October 30, 2012

Things That Go Bump in the Night

As my children keep reminding me, it's Halloween Eve today. Such a momentous occasion deserves a list, don't you think? I thought we'd go with my favorite creepy crawlies. These are my favorites, you understand. I already did a best of the Big Bads (the ones you run from screaming like a banshee). This lot are horses of a different color. These ones can be scary as hell when they want to be, but they're also the ones I return to over and over again because of the love. They are the heroes, the antiheroes, the you're-never-quite-sure-of-them-but-there's-something-about-them-you-can't-walk-away-from ones. So. In no particular order, my favorite Things That Go Bump in the Night:

Adam Hauptman from the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

You saw this one coming, I know. But I really can't help it. Adam is just . . . Adam. He lets Mercy be herself while threatening to eat her cat if it strays onto his property once more. Full disclosure, I went back and forth between Adam and Bran because, well, Bran. But it was Adam in the end.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I don't feel the need to explain myself here.

Con from Sunshine by Robin McKinley

The best of all the many different visions of vampires, he combines nobility of character with absolutely spine-unhinging terror. His skin is the color of dead mushrooms and he is not okay. But in the very best way.

Ti from Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander

Ti is a relatively recent acquaintance, but a favorite nonetheless. Because he is goofy and yet grave . . . in a very relaxing and intriguing way. Also, he is a zombie firefighter. I just . . . I just love how awesome that is.

Helen from A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

I am fond of a fair number of literary ghosts (Jacob Marley, anyone?), but Helen came out of nowhere and captured my attention and my sympathy in a very real way. I am not often fond of the ghost as protagonist. But Helen is an exception. A beautiful, haunting exception.

Curran Lennart from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

"Here, kitty, kitty, kitty . . . "

Ravus from Valiant by Holly Black

You think a troll can't be a romantic lead. But Holly Black will prove you wrong. And she'll do it in such a Beauty and the Beast convention-bending way. Ravus is like the Dr. Jekyll of modern YA faery tale fantasy. He also wields a mean sword.

Nick Ryves from The Demon's Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan

I may be more partial to his less demonic (though no less deviant) brother, but Nick Ryves is definitely my favorite soulless hellspawn. By a long shot. I feel you, Mae. I feel you.

Marak from The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

What I said above about trolls and the unexpected qualities thereof, the same thing goes for goblins. And yet. I love that Clare B. Dunkle yanks you back and forth with Marak. Never sure exactly how you feel about him, it's an exquisite agony watching Kate learn to shape a life with the goblin king.

Dark Fae
Irial from the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr

Twisted. And oh-so-dark. I'm still a bit taken aback at how comprehensively Melissa Marr brought me over to the side of the Dark Lord. I have to admire the skill involved cause, yeah, Irial is embedded way down deep in my heart.

And what about you? Who are some of your faves? Any creepy crawlies I'm missing?

October 23, 2012

Romantic Pretties

These three took up residence together in the same space in my mind a little while ago. Each one made it onto my upcoming reads list as I became aware of them. But it was when I saw the cover for Sacred that they sort of slid into place together for a pretties post. So here they are. And I really am so looking forward to reading each one (full disclosure: I actually have an ARC of one of them already, so it really should be next on my list)!

Sacred by Elana K. Arnold
This may be the one I'm looking forward to the most. And it's definitely my favorite of the three covers, probably because it puts me in mind of a Secret Garden/Scorpio Races mash-up. Don't ask me how these connections are made. They just are. But bonus points--it takes place on Catalina Island--the island I gazed out at from my bedroom window throughout high school and where I went scuba diving and hiking with friends and family. So bring on the tale of the grieving girl who rides her horse on an island I love.
Due out November 13th.

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Oh, but this cover. It is too much to resist, no? I mean, yes, the boy's hair is swooping down to a bit too much of a point for me, but the wrapped in lights thing is delightful. So there. Actually, the word is that this one is a bit devastating. Bad girl meets good boy with happy family and finds out she has something to lose . . . yep. Recipe for pain. But. It sounds like the writing may just be something to behold. And so I will find out for myself.
Due out January 15th.

Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder
I was so taken with Chasing Brooklyn that I haven't moved on to another Schroeder book yet. I don't want that little sphere of awesome ruined, I suppose. But I think I shall make an exception for this one. Main character Rae works in a flower shop and she uses flowers and poetry to deal with an unhappy home life. Also there are boys. And Lisa's lovely writing. Count me in.
Due out January 1st.

October 18, 2012

A Spear of Summer Grass Cover

A Spear of Summer Grass is Deanna Raybourn's next full-length novel. Set in the twenties, it features a flapper who heads to Kenya "in search of adventure." I really don't need anything else to convince me, but I do love this cover and how different it is from her others. It screamed Out of Africa the first time I saw it, but my favorite bits are the aged creases, as though it were a faded photograph someone had folded and kept in her pocket. Due out May 1st or April 23rd (depending on where you check). I am so looking forward to the spring now. Fortunately, we've got the Lady Julia Grey Christmas novella coming out in just a couple of weeks to tide us over until this one comes out.

October 12, 2012

Retro Friday Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 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. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!
Like most everyone else, my mother read The Secret Garden to me as a kid. I remember lying on my back on my bed at night staring up at the ceiling and out the open window to the fireflies outside as she read about Mary Lennox and Dickon and a sick little boy named Colin no one wanted to remember. Beyond that, however, my memories had faded quite a bit in the intervening years. I've seen a couple of film adaptations. In fact, the Hallmark one was a fixture in our home growing up and I still start humming Chopin's Nocturne in E Minor whenever I run across a Secret Garden reference or think of one of the characters. And I made the acquaintance of the musical in college and fell in love with that adaptation and the beautiful, beautiful score. However, that's sort of summed it up for me for a long time. I'd forgotten the particular words, you know? I'd forgotten the way Frances Hodgson Burnett employed them to create the magic and sense of wonderment unique to this classic story. But a few months ago, the light dawned on me that it might just be the perfect book to read to my two oldest children, that maybe it was the book we ought to be sharing just then. So I pulled out the gorgeous oversize copy my mom had given me for Christmas and opened it up to the first haunting illustration of Misselthwaite Manor. 

Mary Lennox is being sent away. Not a new sensation for her, as she has consistently been sent away from every party, every room, every home she's ever know, this time does change things in that she is being sent away from the only land she's ever known. This time she is an orphan and going to live in a remote part of England with an uncle she did not know existed. Upon arriving at the lonely Misselthwaite Manor, young Mary sees she is to be by and large left alone, as her Uncle Archie rarely visits his home. Rumors of a hunched back and a tragic death haunt Mary's steps as she explores the grounds and gardens of her new home. And at night, she swears she can hear someone crying. Befriended by the young maid Martha, her younger brother Dickon, and a cheeky little robin, Mary grows to love her new home and finds the courage to push past the years of neglect and silence to find the secret behind the cries and the locked door. The reward, if she can hold onto it, promises to be far beyond the depth and breadth of her imagination.

First published in 1911, I was amazed at how well The Secret Garden translated to today's children and their own concerns and experiences of the world around them. That's not to say that I didn't cringe several times at some of the blithely expressed social mores of the time, particularly the attitude toward the Indian "natives" and the color of people's skin. The same thing happened when I read Peter Pan aloud to my son a year or so ago. But you know what, we can discuss these things with our children. We can explain and talk about history and the evolution of gender and civil liberties. We don't need to be afraid of those topics. And such was the case here. But beyond that, this beautiful story fell on us like gently-falling rain upon parched ground. We drank it up. I wasn't sure what my children's reactions would be, but they were immediately enchanted. As was I. Somehow, I forgot with what insight and effortless clarity Ms. Burnett saw children. These poor, fiercely unhappy children. Mary Lennox is the predecessor of so many outwardly disagreeable, inwardly desperate young female characters that came after her. The three of us loved her unreservedly from her first uttered syllables. She's dynamic and active and in control of herself when she has been so long surrounded by incapacitated or uninterested adults who nevertheless formed the rigid borders of her life. And the way that she and the garden saved each other continues to speak something to my soul. The exquisite depiction of the need these three children and the garden had for each other is masterfully done. I'm so happy my children understood it and loved it, too. We three walked around the house singing, "Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary" for weeks afterward. It was heavenly.

Buy: Amazon B&N The Book Depository

Retro Friday Roundup 
Carla @ Makeshift Bookmark reviews The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White

Boston Bibliophile - "She doesn't romanticize the children or childhood but presents the children with respect and realism."
Good Books and Good Wine - "It’s about the quiet sort of magic that happens when you let your barriers down and trust others."
One Librarian's Book Reviews - "I'd forgotten just how magical this book was."
That's What She Read - "It is one of those novels that loses nothing over time."
Things Mean a Lot - "I’ve been daydreaming about having my own garden ever since I finished this book."

October 11, 2012

About a Girl

Today is the very first International Day of the Girl and I have had many things on my mind as a result. Trolling the internets, it was very gratifying to find I'm not the only one. Several other eloquent and smart ladies have things on their minds, too. Many of these are spoiler alert: literary ladies. And I wanted to share just a few of them with you on this day set aside to advocate girls' rights and discuss issues of gender bias.

First, a few prominent women around the world share what they would tell their 15-year-old selves if they had the chance.

Next, the always eloquent lady-advocate Sarah Rees Brennan is over at Tor talking about her experience with the relationship between YA, fantasy, and gender.

Lastly, Feminspire has a lovely Love Letter to "The Song of the Lioness" that you do not want to miss. Is it just me or does it kind of seem like Tamora Pierce saved us all at one point or another?

My question for you: what would you tell your 15-year-old self if you could? And which are your favorite books that deal with gender issues, YA or otherwise?

October 9, 2012

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Okay. So there's a difference between retellings and readalikes, yes? Retellings (which I adore when done well) take the original story and carry it into hitherto unexplored places. Perhaps Mr. Rochester becomes a washed up rock star. Or Beauty becomes a drug dealer's neglected daughter. Robin Hood can actually be a very reluctant, very bad archer indeed. And Captain Wentworth can pilot ships through the sky rather than the sea. Anything is possible. As long as you understand and stay true in some sense to the spirit of the original tale, I am on board. Readalikes (which I avoid like the plague), on the other hand or in my experience or what have you, tend toward the fawning, toward the somewhat less mature forms of imitation. And as readalikes go, the Austen ones seem to be the most prevalent. To be honest, I've never read one. The notion always seemed a bit laughable to me. I've read Austen retellings I've loved, and even a few that rather subtly nod their head in her direction that I have thoroughly enjoyed. But I'd firmly stayed away from pastiches. Then everyone and their dog went and loved Edenbrooke, and when I asked for your best recommendations a little while back, this one popped up a number of times. I decided to put away my preconceived notions and jump right in.

Marianne Daventry is not fond of Bath. She's been relegated there by her father, who fled to the Continent upon the death of her mother and has yet to be seen since. The anniversary of her death and his departure has come and gone and Marianne is beginning to come to grips with the notion that he is not coming back. That she is, in fact, stuck in Bath with an inappropriate maid, an impossible suitor, and a grandmother who despairs of her. Then she receives word from her twin sister Cecily that she is to be invited to Edenbrooke--the estate of the man Cecily intends to marry. Or rather it is his parents' estate. But he is to be there. And therefore Marianne is to meet Cecily there and accompany her on her quest to land a wealthy husband. Cecily's ruthless pursuits aside, Marianne is monumentally relieved to be escaping Bath and returning to the countryside she loves. But calamity overtakes her on the journey to Edenbrooke. And when a mysterious stranger helps her along the way, Marianne has no way of knowing how quickly he will pop up in her life again. And in the most unexpected (and not necessarily welcome) of ways. Torn between wanting her life to return to the way it was and being tempted to explore the new possibilities in her path, Marianne must navigate her new life with care.

Sounds like a fun setup, right? And it is. The problem is that nothing surprising whatsoever happens in this book. No, more than that--no one character stands out, no turn of phrase delights, and no twist or development captured my attention in the slightest. Everything about Edenbrooke is perfectly competent. And everything about Edenbrooke falls desperately short of its inspiration. The dialogue mimics Austen to a fault, though in a decidedly less sophisticated and cheesy manner. I lost count of the number of times I winced at the banality of it all, and found myself silently begging the characters to do something less predictable. That is not to say that the writing is not clean. It is nothing if not smooth and clean and  . . . utterly unremarkable. The entire time I was reading it, I was put in mind of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation--another readalike (of the Scarlet Pimpernel variety) that fell massively short for me due to its terminal silliness and lack of complexity. I wanted to like them both so much. But, in the end, they both required more. More in the way of subtlety, more in the way of character nuance to work for me. This reaction may be a personal quirk when it comes to the classics or possibly some kind of hang up I have related to retellings vs. readalikes. I've certainly been known to enjoy a number of breezy, even silly reads. But when I do, I still have to connect with the writing and with the characters on a visceral level. I have to feel like they themselves are not contemptible or that there is something to figure out or guess at along the way, even if I can see the ending coming. That was not the case here. I'm sorry, guys. I'm afraid, for me at least, Edenbrooke was a case of charming veneers masking very little at all.

Buy: Amazon B&N The Book Depository

The Allure of Books - "Edenbrooke by Julianna Donaldson is totally a keeper, y’all."
Babbling About Books, and More - "Edenbrooke is a book that had me at hello."
The Bluestocking Society - "This is a great romantic book. It has a strong heroine. It has nuanced characters. It will give you the ending you crave."
Book Harbinger - "Edenbrooke is the perfect anytime read."
The Brazen Bookworm - "In true Austen fashion, everything is tied up nicely in the end and everyone gets who or what they deserve."
It's All About Books - "A perfect book for when you are in the mood for light and gentle."
Truth, Beauty, Freedom, & Books - "If I was between ten and twelve years old, I probably would have enjoyed Edenbrooke a lot more."

October 8, 2012

Clockwork Heart: the Trilogy

So I read and fell in love with Dru Pagliassotti's Clockwork Heart back in 2008 when it was first published. I've followed Ms. Pagliassotti's blog ever since, anxious to see what she would write next. I was surprised and delighted to hear she was at work on a sequel. Even though it's perfectly lovely as a standalone, it's also one of those instances where I will always be up for spending more time with these characters. And definitely in this world. From page one, I was enamored of Ondinium, its elaborate social strata, and its gorgeous steampunk trappings. And I just never get tired of the phrase "metal-winged icari." So it was with all kinds of excitement that I saw this ad for the trilogy, to be published by EDGE. They're republishing Clockwork Heart in March of next year. It will be followed by the second book in September and the final book in the trilogy the following March. Word is they're keeping artist Timothy Lantz on to do the covers for both sequels, which thing maketh me exceedingly happy as the original cover has long been one of my favorites.

October 4, 2012

The King's English

Shortly after I moved to Utah, I began hearing about this bookstore called The King's English. I thought it was the most charming name for a bookstore I'd ever heard, and I resolved to make its acquaintance as soon as possible. That opportunity came when I discovered Tamora Pierce would be stopping there on her book tour. The moment I heard that news--I kid you not--everything else in my little world fell away. I could not believe I was going to have the chance to sit in a room and listen to one of my most beloved authors talk about Alanna and Tortall and her writing process. So I drove up to Salt Lake and had one of the most lovely  experiences of my bookish life.

I've returned to this marvelous bookstore several times since for local authors, for national authors on tour, to browse the wonderful children's section with my kids, and, most recently, to celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary. What I'm saying is, The King's English is always a good idea. Next week I get to go back to see Maggie Stiefvater talk about her latest, The Raven Boys, a book I loved (as I always love her books). I'm so excited. And I wanted to share that excitement (both for my local independent bookstore and for Maggie's books) with you guys.
Do you have a favorite local store you couldn't possibly do without? Which authors have you seen there and what keeps you returning for more? Which of Maggie's books is your favorite? (Hint: if you haven't read any, I highly recommend starting with The Scorpio Races and continuing on from there). Oh, and just in case you don't have your own copy yet and are toying with the idea, you can order a signed copy of The Raven Boys from The King's English here. I'll be sure and let you know how it goes later next week.