January 31, 2014

Review: Moonkind

Moonkind Book Three of the Winterling trilogy
By Sarah Prineas
Available now from HarperCollins
Review copy

I loved WINTERLING and SUMMERKIN, the first two books in Sarah Prineas's latest trilogy.  They were fun takes on fae mythology, grounded by a heroine who refused to give up her trust in her friends.  Thus I was ever-so-slightly disappointed by MOONKIND.

Fer, the Lady of the Summerlands, and Rook, a puck, have been uneasy friends for two books.  Mostly because Rook always puts his brothers first.  But Fer's faith has always been rewarded.  Thus it surprised me that once more Fer and Rook's relationship was put to the test -- it felt somewhat repetitive and not entirely true to the characters for me.

But then I fell into the story and fell back in love.  Fer's victory in SUMMERKIN has led to unexpected consequences and it's up to her to make it right.  I really enjoyed the themes of responsibility, friendship, change, and ingenuity.  Fer's humanity helps her shake things up, but the pucks are pretty good at that too.

Thus, the beginning of MOONKIND put me off slightly, but it really is a terrific book and a terrific conclusion to the series.  And as for the friendship being tested again . . . well, the stories have repeatedly emphasized how important it is when things happen thrice.

January 29, 2014

Review: Secret

Secret Book four of the Elemental series
By Brigid Kemmerer
Available now from K-Teen (Kensington)
Review copy
Read my review of Spirit

"Breathless," the short story at the end of SPIRIT, revealed that Nick Merrick is gay and more into his girlfriend Quinn's dance partner than Quinn.  SECRET opens with Quinn happily helping Nick keep up his facade, but the secrets are about to start spilling out for both of them.  Nick has some serious problems, as anyone following the Elemental series knows, and Quinn is having family trouble that often leaves her without a place to go at night.

I had my hopes up for SECRET since I've had a lot of fun with this series and Nick is my favorite of the Merrick brothers.  It didn't quite live up to my hopes.  There's very little of the series' ongoing action, just a few scenes at the beginning and end about the Guides.  Instead of fantastical, life-or-death drama, there's lots of drama about dating, coming out, and abuse.  It's all well done, but at times I felt more like I was reading a contemporary than a book about a guy who can control air.  The series' romantic elements are still in play and both Nick and Quinn's romances get a decent amount of attention.

I did like that Brigid Kemmerer began the process of redeeming one of the series villains.  One of the strongest aspects of the Elemental series has been the complex morality.  I had trouble with some of the redemption, although I liked that it didn't come easy.  And I love that it all led to an explosive scene at the end setting up the next book.  (And I'm really curious about the focus of the next book since all of the Merrick brothers are now paired up.)

I think SECRET does not standalone as well as its predecessors.  However, it could still be picked up by someone new to the series.  It isn't an overly complicated mythology.  But things are definitely becoming more dense and intertwined.  SECRET wasn't my favorite in the series, but things have moved forward and I'm eager to see the fallout.

January 28, 2014

Review: Red Rising

Red Rising Book one in a trilogy
By Pierce Brown
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I haven't felt this way about a book in awhile.  Finishing RED RISING left me revved up, ready for more.  I love that I got to read it early, but I loathe it because I have to wait that much longer for more.  I was fully sucked into Darrow's world and didn't want to leave it.

Darrow is a Red on the planet Mars.  He and his people live beneath the surface, mining for the elements necessary to terraform Mars.  Then, after narratively obvious tragedy strikes, Darrow discovers that the Martian surface is already colonized and the upper classes are using the Reds as slaves.  Thus begins his thirst for revenge.

The worldbuilding of RED RISING isn't perfect, but I love how detailed it is.  The book wasn't rushed at all.  It lingers over the details of Darrow's transformation, his infiltration of the Golds, his time at the brutal Institute.  And I love the characters.  The Golds as a whole are awful, but on an individual level they vary quite a bit.  That's something Darrow has to face as he pursues his vengeance.  (Although I did often yell at him to stop going on about how so-and-so was so great because couldn't he see that he was dooming yet another person to poignant death?)

RED RISING is quite grim and violent, but I didn't find it depressing.  In fact, I often found it quite exhilarating.  Darrow's journey is a rough one, but that's what makes it so interesting.  Also, RED RISING is being published as an adult novel, but it reads very similar to YA to me.  Darrow is sixteen and the book is told in first person present tense. 

Now that RED RISING has gotten all the setup out of the way, I can't wait to see where this series is going.  I'll be back for book two with bells on.

January 27, 2014

9 Books to Get in a Winter Olympics Mood!

I mentioned having a Winter Olympics reading list in my BEING SLOANE JACOBS review, and Bookworm1858 asked for more detail.  So I decided to actually post my list instead of burying it in the comments.  This list will be heavy on the figure skating, since that's my favorite.

Gold Medal Winter Let's start with a new book I haven't read before but want to read. GOLD MEDAL WINTER by Donna Freitas is the story of Esperanza, who is advanced to the Olympic team when another skater is injured.  She's younger and less experienced than her teammates, but just as determined.  This title promises lots of competition, a bit of flirting, and a Latina heroine.  It's definitely aimed at the younger crowd, but that means it should be easy to fit in when I have a spare moment!

Now let's move on to some winter sports romances!

Being Sloane Jacobs The Ex Games Out of Play

BEING SLOANE JACOBS by Lauren Morrill (review linked above) is a cute story about a figure skater and a hockey player who switch places.  Both girls mature and fall in love during their summer of intense sports practice.

THE EX GAMES is one of the books Jennifer Echols wrote for the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies line.  Two exes decide to have a snowboard competition with each other that also ends up reigniting their old flame.  It's not as deep as Echols' later novels, but it's still got her spark.  (And the ex thing works better than it should because they "dated" back when they were 13.)

OUT OF PLAY by Jolene Perry and Nyrae Dawn is another one I haven't read yet.  It's a New Adult/Young Adult romance from Entangled Teen about a rock star drummer and hockey player who fall in love.  I've heard good things, and BEING SLOANE JACOBS certainly put me in the mood for more books about female hockey players.

Now for four childhood favorites, which includes a trilogy about the Olympics!

Skating Shoes On the Edge Now or Never Chance of a Lifetime

SKATING SHOES by Noel Streatfeild was out of print when I was a child, meaning that my mom paid around $40 for a copy from eBay!  Streatfeild, if you're not familiar with the name, is an English author famous for her stories about young girls in the performing arts.  This is about two young girls who become friends on the rink, but start to drift apart as one loses interest and one becomes serious.

Melissa Lowell's Silver Blades books were the thing to read back when I figure skated, but they're out of print now.  (They switched on me.)  The Gold Medal Dreams trilogy featured two skaters from the series: Tori Carsen and Jill Wong.  They've both reached Nationals and hope to go the Olympics, but there are complications.  Namely, Tori has just been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and it's getting harder for her to walk every day, much less skate.  If you can find copies of this trilogy used, it's pretty fun even if you aren't familiar with the characters.  (The series was meant to be picked up at any point.)

And finally, a touch of nonfiction.

My Sergei
There  are books about almost all of the Olympian winners out there.  (I should know; I own a lot of them.)  Ekaterina Gordeeva was a successful solo skater, but first she was part of a team with Sergei Grinkov.  They were a husband-wife team who won gold at two Olympics and four World Championships in pairs skating, before Sergei died of a heart attack at 28.  The memoir MY SERGEI: A Love Story by Gordeeva and E.M. Swift stands out from the crowd of Olympic books because it is very personal and tragic, rather than a pat tale of triumph.  (Also, it's a nice look into the USSR and their training methods.)

I hope that at least on of these nine books catches your eye!  Are there any books you read to get into the Winter Olympics mood?  Or just a book about a winter sport that you love?

January 24, 2014

Review: The Wavering Werewolf

The Wavering Werewolf By David Lubar
Illustrated by Marcos Calo
Available now from Starscape (Macmillan)
Review copy
Read my review of Extremities

THE WAVERING WEREWOLF is the latest book in David Lubar's Monsterrific Tales series.  I haven't read the previous books, but the premise is simple.  In each book a kid is accidentally turned into a monster and must choose whether to remain a monster or turn back into a human.  The star of THE WAVERING WEREWOLF is Norman, a geeky kid who gets bitten while wandering in the woods.

Those who are familiar with Lubar's books know to expect humor.  My biggest laughs came from Norman's strategy to get people to ignore him: start going into detail about random facts.  Don't expect too much complexity, however.  This series is aimed at the Bailey School Kids crowd.  It kind of reminded me of some of the old Goosebumps books, although the writing was better.  I can see this series and the Lovecraft Middle School books appealing to the same kids.

If you've got a young reader in your life who likes monsters, THE WAVERING WEREWOLF is a good choice.  It plays with some classic tropes in a way that's kid friendly but not patronizing.  I'm definitely going to pass this one on to my niece.  (She's reading!  On her own!  It is so cool.)

January 23, 2014

Review: Anyone But You

Anyone But You Book Three in the Twisted Lit series
By Kim Askew and Amy Helmes
Available now from Merit Press (F+W Media)
Review copy
Read my reviews of Tempestuous and Exposure
Read my interview with the authors

First off: don't worry about the fact that this is the third book in a series.  All that connects the books is the authors and the fact that they're all based on Shakespearean plays.  You can read them in any order.

ANYONE BUT YOU is Kim Askew and Amy Helmes' take on Romeo and Juliet.  In this case, Roman and Gigi are the heirs to competing Italian restaurants.  The book switches back in forth through time, telling the story of Gigi and Roman's romance as well as the history of their families' feud, which started with two boys (Nick and Benny) and a girl (Stella).

Honestly, Romeo and Juliet is not my favorite play by any stretch of the imagination.  And I was never fully into the romance.  There's nothing wrong with Gigi and Roman, but they meet, find each other cute, start dating.  It doesn't span that much more time than the original either.

On the other hand, I love love loved the flashback story.  You've got the World's Fair, two best friends sticking by each other no matter what, ambition, love, jealousy, war . . . I'd have happily read an entire book just about Nick, Benny, and Stella.  I particularly liked how my sympathies shifted throughout as more became clear about the characters and their actions.  It was also so tense since the future parts were there and thus it clearly has to go terribly awry at some point.  (And, oh, how it did.)

ANYONE BUT YOU doesn't reinvent the forbidden-romance wheel, but it does keep it rolling along nicely.  While I am enjoying the Twisted Lit series, the past parts do bode well for when Askew and Helmes venture out into other projects.

January 22, 2014

Mini-Reviews: A Quintet of Shebooks

Shebooks first came to my attention when Beth Kephart posted about them.  Bite-sized books for busy women?  That's right up my alley right now.  And Beth's excerpts of Zoe Rosenfeld's "Owl in Darkness" certainly whetted my appetite.  All five of these titles are available now from Shebooks.  In addition to the story, each book includes questions at the end to help think about the reading.

Owl in Darkness "Owl in Darkness" by Zoe Rosenfeld
Review copy

"Owl in Darkness" is the story of a writer staying at a manor for six weeks (a special writer's residency), but who hasn't written a word since she's arrived.  Instead, she's preoccupied with the people and things around her.  Cups left by the nightwatchmen, noises in the wood . . . it's all rendered in beautiful, descriptive prose.

And though the tale of writer's block is familiar, Bert's struggles are eventually her own, as are her epiphanies.  The atmosphere throughout is wonderful, making the little things loom as large for the reader as Bert.  It's very easy to get caught up in the point of view.  (For all my YA readers out there, I recommend this one for fans of Maggie Stiefvater.)

Stolen Moments "Stolen Moments" by Suzanne Antonette Paola
Review copy

I come to "Stolen Moments" next, because it is similar in many ways to "Owl in Darkness."  There's quite a bit of internal narration with a focus on slightly off relationships, but I did not like it near as much.  It kept striking me as the worst sort of navel gazing, although I did rather like the middle section ("Shoes").

And, well, it struck me as an ah-ha! moment when the back revealed that these three stories are part of a larger work to be published later.  That's why they didn't quite work, didn't fully connect, never truly went anywhere.  It's just a glorified excerpt!  There are some good moments in "Stolen Moments," but I found it rather dull overall.  (It doesn't help that the three narrators, from three different walks of life, sound basically the same.)

Mating Calls "Mating Calls: The Problem with Lexie and No. 7" by Jessica Anya Blau
Review copy

This is the final fiction Shebook I read and the only one by an author I was familiar with.  Jessica Anya Blau's two short stories aren't related, except by some uniting themes.  "The Problem with Lexie" is the tale of a school counselor making some very bad decisions regarding pills and her love life and "No. 7" is about (Alex)Zandra spotting a former lover by chance in a Ross Dress for Less.

I liked both narrators, although Alexandra has the advantage of being removed from her terrible relationship decision.   I enjoyed Lexie's narration even at her worst behavior, however.  I enjoyed how fun both of Blau's stories were, even when they dealt with unpleasant things.

His Eye Is on the Sparrow "His Eye Is on the Sparrow: An Engagement in Black and White" by Ann Pearlman
Review copy

Ann Pearlman's memoir goes back to 1962 when she (a Jewish woman) was engaged to Ty (a black man).  It tells of them meeting each others' families, with episodes both funny and harrowing.  The way she writes about emotions is incredibly vivid, from love to humiliation.  It certainly convinced me that I want to read INFIDELITY, her Pulitzer-prize winning memoir about their marriage.

I particularly love the descriptions of food in "His Eye Is on the Sparrow."  Who doesn't associate food with community, hospitality, history?  It comes through so deliciously here, even when the food is divisive.  I'm not a big memoir fan, but this is simply a fascinating story.

Nigerian-Nordic Girl's Guide "The Nigerian-Nordic Girl's Guide to Lady Problems" by Faith Adiele
Review copy

"The Nigerian-Nordic Girl's Guide to Lady Problems" discusses a serious lady problem: fibroids.  Faith Adiele had four painful ones and lots of conflicting advice about what to do about them - from her different cultures, different doctors - and much of it was fairly judgmental.

The medical system in America is highly flawed, and the treatment people get varies wildly depending on how you're perceived by your medical provider.  Honestly, the Nigerian, Nordic, and American ways all fail her differently - and all see Adiele as failing in different ways. Adiele's memoir is funny, painful, and quite insightful.    (And it certainly made me think about my mother's stories about her fibroids.)

January 21, 2014

Review: No Surrender Soldier

No Surrender Soldier By Christine Kohler
Available now from Merit Press (F+W Media)
Review copy

It's 1972, and Kiko is a Chamorro boy on Guam living with his mother, father, and a grandfather suffering from dementia.  His older brother is fighting in Vietnam.  Between the Vietnam war and his Tatan's flashbacks, the whole family is remembering what happened during the Japanese occupation, secrets to Kiko (who wasn't born at the time).

The narration flips between Kiko and Seto, a Japanese soldier who hid in the jungle rather than surrender.  Seto has no idea how the war ended since he hasn't interacted with civilization in years.  But his resources are running out and he's getting sloppier, soon to be found or starved.  Much of the tension in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER comes from the wait of the two narrators meeting.

I enjoyed how thoroughly Christine Kohler explores the setting of her debut young adult novel.   The island's history, culture, and climate informs the characters and their actions.  I don't know much about Guam and I didn't know about Japanese stragglers, but this book was a wonderful introduction to them.  I did know about atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers. And I do know about dementia, and appreciated Kiko's frustration.  He doesn't understand why he's stuck babysitting his Tatan while his parents work, why they don't just send him to one of his mom's siblings in America who would put him in a nursing home.  His parents have their reasons, but Kiko isn't totally wrong either.

NO SURRENDER SOLDIER isn't a particularly fast-paced book.  It's very character driven.  It is, however, a fascinating and original bit of historical fiction.  It's well worth picking up, particularly for people looking for Vietnam-era fiction with a different point of view.

January 20, 2014

Review: Doctor Who: Harvest of Time

Harvest of Time By Alastair Reynolds
Available now from
Review copy
Read more Doctor Who reviews

I wanted to read HARVEST OF TIME, because terrible dick-shaped spaceship cover aside, it promised a team-up between the Doctor and the Master, his enemy and former friend.  I love their dynamic on the show and I was eager for more - especially since I'm familiar with Alastair Reynolds' terrific space operas.

Reynolds definitely takes advantage of the fact books don't have a special effects budget.  There are oil rigs and bits of ocean disappearing, a large-scale crystalline crab invasion, and more. Nor is the action limited to Earth.

The Doctor in HARVEST OF TIME is the third Doctor, accompanied by his companion Jo Grant.  I loved their relationship, as well as Jo on her own.  She's got her own ideas about the right course of action and isn't afraid to get involved when the Doctor isn't available.  I also liked Eddie, a woman caught between her company's secrets, the military, and another branch of the military.  She's smart and determined, two things I love in any character.

While I enjoyed HARVEST OF TIME, the ending drags quite a bit.  It cuts between two groups of characters, and the groups definitely don't have an equal amount to do.  Certain scenes at the climax are glacial when they should be propelling the action forward.  I did enjoy the characters and the promise of resolution enough to push through.  And the mysteries at the beginning of the novel are quite compelling.

HARVEST OF TIME isn't a perfect novel, and definitely not the best choice for someone unfamiliar with Doctor Who, but it is a fun novel for series fans.  Reynolds does not shy away from exploring the relationship between the Doctor and the Master, and that is how I was drawn to the book after all.

January 17, 2014

Review: Diamonds & Deceit

Diamonds and Deceit At Somerton, Book Two
By Leila Rasheed
Available now from
Review copy

At Somerton is a series clearly designed to capture the Downton Abbey crowd.  And it does a good job of it -- Leila Rasheed both has a wonderful writing style and combines the soap opera-type plot with issues relevant to the time and today like women's suffrage, Indian independence, interracial relationships, and gay relationships.  While DIAMONDS & DECEIT was as fun as CINDERS & SAPPHIRES, it had a tendency to focus on the least interesting on-going plots.

Most of the attention is on Rose and Ada.  Rose has her true parentage revealed, leading to a difficult Cinderella story.  Ada is still in love with Ravi, who she's had approximately three five-minute meetings in private with, but intends to marry Lord Fintan.  Meanwhile, less attention is given to Sebastian trying to prevent Oliver from hanging for murder, Priya trying to avoid the attentions of her employer and falling in love with Michael, and there's much less focus on the servants than there was in the first book.  That perspective still exists, but it could use more focus.

I do, however, love the changing points of view.  Even the least likeable characters, such as Stella Ward, get some sympathetic development.  I do think that Sebastian felt a little off.  Obviously, something huge happened at the end of the last novel, but he goes from one extreme to the other in his personal life.  He doesn't just change, he changes.   The other characters felt more steady between the two novels. 

I must admit, the ending had me thinking Rasheed was going to wrap everything up in just two books!  (Which might not be a terrible thing, because ugh neverending series and the Downton Abbey craze is fading.)  But there are plenty of hooks from the next book, in addition to a baffling one-year later epilogue that only says anything about the most settled character.  However, the epilogue also brings the story to WWI!

I enjoy this series.  DIAMONDS & DECEIT and its predecessor are extremely fun to read, plus they explore a period of history that's under-served by both young adult and romance novels.  I felt like the plot of DIAMONDS & DECEIT lacked a little, especially since so many interesting stories were right there, but it still went by so nicely that I'm sure to read the third At Somerton book.

January 16, 2014

Review: Being Sloane Jacobs

Being Sloane Jacobs By Lauren Morrill
Available now from Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read my interview with Lauren

Sloane Emily Jacobs is a politician's daughter being forced into a figure-skating comeback by her mom, who basically thinks it's good publicity.  Sloane Devon Jacobs is a hockey player struggling with her emotions on the ice in the wake of her mother going to rehab.  The two girls meet in a hotel on their way to camps for their respective sports and decide to trade places, since no one knows them where they're going.  Each wants an escape and figures the other has it easier.

BEING SLOANE JACOBS is a slight book, but sometimes you want something cute that goes down easy.  There are some serious problems in both girls' lives, but they aren't the focus.  Both Sloane Jacobs grow more into themselves during the summer, but it's not a particularly painful process - except maybe physically.

If you're into sports and interested in that angle, do note that Lauren Morrill goes into more depth about the figure skating and the practice that goes into making it look effortless than she does the hockey.  There are several hockey games within the novel, however; it isn't completely glossed over.  And while the plot is somewhat improbable, I like that neither girl is instantly successful.  They have to work for any sort of basic proficiency, which is realistic.

I also like that they both develop friendships at the camps.  There can never be enough focus on friendship in teen books, in my opinion.  Friends are just such an important part of life, especially when you're young and away from home.  My one quibble would be that figure skating and hockey camps are great settings for some openly gay and lesbian characters and Morrill does not take advantage of that opportunity.

Both girls also get romances.  Sloane Emily's love interest has a bad reputation; Sloane Devon's knows her from high school and thus can't be allowed to notice she isn't actually at hockey camp.  I think I enjoyed Sloane Emily's more - they spend more time together and there's less of an age difference.  But both romances in BEING SLOANE JACOBS are quite sweet and get enough development to be believable.  Best of all, neither is presented as being some forever and ever love.

I think BEING SLOANE JACOBS is good comfort food.  It's got just enough edge from the sports and personal issues to not be completely mushy, and enough romance and personal triumph to put a smile on your face.  Plus, it's a good one to toss on your Winter Olympics reading list.  (Please tell me I'm not the only one who has one.)

Interview with Lauren Morrill

Being Sloane Jacobs
Lauren Morrill is the author of MEANT TO BE and BEING SLOANE JACOBS, which came out earlier this month.  BEING SLOANE JACOBS is the tale of two girls who have the same name, but different interests - and who decide to switch lives.  Read on to learn some more about the book and Lauren!


1. I was super excited to read BEING SLOANE JACOBS because I did competitive figure skating as a kid and I still love to watch the sport and read books about it.  (Can't wait for the Winter Games!)  There's quite a bit of detail in the book about the work that goes into being a figure skater and a hockey player.  How did you research the sports?  Anything particularly interesting you couldn't fit into the book?
I watched a lot of figure skating tape on YouTube, paying close attention to the commentators. I also couldn't have done it without Nancy Kerrigan's book Artistry on Ice. It was really helpful in getting all the basics of figure skating down. As for hockey, I talked to a lot of friends who are hockey fans and also hit up a Boston Bruins game.
2.  Speaking of skating, your website mentions (several times) that you play roller derby.  That's obviously super cool.  How did you get into it?
A friend of mine played in the inaugural season of the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls in Bloomington, IN. After cheering her on from the sidelines for a season, I knew I had to get out there. I tried out for the second season, and the rest is history! I played one year in Bloomington, then four years for the Boston Derby Dames. Now that I've moved to Georgia, I've been coaching the Middle Georgia Derby Demons.
3.  What is the best part of working with Lexa Hillyer and Lauren Oliver at Paper Lantern Lit?
I've learned a lot from them over the last couple of years, and I've really been able to grow my writing. Also, the parties are pretty fabulous!
4.  So far you're two for two with books set in foreign countries!  What setting would you like to explore next?
My next book, The Trouble With Destiny (Fall 2015) is set on a cruise ship, so that one's been fun to write! And for the one after that, I'm returning to the good old US of A. It's set in a small southern town that's just been taken over by a movie production. My Unscripted Life  is scheduled for Fall 2016.

January 15, 2014

Review: No One Else Can Have You

No One Else Can Have You By Kathleen Hale
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I used to devour mysteries constantly, and then I just kind of . . . stopped.  But I still pick them up now and then.  Turns out the way to get me really interested in your mystery is to give it a cute little sweater-like cover of a moose hanging.  And in a way, that really sums up the book.

Friendship, Wisconsin is a friendly small town with a population of less than 700.  The most violent anyone gets is hunting deer, which is a matter of self preservation.  (Otherwise, they go into the road and the deer and the drivers die.)  Thus the town is rocked by the violent murder of Ruth Fried, particularly Kippy Bushman.  Ruth was Kippy's best friend and on her way to her house when she died.  Kippy feels guilty, but it's not until she talks to Ruth's brother that she realizes there might be more to the case than Ruth's hoodlum boyfriend getting violent.

NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU is an interesting blend of tones.  The back compares it to Fargo, which is an obvious inspiration, but the humor isn't quite the same.  NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU has a ton more quirk for one thing.  But it's got the violence too.  The description of what happened to Ruth is absolutely awful.  There's a great deal of funny in NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU, but Ruth's death is never funny.  I'm going to mark that as a point in the book's favor.

I enjoyed how the mystery developed.  There's a bunch of suspects for a town where everyone is too nice to be a suspect.  And I liked that the killer wasn't obvious.  It starts to become clear, but only at the same point that Kippy starts putting it together.  I also liked how Kippy's investigation is impeded by the police, who believe that the crime is solved and she's simply overly distraught.  (Kippy had a small mental breakdown following her mother's death years before.)

If you're looking for a creepy, funny read with a hint of romance, look no farther than NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU.  I'd avoid it if you're allergic to all things quirky or twee, but otherwise it's quite fun. 

January 14, 2014

Excerpt: The Edge of Normal

Back in September, I reviewed Carla Norton's debut novel, THE EDGE OF NORMAL.  It made a strong impression on me, as you can tell from my closing comments:

"THE EDGE OF NORMAL will leave you at the edge of your seat.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and hope Norton keeps on with this fiction thing.  THE EDGE OF NORMAL has fascinating, complex characters, a twisting, fast-paced plot, and it lingers in the mind afterwards.  It's everything a good thriller should be."

Today, I'm happy to share an excerpt with you.

The Edge of Normal ONE 
San Francisco, California
Tuesday Before Thanksgiving

Tuesdays are always a test, and getting to his office is the hard part, but twenty-two-year-old Reeve LeClaire has never told her psychiatrist about her route. It begins with a short walk to the Ferry Building, where she routinely orders a hot chocolate and carries it outside, sipping its sweetness while watching the ferries emerge from the fog. The boats come from Vallejo and Larkspur and Sausalito, trailing white foam and flocks of gulls before stopping to off-load a morning rush of commuters.
When the sun breaks through the fog, Reeve turns her face to it, shuts her eyes, and savors the red heat on her eyelids.

No one notices her in the flow of the crowd, and she feels almost smug about her anonymity. She’s hardly recognizable as the schoolgirl pictured in the “Missing” posters, or the pasty waif heralded in the tabloids. Though still on the small side, she has grown an inch and gained sixteen pounds. Her teeth are fixed. She is clean and smooth and has plucked her eyebrows to precise arcs.

Her hair has grown back so nicely that it’s almost a source of pride. She often changes its color to black or blond or, today, maroon. She wears it neatly cut, feathered, and always long enough to cover the scars that remain visible on the back of her neck.

When the clock tower begins its 9:00 A.M. chime, Reeve shoulders her bag. By the time its elaborate music is finished and it’s pealing seven … eight … nine, she is out of the Ferry Building and crossing onto Market Street. The street vendors and musicians are too busy to bother her. But the farther she makes herself walk down this street, the more cautious she must become.

January 13, 2014

Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming

Love in the Time of Global Warming By Francesca Lia Block
Available now from Henry Holt & Co. BFYR (Macmillan)
Review copy
Read my review of The Elementals

Sometimes I love Francesca Lia Block's novels.  Sometimes I don't.  LOVE IN THE TIME OF GLOBAL WARMING definitely falls on the love side.  This is a retelling of The Odyssey, set in modern-day California.  There's a major earthquake, then giant cyclops start roaming and eating people.

Like most of Block's work, the story is told in a dreamy style.  I thought it really worked in this case, since Pen's story is something of a fairytale or fable.  She's a girl on her own, hunting for her family, especially her little brother, Venice.  Along the way she makes several allies and discovers how little she knew about herself or her talents.

The cast is fantastic.  There are few characters, but they're diverse in color, sexuality, and personality.  Hex, Ezra, and Ash all bring something to the quest, although they aren't all fighters.  And of course everything centers around Pen, who is just wonderful.  She's willing to believe in the best of people, even at the end of the world.

I didn't like that The Odyssey was still a story in Pen's world, and that two of the characters read and reference it throughout.  It felt a bit too on the nose, especially since the story is followed fairly closely.  At the same time, it's a story I love, and this magical realism take is enchanting.  Block twists it into something just as fantastical, yet thoroughly modern.

Macmillan has made the first five chapters available for free online (just search for them), which is good, because it gives you a chance to try Block's style.  If it's not for you, it's not for you.  But if you can fall into it, it's a real treat.

January 10, 2014

My Roomie Story (and a contest!)

Roomies I really enjoyed Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando's ROOMIES.  Now I get to share my own roommate story with you and give you a chance to win a copy!  If you want a signed copy, however, you'll have to go to one of Sara and Tara's in-store events:
  • January 12, 2014 – New York, NY: McNally Jackson
  • January 15, 2014 – Salt Lake City, UT: The King's English
  • January 16, 2014 – Provo, UT: Provo Library
  • February 4, 2014 – San Francisco, CA: Books Inc, Opera Plaza
  • February 5, 2015 – Petaluma, CA: Copperfield's Books
  • Deciding on a roommate story to tell wasn't easy.  I mean, I have stories about all four of my roommates.  I decided to tell one about B, because she was my first roommate and the one who I traded emails with much like Elizabeth and Lauren in ROOMIES.  (Mostly, B and I discovered that we were scary similar and possibly the same person.)

    B was a gorgeous Amazon of a girl.  She was only a couple of inches taller than me and quite athletic.  Throw in a sense of fashion and major social skills and she definitely stuck out in a good way in the Honors dorm.  One day the guy I was seriously flirting with and I took the very serious step of convincing our groups of friends to eat together in the cafeteria.  He and one of his friends got into an argument about Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It was a pretty classic geeky argument.

    And then B just shut them down.  Turns out she was a Star Trek expert.

    That's the fun of the roommate lottery.  You get to meet someone, try to get along fast, and then learn all sorts of weird things about them you never would've guessed.  It's sometimes trying and sometimes fun, but so worth it.  Plus, sometimes you get to see a beauty queen like B prove that she's the Queen Nerd.  It's hard to box people up even when you stuff them into a dorm room.

    Contest open to US addresses only; no PO boxes.  Must be thirteen years of age or older to enter.  Prize courtesy of Little, Brown.
    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    January 9, 2014

    Review: Hero Worship

    Hero Worship By Christopher E. Long
    Available now from Flux (Llewellyn)
    Review copy

    I have a weakness for superhero books.  Thus I was super excited to sit down and read HERO WORSHIP, the young adult debut from Christopher E. Long.  He does have a background in comics, so I had pretty high expectations.

    HERO WORSHIP was an incredibly fast read for me.  I didn't expect to finish it in a single day!  (It's hard to read a full book on a work day, after all.)  I really liked Marvin Maywood, the protagonist.  He's the Superman or Captain America type of hero -- the guy who does the right thing because it is the right thing.  Unfortunately for Marvin, it's illegal for him to use his powers.

    In the world of HERO WORSHIP, people with powers are tested when they manifest.  "Clean" powers are a fast track to celebrity and possibly membership in superhero team The Core.  "Dirty" powers are illegal, and most pay to have therapy to get rid of them.  Marvin and his two best friends are homeless and scraping by as a result, since they refuse to get rid of their powers.  Then Marvin saves a family and finds himself being courted by Eliza, a clean superhero.

    It's an interesting world starring some characters I love (Marvin and his friends), but I thought the plot was a little weak.  Marvin fails to notice obviously bad things staring him in the face.  Once he clues in, he still walks into an obviously bad situation.  If you can't tell from the previous paragraph, Marvin's world is pretty obviously corrupt.  Yet I never quite believed that the cover up works, given how many people have to be involved.  And there was an incredibly off-putting scene of sexual violence that hangs there like a bad taste.  It doesn't affect the plot and there's no scene of emotional reaction (which I would expect) and . . . the book just goes there and then basically ignores that it happened.

    I enjoyed HERO WORSHIP, but I think its appeal is mostly restricted to superhero fans.  There are other stories out there that have more cross-genre appeal. The central characters are strong enough that I'm interested in reading whatever Long writes next.

    January 8, 2014

    Review: Shadowplay

    Shadowplay Book two in the Pantomime series
    By Laura Lam
    Available now from Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
    Review copy
    Read my review of Pantomime

    PANTOMIME was one of my favorite books last year.  I even nominated it for the Cybils, where it is now a finalist.  SHADOWPLAY picks up right where PANTOMIME leaves off, with Micah and Drystan on the run and looking for a place to stay.  It had been awhile since I'd read PANTOMIME, so I was a bit lost at sea until I read further and things started coming back to me.

    Laura Lam really ramps up the worldbuilding in SHADOWPLAY.  Much more is explained about the Phantom Damselfly and her history as well as how it connects to Micah.  A new character, Cyan, is introduced.  Her story intersects with Micah and Drystan's in a much deeper way than it would appear when she first joins them.  The three become apprentices to a magician, Jasper Maske, all hiding in plain side and developing skills of illusion.  It continues and transforms the circus theme of PANTOMIME.  Plus, Maske gets them tangled up in a magician's duel, which is cool in an entirely different way from ancient magic and hiding from shady bounty hunters.

    As for Micah's personal journey, he's much more comfortable with who he is and his body.  (I'm using male pronouns in this review because Micah presents himself as a male during most of SHADOWPLAY.)  He still has to deal with the emotional fallout from the events at the climax of PANTOMIME as well as his growing closer to the mysterious Drystan.  (And yes, a great deal of Drystan's past is revealed.)  It feels like a very natural progression, and a welcome one.  Micah is growing up, which is good since he has some big decisions ahead of him.

    I don't think SHADOWPLAY would make much sense to someone who hasn't read PANTOMIME.  In fact, trying as I have to not spoil anything, I doubt this review makes much sense to someone who hasn't read PANTOMIME.  So read PANTOMIME and then SHADOWPLAY because this series is full speed ahead.  Lam drops a couple of plot twists in the last chapter that put the final pieces in to play.  I can't wait to see how this series ends!

    January 7, 2014

    Review: Defy

    Defy By Sara B. Larson
    Available now from Scholastic Press
    Review copy

    Alexa Hollen is an orphan girl, which means she's supposed to go to the breeding houses and produce more soldiers.  (It's just as gross as it sounds.)  Luckily, her twin brother is a quick thinker and helped her disguise herself as a boy.  They're now in the prince's guard together, Marcel still helping her keep her gender a secret and Alex ever becoming a better fighter.

    The background of DEFY is war.  Antion, the country Alex and Marcel live in, has long been at war with Blevon.  (I might be spelling these place names wrong.  It definitely took some time to figure out what was what.)  Alex has good reason to hate Blevon, since one of their sorcerers killed her mother and father.  At the same time, what we're shown of Antion makes it out to be anything but clearly in the right.  Breeding. Houses.  Therefore, we come to the fact that Alex is in charge of keeping the heir to the throne safe.

    DEFY is clearly meant to be compared to GRACELING.  They slapped an all-but-identical cover on it and called it a day.  And yes, there are many points of comparison: a heroine who is a talented fighter, questions of duty and loyalty, a journey in which romance blossoms.  I can't help but feel that DEFY would come off better if I came to those comparisons naturally instead of having them shoved in my face.  I like Alex, but she's no Katsa.

    I  have a major weakness for heroines who crossdress as boys.  (It predates reading Tamora Pierce's Alanna books, but those certainly don't help.)  However, DEFY is a bit of a letdown in that measure.  Alex gets out of her closest calls through her brother's quick thinking.  She binds her breasts, but apparently her hips don't exist.  With the number of people who call her "pretty," it's hard to believe it was ever a secret.  (The narrative doesn't help much with the suspension of disbelief.)

    There are things that DEFY does very well.  I find its portrait of grief convincing.  Antion is not a place to show your weaknesses, so Alex must try to keep her emotions under wraps.  When the worst happens, it leaves her upset and unbalanced and often blindsided by the hurt since she keeps repressing it.  Also, she tends to repress it straight into violence, which might not be the best reaction, but it is an understandable one. 

    I also thought that the plot was interesting and buoyed by several fight scenes.  There are lots of secret plans and double crosses to uncover.  The story reaches a satisfying conclusion, although there are little threads left open.  I believe DEFY is the start of a series, but it would stand fine on its own.  As is, there's enough to convince me to crack open a second book.

    Now we come to what will make or break many readers: the love triangle.  Alex has had a bit of a crush on fellow guard Rylan for awhile, but she finds herself falling for Prince Damian, who has been hiding his true self beneath a spoiled act to keep his father happy.  Both guys clearly like her back.  It's not terrible, but it's just so obvious that Rylan has zero chance.  The only thing that really saves it for me is that Larson brings it to an unusual conclusion . . . for now.

    DEFY is a decent debut.  I think Larson showed us the edges of an interesting, complicated world.  (I definitely liked that there was a variety of skin tones between the two countries.)  It would be nice to see her dive deeper in subsequent novels.  DEFY spins together many tropes I thoroughly enjoy, which made it a fun reading experience.  But it never quite dug into those tropes to emerge with something truly original.  Still, I expect this book to do well, and it will appeal to fans of GRACELING waiting for a new Kristin Cashore book.

    January 6, 2014

    Review: Fic

    Fic Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World
    By Anne Jamison
    Foreward by Lev Grossman
    Essays by Cyndy Aleo, V. Arrow, Tish Beaty, Brad Bell, Amber Benson, Peter Berg, Kristina Busse, Rachel Caine, Francesca Coppa, Randi Flanagan, Jolie Fontenot, Wendy C. Fries, Ron Hogan, Bethan Jones, Christina Lauren, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Samira Nadkarni, Rukmini Pande, Chris Rankin, Tiffany Reisz, Andy Sawyer, Andrew Shaffer, Heidi Tandy, Darren Wershler, Jules Wilkinson, Jen Zern
    Available now from Smart Pop (BenBella)
    Review copy

    Based on the long list of names above, I assumed that FIC: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World was a collection of academic essays edited by Anne Jamison.  But no, it is a long scholarly work by Anne Jamison with periodic short essays by other people with various perspectives on fandom has a whole.

    FIC is divided into sections based on several megafandoms.  The first four, on Sherlock, Star Trek, Buffy, and the X-Files, are fairly well done.  Sherlock and Star Trek both cover a great deal of pre-internet fanfiction, while Buffy and the X-Files cover the beginning of fic on the internet.  The Harry Potter and Twilight sections are shakier.  I felt that Harry Potter went by quicker than the other sections, and glossed over some things.  Jamison glosses over Cassandra Claire's plagiarism (the most important being several pages of Pamela Dean's writing), trying to make it just a game and pulling out the old fic is basically plagiarism anyway. (It isn't.)  There's an essay from Heidi8/Heidi Tandy that presents her as a totally reliable point of view instead of a figure frequently at the heart of controversy.

    Then we get to Twilight.  Jamison is clearly too close to the fandom to really give a good portrait.  She is very clearly in favor of pull-to-publish, or P2P.  The other side of the argument is given short shrift in favor of several essays by people who agree with Jamison's point of view.  In fact, the authors of BEAUTIFUL BASTARD get an essay together in addition to individual essays.

    But I must say that the essays are the best part of FIC.  The essay authors make fewer pretenses about their biases and only focus on the narrow aspects of fandom that they are experts in.  Jamison shows some of her ignorance just by what she chooses to include.  Her megafandoms only include Western sources.  The only fandoms represented are literature, television, and film.  And why not throw in some discussion of small-to-medium fandoms?  I read this book in December as Yuletide was happening.  Now there's a big event that shows a wonderful slice of small fandoms all at once, albeit also mostly Western focused.

    I was quite disappointed in FIC.  I'm all for people taking a scholarly approach to fandom.  But this is quite slipshod.  The style isn't that great, either.  The Sherlock section constantly makes reference to a fic that isn't excerpted.  Am I supposed to stop reading FIC and track down this story and read it before continuing?  As for when Jamison does excerpt fics, her glowing introductions generally leave me with secondhand embarrassment.  Don't tell me that a fairly pedestrian set of sentences are going to totally make me see Edward and Bella in a new postmodern sex positive light.

    There's some interesting history in here.  But take Jamison's point of view with a grain of salt.

    January 3, 2014

    Sponsored Post: Grammarly

    I use Grammarly's online grammar check because the technology to implant a second pair of eyes into my skull doesn't exist yet.  Let's face it: we often overlook our own flaws.

    I'm a big believer in grammar.  I spent a couple of years subsisting on freelance copy editing while I looked for a full time job, and my current job involves a large amount of copy editing.  And you know what?  My job pays well.  When I'm freelancing, I often charge $50 an hour (or the equivalent in dollars per page/cents per word).  And you know why I can charge that?  Because it is a specialized skill.  Because you have to keep the rules in your head, have access to good resources, and be able to use your common sense about when the author is breaking the rules well.

    I'm very good at it.  It's still hard to apply that skill to my own writing sometimes.

    In addition to being a second pair of eyes, Grammarly is a good resource to help build your grammar skills.  When you run your text through the program, it breaks down the issues.  No trying to decode a green squiggly line.  It might point out style, or structure, punctuation, or spelling.  (And unlike Word, it checks spelling in context.)

    Another useful feature is that Grammarly checks for plagiarism.  As Shia LaBeouf has demonstrated recently, some people have difficultly with the concept.  Or perhaps you're just subconsciously repeating a phrasing - still useful.

    If you're interested, just click on the link in the first sentence.  There is a seven-day free trial.

    January 2, 2014

    Cybils: The Finalists (plus some personal honorable mentions)

    The Cybils finalists were announced yesterday!  I am very proud of the list developed by the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction panel, which included me, Charlotte, Stephanie, Kristen, Melissa, Cecelia, and Brandy.  The judges will have a hard decision!

    Here's the list of our finalists:

    • JINX by Sage Blackwood (my review)
    • Lockwood & Co: THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE by Jonathon Stroud
    • ROSE by Holly Webb (my review)
    • SIDEKICKED by John David Anderson
    • THE RITHMATIST by Brandon Sanderson
    • THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP by Kathi Appelt (my review)
    • THE WATER CASTLE by Megan Frazer Blackmore

    Covers and blurbs by the panel available on the Cybils website.

    Kristen wrote some about four books she loved that didn't make it, and I'd like to do the same.

    The Vengekeep Prophecies THE VENGEKEEP PROPHECIES by Brian Farrey (illustrated by Brett Helquist) - This is the story of Jaxter, a clumsy boy born into a long line of accomplished thieves.  But his family out-clevers themselves, leaving Jaxter and his new friend Callie to go on a quest to save Vengekeep.  This is an extremely fun book that will appeal to a variety of young readers.  And I always enjoy stories where bookishness helps save the day!

    Sky Jumpers SKY JUMPERS by Peggy Eddleman - Read my full review here.  In my opinion, this book was a real unexpected gem.  I can see it encouraging kids to get deeper into science fiction, environmental issues, and invention.  Hope is the worst inventor in her community, which relies on the population's inventions to return to life before WWIII.  But she has other skills which are important when their community is invaded for their medicine.

    The Real Boy THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu (illustrated by Erin McGuire) - Read my full review here.  This little charmer, about presumably autistic Oscar, had one real obstacle: this was a great year for fantasies about magician's apprentices.  That doesn't mean that this story doesn't hold a large amount of appeal for children and adults.  It's got terrific atmosphere and a thoughtful story.

    How I Became a Ghost HOW I BECAME A GHOST by Tim Tingle - Isaac's journey on the Trail of Tears is brutal, but still appropriate for younger readers.  His foreknowledge of his own death helps both him and the reader accept it before the inevitable happens.  It's a hard, healing look at history. The presence of a boy who can turn into a jaguar and a (possibly talking) dog will entice kids who would turn up their noses at less fantastical historical fiction.

    A Tangle of Knots A TANGLE OF KNOTS by Lisa Graff - Read my full review here.  I nominated this one; of course I'm fond of it!  Young baker Cady is at the center of this story, but her journey entwines with nearly everyone around her.  I loved how all the little pieces came together to create one neat, satisfying whole.  Plus, recipes.

    Be sure to check out the other finalists!  I'm particularly happy that several books I nominated made it to the next round.  And that I now have a great list of other books to read, obviously.

    January 1, 2014

    Review: Palace of Spies

    Palace of Spies First in the Palace of Spies series
    By Sarah Zettel
    Available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR
    Review copy

    PALACE OF SPIES is a zippy historical set slightly before the Regency period, in the court of King George.  Peggy Fitzroy, the heroine, is an orphan who is thrown out of her uncle's house when she refuses the marriage he sets up for her.  (And not for a small reason either; her fiance attempts to rape her.)

    Fortunately for Peggy, she's recruited to take the place of Lady Francesca.  She'll be a lady-in-waiting to Princess Catherine and report what she sees to a trio with unknown motives.  But Peggy is suspicious and curious about the girl she's imitating.  As secrets of Lady Francesca's life start to come to life, Peggy suspects that she didn't die of illness.  And Peggy could be next if she can't put everything together.

    While quite frothy, PALACE OF SPIES has a strong grounding in real history.  It's almost a mini-lesson in Georgian social customs and the Jacobites.  It's a nice blend that will appeal to history fans as well as those who just like a pretty background of elaborate dresses and wartime spies.

    There are some issues.  The premise stretches credulity quite far.  Not even Lady Francesca's best friend or lover notice she's been replaced by a completely different girl.  The romance plotline is underdeveloped.  And, well, the spying isn't that action packed.  All of the true action really comes at the end of the novel.  I enjoyed the setting and the character interaction, but PALACE OF SPIES is a more subdued novel than I expected, given the title and cover.

    I enjoyed PALACE OF SPIES and think it is a good start to a mystery series.  There's a likeable detective, a detailed setting, and plenty of opportunity for intrigue. 


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