September 27, 2011

One for the Money Trailer

I ran across this trailer for the upcoming movie based on the first book in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series over at the excellent Bookyurt and had to share it here. This one's been a long time in the making. I discovered these books at a somewhat trying time in life, and they brought a lot of laughter and fun into my long days. And while the series itself has grown too long-winded for words, I will be going to see Stephanie, Lula, and the gang on the big screen. Even if they did cast Katherine Heigl. *sigh* 
So what do you think Plum fans? Yay or nay?

September 26, 2011

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Like most of you, I've been eagerly awaiting the release of Stephanie Perkins' sophomore novel for months and months now. My copy arrived on my doorstep Friday afternoon and I carried it around in my purse the rest of the day, just in case I had a chance to start it. Sadly, I did not. But that only meant I got to curl up that night with it and read it straight through from cover to cover in one sitting. In all honesty, that wasn't actually my original intention, as sleep and I have not been as one lately as I would like us to be, and I was really hoping for some Zs. But. It was not to be. I couldn't sleep. And Lola was so madcap and charming. Put the two together and there really wasn't any way I was putting it down at all. So I toddled off to bed somewhere around 4 AM, exhausted but grinning ear to ear. I love this cover, too. Much more than the cover of Anna and the French Kiss. I liked the title on the park bench and the Eiffel Tower and all, but neither person on that one looked anything like Anna or √Čtienne to me. On the other hand, this is very much how I picture Lola. On a low key day, of course. And curvier, naturally. And while the dude isn't quite eccentric enough to be Cricket, he's certainly not too shabby to look at. I do love, though, how both covers have been set, if you will, in pivotal places in their stories. Don't think for a minute I don't notice (and appreciate it) when you get things right, Cover Gods. Because I do.

Lola Nolan asks for very little in life. Just the freedom to dress up in a different costume (complete with wig, false eyelashes, matching nails, and combat boots) every day of the week. The freedom to date her significantly older rocker boyfriend without mountains of judgement raining down on her head from her disapproving parents. And the freedom to never, ever have to see the Bell twins again. Unfortunately, the stars are not aligning in Lola's favor. She can't figure out how to fabricate a key element of her fabulous Marie Antoinette costume she's been planning to wear to the winter formal forever. Her dads appear to be on a set course to disapprove of her boyfriend Max for the foreseeable future. And the Bell family has just moved back in next door, thereby completing the Trifecta of Terror in Lolaland. And to add insult to injury, Cricket Bell (the male half of the Bell twins) appears to remember everything--every last horridly embarrassing detail from the last time they saw each other several years ago now. Not only that, but he seems bent on addressing their history, if you will, in wholly unforeseen and unwelcome ways. Then there's his ever-caustic sister Calliope, with her perfect life and her perfect disdain for all things Lola. And before long, it's like Lola can't do anything right. No matter how hard she tries, everything is falling apart at the seams she's worked so hard to stitch tight.

Too much fun, that's what Stephanie Perkins books are. Just a handful of pages, a little orientation on people, place, and hair color, and I am settled in with my bowl of popcorn and a sloppy grin plastered on my face. Lola is very different from Anna. She's all about appearances and entrances and carefully orchestrated moments. And because of a few key devastating experiences in her past, she's far less confident in her own skin. But she has style oozing out of every pore. And she has a good heart, which she'd prefer not to get crushed ever again, thank you very much. And so she is blind to a few rather important things, such as how her peers actually perceive her, the true state of her relationship with Max, and the kind of lengths she wants to go to to preserve the image she projects. Despite her blindness and her continual emotional missteps, I cared about Lola. I wanted her to come to see things clearly. And I wanted to be there when she did. Fortunately, the journey to clarity is a hilarious and moving one here. Stephanie Perkins excels at dialogue and at the wonderful observations Lola makes on those around her. Witness the introduction of Cricket Bell:
"I called your name." He tries to stop smiling, but his mouth only opens wider with delight. I can practically count his teeth. "I called it a dozen times, but your music was too loud, so I was waiting it out. You're a good dancer."

Mortification strips me of the ability to engage in intelligent conversation.

"I'm sorry." His grin hasn't disappeared, but he visibly squirms. "I only wanted to say hello."

He swings his legs back inside of his bedroom in one fluid motion. There's a lightness to the way he lands on his feet, a certain grace, that's instantly recognizable. It washes me in a familiar aching shame. And then he stretches, and I'm stunned anew.

"Cricket, you're . . . tall."

Which is, quite possibly, the stupidest thing I could say to him.

Cricket Bell was always taller than most boys, but in the last two years, he's added half a foot. At least. His slender body--once skinny and awkward, despite his graceful movements--has also changed. He's filled out, though just slightly. The edge has been removed. But pointing out that someone is tall is like pointing out the weather when it's raining. Both obvious and irritating.

"It's the hair," he says with a straight face."Gravity has always been my nemesis."

And his dark hair is tall. It's floppy, but . . . inverted floppy. I'm not sure how it's possible without serious quantities of mousse or gel, but even when he was a kid, Cricket's hair stood straight up. It gives him the air of a mad scientist, which actually isn't that far off. His hair is one of the things I always liked about him.

Until I didn't like him at all, that is.
She knows how to introduce a character, doesn't she? And this particular one is an absolute highlight of the book. Cricket Bell stole my heart and tucked it away in his pocket along with a few mechanical bits and bobs and a candy wrapper or two. Again with the nice guys! It's like Stephanie Perkins is their champion or something. But Cricket is something special. Unfathomably tall, always in motion, he jerks his way through the novel with utterly disarming charm. From his pinstripe pants to his indefatigable hair, the boy tugged at my heartstrings every time he opened his mouth. Which brings us to my favorite thing about Stephanie Perkins' brand of romance. I am most riveted, most in love, when these two are simply talking to each other. It's those quiet scenes where their hearts are laid bare and there's nothing but words between them, and inside each of those words is an entire world, that kill me. My heart squeezes just thinking about it now. Happily, there are also a couple little scenes between Anna and St. Clair as well. They are secondary characters in this one, but let's face it--St. Clair has a hard time being secondary to anything. I delighted in the scenes they shared with Lola and Cricket. Every one of them made me want to re-read Anna and the French Kiss immediately upon finishing this one. While San Francisco didn't manage to have the wonderful ambiance of Paris, and while I may have questioned Lola a bit for persisting in a couple of her emotional missteps for quite as long as she did, she, like Anna, felt real to me. And she felt well-meaning. As though she knew she was making mistakes right and left but was helpless to stop them somehow. Haven't we all felt that way before? Especially when in the death grip of our insecurities. And there's nothing to do but try to mend things the best we can once we do get a hold of ourselves. Such is the case here. I loved how bold and colorful Lola is. And I loved how reticent Cricket is, all the while wearing his enormous heart on his sleeve. I tell you it's a sort of exquisite agony watching Lola and Cricket sit in their windows and do battle with what lies between them. Oh, the longing. It is so very good.

Lola and the Boy Next Door is due out on Thursday!

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A Jane of All Reads Review
The Perpetual Page-Turner Review
Reading Teen Review
Sash and Em Review

September 23, 2011

Retro Friday Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here @ 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. Anyone is welcome to join in at any time!
The time has come. I knew when I started Retro Fridays that at some point I would have to review Daughter of the Forest. Do you ever go through the reviews on your blog and realize you haven't reviewed one of your favorite books of all time? And the reason is simply that you read it before the blog was even a twinkle in your eye. You may have talked about it here, there, and everywhere. You may have heckled dear friends shamelessly until they broke down and read it. But you haven't actually reviewed it. And the other day I realized that was the case here. Despite the fact that I've read everything Juliet Marillier has written, I've only actually reviewed two of her books. And so while I feel like I've talked and talked about it, it's only in references here and there. Okay, sometimes impassioned exclamations. But you catch my drift. So I decided it was only right to go back to the beginning and tell you how and why and when my love for this book began. And it began, as so many wonderful things in my life have, on a plane to Italy. I needed a book to read on the flight over to visit my folks, and I had been eyeing this one in the bookstore for awhile. I knew it was a retelling of the Seven Swans fairy tale, which was a mark in its favor even though I was pretty unfamiliar with that particular tale at the time. It was a debut novel by an Australian author with a beautiful French name. And it just looked so lovely. So I snagged a copy and cracked it open after my beverage service, with a lovely long night ahead in which to lose myself in the writing. Which I promptly did somewhere in the middle of the first paragraph.
Three children lay on the rocks at the water's edge. A dark-haired little girl. Two boys, slightly older. This image is caught forever in my memory, like some fragile creature preserved in amber. Myself, my brothers. I remember the way the water rippled as I trailed my fingers across the shining surface.
Shivers of delight, my friends. That's what that opening sent down my spine then, and that's what I felt just now as I typed it. Published over a decade ago now, this book loses none of its magic over time. Rather it grows stronger and more captivating with each read.

The seventh child of a seventh son, Sorcha is the daughter who should have been a son--that most magical of all beings--a seventh son of a seventh son. Instead she is a girl. And with six older brothers and a mother long dead, she grows up wild and free at the heart of the forest of Sevenwaters. And while her father, Lord Colum, has been ever distant and forbidding, her brothers have always been there to watch out for her and to teach her. Especially Finbar. So close that they are often able to tell what the other is thinking or feeling, Sorcha knows something is wrong when Finbar goes suddenly distant and troubled shortly after her father's men haul in a stranger from foreign parts found trespassing on their land. It's all very cloak and dagger, but it quickly progresses to a nightmare, when Finbar defies his father and sneaks the prisoner out under cover of night. Sorcha's healing skills are immediately called upon to treat the wounds her father's men inflicted upon him. In the meantime, her father shocks them all by marrying again. His chosen bride, the Lady Oonagh, fills the boys and Sorcha with an almost irrational fear. But it's not till the prisoner she has worked so hard to help disappears, followed shortly by her brothers, that Sorcha comprehends the magnitude of her danger. For a spell has been cast on those she holds dear. Turned into swans, her brothers are gone, only to reappear briefly each Midsummer's Eve. Prompted by the Fair Folk themselves, Sorcha makes a terrible bargain, exchanging her voice and her home for a faraway land, a stranger's protection, and the slimmest of chances to restore her brothers and her fragile peace. 

A retelling of the Wild Swans fairy tale set in 9th century Ireland, this gorgeous historical fantasy shot right to the top of my comfort reads list the moment I closed the final page. Happily, in my experience, it has proved to be one of those books that binds people together through their shared love of its characters and their story. An example of a young woman triumphing over evil through love, sacrifice, and unfathomable determination, Daughter of the Forest is also a truly remarkable bit of storytelling. Sorcha is at the heart of it, with her love for her brothers, and the way she gives of herself, harnessing her considerable skills and will to bring them back from the brink of annihilation. What a daring feat of storytelling to strike your heroine literally silent for the majority of the book and still render her incredibly vibrant and active within the narrative. Everything comes together so perfectly in this book, as it is historical novel, fantasy epic, and flawless fairy tale retelling at once. And it is, of course, also a love story. How could it not be? Even now I find it difficult to express my feelings about this aspect of the story except to say that these two have one of the most tender, romantic, and equal relationships I've had the fortune to witness. The love story will lay you out flat, it's that outstanding. Here, a non-spoilery section taken from my very favorite scene in the book:
It was getting late. The beach was half in shadow, the sky darkening. I realized there would be no return to Harrowfield that night. He did not press me for my answer; he just stood there, watching the seals. waiting. He had done a lot of waiting. A scrap of parchment lay on the rocks behind him; the rising breeze threatened to snatch it away from the round stone that had held it there while the ink dried. There he had made his final meticulous markings that morning as he sat there in the sun; that morning that seemed, already, so long ago. But there were no tallies of cattle or crops on this page, only pictures, small delicate pictures in careful pen strokes. I had watched him at this task before, and marveled at how he could choose to work, and disregard the wonder of the place that surrounded him. But it seemed he had not needed to look, to know its beauty. For this sheet showed the open sky, and the smooth, shining surfaces of wet stones, and the curling lace of breakers. It showed the great seals with their knowing eyes, and the flight of the gulls against tiny scudding clouds. At the foot, very small, was the last image he had made. A young woman running, her hair blown out behind her like a dark, wild cloud, her gown whipped against her body by the breeze, her face alight with joy. Red reached across and picked up the parchment, slipping it out of sight between the boards and away into his pack. I thought, after all this time, I do not know this man. I don't know him at all.
And that is how she writes. That's the kind of breathtaking emotion Juliet Marillier can evoke in her characters and in her readers. Nothing could possibly erase my memory of this scene or my memory of reading it for the first time. Sorcha and Red. The wind on the waves. Her blue dress trailing in the sea. And so much unsaid between them. I think of it often, when I am in need of a quiet, perfect moment. The best part is, this scene is just one of many, including a climactic moment that had me literally losing my grip on the book and gasping aloud it is so intense. Those of you who've read it, you know the one I mean. Finest, finest kind.

And, if what I haven't said in this review is enough, here--perhaps the most accurate example of my love for this book--is my original copy as it looks now:
I know. It kind of makes me want to cry just looking at it. I tend to treat my books rather tenderly. And I'm pretty sure this is the most shocking state any of mine are in. But really what can you expect when it's been read and handed out and reread and handed out so many times that it's literally falling apart at the seams? Someone along the way kindly stuck some tape in there on the worst parts. I can't tell you how many times I've lingeringly run my finger over that lovely raised foil F on the cover. This is a book both well-read and well-loved. I hope a copy finds its way into your home and your heart someday. I hope it never leaves. 

Reading Order


Retro Friday Roundup
One Librarian's Book Reviews reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

September 22, 2011

Uncertain Pretties

We're looking at the beginning of next year here, but  I had to highlight these pretties I'd seen floating about in the ether lately. I've only read one of these authors before, and I adore her. The others are new to me and come with all the possibility inherent in an unknown quantity wrapped in a pretty package.

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Courtney Summers does zombies. If that doesn't make the top of your head blow off, I don't know what will. I cannot wait to read her take on them, especially as her main character is a girl with a death wish. Normally, I'm not a fan of covers where the girl's head is missing or cut off or covered, but what with the zombies and the blood splatter--I'm kind of okay with it.
Due out June.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Well, I love the cover, you see. And the font. And the title. Even if I do keep saying im-probability in my head. What is up with that? I'm hearing good things about this one, and I can tell I will be in the mood for a romantic meet-in-the-airport-we-only-have-four-minutes kind of happy read come cold January. Set in a 24-hour period, British boy named Oliver, yeah, where do I sign?
Due out January 2nd.

Tempest by Julie Cross
Okay. Truthfully, this cover is a little too reminiscent of the cover of Hush, Hush for my taste. And the font is a bit Twilight-ey. But I'm trying to not let that bad taste in my mouth from previous books get in the way of my enjoyment of others. So. Time traveling dude trying to save his girl's life and escape the Enemies of Time who are out to get him. It's set, well, in several different times (obviously), but it starts out a couple of years ago, and I always like it when authors do that.
Due out January 3rd.

So how about you? Which ones are you up for?

September 20, 2011

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Well, I knew this was going to be hard. I knew that going in. I mean, how do you go about revealing something like this? It's embarrassing is what it is. And I hate being embarrassed. But it's also the truth. So here you go--the truth in all its humiliating glory:

This is my first book by Sara Zarr

That's right. Before I picked up How to Save a Life, I had never read a Sara Zarr book.

Cue the echoing Silence of Judgement. 

Okay, before you go off all half-cocked--I know. I know. It's just that everyone loves her. Like Sarah Dessen kind of love. And I was afraid I'd be disappointed (particularly as Sarah Dessen doesn't do much for me--I know, I know). So the hype got to me. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. And I'm not sure exactly what pushed me over this time around. All I can say is I saw this one pop up on NetGalley and just felt like it was time.

Jill doesn't recognize herself anymore. Ever since her father passed away eight months ago, it's been like this. She and her mother are existing in the same house, but that's about it. The crushing realization that he was the one thing connecting them weighs on Jill's soul, as day by day she grows more and more remote, driving away her friends, her boyfriend, and especially her mother. Then her mom hits her with the astounding news that she plans on adopting a baby. And not just that, but the teenage mom currently carrying said baby is on her way to stay with them for the duration of her pregnancy. And so Mandy enters their lives. Her past a big, vague gray, Mandy moves into the MacSweeney household and changes the frigid dynamic between Jill and her mother Robin in so many subtle ways. And while Robin fawns over Mandy, anxiously checking on her welfare, her comfort, her general happiness level, Jill suspects a snake in the grass. Determined to find out just exactly where Mandy comes from and why she doggedly insists on doing this open adoption her way, Jill sets out to protect her grief-blind mother from making the biggest mistake of their lives.

Jill is my kind of narrator. She's gruff on the outside, bit softer on the inside, and she would rather show anger than fear. And so she does. In spades. Those around her have to really care about her to stay. And when we meet Jill, there aren't so many of them left. Mandy is not normally my kind of narrator. She is ponderous in almost every way. Basically the polar opposite of Jill, Mandy wears long flowered dresses and "does" her hair every day. But she is also wonderful. Wonderfully awkward socially. As the narrative alternates between Jill and Mandy, I was able to get my fill of each girl. And I loved every minute of it. How well-rounded Sara Zarr's writing is, how smart the dialogue, how thoughtful the prose. Here's is one of my favorite examples, from Mandy's point of view (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
I don't want my daughter to ever hear a story or see a piece of paper or know that one exists on which I signed her away. I don't want her to ever think that I didn't want her. No matter what. I don't want to leave any evidence she could find later that she might think proves to her the worst things she thinks about herself on a bad day. Not when she's ten, not when she's fifteen, not when she's forty. Maybe I'll be there to explain it to her, but I can't know that sure enough right now to plan on it. I want it to feel like fate, the way she ended up with Robin. I want to be in her life like a good dream, like someone who might not always be there but who never really left. Her world should feel full of possibilities and open doors, not full of things that are closed and final.
I mean, come on. How beautiful is that? And more than that, it's right. The writing rings with authenticity and feeling. My throat actually began to close up reading that passage, it felt so true. The excellent thing is, Ms. Zarr excels on several fronts. She is able to weave together the perfect blend of the profound and the light--such an important quality in contemporary literature, I think. Jill's relationship with her sometime (some would say long-suffering) boyfriend Dylan comes to mind. As does her friendship with Ravi--a boy from her high school who she reconnects with in a rather hilarious way. Because I can't resist, here is just a great passage early on between Jill and Dylan:
"I almost thought you weren't going to come. But I know you and winter and Tuesdays and pho."

He shrugs. "What can I say? Pho is rock."

Dylan has this whole rating system for everything--food, bands, clothes, teachers, movies, cars, songs, life events--based on the game rock-paper-scissors. Whatever is the utmost in awesomeness, whatever is profoundly good, whatever is right and true, is rock. Because rock, though it can be beat (or "hidden," as Dylan prefers to say) by paper, can never be destroyed.
Brilliant. And just like that, it becomes impossible not to like both of them. Dylan for coming up with such an awesome system and Jill for understanding it. And him. I liked all the characters in this book. They were presented in 360, if you will. As a result I, as the reader, was afforded the opportunity to view them from all angles. And so I loved them. Because I knew them. You're so smart, Sara Zarr. Love is rock.

How to Save a Life is due out October 18th.

Hers for the Reading Review
Owl and Sparrow Review
Wear the Old Coat Review

September 13, 2011

BBAW: Interview with Ryan of Wordsmithonia

The interview swap day is always one of my favorite parts of Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I anxiously look forward to finding out who my partner will be and then have a grand time exploring their blog. Invariably, it is a new-to-me site and I love the excuse to branch out and add a new blog to my reader. This time around I was lucky enough to be paired with Ryan of Wordsmithonia. So without further ado, please welcome Ryan!
What prompted you to start a book blog, and how has your approach to blogging changed, if at all?

It all started on a dark and stormy night....actually I think that may be true. I had been on the Barnes & Noble book club forums for about a year and a friend on there had started her own blog. I had never been a big blog reader in the past, the few I did read, were mainly political (liberal) blogs. She, Deb of Book Magic, seemed to be having a lot of fun doing it, so I checked her blog out, but even then I never thought of starting my own. She just kept on having so much fun doing it, that I had to get in on the action. My first post went up Saturday, July 18, 2009. I haven't looked back since. I know that's a long answer to the first part of the question, so I will try to keep the second part as short as I can.

I don't think I have changed my approach too much. I still, I think, primarily do the blog for myself. If I don't like the way something is done, I change it. I realized early on that if I'm not happy with what I'm putting out there, not many others will be. I still get overwhelmed at times that anyone even bothers to read Wordsmithonia, let alone follows it. I'm grateful for every single person who reads the blog, whether they comment or not. My advice to anyone who is just starting out is, enjoy what you are doing. Have fun with it. Don't let anyone else make you doubt what it is you are doing. If you ever get to the point where book blogging isn't fun, stop doing it. You don't want this too feel like a tasking second job that you don't' get paid for. I think this part was even longer than the first, sorry!

Have you always been a reader or was there a specific book or series that really got you into reading?

I've always been a reader. My mom tells people that I learned how to read before I learned to talk. I'm not so sure she's joking on that one. In the beginning it never really mattered all that much what I read. I loved the Sweet Pickles books. I would devour the Golden Classics series as much as any other kid. I even loved My Book Of Bible Stories, the old one with the yellow and red cover. I even remember one summer of going through my great-grandma's set of Encyclopedia Britannica.

It wasn't until I was a bit older that I became a reading nerd though (okay, maybe the encyclopedia thing started it.) I discovered mystery books and I was a goner. It started with Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys. It quickly became an obsession and by 5th grade all I wanted were Agatha Christie books.
In your About Me section, you describe yourself as (among other things) an Eeyore admirer.  Do elaborate.

Oh, Eeyore. Such a misunderstood guy. First of all, I love him because he's just so damn cute. There is nothing about him that doesn't make me want to go to The Hundred Acre Wood and bring him home to live with me. He's a pessimist and always a bit sad, but there is an undercurrent of hope about him. He's not one to sit around feeling gloomy all the time, though it appears that way at times. He's always thinking that something will change and make the world right again. He's an optimistic pessimist. He's a lot like me in that regard, I mumble and complain a lot, but mostly that's for show. At heart, we both know everything will work out, and I don't think either one of us would have it any other way.

My only issue with Eeyore, and this is mainly Disney's fault, is the way the company will feminize him. It's very hard, I dare you to try, to find merchandise that makes him look like a guy. I have seen so many coffee mugs in pastel colors with flowers all around. I own one mug that looks like a guy's mug, and it took years to find. I even have a stuffed animal of him dressed as the Sugarplum Fairy, tutu and all. What other male character would they do that too. The poor guy.

What do you do when you hit a reading slump and nothing you pick up seems to do the trick?

That's when I put the review books down and go back to an old favorite. I'm a huge re-reader for the simple fact that if I loved the book, why would I not want to revisit it. I have quite a few books that have been read at least 10-12 times. I have a few of them I will go to for a bit of relief: Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Thief of Always by Clive Barker, quite a few books by Agatha Christie, and The Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. There isn't one of them that isn't guaranteed to perk me back up and set me down the road of enjoyment again.
I love your Favorite Fictional Character Wednesdays!  I know exactly what you mean about those characters that really mean something to you.  If you had to pick one character to be stranded on a desert island with, who would it be?

Thank you! I have so much fun doing the feature. It's always a great time to go back and think of some of the characters that I've enjoyed over the years. When I first started doing it, I thought it would last a few months or a year at most. I didn't think I would be able to keep coming up with great characters. Thankfully I didn't run out and I don't think I will anytime in the foreseeable future.

If I had to pick one for the long term, it would be Vanyel Ashkevron from The Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. First of all he's pretty frickin hot, even with long hair, not something I would normally like, but I'll make an exception for him. He's that hot. He's very intelligent, so conversation will flow easily. He's a master Bard, so he will be able to keep me entertained with music. He's a master with a sword, so any unfriendly natives would be quickly taken care of. The fact that he is one of the most powerful mages to ever exist would keep us safe and should provide most of the comforts we would need. Now that I'm thinking about this, being stranded on an island with him would be quite nice. Is there anyway for me to sign up for it?

What book have you found yourself recommending the most this year?

Of the books I've read for this first time this year I would have to say either Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin or The Swimming Pool by Mary Roberts Rinehart.

If you asked me about my all time favorite books to recommend (other than the ones I mentioned in my answer to the reading funk) I would say: Atlas, Shrugged by Ayn Rand or Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory. They are both terrrific books that everyone should read.

Thanks so much, Ryan!

If you have a chance, do stop by Wordsmithonia today for Ryan's interview with me.

September 12, 2011

BBAW: Community

It's the first day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week again! I love this week and look forward to browsing through all the lovely posts each year. Today we're talking about blogs that have made a difference to us. I wanted to highlight A Jane of All Reads--a blog that I've really loved and spent a lot of time frequenting in the past year. 
In case you can't read the fine print, Laura's tagline reads,
 . . . in which we just keep falling hopelessly in love with very good books and every now and again form very sensible and respectable relationships . . . with vampires.
Ahhhh. It was this tagline (and the original name of the blog--Life After Jane) that first drew me to Laura's site, and it was her hilarious and utterly honest reviews that kept me coming back. That and the fact that she fell in love with Richard Armitage and North and South shortly after I did, so we fangirled bonded all over the place on that. Everything about this blog delights. I get a kick out of her her excellent review labels: loved it lived it miss it, so-so, fantabulousness, borrow don't buy, and my personal favorite--makes bunnies cry. And I get an excellent sense of whether or not a book is for me after reading her review of it. So if you haven't discovered this little corner of awesome in your bookish rambles, I suggest you do so immediately. Thanks for all the laughs, Laura.

September 9, 2011

Retro Friday Review: Illusion by Paula Volsky

This cover. This cover remains one of my favorite covers ever! I had never heard of Paula Volsky before or read much historical fantasy at all when a copy of Illusion arrived at my house. I was fifteen and my Aunt Claudia sent it to me for my birthday. She's a great reader, my aunt, and she has flawless taste. When they were kids, she and my dad would ride their bikes to the library and each check out a stack of Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys, go home, read them, switch, read, return, and repeat. She loves Dickens and Georgette Heyer and all manner of good ones. So I knew this one would be good. And I loved how reassuringly thick the mass market copy was. Slick gray pages and 674 of them in all--absolute bliss. I ended up reading the majority of it during a couple of late night babysitting stints. After the kids brushed their teeth and went to bed, I curled up in an oversize chair in the living room and lost myself in the crazy elaborate world Ms. Volsky created. I had honestly never read anything like it, and sadly, I have yet to actually talk to anyone else (besides my aunt) who has read it.

Eliste vo Derrivale (wow, did I love her name when I was 15 . . . oh, who are we kidding? I still do) is a member of the ultra-privileged Exalted class in the land of Vonahr. Having grown up on a rather idyllic estate in the countryside, she can hardly focus on anything else when the summons comes to move to the capital city of Sherreen and become a lady-in-waiting to Queen Lallazay herself. And so she packs her bags and trips off to make her debut at court without a backward glance. Unfortunately for Eliste, her timing is catastrophic. While she is primped, prodded, and ruthlessly trained in the intricate ways of court life, the nation's serfs are rising up. Sick of centuries of subservience to the Exalted class, whose rule is based on their much-lauded but rarely-seen magical abilities, the peasants have united. Before she has fully adapted to her new life, violence breaks out in the city and the life she longed to lead is ripped from her grasp. Forced out onto the streets, Eliste comes to grim terms with a very different way of life. And a past uncharacteristic and seemingly insignificant action comes back to haunt her, as one of the key members of the rebellion is none other than Dref Zeenosen--a serf she once freed from her father's tyranny in a fit of momentary pity a long time ago. If she is to survive, Eliste must develop a whole new set of skills and avoid the dreaded Kokette--the death machine that awaits any Exalted the rebels can get their hands on.

Just thinking about this gorgeous epic sends pleasant little sparks to the tips of my fingers. And I do mean epic in the long and drawn out sense of the word. Densely written, Illusion is expansive and filled with exquisite, minute descriptions of everything from the lace in Eliste's hair to the bloody spikes on the horrific, possibly sentient Kokette. Based on the events of the French Revolution, Eliste's world is richly evocative of that period in history and, while some of the events in the story may not surprise you as a result, the elaborate and sympathetic characterization and the delicious magical overtones will reel you in. I love that Eliste is such a spoiled brat at the beginning. She's the epitome of snobby upper crust debutante with a disdain for anything she deems beneath her--which is pretty much everything. She's young and thoughtless and incredibly annoying. But. She is often a keen judge of character. She is always a survivor. And she's unwittingly in for a real nightmare. The joy is in the transformation that is wrought and the growth she achieves as a result of having front row seats for the devastation of her world. I very much like who she becomes. Everything about this book takes its time, from the main character's evolution, to the extremely subtle and slow-building romance, to the final quiet and bittersweet conclusion. It could get tiresome, but to me it felt earned. If historical fiction is not your thing, you might find it difficult to sink into the slightly affected vocabulary and speech mannerisms of the principle characters. For me, the unusual blend of historical tapestry, magic, and early steampunk (in the form of crazily creepy machinery used as part of the revolution) worked like a charm. I would love to hear what fans of any or all of those genres think of it as it has long been a favorite.

The Bookwyrm's Lair Review
A Small Accomplishment Review

Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn
A Girl, Books and Other Things reviews Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas
Good Books and Good Wine reviews The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
One Librarian's Book Reviews reviews A Train to Potevka by Mike Ramsdell

September 6, 2011

Heroes at Odds by Moira J. Moore

It's been a year--an entire year--since Heroes Return came out, and I am nothing if not ready for my fix of Lee and Taro. What better way to celebrate the summer than with a visit from my favorite paranoid and accident prone Source and Shield? I can't believe we're six books in with this series. It's one of the most consistently good series around. I can always count on a madcap adventure, humorous interactions between this long suffering Pair, and that vaguely ominous threat I've felt from the very beginning, and which I just know is going to erupt in all sorts of unpleasant ways in the very near future. Truly? That's one of my favorite aspects of this weird and fascinating world Moira J. Moore has created. I never feel like I get it all, like there are massive secrets lurking above me in the restless clouds, and when they are revealed will they be as sinister as they feel? As Oscar Wilde said, "The suspense is terrible, I hope it lasts." Truer words . . . Last but not least, I do have to hand it to the cover gods this time around. Taro has gotten measurably more attractive. He's gone from having a face like a foot and jazz hands to an NFL linebacker-type mug with yon brawny sword in hand. You never fail to entertain, cover gods. I want to thank you for that.

Lee and Taro are still in Flown Raven. Still serving out their time (and the Emperor's bidding) in Taro's former home, though some things have changed. Lee has grown more comfortable exploring spell casting. She even joins a group of local casters who are interested in exploiting her particular powers as part of their enterprise. And Taro has grown a bit more at ease in the place that meted out such pain and disappointment to him throughout his childhood. And Lee is excited because her family has announced they're to visit her soon. She hasn't seen them in so long and it will mean some variance from their normal routine. Her excitement is extinguished quicker than Taro can channel a storm, however, when her mother reveals the reason for their visit. It seems a very long time ago, when Lee was just a child, her parents betrothed her to a fellow merchant's son--one Marcus Pride--as part of a business deal intended to benefit both families. They never expected the betrothal to amount to anything, though, and Lee's calling as a Shield should have annulled any prior contracts in any case. But wouldn't you know, the Prides are here to collect on the bargain. The father and son are, in fact, soon to arrive at Flown Raven themselves. And so the greatest challenge Lee and Taro face may in fact be winkling Lee out of a wholly unwelcome marriage before she is forced to wed where she does not want in order to save the family she left behind years ago.

I laughed several times while reading this one. It was lighter and funnier in tone than the last couple have been. Though there has always been an appreciable amount of humor to be found in Lee and Taro's banter and haplessness, this time around they seemed wryly cognizant of how often their circumstances go south. They seemed to take it in stride, so that the sham betrothal that could very well take them under just adds a cherry on top of the sundae that's been their predicament ever since they bonded. In one sense this was very satisfying because Lee and Taro were on the same page and very much at home in their own skin, within their relationship, and of one mind when it came to the impossibility of Lee marrying Marcus. I loved that. I loved Taro playing his part in keeping Lee from a distasteful marriage. And I most especially loved Lee's family in this one, specifically her two brothers. They are irreverent, fun-loving, boisterous and, more importantly, they care about Lee even when she doesn't quite get them. They don't take any of her occasionally dense nonsense when it comes to people. In that sense, they reminded me of a certain Source who cared about our Lee from the very start. Interestingly, they care about Taro as well, and they know how to go about it. In fact, they seem to really get the endlessly complex relationship between their sister and her partner better, at times, than anyone. And so I loved them, because they had the good sense to love Lee (and by extension Taro). I did miss a little of the, well, fire between the Pair in this one. Despite their solidarity, they seemed utterly exhausted throughout. I felt for them, but missed their more heated encounters. In the final installment, I would welcome a little more focus on their wonderful connection and that sense of concern for each other that makes me so fond of them. As for the ending of Heroes at Odds--it may possibly be my favorite thus far. It was touching, funny, fitting, and exactly what I wanted. I am so looking forward to the next and final book in this wonderful series.

And now the depressing news. Moira has announced that Ace will not be publishing the last book in the Heroes series. In an utterly shocking (and in my opinion reprehensible) move, Ace has chosen not to renew her contract and publish the finale of the series. Ms. Moore has said she will finish it and publish it either herself or on her blog for loyal readers to read. For this, I'm incredibly grateful as it would be devastating not to get to conclude the series. And at least this way she will have the freedom to finish the series the way she would like to. Hey, I bet there might even be a more accurate (and attractive) cover! And I think we'll be getting quite a treat as a result, since it sounds like there will be several short stories along the way and, of course, the final volume. Speaking of, if you get a chance, be sure to stop in and read the great Taro POV piece Moira recently posted on her blog. It's set early on in book one and it has a killer last line. I love that boy so much.

On a happier note. Just a fun peek at what you'll find inside Heroes at Odds should you pick up a copy:

The Book Smugglers Review
Skunk Cat Book Review

September 2, 2011

Retro Friday Review: My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart

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

I've been dreaming of Greece. I've never been there myself, much to my continual dismay, and so it remains at the very top of my list when it comes to countries I need to visit next. Lately, I've been doing some research on the country for work. Hence the dreams. And whenever I dream of Greece, I remember my original copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology that I read cover to cover several times over. And I remember Mary Stewart and the wonderful mysteries she set there. From The Moon-Spinners to This Rough Magic to My Brother Michael, I read them and drift from Crete to Corfu to Delphi in a haze of lemon trees, windswept isles, and footprints of the gods. I've been in love with this place for a long time, and I fervently hope I get to travel there someday. But for now I shall have to be content with my battered copies of Mary Stewart's novels and the adventures her heroines take in this place I long to see. It's so hard for me to choose which of her three Greek books I prefer. They're all splendid and it most likely depends on my mood at the time. The Moon-Spinners has, perhaps, the best mystery, This Rough Magic the swooniest male lead (and all that Shakespeare), and My Brother Michael my favorite title and lady. And, of course, Delphi. So today, you get Delphi, Michael, and Miss Camilla Haven. Not necessarily in that order.

Camilla Haven is sitting alone in a cafe in Athens, bemoaning the lack of action in her life. Having recently broken off her engagement to larger-than-life Phillip, she goes ahead on holiday to Greece all by her lonesome hoping it will be good for her. All that sun and history and good food. But it turns out it's just lonely, albeit in a spectacular setting. Until a stranger approaches her with a set of car keys and a whispered message of urgency. Someone named Simon is in Delphi in need of the car. It is, the man assures her, a matter of life and death. She must take it to him. Several rounds of language-stilted protests ensue. And before she knows it, Camilla is behind the wheel of the big black car and on the road to Delphi. On her way there, she does, in fact, meet a man named Simon, who is in Delphi trying to decipher the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of his brother Michael more than a decade earlier during World War II. Armed with Michael's last letter and three gold sovereigns, Camilla and Simon set out for the site of his brother's death. Simon is convinced Michael was on the track of something important, and before long they begin to realize they're not the only ones who are still looking for whatever Michael found.

Lady Stewart is so great at first lines and openings. The first passage of My Brother Michael:
"Nothing ever happens to me."

I wrote the words slowly, looked at them for a moment with a little sigh, then put my ballpoint pen down on the cafe table and rummaged in my handbag for a cigarette.

As I breathed the smoke in I looked about me. It occurred to me, thinking of that last depressed sentence in my letter to Elizabeth, that enough was happening at the moment to satisfy all by the most adventure-hungry. That is the impression Athens gives you. Everyone is moving, talking, gesticulating--but particularly talking. The second one remembers in Athens is not the clamour of pneumatic drill or even the age-old sound of chisels chipping away at the Pentelic marble which is still the cheapest stone for building . . . what one remembers about Athens is the roar of talking. Up to your high hotel window, above the smell of dust and the blare of traffic it comes, surging like the sea below the temple at Sunium--the sound of Athenian voices arguing, laughing, talk-talk-talking, as once they talked the world into shape in the busy colonnades of the Agora, not so very far from where I sat.
Within the space of two paragraphs I not only feel for the main character, but I feel as though I'm sitting there with her. I can hear it and smell it and taste it. I'm in Athens wondering how in the world I got there. This is one of Ms. Stewart's most atmospheric and action-packed novels. From negotiating the hairpin turns to Delphi, to wandering through ancient amphitheaters with handsome Classics teachers, to scrambling through caves, enough happens to Camilla within the space of these 240 pages to last a lifetime, let alone one brief holiday. I love Camilla's audacity. She's always lived in other people's shadows. And yet she goes on the trip to Greece. She takes the car keys. She cares about this Simon she does not know. And speaking of Simon? I'm excessively fond of him. For his part, he never casts Camilla in shadow, his or anything else's. He quotes Euripides and courts death in the name of his brother, and he accepts Camilla's strange story at face value and the two of them are off like a shot in no time. So much about this novel is based on mistaken identities, years of subterfuge, and bad blood. And I eat it up with a spoon every time I re-read it.  I am fairly swept away at the richness of it all. And, as I return to it, the romance in this one appeals more and more. Hints of it are established from glance one. But hints is all they are at first. This is a relationship that builds slowly and surely and to great effect. Truly all of Mary Stewart's strengths, from intrepid women to mouth-watering locales to heart-pounding suspense, come together in this exciting tale. Withe one crazy, climactic ending to top it off. Whenever I return to My Brother Michael,  it almost comes as a bit of a shock that I've never actually been to Delphi, that I'm not returning to a place I know so well and people whose hands I've held in mine. A classy, perennial favorite.

Retro Friday Roundup
A Girl, Books and Other Things reviews The Wedding Planner's Daughter by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
Good Books and Good Wine reviews Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Chachic's Book Nook reviews Graceling by Kristin Cashore
One Librarian's Book Reviews reviews The River Between Us by Richard Peck

Bookwitch Review
I Prefer Reading Review
One Literature Nut Review