March 29, 2011

Interview with Sara Creasy + Children of Scarabaeus Giveaway!

Today is the release day for Sara Creasy's Children of Scarabaeus--the second book in her wonderful Scarabaeus duology. I'm delighted to be celebrating release day with an interview with Ms. Creasy. I picked up Song of Scarabaeus a couple of weeks ago, fell immediately in love, and set about getting my hands on an ARC of the sequel as quickly as possible (you can read my reviews here and here). This is the kind of science fiction I love--character-driven and exciting, set against the background of a fully developed and eerily fascinating world. If you haven't had a chance to pick up these books, now is the perfect time. Please welcome Sara Creasy! 
First things first: The Covers. I am kind of a fan of Chris McGrath’s covers, and I love the little touches on these two that make them unique to Edie & Finn’s story. Did you have any input on the covers and what was your reaction upon seeing the first one?
Isn’t his work amazing? As soon as I found out he was doing my SONG OF SCARABAEUS cover I knew it would be awesome. For that book, my editor asked me to put together some ideas so I sent her a few covers I liked (a lot of them were monochromatic, like my covers are) along with an idea of Finn’s and Edie’s appearances in generic terms, and an idea of the clothes they might wear. I described Finn as the US Marine type. I described Edie as pixie-ish and not the kick-ass woman you see on so many urban fantasy covers these days, because that’s just not who Edie is at all.
When the email arrived with the cover art attached, I closed my eyes and made my husband look at it first. I was excited and terrified! But it was everything I hoped for. I love the background spaceship. In the original art you can see all the hardware – very cool. I was a bit more relaxed about the second cover, and I like it even better. I had simply asked that Edie look more assertive, because she does mature and take control, and that Finn have a bigger gun.
You have a degree and background in science and biology, and I think it really enhances your treatment of the world of Scarabaeus, as well as the ways in which Edie interacts with that world—almost as though it’s a character in its own right. What was your initial vision for Scarabaeus, and how did it evolve over the process of writing the books?
I always had the idea that the planet would have these discrete pockets of jungle, giving the characters a defined “stage” where the story takes place. I wanted them to climb down into the jungle from the canopy, as a change from moving through it horizontally. It’s an alien world and it’s highly mutated beyond what a natural evolutionary process would create, so I wanted to describe it quite specifically. I didn’t have much idea of exactly what it would look like until I came to writing it. I used ideas from an embroidery craft book, of all things.
For the second book, the world has been evolving rapidly in a different direction again for many months, so it looks quite different when Edie returns. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that I had to think hard about what it would look like given how the technology has changed. There was a need for a certain sense of drama about the “stage” where the action took place.

I’ve read a fair amount of science fiction and science fiction romance and I really fell in love with the balance you struck between the two in this series. How did you decide how much was just right as far as the romance aspect goes?
I didn’t intend to write a romance book at all, although I knew there would be a relationship in the story. A romance, to me, is when the relationship is the main focus and the plot revolves around it. Characters do what they do because of their developing feelings for each other, not so much because of external plot. The Scarabaeus books are first and foremost science fiction stories but I was keen to develop the romantic tension as well. The second book takes the relationship quite a bit further and that’s a natural progression of what happened in book 1. What would not have felt right would be rushing these two characters into a lust-driven relationship. Their situation gives them too much else to worry about. I wanted to show that they develop a mutual trust and understanding before they even think about getting physical or expressing undying love for each other.
What’s it like being married to another author, and could you share the story of how you two met?
We met online on a discussion forum about 6 years ago. We’d both been frequenting the forum on and off for years, but never run into each other before. He impressed me with his ability to correctly use a semi-colon. I impressed him with my affinity for Firefly. So we exchanged manuscripts. Within weeks, he came out to Australia to visit me and then I visited him in Arizona for a few months to see what I thought of the place. We decided to take the big step, and I migrated to America at the end of 2005. We got married a month later. We moved back to Australia last year to raise our daughter.
My husband’s name is M C Planck and his first book, a science fiction novel, comes out from Tor next year. It’s called Fireax.
It’s fantastic being married to another writer. We understand each other very well in terms of what it takes to write and to just find time to write. We have a ready beta reader who will be honest and constructive and supportive. When he’s sitting next to me writing, I feel guilty if I’m not also writing (and vice versa) so that helps us with our wordcounts.
How do you go about naming your characters?
Naming characters is my bugbear. I change character and place names repeatedly. Finn was always Finn, and Cat was always Cat, but Edie is Edie’s third name. Captain Rackham had at least half a dozen names before I was done with him. The rover ship, the Hoi Polloi, used to be the Icarus. Even Scarabaeus originally had a boring sci-fi name (Proximity Rho, if you must know).
I use name generators and baby name websites and foreign dictionaries. I don’t usually worry too much about the meanings – it just has to sound right. The word Saeth, though, is Welsh for “arrow” (as in, flying true), and the ship in book 2, the Learo Dochais, means “ray of hope” in Irish. I do love those Gaelic words.

You’re a new mother (congratulations!) and, as I’m about to have a baby myself, I’m intrigued to find out how that life change has affected your writing and your writing schedule?
Thank you, and congrats to you, too! My writing schedule is non-existent at the moment. I try to write when she’s napping but in the afternoon I usually need to take a nap myself. So I try to write in the evening but I’m always aware that I need to get to bed because she’ll be up at 6.30. Until she’s better able to entertain herself, I think my productivity will remain rather low.
As for my writing – when I was writing Children of Scarabaeus I found that it was really difficult to be mean to the children in the story. This has affected my reading habits too. I’m just not interested in reading anything where children get hurt. Not that I ever was, really, but these days it makes me feel awful to hear about even fictional stories like that.

Is there a Song of Scarabaeus soundtrack?
The closest thing to a soundtrack would be Jean Michel Jarre’s Rendez Vous, which I listened to early on when I was developing the plot. I generally write in silence.

It’s my understanding that the Scarabaeus books are a duology and Children of Scarabaeus will finish Edie & Finn’s story. Is that correct, and what are you working on now?
That’s correct, there are no more Scarabaeus books planned. That doesn’t mean I won’t get back to those characters eventually, but I have too much other stuff going on. I’m working on three quite different books, which has been useful because I can just open up whichever one I feel like doing that day. One is a sci-fi adventure/romance, one is a middle grade contemporary fantasy, and one is a fantasy/steampunk/romance crossover that I started years ago.

What’s the one book and/or series you’ve been gushing about nonstop lately?
 I haven’t finished a gushworthy book since – let’s see, since my baby was born. I recently ordered about five books, some of them quite old, in the sci-fi romance genre. I hope to discover some gems. Meanwhile, I’m open to suggestions from your readers. Please!

And just for fun, what’s the first word that comes to mind when I say:

Edie: beetle
Books: Dr Seuss
Finn: quiet
Music: violin (argh! I wish that wasn’t the first word that comes to mind – I played for years and hated it)
Scarabaeus: escape
Writing: coffee
Science: knowledge
Sexy: hands
Science Fiction: possibilities
Home: baby

Thanks so much, Sara! Come back anytime.
Thanks for having me, and I’d love to come back another time.

***
And now for the giveaway! Sara has been so kind as to offer up one signed copy of Children of Scarabaeus plus a bookmark to one lucky commenter and one signed bookmark to a second commenter. All you need to do is leave a comment telling me your favorite scifi book, show, or film. The giveaway will be open for one week and will end at midnight on Tuesday, April 5th. I'll announce the winners the next day. This giveaway is open internationally. As always, please be sure to leave me a way to contact you. 

March 28, 2011

Threads of Awesome

I ran across this unspeakably awesome project and I cannot stop admiring it. Illustrator and cartoonist Jillian Tamaki has created a set of stunning Penguin Threads Deluxe Classics book covers. And they are . . . well, click on over and see for yourself. She's got images up of her embroidered covers for The Secret Garden, Emma, and Black Beauty. Genius.

Thanks to Amy at Simple Little Bookworm for the heads up!

March 25, 2011

Retro Friday Review: Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

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.

I talk about my love for Robin McKinley's books a lot, but interestingly I've only reviewed three of them on the blog. And only one of those was for a Retro Friday post. So when I cast around for the right one to highlight today, it occurred to me that Rose Daughter was the perfect choice. I know everyone's read Beauty. It was her first book. It's essentially a classic of fairy tale retellings now. And I love it and will always love it for giving me a Beauty who was not beautiful and avoided mirrors at all cost and a Beast with a library of books from all the ages, including ones that hadn't even been written yet. Makes my little heart sing just thinking of it and the way I absorbed it when I was twelve. But fewer people are as familiar with Ms. McKinley's second retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. If you have a free moment, it's really worth hopping over to her site to read the wonderful essay, "The Story Behind Rose Daughter." It's lovely. When I discovered she was returning to her favorite fairy tale twenty years later and giving it a fresh new take in an entirely new novel, my skin tingled with anticipation. And not a little curiosity at just how she would give the story she'd done so well by a fresh take and whether or not it would capture my imagination the way the original did. People seem to be very divided on their loyalties to these two books. Some would fight to the death for Beauty and don't give Rose Daughter a second glance. Others feel quite the opposite and gravitate toward the slightly more lush second version. I've listened to these conversations. As for me, my heart is big enough to love them both. And I am so glad she wrote both books. Because someone who understands and loves that particular fairy tale the way it seems she does should never stop telling it, in my opinion. I would read a third and a fourth version and I will re-read these two for the rest of my life.

Her earliest memory was of waking from the dream. It was also her only clear memory of her mother.
Beauty and her two older sisters Jeweltongue and Lionheart live with their father in the city. Their lives have been rather gentle ones, filled with plenty to eat, soft beds, and the best society has to offer. Though they lost their mother early on, they have managed to make a good life with their father, each pursuing the hobbies and talents they love, as represented by their names. Lionheart is brave and strong and loves riding and sport more than anything else. Jeweltongue knows exactly what to say in every situation, sets people at ease, and sews and embroiders the most beautiful dresses. Beauty loves nature. She loves flowers and gardens and especially roses, in all their varieties and iterations, because they remind her of her mother. Then tragedy strikes. Their father loses all his wealth and they are forced to move to tiny Rose Cottage far away in the countryside. The sisters' talents are put to good use earning what meager money they can and their lives are changed in starkly unimaginable ways. But none more than Beauty's. All her life she's had the same dream. More of a nightmare, really. In which she is walking down a long hallway, uncertain of the mystery she will find behind that final door, but dreading it all the same and filled with the terror that she will both eventually get there and not get there in time. The usual events follow and Beauty takes her father's place and finds herself living in the Beast's home, where his lovely rose garden is dying. But, of course, everything is more than meets the eye, and Beauty will, in the end, have to make the hardest decision of all.
Roses are for love. Not silly sweet-hearts' love but the love that makes you and keeps you whole, love that gets you through the worst your life'll give you and that pours out of you when you're given the best instead.
Sigh. I love this book so much. It is, without a doubt, a more adult retelling of the fairy tale. And I don't mean that there is anything potentially objectionable in it at all. I merely mean that you can feel the depth of experience and emotion in the work, which I think represents what the author brings to the tale twenty years after she first retold it. The sisters feel a bit older, a bit more mature, though I always love that McKinley represents them as loving and kind to one another and as in the whole thing together. The Beast himself feels more ancient to me,  closer to the end of his long existence, and we get even more background information on how he came to be the way he is and what his interminable penance has really been like. And the love of beauty and gardens and all living things permeates the page in such a way that I, who am the most unskilled and amateur of gardeners, go looking for a spade and seeds the minute I put the book down. The language in Rose Daughterswallows me up as well. I find myself eternally charmed by the archetypal names and the various village denizens the girls encounter: Miss Trueword, Mrs. Words-Without-End, Mrs. Bestcloth. Each personality is distinct and you can tell that they each have their own vital stories playing out, even as the focus remains on Beauty and her path. Each time I read it, I relish getting lost with her in the ever-changing castle that is the Beast's home, as the words and the corridors wrap their twisty novelty around me and the heady magic that suffuses the place and the world has its way with me. The romance is wonderful and just as it should be. The magic is dense and carefully woven. And the descriptions so visual I can call them to mind on any given day, so vibrant are the impressions they made on me. And the ending, you say? Well, you shall have to find out for yourself. To me, it is perfect. I'm interested what it is to you. 


Lastly, I wrote a post a couple of years back on the exquisite edition of Rose Daughter my mother-in-law gave me for my birthday. It was a particularly fitting gift, as she loves gardens and roses, and I have learned to love them from her. The post is here, should you be interested in reading it, and here is an image of the book. It is an illustrated livre d'artist and, without a doubt, the most beautiful book I own.
    
Retro Friday Round-up
A Girl, Books and Other Things reviews Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath
Book Harbinger reviews I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

March 23, 2011

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

Confession: I sent my husband out last night to retrieve this book for me while I made dinner for the kids and tried to breathe deeply. This pregnancy . . .it palls, you guys. The thing is, he was happy to do it and even (after some creative detective work) snagged the very last copy at our local bookstore! I was incredibly relieved. Because all I wanted to do last night, after dinner and talking to my two squirts, and reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with Will, was get comfortable on the couch and drift off into the wonderful world of Walls of Water, North Carolina. I'm telling you, there is nothing, but nothing like a brand new Sarah Addison Allen book when it comes to comfort reading. You just know you're gonna get the full southern treatment, that the prose will be lighter than air, and that magic will swirl through your veins like cream in one of Rachel's red-and-white striped coffee cups. These are the things you can count on, and The Peach Keeper doesn't disappoint in the slightest.

Willa Jackson returned to the stifling confines of her hometown of Walls of Water, North Carolina eight years ago when her father died. Despite her eternally restless nature, Willa resolved to buckle down and be the docile daughter her father had always wanted, even though it was now too late. So she bought the local organic sporting goods store and settled into a life of safe monotony. She visits her elderly grandmother once a week in the nursing home, even though Georgie doesn't recognize her anymore. She does her laundry every Friday night without fail. And if she sometimes drives up to sit and look at the old Blue Ridge Madam mansion and wonder, well, that's her business. Paxton Osgood is determined to restore the Blue Ridge Madam to its former glory and put on the best gala the Women's Society Club has ever seen. But things start going wrong from the get go, and obsessively detail-oriented Paxton is afraid everything will fall apart at her feet. It's now when she needs this success most of all, especially as her stalwart friendship with former outcast Sebastian Rogers is bleeding into uncharted waters. Then Paxton's twin Colin returns home to help with the renovation and, when he runs across Willa, remembers all the reasons he left in the first place. Meanwhile, a strange presence is swirling its way through the town, stirring up old ghosts better left hidden. Against her better judgement, Willa is drawn into the disturbing events up on Jackson Hill and into the lives of the Osgood family once more.

I'll go ahead and say that I went in wondering whether The Peach Keeper 
would fall more along the lines of Ms. Addison's first two novels (Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen) or her most recent third book The Girl Who Chased the MoonI've read and loved all three, but there did seem to me to be a slight divide between the first two and the third. The characters felt more even, a bit stronger in the first two, the flow smoother and more balanced. The writing, as always, is of the highest quality across all of her books. For example, here is the opening passage of The Peach Keeper, just to whet your appetite: 
The day Paxton Osgood took the box of heavy-stock, foil-lined envelopes to the post office, the ones she’s had a professional calligrapher address, it began to rain so hard the air turned as white as bleached cotton. By nightfall, rivers had crested at flood stage and, for the first time since 1936, the mail couldn’t be delivered. When things began to dry out, when basements were pumped free of water and branches were cleared from yards and streets, the invitations were finally delivered, but to all the wrong houses. Neighbors laughed over fences, handing the misdelivered pieces of mail to their rightful owners with comments about the crazy weather and their careless postman. The next day, an unusual number of people showed up at the doctor’s office with infected paper cuts, because the envelopes had sealed, cement like, from the moisture. Later, the single-card invitations themselves seemed to hide and pop back up at random. Mrs. Jameson’s invitation disappeared for two days, then reappeared in a bird’s nest outside. Harper Rowley’s invitation was found in the church bell tower, Mr. Kingsley’s in his elderly mother’s garden shed.

If anyone had been paying attention to the signs, they would have realized that air turns white when things are about to change, that paper cuts mean there’s more to what’s written on the page than meets the eye, and that birds are always out to protect you from things you don’t see.
See what I mean? You can just count on her. I'm delighted to say that The Peach Keeper is one of Sarah Addison Allen's best works to date. It fully lives up to the promise of each of her previous novels and instantly shot to my keeper shelf. I read it in one sitting last night, and it was an infinitely blissful experience spending time with Willa, Paxton, Colin, and Sebastian. The wonderful thing about this book is that I was equally enamored of and involved in the story lines of both main characters. I mentioned before that I tend to identify with one heroine over another in Allen's books and, since the point of view alternates back and forth between them, I occasionally wish I was back with the other before I actually am. This was happily not at all the case here. Willa and Paxton are so different in personality and background and yet I loved them both equally. And not only them, but their relationships with their family members and their respective young men. It was very interesting (and amusing) watching Willa struggle to come to grips with a possible relationship with Colin, who is Paxton's twin. Even more moving was Paxton's relationship with Sebastian--a troubled young man on the fringe of society, who caught her eye once in high school and has now grown into an incredibly complex and magnetic adult who, despite his respectable job and tailored suits, still exists just on the edges. Their interactions brought tears to my eyes multiple times. I ached for them. And the few scenes that all four share together are breathtaking and funny. The Peach Keeper is at once haunting and charming, in that perfect blend of magic and realism that Sarah Addison Allen has worked into an art form. Highly recommended.

March 22, 2011

Children of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

I was literally salivating with my need to get a hold of this book as soon as was humanly possible after finishing Sara Creasy's wonderful Song of Scarabaeus. Then I remembered that I'd seen it on NetGalley not so very long ago, and I ripped right over there to see if it was still available. It was. I requested it and waited impatiently for a response. The minute it was approved, I downloaded it to my nook and sat back in contentment. Oh, wait. That's right. I work. And have a million other things I have to get done within a single twenty-four hour period. However, since this pregnancy has rendered me and sleep mortal enemies, my nights at least are free. Always a silver lining, right? That's right. I'm a glass is half full sort of girl. Pay no attention to the sound of my husband's laughter in the background. He doesn't know. The point is, I finally had the all-important sequel in my hands, and all was right with the world. At least with my world.

Edie Sha'nim appears to drag catastrophe (and uber-controlling, wannabe despots) wherever she goes. On their way to help the Fringe worlds get out from under the thumb of the omnipresent Crib empire, Edie and Finn (and their meager crew) are re-captured by the very woman Edie's been trying to escape since she was ten years old. Natesa is determined to keep Edie and her powerful abilities under lock and key. And that includes keeping her away from other interested parties, particularly other Crib and/or military individuals who believe Edie's singular talents would be put to better use back on Scarabaeus itself, figuring out what went wrong in the first place and what exactly is evolving now on its treacherous terrain. But Natesa's control extends only so far, especially as the work on her precious Project Ardra isn't exactly thriving. The further Edie delves into the details of the project, the more she realizes just how badly the project is foundering. And, with her control slipping and her professional reputation on the line, Natesa will do anything she can to collar Edie. Including separating her from Finn and any other influence she deems antithetical to her goals. Determined to set Finn free from the leash that binds them and the grasping fingers of the Crib, Edie must decide where to place her loyalties and which devil to serve.

I slipped into this one with absolutely no trouble at all. Part of that was, of course, that it had only been a few days since I finished the first book. But a larger part is due to Sara Creasy's wonderfully sure sense of setting and character. The world is vast but consistent, the characters familiar and compelling. Edie and Finn had an immediate stranglehold on my attention and my emotions were high and riveted for the duration of the book. I'll go ahead and say that it's a palpable relief to read a duology. They're all but extinct these days it seems, and I can't tell you how relieving it was to go in knowing the tale would not stretch on for eons, that the author had an ending and a way of getting there in mind. That said, I would read more about these two and their world in a heartbeat. The unusual and vital relationship that evolves between this cypherteck and her rebel-turned-bodyguard launched my heart into my throat with each scene they shared. It was meaningful and based on trust, as opposed to hurried and based on lust. I enjoyed the two of them so much and looked forward to anytime they were allowed to be alone and just talk to each other, which, naturally, was a rare occurrence indeed, what with everyone and their dog hell bent on destroying whatever Edie holds dear and any hope of freedom Finn ever had. I admire restraint in storytelling, and this series is an excellent example of such. It could so easily have shoved over into melodrama and pure spectacle, but it never does. One scene, in particular, struck me as marvelously well done. The reader expects a certain outcome, and is instead handed a much more subtler version of the truth. It served to enhance the connection between characters, rather than exploit the moment. I loved it. I felt I knew them based on their choices, which were always dire. But they made the decisions, they didn't waver, and the ending offered up hope and resolution in an effortless package. Color me satisfied. I can't wait to see what Ms. Creasy has to offer us next.

Children of Scarabaeus is due out March 29th.


Linkage
Janicu's Book Blog Review
Owlcat Mountain Review
My Bookish Ways Interview + Giveaway

March 21, 2011

Jane Eyre Giveaway Winners!

And the winners are . . . mainhoonemily and Tina!

Congratulations, you two! Both of them listed the Masterpiece Theater 2006 version of Jane Eyre (starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens) as their favorite film adaptation thus far. And that did seem to be the overall consensus as I read through all your comments. Although there were plenty of Timothy Dalton fans and lovers of the George C. Scott/Susanna York version as well. As for me, my current favorite is the 1996 Zeffirelli film. I'm still waiting for this newest version to show somewhere remotely near me, but have any of you had a chance to get out and see it yet? I'm dying over here! Winners, please send me your mailing addresses and we'll get those prize packs out to you soon. Thanks everyone for entering and a big thanks to Focus Features for sponsoring the giveaway. 

March 14, 2011

Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

I am, well, there's no other way to put it, distressingly late in finding this absolute gem of a book. I don't know how it slipped under my radar until now. I'm not complaining too loudly, of course, because I discovered and devoured it just in time for the sequel to come out at the end of this month. And that, my friends, is nothing to sneeze at. I'm used to waiting years for books. A couple of weeks will not kill me. At least, that is what I tell myself so I can sleep at night. I am, in fact, positively pining away for Children of Scarabaeus as I type this. But it is just a tad embarrassing how long it took me to discover Sara Creasy's debut novel. After all, some of my favorite reviewers featured it back when it came out last year. Clearly, my head was not where it should have been. But I am happy to say that I've spent the last two nights rectifying the situation and that, if scifi adventure with an enticing hint of romance is even remotely your thing, you need to run out and read Song of Scarabaeus right now so that you, too, will be able to snatch up the sequel the moment you can get your feverish little hands on it.
Edie Sha'nim is the best there is. A trained cyphertech, she works for the mighty Crib empire terraforming new worlds. In other words, she's the girl they take to a barely formed planet in order to remake it in the Crib-approved image. Taken away from her home world as a young girl, Edie has been trained and tested to within an inch of her life. A life that resembles indentured servitude more than anything else. She's held all her defiance and all her rage inside all these years, only once letting it out in a burst of independence and refusal to submit to the Crib's all-encompassing will. But that was years ago, and the only memento she keeps to remind herself of that moment of defiance is the small shell of a beetle, embedded in her skin. Then one day, Edie is confronted by a gang of mercenaries determined to kidnap her and put her considerable (and lucrative) abilities to their own purposes. Longing to escape, but unsure of the right thing to do, it is a fellow captive and serf named Finn who changes her mind. And before she knows it, the mercs have leashed her (quite literally) to the mysterious former slave. His mind is connected with hers. He is to serve as her bodyguard and ensure no one else intent on stealing their new biocyph expert has a chance to do so. And just to make it that much more threatening, if Edie dies, so does Finn. Or if the two are separated by too much distance, the leash will sever, and Finn will be destroyed in the process. And so the two unlikely allies must stick together long enough to figure out a way to break the leash and escape. But then Edie realizes just what planet they're headed for, and the past comes back to haunt her in a truly horrifying way.

So good. This book is just so very good. It reminded me why I have always loved science fiction so much and it did so in such a seamless and readable way that I have to give it up for Sara Creasy and her mad, debut writerly skills. Sometimes a scifi book tries and fails to walk the line between tech-term/infodumping extravaganza and drippy/emotional hot mess. This is so not the case here. Rather, Song of Scarabaeus is like a primer on how to combine excellent characters who capture your heart with a detailed and fascinating look at the ethics of exploration and the treatment of humankind on a grand scale. And how nice it is to have a relationship that doesn't start with insta-sparks the moment two hotties lay eyes on each other. *insert eye roll* This book has been highly recommended for fans of Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre, and I do absolutely think it will appeal to those readers. I love both authors myself. But I do feel I should mention here that it stands entirely on its own merits. And that, in addition to having endearing characters and an utterly compelling and heart-racing relationship unfolding between them, Song of Scarabaeus is the real deal as far as science fiction goes. And  holistic storytelling. The truly elaborate and organic world building blew me away and kept me engrossed from beginning to end. Edie and Finn's foray onto Scarabaeus is the thing of nightmares and the cringeworthy factor is pretty high in certain parts. But it only serves to impact the reader's experience and expand the themes of the story. That said, I am all in when it comes to the relationship, and I will shamelessly beg for more development between these two in future installments. Because the romance is in early stages here, but what's there is choice. And I, for one, am ready for more. This one kept me up late, guys. No finer recommendation. Also--major points for a perfect last line. I do so love those.

Linkage

March 11, 2011

Hip Pretties

Couldn't very well wait on these two, could I? I've read exactly one book by each of these authors and I have loved, repeat: loved, them both. Tara Kelly's Harmonic Feedback and Stephanie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss were among my very favorite books of last year. Contemporary YAs, both of them, they featured such real protagonists in such messy situations. As well as two of my four favorite Nice Guys of YA from last year. *happysigh* This fall is going to be a good one.

Amplified by Tara Kelly
Jasmine's always wanted to make it big. So when she gets kicked out, she does the only sensible thing and heads to Santa Cruz to convince some musicians to let her move in with them and join their band. Though she may sound a far cry from quiet, contained Drea, I'm pretty sure I'm going to dig Jasmine and her story. I'm already madly in love with her cover.
Due out October 25th.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Lola--she of the exceptionally awesome purple wig--is pleased as punch with her life, thank you very much. That's why she's so displeased when the Bell twins move back in next door and mess with her carefully laid plans. Especially that pesky Cricket Bell--the boy next door. Note the San Francisco row houses in the cover above. Let's see . . . who else do we know from this world who's got connections in Frisco?
Due out September 29th.

Jane Eyre Giveaway!

I'm delighted to be hosting this great giveaway, in conjunction with the March 11th release date of the new Jane Eyre film adaptation. That's right--it comes out today! Of course, it's not showing in any of the theaters near me because the universe hates me. But I will be doing whatever it takes to see it as soon as possible. Personally, I've yet to be fully satisfied with any of the adaptations of one of my favorite stories of all time. I love bits, pieces, huge swaths of all of them. But fully satisfied? Yet to happen. I have high hopes (as ever) for this latest version. So, the giveaway:
Two (2) winners will receive:
·         Soundtrack sampler
·         Bookmark
·         Journal
·         Pencil
·         Copy of the book [movie tie-in edition]
Giveaway is sponsored by Focus Features.

To enter simply leave a comment telling me which film adaptation of the novel has been your favorite so far. The giveaway will be open for one week and will end at midnight on Friday, March 18th. I'll announce the winners the next day. The giveaway is open to U.S. addresses only. As always, please be sure to leave me a way of contacting you. 


Link to the JANE EYRE Good Reads Challenge:
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE FILM

March 3, 2011

Bachelor Boys by Kate Saunders

I picked this one up based on the recommendation of the trusty Emily of Emily and Her Little Pink Notes (may she blog again soon). Prior to Emily's review I'd never heard of Kate Saunders before and so went in knowing next to nothing but that it was a rather obscure British chick lit and Emily was awfully fond of it. And that's essentially enough in my book. I had a little trouble finding a copy, but then my Christmas elves came through for me once more and I received a copy of Bachelor Boys as a gift this year. I'll tell you, I've just been in the mood for these kinds of books lately. And by lately, I really mean since the beginning of the year. Smart, sassy, beleaguered women, up to their eyeballs in the competing forces of work, family, dating--or the extreme lack thereof. I don't know what it is. But these witty, artful, and sometimes emotionally wringing British stories have just been doing it for me in spades.

Cassie grew up next door to a home. Her mother was a psychiatrist deeply involved in her work and inclined to view her only child more as a specimen to be studied than an actual, you know, daughter. Her father was . . . well, a real piece of work is about the only way to describe him. As parents they were less than desirable, presenting a united front of frigid indifference. But next door? Next door lived the Darling family. The big, teddy bear-like dad, the two boys Fritz and Ben, and the mother Phoebe. To Cassie, the Darlings represent everything that is warm and welcoming and good. When they spot her peeping over the fence one day, the Darlings immediately invite her over. And from that point on, Cassie has a home and a family. Real ones. Years later, now the editor of a lit mag, Cassie receives a phone call from Phoebe informing her that she has the most incandescent of plans. In short, she intends to marry off her two bachelor boys and it is up to Cassie (who knows them better than anyone) to find them suitable women. And fast. You see, Phoebe would like to see them both safely married. And she has a limited amount of time left before the leukemia that's eating away at her reaches its goal. And so, despite her myriad misgivings, Cassie promises to help. Quite simply, she would do anything for the woman who was her mother in every way that counted. The problem is, of course, the boys. Charming as hell, insanely talented, and rakes to the core, how will she ever whip them into shape in order to be married off in time?
Let me just start by saying it was the writing that impressed me first with this book. It was unexpectedly layered and leisurely. Kate Saunders certainly understands how to take her time telling the story, in order to give the reader enough space to absorb the wealth of history that lies between Cassie and the Darling family. The luminous relationship between Cassie and Phoebe is what comes out first and most startlingly. And, wow, is it lovely. The book is worth the read just for that dynamic alone. Phoebe is artful and elegant and full of love and style and a heart big enough to encompass any and all who come across her path. She reminded me a fair bit of my own mother-in-law, and I understood Cassie's enchantment and love for this woman who put her arms around her as a child and never let go. Of course, no one in this book is perfect. Not even Phoebe. Some of them are more woefully flawed than others (why, yes, Fritz ole boy, I am looking at you), but they all occupy the gray areas when it comes to their insecurities, vices, and motivations. Cassie herself is charming and a worthy heroine, despite her blind spots when it comes to the proper men to date. But you can't help but sympathize with each and every one of them. We none of us cope perfectly when love, ambition, and our dratted pasts get in the way. It was a delight to trace their winding course toward the finish. The ending was hard-won and came at a price for all of them. But the journey was decidedly worth it. Highly recommended for readers who like their chick lit with a hearty dose of depth, emotion, and exquisitely drawn family interactions.

Linkage

March 1, 2011

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

It's hard to say exactly what kept me from diving into this series for so long. It's been on my radar for simply ages and everyone who's anyone appears to love it dearly. I first became aware of Elizabeth Peters back in the Readerville days, and I did give the first book in her Vicky Bliss series a go awhile back, with fair to middling results. But the consensus does seem to be that the Amelia Peabody books are superior and that, given my love for all things historical and mysterious, I should have read them years ago. So when I saw a copy of Crocodile on the Sandbank just sitting there meekly on my local library's book sale shelf, I couldn't pass it up one more time. I confess to being a bit nervous, but quite excited, about what I might find inside. On a side note, I had absolutely no idea this book was first published in 1975. Of course, there are now something like 19 books and counting in this venerable series, so I should have guessed it started awhile back.
Miss Amelia Peabody is a singular soul. The only daughter among scads of sons, she is the one who took care of their father at their country estate. While the boys were off living their lives, making their fortunes, Amelia was left at home with her father. And so it was to her he left his fortune upon his passing from this world. Shocked, Amelia decides it is high time to start living her life. Unabashedly intelligent and unreservedly blunt, she sets out putting her affairs in order and heading off on the adventure of a lifetime. Having always wanted to explore the antiquities of ancient Egypt, she sets off for that land. While on a break in Rome, she quite literally stumbles across a young woman on the brink of death. Nursing her back to health, Amelia determines the young, disinherited heiress Evelyn will make the perfect traveling companion and the two set off for Cairo. Once there, they make the acquaintance of the inimitable Emerson brothers. Quiet and affable Walter and irascible Radcliffe are excavating down the Nile and Amelia and Evelyn soon find their way to their camp. Unfortunately, they are unknowingly being tracked by a highly unusual enemy. And the four of them will have to combine forces in order to stay alive.

This is a charming debut in what has become a very long-running and much beloved series. It's hard not to cotton onto Amelia right away. She's forthright to a fault and always speaks her mind. I found myself delighted with how little patience she has for stupid conventions and even stupider men. As it happens, Emerson has a similarly low tolerance for incompetence, though rather a low estimation of women. The two of them together are combustible and hilarious. I wish they had shared more scenes, though I'm aware this is just the beginning and several people have assured me it only gets better from here. And while it was a fun and quick read, it did lack some of the depth of character I've come to crave in my historical fiction. The secondary characters were quite spare, so I'm happy to hear things progress apace in future installments. Amelia's friendship with Evelyn does have its very sweet moments, particularly as Amelia has had very little contact with other women of her age. And her growing attachment to the stubborn Emerson certainly whets the reader's appetite for more. This is a light and witty Victorian adventure mystery and it made me laugh several times. I have hopes for the rest of the series and will definitely be picking up the second book in the near future. For those of you who've immersed yourselves in this series, which ones are your favorites? And do the storytelling and character arcs really hold up across so many books? I'm curious.


Linkage
The Book Smugglers (Guest Review)
Dear Author Review
Reactions to Reading Review
Reading is Good for You Review
things mean a lot review