October 31, 2013

Review: Relic

Relic Book One of the Books of Eva
By Heather Terrell
Illustrations by Ricardo Cortes
Available now from Soho Teen
Review copy
Read the prequel "Chronicle"

RELIC begins with a treacherous mountain climb and a betrayal, resulting in the death of Eamon.  I loved this beginning, and was sad that it took a long time to get to what I thought would happen earlier: other characters realizing Eamon was murdered.  The main character, Eva, is Eamon's twin sister.  She decides to take his place in the Testing, even though it isn't very maidenly.

Eva is from the future, living in the Arctic along with the other surviving humans.  She's high class, and does have the right to compete in the deadly Testing for the prize of becoming one of the three rules.  However, the reader can tell that Eva's society isn't quite what she things.  There's the regressive ideas about humans, the way they treat the Boundary folk (how they refer to the Inuit people they stole land from), their bizarre history of the world.  At the same time, there's things about Eva's world that it takes a modern reader a bit to clue in on.

I liked how RELIC combined a survival in the wilderness story with dystopian fiction, with a tiny dash of murder mystery (more to come in future books), and a meditation on how history is told and preserved.  I was cringing at the archeology Eva practices, and I know basically nothing about archeology.  But I can dig it, since her society is supposed to be flawed.

Plus, I really like Eva.  She's got a bit of that not-like-other-girls thing going on, but she's cool in spite of that.  She's willing to listen to people who know more than her, even when she's been told she shouldn't.  She's curious, clever, and determined.  She has empathy, and a powerful imagination.  She has a love triangle, which is unfortunate, but thankfully doesn't take up too much of the book.  There's Jasper, the fellow competitor who she's basically betrothed to, and Lukas, the boy from the wrong side of the frozen wasteland.

RELIC is a quick read with a gripping opening, an intriguing heroine, a tantalizing mystery, and a memorable setting.  You never forget that Eva is in the Arctic and could die of one wrong move.  I'll definitely be back for the second book, if only to find out who killed Eamon.  (And, of course, to see whether Eva can get out of the predicament she finds herself in at the end of RELIC.)

October 30, 2013

Review: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

Hyperbole and a Half By Allie Brosh
Available now from Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy

I, like most internet denizens, am a huge fan of the blog Hyperbole and a Half.  The first time someone linked me to one of the entries I thought that Allie Brosh might be stalking me and recording my life, since it hit so very close to home.  When she announced that she had a book coming out, I paid attention.

Now, it's finally here!  Let me tell you: it is worth paying money for.

Many blogs have resulted in a book deal, but sometimes they lose something in the transition to print.  Brosh is as hilarious, authentic, and insightful as ever in her memoir.  Some of the most popular internet pieces are in the book (not "Alot"), often with more material.  But even more of HYPERBOLE AND A HALF is completely new, never-before-seen stuff.  And it is good.  It is staying-up-late-and-waking-up-other-people-with-your-laughter good.

HYPERBOLE AND A HALF isn't perfect.  It helps to be familiar with Brosh's blog, because sometimes things get introduced without much explanation.  For instance, her boyfriend Duncan starts appearing in chapters quite a bit before he gets named.  However, part of Brosh's charm has always been that she isn't too slick, her art well balanced and proportioned yet clearly done with MS Paint.  Another part is her honesty, which was very important when she started writing about depression.

Much of the new material does deal with Brosh's depression (as well as her dogs).  She makes you feel what living with depression with is like, and she does it while making you bust a gut with laughter.  At the same time, there are bits that will tempt the waterworks. particularly if you know someone with or have depression yourself.

If you're wondering why you should buy something you can get for free, then know that there is a ton of new material.  Know that you're supporting Brosh and allowing her to spend more time creating.  If you're unfamiliar with Brosh, then buy this book and be prepared to fall in love.  Then go forth and buy a copy for everyone on your holiday shopping list.  Get two copies for the dog lovers.

October 29, 2013

Review: Native American Heroes: Osceola, Tecumseh, and Cochise

Native American HeroesBy Ann McGovern
Available now from Scholastic Nonfiction
Review copy

NATIVE AMERICAN HEROES is a short introduction to three warriors.  Osceola, a Seminole, fought to keep his people safe from slavery.  Tecumseh, a Shawnee, banded tribes together during the War of 1812.  Cochise, a Chihuicahui Apache, tried to keep the peace.  When I started this three-part biography, I knew a little about Osceola and Tecumseh and nothing about Cochise.

I think Ann McGovern did a good job writing these biographies for a younger audience.  I wished for longer, more in-depth passages about each man, but I'm an adult reader.  I liked that photographs, newspapers, and other artifacts from the time were used to illustrate the book.  I also liked that direct quotes were used fairly frequently in the Tecumseh section.  I did not like that NATIVE AMERICAN HEROES followed the current trend in nonfiction to project emotions onto people and make the scenes more narrative.  It's probably a style that will make NATIVE AMERICAN HEROES more appealing to kids, but I just find it dishonest.

I also liked that that McGovern didn't flinch from depicting why each of these men were angry, the injustices that caused them to fight against the white settlers.  Osceola, for instance, might have given in to the Seminoles moving to Florida if it didn't involve leaving the black Seminoles to be sold into slavery.  It's obviously the right thing to do, because you don't just let people get sold into slavery, much less people you care about.  Nor does McGovern back down from depicting the stupidity and prejudice that went into Cochise's tribe getting blamed for a crime they didn't commit.

Let's face it: the white guys are not the good guys in this book, because they weren't on the right side of this battle in history.  NATIVE AMERICAN HEROES is a nice introduction for kids to three men who receive far less recognition in history class than they should.  Osceola, Tecumseh, and Cochise went to extraordinary lengths, but they did it for their communities.  Does anyone know of good books for kids to read next, to find out more?

Also, consider this your reminder not to dress as an American Indian for Halloween.

October 28, 2013

Review: Reality Boy

Reality Boy By A.S. King
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Review copy
Read more on my A.S. King tag

A.S. King is a literary treasure.  There are few writers today who excited me half as much as her.  Oh, I love a ton of authors, don't get me wrong.  But King delivers both story and form, unusual and playful and satisfying.

REALITY BOY refers to Gerald Faust, who appeared multiple times on a nanny reality show when he was five.  He had his reasons for acting out, not that you'd know from the show.  All you'd know was that he was the Crapper.  Gerald is sixteen, almost seventeen, and angry.  Going-to-end-up-in-prison-if-he-doesn't-get-it-under-control angry.  You see, nothing changed at home.  It just got worse.  Anger management and boxing have helped Gerald, but he's still hanging out on the edge.

I loved this book.  Gerald's home life is horrifying.  His oldest sister is a memorable, strange villain, one who might've been redeemable with better parenting.  But there are some nice things.  His job is usual for a teenager, selling concessions at a local event center.  He has a crush on the girl who works at register #1.  He has Gersday, a happy place in his head that he retreats to when things get to be too much.  As his coping mechanisms start to fail, he also starts to find friends and the love and human connection he so desperately needs.

I like that REALITY BOY isn't a particularly dark book.  I mean, it isn't sunshine and roses, for sure.  But the story doesn't wallow in the worst moments.  It's often funny, and sometimes sweet.  I enjoyed how the romance worked into the plot, Gerald and his girlfriend fighting, but working through it and learning to communicate effectively with each other.  Gerald, who does have real problems, is a little self-centered about noticing that other people have problems too.

Now, REALITY BOY isn't my favorite novel by A.S. King.  That doesn't disqualify it from being one of the best books of the year.  If you're up for an intense, emotional read, then look no farther than REALITY BOY.  (And I didn't even mention how amazingly it deals with reality television and the ethics of shows starring children, who can't really consent to having their lives broadcast to millions.)

October 26, 2013

Preorder Campaign for Third Lie's the Charm!

I think the Liar Society books by Lisa and Laura Roecker are super fun - just read my review of THE LIES THAT BIND - so I'm happy to share this news from Sourcebooks.  Best of all, everyone gets something with their preorder!

 Liar Society Lies that Bind Third Lie's the Charm

A Gift for You, for Pre-Ordering Third Lie’s the Charm by YA rock stars Lisa and Laura Roecker
 
For US and Canadian Liar Society Lovers!
 
We have a special offer going on for the release of Third Lie’s the Charm by YA rock stars Lisa and Laura Roecker—in stores in a little over one month! If you pre-order the book:
 
·       ALL pre-orders will receive an original bookmark signed by the Roeckers themselves
·       FIVE lucky winners will win the first TWO books in the series! This is a great way to discover this series—one that Publishers Weekly and Booklist have called “chilling, suspenseful and smart” and “smartly plotted, full of twists, clues and sleuthing.”
·       ONE lucky winner will receive the GRAND PRIZE:  an EXCLUSIVE, TOP SECRET afterword of the Liar Society series for YOU to post and share.
 
You have until December 2 or until quantities run out. Here’s how to get your bookmark and a chance to win the first two books in the Liar Society series, or the exclusive afterword:
 
1. Pre-order the book (print or eBook) through any retailer (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, your local independent bookseller/Indiebound, Books-A-Million, Hastings, etc.)
 
2. Email your proof of purchase (receipt or picture of the receipt) to sbpublicity@sourcebooks.com. Don’t forget to include your home address (US & Canada only please) so we can send you the bookmark (and possibility the books!) If you’ve already pre-ordered this book—not a problem! Send us your receipt!
 
3. You will get an email back confirming when the items have been sent out. 
 
4. Enjoy Third Lie’s the Charm when it arrives in December—just in time for some chilly holiday reading!
 
Optional: Make like the Roeckers and KATE and take a pic of you with your hair dyed—(or you can cheat and use Photoshop J) and share with us on Twitter and Facebook! Find the Roeckers @LandLroecker and Sourcebooks Fire @sourcebooksfire and http://www.facebook.com/sourcebooks.

October 25, 2013

Review: Rose

Rose First in the Rose series
By Holly Webb
Available now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Review copy

Rose is a young orphan who experiences a rise in fortune when she's hired as a maid since she's the most sensible girl her orphanage had.  Her new employer is an alchemist, and in his strange house, Rose quickly starts to realize that she has magic too.  But first, she has to figure out why so many children are disappearing.

Originally published in England, ROSE is the beginning of a series, but it stands on its own quite well.  (That's the American quite, not the Queen's one.)  It's a common story - the orphan, the magic, the daring rescue - but the whimsical elements are so nicely tempered by sensible Rose.  Of course, she's still a child, but she's one who thinks things through. 

I liked Rose quite a bit, especially her insistence on keeping her job.  Employment is economic freedom, and she's free to get another job if she prefers.  Rose grew up depending on other people's kindness, and she does not want to go back.  At the same time, there's a real sense that she doesn't want to get above her station.  These are slightly adult concepts, but Rose's perspective on them felt like a child's, albeit a mature child's.

I find that a lot of British books, particularly ones set in vaguely ye olde times, have a lot of assumptions about class that might go over the heads of younger readers.  I like that ROSE grapples with it pretty explicitly.  Street children are missed less than rich children.  Isabella and Freddie, the privilegedros children in the house, are both brats, but the servants have no power to curb their behavior.  (And it certainly reflects badly on Isabella's father - I wonder if that will be addressed in future books.)  At the same time, both children are shown to have their good sides.  Or, at least, their useful sides.

There's also a talking cat.  I'm a sucker for slightly snarky, know-more-than-they're-telling talking animals.

I thought ROSE was a terrific fantasy story for young readers, and I'm quite excited that my library has the UK editions of the sequels.  I know what I'm checking out once I'm done with my CYBILS reading.

October 24, 2013

Review: The Necromancer's House

The Necromancer's House By Christopher Buehlman
Available now from Ace (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE wasn't what I was expecting.  It's more of a revenge thriller with magic than a horror novel.  It's a great success on that front, with two opposing forces with great reason to hate each other.  It keeps picking up steam as it goes, until it reaches a unique and intriguing ending.

That's the best thing about THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE, I think.  It's unafraid to take strange turns and reveal unexpected information.  The protagonist, Andrew Ranulf Blankenship, is the eponymous necromancer.  He might be the good guy, but he's no stand up moral citizen.  But no one would protest that Baba Yaga is not the consummate bad guy.  (Baba Yaga is having a real year in literary fiction, isn't she?)  These are two people willing to go to bizarre lengths to end the other.

But I'm not totally in love with THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE.  The story continually emphasizes that Anneke is a lesbian but Andrew is totally in love with her, which is weird, and also Andrew is still as pretty as a girl and super vain, and I got it the first ten times.  Then there's the two moments of true horror in the novel, used to emphasize that anyone can die.  The longer one tends to veer into silly, particularly because it violates a couple of magic rules the story mentions before and (immediately) after the scene.  It ends with an indelible image, but not before the bad guy thinks about the incredibly easy way the good guy could have won the fight.  Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't make things scarier for people to die in stupid ways.

Mostly, I just wish THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE got to the final battle faster.  The magic is inventive and it's fun to watch a bunch of tough characters battle it out.  If only there were less interminable passages spent with Andrew lusting after someone who isn't interested.  Anneke is also Andrew's student and fellow former alcoholic; isn't that enough of an emotional relationship to explore?  As it was, I ended up caring more about the relationship between Andrew and his dog-turned-wooden-manservant.  (To be fair, it is a touching relationship.)

That being said, I'd happily read a sequel.  The epilogue of THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE is fascinating, an unexpected group left together to go on and enjoy their lives.  THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE was fun enough, but it's nothing I'm going to reread.  The weird bits that don't work aren't much, but they left a sour taste in my mouth.

October 23, 2013

Review: Phantom Eyes

Phantom Eyes Book Three of the Witch Eyes trilogy
By Scott Tracey
Available now from Flux (Llewellyn)
Review copy
Read my review of Moonset

It seems like witches are having a moment in YA, becoming the next hot new thing.  But trends always start with a groundswell, which is why you should pick up Scott Tracey's Witch Eyes trilogy.  The final book, PHANTOM EYES, is now out and brings everything to an insane fever pitch conclusion.  You can get all sorts of witchy goodness and there's zero delayed gratification!  (I cannot be the only one who hates waiting for the next book in a series to come out.)

Braden is in bad shape.  The events of DEMON EYES left him powerless, grieving, and with a burning desire for revenge.  There's an obvious solution, but it involves Braden becoming worse than the monsters already plaguing the town of Belle Dam.  He's desperate to find a way to stop the town from getting crushed and keep his identity.  It doesn't help that everyone else is trying to make their own plans.  His dad is trying to keep him safe, his boyfriend is trying to keep him safe, and honestly, maybe Braden's plans would go better if he trusted other people more.

I liked that there was still room for character development among all the crazy plot, mastermind vs. mastermind vs. amateur mastermind.  In PHANTOM EYES, Braden still needs to find peace with himself.  But did I mention that the plot is cray-cray?  Now, I felt that things might've gotten a little out of Tracey's control at the end of DEMON EYES.  The climatic showdown was a confusing at times.  But PHANTOM EYES manages to up the clarity while throwing all sorts of unexpected developments out, rapid fire.  Unexpected allies, double crossing, triple crossings, relationship drama . . . it's all in there.

I highly recommend the Witch Eyes series.  It's very silly in the very best way, and comes to a satisfying conclusion that ties up all of the major plot threads without being too neat.  The characters might be in therapy for years to come, but they overcome their biggest hurdles.  It's fast paced and fun, with lots of quippy characters.  There's a nice dollop of angst, mostly having to do with a family feud that makes the Montagues and Capulets look tame.  And almost everyone is a villain, depending on whose point of view you take.  It's dark fun.

I'm happy that Tracey has already started a new witchy series, The Legend of Moonset, because he's good at conspiracies, family ties, and consistent magic systems.  And I'm happy that witches are becoming popular, because they're so much fun.


October 22, 2013

Review: Freakboy

Freakboy By Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Available now from Farrar, Straus and Giroux BFYR (Macmillan)
Review copy

Kristin Elizabeth Clark certainly has ambition.  Her debut novel, FREAKBOY, tackles the gender spectrum - in verse.  I love novels in verse and I love novels that address LGBTQ issues.  I had very high hopes for FREAKBOY, which can be a bad thing for a book.  But I think Clark met her ambitions.

Brendan Chase is a fairly normal guy.  He's on the wrestling team (and isn't that good) and has a girlfriend (who is a better wrestler than him).  He loves Vanessa, knows that he likes girls in that way.  At the same time, he likes girls in another way.  But as he starts to explore his feelings, he also rejects the easy explanations.  Because being a guy doesn't feel wrong all the time.

His quest leads his path to intersect with Angel's.  She's got it pretty together and is volunteering at a local youth center to help other kids out.  Her path was hard, but she's making it.  At first her story seems tangential, but I liked how her and Brendan's stories became more and more involved.  (After getting a little frustrated that it seemed like the two were just going to keep barely brushing by each other.)  I also liked that their relationship was platonic.

It's a mentorship in some ways, a friendship in more, and a type of relationship that's rarely seen in fiction.  Angel is a transgender woman, something she knew about herself from a young age.  Her certainty offers a counterpoint to Brendan's uncertainty.  No one's journey to their identity is the same,

Meanwhile, FREAKBOY also explores the point of view of Vanessa.  She loves Brendan, but doesn't like that he's keeping secrets from her.  I liked that FREAKBOY doesn't villainize Vanessa.  She fights to save their relationship, but she also has valid reasons to end it.  She is her own person, with her own desires for a relationship, and she is entitled to those.

I think that poetry was a good choice for telling the stories in FREAKBOY.  Brendan, Angel, and Vanessa are struggling with things that are hard to say, emotions that don't verbalize well.  The poetry has an authentic flow to it.  It's not stiff and halting, but organic.  I do wish there had been a bit more differentiation between the three voices, but I could usually tell whose point of view a poem was expressing even without the headings.

FREAKBOY is the debut of a great talent and one that begins to fill a void in YA literature.  It's different, but it feels like a logical step from predecessors like Ellen Hopkins and Catherine Ryan Hyde.  I look forward to Clark's next book, because I can't wait to see what she writes as she grows as an author and storyteller.

October 21, 2013

Review: The Cool School: Writing from America's Hip Underground

The Cool School Edited by Glenn O'Brien
Available now from Library of America
Review copy

When THE COOL SCHOOL was pitched to me, I feel in love with the concept.  A collection of writing by the original hipsters, about what it meant to be cool.  And not just the Beat poets, but jazz men and comedians and more, including people outside the movement who criticized it.  The pieces range from prose fiction to poetry to nonfiction, from excerpts to complete works.

I think Glenn O'Brien did a decent job of assembling a plurality of voices.  Names reoccur between pieces, giving a real sense of how the scene fit together and how people from different groups knew and thought of each other.  Figures like Bird, Charlie Parker, loom large as their trailblazing influence is taken in and reflected.  There are several black writers, and author there is no editorializing aside from short introductions to each piece, it is easy to see some of the tension around white men copying black slang, music, and attitudes.

There are several women included in the anthology, although not Carolyn Cassady, possible the best known female Beat generation writer.  The blurb mentions the "sexually excluded," but they were less in the anthology than I expected.  Allen Ginsberg is the most notable exception there.  (I triple checked the table of contents just to be sure I hadn't missed a piece from him.)

The writing is arranged by chronology, I believe, which works fairly well.  It allows for a clear progression of ideas.  Sometimes I wished for another arrangement, as Del Close's piece on vocabulary would've been great at the beginning.  I could read large chunks of THE COOL SCHOOL at once, but did prefer to take breaks.  While there are a great many voices on display, the anthology's raison d'ĂȘtre is pieces that explore the scene.  It takes awhile for any sameness to set in, but it does if one tries to devour the whole anthology at once.

I enjoyed THE COOL SCHOOL.  I am always in favor of primary sources, and I liked the range presented here, even if I did think the net could be cast even wider.  I was familiar with some of the writers, like Miles Davis, Frank O'Hara, and Lenny Bruce, but there are also several where I'll have to seek out more of their work.  THE COOL SCHOOL is a great introduction to a generation, and a nice reminder that the fifties weren't all poodle school and milkshakes.  There were people shaking things up and making their voices heard.

October 20, 2013

All Hallow's Read

Art by Sean Von Gorman
It's that time of year again . . . All Hallow's Read!  Participation is super simple: just give someone a scary book for Halloween! 

If you don't know what to give, there are lists all over the internet to help you out.  Try one of these thirty spooky stories from The Mary Sue.  They cover books for kids and adults.  If you're just aiming for young readers, then here's a list from Neil Gaiman, who started All Hallow's Read, put out by HarperCollins Childrens.  Or just browse through the Book Recommendations section of the All Hallow's Read site.

Or, if you don't have the money to pass out books, try this terrific printable from Hafuboti.  It's a short comic that you can print off and assemble into a little booklet.  It's a version of "The Golden Arm" with a librarian twist.

Here are some October 2013 books I think would make great gifts:
And if you're still confused or if you need to hear a British accent, here's a video with Neil Gaiman explaining All Hallow's Read:

October 18, 2013

Interview with Stephanie Kuehnert

Very Superstitious I hosted Stephanie Kuehnert on In Bed With Books back in 2009, and it's a pleasure to interview her now!  She's the author of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE and BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, and she recently relocated to Seattle with her husband.  You might be familiar with her writing through Rookie, the mag run by wunderkind Tavi Gevinson.

Read on for more about Stephanie and VERY SUPERSTITIOUS!

--

1. VERY SUPERSTITIOUS is a charity anthology to support the SPCA. What does supporting this charity mean to you? 

Animals have been a huge part of my life since I was a kid. Both of my cats are rescues and I regularly donate to local animal shelters. When I was still living in the Chicago area, I was part of a community group who cared for feral cats, rescuing the kittens and finding them homes, and neutering the adult cats, getting them medical treatment and keeping them feed. I feel very strongly about protecting our furry friends, so I was honored to donate my story to this cause.

2. You're known for your gritty, realistic novels. How did it feel to write something more fantastical? Do you think your fans will enjoy this story? 

Yes, I generally write contemporary realistic fiction. However, I am a huge fan of shows like Buffy, Supernatural, and The X-Files as well as urban fantasy authors like Melissa Marr, Jeri Smith-Ready, and my amazing VERY SUPERSTITIOUS contributors, and magical realism by people like Nova Ren Suma and Francesca Lia Block. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing something fantastical, ghostly, or with a little twist on reality. Also, I really loved the lore in my hometown, Forest Park, Illinois, which is home to more dead folks than living! I enjoyed playing with all of this and probably will do some more dabbling. In fact, the characters in my ghostly VERY SUPERSTITIOUS contribution do make a cameo in my next contemporary YA project. I think my fans will still love this story because it is edgy and music-driven like I know they expect from me.

3. In addition to your novels, you're also a staff writer at Rookie, a columnist for Forest Park Review, and a contributor to Ms. Fit. How do you regularly come up with interesting topics to write about?

Well, I moved to Seattle this summer, so I no longer writer for the Forest Park Review, though I have been trying to document my Seattle journey on Tumblr (seattleboundwritergrl.tumblr.com). But with that and with FPR, those were very much about place, and if you’ve read my fiction, you know I adore writing about place, so writing about the real spots I love is natural for me. I write personal essay for both Rookie and Ms. Fit, and that is something I’ve been doing since I was a teenager. It’s like a natural extension of journaling or making ‘zines for me. Plus, Rookie gives me so much room to write about everything I love from soap operas to Star Trek: The Next Generation to the Savages along with my personal essays on things like self-injury, so really I’m never running out of ideas. I love reflecting on what I’ve been through and writing about stuff that gets me excited.

4. Do you believe in any superstitions? 

I was born on Friday the 13th (which I consider lucky, same for black cats), so yes, I am very superstitious. I probably can’t even name all of my superstitions. One of my writing superstitions is not publically speaking of my WIP’s titles until they are officially going to be published, like it might jinx them or something.

5. What would you say to someone to convince them to read VERY SUPERSTITIOUS? 

 It’s almost Halloween (my absolute favorite holiday, by the way). Isn’t it the perfect time of year to read some spooky tales by some of YA’s best writers (I am seriously *honored* to be included among them!) AND the proceeds benefit animals. It’s a win-win!

Review: Very Superstitious: Myths, Legends, and Tales of Superstition

Very Superstitious Second Annual Month9Books Charity Anthology
Proceeds for first 5,000 sales go to SPCA Internation
Edited by Georgia McBride
Stories by Shannon Delany, Jackie Morse Kessler, Jennifer Knight, Stephanie Kuehnert, Mari Mancusi, Michelle E. Reed, Dianne K. Salerni, Pab Sungenis
Available now from Month9Books
Review copy

VERY SUPERSTITIOUS contains an excellent lineup of authors, which is what first caught my attention.  I was particularly excited to see a story by Stephanie Kuehnert, who hasn't had a fiction release since 2009's wicked good BALLADS OF SUBURBIA.  (Bonus: I got to interview her!)  Plus, it's a charity anthology!  How could I resist spreading the word about a book that helps animals?  I have a rescue dog, and he's the best ever.  (Okay, Patton is my mom's, but I'd steal him in a heartbeat.)

I wish the theme of VERY SUPERSTITIOUS were slightly more coherent.  Some of the stories involve animals, some don't.  Some are mythology, some folklore, some the Bible, some urban legends, some children's stories, you get the idea.  With only eight stories, so many different sources means stories with very different feels.  I like that they aren't all the same of course, but I wish there was more of a thread holding them together than "superstition."  (And sometimes that thread is very light indeed.)

I also wish that more of the sources were non-Western.   "Chupacabra" by Jennifer Knight draws on the Central American legend and is set in Puerto Rico, and was one of my favorites in the anthology.  It's a tale of revenge, hard choices, and the way human emotions can create the worst monsters.  It felt like a small piece of a larger world, which I appreciated.  "Midhalla" by Michelle E. Reed draws on Egyptian mythology, so it doesn't make much sense to have a title punning on Norse mythology.  [Edit: Reed contacted me about the title and said, "Midhalla is the Arabic word for umbrella, which is why I chose it for my story."] It was probably my least favorite story in the anthology.  It's core is extremely goofy, and the end is dark and sudden, jarring completely with the setup at the beginning of the story.  It never coheres.

I think most of these stories are one offs, which is nice.  "Thirst" by Jackie Morse Kessler does tie into her Riders of the Apocalypse series, but given that it's a retelling of Noah and the flood, it's easy to follow even without knowledge of that series.  I enjoyed it, as well as the stories from Shannon Delany, Stephanie Kuehnert, and Dianne K. Salerni.  And props to Delany's kids, who convinced her to change the story's traditional ending.  VERY SUPERSTITIOUS contains many unhappy endings, but at least it contains no unhappy ending for animals. Mari Mancusi's story plays with "The Gift of the Magi," a story that's been played with so much that it would take something really clever to get me excited about it.  Not bad, but standard.  Pab Sungenis's "The Silverfoot Heretic" played with The Wizard of Oz.  I thought the story went somewhere interesting, and touching, but I almost didn't finish the story because the beginning didn't capture me at all.

VERY SUPERSTITIOUS is a fine anthology for fantasy readers looking for something slightly creepy for Halloween reading.  I didn't love all of the stories, but there are some good ones by popular authors.  If you're a fan of any of these ladies, I'd pick it up.  Plus, you're helping out animals!  It's hard to resist books and animals, isn't it?

October 17, 2013

Cover Reveal: Embers & Ash by T.M. Goeglein

I reviewed COLD FURY and said, "The big summer blockbusters are already out, so here's a blockbuster in book form.  T. M. Goeglein's YA debut is a fast-paced thrillride and I look forward to reading more of Sara Jane's adventures."

Then I reviewed FLICKER & BURN.  I said, "FLICKER & BURN contains just as much action as the first book and delivers the answers to several questions about Sarah Jane's family and just what is up with those ice-cream guys. . . . Like COLD FURY, FLICKER & BURN ends with a hook.  It's not a cruel cliffhanger, as so many YA authors seem partial to these days, but there are more mysteries for Sarah Jane to solve.  I'm eager to see the answers, especially since Goeglein doles them out at a nice pace."

Now, the third book has a title, tentative release date, and a cover.  I think you're gonna like it!  So here it is, after the jump. Cover reveal - EMBERS & ASH by Ted Goeglein, the final installment in the COLD FURY trilogy from Penguin Books, coming in August 2014! (Book II, FLICKER & BURN, is out now!)


Review: Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket

Smith By Leon Garfield
Available now from NYR Children's Collection
Review copy

I'll read almost anything from NYRB; they're a terrific publisher.  Not too much of a surprise considering they mostly cherry-pick backlists.  The latest release in their children's collection is SMITH: THE STORY OF A PICKPOCKET, a Carnegie Medal Honor book.  Originally published in 1967, it is set back in the eighteenth century. 

It's a little like Dickens for kids, except unlike A CHRISTMAS CAROL it isn't totally boring.  (I love Dickens, but A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a total slog.)  Smith is young, dirty, and stealing to survive.  He lives with his two sisters, who make money sewing hanged men's clothing into new suits.  Given that they live in a poor area, they're often sewing the clothes of old friends.  Then, one day, Smith picks a man's pocket.  Shortly after, he witnesses the man being murdered for his possessions.  Smith has a document that two thugs want, and one big problem.  He can't read.  He has something worth something, finally, but he doesn't know what it is.

SMITH is a charming novel where goodness is rewarded and evil punished, but it takes a lot of work and effort to reach the happy ending.  Smith's life is rough, and there is no magical way to make it better.  He runs into a kindly, blind magistrate and his daughter who are a great help, but they cannot save Smith alone.  Plus, Smith isn't blameless.  He lies, and steals, and he has to learn empathy if he's going to be the good guy.

Leon Garfield does an excellent job at evoking the period.  Well enough that SMITH is probably best saved for children who can have conversations about capital punishment, because there is a lot of execution going on.  Other conversations about the period would probably be less fraught.  And hey, this is a book where literacy is a matter of life and death.  That's pretty cool.

I enjoyed SMITH quite a bit, and think this is one of those children's books that has strong appeal for adults.  C'mon, it's about a thief who is friends with a highwayman and there are relentless henchman!  It's a pulpy adventure, told in classic style.  I may have to look up some of the rest of Garfield's extensive backlist.

October 16, 2013

Review: Lost in London

Lost in London By Cindy Callaghan
Available now from Aladdin Mix (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy

LOST IN LONDON is the story of Jordan Jacoby, a perfectly normal twelve-year-old girl.  When she gets a chance to study abroad for a week in London, she knows it is her chance to do something out of the ordinary.  Soon she and Caroline, the daughter of her hostess, are out and about.  But this might not be the trip she expected!

I thought LOST IN LONDON was super cute and pretty fun.  There's an excellent sense of place - not just the places visited, but the slang and food all reminded me of my trips to London.  (I even thought there was a Cornetto on the cover, until I noticed the straw.  Just a shake.)  There's also good use of technology.  J.J. and her new friends are constantly taking photos and videos with their cells, which sometimes causes trouble.

There are a couple of expected plots, and a few that were more surprising.  J.J. and Caroline have trouble getting along at first, of course.  Caroline is a bit hot and cold.  Caroline's friends are more accommodating, but their classmate Sebastian is causing trouble for everyone.  I liked that J.J. and Sam, one of Caroline's guy friends, had a bit of a flirtation but that the romance angle wasn't really played up.  And the fact that their relationship revolved around a shared love of eating was adorable.

Less expected was the plotline where J.J. and Caroline accidentally implicate themselves in a massive heist.  They've got to dodge the police since they're afraid they can't prove they're innocent.  (Oh to be twelve and think the police would actually believe you're a master thief.)  It's a plotline that relies quite a bit on coincidence, but who cares when it's hilarious?

The book also works because the characters are wonderful.  J.J. is awkward, but she's got enough confidence to stand up for herself, and she's learning to be more confident.  Ellie, Caroline's best female friend, is a secretly talented space cadet.  Caroline is a bit spoiled, but that doesn't mean she's rotten.  Gordo isn't manly, but that doesn't mean he isn't a cool guy.  Sam is friendly and constantly hungry.  The characters elevate the simple plot, as they should.

LOST IN LONDON is a terrific choice for young Anglophiles.  There's friendship, hijinks in an empty mall, pranks, revenge, and a few history lessons slipped in for good measure.  I'm definitely interested in reading Cindy Callaghan's next novel, LUCKY ME, coming July 2014.

About Cindy Callaghan: Cindy grew up in New Jersey and attended college at the University of Southern California before earning her BA in English and French, and MBA from the University of Delaware. She recently exited corporate America after nearly twenty years, and is now fully entrenched in business consulting, writing, and family. She is very involved with her children’s activities, including coaching the occasional soccer team. Cindy lives, works and writes in Wilmington, Delaware with her family and numerous rescued pets.

You can give LOST IN LONDON a chance too.  Two lucky winners will each receive a copy.
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October 15, 2013

Review: Never Fade

Never Fade Book Two of the Darkest Minds
By Alexandra Bracken
Available now from Disney Hyperion
Review copy
Read my review of The Darkest Minds

If you haven't started this series, no worries.  THE DARKEST MINDS is currently on sale for 99 cents in ebook (and $5.99 in paperback).  Once you reach the end, you'll pick up NEVER FADE immediately because that ending.

NEVER FADE picks up several months after THE DARKEST MINDS and Alexandra Bracken lets the full details of what Ruby's been up to unfold slowly, as she runs into some familiar and unfamiliar faces.  Ruby is with a new group now, one that she hopes will help liberate the camps, but she's not sure how to sway people to her side.  Meanwhile, some people would prefer to just start killing the kids.

I still sometimes have trouble buying into the central premise of this series.  Everything I said about it for the first book stands: plague centralized to the US?  I guess it could be something nefarious, but who knows.  Parents give up their kids willing?  Yeah, it might save their lives, but I don't know a single parent who would go five years or whatever without their kid.  They would be teaming up and busting in.  Where are all the parents?!  But, again, I do go with it, because Bracken is a compelling writer.

If you're hoping that things get happier in NEVER FADE, then you're out of luck.  Bracken does introduce Jude, an optimistic, sunshine character who I instantly fell in love with.  She also introduces Vida, a tough, rough girl.  Yet in some ways she isn't as tough as the kids who have been through the camps.  Since they're grouped with Ruby, you know they're going to be put through the wringer.

Once more it is a trip across a changed United States, running into different factions all with their own agendas.  But Ruby's after a hard drive, one that might be able to bring down the corrupt president and free the kids.  All she has to do is keep from getting herself killed.  She also needs to come to term with her powers and decide where she draws her moral lines.

NEVER FADE is a fascinating, heart wrenching book.  Bracken's X-men meet dystopia series is full of action, romance, wise cracking, and pain.  Once more she ends things with a hook, leading you right into the next book.  (Oh when oh when will I have it in my hands?)  If you're like me, it's also an ending that might make you shed a tear or two.  I'm afraid I might be a wimp.

October 14, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Danny's Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment

Danny's Doodles First in the Danny's Doodles series
By David A. Adler
Available now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Review copy

I believe this is the first book I've reviewed for such a young age group.  The books tend to be too simple to interest me, and my niece isn't quite old enough for them yet.  (Although she will be next year.)  But I could not resist when offered a chance to review David A. Adler's new book.

For those of you who don't recognize his name, he's written a metric ton of books for kids.  Most importantly for me, he wrote the Cam Jansen series.  The Cam Jansen mysteries were basically one of two series I read when I was learning to read.  I can remember checking them out of the library, one by one, figuring the words out and trying to solve the mystery along with Cam of the photographic memory.  (I feel like Cam Jansen led me straight to Nancy Drew, which is obviously a terrific reading path to take.)

DANNY'S DOODLES: THE JELLY BEAN EXPERIMENT is the start of a new series, and I suspect another generation of kids will grow up reading books by Adler.  THE JELLY BEAN EXPERIMENT is presented as Danny's journal, an informal record of his day-to-day doings.  Currently, Danny is being roped into an experiment by Calvin Waffle, his class's strangest kid.  I suspect most readers will easily identify with one of the two boys.  (There are girl characters too!)  The teacher is over-the-top mean, but in a funny way.

I thought THE JELLY BEAN EXPERIMENT was a fun story.  Obviously, the two boys are going to end up being friends.  But it was nice to see how Danny went along with Calvin's overtures, and then made his own efforts on behalf of Calvin in return.  I also liked the experiment that brings the two boys together.  It's obviously not great science, but it's the kind of crazy experiment I can see my niece coming up with.  And it's nice to see science portrayed as something fun, interesting, and mysterious.

The titular doodles are drawn by Adler, and they add a nice element to the story.  There are details from the text, and there are also totally irrelevant scribblings.  They aren't overly sophisticated or on point, which adds a nice bit of verisimilitude.  At the same time, they aren't so simple as to be unengaging.  (And often, they're quite funny.)

I intend to give my copy of THE JELLY BEAN EXPERIMENT to my niece next year, when she's reading on her own.  I think she'll enjoy it -- I just hope she won't start stuffing her khakis with jelly beans!

If you've got a child in your life, I'd consider entering the contest below.  U.S. and Canada only, thanks.
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October 12, 2013

5th Annual YA Novel Discovery Contest

Get in Front of Top YA Editors and Agents with ONLY the First 250 Words of Your YA Novel!

Serendipity Literary Agency in conjunction with Sourcebooks Inc. is hosting their fifth annual Young Adult Novel Discovery Competition.

 No query? No pitch? No problem! 

Have a young adult novel—or a YA novel idea—tucked away for a rainy day? Are you putting off pitching your idea simply because you’re not sure how to pitch an agent? No problem! All you have to do is submit the first 250 words of your novel and you can win exposure to editors and a review of your manuscript from one of New York’s TOP young adult literary agents, Regina Brooks.

NOVEMBER IS NaNoWriMo 

In honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org)—an international event where aspiring novelists are encouraged to write an entire novel in 30 days—this contest is meant to encourage the aspiring YA author to get started on that novel by offering an incentive for completing the first 250 words.

GREAT PRIZES 

The Grand Prize Winner will have the opportunity to submit an entire manuscript to YA literary agent Regina Brooks AND receive a free, 10-week writing course, courtesy of Gotham Writers' Workshop, plus a collection of gourmet teas from Possibiliteas.co!

The Top Five Entrants (including the Grand Prize winner) will receive a 15-minute, one-on-one pitch session with Regina Brooks, one of New York’s premier literary agents for young adult books. They will also receive commentary on their submissions with editors from Scholastic, Feiwel and Friends, Random House, Little Brown, Kensington, Candlewick, Bloomsbury, Simon and Schuster, Penguin, and Sourcebooks. In addition, they will receive a year’s subscription to The Writer magazine!

Writing Great Books for Young Adults First 50 Entrants will receive a copy of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks.

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS: The rules of the contest are simple and entering is easy. Submit entries of ONLY the first 250 words of your manuscript and the title via the contest website at http://tinyurl.com/YAContest13

One entry per person; anyone age 14+ can apply. Open to the U.S. & Canada (void where prohibited). Entries for the YA Novel Discovery Contest will be accepted from 12:01am (ET) November 1st, 2013 until 11:59pm November 30th, 2013 (ET).

YA literary agent Regina Brooks and her team will read all of the entries and determine the top 20 submissions. These submissions will then be read by Deidre Jones Little Brown, Nicole Raymond Candlewick, Aubrey Poole Sourcebooks, Kendra Levin Viking Penguin, Mercedes Fernandez Kensington, Annie Nybo Simon and Schuster, Erica Finkel Abrams Books, Monica Jean Random House, Catherine Laudone Simon and Schuster, Stacey Friedberg Penguin Group, Paula Sadlet Random House, Laura Whitaker Bloomsbury, Anna Roberts Feiwel and Friends. These judges will whittle the top 20 down to five, and each of the five winners will be provided commentary on their submissions.

So enter now! http://tinyurl.com/YAContest13

PREVIOUS WINNERS: Previous winners are being published by major houses and many have received representation.

2012 winner 
Last year’s winner, Lori Goldstein (www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com), received a two book deal. Her first book BECOMING JINN will be published by Feiwel and Friends.

2010 winner
“I ended up signing with an agent, and she sold the book to Candlewick's Nicole Raymond, who served as one of the judges of the 2010 YA Novel Discovery Contest. Breakfast Served Anytime is slated for publication in Spring 2014.” Sarah V. Combs 

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I am setting up an interview with Regina Brooks, so let me know if there's anything you want me to ask.  This contest is a great opportunity if you have a complete YA manuscript!

October 11, 2013

Review: The Abominables

The Abominables By Eva Ibbotson
Illustrated by Fiona Robinson
Available now from Amulet Books (Abrams)
Published in the UK in 2012 from Marion Lloyd Books
Review copy

Eva Ibbotson was one of my favorite authors as I child.  I first discovered her through a reprint of WHICH WITCH? and quickly devoured all of her other books currently in print.  She was like a gentler Roald Dahl, imaginative and funny.  She played with the elements of traditional fantasy in a way that made them her own.

Now, a posthumous novel THE ABOMINABLES is being released with artwork by Fiona Robinson.  Robinson's illustrations are a great match for Ibbotson's words and really express the good-natured silliness of the yetis that star in this cross-country adventure.  THE ABOMINABLES was completed by Ibbotson's son and editor, but there is no noticeable difference from Ibbotson's usual voice.

A family of yetis lived happily in the Himalayas for centuries, taught slightly skewed manners by Englishwoman Lady Agatha who was kidnapped in order to raise them.  But now, tourists are on the verge of discovering the yetis, which would be disastrous.  A plan is hatched to transport the yetis to Agatha's home in England under the care of two young siblings, Con and Ellen.

The long journey allows the yetis to come across a variety of strange customs and characters, and unfortunately see the worst that humanity has to offer.  (Well, some of the worst.  THE ABOMINABLES always remains appropriate for children.)  At the same time, Con, Ellen, and the truck driver they enlist are all wonderful people, as are the others who eventually help the yetis.  There's good to balance the bad.

THE ABOMINABLES is a delightful, imaginative tale with a strong moral center.  There are some laughs about the yetis, who sometimes take it to far (such as apologizing to a cake they're about to eat), but the earnestness of this novel is charming.  The darker moments keep THE ABOMINABLES from becoming saccharine.

I didn't quite enjoy THE ABOMINABLES as much as I did the Ibbotson novels I read in childhood.  Of course, I am not a child any longer and sometimes it's hard to tap into the old magic.  For instance, I never quite stopped feeling sorry for Lady Agatha's father, who never learned that his daughter lived a long, happy life.

October 10, 2013

Review: The Ghost Prison

Ghost Prison By Joseph Delaney
Illustrated by Scott M. Fischer
Available now from Sourcebooks Fire
Review copy

I own the first several books in The Last Apprentice/Spooks series by Joseph Delaney, but I've never found time to read them.  When I heard about THE GHOST PRISON, it seemed like a good place to start.  Same world, but no overlapping characters.  Plus, it was just a novella!

THE GHOST PRISON is 112 pages, but the type is large and there are a large number of pictures.  Now, I really enjoyed the illustrations.  Scott M. Fischer's art is bold, clear, and sets the tone of this short piece perfectly.  The final illustration in THE GHOST PRISON is half of what makes the ending so effective.  But I wouldn't pay full price for THE GHOST PRISON ($12.99 for the hardcover).  Most retailers have it discounted to a more reasonable price.

Billy Calder is a new guard at the local prison, and is soon transferred to the night shift.  There he learns about the various ghouls that haunt the prison, including Long-Neck Nettie, who seems to have taken a shine to Billy.  It's a rough job, but perfectly safe as long as he follows all of the rules.

I think that THE GHOST PRISON is a great Halloween read.  The horror builds slowly, as Billy's new job puts him in the path of a terrible monster.  It's a delightfully creepy read, and I liked that it doesn't pull its punches.  This might not be the best choice for younger readers, although I know I would have enjoyed a story as morbid as THE GHOST PRISON back in the third grade.

One thing I particularly liked as an adult is how THE GHOST PRISON deals with historical attitudes.  What I dismissed as unpleasant but probably just a sign of the setting turned out to be a clue as to character.  THE GHOST PRISON might be short, but it's well constructed.

In conclusion: love the story and the illustrations, but still think it's overpriced.  I can see this being worth the price if it was a collection of horror stories instead of just one.  But it was a great introduction to Delaney, and perhaps I'll get around to reading those books now.

October 9, 2013

Review: Will in Scarlet

Will in Scarlet By Matthew Cody
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read my review of Super

I enjoy fairytales and folklore retold, so of course I'm a fan of the Robin Hood legend.  Luckily, people retell it all the time.  (See current Robin Hood books SCARLET and LADY THIEF by A.C. Gaughen.)

Matthew Cody's WILL IN SCARLET takes several liberties with the legend, to good effect.  It doesn't just feel like a checking off of rote setpieces.  The eponymous Will is actually William Shackley, a noble heir displaced by the machinations of Guy of Gisbourne.  The first bit, about Will's backstory, goes on a bit too long.  It is good for getting to know Will and his skills, however.

Things really get going when Will comes across the Merry Men - but not as we know them.  Some dude named Gilbert is in charge and Rob is a drunkard in a tent claiming to be a good fighter.  The revelation of Rob's abilities will surprise no one, but the hints of his backstory are curious.  Something went horribly awry with this Rob and Maid Marian, to the point that her name is verboten.  I can only hope that there's a sequel and that she appears.

It is a bit of a tradition for modern Robin Hood retellings to have a crossdresser in order to up the female quotient.  In this case, Much the miller's son is actually the miller's daughter.  She wants to help Will, but not at the cost of her own secrets or her life.  Honestly, it's very reasonable of her.  Meanwhile, Will is struggling with his desire for revenge.

WILL IN SCARLET is a retelling that doesn't tread to closely to the original, but still contains the important elements.  There's plenty of contrast between the lives of the nobles and the peasants, which Will does note.  His time with the bandits, unsheltered, just might allow him to implement real changes if he regains his rightful place.  There is quite a bit of fighting and some death, which might push WILL IN SCARLET towards the upper end of middle grade.  Much and Will's relationship hints at attraction, but there is no romance.

I felt that WILL IN SCARLET had a fairly open ending, and thus think it might not be a standalone.  The Merry Men's first clash with the law comes to a conclusion, but I think there's plenty of meat for a sequel.  I know I'll read it if there is one.

October 8, 2013

Review: The Best American Comics 2013

Best American Comics 2013 Edited by Jeff Smith
Series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden
Available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review copy

I do not envy the Best American series editors.  They have a great deal of material to go through every year, as discussed in the Foreword and Introduction.  I agree with much of what they say about representing creators and showing the range of comics, but I'm just not sure about one dig at superhero comics.  I'm not sure that next year's collection (gathering Sept 2012-August 2013) will be able to prove that Hawkeye isn't one of the best comics of the year.

But let's talk about this year's collection!  Last year's practice of adding title pages is thankfully continued, with writer and artist bios in the back.  I most definitely did not love every piece, but there are a lot of winners in here.  I was a panelist for the CYBILS award in the elementary/middle grade and young adult graphic novels category last year.  I was chuffed to see the winners GIANTS, BEWARE! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado and FRIENDS WITH BOYS by Faith Erin Hicks excerpted in THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2013.

I think my favorite contribution from someone I had never heard of is "The Good Wife" by Sophie Goldstein.  It's not long, and there are few words, but it's creepy and surreal truth has lingered in my mind.  As for familiar favorites, I'm always happy to see webcomics bigwigs Grant Snider and Kate Beaton, who each pair literacy and wit with distinctive art.  I also liked that Derf Backderf's haunting and humane MY FRIEND DAHMER got a nod, and admired how well it led into an excerpt from RACHEL RISING by Terry Moore.

I do feel that the excerpts mostly weren't as enticing as the one-shot comics, which is the risk of an anthology like THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2013.  For instance, I could barely figure out what was happening in UNTERZAKHN by Leela Corman without the context.  But that works for me, because I see this collection as a jumping off point.  If the story and art work well for me in this shortened form I'll seek more work by the creator, even if I didn't find the selection satisfying.  I know I'm definitely going to look for more by Evan Dorkin.

Most of the selections in THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2013 worked for me.  I think this is a strong entry in the series and a good resource for anyone looking for an intro to the coolest comics around.  Despite the many creators, it's a fairly coherent read.  Jeff Smith clearly has his preferences, but I think that makes the whole stronger.

October 7, 2013

Review: Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute

The Fear Institute Book Three in the Johannes Cabal series
By Jonathan L. Howard
Available now from Thomas Dunne (Macmillan)
Review copy

I was first introduced to the Johannes Cabal series through a book swap a couple of years.  I wanted something genre, funny, with interesting female characters.  Johannes Cabal was a name that my swapper threw out, although she eventually chose to send me another couple of books.  But I enjoyed the ones she sent me so much that I kept the name in the back of my head, right up until I was able to pick up copies at the secondhand bookstore.  Then, I was dismayed to find out that there was a third book out in the UK, but not yet available in the US.

Finally, JOHANNES CABAL: THE FEAR INSTITUTE has made it to our* shores.

*I'm using our loosely, since my analytics make it clear that people from all over the world read this blog.

The first reason I love this series is the humor.  It's very dry, very morbid, very sarcastic.  The whole narrative style is very arch, sort of faux old timey, but quite sly.  I didn't read JOHANNES CABAL: THE FEAR INSTITUTE as quickly as I usually do because the words kept playing in my head.

The second reason I love this series is Johannes Cabal himself.  He's a necromancer who recently regained his soul and is still getting a grip on such concepts as conscience and empathy.  He's quite the villainous protagonist.  The third reason I love this series, Leonie Barrow, sadly doesn't appear in JOHANNES CABAL: THE FEAR INSTITUTE.  I can only hope she returns to be Cabal's moral foe in the fourth book.

In JOHANNES CABAL: THE FEAR INSTITUTE, three men belonging to a society known as The Fear Institute hire Cabal to guide them through the Dreamlands.  Their goal is to kill the spirit of fear, which is only corporeal in that land of poets and opium addicts.  The first book took on Goethe, the second Christie, and this one Lovecraft.  Eldritch horror is a good fit for a story about a necromancer.  Plus, the dream logic setting kept Cabal on his toes, and it's nice to see him not fully in control.  The climax was a tad over long, but did tie everything together neatly.

JOHANNES CABAL: THE FEAR INSTITUTE was worth the wait.  Luckily, book four comes out late 2014.  We'll only have to wait a year this time.  (Meanwhile, the UK is having to wait for years between books!  Ha!)  Give this series a try if you're looking for something genre, funny, with a real twisted bent.

October 6, 2013

Review: Fairy Tale Comics

Fairy Tale Comics Edited by Chris Duffy
Available now from First Second (Macmillan)
Review copy

I was a little disappointed in this comic anthology until I read the afterword.  FAIRY TALE COMICS achieves what it sets out to do: illustrate the big tales and only a few obscure ones.  FAIRY TALE COMICS is truly a collection for children, who aren't so familiar with the tales or expecting of subversion.

Editor Chris Duffy lined up a fantastic group of creators.  I fell in love with Luke Pearson's work after reading HILDA AND THE MIDNIGHT GIANT for the Cybils last year, and his "The Boy Who Drew Cats" (based on a Japanese tale) is a true standout.  It is super cute, and the little boy in it is such a little boy.  Raina Telgemeier's "Rapunzel" deviates the most from the popular tale, I believe, and the way she ends it is quite clever.

Because most of the stories in FAIRY TALE COMICS are straightforward retellings, the quality of the art is very important.  And the art is superb.  Brett Helquist's art will be familiar to fans of popular children's books like A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Other artists like Gilbert Hernandez and Craig Thompson are ones to grow on, creators young readers can seek out when they're older.  There's a wide range of colors palettes, mediums, and styles on display.  It keeps the anthology feeling fresh to the end.

I highly recommend FAIRY TALE COMICS for those seeking a fun book that will appeal to a young reader.  Adult fans of folklore might not be as enthused, although the art is quite enjoyable.

October 4, 2013

Hannah Jayne: I Was a Teenage Statistic (plus a deal alert!)

Truly, Madly, Deadly Hannah Jayne's new novel TRULY, MADLY, DEADLY is a daily deal from Amazon today. For just $1.99, you can own this thriller - a true bargain, considering the book just came out in July. (Click on the cover to the left to go to Amazon.)

Here's what the publisher has to say about it:
Truly Madly Deadly is an edge-of-your-seat thriller about love, obsession and murder. Sawyer Dodd has it all. She’s a star track athlete, choir soloist, and A-student. And her boyfriend is the handsome all-star Kevin Anderson. But behind the medals, prom pictures, and perfect smiles, Sawyer finds herself trapped in a controlling, abusive relationship with Kevin. When he dies in a drunk-driving accident, Sawyer is secretly relieved. She’s free. Until she opens her locker and finds a mysterious letter signed by “an admirer” and printed with two simple words:
“You’re welcome.”
I also have a guest blog from Jayne about the relationship that inspired TRULY, MADLY, DEADLY.  Please be advised that it does contain descriptions of abuse.
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I WAS A TEENAGE STATISTIC

I never thought I’d be a teenage statistic. Even when it was happening to me, I wasn’t part of that group of those people. My situation was different because I was different and I wasn’t the kind of person they were talking about anyway. Those people had really bad abusive relationships. Mine wasn’t that bad. There was blood and tears and threats of death in theirs and…and then there was blood and tears and threats of death in mine. I was one of those people. I was a teenage statistic.

Review: Tainted

Tainted Second in a trilogy
By A.E. Rought
Available now from Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Review copy
Read my review of Broken

When I read BROKEN, I was curious about how it would become a series because it stood alone just fine.  First, A.E. Rought makes Alex Franks the narrator instead of his girlfriend, Emma Jane Gentry, and let's his secrets drive the novel.  Most important is his stalker ex-girlfriend, Hailey.

I really dislike the evil ex trope.  TAINTED did nothing to change that.  I still enjoyed other parts of the novel, but I wished there had been more characterization of Hailey.  She's after either Alex as her boyfriend or half of his company, which just doesn't sound like obsessive love.  Not to mention she's very smart and diabolical, rendering the plot a bit of cat versus mouse caught in a trap.

Now, what did work for me is that Rought takes TAINTED to very unexpected places.  There's a huge event in the middle that I did not forsee at all, and one at the end that is brutal despite being foreshadowed.  I also liked that TAINTED revealed more about Alex before he came to Shelley High after his father's experiments.  There's still a sense of the characters being people who actually go to classes.

Some of the emotions and relationships in TAINTED disturbed me.  Alex and Emma are into each other in an overwhelming manner, which I don't mind too much because it fits the Gothic romanticism of the story.  I did mind some of Alex's thoughts about Bree, Emma's best friend, and how she needed a protector.  The girls aren't delicate flowers, which Alex should know.

Overall, I preferred BROKEN to TAINTED.  I didn't like Alex as much when I was inside his head, and the more inventive moments weren't enough to erase the taste of one of my least favorite tropes.  TAINTED wasn't bad and I'm sure I'll finish the trilogy, but it just felt a little off to me.

October 3, 2013

Review: Exile

Exile Book Two of the Keeper of the Lost Cities
By Shannon Messenger
Available now from Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy
Read my review of Keeper of the Lost Cities

I had an interesting experience with KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES.  That was one of the few times a reader contacted me for more detail, because they'd read a negative review, but trusted my judgment - and my review was positive.  I told them that I thought the criticisms were fair, but that I'd had a more positive reaction to the book.  Thus, I was definitely willing to read EXILE and see where the story went.  I think Shannon Messenger is taking her series in the right direction.

EXILE is the continuing story of Sophie, who grew up in our world before discovering she was an elf.  Now she's struggling to learn how to use her powers and caught between the Council and the Black Swan, a possible terrorist group.  There also appears to be a third group in the mix.

There are less Harry Potter comparisons in EXILE.  Sophie is still attending magic school, but the new year is just starting up, so she isn't very busy with classwork and most of the story takes place after school.  The romance is also shut down to all but a few hints, thankfully.  Instead, Sophie's friendship with the three boys is emphasized.  She spends time building real relationships with them.

Sophie is still a special snowflake, but in EXILE, her special powers aren't the answer to everything.  In fact, sometimes they're a problem.  She's also learning to work with other people's strengths, because one person never has the answer to everything.  I did quite enjoy this passage:

"You are normal, Sophie. That doesn't mean you can't also be exceptional."
"You realize those two things are opposites, right?"
"Actually, someday you'll find that when you stop equating normal with acceptance, the two are far more similar than you think." -p. 173, ARC

I flip-flopped between liking the worldbuilding and finding it too strange to hold.  The servant gnomes show signs of being less obedient than expected, which was nice.  The Council is vaguely sinister and draconian, but I don't get a real sense that I'm supposed to suspect them of villainy.  Their zoo that is supposed to save the world sounds like the worst thing ever.  And I just can't figure out whether that's on purpose.  But the strange bit is that the elves can't handle guilt.  Even after it being integral to the book, I haven't quite figured it out.  I feel guilty for jumping when someone startles me.  Totally nice people who don't do bad things feel guilt.  Maybe I need to be a kid to go with it.

I think that EXILE moved faster than KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, even though they're about the same length.  There's more adventure and mystery, less setup.  At the same time, I am a bit miffed that there's been two books and zero keeping of lost cities.  I feel like this series is still finding its footing, but I'm willing to stick with it because the books are fun.  They have a telepathic unicorn!  (Okay, alicorn, but it's really a flying telepathic unicorn.)

October 2, 2013

Dual Review: Made of Stars and Fault Line

Made of Stars Made of Stars
By Kelley York
Available now from Entangled Teen
Review copy

I discovered Kelley York's HUSHED sometime around March last year, I think.  I still haven't read it, but it's on my wishlist.  The summary really stuck out and has hung in my mind.  When York's new book, MADE OF STARS, popped up on Netgalley, I made with the grabby hands.  Here was a chance to give her a try!

MADE OF STARS is the story of three teenagers.  Hunter and Ashlin are half-siblings, and Chance is their childhood friend, who they hung out with during summers at their dad's.  Now, Hunter and Ashlin are living with their father again as they both take a gap year and decide what college to go to and whether college is even right for them.  When they meet back up with chance, it becomes clear that they're no longer children.  Something is wrong with their friend, who never lets them see his house and who has mysterious injuries.  There are also romantic shenanigans afoot, complicated by Hunter's long-distance girlfriend.

I liked that York dealt with coming out angst in MADE OF STARS.  It's a bit passe in YA novels nowadays, almost verboten.  But there are still a lot of teenagers dealing with accepting themselves and the fear of rejection, and it's nice to have books that deal with it.  York manages to balance it with the plot about Chance's home life so that neither one really takes over the book.  That's where we come to my misgivings.

MADE OF STARS contains a big epiphany, and there's definitely a climax.  But where's the falling action?  It just ended, right when things were getting really exciting.  And as far as I can tell, there is no sequel coming.  I want to read about the consequences, and York just left me hanging.

Which brings me to FAULT LINE.

Fault Line Fault Line
By C. Desir
Available now from Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy

FAULT LINE is the story of Ben, a popular jock, dealing with the fallout of something unknown that happened to his girlfriend, the confident, artistic Ani.  He didn't go with her to a party, and she ended up in the hospital with no memory of what happened, having to have a lighter removed from her body.

Kelly at Stacked made a great post about the issues raised by this book and the choice of the lighter for the cover.  I don't agree entirely with her about this book, but I think her review is very worth reading, so I wanted to point it out.

One way in which we differ is that I liked the beginning.  I think the future scene lets the reader know they're in for a wrenching read, and that the sweet, almost romantic comedy tone of Ben and Ani's courtship isn't going to last long.  Now what I disliked was the ending, which doesn't really move past the beginning.  FAULT LINE truly is Ben's story, and it's about his journey.  The ending made me realize I'd rather be reading Ani's story and see her reach some resolution.

FAULT LINE is a difficult book to read.  Debut author Christa Desir's prose is fine, and doesn't linger nastily over unpleasant details, but the few details there are hurt.  Ani's story is powerful, painful, and - worst of all - realistic.

I do agree with Kelly that the character of the rape counselor is a bit too obvious, although it was obviously easy for Desir to draw on her own experiences for that character.  And if a book hammers in that there is no right way for a woman to react to rape, but that it's certainly wrong for others to shame her, at least its being unsubtle with a decent message. 

I think that FAULT LINE deals pretty well with a very difficult subject, and hope that experience smooths out the bumpier aspects of Desir's plotting.  I know lots of people don't like issue novels, but I'm always up for an author who can take an issue and turn it into an interesting, affecting story.

MADE OF STARS is also a book that tackles difficult issues, with a little bobble at the end.  I put these two books together, because in the end I reacted to them much the same way.  I was completely absorbed until the book just ended, leaving me wondering where the rest of the pages had gotten off too.

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