February 29, 2012

Review: Bloodrose

Book CoverNightshade trilogy (Book 3)
By Andrea Cremer
Available now from Penguin Philomel
Review copy
Read my reviews of NIGHTSHADE and WOLFSBANE

Part of the Breathless Reads tour

BLOODROSE is a polarizing novel. I've encountered many people who disliked the way Calla's story came to an end. I've met others who found it predictable but enjoyable. I've also encountered those who loved it as much as they loved NIGHTSHADE.

I can't help but think Andrea Cremer wrote herself into a corner with Renier Larouche. Ren was not your typical doesn't-have-a-chance leg of the love triangle. He might not have had a narrative chance of being with Calla, but he was a vibrant, charismatic character. I cared as much about him getting a happy ending as I did about Calla. But it's hard to end a love triangle without leaving the loser out in the cold. And Ren's ending was freezing cold.

The plot took until the final battle to really get going. There's plenty of action throughout BLOODROSE, but most of it is centered on retrieving pieces of the Elemental Cross, an artifact imbued with the soul of an ancient warrior. While the Nightshade series bears little resemblance to Harry Potter, it was difficult not to think of the Deathly Hallows.

I think I fall into the category of people who found BLOODROSE predictable but enjoyable. Most of my disappointment stems from feeling that Cremer possesses the talent to push beyond predictable. I absolutely love her characters, but couldn't help but feel they deserved better.

I found Calla's wavering between Shay and Ren to be somewhat annoying. She's excellent at asserting her authority and not allowing the boys to make choices for her. But it takes her a long time to accurately assess the difference in her response to Shay and Ren. As much as she cares for Ren and is attracted to him, she never allows him a chance to develop an emotional connection with her.

The side characters continue to be scene stealers in BLOODROSE. I am incredibly happy that Mason and Nev were back in full force. Sabine's maturity, confidence, and determination are awesome to behold. Adne continues to be clever and willing to take risks to do what is right.

BLOODROSE was not a bad novel. Anyone who has been reading the Nightshade series shouldn't be afraid to finish the story. (Unless you really, really, really liked Ren.)

February 28, 2012

Movie Monday: No Strings Attached vs. Friends with Benefits

Book CoverBook Cover The friend I was staying with this weekend, who I shall call R, encourages my worst pop culture impulses. Or perhaps I encourage hers. Either way, we decided we needed to view a double billing of No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits.

All four lead actors (Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake) were charming. Portman's Emma was my favorite character. She's brilliant, driven, and the movie doesn't make her sacrifice her career for true love. Justin Timberlake's Dylan was probably my least favorite, for reasons explained later. Therefore, No Strings Attached wins the leads.

Both films have terrific supporting casts. I loved the side characters in No Strings Attached - Emma's neurotic med student roommates, Adam's friends with bad advice, coworker Lucy, and Kevin Kline as one of the worst parents ever. Then Friends with Benefits's came along with Woody Harrelson as a manly, openly gay coworker and Richard Jenkins as Dylan's father with Alzheimer's. Plus, there's tons of brilliant cameos. Friends with Benefits wins secondary characters.

Final category: story. In No Strings Attached, Emma and Adam have been casual acquaintances for years. After beginning a casual sex relationship, Adam clearly wants something more while Emma isn't ready to make an emotional commitment. While both of them come close to screwing things up, neither makes a truly awful mistake. Friends with Benefits's Dylan and Jaime become friends first, then decide to sleep together. They obviously become something more, but Dylan isn't ready to admit it - which causes him to say some very hurtful things about Jaime. She, of course, overhears them. That scene felt cliche and made me dislike Dylan, but overall Friends with Benefits was funnier, more realistic, and had a truer emotional core. Thus, Friends with Benefits wins, by a hair, the better storyline.

Book Cover I slightly preferred No Strings Attached and R felt the same about Friends with Benefits. But both of us agree that if you're going to watch a 2011 romantic comedy, it should be Crazy Stupid Love. Also, Thor had a terrific trailer. (It played before No Strings Attached.)

February 27, 2012

Livin' In the 21st Century, Doin' Something Mean to It

Sorry for the sudden radio silence! I forgot the friend I was staying with this weekend doesn't have internet.

February 24, 2012

New J. K. Rowling Novel Announced

J. K. Rowling's first adult novel will be published by Little, Brown. All that's known so far is that it will be "very different" from the Harry Potter series that made her famous.

Let's not even pretend we aren't super excited.

(via AV Club)

February 23, 2012

Review: Wolfsbane

Book Cover Nightshade trilogy (Book 2)
By Andrea Cremer
Available now from Penguin Philomel (HC) and Speak (PB)
Read my review of NIGHTSHADE

Part of the Breathless Reads tour

NIGHTSHADE is full of questions, but WOLFSBANE begins with an avalanche of answers. There are a few bursts of action in the first half of WOLFSBANE, but for the most part it is exposition heavy. Calla and Shay are now in the custody of the Haldis group of Searchers. They include the leader Monroe, angry Ethan, sleazy Connor, newbie Ariadne, and a few others. (Connor, I think, isn't supposed to be sleazy per se, but I interpret him that way because he takes his flirting too far. This is mostly redeemed by Calla refusing to put up with his advances.)

But once the action gets going, WOLFSBANE moves quickly. Almost all of the characters that I learned to love in NIGHTSHADE were put in danger by the events of the climax. Calla must mount a rescue. Which is where Shay becomes annoying.

As Calla and the Searchers plan, Shay constantly tries to undermine her. Now, he could just help them devise a safer plan. But he tries to insist Calla shouldn't go at all since it's dangerous. But as Shay himself points out, she's not a child and can make her own decisions. And the Nightshade wolves truly need help. If Shay stays with Calla he'll be their alpha, so it would be nice if he cared more for their safety.

I thought WOLFSBANE was an excellent sequel to NIGHTSHADE.  The first half of the book might be talky, but I loved knowing more about the world too much to mind.  I thought most of the new characters were fun additions and rejoiced when familiar faces came back into play.  I thought the love triangle was well-played too.  Ren might not be onscreen for most of WOLFSBANE, but Andrea Cremer made him feel like a legitimate threat to Shay and Calla getting together.  (Even if only because Calla wants to fully break things off with her former fiance before sleeping with Shay.)

Once more, things end in a precarious position, ready for BLOODROSE to pick up the action right where it leaves off.

Review: Nightshade

Book CoverBook CoverNightshade trilogy (Book 1)
By Andrea Cremer
Available now from Penguin Philomel (HC) and Speak (PB)
Review copy

Part of the Breathless Reads tour

Calla Tor can turn into a wolf, but that doesn't make her a werewolf. It makes her a Guardian. The Guardians fight against the Searchers, under the guidance of the Keepers. Now that she is seventeen, Calla will marry Renier Larouche and begin a new pack. Of course, there's plenty of tension between the Nightshade and Bane alphas as they try to determine who will top after the marriage.

I fell in love with the characters. Calla had my heart, if only because her favorite book is WATERSHIP DOWN. But there's so much to her. Even though she's young, she's in charge of the other teenage Nightshade wolves. She thinks about how her actions affect them. Ren is super sexy. He's clearly not going to get the girl, but I almost don't mind the obligatory love triangle since he has so much sizzle. The side characters are fantastic too. I particularly like Bryn, the love interest of Calla's brother. She can put two and two together about Calla and Shay, but she's there for her friend. Shay does veer close to being more of a plot point than a character. He's the love interest, he's somehow special, but there just isn't much to him. His geekiness is endearing, but he lacks spark.

NIGHTSHADE comes close to being a first book in which nothing much actually happens. As Shay and Calla investigate what makes Shay so important, mysteries upon mysteries pile up. I might've been less satisfied with the few answers revealed if the end weren't so action-packed. NIGHTSHADE ends with Calla, Shay, Ren, and the Nightshade pack in a precarious position. Luckily, anyone who reads NIGHTSHADE now can begin WOLFSBANE immediately.

Fans of urban fantasy and paranormal romance will enjoy NIGHTSHADE. Andrea Cremer plays just enough with werewolf tropes to make the Guardians and their world her own creation. I liked how much power women could have in the packs, even though the Keepers maintain ultimate control. (It's a good reason to be suspicious of them even before Calla begins poking around.) I also loved the setting of Vail, Colorado. It's a beautiful city and the mountains are a perfect place for the wolves.

February 22, 2012

Do You Have Questions for the Breathless Reads Tour Panel?

Book CoverBook CoverTomorrow I am going to the second annual Breathless Reads National Panel Tour. For those of you who live in North Texas, I hope to see you there. It's at 7 p.m. in the Stonebriar Center Mall Barnes & Noble. For those who live elsewhere, this is you chance to submit questions and get them answered.

Who will be there?

Book CoverBook CoverMarie Lu, author of LEGEND, which I reviewed here. Marie's dystopian debut has already been optioned by CBS Films. She is also the owner of Fuzz Academy.

Another debut author, Jessica Spotswood, will also be in attendance. I reviewed BORN WICKED, the first of the Cahill Witch Chronicles, here. This recent release has been receiving rave reviews.

Book CoverBook CoverBut it's not just debut authors! New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis will be there repping the Across the Universe trilogy. You can read my recent reviews of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and A MILLION SUNS.

Book Cover Another New York Times bestselling author is attending as well: Andrea Cremer. The Nightshade trilogy recently concluded with the publication of BLOODROSE. You can read my reviews of the trilogy tomorrow and Friday. It's hard to believe Calla's story is over!

So, what would you like to ask these talented ladies?

Review: A Million Suns

Book CoverAcross the Universe Trilogy (Book 2)
By Beth Revis
Available now from Penguin Razorbill
Review Copy
Read my review of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE

Part of the Breathless Reads tour

Beth Revis, above all else, knows how to write an ending. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and A MILLION SUNS both ended with bangs, rather than whimpers. I do not want to wait for January 2013 to read SHADES OF EARTH. I want to know now what happens to Amy, Elder, and the remaining people of the Godspeed.

The events of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE changed everything for the Godspeed. People are scared and angry and productivity is in shambles, leading to a decline in food supply. Elder needs to step up his game if he's going to keep things safe and orderly. Unfortunately, there seems to be someone with a vested interest in causing chaos.

Meanwhile, messages have been left throughout the ship for Amy. These messages reveal even more of the lies that were accepted as truth as the generations went on. Amy tries to entreat Elder to help, but he's torn between her needs and the needs of the ship. She must also find a way to protect herself from the predatory Luther.

A MILLION SUNS is the Aliens to ACROSS THE UNIVERSE's Alien. Instead of creepiness, it is filled with action. Riots, renegades, revolution, oh my. Unlike the Godspeed, A MILLION SUNS is a terrific ride that rarely slows down.

Revis is unlikely to lose any fans with A MILLION SUNS and sure to gain new ones. Those who are tired of instalove plots will enjoy the ups and downs of Amy and Elder's relationship. Just because they're the only teenagers around doesn't mean they have to be together. (Although it does make an instant connection more plausible.)

"Waiting On" Wednesday: This One Doesn't Even Have a Cover Yet

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a meme began by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

Christa Desir announced on February 1st that her graphic, short, dark, soul-rending novel TRAINWRECK will be available sometime in Fall 2013 from SimonPulse. This one looks like it will break my heart, but I still want to read it.

Eighteen-year old Ben Baptiste decides not to go to the party with his girlfriend, Ani. He’s not there when two strangers pour her drinks and brag about the upcoming “ride.” He misses her table dance, her announcement of a plan to hook up with half the guys in the room, and finding her passed out three hours later with no memory of the night.

But when doctors surgically remove a lighter left inside Ani, he's there. When whispers of "Firecrotch" and "Manhole" follow Ani down the school halls, he's there. When Ani begs him to make her forget, but then cries as he whispers, "I love you," he's there. And when his best friend tells him Ani's messing around with other guys, he is there.

Ben doesn't know how to fix Ani. But he is there.

February 20, 2012

Movie Monday: Obama's Young Adult Novel Plan

Today I'm embedding a short from College Humor instead of discussing a full-length feature. My friend AR linked this on Facebook and I loved it. I laughed the most when 'Obama' pondered the existence of zombie love stories since I recently made a sexy zombie list for a friend. (She wanted to know if they existed, because it seemed impossible. I thought of five books off the top of my head and wasn't sure whether to be proud of myself or ashamed.)

Review: Across the Universe

Book CoverBook CoverAcross the Universe Trilogy (Book 1)
By Beth Revis
Available now from Penguin Razorbill
Review Copy

Part of the Breathless Reads tour

"An unforgettable opening scene . . . " - Kirkus Reviews, starred

"Unforgettable" must be code for "will appear in your nightmares for the next week." In the opening of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Amy and her parents are cryogenically frozen in order to survive the Godspeed's 300 year journey to Centauri-Earth. If you, like me, dislike medical situations, then this whole sequence will be high octane nightmare fuel. Perhaps the most famous title in the SF genre is "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." All of Amy's initial chapters emphasize why that title resonates when she discovers that she can still dream, the entire time she's frozen. Then she wakes up after someone attempts to murder her by unplugging her tank. She wakes up to a ship full of more subtle scariness.

Elder, the male protagonist and future leader of the Godspeed, finds Amy and rescues her. Amy's reactions help him discover things that are off about the ship, but he was already beginning to question Eldest, the current leader, more. At the beginning, Eldest tells him the first two of three causes of discord: difference and lack of central leadership. (I was greatly surprised that the third wasn't sex, but I don't trust what Eldest says anyway.) Differences is suppressed on the Goodspeed, down to everyone being of the same ethnicity. Now, I highly doubt everyone who got on the ship was the same ethnicity. And over centuries you can't keep everyone looking alike naturally. Once upon a time, all humans did have brown hair, brown eyes, and dark skin. Then things changed. One baby was born with a mutated OCA2 gene, resulting in blue eyes. Basically, I kept reading references to monoethnicity and thinking, "What happens to the mutated babies?!"

Of the many reviews I've read about ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, few give credit to just how creepy Beth Revis can be. This books is terrifying.

A few elements of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE were less compelling. The murderer was fairly obvious. But I really enjoyed the claustrophobic worldbuilding. I did wonder about the people on the Shippers' Level, but A MILLION SUNS picks up that plot thread. The people on the Feeders' Level did deserve their own book.

Fans of science fiction and dystopias both should enjoy ACROSS THE UNIVERSE as long as they have strong stomachs.

February 17, 2012

Review: Legend

Book CoverBook CoverLegend the Series (Book 1)
By Marie Lu
Available now from Penguin Putnam
Review copy

Part of the Breathless Reads tour

I am not known as a lover of dystopian fiction. I'm certainly no Lenore, who is currently devoting her blog to Dystopian February. But it's not that I lack an interest in the genre. Before the current YA dystopia boom, I would've told you how much I enjoyed ON THE BEACH by Neville Shute and THE STAND by Stephen King. But then I read a popular example of the genre like WITHER and I just can't get into it. Luckily, for my enjoyment, the plague in LEGEND is far more believable. It mostly affects the poor, since the rich receive vaccinations in addition to having access to better food and less stress on the body from labor. But while the people of the Republic might not have to worry about a disease killing them at a specific age, they do have to worry about their Trial at age 10. The Trial is a combination written, verbal, and physical test that determines your place in life. It's the SATs on post-apocalyptic strength steroids.

Five years ago, Day failed his Trial. June earned a perfect score. Day learned that the failures are experimented on, rather than killed; meanwhile, June rose quickly through the ranks of the military academy. Now Day must retrieve plague medicine for his recently quarantined family. And June must avenge her brother, murdered by the infamous criminal Day. Time for them to meet unknowingly and fall in love!

Okay, so I'm pushing it a little with that exclamation mark. But I felt Day and June's relationship felt rote in an otherwise engaging thriller. They spend a couple of days together and it's true love. I acknowledge that they are hormonal teenagers, but Day and June are practical, cunning, and mature-beyond-their-years teenagers. They've also got this mutual respect thing that would be a more interesting to explore, in my opinion, than the typical insta-love interest. They have great chemistry, but I wish there were more time for the relationship to build. Their first kiss seemed casual.

That complaint aside, I devoured LEGEND in a single afternoon. Marie Lu convincingly wrote two very different narrators. Day, for instance, frequently ponders the cost of things and how many of them he has bought or could buy. Conversely, June never thinks about money, aside from noting that Day thinks in small change. There were many other believable character moments, including that pampered prodigy June is the one to question her commanding officer. Smart kids (and adults) are constantly involved asking, "Why?"

LEGEND's plot hits several standard beats, which thankfully include a climax. I've been fortunate in the series I've started lately as they've all had complete beginnings. LEGEND was plausible enough to keep me reading and had the characterization to keep me engaged. I didn't buy into the central romantic relationship, but I did like the various familial relationships explored. (For those who have read the book: how creepy was Commander Jameson's treatment of Day? I vote spiders-crawling-down-your-back creepy.)

LEGEND should please dystopian and non-dystopian fans. Lu was inspired by Les Mis, so perhaps you can even convince some musical-loving friends to read this one. (Or friends who are really into Victor Hugo, if you have any.)

February 16, 2012

Review: Born Wicked

Book CoverThe Cahill Witch Chronicles (Book 1)
By Jessica Spotswood
Available now from Penguin Putnam
Review copy

Part of the Breathless Reads tour

Cate Cahill promised her dying mother that she would protect her two younger sisters, Maura and Tess. It's not an easy promise to keep. The three Cahill girls are powerful witches - and magic is illegal. They live in late nineteenth century America, but not the one we'd find in our history books. In this America the Brotherhood rules after overthrowing the witches. They maintain strict control of the population, particularly the female population. Once a girl comes of age, she must either marry or join the Sisterhood. And if she's found to be a witch, she'll go to jail or be killed. Cate's coming up on the deadline and can't seem to impress her sisters with the importance of discretion before it's time for her to leave home.

Meanwhile, Finn - the new gardener - is hot. And he reads. For fun.

As Cate comes out of the isolation she imposed to protect the Cahills after her mother's death, she begins to pay more attention to the village and the people in it. Who can she trust? Paul, the old friend come home that everyone expects Cate to marry; Elena, the new governess who is less staid than expected; or Sachi, the daughter of Brother Ishida (Head of the Council) who might be less empty-headed than she appears? And what is up with the note from a mysterious ZR, warning Cate that she and her sisters are in grave danger?

The alternative history/fantasy BORN WICKED is very swoony indeed. Jessica Spotswood doesn't hesitate to make things complicated. Almost everyone in BORN WICKED has their own agenda. She also doesn't make it so simple as all Brothers and Sisters are the enemy. There's far more to the world than the sheltered Cate originally suspects.

BORN WICKED is a propulsive read.  Cate's paranoia is well-justified.  And on top of risking fear of exposure, there's a time limit!  Cate never forgets that her Intention ceremony happens in less than six months.  The foreboding prophecy is just icing on the cake.

I'm ready to read the next book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles.  Spotswood doesn't follow the annoying trend of leaving the first book hanging, but she does throw in a few last minute twists.  BORN WICKED is a thrilling and thoughtful debut. 

February 14, 2012

Mary Burton's Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies

Mary Burton released another Valentine's recipe this year. These cookies look delicious, don't they? You can also read my interview with Mary Burton and two previous recipes. There are also my reviews of I'M WATCHING YOU and DEAD RINGER.


   It’s Love at First Bite!

  Whether she’s keeping the romance alive between characters, choosing new victims for her romantic suspense novels, or baking up a storm in her Richmond, Virginia kitchen, New York Times bestselling author Mary Burton does nothing half-heartedly—and that includes whipping up her 2012 Valentine’s Day recipe, Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies

1cup of sugar
1 cup of peanut butter
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla
½ cup chocolate chips
½ cup Craisens

Mix sugar, peanut butter, baking powder, egg and vanilla.
Add chocolate chips and Craisens.
Form dough into balls then flatten.
Garnish with chocolate bits or Craisens.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

Let cool completely before serving.

“There is no better flavor combination than peanut butter and chocolate.  Separately they are wonderful but together they are deadly delicious.  Your sweetie will be completely delighted with these sinfully good Valentine's Day cookies, which are a snap to make!”

Enjoy!                                                                                                                                                        Mary

Mary Burton’s latest book BEFORE SHE DIES has just been published.

 For this and more recipes visit Mary’s blog at www.maryburton.com

February 13, 2012

Movie Monday: Attack the Block

Book CoverAttack the Block, like Drive, tops my list of best 2011 movies. The director, Joe Cornish, and most of his cast might be new to movies, but Attack the Block is brisk and assured. There's no padding to this socially-aware monster movie.

The eponymous block is a council estate - think projects - in South London, where Moses (John Boyega) and his four friends live. Attack the Block opens when they mug Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a young nurse who recently moved into the block. Immediately after a dog-sized creature falls from the sky and the boys easily kill it. Both of these actions have repercussions that last throughout the movie.

Uncredited, from Tumblr

You see, that wasn't the only alien to come to Earth - and the others aren't so easy to kill. I love the monster design in Attack the Block. It's a low-budget movie, but being able to see nothing of the creature but a glowing mouth is extremely effective. If you're concerned about watching a horror film, Attack the Block is neither gory nor super scary. There are some effective shocks and a few violent kills, but that's not the true focus of the movie.

Most of the attention is given to the humor and the setting. Attack the Block is produced by the same people as Shaun of the Dead, after all. Whenever things get too tense, there's a Brewis (Luke Treadaway) scene to lighten the atmosphere. (Brewis is a rich kid who went to buy weed for a party at the wrong time.) The girls who act as a counterpart to Moses's gang are also delightful. The dialogue, almost entirely in the chav vernacular, is pretty easy to pick up and helps the block feel fully realized.

I think a council estate is a wonderful setting for a horror movie.  It's claustrophobic but still allows for movement.  (Chase scenes are essential.  Attack the Block has some great ones.)  The balance between the gang and Sam shifts throughout the movie but it never feels like the story is trying to have its cake and eat it too.  There's more to the gang than violence, but Sam doesn't have to forgive them just because they had their reasons.  What Moses, Pest, Biggz, Dennis, and Jerome did was wrong and Attack the Block never pretends it wasn't.  It just acknowledges people can do good things and bad things.  Thugs can care about and protect their home.

Actions have consequences and those consequences can make for a terrific movie.

February 11, 2012

Pinterest: Literary Gifts

I am not meant to be a Twitter-er.  It's just not my thing, even though I try.  I have discovered that I adore Tumblr, but Tumblr is a subject for another day.  I think Pinterest might be my thing too.  When I was attempting to explore Twitter the other night, I discovered that Random House has been doing something totally awesome on Pinterest: keeping track of literary gifts.

Doesn't Random House know I'm mostly* unemployed? I can't take this temptation!

*I'm currently doing freelance editing for a small press. Still looking for a full-time job.

February 10, 2012

Best Authors You Aren't Reading: John Peel

Best Authors You Aren't Reading is an IBWB feature. In it I discuss authors who I don't perceive as being popular, but whom I truly love.

I cannot possibly cover John Peel's entire bibliography. For one thing, I haven't read everything he's written! But there's a good chance if you read a TV tie-in during the nineties that you came across at least one of his books. He's written books for Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Outer Limits, The Secret World of Alex Mack, Eerie, Indiana, and more. But those aren't why I'm recommending John Peel today.

I'm not recommending him for his horror either. I've never tracked down the Foul Play series and the only standalone I've managed to collect is MANIAC.

Book CoverBook CoverSo, which of his books can I talk about?  I can discuss  THE SECRET OF DRAGONHOME, for one. It is currently out of print, but you can order it on Amazon for a cent. THE SECRET OF DRAGONHOME is Peel's most topical novel since he just self-published its sequel THE SLAYERS OF DRAGONHOME.

(Sorry I can't get Amazon to display the cover. Annoying, I know.)

I first read THE SECRET OF DRAGONHOME in the sixth grade after discovering it in the junior high's library, to my great joy. You see, by that point I was already a Peel fan. And favorite author + dragons = good things. THE SECRET OF DRAGONHOME begins when "Talents" Melayne and Sarrow flee to a neighboring kingdom to escape persecution. Melayne takes care of the widowed Lord Sander's son, but finds that their new home has its own secrets. It's a terrific fantasy, with just a touch of romance, and I was quite excited to hear that there was a sequel.

Book CoverBook CoverBook CoverBook CoverBook CoverBook Cover

I first discovered Peel through the six-part serial 2099, way back when I was in fifth grade. I ordered DOOMSDAY through a Scholastic book club newspaper because the cover was shiny. (The blurb was about 25% of the decision.) It was late 1999 and everyone was going crazy about Y2K. (Youngsters, think about the current Mayan Apocalypse craze.) 2099 projected a future world in which everyone depended on their automated systems - the perfect playground for a bored and amoral hacker. Each book was short but burned through plenty of plot, much like the television version of The Vampire Diaries. Also like The Vampire Diaries, there were a lot of identical people running around. That's right. 2099 was full of clones. Just like dragons, everything is better with clones.

And know what crazy trivia I recently discovered? Peel wrote 2099 at the request of David Levithan.

I always loved the backs.

Book CoverBook CoverBook CoverBook CoverBook Cover
Book CoverBook CoverBook CoverBook CoverBook Cover

The best thing about the 2099 series might be that it led me to Diadem. Diadem told the tale of Helaine, Pixel, and Score, three teenagers taken from their worlds and told they have magic powers. Not a new plot, but a well-executed one. Diadem meant a lot to me, back in the day. It drove me to write fanfiction with my best friend. No lie, we have a binder filled with a 200-page epic that will never see the light of day if either of us have anything to do with it. (It has twelve precious years of our snark in the margins, mocking our awful writing when we were eleven.) The news, in 2002, that the series would be reprinted and continued by Llewellyn was ridiculously exciting.

The original Scholastic covers

I read the series rather piecemeal. My mom gave me the first book THE BOOK OF NAMES, having bought it at a book fair as a present. I found the fifth book at the local used bookstore, then received the second and fourth for Christmas. (My mom had to order them from Amazon, which was special in those days.) The third and sixth were out of print, but I finally hunted them down in a used bookstore. This was one of the greatest triumphs of my young live, since the BOOK OF MAGIC contained the conclusion of the first arc and the BOOK OF NIGHTMARE's resolved the fifth's cliffhanger.

The first page of puzzles

It's hard to say why I loved the books so much that I would put a great deal of effort into tracking them down and writing silly things about them. It might have been that Helaine, one of the three main characters, could defeat either of the boys in a physical contest. It could have been the puzzles; I've always loved solving puzzles. (These were written by David Levithan! Unfortunately, they disappear after the fifth book since Levithan was no longer an assistant.) It might have been the culture clash caused by all the world-hopping. I don't know.

I just know that the books were terrific and it was the first time I bonded with someone over a book. It's sad that most of Peel's stuff is currently out of print, but in the days of the internet it is fairly easy to find his books. And believe me: they're worth it.

John Peel's books on the shelf and in good company.

February 9, 2012

Review: Cold Cereal

Book CoverBy Adam Rex
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Review Copy

I loved Adam Rex's first foray into middle grade books, the award-winning THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY. COLD CEREAL, unlike SMEKDAY, doesn't begin with an alien invasion and thus takes a bit longer to get off the ground. Instead, we're introduced to the Cold Cereal Trilogy's rather large ensemble which includes Erno and Emily Utz, twins who look nothing alike and live with their foster father and giant nanny, and Scottish Play Doe, the new kid in school who sees strange things. One of those things being Mick, a clurichaun who claims that local company Goodco is capturing magical creatures.

But once COLD CEREAL gets going, it's a terrific ride. There's a variety of things being mocked, from the claims made on the side of children's cereal boxes to mystical cults. Even symbolism takes a hint. And it isn't just leprechauns and pooka's running around Goodborough - there's many unexpected legends waiting to make their appearances.

There are lots of riddles to solve, which I always loved in books as a child.  There's nothing like trying to play along. I really enjoyed the two sibling relationships.  Scott and his little sister Polly get on each other's nerves and Erno and Emily are forced into false competition, but both are obviously loving.  I think Biggs might be my favorite side character, if only because his scenes were always hilarious.

The ARC didn't contain all of the illustrations, but the ones I could see were terrific.  Adam Rex's illustrations are detailed and I love the comics done to illustrate Goodco's commericals.  (It's a wonder Goodco ever rose to prominence considering one of they sold "Burlap Crisp" with a surly magical spokesman.) You can see some of the illustrations on his blog, as well as download yourself a Mick paper doll.

Today it seems like many trilogies take that as an excuse to leave the first book open-ended. While the evil Goodco still exists, COLD CEREAL does have an actual climax.  Scott, Erno, Emily, and their friends prove to be a formidable opposition to the cereal corporation.  I look forward to the next book in the trilogy!

February 8, 2012

Review: Shelter

By Harlan Coben
Available now from Putnam (Penguin)
Review copy

Book Cover

Mickey Bolitar has traveled the world with his parents. His experiences ensured that he's more tough and capable than your average fifteen-year-old. Unfortunately, Mickey's dad died and his mother is in rehab, leaving him to move in with Myron, his estranged uncle. Myron, who lives near the mysterious Bat Lady. Of course, even trying to discover the Bat Lady's secrets can't hold Myron's attention when his girlfriend Ashley is missing.

I devoured SHELTER extremely quickly. It's an effectively paced thriller, moving from one scene to another without much pause. There were a few things I didn't enjoy, such as the belligerent and useless police chief. The police tend to get a bad rap in detective books and it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But there were good points to balance it out. Coben uses technology well in SHELTER. He remembers that today's teens have cell phones and use them - and that they leave texts, not voicemails. It gave a realism to Mickey, Spoon, and Ema's interactions.

I liked the characters too. Mickey is nicely balanced by the friends he makes on his quest to rescue Ashley. Spoon is somewhat Daffy and Ema is both hilarious and brave. Even rich girl Rachel turns out to have depths.

I would recommend SHELTER wholeheartedly except for the ending. As the mysteries surrounding Ashley unravel, the plotting falls apart. There's a good organization in play. One that has apparently been operating for decades without learning how to do its job properly. If the people involved in the organization had thought for two seconds, Ashley would've been fine. As for the bad guy, tell me: do you find nonagenarians threatening?

If you like thrillers or enjoy Coben's adult books, I'd give SHELTER a whirl. Otherwise, I'd go ahead and pass it over. I might read the next book in the Mickey Bolitar series, but I hope it has a more satisfying mystery at its heart than SHELTER did.

February 6, 2012

Movie Monday: Drive

Book CoverI'm not going to pretend that I'm the first book blogger to have a "Movie Monday." It's not the world's most creative name, after all. But I enjoy movies and thought it might be fun to try this out for awhile.

Drive, now available in DVD and Blu-Ray, was one of my favorite movies of 2011. I didn't know much about the story when I went to see it, which is the way it should be. (The trailer gives away several of Drive's surprises.) I only knew my best friend begged me to see it so that she would have someone to discuss it with. I can never resist pop culture that I might be able to dissect with someone.

Drive is obviously influenced by the 80's, from the neon pink credits to the synthpop soundtrack and score that brings to mind classic soundtracks like Thief done by Tangerine Dream. It is a shame that Cliff Martinez's score wasn't eligible for the Academy Awards, because the music in Drive works beautifully. (Apparently there was too much non-original material, which doesn't really make sense to me, since Ludovic Bource's score for The Artist was eligible. It contains music by Duke Ellington and others, as well as using the Vertigo score. Good music, but you can't say it was all written for the movie.)

In addition to great music, the cinematography of Drive will knock your socks off. It's a beautiful movie. Well edited, too. Many have accused Nicolas Winding Refn's film of being too technical and cold. I find his precision appealing and enjoyed the characters, good and bad, too much to consider the film cold.

Drive's cast includes Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaacs, Ron Perlman, and Christina Hendricks. It's a long list of recognizable names used well. While Drive is set in Los Angeles, you'll never feel that anyone looks too Hollywood. You might not believe this if you've seen the trailer, but the acting is subtle. These are not people who wear their emotions on their sleeves, but that doesn't mean they aren't being driven by their passions.

If you like movies with chase scenes, you might find Drive frustrating at first. Refn goes for something more real than constantly exploding cars. But if you like love stories or noir films and can handle a bit of creative violence, you'll love Drive.


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