which Were Published a Different Year
Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin

December 30, 2010

Well Versed Love

For Christmas DH gave me this beautiful painting of two love birds atop a row of books. Isn't it just wonderful? It's titled "Well Versed Love" (possibly my favorite part) and I fell in love with it the moment I opened it Christmas morning. 
A new Christmas painting from my sweetheart is fast becoming a tradition it seems, as you may remember he gave me this gorgeous one last year. It's currently hanging above the piano in my library and I'm trying to decide which wall I'm going to hang this new one on. Clearly it, too, belongs in the library. I'm pleased as punch with this new tradition, particularly as he has such good taste in art and knows just what I'll love. Apparently he spent hours browsing Etsy leading up to the holiday as a few other lovely items from that wonderful site ended up under my tree as well. That's my boy . . .

December 29, 2010

FIVE Great YA Bloggers

I thought I'd chime in today on Persnickety Snark's FIVE Challenge for 2010. Today's topic--YA Bloggers. Hm. Now that I look at it, my list is unsurprisingly veeeeery similar to Adele's . . .

The Crooked Shelf
Carla's enthusiasm is infectious and I never fail to smile within five seconds of reading her posts. Plus, she got to meet John Green in person and actually had him sign a copy for me and then sent it all the way across the pond. That's friendship.
Forever Young Adult
These women cover such a broad spectrum of topics in such a hilarious way. Most recently their charmingly nostalgic post on the Most Swoonworthy Scenes in Films About YA. Yay for Some Kind of Wonderful and 10 Things I Hate About You!

Obviously. I never like to go without my daily dose of snark, wit, ramble, and honesty. Adele, she comes through for me. She knows when to be blunt and when to squee. She also has markedly excellent taste in contemporary fiction and fictional men across the board.

See Michelle Read
Michelle's blog is a bright and sunshiney spot in my daily stops. She likes all kinds of books, isn't afraid to try something new, and won't hesitate to tell you exactly why a book sent her over the moon or looking for something to throw.
Steph Su Reads
Steph is "on top of the ball," as a friend of mine used to say. Reviews, discussion posts, you name it. Case in point today--her WTF Covers of 2010 post. Hehehe. So glad I'm not the only one who asks myself these vitally important questions.

December 20, 2010

Hope's Folly by Linnea Sinclair

It's been too long since I let myself slip into Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five universe. Way too long. I love science fiction. I love space opera. And this series is just one of the best out there. I read the first book--Gabriel's Ghost--a couple of years ago now and I've read several of Sinclair's other non-Dock Five books in between then and now and thoroughly enjoyed each of them. Games of Command is still my favorite. That Kel-Paten. Gets to me every time. But when I finally picked up Hope's Folly the other night in desperate need of some good action and romance, I wasn't prepared for how quickly the world would suck me in again. This installment follows a side character from the earlier books--Chaz's ex-husband and confirmed lifer Admiral Philip Guthrie. I love getting the real story on what's going on with a character we've previously only seen through other characters' eyes. And I wasn't disappointed with Philip's story.

Having lost pretty much everything that kept his highly structured life together, Admiral Philip Guthrie isn't exactly comfortable on the other side of the fence. Once an esteemed fleet official and member of one of the most revered (and loaded) families around, Philip now finds himself pulling together an unlikely and undisciplined band of rebels in a last ditch effort to hold off the ever-expanding Imperial fleet. With a wounded leg as a souvenir to remember them by, Philip is older and slower and more thoughtful than he used to be. None of which particularly please him, but all of which endear him to his new crew. And sub-lieutenant Rya Bennton is no exception, though she'd like to be. Rya actually knew Philip as a kid, when she was a wild tomboy and he a handsome soldier with a knack for weapons and strategy. She's idolized him ever since, never thinking she'd actually see him again after her father was killed and Philip disappeared off the map. But suddenly they're on the same beat up cruiser ship together--Hope's Folly--, he's her commanding officer, and he certainly doesn't remember one young girl he once taught how to shoot. Determined to put aside her reservations, Rya ignores her personal feelings in favor of helping keep Admiral Guthrie safe and uncovering what really happened the day her father died.

Delectable. That's what this book is. I read it in two large gulps and felt happily sated afterward. Philip and Rya are the kind of protagonists Ms. Sinclair excel at--essentially noble (if slightly reckless) individuals who put duty before personal desires and are drawn against their formidable wills to the other person for their strength, courage, and taste in weapons. I wondered just how I would like Philip after being slightly prejudiced against him from reading Chaz's version of events. Turns out I like him just fine. Better than fine. He's a gem and he totally deserved his own story and at least a chance at a happy ending after everything he went through. Rya was a different kind of heroine from Sinclair's others. Full-bodied and fully capable of keeping herself safe and dismantling a weapon or a man as needed, I liked the way she took on Philip and his forceful personality. There was less focus in this one on the greater conflict between the Alliance and the Imperial Fleet, though it certainly hangs over every step they take. But I guess I felt as though the relationships between the various people on the Folly took precedence. And wouldn't you know that's exactly what I was in the mood for. The age difference between these two didn't bother me either. They complemented each other so well that other things faded away in the wake of my enjoyment of their antics and halting steps toward understanding. Definitely recommended for fans of space opera and the Dock 5 universe.

Reading Order: Gabriel's Ghost (my review), Shades of Dark, Hope's Folly, Rebels and Lovers


Linkage
Book Binge Review
The Book Smugglers Review
Darque Review
Fantasy Cafe Review
Janicu's Book Blog Review
Lurv a la Mode Review

Ruminating on Retellings


My friend and YA blogger superpower Steph Su invited me over to guest blog on my favorite retellings of all time--a topic on which I can wax on indefinitely. I managed to keep it as brief as possible for Steph and I hope you see some of your favorites there and perhaps something new to catch your eye. Be sure to stop on by and tell me what you think!

December 15, 2010

Holiday Reading & Giving

I love this time of year. I love plotting and planning which books I'm giving to which loved ones as gifts. And I love coming up with tailored recommendations for the friends, family, and co-workers who ask me. I even found a Christmas read this year--which can sometimes be hard. But I had a craving to revisit Lady Julia Grey and Mr. Nicholas Brisbane the other night. And so I did. And after finishing my re-read of Silent in the Grave, I couldn't just stop there. So I blithely continued right on to Silent in the Sanctuary and it occurred to me that that one is, in fact, a  perfectly lovely Christmas read. Set in a quaint English village in Sussex at Christmastime, it's a festive Victorian confection, complete with a murder mystery, gypsies, Christmas puddings, large quantities of snow, and some rather serious swooning. What more could you ask for?

As far as the books I'm giving away this year, at present count the stack includes a little Juliet Marillier, a little Sharon Shinn, a little Megan Whalen Turner (shocking, I know). Also Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon books, Jane by April Lindner, Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti, Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair, and the Austin Family books by Madeleine L'Engle.

What books are you giving this year?

December 14, 2010

Still Here

Really. I'm just buried under a pile of Cybils reading as we stare down the bullet that is our deadline to turns over the shortlist titles to the round two judging panel. But I have been taking short breaks here and there to pop in here and there around the blogosphere. So I thought I'd share a couple or three things I've enjoyed lately.

First and foremost, Sarah Rees Brennan has posted a Christmas present to all her fans. In two parts, no less. And it is a most delicious present indeed--a short story set during the events of The Demon's Covenant and told from Jamie's point of view. It is just this sort of thing that makes me do my happy dance. So wait no longer, go enjoy Nick and Jamie Go to the Movies right now! Part 1 and Part 2.

Second, I've had loads of fun stopping in for the many and various posts of Smugglivus going on over at The Book Smugglers place this month. So many great bloggers and authors here, there, and everywhere. Even Megan Whalen Turner! It's a great way to celebrate the holidays and your favorite books of 2010. I'll be taking part a little bit later on . . .

Lastly, I came upon this rather pretty cover for an upcoming 2011 title and had to share it here:
Haven is Kristi Cook's debut novel, out from Simon Pulse in February. The first in a new paranormal series set in the Hudson Valley, it features a southern girl transplanted to New York and the unusual Winterhaven school. Sounds promising.

So. What are you all up to these days?

December 8, 2010

When Rose Wakes by Christopher Golden

I've had my eye on this one ever since I heard it was a modern retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I haven't read a Christopher Golden book in quite a long time and I was anxious to see what he was up to lately and how his take on the fairy tale stood up. My favorite retelling of Sleepy Beauty is Robin McKinley's Spindle's End (surprise, surprise) and that one definitely reshapes the tale in new and beautiful ways to allow Rosie to take a much more active role in her own life and with regards to the curse she lives under for so many years. Frankly, I was interested to see how a male writer would envision a modern version of the story and I really was not disappointed in the least.

Rose wakes up in a hospital bed in an unfamiliar place, with the people around her speaking a language she cannot understand. Confused and disoriented, it isn't until her two aunts come into the room that she feels the first quaking reassurances that she is not crazy. For she recognizes her aunts and they speak in her native French to her. When she responds without trouble, and even begins to remember the English she once knew, the doctors relax a little. Having been in a coma for several years, it comes as a huge surprise to Rose that her aunts brought her to America to receive the best treatment they could find. They live in a small brownstone in downtown Boston and, as soon as she's ready and recuperated, they're going to take her there and help her pick up the threads of her life. And recover she does. But the dreams don't go away. Every night Rose dreams she is a princess in a faraway land, watching her father prepare the country for war, knowing it is a losing battle. Dark forces are assembling to destroy her kingdom and it seems Rose herself may be the only hope for averting total destruction. But her aunts brush these dreams off as vestiges of her coma and Rose tries to shrug them away as she starts school and tries to jump start her life again.

Christopher Golden has come up with a great angle from which to tell this familiar tale. Waking up from the coma and only catching bits and snatches of her former life in disturbing dreams, it's easy for Rose to believe this is the only life she's ever led and that her Aunt Fay and her Aunt Suzette have nothing but her best interests at heart and are only trying to help her begin anew. I loved the strength Rose possessed, even with how fragmented her memory was and I loved how much she longed for normalcy and friends and earnestly went after the things she wanted. With her flowing skirts and straightforward attitude, she won me over even as she won over Kaylie, Dom, and Jared. Shunned by the popular crowd, and dubbed "Coma Girl" by pretty much everyone, she pushes through the horrors of high school with a determination and a thick skin I fully admired. Hampered by her seemingly insanely overprotective aunts, Rose struggles to engage in any kind of social life. Even with exuberant Kaylie and quietly interested Jared around encouraging her to step out a little and have some fun, Rose finds it hard to disobey her aunts in even the most minor of ways. I liked her for it. As aching as those restraints were, it was clear that her aunts were hiding something. Something huge. And I waited with baited breath for Rose to discover what it was and see how she chose to handle that new and fantastic knowledge. It really was her integrity of character and the very sweetly developing relationship with Jared that glued me to the page. The final conflict does happen rather suddenly (though pretty spectacularly) and I could have done with a slightly more protracted resolution--but when could I ever not? Overall, When Rose Wakes is a thoroughly engaging, light read and one I enjoyed from cover to cover. Recommended for fans of fairy tale retellings, gentle love stories, and strong heroines.


Linkage
The Book Book Review
The Book Butterfly Review
Books By Their Cover Review
Taking a Break Review

December 2, 2010

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

You guys, I think I might be slipping. First it was Justin in Harmonic Feedback, then Nico in Chasing Brooklyn, and now it is just so very much √Čtienne St. Clair in Anna and the French Kiss. I am falling under the spell of the nice guys and I really have very little to say for myself except this: I am charmed. Utterly charmed. You know my feelings on the fictional boys and the many flavors they come in. When a love triangle is involved, I can generally be found over in the bad boy camp. But these books I've read recently are just beautifully free of triangles and feature the genuine article as far as the boys go, allowing me to freely admire their charms. Which I have been doing. And believe you me, this latest one will waltz away with your heart. I've been looking forward to reading Anna and the French Kiss for quite some time now, ever since the spectacular reviews started churning out and I got that little knowing feeling in my gut. You know the one. It whispers of good things ahead and lures you with the promise of a reader/book match made in heaven. Or at the very least, in Paris. This release marks Stephanie Perkins' debut and it is a delightful one. I'm anxious and excited to see where she goes from here.

Anna Oliphant is being packed off to France without so much as a by-your-leave. Her famous and fatuous father has decided she should attend the prestigious School of America boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. Since her parents are divorced and her dad holds the purse strings, there is very little to be done about the whole thing but pack her bags, hug her friends goodbye, and leave Atlanta for the big unknown. Without a word of French under her belt, Anna arrives at her new school frightened and unsure of herself. Fortunately, her next door neighbor Meredith takes her under her wing and introduces her to her small  circle of friends, including smart Rashmi, her goofy-but-talented boyfriend Josh, and one √Čtienne St. Clair--known to one and all simply as St. Clair. Anna has it pretty bad right from the start. You see St. Clair is kind of killing it in the attractive and interesting department. He's got the messy hair. He's got the English accent. He's funny and smart and up for anything. And the two of them hit if off immediately. But there is a fly in the ointment. Naturally. He also has a longtime girlfriend at a nearby college. And their mutual friend Meredith is in love with him. Which rather clearly spells steer clear for poor Anna. She resolves to be his friend when he needs her and focus on the amazing city she's come to live in, her growing film review site, and that boy back home she always wondered about. After all, it is the right and sensible thing to do. Isn't it?

This book has everything going for it. A smart and relatable heroine, who has been thrust into an equal parts extremely enviable and most distressing situation. A handsome, short (!), boy with an accent, who is genuinely kind and thoughtful and attracted to our girl something fierce. A simply gorgeous setting, complete with lush descriptions of its food, sights, sounds, and smells. And a conflict that builds up to Eiffel Tower proportions before either of them can figure out what in the world to do about it. In other words, reading Anna and the French Kiss is like plopping down on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate, a plate of buttered toast, and nowhere else you need to be for hours. It's an perfectly pleasant read, the kind of contemporary young adult novel you're always looking for. The romance is divine, the characters so very real, and the atmosphere second to none. I did find myself wishing at times for a little more insight on Anna's part with regards to the obviously lackluster Toph and her need to be with him. But, you know, I admired the mature way she handled her friendship with a boy she was in love with and couldn't have. How many of us handle that with anything resembling poise in high school? And the nice thing is, I found myself frustrated with St. Clair at certain parts as well. I like that Stephanie Perkins carefully crafted such a swoon-worthy character and simultaneously had the guts to leave the flaws in as well. Because when one of the two characters is perfect, what need has s/he for the other? These two need each other. They make mistakes and they vacillate. It's messy and drawn out and hanging by a thread. And I wasn't always sure leading up to the end whether they deserved each other or not. But I wanted them to. And, in the end, it was just right. I loved it. Treat yourself to a sweet little confection for the holiday season and pick up a copy soon. Anna and the French Kiss is out today!


Linkage
All-Consuming Books Review
The Compulsive Reader Review
GalleySmith Review
GreenBeanTeenQueen Review
Not Enough Bookshelves Interview
Persnickety Snark Review
Steph Su Reads Review

December 1, 2010

Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder

I love this cover. And I love the title. And I just really love this book. I'm so glad some thoughtful reader nominated it for a Cybils award this year, because I honestly don't think I would have picked it up otherwise. And I have no good reason for that except I think I somehow got the mistaken impression it was just another problem novel and I wasn't in the mood. Shame on me for making my ignorant assumptions and not giving this lovely novel a try before now. Chasing Brooklyn is Lisa Schroeder's third novel for young adults but the first that I've read. I'm happy to say it will definitely not be the last! Interestingly, it's billed as a companion novel to Schroeder's earlier I Heart You, You Haunt Me. I believe it features a couple of side characters from that book, but I found no trouble at all falling into this story without having read the first. It stands very strongly on its own two feet. I haven't read a really good novel in verse in quite awhile and I just adore them when they're well done. Chasing Brooklyn is a perfect example of a novel in verse that is lyrically light on its feet, but pulsing with that breathtakingly uncertain blend of loss, longing, and love.

It's been a year since Brooklyn's boyfriend Lucca died in a car crash. One year since it became difficult to draw breath in and out every day, to get up every single day and make food for herself and her dad and then eat it, to go to school and pretend she's fine and not coming apart at the seams. To the outside world--her worried friends, her lonely father, her faraway mother and little brothers--she puts on a bright face. In her journal each day and in frequent letters to Lucca, she pours out the grief that consumes her. A talented artist, Brooklyn has all but forgotten her work. That creative spark seems to have dwindled in the past year until now it barely exists at all. And she wonders whether or not it is possible to recover from such loss. Maybe she never will. Nico has spent the last year mourning the death of his beloved brother. Lucca was always the golden boy--Mom and Dad's favorite, bright and shining and full of life. And the two brothers were best friends. Now it's just Nico. And their house is filled with silences he doesn't want to face. So Nico runs. And runs. He runs so fast and so far, like he's training for the race of his life. And then one day a message. Just a whisper. Barely discernible but there. "Make sure Brooklyn is okay." Nico is confused and afraid he's beginning to hallucinate. Surely Brooklyn is just fine by now. She looks fine every day at school. She doesn't look like she needs her dead boyfriend's older brother checking up on her at all. But Nico can't ignore the messages as they keep coming, more and more insistently. And so he finds himself reluctantly chasing Brooklyn.

What a simply lovely story is here. Chasing Brooklyn is a surprisingly gentle, swallow-in-a-single-gulp read that left me smiling and feeling as though the sun had just come out after a particularly dreary day. One of my favorite things about it is there are no bad guys, no snide caricatures, no backstabbing or flashy, disingenuous "best friends." There is just honesty and unhappiness, kindness and real affection. Having lost loved ones myself, Brooklyn and Nico's experiences washed over me with the unmistakable rush of authenticity. The hint of the paranormal sets up several heart-pounding moments, but the focus remains steadily on how real people in the here and now reach out to each other and are able to build hope from the shared experience of loss. Here are a couple of my favorite entries:
Sat., Jan. 7th--Brooklyn:

In a funeral home

there's no cross to give you hope.
There's no bible to give you peace.
There's no minister to assure you all is well.

In a funeral home . . .

There are still flowers which I love.
There are still people who I know.
There is still death which I hate.

In a funeral home . . .

There is a family without a son.
There is a band without a guitarist.
There is a school without a classmate.

In a funeral home . . .

There is a coffin with a boy.
Sun., Jan. 15th--Nico

Spaghetti Sunday

is my favorite day of the month.
The third Sunday of every month,
Ma makes a big batch of spaghetti with meatballs,
and relatives fill our house like fish fill a net
on a good fishing day.
The guys eat and watch football or basketball or baseball,
depending on the season,
while the girl eat
and talk births or weddings or funerals
depending on the month.
Ma's spaghetti slid into Lucca's heart as a toddler
and never left.
I know when she makes it,
she thinks of him,
how he'd come in and ask for a sample of sauce
as it simmered on the stove.
She'd fill a wooden spoon just for him.
He'd slurp the sauce.
She'd reach up and wipe his chin.
He'd say, "Perfection, Ma."
She'd smile, looking at him, and say, "Yes. It is."
I always wondered,
did he know she wasn't talking
about the sauce?
Hard not to like them after reading those, isn't it? Both of these kids were so clear in my head from the very beginning. I could smell the spaghetti sauce bubbling in Nico's kitchen. I could hear the click of the door closing as Brooklyn said an empty goodnight to her father once again. I loved Brooklyn's and Nico's journal entries and how they articulated the ways in which grief shaped their lives in the year after losing Lucca. It's easy to want the best for both of them. And it's impossible to resist Nico's halting efforts to find Brooklyn and help her in whatever way he can. The boy is a keeper if ever there was one. Chasing Brooklyn is a sweet and haunting story and absolutely one that should not be missed.


Linkage
The Compulsive Reader Review
GreenBeanTeenQueen Review
Wondrous Reads Review