Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Lists, Gotta Make Mine!

Well, I won't make a list as such, but I will highlight a handful of my favourite books from 2009. And when I say "from 2009" I mean that I read in 2009; they all aren't necessarily published within the last year. I am a big backlist reader, expecially for authors I've just found out about.

So here are a few books I particularly enjoyed this year (in no particular order):

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I'm not sure if I'll ever come to the end of praising this book. I really and truly loved it. I also don't think I've given it a proper review on my blog, either, so I'll have to do that for 2010. Maybe a re-read is in order (Hey, would anyone like to read How I Live Now for the first time, as I re-read? We could make a special blog post about it. Let me know).

The Maze Runner by James Dashner. It took about 50-80 pages to really get into this one but once it kicked in I was actually obsessed with finishing it. I also think I loved it more than I loved The Hunger Games. The story was so mysterious, I had to know how it ends. And I was totally satisfied with the ending, both as a stand-alone book and as the first of a trilogy. Which is a difficult thing to accomplish. So, yeah, The Maze Runner makes this faux list.

Unwind and Everlost by Neal Shusterman. I picked both because I loved both titles. I think I just want to say "Neal Shusterman" for this entry. I have a copy of Downsiders at home that I'm very excited to get into, not to mention Everwild, the sequel to Everlost. There's just something so inquisitive about his writing that gets me. And his stories are so fleshed out.

Skin Deep by E.M. Crane. Again, I haven't reviewed this one properly for my blog and I'll do it in 2010 for sure. This one hasn't really got the recognition it should. It's such a beautiful, quiet story about a girl finding her heart, the sense of herself. She is taking care of a lady who is dying of cancer, helping her with her pottery and her gardening. The characterization is impeccable and I really loved reading her story.

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz. Mostly for making me laugh out loud and sigh from a warm heart, Veep makes this list. This one caught me off guard with its awesomeness. I loved her voice, the setting, and her opinions. I love when a book creates a whole world to sink into.

And some Very close runners up:

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard. Again, this one surprised me. I was very down with the mysterious plot and came around to most of the characters. I can't wait to read the ultimate ending to the mystery, What happened to Alison and who exactly is "A"?

Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. I loved Patch as a throwback to Spike from Buffy, and also loved the humour that Becca snuck into her story--refreshing.

But again, it's so hard to make lists and leave everything else off. Like The Dark Divine by Bree Despain, which surprised me, or The Heights by Brian James, which made me actually like Catherine from Wuthering Heights. So this is just a sampling of books I've enjoyed in 2009.

What did you enjoy about reading in 2009?


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reading *Wicked Lovely* by Melissa Marr

Wicked Lovely surprised me.

At the start I thought I was getting into another paranormal romance and I thought I had the couples pegged. When Keenan, the Faery Summer King, shows up I thought, "Okay, well here's the dark male lead for Aislinn (ASH-lynn) to fall for after an extended romantic push-and-pull". But even by page 200 I had no idea who would end up with who, or how the story was going to end. So kudos to Melissa for pulling me along and taking the less obvious route.

Aislinn lives with her Grams, her mother having died in childbirth, and has grown up with the Sight. She can see faeries; but she can't let them know it. In the legends, mortals have been blinded by faeries, who were known to have the Sight. Faeries, too, are far darker, cruder, and more vicious than people assume. Aislinn has grown up with three rules: Don't stare at them, don't speak to them, and never attract their attention. Faeries move and intermingle in the human world, but are mostly invisible to regular sight. For the most part they've left Aislinn alone, thinking she's no different than other humans--oblivious. Until Keenan, the Summer King, begins to take a special interest in Ash, and the entire faery world's attention is on her.

Right at the beginning, the "rules" of Keenan's "game" for Aislinn confused me. He is the Summer King, looking for the right mortal to be his Summer Queen, in order to balance their world properly. Other women have tried out for the position, only to be enveloped by the Winter Queen's deep freeze when they failed the test. Other girls have remained as Summer Girls, unwilling to take the test and essentially remaining with the Fae as Summer King groupies, feeding off his warmth. But Keenan knows there is something special about Aislinn. And he still doesn't know she can see Faeries, yet. He has to convince her that she must take the Summer Queen test to heal the balance between the Winter and Summer court and stop his mother's wintery reign.

And the cool wrench in this project is that Aislinn has no romantic interest in Keenan at all. At first I thought, "Okay, she's rejecting him because he's coming on too strong, but she'll come around soon enough and fall for his dark thrall". But she doesn't. She's in love with someone else. I have to say that Keenan is probably my favourite character because he's this summer-loving carefree guy who is immortal and incredibly naive. After thousands of years he only starts to wonder now if he is good for Aislinn, and if he is worthy to ask these women for their sacrifice. He's not a jerk about it, he's perfectly innocent. By the end of the book there is something human unwinding in him that I'd love to see in later books.

It's funny, I pictured Keenan as David Bowie from Labyrinth while I was reading and a few scenes reminded me of the Ball scene from the movie (favourite!) and also the boardwalk carnival scene from Lost Boys. The world in Wicked Lovely was one of the book's stronger points; faeries are like punk carnies when they live in the city--raucous, dangerous, dirty and weird, but also beautiful and vivid. I have this need to jump right into Ink Exchange, the sequel, because I want to know more about Melissa's faery court.

One of the weaker aspects of the story was the actual plotting of events. It was all a little uneven for me, and some scenes (like when Ash confronts Keenan at the club) lacked necessary tension. My mind would kind of wander and I'd have to go back to see what happened. Another thing that kicked me out of the story was Seth's character. It's funny, I was thinking that he's just a little too perfect and then I read Melissa's Q&A at the back of my edition where she addresses this critique (I guess others have mentioned it as well). She says:

I've been amused by some readers' comments that [Seth's] "too perfect," especially when such a remark came from one of the guys who influenced me in Seth's creation. There are just a lot of awesome guys out there. Of course, we also see Seth through Ash's eyes, so we see him as she sees him. When we look at the people whom we love, we see (or should see) their radiance. Seth's radiance is dazzling because that's how Ash sees him. If you looked through my eyes at the men and women I've loved, you wouldn't see their flaws, but their brilliance. So that's how I wrote Seth.

And that makes sense to me. To a certain extent. I still think that Seth is too perfect. My point is that if Seth were a girl in the story, I'd look down on her as being too passive and dependent. He spends the book intuiting Ash's needs before she feels them, has no real personal life that is written into the story, and doesn't seem like a person outside of his function as Leading Love Interest. Male or female, I'd love to see more gravity and independence in Seth's character.

What I really did enjoy was the amount of research Melissa obviously did for her story. Each chapter starts with a quote from classic fairy folklore that has to do with the action unfolding. These snippets give the reader an understanding into the type of world that you can expect, it's rules and traditions. When I was initially confused about how the faery balance was kept, these quotes reminded me that there is something fairytale-like about strange rituals muddied by overuse, traditions with weird pasts applied over and over again because they are "law". Until some modern girl comes along and shakes things up a bit.


Looking forward to reading Ink Exchange, Wicked Lovely #2.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reading *Tangled* by Carolyn Mackler

Tangled kind of opens twice; first in a short paragraph first chapter, and the second time in a more engaging way:

It was a typical Wednesday evening in Topeka, New York. Spring break was coming up next week, so I had nine minutes of homework, which I did while IMing my best friends, Ellie and Leora, surfing for celebrity gossip, and sending a virtual plate of snickerdoodles to my brother's ReaLife page. Then, since I happened to be on ReaLife, I checked out Samir Basu's online profile. And then, since I have no self-control, I opened every photo on his page and drooled waterfalls over his caramel cheekbones and milk-chocolate eyes. I lust after Samir and, yes, have even fantasized about how we'll gloriously merge cultures (me: Jewish, him: Indian) for our wedding ceremony. Never mind the trivial fact that when I pass Samir at school he rarely waves at me.

What a good start. I loved Jena's voice, the whole snickerdoodle thing, and it gave me a sense of her life as being pretty normal. Uneventful, but normal. I could relate and I was hooked; I wanted to know where Jena was going, wanted to her more of her voice. Which I got, at least for the next 80 pages.

In Tangled, Carolyn chooses to take four characters--Jena, Skye (kind of like Kelly from Bev Hills, a hopeful teen actress), Dakota (who I think of as the guy from Inexcusable by Chris Lynch, an entitled jock), and Owen (Dakota's nerd brother, blogging addict)--and tell their stories. But each at a time, first person narrative, for about 80 pages or so. All of the characters play a role in the four stories, and all have their genesis in Paradise, the Caribbean resort where they meet. The resort plays a small role and most of the narratives take place after their vacation--where they went for all different reasons.

I should mention that I just don't like this set up--in any novel. For me, it kicks me out of the story. I wanted to know more about Jena's point of view, I connected with her in a way that I was unable to for the other characters, and when I saw her again nearer the end her transformation didn't feel as immediate to me because her story was being told through Owen. This is absolutely my own thing. The only realy problem I had with Tangled is that I wanted more of Jena. What the structure did do for the book is that the writing is very tight. It is crisp and clear, there is a reason for all the parts. It's very obvious when a book is sloshy (Breaking Dawn, I'm looking at you).

So the story begins with Jena, who is travelling with her mom, her mom's best friend, and her daughter Skye, to the Caribbean for Spring break. Skye and Jena are always left together, although they are hardly friends. Jena is a good person so she looks up to Skye and even reports back to her best friends about the movies that Skye has been auditioning for. Skye is prickly and superior and at the same time she can't stand to be herself. One night, after Jena has been bemoaning her lack of experience with guys, she meets Dakota, a hunky jock, who seems to be interested. They meet one night in the Jacuzzi, when Jena finds a suicide note left by the tub.

The suicide notes don't turn into this bad after school special in the story, much to my relief. I found this plot was left in the background and used really more as a catalyst to introduce Jena and Dakota. When Jena's story segment wraps up, we've been introduced to all four characters and the next section is for Dakota to tell his story. And then Skye.

I was less interested in Dakota and Skye as characters. They were the jerks of the novel, if you love Jena like I do, Dakota even more so. I did mention that he's like the guy from Inexcusable *shiver*. But both characters redeem themselves in their own ways. Which I think is the point of using first person narrative for their stories; you have to get into the bad guy's mind to see where they're coming from, why they do the things they do. And why they should be forgiven. Neither D nor S are the person that Jena is, but both end up showing their own brand of heart that adds another dimension to their character. Also, Dakota was written very well. He was such a $*&% that I actually had this prolonged recoil experience while reading his story. Carolyn was able to flip from a sweet girl perspective to someone like Dakota. She's an insightful author and I appreciated this while reading. Even as I wanted to kick Dakota.

Oh, and I loved Jena's Everything book. Here's a great passage:

I'm obsessed with quotes. You name the person--Albert Einstein (smart), Toni Morrison (very smart), Nicholas Sparks (pure genius)--and I've got one of their sayings. My everything book is a regular blank journal I bought last year. The cover is that famous black-and-white photo of the couple kissing outside Hotel de Ville in Paris. I once googled the image and was crushed to learn that not only was the kiss staged using models, but the woman later sued the photographer for damages. I did my best to block those facts out.

I love it. Nicholas Sparks is "pure genius" and Einstein is just "smart". It's so Jena. And so is her romaticism about love and life. When we see her again in Owen's story, she's become her own woman and I wish I could have read about her path to get there. She holds on to her sense of romance and is rewarded by the end.

On Carolyn's website there's a great Q&A about the book. Here are some of my favourite parts:

Which of the four narrators in Tangled is most like you?

Some days I’d say Jena, other days I’d say Owen. I suppose I’m more of the observer type than the life of the party. Then again, of all the stories, I loved writing Dakota’s the most. I have such a tender spot for him and his struggles. And for Skye as well. There are bits of me in all four of them. I have to have that in order to relate to a character.

While writing Tangled, how did you get into the head of a teenage boy?

It was definitely an interesting challenge. Owen was easier…but Dakota! How was I, a non-wrestler, non-jock, going to write about Dakota? I knew him and so capturing his voice and his feelings weren’t hard. But how could I do the sports stuff? Early into the first draft of Tangled, I was speaking at a school in suburban Chicago and I mentioned my dilemma to a crowd of juniors and seniors. Afterward, I was approached by a senior guy, Tom, who said he was a wrestler and would be happy to help. We exchanged information and set up a phone call. He definitely wasn’t Dakota – he was very sweet and humble – but he was a trove of information about wrestling, working out, guys’ feelings about their biceps. Tom even helped me choreograph Dakota’s fight with Timon outside the auditorium!

It's funny, when I was reading I was like "How does she know what guys feel about their biceps?" It's cool to see some of the origin for Dakota's voice.

After finishing Tangled I spotted her other book Vegan Virgin Valentine in a used bookstore, which I'm now eager to read.


Tangled by Carolyn Mackler is released today! Carolyn is also the author of the Michael L. Printz Honor Book The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.

I Didn't Get Any Books for Christmas!

Wow, usually I receive a gift card for a bookstore, or some books that someone has picked up for me, for Christmas. But not this year! Which is all very good because it spurned me on to purchase these very attractive titles while I was Boxing Day shopping:

Seriously, I haven't read these yet! I'm about halfway through Wicked Lovely (really enjoying it, although initially confused about the whole finding-the-summer-queen-to-free-a-bunch-of-previous-summer-queen-entrants thing--more on that soon!), and can't WAIT to read Evermore. What about Need too? Has anyone read these books? What do you think, or link to your review!

I also went into one of my favourite used bookstores, Casablanca in Downtown Kitchener, and found some great books there too! Check them out:

The Carolyn Mackler title I picked up because I've just finished Tangled, her newest, slated to release in January. A full review to come. And I loved the cover for Gossip Girl, maybe only because it looks different than the usual covers. Plus, sparkles, come on! Up All Night looks cool; a collection of short stories by teen authors answering the question, "What can happen in a single night?" I'm familiar with many of the authors, especially Gene Luen Yang. Apparently his character The Monkey King plays a part--very cool.

What did you get for Christmas, or buy for yourself?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Alex Flinn's *Beastly*...reminds me of...

The other day I was running around, recommending teen books for Christmas, when I spotted Beastly by Alex Flinn. I'm about halfway through this modernized Beauty and the Beast re-telling when I visit Harper Collins online just to see what's what, when I learn this:

Alex Flinn's Beastly is headed to theaters! CBS Films has tapped Mary-Kate Olsen and Alex Pettyfer to star alongside Vanessa Hudgens in the teen romance Beastly. The story is based on Alex Flinn's fantasy novel, a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" set in modern-day New York. Shooting started June 13 in Montreal.

And I'm thinking, "Mary-Kate Olsen? Where has she been?" Then I wondered about how this film might look. Here's a preview from my head:

"Hi Beast. I have this smouldering look DOWN! Watch out!"

"*Hmm* Shall I eat you or make you love me?"


"That's okay, there's another one of me"

Okay, so I'm assuming that when they say "Alex Pettyfer" they really mean "Ron Perlman" as the Beast.


Some Attention for Edge!

Wow, I was just sent this link to an article on using blogs to promote awareness of your bookstore, written by BookNet Canada, and they've used our store's blogs, especially Edge of Seventeen, as one their case studies! So cool. Thanks BookNet.

Some heartstopping (for me) highlights from the article include:

Comments are open and create a conversation. For example, on Edge of Seventeen the majority of the posts each have comments from at least 5 different readers.

•The blogs are personal. Pictures of the employees appear frequently and personal contact information is provided – readers are even encouraged to email and ask for specific recommendations.

•Edge of Seventeen is devoted to teen titles – whether the reader is a teen or not – and is primarily made up of reviews and interviews.

And there's an image of Edge of Seventeen posted too:

Read the full, helpful article here!

BookNet provides a great service for booksellers and publishers in Canada and The Globe & Mail has called it "the book industry's supply chain nerve centre".

And speaking of comments--I am getting a huge increase in spammy comments on the blog. I *love* reading and responding to comments left here. I really look forward to them. I love your feedback and hearing your opinions, seeing what everyone's reading, but I hate that spam really affects the tone that I am trying to set here. So I have set up comment moderation in the sense of monitoring comments left before they are officially published. Everything you may leave here will still be published, I will just be able now to stop spam before it starts! I really hope this won't offend any readers. I've been to other blogs and have seen comment moderation in action, I'd like to see how it works for me.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reviewing *The Dark Divine* by Bree Despain

I am going to have a hard time reviewing this book because I absolutely don't want to give out any spoilers. Here, briefly, is how I started reading The Dark Divine:

"ohmigod, look at her toenail polish! I LOVE this cover!"

Obviously I was interested in the content as well. The back cover only gives out a bit of what you're cracking open. Grace Divine, daughter of a Pastor, has strange memories of three years ago when her brother Jude was attacked and their best friend Danile disappeared. When Daniel suddenly shows up in her Art class one day, looking completely changed, she begins to seek out answers. There is also a schism between Daniel and her brother, Jude. So Grace finds herself trapped between the two while trying to find out the truth.

The premise was mysterious enough for me. I was very eager to find out what this was all about. And I had two certain ideas in my mind as I was reading, which both, in their own way, turned out to be the case. I really liked where the story went. Again, sorry to be vague but most of my excitement while I was reading was really not knowing what I would find.

The chapters are broken up with scene changes. So wherever the action is now taking place has a heading; "After Lunch", "Dinner", "Memories", even "A Few Minutes Later". This really worked for me. It gave the action immediacy, an instant context. The author sometimes plays around with this structure and makes it funny. Another funny instance is Grace's description of her art class: "This is art class. We paint pictures while listening to classic rock." I totally had an art class like this in highschool and I loved it. Although the highschool is not the main setting for the story. I felt like we were at Grace's house, and in her yard with the Oak tree most often.

When I started reading, I didn't exactly know where the story was going to go. Grace is entering her art class and this jerk guy is in her spot AND he's messing with her picture of the Oak tree. He's cocky and angsty with Grace, teasing her for being the daughter of a Pastor. Then she realizes that he's Daniel, her best friend who disappeared when they were younger. He was closer to Jude, her brother, but Daniel stayed with their family when he was young and Grace always had a crush on him. Not knowing that he knew her, I was like "who IS this guy? Grace please punch him". When she realizes it's Dan, she wants to know what happened to him and to Jude, five years ago. Jude is tight-lipped and resentful, he storms out when Grace invites Daniel for dinner. Daniel is reluctant when it comes to information, but eventually outs everything. Grace also realizes that her father knows a lot more than she can guess.

You really have to read more than half of the book to get a sense of what's really going on here. I loved how slowly the Reveal happened.

I was a little put off by the character name Grace Divine, daughter of a Pastor? It seemed a little obvious. But in the story Grace informs us that along the way her ancestor's last name used to be Divinovich. But it was changed to reflect the family's religious connection. Other characters' names play a symbolic role as well, for those of you who want to try and figure out what will happen before the end.

The Dark Divine gets a bit sexy along the way too. Daniel plays this cocky character--well actually he was darker than that. He's more sarcastic than cocky. But he's kind of controlling as well. He tells Grace what to do all the time. Or what not to do. And he holds information from her. Then he's a jerk and takes off on her all the time. Anyway, here's a juicy bit:

Daniel leaned toward me until his warm breath lingered on my face again. "You know, some religious scholars believe that when faced with overwhelming temptation"--he reached out and brushed a tangled strand of hair off my neck--"you should commit a small sin, just to relieve the pressure a bit."

In the shadows, his eyes seemed darker than usual, and his stare didn't just make him look hungry--he was starving. His lips were almost close enough to taste.

"That's stupid. And...and...I don't need any pressure relieved." I shoved him away and stepped out of the alcove. "I'm going home."

Their push and pull was fun to read, but I really enjoyed finding out the mystery of what happened in their lives.

And here's a bit of Bree's initial inspiration for the book:

People often ask me where I got the inspiration to write The Dark Divine. Honestly, it's a hard question to answer because it didn't just come from one place, or a dream, or a single idea. It was more like a perfect storm of ideas, thoughts, and memories, over a few weeks time. It all came together while I was riding in the car on a dark January night in 2005. It was shortly after I'd read the book Speak, watched the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time, listened to the song Such Great Heights over and over again, and was asked to teach a lesson about the concept of grace at my church. I was thinking about all of these things, along with a random memory from the 9th grade, when we stopped at red light and I looked up at billboard in the dark and suddenly this conversation between a brother and a sister popped into my head. The brother was warning his sister to stay away from their former best friend. "He's dangerous. He isn't the person he used to be. You have to promise to stay away from him." And that was when it all started. . . (from Bree's blog)

Okay, it's crazy but at the time I had this quiet passing thought that the art class scenarios and the art teacher reminded me of Speak! Man, I should have written that before so you would believe me. :)

The Dark Divine is coming out in like a week! Pick it up for a holiday read. You'll finish it in a snap.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

In My Mailbox This Week!

Neat story about the first cover at the top, Girl Meets Cake. I received an ARC for a book called My Invisible Boyfriend by Susie Day, and I'm looking all over for a copy of the cover for this blog entry. Then I go to the author's website and realize that my copy is the North American edition of this Girl Meets Cake book. The NA edition cover art isn't released yet. Here's how I found out:

Surreally enough, I’m currently rewriting bits of Girl Meets Cake for the US edition - which will be called My Invisible Boyfriend, and available sometime in 2010. Not Americanifying it: just tinkering with a thing or two to make the whole thing even more delicious (I hope!). It’s a bit odd, being able to check different drafts against an actual proper book-shaped version, but I’m having fun dipping a toe back into Finchworld and reacquainting myself with geeky Heidi, and Mysterious E, and the endless references to cake… (From Susie Day's blog)
I am so interested to see what changes would be made. Girl Meets Cake looks like it has more of a baking theme. I wonder if it'll be the same in Invisible Boyfriend. The cover for the ARC I have is a tableaux of a couple intimate on a couch. Beside them sit a white cut-out of another guy and then a girl looking cute and as if something's up. The whole thing is very playful.
This week I also received Darklight by Lesley Livingston. I've read Wondrous Strange and liked it. I didn't actually know it was going to be a trilogy. Livingston knows how to write magic realism into an urban romance well.
Possessed looks *Awesome*
Diddo Clone Codes. It's written by a mother father son team.
This week I also got a beautiful hardcover copy of The Dark Divine by Bree Despain, along with a wonderful and thoughtful note (thanks, T!). I started reading it and it is not like I imagined. There's so much mystery going on right now. I'm like "who are these characters and what happened to them?" You kind of start right into the action, a few years after a certain incident. But I still don't know what happened between Grace, her brother and Daniel, their best friend. I will provide more in a full review soon. Has anyone read this yet?
In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Appreciating the Stepmonster!

I love reading about those great step-parents or guardians in books, because stepmonsters have a bit of a bad reputation in the history of fiction. Like in fairy tales. Step-parents are always trying to kill you or brainwash your dad (hey, maybe it's just stepmothers who have a bad rep?).

What I love to read is a book with a lovable stepmonster who shows that you can build a family, not just be born into one. It makes my heart melt. So here are some of my favourite " steps" and guardians that I can think of reading lately:

King Dork by Frank Portman is a hilarious book and one I totally recommend. Although weaker in the lady-character development, Tom's stepdad "Little Big Tom" is awesome:

He means well. He likes to walk around making little helpful comments.
"Now, don't fill up on milk," he'll say if he thinks someone is drinking too much milk. Or he'll say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the homework hour!" if he thinks there's not enough homework going on at any given time. "Let's put some light on the subject," he always says whenever he turns on a light.

Or, my absolute favourite:

He likes to say "rock and roll" all the time, but what he usually means by it is "way to go!" or "let's get this show on the road!" or "this is a fantastic vegetarian sausage!" Like, he figures out how to set the clock on the VCR and he'll say "rock and roll!" Or he'll say "rock and roll!" when everyone finally gets in the car after he's been waiting for a while.
Sometimes he'll even say it quietly and sarcastically when something goes wrong. Once he knocked over my mom's art supply shelf. He bent down to pick everything up, whispered "Rock and roll," and sighed deeply.

Big Little Tom is my favourite part of King Dork, and my co-worker Dave and I said "Rock and roll!" for months after reading the book. Actually, I think it's due time to bring that little gem back into our daily usage.

Another favourite guardian from a book is Butler from The Secret Ministry of Frost. I just reviewed this book, which I truly enjoyed, and I keep thinking "what is Butler doing RIGHT now?", like he lives and breathes. Butler is cool because he is tender with Light, looking after her while her father explores the Arctic, then goes missing. Later in the book you find out there is a deeper reason for his loyalty, and he has a mysterious past of his own, but he truly loves Light and follows her on a seemingly hopeless mission.

He sends her pneumatic tube messages to wake her up in the mornings, like this one on the day of her dad's funeral:

Good morning. You'll get through this. Love, Butler.

And I also love Heidi from Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen. She's her father's new younger wife and Auden is staying with them for the summer. At first Auden can't stand Heidi because she's so different than her mother, but soon Heidi's character really develops and she became one of my favourite Dessen secondary characters. At first she came across as afraid to ask for what she needed from her husband (she has just had a baby with him and he's not helping), but then she takes a turn and comes into her own. She's a girly-girl but also very loving with her new family, and she really looks after Auden, who's father is distant and self-absorbed. Heidi seems to know exactly what's needed in an emotional situation, and the book needed a character like her.

So these are some of my favourites, who are yours? Next time I'd love to do totally horrible step-parents and guardians in books, like Lyra's mother from His Dark Materials!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What is a Good Book Review?

Pete Hautman, one of my favourite authors, has a quick blog post about a review of his book How To Steal a Car, and he talks briefly about what makes a good review...and a bad review. He says these two things in particular about the review that caught my attention:

"Even “good” reviews can be maddening when the writer fails to “get” the book. Or rather, when my book has failed to have the desired impact"

and it is: "more of a commentary and analysis, really"

What is interesting about the review at Daughter Number Three, is that she approaches How To Steal a Car through her own experience. She pulls in books she's read, and she sounds like she is either a mother or educator of teens. Her review is more analytical than "feeling-tone". And it is unique. I got a sense of this woman and also the book. Which I also like to see in a review.

When I started this blog my reviews were brief and clipped; I was just getting to know my own reviewer voice. Now I love sitting down to talk about a book I've read. It always comes from a breaking-down-the-parts wish of mine to showcase a book rather than dismiss it as either good or bad. I want to share my experience of reading a book. For that reason I eschew the rating-star system, because when I see a rating on other blogs and the book has 2 stars, I dismiss it. And I hate that I dismiss it.

I guess I just want to know exactly what you love and hate about a book review on a blog. Do you want to hear more of an analysis of its parts? Do you just want to know if the reviewer liked the book or not? What do you look for in a book review? What do reviews DO for you?



Monday, December 7, 2009

Reviewing *The Secret Ministry of Frost* by Nick Lake

Dear Nick Lake,

Holy Crow man, where have you been all my life. How does a book like The Secret Ministry of Frost hang out in the world, unread by me?



I'm not sure I'll actually send off this insightful fanmail missive, but I was so surprised by how good SMF was. I have pages of notes here that I took while reading, so I'll whittle them down as best I can.

The cover suggests that this book is for those 11 and up, but I say there should be a heavier emphasis on the "and up" part. SMF is dark and sophisticated, gruesome at times. Light lives in an old house by a forest in Ireland with Butler, while her father explores and documents the Arctic. He keeps a blog for Light and a journal, but when the book opens, Light is preparing for his funeral, in abstentia. He father is lost in the Arctic and presumed dead.

Two things caught my attention at the start of the story. One is the pneumatic tube messaging system set up in her house, built by an ancestor. How cool is that? And another is this passage, where Light reflects at her father's funeral:

Light, overwhelmed by the drama of the scene, thought that it might break through the barriers she had erected in her mind, causing her sadness to come flooding out and drown her mind.

Looking back it doesn't seem like such a telling sentence, but when I read it I knew that Nick Lake had an insight into the psychological aspect of his characters. The basic energy in the mind that can be witnessed. Here is an author describing a characters subjectivity; what's happening in their mind, not just how they feel. I'm not sure I'm explaining myself properly here, but Nick does this over again through the book. One of my favourites is when he writes in a dying character processing his own dying. You stay in the head of this secondary character and view his death as something meaningful, rather than just seeing his death through Light's eyes. It's really well done, and felt uniquely written. It lends a pathos to the scene that felt fresh.

And Nick writes a truly horrifying bad guy. Here is an initial description of Frost:

Tupilak ignored her. "Something bad is at work in the Arctic--a monster. This monster has been spoken of for many years. Many centuries. But even Setna [Inuit goddess of the sea] has never seen him. He is called Angutagiuppiniq."
Light processed the parts of the Inuktitut word. "" she ventured.
"Frost," said Butler, "That's what the English-speaking Inuit call him." He shuddered involuntarily. "But most avoid mentioning his name. He does not appear in any of the Inuit tales, for fear that invoking him might attract his attention. He is..." Butler searched for the words. "He is worse than a monster. He is the cold. And he is Death. To meet him is to be lost. This is why none can say what he looks like."

Spooky business. And Frost is so scary when you do meet him. I actually didn't know if Light was going to make it. Even though I assumed she would because this is a book for younger readers and Light is a protagonist.

And although SMF can be dark and gruesome, there is some fine humour. Like when the British Navy pulls up (by this time Light and her troupe are in the Arctic) and when the Captain sees Tupilak, who has a shark's head (it's a thing), this is his response:

The British submarine captain took a step forwards..."His head..." the man said, looking slightly confused. "It looks...well, like a shark."
"Of course not," said Butler. "He is only a little out of proportion."
The captain nodded sagely. "A little out of proportion. Yes. Best not to mention it, really. Might make him uncomfortable. I was brought up better than that."

So funny. And Butler is totally crush-worthy. He has his own mysterious past, and is very loyal to Light.

I also loved how the setting was evoked. Light describes the Arctic as fairy tale beautiful, but when she's lost in the tundra looking for her father's research station, she describes it perfectly as a psychological desert; a tabula rasa that rips you out of context. Which fits the tone of the story as well. It's beautiful and fairy tale-like, and it's jarring and seemingly hopeless at times. And action-packed. The last hundred pages was kind of non-stop action. I remember Light actually rolling into an attack at one point, like James Bond. Or a ninja.

My one qualm was the ending. Not the whole ending, mind you. Nick decided to leave a big piece of the end action unsaid and as a reader I found that slightly frustrating. And that's it--that's my only qualm. Oh, and that it ended at all, of course :) (that's always my favourite thing to read in a book review under the "cons" field).

I feel like I haven't done this book justice with my review. SMF is more suited for a book club discussion because there is so much involved. Actually, if anyone has read it, let me know. I'd love to discuss it further.

(The peaks inside the book at the top show the neat illustrations and such that are also inside the book)


Sunday, December 6, 2009

In My Mailbox This Week!

This week I received the US edition of Folly by Marthe Jocelyn. Tundra is publishing this book in Canada although they don't have any cover art information on their website. I assume it'll be the same looking, but who knows? The US cover art is very attractive. The back cover has this ornate brownish-purple embossed flowers look. Marthe lives like half an hour away from me and she is up for doing author events. So we'll see where that takes us.
Another cool author, R.J. Anderson, author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, also lives in Stratford....hmmm.... :)

I also received a note with the book, just describing what I could look forward to. I love little extras like this. They get me so excited about the book. Our publishing representative mentions that Folly is a very sexy story for a younger (12) age group, although not inappropriate. The premise has totally piqued my interest.

When you open the ARC there's this note written by Marthe kind of telling you how she came about the story in Folly. The whole thing is very interesting. When Marthe's father was 80, they found out that his father wasn't an orphan, like they thought. They learned that he was born "out of wedlock" and left at a hospital in London. His name, Arthur Jocelyn, was "chosen from the street directory" by the reception committee.

Marthe dug to find out the real story of her grandfather and his mother:

"I learned the name of my great-grandmother, something her son has never known. I was able to trace her path from a village in Lincolnshire to her first job at Castle Belvoir in Rutland, and then to her position as domestic for a Mrs. Reed in London. I discovered the name of the man who had seduced her, and her version of the story--of his initial kindness and subsequent disappearance. I learned that she had struggled for nine months to keep her baby before giving him up"


"Throughout my research, I carried a sentimental yearning to believe that love and romance had been part of my grandfather's conception. Whether or not this is true, I have written Folly in homage to my ancestors"

What an introduction. I have to admit that period novels don't initially appeal to me unless there is something very special-seeming about them. After reading this note I bumped Folly way up my to-be-read pile (which is huge right now. Like I feel I'm going to have more time at Christmas or something? Pssshh). I hope they print it in the published book.

Marthe is also the author of Mable Riley, which is on our shelves. I've always seen it around and love the design.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Book Clubbing *Ice* by Sarah Beth Durst

Kiirstin, from a book a week, and I read Ice by Sarah Beth Durst and have online book-clubbed it here for you! Which is funny because we both live in the same city and I see her often enough--I guess we could have book clubbed in person. But for now I give you my review of Ice and a bit of our discussion, following. Click over to Kiirstin's blog to read the rest of our chat!


Sarah did a lot of research on the Arctic before writing Ice and it's most obvious use is in the fullness of the setting:

I buried myself in stacks of research books: polar bear books, explorer memoirs, field guides... I poured over A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic by E. C. Pielou. I tracked the GPS readings of David Hempleman-Adams's journey in his memoir Walking on Thin Ice. I studied the SAS Survival Guide, How to Stay Alive in the Woods, How to Survive on Land and Sea, The Survival Handbook... and dozens of books with luscious photographs of polar bears and arctic foxes and caribou and beluga whales.

I am not a good traveler in real life. I like to be home, and I am not very brave. But while I was researching ICE, I was able to dream that I was in this world of ice deserts and rippling auroras and sights so incredible that they are real-life magic. (Sarah's blog. Actually a fantastic post here of the layers to her book)

You really do get a feel for being in the Arctic, how beautiful and scary it would be. Like in a desert there are long stretches of nothingness, swirling snow and miles of ice. Cassie is an Arctic researcher, or wishes to be one, living with her father and a few students at a research station tracking polar bears. When the book opens, Cassie is trailing the biggest polar bear she's ever seen and thinking about the fairy tale her Gram has told her since she was a little girl. Ice is parts East of the Sun, West of the Moon, parts Beauty and the Beast, and there's even a hint of the Psyche and Cupid myth. Cassie's particular fairy tale is about her mother, adopted daughter of the North Wind, and how she is cast away by her dad and captured by trolls. She had fallen in love with a human man and promised the Polar Bear King that he could marry their daughter if he kept them safe from the North Wind. What Cassie takes from this story, though, is that her mother is still alive, living with trolls, not dead soon after she was born.

So there's a bit of "if my mom hadn't died, would I feel more love in my life now?" thing going on in the book, a hole to be filled by the right person. And the story IS about this love, this healing. More so than I thought at first. When I think of a girl and her polar bear I think of Lyra and her connection to Iorek, who is more of a protector. So I was a little surprised when Bear began to take on a human shape at night, and Cassie begins to have "certain feelings" about him. Although, he can only stay if Cassie keeps the lights out, so you never know what he looks like. This particular twist is actually in the original Beauty and the Beast fairy tale; because I mean, a love story between a girl and her bear is gross otherwise.

I liked the character of Bear. He speaks and acts like a human as much as he still resembles a polar bear. I think I remember that he was orignally a human but accepted his polar fate because of a passion to work as a soul guide. There is a whole system of magic/myth in Ice which is described and worked into the plot. It is more like magic realism, but heavy on the magic. It has its roots in a living mythology.

But Bear reminded me of Po from Graceling. He's strong and gentle, patient and understanding. Although I had a negative reaction to his "betrayal" of Cassie. There's this whole part where Bear acts in a damaging way, I feel, to Cassie. It's understood that he was being "helpful" or didn't realize what he was doing, but it made me really dislike him. Cassie eventually comes around to the situation afterwards, and it fits within the whole fairy tale endoskeleton in Ice, but in terms of Cassie's rights as a female and as a human, and considering her age (newly 18), I kind of reeled. But Cassie is the type of woman who steps and at times hurls herself into anything that frightens her. She is the type of amazon who is afraid, cuz why wouldn't you be?, but does what needs to be done despite it all. She moves through the changes in her story with bravery and a fiery resolve. Things happen but she doesn't linger in confusion and fear, she moves directly through and out of it all.

And I love this by Sarah, "Writing this book was a labor of love. I love polar bears. I love fairy tales. And I love fearless girls who cannot be stopped. But most of all, I wrote this book as a love letter to my husband. Beyond the ice and the bears and the everything, ICE is about true love, the kind of love where you face the world as a team... the kind where you'd go east of the sun and west of the moon for each other"


(Mandy) *What do you think of the system of magic used in Ice?*

(Kiirstin) I really liked it. I thought the idea of the munasqri was really cool,
and I loved that it nestled right into the world we know. Setting a
fairytale like East of the Sun or Beauty and the Beast into a
contemporary, "realistic" setting is a huge challenge, especially
without sounding hokey or really, really stretching credibility. Or
sometimes the magic world is completely divorced, separate from the
real world. But the magic of the munasqri seems very natural and
organic, an extension of the world we know -- almost real enough to
believe. In addition, I thought the way the science and magic was
melded by Cassie so she could help Bear was just excellent.

(Mandy) *Do you like Cassie as a character? Do you like her with Bear?*

(Kiirstin) I'm pretty conflicted about Cassie. I want to like her, but I had a
very hard time connecting with her, and a lot of the time when I did
it was to be frustrated with her. She's headstrong and brave, both of
which I think can be great characteristics -- but she can also be
extremely thoughtless about how her actions are going to affect
others. Her impulsiveness leads to a lot of conflict, including one of
the major conflicts, the impetus for her journey. And after that she
kept blaming Bear, which really got on my nerves because while he
certainly played a role, she was the one who takes the disastrous
action and I wanted her to take responsibility for it. On the other
hand, every time I look at a decision she makes that makes me want to
yell at her, I can totally see where she was coming from and why.

As for her with Bear, I thought they made a great team,
intellectually; but again, I found Bear especially to be remote and
slippery as a character. I kind of wish we could have seen a few more
episodes of him thinking more like a bear than a human because I think
then I would have been able to buy his Incident Decision much more
easily. Despite the fact that Cassie clearly would do anything to save
Bear, and Bear would give Cassie anything, there was a major breakdown
of trust between them that I would have liked to see resolved beyond
Cassie's heroic measures to save him. I wasn't entirely convinced at
the end of the book that the major problem I saw in their relationship
was actually resolved.

Goodness, I'm hardly a romantic, am I? That all sounds very stodgy.

I'm curious to hear a little more about what you think about this question, too. *response over on K's blog!*

(Mandy) *What about the mom's story in Ice, what did you think of her role?*

(Kiirstin) I kind of wish we'd seen more of her, to be honest. When we meet her
finally, she wasn't what I expected at all, and she was also clearly
not what Cassie expected, either. I liked that, since I thought it
added an interesting dimension to the story. When it comes down to it,
though, I'm not sure that dimension was as thoroughly explored as I
might have liked. Of all the secondary characters, she seemed the
least developed to me, and yet she was extremely pivotal in a couple
of cases. I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.

I really enjoyed jointly reviewing Ice with you, Kiirstin. There is something to be said for the book club scenario where you know someone out there is reading the same book as you, roughly at the same time, followed by discussion. It was neat to see how we both responded to the beauty of the Arctic world in Ice; creatures and amazing landscape. This aspect came across very well in the story. It was neat, too, to see what our responses would be to a character like Cassie. Especially considering how she handles Bear's "betrayal". It's also awesome that you agreed with Father Forest--I love it! He was such a smothering and scary character for me; just deciding what is right for another person and closing them in with it. His motivations were understandable, completely, he was just nuts.

Conclusion: I would make a bad fairytale hero because I would probably get myself killed; my prime motivator for action fueled by the resolve "don't tell me what to do!" *in a whiny voice*

Mandy and Kiirstin

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reviewing *The Vinyl Princess* by Yvonne Prinz!

Where can I even begin? I really loved The Vinyl Princess and am caught off guard by how good it turned out. Something happens when you realize just how awesome a book is, while you're reading it, where you slow down and really process what's happening on the page.

The Vinyl Princess, or "Veep" as she'll eventually be called, is a music junkie. She's on her summer vacation, working at Bob & Bob's Record Store in Berkeley, California. She blogs about music and makes zines, and she has a huge crush on "M", the man of mystery who frequents Bob's. Is he the secret commenter on her blog?

And that's the premise in a nutshell. But thinking the book is no more than its basic plot would be like saying Gilmore Girls is only about a mom and her daughter living in a small town. And TVP is very much like Gilmore Girls, much to my huge excitement. Like GG, TVP is way heartwarming. I LOVE Allie and how she moves through her world. I love the attention to wacky details in the people who haunt Bob's. I spent a few years working in a used bookstore downtown and Yvonne NAILS what it's like; the misfit "customers", the strange requests, sometimes surreal situations. Okay, like for example, here is a description of a few of Bob's "regulars":

Shorty and Jam are a good example of the type of street people who spend most of their time on the avenue. Their behaviour ranges from harmless to annoying to extremely cantankerous. These two are unusual even for Telegraph Avenue, because in addition to abusing drugs and alcohol, they also dabble in cross-dressing; they like to wear women's clothing. Not generally a whole outfit; usually just a flourish here and there. Like today, for instance, Jam is wearing a pale pink polyester blouse with a ruffle down the front and Shorty is carrying a beaded handbag.

I actually KNEW someone like this when I was working at the bookstore! "Just a flourish here and there", completely. My guy was also a punner.

The sense of setting in Veep, too, is unforgettable. Because Yvonne has a connection to Amoeba Music in California (she is a co-founder), I googled the main location and even checked it out with Google Street View, because I am addicted to Google Street View but also because I wanted to see Telegraph Street. Veep is fiction but I could get a very strong feel for the place which must have given Yvonne a lot of her inspiration for the true feel of working in a record store.

Also, as shown above, The Vinyl Princess is hilarious...Ugh, I wanted to type here a description that was really good and of course I forgot to actually write down the page number. It was a reference to Allie talking about the differences between spider types. One type of spider is the kind that looks like it's doing push-ups when you go to touch it. I laughed out loud at this, with this funny snort, when I read it. Another great situation is when Allie is meeting her mother's new boyfriend Jack, who says:

"I was just telling your mom that my son is about your age."
I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with that. Have you noticed that no one ever says that to old people? You're eighty? Why, I have an uncle that age!

Or the part where Allie and Kit have disguised themselves to sneak into a club. Allie asks Kit, "What's with the bodacious ta-tas?"

Vinyl Princess is full of these catch-you-off-guard funny bits. And her humour is the type to make you exclaim, "yes! That's EXACTLY what it would be like!"

And I really liked Allie's approach to one guy in particular in her life. I won't give too much away, but when she finally realizes who the valuable guy in her life has been, I thought I'd get another hundred pages of them being coy and shy together, neither one wanting to make a move. But Allie jumps right in and makes a few bold moves with her new-found crush. I was very proud of her. And a little in love with her guy. Actually, totally in love with her guy. He is quirky-cute, but very crush-worthy.

Veep is an ensemble story, with truly great characters, main and secondary. I loved her grandma--she makes everyone call her Estelle because Grandma is old-sounding--and her best friend Kit. There are so many great and hilarious situations in Veep, and lovable lovable characters. Not that I promote sequels just to get more from a story, but I would have no qualms with a Veep the Second! I'd love to see what became of everyone.




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