Thursday, December 29, 2011

Favorite books of 2011

So I've spent the last week browsing my goodreads shelves trying to come up with my favorite books of 2011.  My top read is easy.  It has to be Froi of the Exiles by the incomparable Melina Marchetta.  It's one of my favorite books ever, not just of 2011.

From my review of Froi:

This book is beautiful and complicated. It's epic fantasy that's truly epic, not just the same-old-same-old elves versus humans versus dwarves versus mages versus fill-in-the-blank. You can't say "Charyn is evil and Lumatere is good" because that's way too simplistic. This book looks at the complicated relationships between two countries and the people who are sometimes unwittingly caught in the middle.

Read more here

The rest of the Top 10 list wasn't as easy.  I've read 116 books (thus far) in 2011.  Due to the goodreads and the blogging community I've read more EXCELLENT books that ever before.  These are my most loved books. They aren't the newest or the most literary, but my personal favorites that I discovered during 2011.

2.The Raging Quiet

This is a book that surprised me. The more I think about it the more it grows in my opinion.  I have my friends to thank for introducing me to this book and convincing me to read it.  If you haven't read it, trust me it's better than the cover would have ou believe.

See my review here

3. Graffiti Moon
Not technically released yet (in America) but I had an e-galley. This book is another wonderful story from Australia.  Some people may think of it Australia the land of kangaroos & koalas.  I think of it as the place all the best YA comes from.

See my review here

4. Daughter of Smoke and Bones

One of the few books that has garnered lots of well-deserved praise.  A different kind of paranormal that has a love story that doesn't bother me!

See my review here

5. Leviathan
This is a book that I love but never actually reviewed.  It's a steampunk story set in an alternative past.  You have a girl dressed up as a boy (yes please) in order to join the military, a dash of World War I history and an Austrian prince. Seriously it's like Westerfeld wrote this book with me in mind. So many of my favorite things!

6. Demonglass
The Hex Hall series remains one of my favorites.  Fun and snarky, just the type of book I want to spend more time with.  I never came up with a more coherent review of this book than "I WANT TO KISS ARCHER" (seriously that's what my goodreads review says) but that's only because I love it too much for words.

7. Feed
If you're looking for a zombie novel that's got some depth Feed is the book for you.  This one blew every other zombie book out of the water.  This is an intelligent zombie story that's not just all blood and gore, but part political thriller.

See my Review here

8. One Salt Sea
Rarely does a series keep getting better and better.  Most of the time they start strong, then as the author pushes out books in a hurry diminish in quality.  This series is the exception.  Every book gets better.

Here is a Breakdown of a Heroine that also serves as a series review.  If you aren't reading this series you're really missing out on some wonderful urban fantasy.

9.The True Meaning of Smekday

I surprised myself by putting this on the list.  And as I eliminated books I couldn't get rid of Smekday.  This audiobook of this is hilarious.  I never even reviewed this book on my blog.  But this is a fun adventurous story that everyone should read.

10. Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Sometimes I still wonder how this didn't win the Printz.  This is the type of book that could go so wrong but doesn't.  It's smarter than your average book.

See my review here

Most anticipated of 2012 (right now for me)
Spellbound by Rachel Hawkins, Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Timeless by Gail Carriger, Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire, Cinder (review here) by Marissa Meyer

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Born Wicked (review)

Born Wicked is a story of 3 sisters who are witches set in an alternative past where witches rose to power only to be overtaken and subsequently slaughtered or imprisoned by The Brotherhood, a religious group that is both anti-witch and anti-woman.

It's set in a fascinatingly rich alternative past where girls educations and dreams are squashed by strict behavior rules, mandatory Sunday School and having to choose a husband (or the Sisterhood) before their seventeenth birthday lest it be chosen for then.

Cate is the oldest of the three sisters, she's kept her wildchild self under control to keep a promise she made to dying mother to protect her younger sisters.  But with her seventeenth birthday looming she's not going to be able to protect them much longer.  We meet Cate when she's at the crux point of deciding her future.

My biggest problem with this book was the love triangle. Lately it's an issue I have trouble getting past.  It's becoming the go-to plot device of YA.  But at least in Born Wicked it serves a purpose.  She's not just flitting unnecessarily between two men. She's being forced to decide her future and has only six weeks to make her choice.  I'm willing to be more forgiving because that premise.

I think this book is still worth reading, despite the love triangle. (Me saying that is kinda a big deal)  Because at least if it's going to have some romance it does it well.  Some books don't understand first love.  This book gives us the butterflies, the way you're too aware of the details of your crush and the heart thumping. I've read some books where people kiss without any real chemistry. Born Wicked has plenty of chemistry.  It helps that I find one of the boys very swoon-worthy with his freckles, out of control hair, nose in the book and incompetent gardening skills.

This book has plenty of secrets to give it twists and turns and a prophecy to push to the plot forward.  I really think the love triangle is DONE by the end of book one which makes me say WOOHOO because I like the worldbuilding.  I'm a bit of a sucker for books about structured repressive societies and the women who overcome them.  This is a world where every knock on the door, every sideways glance, every time you speak out of turn is a potential danger.  As a reader that keeps my heart pounding and the page turning.

Even though I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book (oh Love Triangle why did you strike again?) I enjoyed Born Wicked, found it to be a fast read and very atmospheric.  In the end the setting, society and overall premise outweighed my concerns about the love triangle.  The ending leaves me excited and anticipating book 2 (which I intend to read).

Thanks to Mindy from Magical Urban Fantasy Reads for letting me participating in this ARC tour!

(This book led to a very interesting conversations about whether real love triangles exist over on goodreads.  It has nothing to do with the book but I found it interesting. Read it here)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!


(Of course it's form Harry Potter).

I hope your holiday is filled with lots of food, fun, family and plenty of reading times.  May there be lots of book-shaped packages under your tree (or maybe Santa will bring you an e-reader like I got last year).

Have a wonderful lovely Christmas (or whatever you celebrate).  I'm so glad that I've made so many book loving friends this past year! Love you all!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tinfoil Sky (review)

4/5 stars

Whenever I review a book with middle grade leanings I tend to find myself using the same words. "Sweet" and "cute" but neither of those describe Tinfoil Sky.  When I searched my mind the word that I came up with was heartfelt.  This book is full of feeling, genuine and messy yet realistic.
What does it feel like to be in the same place today as you were yesterday, as you will be tomorrow? Cecily liked change. Lots of it. Mel, on the other hand, did not.
In some ways this is a very sad story.  Mel and her mom Cecily leave in the middle of the night, running from Cecily's "creepy" boyfriend.  They return to Cecily's "home" a word that Mel's not really ever experienced.  The thought of a "home" conjures up happy imaginings-- white picket fences, gardens, homemade cookies and everything Mel's only experienced in storybooks.

But when they arrive, Gladys is not the grandma of her dreams.  She's bitter and distrusting, still damaged from Cecily's past betrayals.  She's not the picturesque grandma that you normally see, but something more realistic.  (Not saying that there aren't really wonderful grandmas, but it is rare to see a fictional grumpy grandma which also exist).  Mel quickly realizes home is not everything she expected.

The relationships between the main characters are complicated, landing in that weird place where love and pain meet. I like the fact that even though it's for a younger audience it doesn't simplify or dumb down the complex relationships.  Family is never simple and usually carries more baggage than a middle grade book cares to deal with.  But Tinfoil Sky is willing to explore a very broken family.

Tinfoil Sky is an MG book that tackles real world problems as seen through the eyes of a 12 year old.  It ventures into the subject of abuse, homelessness and eventually forgiveness without ever becoming hopeless or dark.  In the end Tinfoil Sky is a hopeful book without becoming unrealistic.

I want to compliment the cover art for this book.  It's bold, simple and corresponds to the story. Very eye catching!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Team Sophie (Tournament of Heroines)

So those who have followed the Tournament of Heroines over at the YA sisterhood know that my dear Luna Lovegood got beat out by Sophie Mercer from Hex Hall.

You might think that I'd throw my support between Katniss, an obvious favorite for obvious reasons.  But let me tell you a secret.  When I first got selected to be an advocate for the Tournament of Heroines, Sophie was the first name I looked for on the list. I totally skimmed past Luna (there was a Luce & I think that blurred in my mind).  Sophie was already taken but when I saw Luna Lovegood I was like "HECK YEAH" because that's something I could totally get behind.

Then when she got pitted against Sophie, one of my fave YA ladies, I didn't mind.  Because I believed in everything Luna Lovegood represented.  But here's the thing.  Sophie represents something similar.  Yes she's got pretty badass magical powers. But to me Sophie is more than just a powerful witch.  She's not the obvious sort of heroine--she's not a Katniss or a Katsa.

Sophie's actually just the witch version of a teenage delinquent, meaning she hasn't quite figured out how to control her powers and she's been sent away to the juvie version of Hogwarts.

When I think about what makes Sophie heroic, what actually sticks out to me the most is Sophie's friendship with her roomate Jenna.

Jenna is a pink-haired outcast who happens to be a vampire and also happens to be gay.  The other magical folk aren't too fond of vampires--they're considered "unfortunates" and unnatural.  Jenna's at Hex Hall as an experiment in accepting others.  Guess how well that's turning out?

Sophie does want all those things everyone wants in high school--popularity and a hot boyfriend.  And at first she's a little iffy of this Jenna character.  I mean, she's a VAMPIRE.  What if she tries to suck her blood or kills her?  Plus there are rumors about Jenna's last roomate who ended up dead.

But Sophie stands by her friend.  Even though she's committing social suicide, even though she might want to drink Sophie's blood.  That's the type of high school heroics I can also get behind!  Maybe Katniss can bring an opponent down with one shot and ignited a revolution (though let's be honest, she didn't really mean to).  But you know, that feels more fictionalizes and Sophie's heroics more realistic.

A vote for Sophie is a way of saying HECK YEAH to the Heroines who aren't the strongest or even the smartest, but the ones who make the right choices.  Being a heroine is about more than being tough and strong.  Being a heroine is about standing up against bullying and staying loyal to your friends.  That's why this #TeamLuna advocate is throwing her support behind #TeamSophie.  I want to broaden the definition of heroine, beyond the Katniss's to the heroics we can replicate in our everyday life.

Come Friday I hope you'll all join me in voting for Sophie Mercer!

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Fair Godmother (review)

3.5/5 stars

This book is just so cute. It reminds me of my purple sparkly Christmas tree (in a good way - I love my Christmas tree). It's TRYING to be lighthearted, silly and doesn't want you to take it seriously. If you're looking for something deep and brilliant maybe you didn't notice the pink haired fairy on the cover?

Lately I'm into fairytales. My current obsession with Once Upon A Time is probably the reason. But not all fairytales are made equally. Some have more serious undertones (Once Upon a Time & Cinder my most recent book review). This book is different-- silly like a late night slaphappy slumber party with my best friend. Sometimes that's just what I need.

That's not to say this book doesn't have any heart. The story of Savannah and Jane, two sisters who aren't speaking because plain-Jane did teen movie makeover magic (not the real kind of magic, just the kind that you've seen in practically every movie) and stole her sister's boyfriend. This book starts out a little teasingly, like it's going to follow Jane's story.  It makes her sympathetic and likable not just a man-stealing sister.  Then suddenly it pulls the switcheroo and starts following Savannah's point of view. Savannah starts out a little more unsympathetic than Jane.  Savannah's pretty, popular and a little ditzy. It's not that she's a "mean girl" but she's a pretty girl who takes being popular for granted.  But that doesn't make her stupid, or not a good person (she was very kind to Jane right up until she stole her boyfriend).  Maybe just a little lazy.
"Well, what kind of guys do you think half-wit girls get in life? Do you think intelligent guys want to hang out with stupid girls for very long? I would have thought you'd already learned that lesson with the whole Hunter and Jane thing.....(cont.) If you had admired any other qualities you would have developed them in yourself wouldn't you?" -Chrissy, the Fair Godmother
Then a "Fair" (Notice this is not a good or great) godmother gets involved. She's not very good at listening, impatient and due to her ineptitude Savannah's wishes always turn into disasters. For some reason she's stuck on the idea of sending Savannah back to the middle ages where she learns that fairytales are not everything they are cracked up to me.  There also might be a little lesson about trying to take shortcuts in life (hidden behind talking about the dangers of using magic to get what you want).
"Did you think wishes were like kittens, that all they were going to do was purr and cuddle with you?"
This book is a big silly and frothy, but with a dab of friendship and forgiveness thrown in.  If you're ever in a funk this is the perfect book to perk you up.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cinder (review) - Cyborg Cinderella!

4/5 stars

When I saw this book I was like "WHAT?!!?!" Then I was like "Cyborg Cinderella? HECK YEAH!"

This book was perfect for me. I love fairy tales, love re-tellings (hello Once Upon A Time, my new TV love), but I'm also a bit of a nerd. The idea of taking a classic magical fairytale and giving it a sci-fi twist probably makes more excited than I should admit. It's like taking all my favorite things and mushing them together.

I absolutely loved this book. A dystopian future seems to be the perfect setting for fairytale retellings. Cinder has it's dark moments, much like traditional fairy tales, without ever becoming dreary. Let's not forget that fairytales were originally much darker before Disney got ahold of them. Part of me wants to see more dystopian sci-fi fairytales, but then again I doubt most would work quite as well as this novel.

For me the book was a quick read, a book where I started reading and just couldn't stop. The concept was something I immediately loved. I found the character of Cinder believable, the motivations of her evil stepmother and sister believable.

Even once the romance with the prince started (seriously it's Cinderella that is not a spoiler. I know you've at least seen one of the many movies) it worked for me. It was more of a friendship with potential, which is where any relationship should start. His motivations were also believable. I have issues with "love at first sight" stories, and it's hard to retell a fairytale without somehow facing that monster. Cinder did it well, changing the story just enough for a more jaded reader like myself. Fairytales aren't normally believable, but I like retellings that are.

I'm a lover of good sarcasm. Both Cinder and the Prince have a tendency to snark. It makes them feel more realistic and relatable to me.
"I'm sure I'll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on." - Cinder

"Right," said Kai, "that'll be no problem in a city of two and a half million people. Let me go dig out my special Lunar detector, and I'll get right on that." - Prince Kai
I know there were some parts of this book that weren't perfect, parts that I may have rushed through and ignored because it didn't bother me. I was too engrossed to get bogged down by imperfections. I don't know if that makes me a flawed reviewer or a smart reader.

And maybe some people might think the twist at the end is a little predictable. I predicted it 11% into the ebook. But it felt more like foreshadowing. When the revelation came I was like "TOLD YOU SO!" and then I did a happy dance because apparently I'm a 5-year-old.

This is one of the most unique concepts that I've read in awhile. I love that this book has a sequel, because now that I've had a taste of sci-fi Cinderella I already want more.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Heroine Tourney BRIBES - Vote Luna

So if you're following the YAsisterhood's Tournament of Heroines much you will notice that authors are resorting to bribery to get their characters through the first round.

I cannot bribe you as they can. I can not offer you additional scenes (unless you want fanfiction, and I feel like those days are behind me. Not going to deny that I wrote fanfiction once upon a time & they still exist on the internet) or any super secret book related stuff. Because um...I didn't write the books and JK Rowling never seems to tweet. (Actually I think she tweeted one message on repeat for awhile).

But then I thought "What can I do?" and came up with 2 things I have going for me. I can knit fairly well (the scarves pictured above are actually very early knitting projects) and I have a case of Girl Scout cookies in my closet.

Here is my bribe
If Luna WINS against Sophie on Friday I will pick one RANDOM supporter (you need to comment on this blog) to make a Harry Potter item of their choice. It can be a scarf, hat or armwarmers. We can discuss pattern, house color and any other requests later.

AND for another random supporter I will send a box of slightly old Girl Scout cookies (from this past spring). My current selection includes Lemonades, Peanut butter patties (Tag-a-longs) and Carmel Delites (Somoas). I may even be able to scrounge up some Thin Mints.

To enter
1. Comment on this post
2. Tweet in support of Luna Lovegood #HeroineTourney
3. Vote for Luna in the Tournament (honor system obviously)
4. Have an address that I can mail to via my post office

Sunday, December 4, 2011


HEY peeps! This is posted over at YA sisterhood and you can vote on the match till midnight. PLEASE help Luna win this round!


About Luna Lovegood
We first meet Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix She's describe as "loony" and teased by her classmates. She's got wild blonde hair, a unique sense of style and trademark radish earrings. She's the oddball Ravenclaw who reads the Quibbler, believes in nargles and just doesn't seem to fit anywhere. (And this is a school of wizards, so to be the class freak is kind of a big deal).
She shrugged. "I think they think I'm a bit odd, you know. Some people call me 'Loony' Lovegood, actually."

Best Attributes
Luna is always ALWAYS Luna. She doesn't let anyone change her. Even though she's being teased she never wavers from being herself. Luna is aware that she's the outcast and there are heartbreaking mentions of how she wants friends, but she's not willing change herself to be accepted by other people.

What makes Luna a true heroine?
She's smart, loyal to her friends, loves her father, is unflinchingly honest, stands up for what's right, believes in herself, fights I even need to continue? She does it ALL. You're unlikely to find a heroine quite as well-rounded as Luna Lovegood. One of the things that impresses me most about Luna is that all the teasing doesn't seem to phase her. She shrugs it off with a smiles. To me that's amazing.
The key to Luna is that she has that unbelievably rare quality of actually not giving a damn what anyone else thinks of her. Now, if we as adults say honestly how many people we've known like that I think very many of us would say uh none! And Luna's like that. She doesn't actually care. She's so comfortable with being different. She's fearless.
-JK Rowling

What makes Luna better than Sophie?
I'm not going to say anything bad about Sophie. Luna wouldn't, and as her representative why should I? I think Luna and Sophie would get along, could be fictional BFFs and Luna wouldn't even care about Sophie' (if that's even the proper word). What makes Luna better is that she's more comfortable in her own skin than Sophie. Luna is fearless and that is so unbelievably rare even among heroines.

Also I want to say that Luna is the heroine that most teenagers NEED to read. She can give them courage to be themselves. Luna shows that it's okay to be different and eventually no matter how odd, you'll find friends who accept you as you are. That's what stands out about her above ALL the other heroines in the tournament. Luna says "you don't have to fit in," and in a world that seems increasingly plagued by bullying thats an important message. Luna is a message of hope.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I really wish I were more like Luna Lovegood. I also want to include this lovely quote about Luna Lovegood's bedroom. Shows how much she truly loves her friends.
"Luna had decorated her bedroom ceiling with five beautifully painted faces: Harry, Ron, Hermoine, Ginny, and Neville. They were not moving as the portraits at Hogwarts moved, but there was a certain magic about them all the same: Harry thought they breathed. What appeared to be fine golden chains wove around the pictures, linking them together, but after examining them for a minute or so, Harry realized that the chains were actually one word, repeated a thousand times in golden ink: friends...friends...friends."

Eli the Good (review)

Somewhere around 4 out of 5 stars (I'll explain)

I feel a little guilty for the way I treated this book. I've wanted to read it for ages. But I keep putting it off, all while hearing great things from people about it. Then I read it when I'm really in the mood to read something else, distracted and stressed from work. I'm sorry Eli the Good. I did not give you the attention you deserved. It took me about halfway through before I pushed through my distractions and really into the story. But I honestly don't think the book is to blame.

I've heard this called a YA book but I'm still not convinced. The main character is 10, more of a middle-grade age, and it's told from the all-seeing older self perspective. So even though most people call it YA I'm going to disagree. Call it middle grade, call it adult with a child protagonist, but I don't see how you can call it YA.

Ten-year-old Eli reminds me of my childhood (even though the book takes place about 10 years before I was born). He's an innocent but intelligent child, the type of boy who rides his bicycle everywhere and believes that trees have something to say. He's endearing. In many ways I feel like childhood me was a mix of Eli & his best friend Edie (a tomboy of a girl).
"Country people sure do have more stars than anybody else," she said. "We ain't got much but we got the stars."
The fact that the author is from Lily Kentucky (I drive past this community daily) only reinforced the resemblances to my childhood. I kept distracting myself by trying to figure out if this book took place in a real local town (ultimate conclusion: It takes many familiar elements of surrounding towns without specifically being London, Lily, Corbin or Barbourville).

Eli's the child of a Vietnam Vet struggling with memories from the war. The book follows the summer when his father starts losing himself in the memories of the war. It's heartbreaking how the Vietnam Vets weren't honored, appreciated or even taken care of. Sometimes this book feels like a cautionary tale for the current war we find ourselves in. Not about the outcome or politics, but about what might happen when veterans return.
"That's what it was like to be the child of a Vietnam vet, though: we're always caught between defending our fathers and not understanding them."
This is a sentimental book about a more innocent time when children rode bicycles, talked to trees and went swimming in creek. It's the type of book that should be read in the dog-days of summer somewhere with the scent of honeysuckle hanging in the air.

The book wasn't as Southern as I expected. My attempts to read with a Southern accent in my head just muddled things. Occasionally I feel like the adult voiceover interjects a little too much, but overall it works. It's a nice story, different from a lot of the other stories currently being told. The style is different and might take some mental adjustments. But I think it's worth reading.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Team Luna (Tournament of Heroines)

Luna Lovegood

Luna Lovegood is one of the most memorable Harry Potter characters. Her appearance may be brief when compared with the trio, Dumbledore, and lots other characters, but she makes an big impression. So when the opportunity came up to represent Luna in The YA sisterhood's Tournament of Heroines I jumped. Because when I first met Luna Lovegood--I kinda wanted to be her. Actually sometimes I still do.
The key to Luna is that she has that unbelievably rare quality of actually not giving a damn what anyone else thinks of her. Now, if we as adults say honestly how many people we've known like that I think very many of us would say uh none! And Luna's like that. She doesn't actually care. She's so comfortable with being different. She's fearless.
-JK Rowling
I want Luna to win this tournament because she's a different kind of heroine.

There are so many reasons Luna should win. I've got a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head. But I want to hear from everyone who loves Luna! What does she represent to you? Why should she win? What did you think when you first met our "looney" friend? Has she inspired you?

I'm trying to assemble a TEAM LUNA because if there's one thing we learned from Harry Potter--we can do anything with the help of our friends. If anyone has some mad photoshop skills and wants to help Luna out let me know! (I have photoshop skills but no photoshop anymore. Tis a very sad state of existence)

Her first match is Dec. 9 vs Sophie (another lovely YA heroine). Stay tuned for more!

(Why did this disappear into drafts? I swear I published it once already!)

Friday, November 25, 2011

As the end comes - NanoWriMo

So I'm going to win NanoWriMo this year unless some major catastrophe happens. This will be my "fourth" victory and each year it gets easier. Not because my life gets easier. My life has actually gotten consistently busier.
2008 - Win. Worked 9-5 at local newspaper, started 4 days late.
2009 - Win - Unemployed (This novel was my worst)
2010 - Win - First year working for Girl Scouts
2011 - Win - Second year working for Girl Scouts, where-in more and more is piled on my plate (Started out doing program/training. Now I do a lot of public relations and social media as well as am the advisor for our Teen Leadership Council.)
But NanoWriMo has taught me to prioritize my writing. I'm nowhere near publishable, but I am improving and more consistent. When I started NanoWriMo in 2008 I had problems finishing stories. There were always new and shiny plot bunnies. From Oct 2010-Oct 2011 I finished three different first drafts. So that's a hurdle I've overcome. Now I'm working on improving my editing (mainly finishing my editing - haha).

But back to NanoWriMo. Here's what I've learned:
  1. Time Management - This year the first weekend I had a Girl Scout overnight. Then the second week I had trainings 2 nights and an event the second weekend as well. I knew this was going to make things hard. But I also knew that I had some vacation day that I needed to use before the year ended. So I took a NanoWriMo vacation where I stayed at home, caught up on chores and did Nano. This might sound like a "luxury" to people without vacations to take, but the moral of the story is DO WHAT YOU CAN WHEN YOU CAN. Find and steal time wherever possible.
  2. Sundays - One of my NanoWriMo goals was to have BIG Sunday numbers. 4000 word Sundays became my habit. This is my only guaranteed day off and I wanted to make the most of it.
  3. Rewards - I always give myself NanoWriMo presents for accomplishments. This year I had UK basketball tickets and told myself I had to reach word count to go. Then I would reward myself with episodes of my new guity pleasure Vampire Diaries. For finishing I'm buying myself a fantabulous pair of shoes from Modcloth. Bribery is totally acceptable.
  4. Don't let the bad bother you - There's a whole section that's boring and somewhat redundant. Writing it was clunky and unpleasant. But I wrote it anyways and did not delete it. If you edit as you go you will lose. End of Nano.
  5. Write Different - This year I was feeling a little bored. Then Rachel Hawkins tweeted this website. Written Kitten. Suddenly it was a rocking and rolling Nano. It was a tiny change to my writing habit, but the new scenery worked. I don't even think it was the cute factor, but the new factor that worked for me.

  6. Live a Little - Don't just give up everything you love. Make the sacrifices you're willing to make. I've watched a lot of basketball and football this November. I set aside writing times before, sprinted during halftime, even wrote with the game on mute if it wasn't that entertaining.
NanoWriMo is something I've grown to love over the past four years.. The community is amazing. I find writing friends, particularly on twitter, that I talk to year round. Writing is usually such a solitary act, but it's so much better to have an encouraging community working with you. The bar graph feature keeps me on track. I want to be able to track my life with handy bar graphs. Some of the Pep Talks stick with me (I particularly remember a Neil Gaimon one that I've read more than once). This year I've spent less time on the NanoWriMo website, but year #4 has been wonderful in it's own way. I'm sad it has to end but at least I know back it'll be back next November.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Raw Blue (review)

4/5 Stars

It seems the influx of excellent Australian YA is never going to end. Let's just all move there because I am tired of waiting for the books (or begging my Aussie goodread friends to send me presents).

Raw Blue is another excellent, gritty, and heartbreaking book. It's standing barely on the fringes of YA, with a 19-year-old protagonist who's living on her own. I love these borderline YA books. I think there's a lot of stories that can be found in this place between genres and I'm happy when a solid book lands there.

The protagonist in Raw Blue is hard to deal with. She's so damaged and wrapped up in herself that it's hard to get to know her. You quickly learn why she's like that. I worried that this book would take it's time before the big reveal. But this book doesn't play mind games with you. It only withholds as long as necessary. The purpose of this book is not what happened to Carly, but what happened afterwards.

This book follows the story of how Carly deals with her past It isn't always pretty. Sometimes you might want to shout at her or lecture her about making bad choices. Or maybe that's just me. But you will hurt for her. By the end you will be rooting for her.

The surfing is a nice addition to this novel, but don't mistake it for a sunny summery surf story. While it might not look like it on the surface, this is a book about hope and healing. But in order to heal, you must first be broken.
Danny was my favorite character. He's a teenage surfer with synesthesia who befriends Carly when she needs a friend the most. He's the little ray of sunshine in this novel and I just want to take him home and have him tell me how he sees the world because I think synesthesia is potentially coolest thing ever. (Color synesthesia, the type Danny has, is when people automatically associate colors with words or even people. Like the number three could be always be green in their head).

At times I questioned this book, consulted with friends about aspects of the realism, but came away impressed. It's the type of book that makes you feel and makes you think. It handles a tough topic by not focusing on the event, but focusing on the aftermath. Even though the other characters are memorable, this is 100% Carly's story.

And it's a good one.

Saving June (review)

3.5/5 stars

This is one of those books that I liked well enough, but didn't love. There are sections of this novel that are well done and that I really like. Then there are parts that just feel unnecessary.

The grief in the beginning felt real. When I was a senior in college my fifteen year old cousin committed suicide. The grief from suicide is hard to explain. I was not even close to my cousin and his death really shook me. So Harper in the beginning, trying to find a way to cope and failing miserably, I can relate to. When all the people are shoving food at her family as though it's going to fill the void and she just wants to hide, that's when Harper really works for me. She consumed by this overwhelming grief and trying to understand June's decision to commit suicide. She's hurt, pissed off and most importantly she misses her sister.

But then there was a lot that felt forced. A lot of the side adventures along the road trip, I just felt eh towards. Suddenly they are at a random protest and all these hipster teenagers are rambling on about their oh so alternative viewpoints. Oh they are vegans. Oh there's an anti-war protest. Oh I'm a weird-melodramatic artist. It felt unnecessary. Grief is a big enough issue to tackle without trying to throw a dash of everything else in.

As the road trip continued, there were more sections that seemed forced. Obligatory debates about music, random punk rock show and then some random band invites a 16 year-old-girl back to their bus to party. That's as much as I can say without major spoilers.

This novel felt a little too hipster for me. The characters were all just so different (without ever really seeming that different to me). They didn't like the mainstream, they wore vintage clothes, skinny jeans and collected vinyl records. The thing is, hipsters kind of bug me.

I'm all about being yourself. I went through a slight punk phase, there's still a hole in my lip (never wear the ring because well...grown-up), I've had pink streaks, purple streaks, hung out at concerts, albeit Christian concerts. But hipsters seem...more pretentious than we ever were. They seem to be purposely avoiding trends, even things they like that become trendy. In high school we were just having fun. At best it was minor rebellion but I'm not even sure I'd call it that anymore. In retrospect, it was small town boredom. I still remember when my town got a Waffle House and it was a Big Freaking Deal.

I don't want it to sound like a bash-fest on this novel. Like I said, the initial grief really caught me. I cared about saving June, about the road trip to California to set her sister free. That whole storyline worked for me. Grief, like Harper, is selfish and complicated. It's a big mess of emotion that's hard to capture, but the book did a good job. That alone could've carried this novel and brought it up from a 3.5 star (which is a good novel). The potential is there but I felt like there were too many distractions along the way.

There's a chance I'm a little too old for this book. I think people who are more musically and artistically inclined will enjoy all the tidbits that I found off-putting. Maybe I'm not hip enough for this book. For me I just liked it. I'd recommend it as a good YA that deals with grief. Because of the subject matter I wanted to love it more than I was actually able to.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Froi of the Exiles (Review)

4.5/5 stars (and now trying to figure out where it lost half a star...)
ACTUALLY let's say...
5/5 stars

Melina Marchetta. Honestly I don't think my love affair with her books will ever end. Somehow she just makes everything so much more real than any other author. No matter what the setting or story, she makes me believe.

I always find it difficult to review Melina Marchetta books. They are just so much better than pretty much everything else out there. I feel like I should be able to say "Melina Marchetta" and you should understand that means "You need to read this book now." But then there are unfortunate souls out there waiting to experience their first Marchetta book.

Froi of the Exiles. Sigh. I think I like this book more than Finnikan of the Rock. Maybe it's because Froi is just so damaged. My heart hurts for him. He's made bad choices in the past but that was when he didn't really have any good choices. Now he's trying so damn hard to be better, to prove himself worthy of the friendship of Isaboe and Finnikan. But even he doubts himself, his self worth is so twisted up in his past mistakes that he has trouble seeing his own potential. But as the reader I see it and love him, even if he doesn't understand that he's worthy of being loved.

He's so real and vibrant. Froi leaps off the page, smart and jaded, so real and broken. I just want to give him a hug (in fact I told my goodreads group that he needed a group hug). I continue to be dazzled by Marchetta's grasp of human nature and her ability to capture characters in a way that rings so true.

The honesty that Marchetta exhibits in her contemporary fiction is not lost when she switches to fantasy. She doesn't try to make it sound like a typical fantasy book. The language is genuine, at times funny, at times crass but with a poignancy that we've come to expect from her.
"The gods have not forsaken Charyn. The gods love Charyn. Where else can they shit, if not Charyn? It's the purpose of this kingdom. To be the place where the gods shit."
With Marchetta everything always comes back to the characters. She understands that's what makes a book believable. I still love the characters from the first book. Isaboe and Finnikan are adorable as a married couple. They make me smile in a book where smiles are few and far between. Then there are characters we get to know more, Lucian for example, and favorites that we've never met before like Phaedra, Lirah and most importantly Quintana aka Princess crazytrain.

Quintana fascinates Froi. She fascinates me, maybe more than any secondary character I've ever encountered. The next book is called Quintana of Charyn and I am excited. I know most people haven't met this princess. But know this: She is a survivor. Marchetta doesn't write flat boring characters. Quintana is no damsel in distress. In fact, please don't leave me alone in a room with her. At times she's terrifying, other times completely endearing and heartbreaking. But I can't stop watching and waiting for her to reappear throughout the book.

I love how Marchetta describes characters. Take Quintana, with her pointy nose, crazy hair and teeth that overlap. She is not cookie-cutter or even necessarily pretty. But the image is so crystal clear in my mind. Marchetta chooses the right details, strange and quirky, but that's what makes her descriptions memorable.

This book is beautiful and complicated. It's epic fantasy that's truly epic, not just the same-old-same-old elves versus humans versus dwarves versus mages versus fill-in-the-blank. You can't say "Charyn is evil and Lumatere is good" because that's way too simplistic. This book looks at the complicated relationships between two countries and the people who are sometimes unwittingly caught in the middle. Nobody is 100% good. All of the heroes have flaws and not even the villains (except maybe one) lack humanity. Countries don't just one day decide to invade their next door neighbors. There is always context and usually desperation driving these actions. Marchetta acknowledges that without taking away the horrors of what happened in Finnikan of the Rock.

This book is not always any easy novel to read. It's heart-wrenching. It grabs you roughly and drags you though the muck, pulling you through the sewers of Charyn, the madness of a princess and the dark past of a street kid we first met in Finnikan. It makes you ache, but it also makes you love and it never lets you forget how often those two are intertwined.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ready Player One (review)

4/5 Stars

Ready Player One takes place almost entirely within a video game. It's the type of concept that's either going to be AMAZING or fail. I just can't imagine any middle ground. The whole premise is a big gamble, but it pays off majorly. This book is awesomely unique and completely memorable.

Your initial reaction might be "Will this book appeal to non-gamers?" Personally, I don't game. But somehow I tend to enjoy gaming themed entertainment (particularly The Guild, oh how I love that show). I feel like this story will appeal to a variety of nerds. Yes, it takes place in a game, but there's a lot that'll remind you of other internet communities that you might hang around (for me I saw a lot of my YouTube experience in this book and the Gunters reminded me of olden days of puzzle solving for lonelygirl15. Most of which I just watched smarter people figure out).

It's a nerdtastic search throughout the Oasis (the video game) for an easter egg hidden by the games recently deceased creator. His entire fortune (and it's HUGE) will go to whichever player can find the egg first. The main character Wade is competing with the evil Sixers, a corporation trying to find the egg so they can take ownership of the game, Gunter clans (groups of allied egg hunters) as well as his best friends.

The book takes place is a believably dystopian future, a world where trailers are stacked for maximum real estate, only the rich can afford cards and people escape to a happier world inside the Oasis. Even though the characters spend most of their time in-game, there's actually no problem connecting or relating to them. They are real. Sometimes I feel like I've met them around the internet.

I feel like a lot of my friends liked this book more than me. Don't get me wrong I REALLY liked this book. But at times I found myself zoning out when it went into Halliday history dump mode. Yes the players needed to know a lot about Halliday's life, but at times it had a tendency to ramble on longer than I thought was necessary. As the reader, I'm not sure I need to know nearly as much information as I was given. I would mentally check out then when I checked back in normally I hadn't missed much.

I also had a little bit of trouble buying into the depths of the romantic relationship. Yes I know people flirt via the internet. I have flirting tendencies myself sometimes. But this book actually said that people had met, dated and got married in the Oasis without ever meeting. That I had trouble believing. I can't imagine many men going into a marriage without you know...previous physical contact. That of course wasn't our two main characters because they are teenagers, but that line hung in the back of my mind as I watch their relationship progressed and planted a seed of doubt.

Yes I know I sound picky. But here's the thing about really good books--they give you room to be picky. Saying "This book had 2 flaws that stuck out to me" tells you how good the rest of this book was. The hunt for the egg really captivated me, which is why I wanted to get past some of the long drawn out history sections. There was a fortune up for grabs and the main character is making moon eyes at someone's avatar, giving us history lessons and THERES A FORTUNE UP FOR GRABS.

This book has everything you want. An evil corporation out to ruin the game (wait, didn't that just happen on The Guild too?), life and death stakes in the real world as well as the game, first love, 80s nostagalia and the internet. I listened to the audiobook and Wil Wheaton was AMAZING as the narrator. This led to more than one LOL moment (especially when Wil Wheaton playing Wade had to mention Wil Wheaton the old geezer) and gave this book even more nerd street cred.

For the peoples of the internets, people who like video games and people who like unique Sci-fi this book is highly recommended. For everyone else, you should give it a try too. It's something different and thats really rare.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fangirling is FUN! (Hunger Games Trailer reaction)

So today the Hunger Games trailer was released:

In the beginning I was skeptical that a Hunger Games movie adaption would work. Mainly because the book is so violent, but the first person POV serves as a lens through which the viewer sees the violence. Then I decided that being skeptical wasn't very fun so I just wanted to enjoy everything leading up to the Hunger Games movie. If it was bad, at least I had fun beforehand.

With the release of this trailer, Now I'm completely 100% sold and excited. It's hard to quantify why the trailer works so well. For me, the best thing about this trailer is that it makes me FEEL a lot of emotions VERY strongly.

The Reaping is perfect. You can feel the terror and dread of the moment. It's everything, from the background music, to the way they are slowly slumping towards the podium like they're walking towards a death sentence (and in a sense they're all aware that it could be). The colors are grey, the sky overcast. Effie sticks out like a sore pink thumb in the midst of all the struggling working class people. Then they draw Prim's name and Katniss volunteers. That moment is like a punch in the gut. You feel for Katniss, her terror in the moment when her sister is walking forward, then you feel for Prim as she's being pulled away knowing she'll probably never see Katniss again.

Like I said this trailer made me FEEL. (Some people actually say they cried but I am not much of a cryer, but I can see how they had that reaction).

Then there's the capitol, all shiny, perfect and foreign especially compared to the poverty we've already witnessed in District 12. And Gale sets it up the premise of the Hunger Games. All they want is a good show, children dying for the entertainment of those who live in the capitol. It's horrifying and it should be.

Then there's that moment between Katniss and Peeta. Anyone who knows me very well knows that what I've been waiting for is to see Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. Unlike a lot of others, I have a lot of faith that he's perfect for the role. So I've been waiting to see him as Peet and be like "LOOK I'm right!!!" (Yes I want to gloat, shush). So yeah, even though there wasn't enough Peeta I'm very happy with what we saw. (For the record I never think there's enough Peeta).
"I just keep wishing that there was a way to show them that they don't own me. If I'm going to die, I still want to be me." Peeta Mellark.
I think the trailer made a lot of good choices. I like the fact that it set-up the story. A lot of people have no clue what The Hunger Games books are about. Because it's a popular YA novel they think it's just Twilight version 2.0. My opinions about Twilight aside that couldn't be further from the truth. Saying paranormal and a dystopian are the same makes my book loving heart break. To me this trailer says "Be prepared. This is a violent, heartbreaking movie but it's not just about violence for the sake of violence." I was also abundantly happy that all the love triangle drama was nowhere in sight.

This trailer emphasized The Hunger Games, not the violence but the fear, terror and everything leading towards the games. It captured Katniss, not as a badass heroine, but as a loving sister who's trying to win the games to go home to her family. It set-up Peeta as a reluctant competitor trying to find a way to outsmart the game. Not necessarily to survive, but to prove a point. It also sets up Peeta and Katniss as the type of competitors who could inspire a revolution. That's smart. The trailer is setting-up book one, but already thinking towards Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

Frankly I'm going to have to be honest. I had pretty low expectations for this trailer after the teaser trailer. Then BAM it surpassed expectations that I didn't dream about having. It captured the right mood and emotion for The Hunger Games. Honestly, I think we're going to get a better movie than I ever expected. And you know what? I'm EXCITED!

Wanted to share some tweets I saw from authors and agents that made me abundantly happy in the fangirling today.

These 2 made me happy because they are more objective opinions that I have (and 2 people who I very much enjoy following and respect). Follow literaticat and Erin Bow yourself to find out why.

Then there's TaherehMafi (follow HER!) who so often says what I am feeling and thinking, yet she's so much more funny than I ever hope to be.

May the odds ever be in this movies favor

Monday, November 7, 2011

Prized (review)

Warning: This will contain some spoilers for Birthmarked that will probably make no sense if you haven't read it. But be warned.

4/5 Stars
I remember liking Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien. I remember the basic plotline - girl midwife in a dystopian society where they're taking babies from the poor and advancing them to the rich. Girl discovers flaws of society, rebels, story ensues. This is how Dystopians tend to go and I've read a lot of them now. But I very much remember liking this one, as vague as that memory has become because the piles of books I've read since.

So when I saw Prized on Netgalley I felt obligated to request it. Then I started to worry that I wouldn't remember enough about book 1 to read book 2.

Luckily, that was not the case. Prized started out great, throwing me immediately back into Gaia's story without forcing me to read a lot of backstory. Not remembering was OKAY because the story kept moving forward. I was relieved. The first chapter rocked, fast paced, throwing life-or-death risks and new problems at me immediately.

Then there were a couple chapters where I'm not going to lie, this book made me nervous. I get a little worried when I feel like an author's politics are showing. It's a little like your bra strap sneaking a peak to the world. There's a place for your politics and just like a bra there's a way to use them wisely and subtly that really makes an impact. I'm not going to play coy with you because I really think you're smarter than that. Because this book involves a midwife, it's the abortion issue. I like books that broach these issues with enough sensitivity that neither side of the debate is off-put by the conversation. And books bringing up the topics need to be more conversational and less soapbox.

I quickly realized it was not so much the issue itself that bothered me, but the introduction and execution felt a little clunky and deus ex machina in my opinion. Gaia has just arrived somewhere new. She's there for less than 2 days when this young lady approaches her about helping with a miscarriage. Nobody knows Gaia and there's no time spent building that trust or her reputation as a midwife. It's just thrown at you a little too quickly. It does become integral to the plot, but like I said it needs to be executed better.

Then I nearly went into panic mode when I thought there was going to be a long-drawn out love square. But thankfully Leon from the first book appeared and that shifted the balance of the book very quickly. He was angry at Gaia, a little bit bitter, and a huge reality check for our main character. His character's words and story gave me the most guttural reaction, almost bringing tears (really!).

From there I was engrossed and everything started clicking in place for me. Gaia saw herself, her flaws and her mistakes for the first time and had to face her own selfish behavior. Most YA heroines have a selfish streak (as do most teenagers & most people) but rarely is that acknowledged. Once this book hit it's stride I stayed up past midnight reading, but oddly not for Gaia but because my heart ached for Leon. He brought an honesty and bite that stopped the love square woe in it's tracks. He called her out, spoke the truth and for me made this book.

In the end I liked this book and will look forward to the next in the series. For the most part it's an intelligent dystopian, with flawed main characters that are more human than we're used to. I really like that aspect, really like the balance between the two main characters and am glad I stuck with the book through my doubts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Between the Sea and Sky (review)

3/5 Stars
I'm always drawn to mermaid fiction and generally speaking disappointed. I don't know why this subgenre is so hard to master. Maybe it's that Ariel is always peaking over our shoulder as only Disney movies can. Or maybe a world of fish and fins is somehow too foreign, more foreign than land-based fantasy tales and outer space adventures.

Between the Sea and Sky is better than most mermaid stories. I suspect a lot of people will really like this book. Especially if you like star-crossed love stories. But for me, it's just not quite there.

First I want to talk about what this book did right
  1. Esmerine was a likable and believable main character. I know that seems like it should be a given, but the last mermaid book I read I didn't like any of the characters. She's the type of person you could root for. Esmerine is smart, caring and loves her family.
  2. Consequences for magic - So often magic has no consequences. Mermaids in this story feel pain whenever they walk on land. I know where it comes from in mermaid lore (I may have done some research on the topic lately). It's a nice touch.
  3. Not a love at first sight story. I was worried about this but there's actually a friendship first.
  4. Not one species is "evil" or the bad guy. The story doesn't oversimplify things. There are good mermaids, good humans and good flying people.

Unfortunately I must also talk about what didn't work in this book for me. For me, the main flaw was that the stakes didn't seem high enough. Either she stayed on land or she didn't. Neither choice seemed drastically better than the other. I wasn't invested. Partially I think this is because the enchantment of the siren's belt wasn't very well explained. I didn't (and don't) understand the consequences of giving someone her belt. It stops the pain and there's some kind of enchantment involved but what that entails I don't know.

Another problem I have with this book is that apparently a underwater society didn't have any of the problems of our world on land. In the beginning we're introduced to a world where people have different jobs, the main character's family seems distinctly lower middle-class (they talk about things they can't afford), but then Esmerine is aghast at all the problems of land based society. There's poverty, beggars, cripples and she doesn't understand this at all. I find it unrealistic that an underworld world with some kind of economic system could exist entirely without poverty or flaws. To me this felt like a continuity error.

This book is well enough to read. I have no major issues with it (like I do with a lot of paranormal YA) but at the end of the day I felt pretty ambiguous towards it. I just didn't care enough. But I suspect a lot of people will enjoy the romance and skim over the flaws but I just expected more.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hounded (I'll hound you Atticus O'Sullivan - review)

4/5 Stars

I have a confession: I always get confused when classifying books as urban fantasy or paranormal. I know what people SAY the differences are. The thing is, I don't quite believe them. I think these genres share more common ground than differences. I see where a lot of people say "paranormal romance" rather than just "paranormal." But a lot of my favorite books toe the line (Hex Hall and Hold Me Closer, Necromancer for example).

Whatever genre you want to call those two books (they're popularly shelved as both on goodreads) that's also where Hounded by Kevin Hearne belongs. If you know my reading habits at all, you can already guess that I loved this book. You don't get a Hex Hall reference lightly in Cassi-land.

It's got humor, spunk and a sexy-as-hell 2,100 year old Druid named Atticus as a main character. It's everything that I like about Hex Hall and Necromancer, but a little more grown up. Atticus has the wisdom of a man who's lived a long life with a modern sense of humor. The book has a good mix pop culture blended with history and archaic phrasing that befits an ancient druid making his way in the modern world.

Hounded has one of the most interesting blends of mythology I've ever seen. It's a mish-mash of EVERYTHING. Normally that's not done. Authors pick a mythology and stick with it. But why not? This book is not trying to be a brilliant treatise on how to live life. It's FUN and a little bit frothy, but well done. I'm getting tired of books that take themselves too seriously. Lately it seems like authors have been hearing my complaints (Okay I know that's not how it works! I don't have illusions of grandeur) and there's a new class of books that are a little bit urban fantasy, a little bit paranormal and a whole lot of fun.

Want a taste of the excellent voice in this novel? And it's irreverence & use of all religions?
Mary will appear more often, though, and she can do some pretty awesome stuff if she feels like it. Mostly she sits around looking beatific and full of grace. Keeps calling me 'child,' even though I'm older than she is."
Aside from having a kick-ass Druid as the main character, he has one of the best sidekicks ever. I'm a sucker for a talking pet. Oberon, his pet wolfhound, is pure comedy. Oberon and Atticus have a mental connection that allows for some pretty hilarious commentary. Atticus's devotion to his dog might be his most swoonworthy trait. Then again I am a dog person.
< She's kind of like a Mary Poppins just before she turns to the dark side > Oberon said. He was still behind the counter, but he had a good look at her as she exited. < Let go of your anger, Malina! There's still good in you! The Emperor hasn't driven it from you fully! >
There is no romance in this book. I know, right? That's also not normally done, especially not with a main character as sexy as Atticus (did I mention he's posing as a 21 year old Irish man?). But it's a nice change. I expect they'll be some romance as the series advances but it was nice to have a book with no romantic entanglements and no love triangles.

This book is different in a good way. It's gender-neutral, with sword fighting, magic, almost every paranormal creature imaginable and did I mention the AMAZING dog?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Yes I've been quiet...

So I've been quiet lately and you might be wondering where I've been (or you might not have noticed at all. Either way is good with me). Work has been super busy and I got into a fiction writing mood. I've been editing and adding scenes to what I refer to as last years pre-Nano. That is, a story that hit me a month before NanoWriMo last year and needed
to be written ASAP. So I wrote a Sept/Oct novel last year then my November Nano. Yes sometimes I'm a crazy person but that's part of my charm.

There was a super secret knitting project (aka Yarnbombing)
Only it didn't happen because my partner in crime got busy.
So I spent some unnecessary time knitting cheap yarn. Le sigh.

Teaching Troop Camp Training at Cumberland Falls
This involves lots of prep & is exhausting.
It was also like 34 degrees & really cold.

At the beginning of troop camp training I had a slight cold.
By the end I had a HORRIBLE cold & could not really function.
Which led to the best waste of time EVER....

When I was sick I wasn't very productive.
However I did discover that I actually LIKE a vampire story.
This picture is only somewhat gratuitous. It's from The Vampire Diaries.

Today I had an event at this beautiful place called Homeplace.
I feel in love with this tree. It's SOO cool.
Anyone know what it is? Or whats the deal with the knobby roots?

Another picture to show you the size.

Stopped at Levi Jackson State Park on way back.
(This is where I walk every day, be jealous)

Oh Fall. I love thee. The world is just so vibrant.

Soon this will eat my soul. Just giving you a heads up.
I still plan to blog but you know how plans go.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Under the Mesquite (review)

4/5 Stars

So I'm going to tell you a secret. Back in middle school/early high school I used to write bad poetry. Then one day I had an epiphany that I was writing mopey teen poetry and stopped. Then I went through a phase where I decided that I didn't like or understand poetry. Until senior year of college when I took a literature course. We studied poetry and I discovered that I do in fact like some poetry (mopey teenagers need not apply.)

So I'm still on shaky ground with poetry. I love "Do not go gentle into that good night" BUT I'm iffy when it comes to most new poems. Books written in verse make me EVEN MORE NERVOUS. I blame the indecent amounts of Wordsworth I had to read for a class during college. (During which my brain spazzed and was like novel length poem, I GET IT YOU LIKE NATURE).

For a book written in verse to work there has to be a damn good reason for the stylistic choice. For Under the Mesquite it worked. The book is driven by emotion. The writing is not overdone, at times even sparse and always poignant. It's the story of a girl growing up as her mother slowly succumbs to cancer. It's heartbreaking, but not in a cheap way. Rather than focus on the details of the disease, the reader experiences what Lupita feels throughout her mother's sickness. Somehow the verse gives the emotion room to breathe.

The emotions about growing up, sickness, family and loss ring so true. Because the verse is so genuine and natural, I cannot imagine this story told any other way.
Here is one of my favorite passages:
For my sisters, senorita means
having someone to worship: it is
the wonder of seeing their older sister looking
like Cinderella on her way to the ball.
But for me, senorita means
melancolia: settling into sadness.
It is the end of wild laughter.
The end of chewing bubble gum
and giggling over nothing...

Stories involving cancer have been done, re-done and will continue to be done. I read those Lurlene McDaniel books back in middle school (aka all the teens die but HEY at least they fall in love first books). But this book felt different and refreshing. There is nothing trite about the the way this story is told.

It's not a long book but there's a lot of life and growing up between it's pages. It flits between spanish and english, Texas and Mexico, childhood and adulthood seamlessly. It's a beautiful little book that I'm glad I stumbled across.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Zombie Project (Boxcar children - I'm not joking)

Most of the time I choose books that sound good. Sometimes I buy books that sound so terrible that they arouse my curiosity.

When I saw The Zombie Project (Boxcar Children Mysteries #128) for sale on Amazon I thought "WTF are they doing to my childhood?" Then I bought it because I needed to know. I think it's impossible to really review this book. It's bad. Sometimes I feel like it's a joke. Then I find myself wondering "Were they always this bad & I just never realized?"

So here are some of the highlights from my brain spasms as I read this book.

How the heck are they still the same age?
Apparently the original author died in 1979. Which means these books were written BEFORE 1979. Benny is still 6. Henry is still 14. I don't feel like the other characters ages were discussed. And it's not set in the original time period because they make a point of mentioning blogs & digital video cameras. It's just jarring.

"Breakfast is pretty, too," said Benny.
Seriously this child is on the path to childhood obesity. I've never seen food mentioned more in a book. Almost everything that came out of Benny's mouth was food-related.
Things Benny talks about eating (that I remember): Pancakes, peach cobbler, smores, fish, candy
Quote of the book for me.
"Henry, do you have any money for snacks?" said Benny.
Henry laughed, "You just ate, Benny."
"I always have room for dessert," said Benny.
Seriously you don't need to describe everything Benny eats. Maybe the books were always this way. But at the moment childhood obesity is kind of a big deal so maybe you should chillax a little on the FEED ME NOW Benny school of thoughts.

I'm way too old & not innocent enough to be reading this book
"See these bushes?" said Violet. "They're all smashed down in one spot." Hmmm wonder what people were doing in those bushes? Yep thats my first thought. Not sure what's wrong with me.

Review-ish section
The mystery is pretty dumb. I tried to find a nicer way to say that. But when your mystery revolves around a charity golf-tournament and a "villain" who is foiled by not turning off the ringer on his cellphone I can't help but wonder why this book was written. Obviously it's ghost written (OOO unless Gertrude Chandler Warren is the zombie!). I imagine what happened was "Hey zombies are popular let's throw one into a Boxcar Children story" then rather than thinking better of this proposal they actually wrote it. And HEY it must've worked for them somewhat because I bought the ebook. But I bought it to laugh at, not because it sounded good. Is that really what we want the Boxcar children to become? Is destroying my childhood really worth a few bucks? This book just makes me sad inside. It's good for a laugh though. But be aware, I'm not laughing with it, I'm laughing at it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Anna Dressed in Blood (review)

4/5 Stars

When this book, with it's creepy and moody cover and equally creepy title, Anna Dressed in Blood, started popping up in my goodreads emails I didn't know what to think. I'm not a horror person. I don't usually read scary books or watch scary movies. Mainly because they never actually scare me and I always find myself asking "Really that's what your so afraid of?"

But I kept seeing glowing reviews. So I put my skepticism aside and decided to give it a chance.

I really need to stop being so judgmental about what I think I read. Because I loved Anna Dressed in Blood. Many of my friends say the book scared them. I'll be honest, it didn't scare me. But it didn't depend on cheap thrills or misleading bumps to up the fear factor. You don't have to be afraid to enjoy this book.

The story is well developed, centered around the sad mystery that is Anna Dressed in Blood. Yes she's a big bad ghost. Yes she kills people. But rather than running around screaming and dying like stupid people who run upstairs, not down, during horror movies, the majority of this book is spent on figuring out what made Anna such a powerful ghost. Which is a lot more interesting to me.

I pretty much like all of the characters in this book. Kendare Blake doesn't fall into the trap of making them stereotypes. Carmel--beautiful, blonde, queen bee--could have easily just been that. But she's given life beyond her type and by the end is a well developed character. Cas could've just been witty one-liner mysterious new guy. Anna could have just been a horror story. I think you get my point.

Anna actually becomes my favorite character. Nevermind that she been killing people for 50 years or that I should probably be scared of her. I find her fascinating. In case you didn't read the blurb on the front cover, there is some romance in this book. But it's not he love-at-first-sight crap that I hate in paranormals. It builds over time. Its lingering looks and butterflies in the stomach, all those wonderful things that make your first love so special and usually so tragic.

And let's net forget about Cas (who is actually the main character). He reminds me of Sam from Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. He's witty and a little bit lonely. His connection to the dead has created a barrier between him and the living. But he's not that pathetic loser type character. Fact is, he carries himself with enough confidence that he could have any of the pretty preppy girls he wanted. He just can't relate to them. They're pompoms and football games, he's killer of things that should've stayed dead. Even though he goes around killing ghosts, he doesn't think of himself as a hero. He's got a chip on his shoulder that's been following around since a big-bad-ghost killed his father and he's hoping slaying Anna will prove that he's ready to go after his father's murderer.

This story has just the right amount of twists and turns. What makes me REALLY happy is that the twists actually make sense. You're like "Okay I didn't see that coming but I totally believe it." Halfway through, the book had me coming up with my own theories. I was never right, but that's okay. The book drops clues and hints, and they aren't just red-herrings.

I think this is the perfect October read. It's creepy, ghostly, but somehow has a lot of humor and heart. I'm even considering reconciling with paranormals after this book.

One non-story related issue I had: The book is printed in maroon ink which is rather hard on the eyes. It's gimmicky and trite, which is sad because that's everything the story is not. It's a poor graphic choice by the publisher. I've seen weird ink colors in a few books thus far and I NEVER like it. I got used to it after a few chapters but that's the LAST thing you want readers to do. I literally almost put the book back down when I saw the font color. I know I'm picky about graphic design but I doubt I'm the only one who doesn't want to stare at red ink for 300 pages.