September 30, 2010

The Library, Revisted

At the beginning of this month, I wrote a rather silly piece about the library.  It began "[t]he library is a dangerous place."  I did not mean the library was physically dangerous.

Tuesday morning I was getting ready to go to class. I kept being interrupted by my phone.  I am volunteering as a guide to an actor from England who is performing and teaching on campus this week.  We were working out where we were going to meet later that afternoon.  The next time my phone rang it was a safety alert.  There was an armed suspect in the main library.

I thought little of it, since the police had him pinned in a building.  Then my half-awake brain kicked in.  The library is full of people.  Six floors busy from open to close.

I'd certainly spent my time there.  The fifth floor is where I wrote a good third of my thesis.  Sometimes I just grab a book from the stacks and chose a nook (there are many) to read it in.  I've always found libraries relaxing, so it was a good place to chill for a bit.  I'd been there a couple of weeks before with two friends, just hanging out in the second floor cafe.  I'd been there less than a week before, just to run in and grab a different edition of a class text in order to read the introduction.  And I knew people who spent far more time in there than I.

My phone received much use that morning.  Calling friends to check that they were safe, holed up in a classroom, or a gym, their dorm room, or an apartment.  Calling my family to assure them that I wasn't on campus. 

Luckily, it wasn't a school shooting.  Colton Tooley committed suicide on September 28, 2010, on the sixth floor of the Perry-Castañeda Library.

It's still a tragedy.  But I'm thankful that only the gunman is dead.  I can't articulate much of what I feel.  Confused and unhappy and relieved that it wasn't a big tragedy.

The PCL is a wonderful place.  Unfortunately, as I once said casually, the library is a dangerous place.

September 21, 2010

Review: I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

By Erin McCahan
Available now from Scholastic
Review copy
This review is part of a book tour.  Be sure to visit the previous stop at Novel Novice and the next stop at The Heart of Dreams.

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

While I enjoyed I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU SOMEONE ELSE, Erin McCahan made two stylistic choices that sometimes hindered my experience.  It is a framed story, beginning and ending two years in the future.  It's a bit difficult at first since Bronwen Oliver immediately launches into part of her backstory.  I had trouble separating future from present from past.  The book quickly settles into the main action, which resolves that problem.  Second, characters talk over each other for a realistic feel.  Realism in dialogue is a bad idea.  The juxtaposition of phrases wasn't particularly funny, so I found myself skimming the passages employing this technique.

I immediately connected with Bronwen, however, because she hates ketchup.  (C'mon, I hate tomatoes so much that it's in the header of my book blog.  I don't like ketchup either.  Really, I'm just not a condiment person.)  Bronwen's character flaw is obvious: in order to be polite, she won't speak up when she doesn't like something.  I've done this myself, but it's still frustrating.  I did take heart that she would learn to assert herself when she began the novel by kicking her old boyfriend to the curb by refusing to have sex with him. 

Jared Sondervan, the Someone Else, enters the scene fairly quickly.  It is a bit longer before he proposes than the title and blurb would have you believe.  The theme of the novel is less readiness for marriage than it is created families.  Who do we choose to consider family and why?  How do you make it work?  Jared and Bronwen's relationship often feels like the secondary one, merely there to comment on Bronwen's relationship with her stepfather.

Bronwen likes her stepfather.  This isn't a fairytale.  But she's well aware of the fact that he isn't her actual father and that they have different last names.  It doesn't help that she connects with Whitt but not her mother.  She doesn't have much of a connection with her older brother either.   Combined with past events, Bronwen suspects Whitt doesn't see her as his daughter the way she sees him as her father.

I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU SOMEONE ELSE was less funny than I expected, but still light-hearted.  Bronwen had a good voice, especially when she chose to use it.  If you enjoy family stories, you'll probably like this novel.

September 20, 2010

Review: The House of Dead Maids

By Clare B. Dunkle
Available now from Henry Holt
Review copy
Read Clare's guest post and enter to win a prize pack

The House of Dead Maids

THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS acts as a prelude to WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Though THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS may draw new readers to WUTHERING HEIGHTS, the audiences are somewhat different. The storyline is less complex and the language simpler. (I am truly thankful that Clare B. Dunkle used no dialect, even though the book is set in Yorkshire.)

Tabby Aykroyd has been brought to Seldom House as a maid and a young boy she calls Himself has been brought as the new master. They live there with the old maid, Mrs. Winter, and old master, Jack Ketch. Tabby is haunted by the former maid, a girl she new, and Himself is haunted by a former master, an old man with eyes like windows. As the ghosts close in, the devout Tabby knows that she must save herself and the boy.

Emily Brontë employed a clever framing device to tell the stories of WUTHERING HEIGHTS.  While Dunkle does not imitate that feat, she does tie fantasy and reality together.  Tabby Aykroyd was, after all, the maid who told the Brontë siblings stories.  Though the reportage is mostly implied, it's still fun.  (By the way, please read about the Brontës.  They're terribly odd and fascinating.  If you've ever seen the little books they wrote stories in . . . some are archived at the Harry Ransom Center.)

There are other connections in THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS that will excite fans of WUTHERING HEIGHTS.  I loved the scene wherein Himself destroys a book, since my high school project on WUTHERING HEIGHTS was all about the importance of literacy in the novel.  But considering the book also draws from renewal myths and such, readers unfamiliar with the classic novel will still enjoy the ghost story.

Of course, the ghosts aren't the creepiest thing in the novel.  Heathcliff, as Himself, is still utterly insane and not healthy to be around.  Dunkle encompasses his character quite well in this line: "There was a savage innocence in his gaze, an indifference to the vey notion of suffering."

I enjoyed THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS, although I feel like I was a little too old for the story.  (Although I think young children who aren't given to nightmares will enjoy the novel, 'slut' and other sexually charged terms are, briefly, used as perjoratives spoken by one child to another.)  I must give kudos to Henry Holt's design team.  The cover and interior illustrations will haunt me as surely as the images Dunkle conjures with her prose.

Clare B. Dunkle: Prelude to a Haunting

Welcome to the first day of Clare B. Dunkle's tour for THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS.  Her next stop is The Compulsive Reader.

THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS was pitched to me thusly:

THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS by Clare Dunkle (Holt/Sept) is a scary blending of Yorkshire lore and Bronte family history. A child, who will later come to be known as Heathcliff, is already a savage little creature when Tabby Aykroyd arrives at Seldom House as his nursemaid. The ghost of the last maid will not leave Tabby in peace, and her spirit is only one of many. As she struggles against the evil forces that surround the house, Tabby tries to befriend her uncouth young charge, but her kindness can't alter his fate.

It's a quick, chilling read and makes for a perfect companion to Wuthering Heights. It really whets the appetite for the classic novel.

Considering I am an English major and I've done quite a bit of work with British literature, I was intrigued. Plus, while Clare clearly loves WUTHERING HEIGHTS, it appeared that she wasn't going to fall into the trap of over-romanticizing Heathcliff. (Read my review, posted later today, to see whether she suceeds.) Because Heathcliff is one of the creepiest men in literature, whether he's part of a love story or not.


Heathcliff, the hero of Emily Brontë’s novel, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, has a complicated relationship with his sweetheart, Cathy. It’s so complicated that readers are still arguing over whether or not that book is a love story. Cathy herself can’t manage to put into words what Heathcliff means to her—especially since she wants to marry someone else.

But each time Cathy tries to talk about Heathcliff, she ends up talking about death. And more than just death—ghosts... graves... never parting.

This sounds like the manifesto of any passionate young woman, claiming that she and her lover will remain together even in death. But the crazy thing is that Cathy and Heathcliff aren’t together. Cathy has already agreed to marry Edgar Linton, who (in her words) is handsome, rich, and pleasant to be with. Even after she becomes Mrs. Linton, she isn’t sorry. She can talk happily about Edgar and her having half a dozen sons together—even when she’s talking to Heathcliff!

So why does she talk about not resting in her grave until Heathcliff is with her?

Heathcliff talks about it too. He begs Cathy to haunt him after death. He dreams about “sleeping the last sleep by that sleeper, with my heart stopped and my cheek frozen against hers.”

I first read this fascinating classic when I was in elementary school, and I’ve read it at least a dozen times since. I thought about it for decades, and I started to wonder:

Did Heathcliff and Cathy make a pact when they were children to remain together at Wuthering Heights after they die?

I think they did. Cathy mentions the two of them visiting the Gimmerton graveyard as children and daring one another to stand among its graves and call its ghosts. She talks about dreaming that the angels threw her out of heaven onto the hilltop of Wuthering Heights, “where I woke sobbing for joy.”

Heathcliff goes even further. When she dies, he tries to dig her up! He is determined that if he can just climb down into her grave and hold her icy form in his arms again, then “they may shovel in the earth over us both.” He has Cathy’s coffin modified, and his, too, so that they will join at the sides to make one coffin, “and by the time Linton gets to us, he’ll not know which is which!”

But Heathcliff takes too long to die. Cathy’s ghost comes looking for him.

The House of Dead Maids

Inspired by this strange story of undying love, I’ve written a prequel to WUTHERING HEIGHTS—Volume One to Emily Brontë’s Volume Two. In my book are plenty of ghosts, and a grave, and something that might have been undying love once, but now it’s closer to undying hatred.

Into my grim story comes Heathcliff as a little boy, and he just loves the place.

My book doesn’t explore what happens when Heathcliff and Cathy make their deathless pact. It ends before they meet. But it does explore what might lead Heathcliff to make such a pact—and why he knows it will work.


Special Brontë-themed giveaway!
One Grand Prize winner will receive THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS, a gorgeous Brontë sisters pocket mirror, and the HarperTeen edition of WUTHERING HEIGHTS! Two lucky runners-up will receive the two books. To enter, send an email to with your name, email address, and shipping address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and email address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on October 31. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on November 1 and notified via email.

September 13, 2010

Review: Losing Faith

Losing Faith By Denise Jaden
Available now from Simon Pulse
Review copy
Watch the book trailer at The Contemps


Many shades of intense, in fact.

The beginning is intense due to death. Sudden, violent death. How do you deal when your sister dies? You don't, not really. And the only person reaching out to Brie is her locker neighbor, gothy Tessa Lockbaum. Not her idea of a good friend.

Then the book becomes intense due to the mystery - who is Reena M. Black? (Not to mention, who was the cute boy at Faith's grave?) Brie's sister Faith clearly spent a lot of time with her before her death, which doesn't necessarily mean anything bad. Reena just seems kind of cracked.

The plot of LOSING FAITH isn't new. Someone dies, partially revealing their secrets. Those left behind try to uncover the truth. Denise Jaden pulls it off well. Part of that is Brie's voice, which is confident and self-aware - she knows where her weaknesses lie - but she still has her uncertainties, like any teenager under stress.

Plus, the plot is common for a reason. Those who love us are easy to lie to because they don't expect the lies. You just assume you know a lot about someone you live with. It was a nice change of pace to discover that while Faith had secrets, they weren't bad secrets. Brie thought her sister was a good person and she was.

Tessa is also a treat. I was friends with a lot of the 'scary Goth' kids and high school and thus know that most of them are perfectly nice people. Tessa has her edges, but she's smart, strong, and compassionate (aka the kind of friend everybody could use, going through a crisis or not).

I expected to cry during LOSING FAITH, what with the whole dead sister thing, but I didn't. Jaden didn't go after my heartstrings. Brie's relationship with her sister was difficult, and she's really stuck on trying to figure out what she should feel. She's also trying to figure out how to pull her life back together, especially with her parents mourning in their own ways. While they should be allowed their grief, Brie needs her parents and doesn't know how to tell them so without sounding like an evil brat.

Therefore, intense. LOSING FAITH is emotional, but the emotions aren't simple. There's also a lot of plot going around. The cast is fairly large, to the point that a core character doesn't show up in the first hundred pages. But the story never lags. At the same time, LOSING FAITH isn't fast paced. It's smooth and flowing, though there are bursts of excitement.

It's not a navel-gazing novel, but Brie is the focus, not her actions. And despite my frequent assertions of intense, I found LOSING FAITH to be soothing.

September 8, 2010

The Library

The library is a dangerous place.  I'm sure all of you know this, but I thought I'd warn you anyway.  Still, it's worth it when you pass a book to a friend who came along (because you had a car) and he or she says, "This is perfect.  Time travel and highlanders!"  (Though your friend may not say that second part.)

I'm also glad I've overcome some of my natural timidness and thus request all sorts of things from my library.   Requesting is not one of the dangerous parts of the library.  (The most dangerous?  The shelves full of books saying, "I know you have a 1000-1200 word paper due tomorrow and you still need to edit it, but you've been wanting to read me, haven't you?")

September 5, 2010

Review: Rise of the Fire Tamer

By Kailin Gow
Available now from Sparklesoup
Review copy
Read my review of BITTER FROST and Kailin's guest blog

Rise of the Fire Tamer: Wordwick Games Book 1

This review is part of a Traveling to Teens tour. Kailin Gow's previous stop was Yan's Books By Their Cover and her next stop is Wdebo's Electrical Book Cafe on Tuesday.

I liked RISE OF THE FIRE TAMER more than BITTER FROST, though they shared similar weaknesses.  Again, there are some editing issues.  Gemma "Gem" James is an intelligent and clever heroine, which is admirable, but she's shallowly drawn.  While most of the book follows her exploits, I know the least about her bad qualities.  She's just beautiful and a good prospective ruler.

As a contrast, the secondary girl, Kat has far more elaboration to her character.  She's the definition of trying too hard at the beginning of RISE OF THE FIRE TAMER.  She wants attention on her own terms, which is almost impossible to demand.  This quickly gets her in trouble and she decides to work on her character flaws.  Jack is too nervous, which works as a flaw, though he doesn't really get any development.  Sparks and Rio mostly just snap at each other or flirt with Gem unless it is a battle scene. 

None of the romances really worked for me.  The end of each chapter gives a snippet of each character's thoughts, which tended to feature Sparks and Rio thinking incredibly jerky things.  The easily forgiven Goolrick should not have been let off so easily for what he did to Gem, even if there was no permanent damage.

As for the adventure plot itself, it works better than BITTER FROST because the speed is slightly slower.  Anachronia, the tenth level of the Wordwick Games, works based on words.  This is good for younger readers, though the vocabularly lessons might slow down older readers who are done with their SAT vocabulary.  Also, the warring tribes of Anachronia are Spurious and Perfidous, and the five gamers choose to side with a tribe.  Personally, I wouldn't side with either if those are the words they choose to represent themselves.

Fantasy readers will probably enjoy RISE OF THE FIRE TAMER, which is reminiscent of Vivian Vande Velde's USER UNFRIENDLY.  Those who like character driven novels probably won't find it satisfying, however.

September 4, 2010

Going Offline

My phone is off. My internet is soon to be disconnected. My roommate has done the same. We have food. Cookies and muffins for snacks. Water, cranberry juice, and tea. A falafel wrap for her, a manchego and gouda sandwich for me. We've used the restroom. We're in it for the long haul.

We're marathoning Samurai Champloo.

Samurai Champloo: The Complete Collection

This is a reminder to those of you who have a three-day weekend. Enjoy your extra day. Do something silly that makes you happy. Recharge. For those who don't have an extra day, do something fun anyway. A little relaxation makes you more productive when you get down to the nitty-gritty.

Happy Labor Day Weekend ya'll.

I'm taking the day off.

September 1, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday + Contest

This meme was started by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

I have been eagerly awaiting PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, by A. S. King, who wrote the little-indie-that-could, DUST OF 100 DOGS.  DUST OF 100 DOGS was one of my top books of summer last year, and A. S. King was kind enough to guest blog during my first blogiversary.  So I was sad to learn that certain chains won't be carrying her debut.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Here's the flap copy and details:

"PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZis a 'please go away and don't bother me, I have to finish this book before I do anything else' kind of book. Brilliant. Funny. Really special." --Ellen Hopkins, author of NYT bestselling Crank, Glass and Tricks

PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ Coming from Knopf --October 12, 2010--ages 14+

  • Is it okay to hate a dead kid?

  • Even if I loved him once?

  • Even if he was my best friend?

  • Is it okay to hate him for being dead?

  • Vera's spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she's kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

    So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, or even the police. But will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

    An edgy, gripping story, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising. Find more info and an excerpt here:

    Then, I found out from Cecelia Bedelia that also isn't carrying SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY, Mary Robinette Kowal's debut novel, in its stores. Ya'll may remember Kowal as one of the first authors I reviewed. I first posted about SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY in a "Waiting On" Wednesday February 25, 2009. And now I can't go out and buy it at my favorite bookstore.

    Shades of Milk and Honey


    E-mail proof of a preorder of PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ or a purchase of SHADES AND MILK HONEY to inbedwithbooks AT yahoo DOT com to be entered. In two weeks, I will select a winner to receive a $10 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble.

    Here are some links to help you out:
    PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ on Amazon and IndieBound
    SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY on Amazon and IndieBound


    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...