January 28, 2013

In Which Tamora Pierce Wins the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award . . .

And all is right with the world. 

YALSA specifically cited Pierce's Song of the Lioness and Protector of the Small series. My fingers were crossed she'd win this year, but tears still jumped to my eyes when the news came down the wire today. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. It kind of feels like Tamora Pierce saved us all (directly or indirectly) at one point or another. For me it was direct. And it was Alanna. And it continues to bring meaning and drive to my life years after that first contact. I can't think of a more deserving recipient of this award, and I'm just so very proud to have witnessed it.

January 25, 2013

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

This is both my first Jodi Lynn Anderson book and my first Peter Pan retelling! I know there are quite a few out there, but for whatever reason I just haven't dipped into that pool yet. I've seen and enjoyed multiple screen adaptations, but this was my first outing with a retelling on the page. The thing about Peter Pan is that I read it a couple of years ago with my oldest boy and it was . . . rather devastating, actually. In the very best way, of course. But the emotions were real and they cut deep. So I probably should have expected to be a bit wrung out upon finishing Tiger Lily. Because even though it's all about Tiger Lily (and is told from Tinker Bell's perspective), it's about Peter, too. And Neverland. And the Lost Boys. And Hook. And every other excruciating bit of that original story that so embodies the sense of wonder and loss endemic to childhood and growing up. All of which is to say that beyond this point there be emotions. Proceed with caution.

Tinker Bell remembers the exact day on which she met the girl called Tiger Lily. She remembers it so clearly because she'd never seen anyone that outside, that tenacious, that determined to forge her own path. Ostracized for her differences, Tiger Lily's only friends are her adopted father (the village shaman) and a pair of mismatched outsiders her own age who are inexplicably drawn to the caustic girl. But ever since that fateful day, Tink has stuck by Tiger Lily's side. Entranced with her life and energy and isolation, the tiny faery unexpectedly finds a kindred spirit. Able to listen in to Tiger Lily's thoughts and feelings, Tink knows better than anyone just how hard she works every day just to stay inside her own skin. And then one day, she accompanies Tiger Lily on what seems a normal outing. But in the course of a single afternoon, she watches the determined girl spare a killer's life and take her own life in her hands as she stumbles across the infamous Peter Pan. And thus begins an intense and unlikely bond that will shape the lives of both the human girl, the faery, and the boy who would not grow up.

It starts with a Walt Whitman quote, which is so often guaranteed to garner my attention and admiration. From the opening of the prologue, Anderson's writing shored up any lingering questions I had in my mind about how this book and I would get on. As a matter of fact, this book and I were immediately inseparable. I may be particularly susceptible to this story's charms, but given the level of beauty Ms. Anderson's writing achieves, there was simply no way I was not going to be enthralled by a revisionist version focused on the girl(s) who came before Wendy. It was, of course, genius to have Tinker Bell tell it. And the friendship between the two girls is one of the highlights of the whole dark, exquisite story. At first blush, neither of them are incredibly endearing. Prickly and headstrong and inveterate loners, they resist advances from both their peers and their readers. But it didn't take long for me to appreciate Tiger Lily through Tink's eyes. And no time at all for me to sympathize with her impossible situation and fully support her attempts to escape the bonds restricting her. Peter was such a perfect avenue for that. His feral joy, his hidden vulnerability, his wordless understanding of and refusal to accept his world all worked their magic on the strong women who found their way to his burrow. Peter and Tiger Lily's version of first love mirrors the two of them. It is a wild, joyful, and vulnerable creature, at once wondrous and painful to witness. Tiger Lily is composed of layers upon layers of love stories, each one tiny and perfect and desperately flawed. Here, my favorite passage featuring Tiger Lily and her adopted father Tik Tok as they confront the issue of an unwelcome arranged marriage:
He sighed. "It's not your fault. It was my selfishness. I didn't have the courage to leave you in the woods. But I should have let someone else have you . . . one of the other tribes," he said. He leaned down onto one palm as, with the other, he yanked a root from the ground and brushed it off. "I could have told you. But I didn't want you to live under a shadow. I never held you back from anything."

Tiger Lily was silent for awhile, her long, dark hair falling across her face, obscuring her expression, and Tik Tok stared at the root in his hands. Finally she reached for his fingers. "I'm glad you took me. It's just a husband. Maybe it won't be terrible."

"It was my job to protect you," he said. "And I didn't."

Tiger Lily shook her head. "You have. I'm okay. Really, Tik Tok." Secretly, Tiger Lily knew it was her job to protect him too.

Tik Tok smiled, but his eyes became wet. His shoulders sank, and he steadied himself where he knelt over a patch of bitter gourd.

"I let you down, little one."

She reached for his arm. "I'm not so little. I can take care of myself."

"Yes, I know." He frowned. "But you shouldn't have to. You should have someone to love and take care of you. Not like him."

Tiger Lily didn't want someone to take care of her. But I heard the longing in Tik Tok's heart too, and the loneliness of being such a singular type of person, without another like himself to hold at night. He didn't want the same for his daughter.

"You love me," she said. "That's enough. We love each other."

"Yes. Yes, that's true." He smiled. "We are a love story."
You see? In fact, each love story in this book is so sensitively handled that I couldn't choose my favorite. I like their unexpectedness and how they wind up in places you didn't see. And they are each highlighted by the quiet ways in which they echo and play with their original counterparts. But as far as friendships go, my favorite is Tiger Lily and Tink's. Subtle as it is, what distinguishes it is how consistently they (individually and collectively) buck being tied down. To family, to life, to their own fears, even to Peter. Infatuation, passion, true love aside, their integrity doesn't waver. Even in the face of despair and all the years ahead. And if this Tinker Bell was a little more serious than I expected and this Tiger Lily a little more unbridled and fierce, well, that only made me love them more. I choked back tears more than once and, as in the original, the ending is fragile and aching and right.

Buy: Amazon B&N The Book Depository

Books Take You Places - "I found the book to be so brilliant."
Early Nerd Special - "Anderson is at her best with this most recent offering."
Emily's Reading Room - " . . . each word was so very carefully placed."
Good Books and Good Wine - "Tiger Lily is a book permeated by a melancholy mood."
Ivy Book Bindings - "I've fallen in love with this story."
Jess Hearts Books - "This book has a strong and imperfect heroine, a beautiful love story, and a dash of magic."
Makeshift Bookmark - "It made me feel feelings I had forgotten."

January 18, 2013

Retro Friday Review: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

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!
Honestly, it's like trying to articulate why you love your child reviewing some of these books. I don't know how anyone can be expected to do them justice. But I am going to press on foolhardily, if only because this is one of the ones I never stop talking about, never stop thinking about. Originally published in 2004, How I Live Now is Meg Rosoff's debut novel and winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. I've loved many a Printz Award winner, but this one is truly the best of the best. I remember it came in the mail, on loan from a friend who somehow knew how much it would mean to me. I slid it out of the envelope and wondered at how slim it was and at the dark cover and the quiet English village. I started it that night and my eyes did not leave the page until it was finished. I'm pretty sure I slept with it clasped to my chest. Then I woke up and read it again in one long swallow, knowing I would have to send it back and afraid to let it out of my grasp for fear it would all turn out to be just a beautiful dream. I remember pressing it into my sister's hands, incoherent in my need to share it with someone else. And I remember deciding that very morning that if I ever had a daughter her name would be Piper. Piper, after a little girl with blond hair and a gift for happiness, shining like a light in so much darkness. It's been almost a decade, and yet those visceral emotions are as close to the surface now as they were then. And, of course, now I have a little girl named Piper, with blond hair and a gift for happiness, and . . . well, I did say it was like trying to articulate why you love your child, didn't I?

Daisy has been packed off to England. At the insistence of her evil stepmother Davina, her distant-at-best father has agreed to send her to live with her cousins in the BACK OF BEYOND somewhere deep in the English countryside. And so against her express wishes, she finds herself stepping off the plane and into another world. It turns out that her cousins don't so much exist under anything so prosaic as adult supervision. Their mother, her Aunt Penn, is frequently off protesting The War, and so her four offspring (Osbert, Isaac, Edmond, and Piper) are pretty much left to their own odd devices. Odd being the key word as far as Daisy is concerned. Osbert is nominally in charge, but rarely can be bothered to take notice of his younger siblings. Isaac doesn't speak at all, except perhaps to the goats and dogs he tends, and even then they're not telling. Edmond (Isaac's twin) constantly puts Daisy on the wrong foot with his cigarette smoking and underage driving and ability to respond to things she's thought but not spoken. And Piper . . . well, Piper is lovely in every way and, as such, cannot possibly be real. But she is real. They all are. And before she realizes it, Daisy has become one of them. Somehow, with a war raging, and everything she's ever known thousands of miles away, Daisy finds a place to belong. It's not as though she really thought it might last. It's just that she never understood just how hard it would be to let go when the world creeps inside their Eden and rips it all to shreds. 

There's no use trying to sugarcoat this one. It is absolutely brutal. From the stark lack of punctuation and intermittent use of capitals to the way Daisy embraces her eating disorder to the questionable shenanigans the five of them get up to with their utter lack of supervision. To say nothing of the war itself which hangs over the whole gorgeous thing just waiting for its moment to strike. And strike it does. 
I was pretty far gone, but not so far gone that I thought anyone with half a toehold in reality would think what we were doing was a good idea.
Daisy's unflagging humor is what reeled me in on the very first page. Her humor saves her--it saves us--when things become unbearable. And that humor translates into barest survival when she comes to the end of her rope. I so admired Daisy. I adored Piper, loved Edmond and Isaac unreservedly, and was casually indifferent to Osbert. But my hat was off to Daisy for scraping together every bit of defiance she could in the face of certain annihilation. Her voice matures as her experience grows and Rosoff insinuates it so naturally that this evolution creates not even a ripple across the surface of the narrative. 
I was dying, of course, but then we all are. Every day, in perfect increments, I was dying of loss. The only help for my condition, then as now, is that I refused to let go of what I loved. I wrote everything down, at first in choppy fragments; a sentence here, a few words there, it was the most I could handle at the time. Later I wrote more, my grief muffled but not eased by the passage of time.

When I go back over my writing now I can barely read it. The happiness is the worst. Some days I can't bring myself to remember. But I will not relinquish a single detail of the past. What remains of my life depends on what happened six years ago.

In my brain, in my limbs, in my dreams, it is still happening.
My word, how she grows. Her dogged persistence in the face of horrific obstacles left me a huddled mess of emotions, the chiefest of these being a fierce loyalty and determination to see her claim what was hers--what was left of it (or them). And to know that it would be enough, that she would hold all the jagged pieces together until they felt (or she made them) whole. Rosoff's writing matches the brutality of her story step for step, but it also manages to counter it with interludes of breathtaking beauty. These handful of scenes remain among the choicest of my reading life, and I pull them out whenever I need them, much as I imagine Daisy does. Still. And always.

Retro Friday Roundup

The Book Smugglers - "How I Live Now is not flawless but it is SO beautiful it hurts."
The Broke and the Bookish - "This book is one of the most memorable, original books I've ever read with a poignant and unusual love story."
The Crooked Shelf - "My brain can't quite process how a book can be so devastating and yet so beautiful all at once that the lines blur between them and it just is."
Dear Author - "
Although the book gets quite dark, Daisy’s wry commentary got me laughing out loud in the midst of moments that might otherwise have been grim."
Good Books and Good Wine - " I found How I Live Now to be compelling and impossible to put down until the very end."
Medieval Bookworm - " . . . the whole book was a stunning look at the effect a real-life war would have on a first world country at this point in time."
One Librarian's Book Reviews - "A unique and realistic book about teenagers in the middle of a war."
Persnickety Snark - "Rosoff is gifted. Immensely so."

January 17, 2013

Retell Me a Story

Because I never run out of things to say when it comes to retellings, I accepted Melissa's gracious offer to contribute a guest post for her wonderful Retell Me a Story Week over @ One Librarian's Book Reviews. This time I'm talking purely classics. So if you're looking for a good retelling of anything from Hamlet to Holmes, take a minute to stop by and check it out. I'll be there!

January 10, 2013

Thursday Giggles: Thorin Dreamboatshield Version

We are on a Richard Armitage run over here. I make no apologies. But I would not be a true fan (of the Armitage or of Sarah Rees Brennan) if I didn't direct you to her brilliantly nerdy parody of the film version of The Hobbit entitled Thorin Dreamboatshield: an Unexpected Hotness of Dwarves. It's good to be the dwarf king . . .

January 8, 2013

Retold Pretties

It's time to look ahead to the pretties coming out this year. You all know my penchant for fairy tales retold. Having recently come off the high of Marissa Meyer's Scarlet, I find myself eager to dive into a few more upcoming retellings. As luck would have it, there are several on the horizon. Here are three that look especially nice. Which one catches your fancy?

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
I have been waiting for a solid Bluebeard retelling for some time now. In fact, if you've read a good one, do let me know. This one has the look of one I'm gonna enjoy. Girl moves to a manor house in the deep south to live with her mysterious guardian. The usual terror ensues. My fingers are crossed.
Due out March 12th

Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay
I enjoyed the liberties Ms. Jay took with the well-worn Romeo & Juliet tale. So I am perfectly willing to give her a chance with my beloved Beauty & the Beast. This one involves a blind princess, a desert monster, and a prisoner who steals a rose. Let's do this thing.
Due out July 23rd

Towering by Alex Flinn
The latest from a fairy tale afficionado. I enjoyed Ms. Flinn's Beastly very much, though I haven't read the rest of her retellings. This one, as far as I can tell, is a modern Rapunzel. I have yet to read that particular combo (though I am certainly looking forward to Meyer's take in Cress). But since that one is so far away, I think I'll start here.
Due out May 14th

January 7, 2013

Bibliocrack Review: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

I say the first review of the year should be a fun one. So here you have it! I wasn't sold on Sarah MacLean's young adult novel The Season. I may have encountered it at the wrong time amid a slew of Cybils titles or some such, but it wasn't a standout for me. I think I wrote her off at that point, a fact of which I am not proud. But so many books, so little time and whatnot. The thing is, I just kept watching readers I know and love swoon their ever-loving minds out over her adult historicals (see reviews below). Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I took note. I didn't act, but I did take note of all these promising reviews and raves. Then I went and became a fan of all things Courtney Milan, and suddenly I was in the market for some really well done Regency stuff while awaiting the next in Milan's Brothers Sinister series. And so Ms. MacLean came to my attention once more. I sifted through ecstatic Goodreads reviews, and finally decided to go ahead and ignore the silly title and somewhat imperious bosom on the cover and give Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake a fair shake.

Callie is finished. Officially relegated to the shelf at the ripe old age of 28, she has put in her time. And she has had enough. Enough of being the sensible older presumptive spinster. Enough of never indulging in a single thing. Her younger sister Mariana is fresh off her triumph of landing both a duke and a man she loves in one fell swoop. And Callie is happy for her. She really is. It's just that before she's packed off to the country and handed a pair of knitting needles, she'd really like to have experienced . . . something. A number of somethings, come to think of it. And so she makes a list. A list of just a few choice accomplishments she can tuck under her belt and take out and admire when the boredom of spinsterhood becomes too onerous. Then she'll retire gladly to the shelf. She really will. Of course, actually checking a few of these items off her list is going to require some fancy footwork, to say nothing of a little help. From a person of the male persuasion to begin with. Which is how Callie finds herself, one dark and stormy night, at the home of the notorious Marquess of Ralston. She knows very well how much she risks merely being in the same room as Ralston, let alone importuning him for a kiss (her first). But the thing is, if she doesn't try to take this one small thing now, she may never have the chance again. Then again, if she does, who knows where it might lead?

I fell hook, line, and sinker. This is one of those bright books that gives you something to look forward to all day long. While you're going about your daily tasks, from one ordinary chore to the next, it hovers there in the back of your mind and in the pit of your stomach, just waiting for you to return and slip back into the delightful swing of things. I couldn't stop a silly grin from creeping over my face whenever I thought of it, of Callie and Ralston and their lovely dance. Sarah MacLean has clearly found her true calling writing ridiculously charming historical romances. Not only am I just incredibly glad I found my way to them, but I'm signed up to read whatever she writes. Her characters and her writing are smart, light, and the opposite of self-indulgent. There's so much affection in this novel, it fairly leaps off the pages--affection for the time period, for the genre, for the two characters so unexpectedly caught in each other's wake, and for the readers themselves. Reading it is like participating in one giant romp through all that is good and amiable in Regency England and in the historical romance genre itself. I love so many things about it, but the main reason I love it is Callie.
"Oh, Callie-mine," Anne said, her voice taking on a tone she'd used when Callie was a little girl and crying over some injustice, "your white knight, he will come."

One side of Callie's mouth kicked up in a wry smile. Anne had said those words countless times over the last two decades.

"Forgive me, Anne, but I'm not so certain that he will."

"Oh, he will," Anne said firmly. "And when you least expect it."

"I find I'm rather tired of waiting," Callie laughed half-heartedly. 
She's beset on all sides, Callie is. From her society and her rank to her unsuitable suitors and her purported lack of desirable qualities. It's hard not to admire her resolve and impossible not to applaud her attempts at embarking on a life of adventure before it eludes her grasp for good. Ralston, too, secured my loyalty, not only by recognizing gold in Callie, but by pressing to get to know her better, to be someone who did not disappoint her. The two of them made each other laugh (they also enraged each other at times). But they laughed together. Best of all, they engendered honesty rather than deceit in one another. And they had so much fun doing it. It was quite beyond me to resist their wholly genuine charms.

Buy: Amazon B&N The Book Depository

The Crooked Shelf - "I suggest only reading this book when you have hours and hours to read, because I am telling you, real life just kind of fades into the background where this book is concerned."
Good Books and Good Wine - " . . . my cheeks hurt from smiling so hard."
Life After Jane - "There’s nothing silly about her characters, they are well defined and immediately lovable."
Medieval Bookworm - "It’s fun, it’s witty, and it’s absolutely, indescribably romantic."
Paperback Dolls - "I was beyond pleasantly surprised."
Rakehell - "Ralston and Callie have a lot of hidden depth for a book as fun as this one."
Romance Around the Corner - "This is a case of well-deserved reputation."
Smart Bitches Trashy Books - "This is one of those unputdownable books for me."
Ticket to Anywhere - "Nine Rules to Break is more than just your typical romance novel though its a journey of self discovery and about accepting one's self for who they are."

January 3, 2013

"I'll always long for your asking me."

It's a new year, a clean slate. And I like to think of it as such, quietly absorbing the possibilities as I quietly restrain myself from attempting to make overly ambitious resolutions that I will only renege on or fail at miserably within a month's time. As I cast about for some possibility, some inspiration, I came across an unlikely source: literary break-up letters. This fascinating article in The Atlantic features excerpts and background information from eight different writers penning their parting words to lovers, spouses, more-than-friends. Luminaries include Simone de Beauvoir (whose line I used in my post title), Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Oscar Wilde, Mary Wollstonecraft, and more. They are wistful and so very real. Just the kind of real I needed at this time of cold, quiet beginnings. I hope your year is full of possibilities. And if there must be partings, let them be well-written.