October 29, 2015

Review and Giveaway: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street!

By Lillian Jaine
Illustrated by Joe Mathieu
Available now from Sourcebooks
Review copy

I reviewed two Peanuts books from Put Me In the Story earlier this week.  However, I also personalized a third book for my cousin Grant: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street! (By the way, this book is currently on sale for $5 off.)

You can customize this book with the recipient's name, a dedication, and a hi-res photo.  After the story, there is a cookie recipe (by Cookie Monster, natch) and a custom ornament that you can cut out and hang on your tree.  You can double-check that everything is done right in the book builder engine before ordering your copy.

My comments about the quality of these books stand: The pages aren't as glossy as some, probably due to the custom printing, but they are a nice weight.  The bright colors print well.  There's plenty of white space in the name tags and dedications for longer names.  I also like that the name is used throughout the story, not just on the cover.

Click to see full-size!

Grant is a total Sesame Street fiend, so I know that he'd love this book even if it weren't personalized to him.  That's just an extra touch to make it a great gift.  I'm excited to slide this book under the tree for him.

Enter to win the Personalized Christmas Book Bundle from Put Me In The Story!
Ends Nov. 15 at 11:59 p.m. EST
Enter for a chance to win the Personalized Christmas Book Budle Giveaway, including personalized copies of:
  • Santa Is Coming To My House
  • ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street!
  • Our Little Deer by Sandra Magsamen

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October 27, 2015

Review and Giveaway: Personalized Peanuts Books

The books from Put Me In the Story allow you to create personalized books for young readers.  Two of their newest books are perfect gifts before you take your family to see The Peanuts Movie (which you can do by winning the $30 movie gift card by entering at the end of the post).  Those books are MY FIRST PEANUTS: ABC - An Alphabet Adventure and MY FIRST PEANUTS: 123 - A Counting Adventure.  Both use text and pictures by Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz.

I loved that the book builder engine let me browse through the book while I created it.  I could input who I was giving the books to, who the books were from, and include a dedication and optional hi-res photo.  MY FIRST PEANUTS: 123 - A Counting Adventure also lets you input the recipient's age.  I personalized these for my first cousins once removed Zane and Max.

The resulting book has no dust jacket, on which your mileage may very.  I liked it because the first thing I do when passing books to my younger relatives is take off the jacket so that it doesn't get ruined.  The pages aren't as glossy as some, probably due to the custom printing, but they are a nice weight.  The bright colors print well.  There's plenty of white space in the name tags and dedications for longer names.  I also like that the name is used throughout the story, not just on the cover.

MY FIRST PEANUTS: 123 - A Counting Adventure counts one through ten using iconic Peanuts scenes, and ends with a custom poster that you can cut out.

I rather like 8, to no one's surprise.

MY FIRST PEANUTS: ABC - An Alphabet Adventure illustrates each letter with alliterative sentences.  It also ends with a custom poster that can be cut out.

They even did well with q!

Both of these books make great gifts.  From now through Saturday (10/31), you can use the code SNOOPY to get $10 off of both MY FIRST PEANUTS: ABC - An Alphabet Adventure and MY FIRST PEANUTS: 123 - A Counting Adventure.  That makes each personalized book $19.99.

Win a $30 Movie Gift Card so you & your family can see The Peanuts Movie!

Winner will be notified on November 2.

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October 26, 2015

Movie Monday: The Final Girls

The Final Girls The instant I saw the trailer, I was hooked.  I love the entire genre of horror comedy.  The horror is gentle enough that I don't wuss out, and the comedy is generally based on a love of the material.

Plus, The Final Girls had a fantastic cast.  Malin Ackerman, Alia Shawkat, Nina Dobrev, and Taissa Farminga have all been in good stuff.  Many of the male actors were also familiar names.

A genre I loved featuring a good cast meant I bought a ticket on one of the few nights my local theater showed The Final Girls.  One good thing about living in a big city is having local theaters that can afford to show indie movies.

The Final Girls setup is simple: Max (Taissa Farminga) goes to an anniversary screening of Camp Bloodbath, the movie that made her late mother (Malin Ackerman) a scream queen.  When a fire starts in the theater, Max and her friends escape through the screen and find themselves in the movie.  Eventually, they decide that they have to make it to the end of the movie and kill Billy.

I am not sure The Final Girls was the best choice for the movie's title.  It made me expect more of a feminist message (although the movie does have feminist leanings).  What it does have is a strong emotional core.  Max's relationship with her mother's character is beautifully done.  She wants to be able to at least save this small part of her mother.

The chills are done pretty well too.  Billy's scary theme was surprisingly effective.  I felt like I would've enjoyed watching the cheesy original, since there were still several scares in the comedic take.  I found the ending extremely fitting for a movie that mocked horror tropes when it wasn't serving as a touching paean to grief.

The Final Girls is currently available as video on demand from most retailers.  It will be available to rent from Redbox starting November 3rd.

October 23, 2015

Review: Material Girls

Material Girls By Elaine Dimopoulos
Available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR
Review copy

In the future, creative industries like fashion and video game design are staffed by teenagers (hired at thirteen) because everyone knows that young people know what is cool.  Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde both rose to the top of their fields, but now their teens are almost over and their afraid of becoming obsolosers.  When Marla loses her prestigious position and Ivy gets threatened by a new pop starlet, the girls start seeing the downside to their world and getting the gumption to fight back.

I found that MATERIAL GIRLS took awhile to kick into gear.  I think it was a mix of two things.  Elaine Dimopoulos built a dystopian that took a lot of set up to explain and ground the setting, and both girls start out shallow and unquestioning in order to make their journey more satisfying.  I found that the plot didn't really move until Marla and Ivy met each other.

I thought MATERIAL GIRLS was full of good ideas.  The way it mocks trends and commercialism reminds me of Scott Westerfeld's slicker SO YESTERDAY.  I liked the way the girls' revolution came about, and that all the leaders had different ideas about what they wanted to achieve and how.  I liked the messy, slightly ambiguous ending, that doesn't provide the story with unearned resolution.  As the slow start showed, the execution could use some work.

MATERIAL GIRLS is the first novel by Dimopoulos, and I think it proves she has talent.  If I were on a court picking the next big thing, I don't think I'd pass this book on to the next level.  I would, however, encourage the artist to keep submitting ideas and honing her craft.  There's a good foundation here.

October 20, 2015

Review: Tell the Story to Its End

Tell the Story to Its End By Simon P. Clark
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin (Macmillan)
Review copy

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” ― G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton's famous quote offers one look at the way stories interact with childhood.  TELL THE STORY TO THE END focuses on the other side.  It is not a horror novel where things jump out at the protagonist or monsters rise up out of oozing slime.  It is a horror novel that says you might not get your happy ending.

I was hooked from the title alone.  It could be a positive affirmation, but combined with the smooky and shadowy cover, it is delightfully sinister.  The book opens with Oli, a young boy, speaking with Eren, a strange creature that wants him to tell stories.  Each chapter opens with more of this ongoing conversation, then flashes back to how it came to happen.  There are stories within stories, as Oli gathers more to tell to Eren.  Perhaps the most important is Oli's own story, the one he has to seek out because all the adults in his life are lying to him.  There is something going on with his father, but no one will tell him.

The sense of creeping doom is well captured by debut author Simon P. Clark.  The opening makes it clear that things are going to come to a head, but he doesn't rest on that self evident truth.  The world of Oli's dreams starts seeping into his waking hours.  Whatever the reader believes is or isn't actually happening, it is clear that Oli has gotten himself into trouble and is only digging deeper.

TELL THE STORY TO ITS END is a lovely little horror story about a boy falling prey to the danger lurking just upstairs.  He notices more than the adults want him to, and at the same time they fail to notice enough.  As everyone tries to help Oli with his struggles moving to the countryside and missing his dad, no one suspects something more sinister lurking.  This is a tale to keep you up at night.

October 19, 2015

Movie Monday: Crimson Peak

Gothic romance is one of those old genres that I wish were still popular.  It's named after the pseudo-medieval buildings that tended to be a prominent feature of the settings, but that was hardly all there was to those tawdry novels.  They eschewed realism and embraced sensationalism, ghosts and family secrets and more used to question fears about modern ethics and social order.

Director Guillermo del Toro does a wonderful job of translating the genre into a modern movie.  Set at the turn of the century and the end of the Victorian era, Crimson Peak raises questions of class difference, American versus English society, and feminine independence while still managing to focus on the important things: tormented ghosts, a creepy old house, psychosexual text, and a terrified heroine with surprising resolve.

I think you should go see Crimson Peak on the big screen to experience the full beauty of the movie.  The sets are amazing.  The eponymous house is ridiculous, a stately manor fallen into disrepair since it was built on top of a clay mine.  This is mostly an excuse to use the clay, a squishy red substance, everywhere.  It sinks through the snow, like blood.  It oozes through the first-floor floorboards and trails down the walls, like blood.  It bubbles in vats in the basement, less like blood and more like something lurking beneath a catwalk in the origin story of a comic book villain.  And the costumes!  So much velvet and pleating and other lush textures that you can practically feel through the screen.  A lot of love went into this movie, and it shows.

The plot propping up all that beauty is a simple thing.  If you've seen the Crimson Peak trailer, you can probably guess at most of what is going to happen.  That was fine with me.  This is a Gothic romance, a genre that lives and breaths tropes.  I enjoy seeing such lurid and silly material being thrown on screen with a budget of millions of dollars.  I think any other fan of the genre will enjoy it too, if only to catch nods to luminaries of the genre, like quotes from Jane Eyre (being said by Tom Hiddleston).

The cast is well suited to the material.  With a dye job, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston look impressively like siblings, all high cheekbones and light blue eyes.  Chastain's performance has been thoroughly praised (as it should be), but I think Hiddleston acquits himself well as a man who has lived in the thrall of his sister his entire life.  I quite liked Mia Wasikowska as Edith, too.  She's an actor who didn't leave much of an impression on me until Stoker, and I've come around on her.  It doesn't hurt that she's playing a bespectacled author who is willing to wield a shovel when times call for it.

The only bum note in the cast is Charlie Hunnam's American accent.  I didn't even realize he was supposed to be an American and not an immigrant until I remembered that his mother and sister were clearly American.  He was quite good as the childhood friend who suspects shenanigans, but that accent was possibly the most shocking thing in Crimson Peak.

Crimson Peak was a wonderful way to spend an October afternoon.  It has a few chills, a snowy backdrop, a surprisingly effective love story, and plenty of mayhem.  Plus, it is absolutely gorgeous.

October 18, 2015

Buy Goosebumps and support Worldreader

For a few more days, you can name your price to get more than $260 of Goosebumps audiobooks in the current book bundle from Humble Bundle, presented by Scholastic.  This promotion supports Worldreader, a non-profit that helps put tech and digital books in the hands of children and their families.  Their focus is on Indian and African novels.

You can read free books from Worldreader on your phone at this site.

Worldreader's press release about the promotion says:

‘‘An entire generation of readers got hooked on reading in part because of R.L. Stine’s ability to tell such addictive, funny, and scary stories,’’ says Danielle Zacarias, our Director of Content. ‘‘Worldreader wants to get people hooked on reading – first and foremost we want to help people become literate but once that happens we want them to love reading and continue reading…It’s a great honor to be attached to a bundle with his name on it.’’

This year, Humble Bundle customers have raised over $100,000 for Worldreader. Thanks to Humble Bundle and their community of readers, we’re able to get more children hooked on reading and are now in the process of sending 50 e-readers (loaded with 100 e-books on each one) to a school in Nima, Ghana, serving some of Nima’s poorest girls. That’s 5,000 new books and a library full of new educational and learning opportunities.

Did you know: 
• There are an estimated 1 billion people on the planet who lack basic reading and writing skills.
• The more relevant and engaging a student’s first reads are, the more likely that person will continue learning and reading throughout their life. Yet, 50% of schools in Africa have few or no books at all.
 • The increasing ubiquity and diminishing costs of digital technology enable Worldreader to bring books of all subjects, and reading levels to people across the developing world.
 For more facts about how literacy changes lives, visit: http://www.worldreader.org/learnings/.

October 16, 2015

Review: Prairie Fire

Prairie Fire Book two of the Story of Owen duology
By E.K. Johnston
Available now from
Review copy

PRAIRIE FIRE starts with Siobhan reintroducing herself and announcing the story she is telling, as is fitting for a Bard.  I love the world in these two books - dragon slayers, bards, and an alternate Canada where history went very differently because of dragons.  E.K. Johnston clearly thought out the world before she started writing, and she came up with the perfect character to present her words.  Siobhan is a musician and a storyteller, and both passions inform the rhythm.

The beginning of PRAIRIE FIRE also lets us know that something big is coming, and that Siobhan and Owen will face quite a dragon.  But before they get there, they have to go through a tedious assignment in Alberta.

The events of THE STORY OF OWEN made Siobhan, Owen, and his girlfriend and fellow dragonslayer Sadie suspected ecoterrorists.  They've managed to clear their names by sharing their story (in song) on YouTube, but there's been a cost.  Siobhan paid the highest.  Her hands are burned and still healing, leaving her to relearn how to play music and know some instruments she'll never be able to play again.  All three are entering the Oil Watch, not as promising recruits, but as potential rogues the government wants to foist into boring assignments so that everyone forgets they exist.

I thought PRAIRIE FIRE recapped the first novel rather smoothly.  You can dive straight into this book without reading the first and still understand the world and the characters quite well.  It also helps that it is set in new places, with many new faces, and that the new location has different dragons to fight.

It's hard to say what I liked best about this story.  The narration, as I already mentioned, is a major plus.  This book is told with style.  I love the intense friendship between Siobhan and Owen, and Siobhan's relationship with herself.  Losing full use of her hands forces her to reevaluate who she is and what she wants, and she doesn't flinch away from making those hard determinations.  She's also firm about not looking for a boyfriend, which is refreshing in a YA protagonist.  There's the inventiveness of the world, which ensures my full attention when Johnston already had it at "dragons and bards."

And oh, there's that ending.  PRAIRIE FIRE ripped out my heart and left it bleeding.  It hurts so much because I can't say that any other ending would be better.  This one is so fitting and perfect.  But I wasn't expecting it and it hit me like a fire-breathing dragon on a cold day.

PRAIRIE FIRE is often a fun book, and a funny one, but it's true power is that it made me think about things and feel deeply.  It's a moving story that belies the clip-art cover.

October 15, 2015

Cybils 2015: Possible YA Speculative Fiction Nominations

Today is the last day to nominate books for the 10th annual Cybils Awards. You can nominate one book in each category.  Here is the nomination form. I'm a panelist for YA Speculative Fiction, so I'll be focusing on that category.

First, here are some YA Speculative Fiction suggestions from other bloggers:
Jean Little Library
Bookshelves of Doom
Si, Se Puede--Yes, you can!

I'll second the following suggestions that have not yet been added to the list:
  • Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • Death Marked by Leah Cypress
  • Sound by Alexandra Duncan
  • Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
  • The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
  • Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz
  • Spelled by Betsy Schow
  • 13 Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt
  • This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner
I'd like to throw the following suggestions into the fray:

October 13, 2015

Review: An Apprentice to Elves

An Apprentice to Elves Book three of the Iskryne trilogy
By Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
Available now from Tor (Macmillan)
Review copy

AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES is being billed as the conclusion of the Iskryne trilogy.  I'd hoped for more books in this series, but this is a good note to go out on.  The Iskryne books are inspired by Viking history, with elves, trolls, and companion wolves thrown in.  The first book detailed the world and the battle with the trolls, and the second book bought in a new human threat - the Rheans, who are basically Romans.

Once more, the book is told by new narrators.  AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES alternates between Alfgyfa (the daughter of the first narrator, Isolfr), Otter  (a former slave rescued in the second book), Fargrimr (a sworn son who is the jarl of the heall closest to the Rhean invasion), and Tin (an elf smith who brokered the alliance between humans and elves with Isolfr).  This helps expand the world and showcase more lifestyles of the people within it.  It is the first book with female narrators, so many of the points of view were much needed.  I did feel like the Rheans delaying their invasion for more than a decade was mostly so that Alfgyfa could become old enough to narrate.

But overall, I enjoy the way the Iskryne trilogy has grown and changed since the first book.  The first book, A COMPANION TO WOLVES, felt like a commentary on Pern and how the dragon relationships worked.  Over THE TEMPERING OF MEN and AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES, it has become its own series, with complex relations between and within species.  I loved that this book was not all war, but also an examination of how the two groups of elves broke apart and a fierce drive to bind men and elves closer together before their alliance crumbles without an external threat.

AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES is not a fast-paced novel.  It ends with several big battles, a thrilling finish that had me racing to the conclusion.  But that is not the pace of most of the novel.  This is a series interested in ferreting out details of the characters and their place.  As I said, I'm sad that this will only be a trilogy because I feel like there is so much of the Iskryne to explore.  If this is where it ends, though, I'll be satisfied.

I think you can read AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES on its own, but you'll miss many worldbuilding details and some of the characters' histories if you do.  

October 12, 2015

Movie Monday: Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies is the fourth Steven Spielberg movie to star Tom Hanks.  It looked very serious (just look at Hanks' stare on that poster!), but I could get free tickets to a preview screening, so why not give it a chance?  I like Spielberg and Hanks.

(And, as I saw during the credits, Bridge of Spies has even more of a pedigree. Matt Charman, an unknown writer, wrote it with the Coen Brothers.)

I'm glad I took that chance because I loved this movie.  It isn't dour at all.  It's very funny - sometimes a dry humor and sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious.  It's also based on an incredible story that doesn't need explosions and chase scenes to keep things tense.

It's the heart of the Cold War, and James Donovan (Hanks) is selected by his firm to represent Colonel Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy who has been caught.  His guilt isn't in question, but he still has to be given a fair trial.  Donovan takes the job because he believes in the Constitution, but soon finds himself admiring Abel, who is honoring what his country has asked of him.  Things look grim for the most hated man in America - that is, until U2 pilot Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down over the USSR.  I'd heard of Gary Powers before, but knew nothing about the story of how two spies had been exchanged between the countries just as the Berlin Wall went up.

Hanks delivers a predictably good performance as a supremely competent man driven by a narrow but intense sense of ethics.  He plays wonderfully off of Rylance, who gives a rather taciturn performance that manages to hint at deeper feeling below the surface.  Many of the other actors are also impressive, although Austin Stowell and Will Rogers (as another American in trouble) give little more impression than that of a handsome block of wood.

Bridge of Spies is not a dry, stuffy story at all.  The clash of the US, USSR, and East German governments is Brazil-esque in its labyrinthine bureaucracy.  It's a delight to see someone cut through that and manage to get the right thing accomplished. 

Bridge of Spies opens October 15th.  I recommend ignoring the boring poster and giving this one a chance.

October 8, 2015

Review: Evolution

Evolution Third book in the Extraction trilogy
By Stephanie Diaz
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin (Macmillan)
Review copy
Read my reviews of Extraction and Rebellion

Clementine has been to the center of her planet and back.  She expected to find a better life, but instead found corruption and a horrific plan to sacrifice everyone on the Surface to save those in the Core.  She joined a rebellion, but recently discovered a truth that changed everything, and an external threat that just might be more of a danger to her people.

I must admit, I was worried that the aliens would let Commander Charlie and the other officials off the hook.  Invading aliens with advanced technology would be a reason for some to resort to extreme measures.  I think there's never a reason for the kind of medical experimentation that they were doing, but at least it is more of a reason than they were doing it because they're the bad guys and thus do bad things.

I've been looking forward to the arrival of the aliens since the end of EXTRACTION, when their existence was revealed.  REBELLION dealt with the eponymous rebellion instead of picking up that thread. While I was quite satisfied by the alien's appearance in EVOLUTION, I wish Stephanie Diaz had seeded some more information about them earlier in the trilogy.  I was really interested in their past interactions with humans and sad that that was only a fact in this book.

I continued to enjoy Clementine and Logan's relationship, as well as the refreshing lack of a love triangle.  There are not many YA dystopians without one.  Both of them are ridiculous about offering to sacrifice themself for the other, but I believed in their connection and their worries. 

I can't say I'll ever be a dystopian fan, but I truly enjoyed the Extraction trilogy.  I think it is because it leaned more towards the science fiction end of things, and really expanded beyond the government versus one special girl.  I look forward to seeing Diaz's next novel, now that her debut trilogy is done.

Stephanie Diaz is half-Latina and has written about what diversity means to her at Latin@s in Kid Lit.

October 6, 2015

Review: The Nest

The Nest By Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Available now from Simon & Schuster BFYR
Review copy

Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen are both titans of children's literature.  Their first collaboration is a creepy confection sure to delight fans of CORALINE.  I hate to make the same comparison as the marketing, but this is one of those cases where it is true.

Steve's baby brother is sick.  It is a congenital problem, and he needs surgery, and he might not ever be completely normal.  That's when Steve first dreams about the angels, the wasps, who offer to help.  At first it seems like his dreams might just be a sensitive boy dealing with a tough time, experiencing his family's stress the only way he can.  But the dreams are getting more sinister, and Steve is starting to suspect that he shouldn't have agreed to let the wasp queen help.  Of course, no adults will believe him that they need to protect the baby from the wasps.

Klassen's art is a terrific accompaniment to the story.  In black and white his distinctive style looks quite sinister.  It's startling white shapes on black backgrounds and shadows on shadows.  Although the illustrations look quite simple, each enhances the mood of the text.

Oppel's writing is in fine form.  The text is rather large on the page, so THE NEST is even shorter than it seems.  The words are as deceptively simple as the illustrations.  Even a slower reader probably won't take to long to get through THE NEST, excepting for breaks to slow the creepy-crawlies.  As short as the story is, it's the kind that burrows into you and makes you look at the world around you in a different way, as everyday things become sinister.  It's also a well done portrait of childhood anxieties, both normal kid fears and trying to understand the fears of your parents which you can sense even when they try to hide them.

I expect this scary story will become a new children's classic.  If it doesn't, that's a true shame.

October 5, 2015

Movie Monday: Attack on Titan, Part I

This past week, the Attack on Titan: Part I movie premiered in the US.  You might be more familiar with Attack on Titan by its original Japanese name, Shingeki no Kyojin.  It is an extremely successful manga series that has been adapted as an anime (second season coming soon!), a video game, and now a movie.  It has also spawned spin-off mangas and novels. 

The producers of the movie took several risky liberties with the story.  They keep the premise, that the remains of humanity are living in a walled city under siege by giant beings that eat humans.  They jettison much of the rest of the story.  Unfortunately, these risks don't pay off.

It's understandable that a long series would have to cut quite a bit of material to fit into a movie, even two movies.  Still, it is inexplicable that they would cut the most popular character, Levi, among others.  Worse, the missing characters are replaced by new characters we're given no reason to care about.  If there was space for a character there, why not use the original?

Of course, the characters that remain are butchered.  Their motivations are either missing or replaced by something far weaker.  This means that most of the characters make no sense, despite character being a strength of the original.  (Jean, I think, suffers the worst inexplicable motivation.)  And what is done to Mikasa (Mizuhara Kiko) is a tragedy.  In the Attack on Titan manga, she's a force to be reckoned with.  She's the best fighter and quite smart.  Here, she sits and cries while a titan approaches and makes no effort to run or hide of anything.

Trailer still of Mikasa-in-name-only
There are a few reasons to see the movie.  The special effects for the titans are pretty cool, nightmarishly distorted human beings.  They're pretty goofy until the blood starts flowing, and then they're just plain unsettling.  There are some good jokes, plus lots of unintentional comedy.  Attack on Titan: Part I is the kind of movie that you watch with friends in order to mock how stupid it is.  This is basically a horror movie where the humans only exist to get killed using the coolest special effects the filmmakers could manage.

If you've been curious about giving this story a try, don't start with the live-action movie.  This is a sad cash-in on a popular franchise.  I'd recommend starting with the anime, then the manga.  (Isayama Hajime's art is rough, making it difficult to get into the story at first.)  As it turns out, the book is better transcends language and culture.

October 4, 2015

A More Diverse Universe 2015

Today is the first day of the third annual #Diversiverse, hosted by Aarti of BookLust.

So what is #Diversiverse?  It is a two-week celebration of speculative fiction by authors who are not white.  Bloggers read these books, write reviews, and then link to them at the round-up post.

The goal is to help people understand the truth of this statement:
Reading diversely may require you to change your book finding habits.  It ABSOLUTELY does not require you to change your book reading habits.

Reading more diversely does not require you to change what kind of books you like.  You can keep on keeping on, because authors of all sorts write books of all sorts.  Hopefully, #Diversiverse will help you find some of those books more easily.

October 2, 2015

Review: The Aeronaut's Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass First book in the Cinder Spires series
By Jim Butcher
Available now from Roc (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Jim Butcher, author of the popular urban fantasy series The Dresden Files, takes on steampunk fantasy in the first book of the Cinder Spires.  I find the cover for this one somewhat misleading.  It's clearly taking cues from the covers of his most famous series, with one man in a long dark jacket filling the cover.  But THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS is truly an ensemble novel.  Even some of the antagonists get sympathetic passages through their point of view.  More than that, the novel's two most prominent narrators are female.  There's also a cat (who speaks Cat, which some humans can understand) who is probably very insulted that he is not the focus of the cover.

The AMS Predator is a small privateer ship that was recently severely damaged.  Captain Grimm finds a way to get the repairs he needs, but it involves working for the Spirearch (the ruler of Spire Albion, the novel's setting) on a rather ill-defined mission.  With him are two mad etherealists (think wizard) and three soldiers.  Two of those soldiers are Gwen and Bridget, and the third is Gwen's cousin Benedict.  Gwen is from one of the Spire's greatest families and thus arrogant and somewhat naive, but she's also aces at getting the job done.  Bridget is also from a great family, but of the sort that has fallen into genteel poverty.  Both girls are brand-new recruits, but still have skills to offer the mission.

It's hard to pick out what my favorite parts of THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS are.  I loved everything about Rowl (the cat), even though I'm not a cat person.  I found the villains suitably terrifying, but liked that many of the Auroans (that is, the people of the opposing Spire) where essentially honorable people trying to carry out their duty and minimize the impact of the actually evil antagonists.  I loved Gwen, and Bridget, and Folly, and admired how much Butcher has grown in the way he writes women since the first Dresden Files books.

THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS presents a rather complicated world, in which the surface is uninhabitable and covered with monsters and thus people live in Spires and sail through the air in ships.  But it is delightfully inventive and it is fun to see how it all works together.  It is definitely more fantasy with a steampunk aesthetic than an alt history type series, at least for now.

The book is well paced, with plenty of action amid the worldbuilding.  There was one long battle that I couldn't believe wasn't the climatic battle until the story kept going and I realized that of course that was the battle Butcher was building up to.  It was very neatly done and gave THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS a nice sense of closure despite the many threads left dangling for future books in the series.  I'm eager for the second book, to see how those threads get picked up.


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