October 31, 2011

One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four . . . and Five!

I actually don't remember the last booky meme I filled out. And so when I ran across this fun (quick!) one over at Read the Book, I decided it looked like just the thing.
1. Book I am currently reading: Cinder by Marissa Meyer
I love everything about this idea. I'm about 80 pages in right, and so far so good!

2. Last book I finished: Untying the Knot by Linda Gillard
Linda writes some of my very favorite contemporary adult titles. This is her latest and, as usual, I fell right into it. Review to come.

3. Next book I want to read: The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams
Entirely because of this review. I can only hold off a trip to the bookstore for so long. It must be mine soon.

4. Last book I bought: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
Because even though I wasn't crazy about the previous book in the trilogy, this is the third and final book, and I find I do want to see how Beka's story turns out.

5. Last book I was given: Imaginary Lands by Robin McKinley
This unexpected gift brought tears to my eyes not only because I've been looking for a copy of this out of print collection for years, but because it arrived on a bad day. And suddenly something good had happened. Thanks so much, Martha.

October 28, 2011

Retro Friday Review, Halloween Edition: Sunshine 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.
I look forward to this season every year because it means I get to reread Sunshine. This is one of my few solid seasonal reads. I revisit it every year for so many reasons. Because it originally came out in October. Because it absolutely encapsulates autumn for me. And Halloween, of course, what with all the vampires and the midnight outings and the smell of fallen leaves and cinnamon rolls in the air. And because it's just one of the biggest Angie books there is. I remember being almost apoplectic with excitement when I heard Robin McKinley was writing a vampire novel. The whole notion filled me with tingles. And imagine how happy I was when it turned out to be better than I could ever have imagined. I know people have strong feelings on this book, one way or the other, and it's certainly not your run-of-the-mill urban fantasy (thank heavens for that). But for those who love feisty girls with thoughts of their own, ugly vampires with developing senses of humor, and wonderfully rich, dense, smart writing, this book may very well have your name on it. As for me, I bought it the day it came out (almost exactly eight years ago). I took it home and read it aloud with DH. And to this day favorite passages and scenes come up in our daily conversation. So as Halloween approaches, a Retro Friday review of my very favorite spooky read. 

A side note: I'm not even slightly embarrassed to admit I own all three editions pictured above. If a new edition of Sunshine comes out, I buy it. End of story. It helps that they're all so very pretty. If pressed, I will admit that the original U.S. hardcover with the chandelier is my favorite. But I adore all three. And the important thing is that they're there. On my shelves. So that when the urge arises, I can take them out and stroke them and know that they're there and that they're loved. I know. But like I said--not even a little embarrassed.
It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn't that dumb. There hadn't been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.
These opening lines set the scene. Sunshine just wanted some solitude. Just a little time away from the strange and chaotic life she leads as the head baker at Charlie's and as her mother's daughter. She gets up every morning at the butt crack of dawn to get the dough going for her famous Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head. And for Sunshine's Killer Zebras. And for Bitter Chocolate Death. And any number of awesome, original desserts and pastries she whips up on a daily basis at Charlie's--her stepfather's diner. She gets up and fights another round with her overprotective, obsessive mother. She gets up and goes out with her former soldier/reformed biker/cook boyfriend Mel. She gets up and gets through another day in New Arcadia--one of the few remaining spots that wasn't utterly demolished by the Voodoo Wars. And all she wanted was a moment alone in a peaceful place. So she drove out to the lake to sit. And that's when they came. And that's where they got her. As everybody knows, you don't hear them coming. Not when they're vampires. And you don't come back either. But Sunshine does come back after her extended and terrifying encounter with one vampire Constantine. She comes back and comes home. But. Even though she's home once more, nothing is the same. For all her surviving the encounter, she may not survive living with herself after.

Sunshine is one of those sarcastic, supremely set-in-her-ways tough girls that I seem to live for. The girl holds my heart in her flour-dusted hands. And because she is rendered in Robin McKinley's trademark prose, she's even more quirky and meandering and tangentially-inclined than those girls usually are. The tangents and meanderings bother some readers, I understand. If long internal monologues aren't your cup of tea, then they're not your cup of tea. But nobody can say that Ms. McKinley didn't go all-out hardcore when she sat down to write an urban fantasy. Because she did. And I love Sunshine with the fierce kind of love I reserve for those characters and stories that take no prisoners and make no apologies. I knew I would love Sunshine herself on page two when she set out to describe her stepfather.
Charlie is one of the big good guys in my universe.
There's so much fight and heart in that simple statement. Her relationship with Charlie is a highlight of the book, as he took her in as his own, gave her a job and a way out, and understood her when her mother could only scream. The way she introduced him made me love her. Many of Rae's rambling monologues include wry, self-effacing asides that always make me grin. For example:
I didn't want to know that the monster that lived under your bed when you were a kid not only really is there but used to have a few beers with your dad.
Set against the backdrop of almost certain doom, these barbs of humor secured my affection the way nothing else could have. I laugh a lot when I read Sunshine. I also shiver deliciously with fear. Which brings us to Con. As if Sunshine wasn't enough, Robin McKinley had to go and write Con--a vampire as far removed from the sexy-sparkly variety as is inhumanly possible. I really don't know of any other author who could make me fall in love with a vampire with skin the color of old mushrooms and a voice that unhinges your spine. But fall in love with Con I did. Or, more precisely, fall in love with the unlikely alliance of Sunshine-and-Con I did. It is this unprecedented friendship between human and vampire that is the real heart of the book. And it is made more believable (and much more valuable) by the lengths to which the author goes to to display how antithetical, how other, they are from one another. These two are not drawn together by attraction or random circumstance. They are bound together by the will to survive, by the refusal to live at the expense of another life, and by a slow-simmering, if uncomfortable, mutual admiration. The combination of Sunshine's jittery rambles and Con's remote and ominous silences gets me every time. As does the smart, knotty writing, Sunshine's passion for what she does, and the wonderful, wonderful restraint exercised to let the story unfold in its own way. Every time I read it, I find extra nuance and sympathy. And a perfect ending. As only she knows how to write them. This book, you guys. This best of all combinations of fairy tale, urban fantasy, and horror story. Neil Gaiman notably described it as "pretty much perfect," and I have to concur. I never tire of it. It's October once more, and I'm feeling that familiar Sunshine pull. Which copy shall I read this time?

Retro Friday Roundup

October 26, 2011

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me came across my radar purely through the blogosphere. I'm fairly certain I wrote it off initially based on the cover alone. Having read it now, I'm even less of a fan of the cover. In fact, I vastly prefer the plain white cover of my ARC. It retains the slashed title (which I love), but otherwise it is just a field of white. The final cover sells the book short, in my opinion, especially Juliette herself. The model, her expression, and the dress are just too froufy and faux intense for Juliette and for my taste. I feel like the story deserved a starker, more ambiguous cover. So what encouraged me to check out this debut novel was definitely not the cover, but rather the collective heart attack it seemed to be giving a slew of my favorite bloggers. I heard "beautiful writing" and "awesome dystopian" and I hoped. But I made sure to go in with carefully measured expectations, because I've had a few of those "beautiful writing awesome dystopians" lately that have just not worked for me, even if they knocked it out of the park with other readers like me. Probably says more about me than it does the books, but there it is.

Juliette counts. She counts everything, from the square footage of her cell to the number of days since she's seen the outside. By numbering the terrifyingly small confines of her world, she is able to stay somewhere in the vicinity of sane as those parameters slowly shrink around her. Locked up for a murder she did commit, Juliette has no idea what the Reestablishment plans on doing with her, or why she's in what seems to be an insane asylum and not hanging from the end of a rope. In fact, she is as haunted by the inadvertent experience as anyone. But then everything about her world is haunting these days. Nothing is as it was, and the longer she sits alone in her cell, the more it seems no one will ever come around to bothering with one lone girl whose touch is lethal. And then one day. Someone comes. Or, rather, is thrust against his will into her cell. And so now there are two. But Juliette is immediately haunted by the innumerable possibilities. Why give her a cellmate? Why now? And why this particular person? The one who has eyes she remembers, even though it's been years and years. More importantly, who is behind this sudden change and what exactly are they trying to accomplish?

Reader, I liked it from page one. And the reason is Juliette. My heart broke over her. Over and over again. She tells her story as it happens, in exquisitely close detail, and with an eye and ear attuned to the colorless vagaries of her world. Her words are full of metaphors, raining down on the reader. And I liked how the that sweeping language was balanced by the frequent strikethroughs that pervaded her thoughts. I know some readers are bothered by those, but I appreciated the way they simultaneously underscored and brought into question Juliette's take on what is going on around her. They encompassed the words she longed to say but couldn't, the thoughts passing through her head that were so horrifying they must literally be struck from the page. I will say that, while I never tired of the strikethoughs, the constant use of repetition and hyperbole did wear on me after awhile. The thing is, overall I think Tahereh Mafi does such a fine job with the language. I just thought it needed to be reined in some places so as to not tax the reader, and in order to preserve the emotional effect of those particularly devastating phrases and passages. Because when she nails it, she nails it. And when it comes to the three principal players in this novel, Ms. Mafi's words paint them in livid color. I love all three of them--Juliette, Adam, and Warner--for very different reasons. You guys, this villain, he is not kidding around. He may be my favorite aspect of the book. In fact, the strength of my love for Warner may have caused me to overlook a few places in which things happen too quickly or too easily to be credible. In retrospect, I sort of wish they'd never left the asylum. Or Warner's compound. Because those sections are incredibly tight and afterwards things get a bit nebulous, a bit uneven. But so you get a feel for what I'm talking about with the characters and the writing style, here is a scene fairly early on between Juliette and Warner (taken from my uncorrected ARC). This was the scene in which I really fell in love with them both.
Warner follows me into my room.

"You should probably sleep," he says to me. It's the first time he's spoken since we left the rooftop. "I'll have food sent up to your room, but other than that I'll make sure you're not disturbed."

"Where is Adam?" Is he safe? Is he healthy? Are you going to hurt him?

Warner flinches before finding his composure. "Why do you care?"

I've cared about Adam Kent since I was in third grade. "Isn't he supposed to be watching me? Because he's not here. Does that mean you're going to kill him, too?" I'm feeling stupid. I'm feeling brave because I'm feeling stupid. My words wear no parachutes as they fall out of my mouth.

"I only kill people if I need to."


"More than most."

I laugh a sad laugh, sharing it only with myself.

"You can have the rest of the day to yourself. Our real work will begin tomorrow. Adam will bring you to me." He holds my eyes. Suppresses a smile. "In the meantime, try not to kill anyone."

"You and I," I tell him, anger coursing through my veins, "you and I are not the same--"

"You don't really believe that."

"You think you can compare my--my disease--with your insanity--"

"Disease?" He rushes forward, abruptly impassioned, and I struggle to hold my ground. "You think you have a disease?" he shouts. "You have a gift! You have an extraordinary ability that you don't care to understand! Your potential--"

"I have no potential!"

"You're wrong." He's glaring at me. There's no other way to describe it. I could almost say he hates me in this moment. Hates me for hating myself.

"Well you're the murderer," I tell him. "So you must be right."

His smile is laced with dynamite. "Go to sleep."

"Go to hell."

He works his jaw. Walks to the door. "I'm working on it."
Dynamite is right. Call me crazy, but I love these two together. I mean Warner is a complete and utter psycho. But heaven help me, I love him. And hate him. I . . . okay. So my Warner feelings are an inexplicable and very violent hodgepodge. But I wouldn't have felt the same way about Shatter Me without him. And I will return for the sequel because of him. And Juliette. And the love story. And the out-of-left-field ending that left me humming the theme song to X-Men.

Shatter Me is due out November 15th.


October 21, 2011

Retro Friday Review: Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey

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 decided to pull this one out not long ago, because I've been feeling like pirates lately. Sometimes you just feel like some good piracy, don't you? The boy has chosen to be a pirate for Halloween this year, and so the various accouterments and necessities have been swirling around the house, and so the whole thing has been on my mind. I ran across Misty Massey's debut novel somewhere over three years ago on the shelves of my local bookshop and the cover pulled me in right away. It's wonderful, isn't it? So many possibilities in it . You don't know whether it's historical fiction or steampunk or fantasy or a combination of all two or more of those. I love it when a cover allows you to avoid genre stereotyping like that for a little while at least. And then there was a lovely blurb from Sharon Shinn to give me that little extra push. So I grabbed it off the shelf and took it home with me. And I was very glad I did. I almost never hear people talking about Mad Kestrel, and yet I really think it deserves a wider audience. I mean, as Tom Stoppard said, "Pirates could happen to anyone."

Kestrel is a pirate. After years fighting to prove her worth, she's now the quartermaster on the pirate ship Wolfshead. She has become invaluable to her captain and mentor Binns, and the crew respect her and follow her lead. The story opens in the midst of a sea battle between Kestrel's crew and a mysterious vessel that seems to disappear and reappear out of the mist like some sort of phantom ship. Later, while on shore, Kestrel and Binns run into the captain of the mysterious ship, one Philip McAvery who is both dashing and maddening and who seems to have his sights set on Kestrel and her captain. Unfortunately, all hell breaks loose at this point. Binns is captured and imprisoned under false pretenses. McAvery makes off with the Wolfshead, and Kestrel is on the run from a pair of assassins and a bounty hunter.

No one is what they appear to be in this book. Even Kestrel. Gifted with the power to whistle up the wind, she has spent her life determined to hide her ability and thereby avoid the Danisoban Brethren--an order of mages who routinely round up all magically inclined children in order to use them for their own purposes. Interestingly enough, water is supposed to dampen magical ability. But our Kestrel is an exception. And she would prefer her unusual status remain safely anonymous. But Binns' capture and the continual interference of the inimitable McAvery gang up on her, making it difficult for Kestrel to maintain her grasp on the life she so carefully crafted for herself. What I like about Kestrel is how comfortable she is in her skin. Her qualms about her magical ability aside, she straddles the gap between women and pirates with panache. She is endearingly unselfconscious in her admittedly unusual role. And though she despises skirts and does not actively seek men out, she doesn't avoid them either. Misty Massey doesn't spend much time laying out back story on her characters. The reader is plunged into the middle of the action and comes to know the characters slowly as the story progresses. It wasn't until the end that I felt like I was getting a handle on who Kestrel, McAvery, and Binns really were. But it was a fun ride, packed with characters full of secrets and escapades on the high seas. I look forward to checking out Kestrel's (and McAvery's....grin) further adventures. It's been my understanding that Ms. Massey has been working on the second volume for awhile now, but I have heard very little about it. This distresses me. I'm crossing my fingers that it finds its way into print (and my hands) very soon.

Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
A Girl, Books and Other Things reviews Treasured Vows by Cath Maxwell
Good Books and Good Wine reviews Poison Study by Maria Snyder
One Libarian's Book Reviews reviews The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

The Discriminating Fangirl review
Fantasy Book Critic review

October 19, 2011

The Fault in Our Stars Cover

And here we have the cover for John Green's upcoming book The Fault in Our Stars, due out January 10th. I like how simple it is (yay for simple these days). I like that there are no people on it. And I like the chalk writing. It's a little hard to fall utterly in love with, however, because of the countless unbelievably awesome fan-made covers sent in. Happily, they impressed his publisher so much they're holding a contest for fan-made covers for the next edition of An Abundance of Katherines. I cannot wait to see the results! For now, I'm off to go pre-order my signed copy of tFiOS. 

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

I wasn't really planning on reading Virtuosity. I'm not sure why, because I'm actually often drawn to stories featuring prodigies or people with highly regimented lifestyles due to their skills/abilities/life choices. Also, I like the title. But, the cover doesn't do a whole lot for me (it looks more paranormal than contemporary). Nothing wrong with it, but I will say that it would help if she was at least holding a violin. Then a galley floated my way, and so I went on the hunt for a few reliable reviews. And wouldn't you know, I found them (see links below). Enough of them to prod me to see for myself. I actually started Virtuosity right after finishing another book, somewhere in the vicinity of midnight, and I was absorbed quickly and deeply enough that I just read it straight through. I kind of feel like it's one of the ones best read that way, one of the ones that benefits largely from a quantity of undivided attention and a lack of breaks throughout.

Carmen Bianchi is a virtuoso. Her mother sang with the New York Metropolitan Opera at an unprecedentedly young age. All set to ride her stardom high, her career was cut short by an unexpected operation and an unexpected pregnancy. And so she transferred all of her drive, all her expectation, all her determination onto her daughter. And so Carmen eats, drinks, and breathes the violin. Her days are regimented to within an inch of her life, and her activities are sharply curtailed by her demanding schedule. With the most important competition of her life just a few short weeks away, she decides to scope out the competition. But it turns out Jeremy King isn't exactly the way she pictured him. And yet while his manner (both onstage and off) is about as far from her own as possible, he does share an unmatched understanding of what her life is like. Both that overwhelmingly innate love of music and the unparalleled isolation the lifestyle engenders. And so an alarmingly inconvenient friendship is struck up just at the moment when she needs to be the most focused and cutthroat she's ever been in her life.

I have never come anywhere even remotely in the vicinity of the kind of talent and dedication Carmen (and Jeremy) possess in this story. But I did grow up surrounded by music, and I played one instrument or another (or a few) nearly every day of my life from the time that I was four years old on. My mother taught me two of them. I was one of her many students, and so there was always the sound of music, the talk of music, and the practice and performance of music in the house. As a result, I was immediately drawn to Carmen's focus and love of everything that goes into the composition, the discipline, the appreciation, and the skill involved in her vocation. Unlike Carmen, however, I was always given the choice. Given options. And so my heart went out to her in sympathy for having none of those. I wanted her to explore the world outside. I wanted her to stand up to her mother and her horrible, horrible destructive influence. And at the same time I was fearful of the repercussions, fearful of what might be unintentionally but inevitably lost in the process. Beauty and fear make up the primary emotions of this novel, and I think the strength of it lies in those emotions and in the incredibly authentic way Jessica Martinez portrayed Carmen's life. I liked her. I liked Jeremy. Both of them so painfully solitary in their ways. And I really liked her mother, her stepfather, her tutor Helen, and her trollish instructor Yuri. I mean, I hated some of them, but I hated them right, you know? In fact, my heart was wrung several times throughout Virtuosity, and I was in the dark all the way up to the very end as to how things were going to turn out. I, for one, was very pleased with the "ending" Carmen got, and I'm definitely looking forward to Jessica Martinez's next offering.

All-Consuming Books Review
A Girl, Books and Other Things Review
GReads! Review
Makeshift Bookmark Review
Pirate Penguin's Reads Review
Steph Su Reads Review
There's a Book Review

October 17, 2011

November Cakes

For those of you who've read The Scorpio Races, you'll know what these are. And for those of you who haven't yet (it's due out tomorrow), you'll soon be in for a treat. Reading about the November cakes was like reading about the Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head from Sunshine. You just want one Right Now. Served at the local bakery and festival around race time, the description of the November cakes made my mouth water while reading. And then Maggie went and posted her very own recipe for them, and I just had to try making them for dessert yesterday. I had to grin as I ate one, picturing Finn smiling as he placed one in Puck's hand and Sean and Puck munching on them quietly as they sat atop the cliffs gazing out to sea.

So, here's the recipe:
November Cakes recipe
And here's what it makes:

October 11, 2011

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I love a good surprise. And Maggie Stiefvater pulled off an excellent one this year by surprising her readers with not one, but two books. The one we'd been expecting for a year, the other we had no clue was even in the works really. And so when the cover of The Scorpio Races was released, my mind went in a hundred different directions at once trying to parse out the possibilities behind such an interesting title and such an absolutely lovely cover. The truth is, I didn't want to know that much at all. This was a surprise book, and as such I wanted to go into the first page uninformed as to the particulars. So I stayed away from synopses, snippets, even the trailer (and I adore her trailers), because I didn't want to go in with any kind of preconceived notion. Unable to attend BEA this year, I bemoaned the fact that I would miss out on the stacks of ARCs I knew would be available there. Fortunately, someone who knew I would be suffering went and picked me up a copy and popped it in the mail so I could get an early sneak peek.
It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
Sean Kendrick knows this truth only too well. It forms the fabric and the boundaries of his life. He races in the Scorpio Races every year and, for the past four years, he's come home the victor. More importantly, he's lived to race another day. Not everyone can say the same. Puck Connolly is racing for her first time this year. It's not so much by design as by way of keeping her older brother Gabe from leaving them. It's been just the three of them for years now, and Puck and her younger brother Finn can't fathom how they will go on without Gabe there to look after them. And so it's the races for Puck. If she puts her life on the line by entering (the first girl ever to do so) perhaps her older brother will think better of leaving and starting a new life on the mainland. Because the Scorpio Races aren't even remotely like your average horse race. In the Scorpio Races, the riders ride the dreaded capaill uisce--deadly water horses thrown up (or caught) from the sea. Faster, bolder, deadlier than any normal horse, they will kill you as soon as look at you. And Sean Kendrick is the only man around who is able to control them. If you can call it that. He has a way with them, can whisper in their ears, and anticipate their thoughts. And so these two young people are linked together by the races, by the fact that the capaill uisce took the lives of their parents, and by a spectacular love for horses and for the island that is their home.

How to begin, how to begin? I'm just going to go ahead and go on record as saying The Scorpio Races is the best book I've read all year. On top of that, I think it's Maggie Stiefvater's best book yet. Some of you won't agree with me, because this is a very different book from her others. And, as much as I've enjoyed each of them, I love that it is so very different. Where her other novels read like fiery fugues and romantic sonatas, The Scorpio Races is a quieter, more atmospheric piece. There's a charming vagueness as to time and place, leaving various and sundry particulars deliciously up to the reader's imagination. This timelessness extends to the earthy characters, the mythology of the water horses, and the almost elegiac tone. There is romance, and rest assured, it is of the very highest caliber indeed. But it is an altogether more restrained, more gradual affair, as befits the principle players. In fact, everything about this novel develops slowly and at its own wonderfully meandering pace. There is violence, passion, anguish, and ever-present danger, but they are a part of life to these characters. The harsh, beautiful, unrelenting environment is reflected in the faces and on the palms of every one of them. How could I not love this book? I fell under its spell without even noticing it. The language, as is always the case with Maggie's books, is enchanting. But even that, this time, is blended more seamlessly into the tale as a whole. Into the feel of the island, the weather, the waves, all of whom felt like characters to me. Into Puck and Sean Kendrick, Finn, George Holly, and Tommy Falk of the pretty lips. Here, a representative exchange between Puck and Sean Kendrick:
"Your brother is going to the mainland," Sean says.

I hold my breath in my mouth for a long moment, and finally say, "Right after the races." There's no point in treating it as a secret; everyone knows. He already heard me talking about it with Gratton in the truck.

"And you're not going with him."

I'm about to answer he didn't ask but I realize before I do that that's not the reason, anyway. I'm not following him because this is home, and everywhere else isn't. "No."

"Why aren't you going?"

The question infuriates me. I demand, "Why is it that going away is the standard? Does anyone ask you why you stay, Sean Kendrick?"

"They do."

"And why do you?"

"The sky and the sand and the sea and Corr."

It's a lovely answer and takes me entirely by surprise. I hadn't realized we were having a serious conversation, or I think I would've given a better reply when he asked me. I'm surprised, too, by him including his stallion in his list. I wonder if, when I talk about Dove, people can hear how I love her the way that I can hear his fondness for Corr in his voice. It's hard for me to imagine loving a monster, though, no matter how beautiful he is. I remember what the old man said in the butcher's, about Sean Kendrick having one foot on land and one foot in the sea. Maybe you need a foot in the sea to be able to see beyond your horse's bloodlust.

"It's about wanting," I say eventually, after some considering. "The tourists always seem to want something. On Thisby, it's less about wanting, and more about being." I wonder after I say it if he'll think I sound like I have no drive or ambition. I suppose in comparison to him it must seem that way. I seem at once cursed to say precisely what I'm thinking to him and unable to tell what he thinks about it.

He says nothing at all. We watch the horses mill and surge below us. Finally, he says, not looking at me, "They'll still try to keep you off the beach. It won't have ended last night."

"I don't understand why."

"When the races are about proving something about yourself to others, the people you beat are as important as the horse you ride." His eyes don't leave the piebald.

"But that's not what they're about for you."

Sean pushes up to his feet and stands there. I look at his dirty boots. Now I've offended him, I think. He says, "Other people have never been important to me, Kate Connolly. Puck Connolly."

I tip my face up to look at him, finally. The blanket falls off my shoulders, and my hat, too, loosened by the wind. I can't read his expression--his narrow eyes make it difficult. I say, "And now?"

Kendrick reaches to turn up the collar on his jacket. He doesn't smile, but he's not as close to frowning as usual. "Thanks for the cake."

Then he strides off across through the grass, leaving me with my pencil touching my paper. I feel like I've learned something important about the race to come, but I've no idea how to write it down.
It's such a beautiful story. Ponderous, yet filled with bright dots of humor here and there, it moves, strums, and throbs through you with a feeling of ancient inevitability. The Scorpio Races feels like a throwback to the fantasy novels I read as a girl, which still seem, somehow, so much realer than everything else. There were a few pages so perfect, I simply stopped and held them in my hands. Like the island of Thisby, this book will take you, if you let it. Recommended utterly without reservation, especially for fans of The Blue Sword and Fire

The Scorpio Races is due out October 18th. 

The gorgeous trailer once more for your viewing pleasure. Having read the book now, I can tell you this trailer is just like this book--perfect.
The Book Stalker Review
Coffee & Cliffhangers Review
Feeling Fictional Review
Fluttering Butterflies Review
Letters Inside Out Review
The Reading Zone Review
Throuthehaze Reads Review

October 7, 2011

Retro Friday Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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.

Did any of you ever struggle with American literature in high school? I did. In fact, I developed a strong British bias early on as a result of being forced to read the slogging, long American works before any of the mind-blowingly awesome ones. I continue to feel this was a failed strategy. I mean, I still cringe whenever I think about The Grapes of Wrath, and it took all the way till college to discover that Steinbeck was actually awesome, when my professor slapped a copy of "The Chrysanthemums" in my lap. Same goes for Hemingway. Who knew his short stories were incredible? When it came to high school, it wasn't until they handed us The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace that things got interesting. And then Fitzgerald came along and it was like, where have you been all my life F. Scott? We read A Separate Peace in 10th grade, and I had a copy with the middle cover above. I still do, and to this day that is how I picture Gene. At least, I've always assumed it was Gene. Finny somehow seemed to me too large, too dark, too chaotic a personality to try to represent on a mere cover. I do love this cover, though, because it is both beautiful and menacing at the same time. Those of you who've read it will know what I mean.

Gene Forrester attends the prestigious Devon prep school in New England. During the period leading up to World War II, Gene shares a dorm room with a young man by the name of Phineas. Finny. Finny is everything Gene is not. Popular, handsome, athletic, and happy. Gene envies his roommate his easy manner and way with life. The two become close friends, and Gene's feelings come to torment him, particularly as Finny is as nice as he is talented. He seems to care little for his reputation or status and so Gene lives under the shadow of both his friend's prowess and the crushing guilt of his own emotions. Then one day Gene's actions (as nebulous as they may be) cause a disastrous event. And the relationship between the two boys will never be the same again. As the war draws ever closer, the boys of Devon prepare to be drafted and boast of how well they will match up to the requirements of war. Meanwhile, Gene and Finny wage their own war of sorts, between reality and memory, shaking the ground their friendship is built upon. It is this silent war that will determine the remains of their lives, far more definitively than the one taking place across an ocean.

A Separate Peace is one of those books that, once I start reading it, becomes immediately impossible for me to stop. Every passage is memorable, and every one of Gene's remembrances is weighty with meaning. The entire story is told from Gene's perspective, looking back on the experiences of that summer, several years after they took place. The opening unforgettable lines:
I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before. It seemed more sedate than I remembered it, more perpendicular and strait-laced, with narrower windows and shinier woodwork, as though a coat of varnish had been put over everything for better preservation. But, of course, fifteen years before there had been a war going on. Perhaps the school wasn't as well kept up in those days; perhaps varnish, along with everything else, had gone to war.

I didn't entirly like this glossy new surface, because it made the school look like a museum, and that's exactly what it was to me, and what I did not want it to be. In the deep, tacit way in which feeling becomes stronger than thought, I had always felt that the Devon School came into existence the day I entered it, was vibrantly real while I was a student there, and then blinked out like a candle the day I left.

Now here it was after all, preserved by some considerate hand with varnish and wax. Prserved along with it, like stale air in an unopened room, was the well known fear which had surrounded and filled those days, so much of it that I hadn't even known it was there. Because, unfamiliar with the absence of fear and what that was like, I had not been able to identify its presence.

Looking back now across fifteen years, I could see with great clarity the fear I had lived in, which must mean that in the interval I had succeeded in a very important undertaking: I must have made my escape from it.

I felt fear's echo, and along with that I felt the unhinged, uncontrollable joy which had been its accompaniment and opposite face, joy which had broken out sometimes in those days like Northern Lights across black sky.
How is it possible for one opening passage to induce smiles, tears, and a deep sense of foreboding all at once? A lot of it has to do with remembering how utterly without abandon I fell into this story the first time I read it, when I, too, was fifteen. Just like Gene. And part of it is, like Gene, knowing what's coming and being so afraid of getting there and so helpless to turn back. But most of it is simply the mild, thoughtful writing, the mingled fear and nostalgia, and the wonderful, wonderful characters. If you've never had the chance to pick this one up, I envy you the experience of meeting Finny for the first time. You won't meet his like again. Like Gene, you'll be drawn to this magnetic young man who has everything going for him, who loves sport more than anything on this earth, and who is all set to become the most stellar soldier there ever was. With his personal set of commandments, his Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, and his invention of blitzball, Finny is the world. For himself, for Gene, and most certainly for the reader. Which is, of course, why the events of the story have such a strong impact. I think these two have been in the back of my mind ever since I read this book for the first time sophomore year in high school. And I'm not sure I've passed judgement on either of them yet. What I do know is I've loved the name Finny ever since, and when we had our little boy earlier this year, Finn was at the top of the list of names. Though I hope my boy doesn't share all of the same qualities with this character, we call him Finny every day. And it always makes me smile.

Retro Friday Roundup
A Girl, Books and Other Things reviews Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas
Good Books and Good Wine reviews I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
One Librarians Book Reviews reviews The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

October 6, 2011

Bitterblue Cover

It's here! It's here! I'm so excited, I have nothing else to say. Except for this--576 pages! Music to my ears.
Kristin Cashore, I love you. 
May 1st, you and I have a DATE.

October 3, 2011

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

I originally heard about Graffiti Moon around about the time I read Raw Blue and thought to myself, is every Australian YA author crazy talented or what? (The answer, by the way, appears to be an unequivocal YES). Then some of the Usual Suspects read and reviewed and loved it, and so Cath Crowley got noted down on my mental TBR, despite the fact that it, too, was not published in the U.S. yet. Then a little while after, it showed up on NetGalley and there were no more excuses to be had. Graffiti Moon was originally published in Australia more than a year ago. Fortunately, Knopf Books for Young Readers has picked it up and is publishing it here in the U.S. this February. I know it's a ways away, but I really enjoyed it. And I figured if you're in desperate need you can go ahead and order it from Oz, depending, of course, on which cover is your favorite. I'm not incredibly fond of the stark yellow spraypaint can, so I think I'll hold out for the U.S. edition to add the physical volume to my shelves.

Lucy's time is running out. Year 12 is about to end and she still hasn't tracked down the graffiti artist known as Shadow. Though his work is all over the streets and walls and broken down buildings of the city, he only comes out at night. And despite her best efforts, Lucy hasn't been able to be in the right place at the right time to see him at work. He works in tandem with a street artist named Poet. Together they put words to pictures and grace the worn out sections of the city with their unique blend of poetry and urban art. Lucy would be happy to find the mysterious Poet as well, but when it comes down to it, it's Shadow she cares about. Something about the pictures he creates strikes a chord deep inside her and she feels as though a chance will have been missed if she never meets him. Never gets the opportunity to tell him, even for a moment, what his work means to her. Then one night she and her two best friends Jazz and Daisy are out and run into Daisy's on again, off again boyfriend Dylan, and his two friends Leo and Ed. Dylan knows Shadow and Poet, and the group decide to visit the two's known haunts and see if they can find them. Lucy is reluctant to go as she and Ed have had encounters in the past that did not end well. Ed is just as loathe to renew the acquaintance. But Jazz and Leo talk them into it. And they're off.

Graffiti Moon is a gem--a breath of fresh air. The narrative alternates between Lucy's, Ed's, and Leo's points of view and I enjoyed them all equally. Okay. I may have been just a teensy bit more partial to Leo's sections when it comes down to it. But that's because they're poems. Just freakishly good poems. I wanted to share my favorite of Leo's poems because they were such a highlight of the book for me. Here it is, fairly early on in the book (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Where I lived before

I used to live with my parents

In a house that smelled like cigarettes
And tasted like beer if you touched anything
The kitchen table was a bitter ocean
That came off on my fingers

There were three doors between the fighting and me
And at night I closed them all
I'd lie in bed and block the sounds

By imagining I was floating
Light years of quiet
Interrupted by breathing
And nothing else

I'd drift through space
And fall through dreams
Into dark skies
Some nights

My brother Jake and I would crawl out the window
And cut across the park
Swing on the monkey bars for a while
One the way to Gran's house

She'd be waiting
Dressing gown and slippers on
Searching for our shadows
She'd read us

Poetry and fairy tales
Where swords took care of dragons
And Jake never said it was a load of shit
Like I thought he would

And then one night
Gran stopped reading before the happy ending
She asked, "Leopold, Jake. You want to live
In my spare room?"

Her voice
Sounded like space and dark skies
But that night all my dreams
Had floors
That last line has been haunting me ever since. In such a good way. "But that night all my dreams had floors." A line so good it had me swallowing hard, brushing back sudden tears in my eyes, and turning to my husband to read it aloud, because I just had to share it with someone instantly. I love Leo. Comparisons between this book and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist abound, and I certainly understand why. Graffiti Moon is to be preferred, in my opinion, as the characters are more fully fleshed out and the writing is just a cut above. Here the focus is on art instead of music, and the combination of Shadow's evocative paintings and Lucy's burgeoning glassblowing skills is a lovely feast for the imagination. I could picture, without any trouble at all, the heart growing grass. That perfect shade of blue he's been searching for. The birds--their wings bound--struggling to break free. I could see it all. Truthfully, this book reminded me more of Lisa Schroeder's Chasing Brooklyn or Donna Freitas' This Gorgeous Game. It shares with those stories a certain elegance in the telling. I loved each of the main characters, with the real draw being the ethereal connection between Lucy and Shadow, and the complicated friendship between Ed and Leo. There's much of humor and heartbreak within these pages, and I read them through in one sitting, so happy was I to be with these kids, inside these words, as they expressed themselves the only way they knew how.

Graffiti Moon is currently available in Australia and is due out in the U.S. February 14th.

Book Harbinger Review
Chachic's Book Nook Review
Inkcrush Review
Midnight Fume Review
One More Page Review
Persnickety Snark Review
Reading is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac Review
The Tales Compendium Review
A Thousand Little Pages Review
Wear the Old Coat Review