February 26 2015

January Mini-Reviews

I have a few friends who do mini-reviews on the books they read each month, so I thought it might be fun to do that too! It’s an easier way to show people what I’m reading and interested in without writing these page-long essay reviews for every single book. I don’t have time for that mess. I have a thesis in my life.

I also recognize that it is almost March. Apologies for the delay, but this was a recent decision.

likenoother1. Like No Other by Una LaMarche
I wrote an article for Girls in Capes about YA romances with a diverse twist, and this was one of the new ones I picked up. Like No Other is the story of Devorah, a Hasidic Jewish girl, and Jaxon, a black public school boy, who get trapped alone in an elevator and end up inexplicably drawn to each other. The star-crossed teens fall in love, but must hide their relationship from Devorah’s family, because she is not allowed to talk to or be alone with any man, let alone see, date, or kiss a boy outside of her faith. Beyond a love story, LaMarche’s novel ends up more about Devorah’s search for understanding in her religious faith as she finds her voice and independence. To be honest, the romance aspect fell flat for me, but I still appreciated Devorah’s journey and a new perspective I hadn’t read about before.
3 out of 5 stars

2. Killer WASPs by Amy Korman
It definitely did its job making me laugh — most things making fun of the crazy rich ladies of the Main Line do that. Korman did a good job of killerwaspsincluding various character subplots along with the actual mystery of who, of the many with motive, tried to kill the sleazy real estate agent. If you’re looking for a serious, thought-provoking, heart-racing murder mystery, you’re checking out the wrong book. If you’d rather read an Evanovich-esque mystery with quirky Main Liners that makes you chuckle or roll your eyes, KILLER WASPS is more your speed.
I had some serious issues with a few things that could’ve been easily fixed in editorial — several proofreading mistakes, use of the word “shlep” about 8 times in 50 pages, and way too much clothing description, down to the pricetag — but despite these flaws, it was enjoyable enough that I will probably pick up the next one, since the ending was a clear set-up for a series complete with love triangles, world travel, and a fat basset hound.
I work at a bookstore in Bryn Mawr, so I couldn’t pass up a light beach read easily hand-sold to customers who enjoy local interest.
3.5 out of 5 stars

saywhatyou3. Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
Another for my diverse YA romances!  Amy has CP and cannot walk very easily or talk at all. Her senior year of high school, she decides she wants to make friends and have her companions be fellow students instead of hired adults. While she gets along with all her helpers, Amy feels especially drawn to Matthew, a shy boy with severe obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Her whole life, she’s had a physical disorder, and now she wants to help this boy with a mental disorder who won’t help himself. They get each other through their hardest times, and slowly but surely fall in love.
There’s a crazy twist I definitely didn’t see coming, and it all humanizes Amy in a way I haven’t read before. I literally could barely put the book down, no matter because I had to know what happened between these two characters discovering and accepting their flaws, as well as their love for each other. When I read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper last year, it was my first real experience reading about cerebral palsy, so I couldn’t help imagining that Amy was actually Melody all grown up and ready to fall in love and take on the world.
4 out of 5 stars

4. Red Rising by Pierce Brownredrising
The Girls in Capes Speculative Crossover Book Club read this novel for the month of January. Let me just say that it created a lot of controversy and disagreement among us.
If you haven’t heard, Red Rising is being called a cross of Hunger Games and Ender’s Game, but I would throw in a little Lord of the Flies as well. I enjoyed the strong character growth in Darrow over the course of the novel, especially in understanding the society as a whole. Without giving too much away, he learns to be a good leader instead of relying on his personal vendetta to make it through. I also loved a lot of the supporting characters, most specifically Sevro and Mustang. I did NOT like the fridging of Darrow’s wife; it was too easy of an overused (and offensive) plot device. I also did not like the fact that in the school, they mention (non-graphic) rape, so trigger warning there. However, in a realistic war-like setting, I was not surprised and almost expected it come up, and Darrow does try to correct the situation.
Nearly every review I’ve read says that Golden Son is exceptional, so I’ll definitely read that one too. I’m curious to learn more about the society and see how Darrow survives outside the school setting.
4 out of 5 stars

5. The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
secretskyThis novel is truly comparable to Romeo & Juliet, though with a slightly more hopeful ending. A former NBC Afghanistan news correspondent writes about two teenagers, Fatima and Sami, whose greatest transgression is being alone together, but even that is punishable by death. When they are caught alone by Sami’s cousin Rashid, it sparks cruelty from family members. Their families refuse to allow marriage because they are from two different Afghan races, with much tension between them. The decision to run away to the city and get married causes them to be hunted by Taliban soldiers, who leave bloodshed in their wake.
The Secret Sky sheds light on a culture that most Americans know little to nothing about, and its portrayal is both powerful and frightening. This one is not for the faint of heart, due to graphic violence. My biggest issue was how two people who have never even kissed before and have barely seen each other for a decade will suddenly be married and spend their lives together, but that could just be my cynicism. The fundamentalist leaders’ flaws were particularly heavy-handed, but I don’t know enough about the truth to question it. Overall, the culture was unique compared to things I’ve read before, but the writing didn’t blow me away, and it’s a story we’ve all heard before, just in a different setting.
3.5 out of 5 stars

6. Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoffguyinreallife
This was one of my favorites from the YA Romance list, mostly because I identify with nerd culture. Lesh and Svetlana meet entirely by accident, despite going to the same school. He’s a metalhead who plays MMOs; she’s an artistic RPG dungeon master. This chance meeting causes them to be constantly put in the other’s path and thoughts. This is not only an adorable love story of two very different loners finding each other, but also brings up a lot of problematic aspects of the gaming community. It discusses prejudices of women in gaming as well as prejudices within separate nerd-dom factions, but without being snobby or pushy about it. The alternating points of view are essentially from Lesh and Svetlana, but also include their perspectives as MMO character and RPG storyteller. A fun read even if you don’t play MMOs or RPGs (though having prior knowledge of the two makes it a lot more interesting).
4 out of 5 stars

 

No books changed my life in January, but I didn’t hate any of them either, so overall a successful reading month!

I don’t know how many I’ll have for the coming months, since thesis will be taking up all my conscious thoughts, but I’ll definitely have a few for February (which perhaps I can post in a more timely fashion).

February 6 2015

Review: HELLHOLE by Gina Damico

I don’t remember how or why CROAK, Gina Damico’s debut novel, ended up on my bookshelf, but my best friend plucked it off and read it before I got the chance. She returned it and told me, “You HAVE to read this book immediately,” which I did, and I’ve been hooked on Damico’s books ever since. After the dark and hilarious CROAK trilogy, I was hell-bent (heh) on getting ahold of her new stand-alone novel.

Cover for HELLHOLE by Gina DamaicoMax is the kind of teenage boy who times his crossword puzzles and digs for dinosaur fossils in his spare time – a good kid who takes care of his sick mother instead of hanging out with friends (of which he has one or two). When he steals a cat bobblehead from work to make his mom smile, he never intends for this dishonest misdeed to unearth a devil.

Burg is a loud, no-pants-wearing, red-horn-having devil who needs a place of his own, pronto. He makes the deal that if Max finds him a house (with a hot tub!), he will heal Max’s mother’s heart condition. Unable to pass up the chance to save his mom, Max enlists the help of Lore, a former Goth girl who has dealt with her own demons, and who has a crowbar outfitted with googly eyes.

Complete with a giant fiberglass killer whale and Project Runway drinking game, this was a clever, unique story that’ll make you laugh out loud and punch you in the gut three pages later.

My biggest criticism is of the ending: the last fifty pages feel rushed, like Damico was trying to squeeze everything into a strict word count that was cut off too soon. It is a complete story, just not as fleshed-out as it should have been.

That said, if you’re a fan of Bryan Fuller shows like Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, and Dead Like Me, then you’ll love Gina Damico. The snarky humor flows easily into the macabre, and you can always count on plot twists and inimitable characters in true Damico fashion. While HELLHOLE was not as strong as the CROAK trilogy, it’s still a solid read in its own right.

I recommend HELLHOLE for those over age 14 (due to cursing, death, and sex jokes) and for someone looking for a book that feels light at first with all the sarcasm and absurdity, but leaves readers with a more memorable experience in the end.

4 out of 5 stars

Buy it now on IndieBound

See this review on Girls in Capes

November 24 2014

Review: WINTERSPELL by Claire Legrand

“Our stories say that when the human world was first made, not all of it fit.”

Winterspell falls into the current trend of fairy tale retellings, but with a unique origin. Inspired by the ballet The Nutcracker, Claire Legrand spins an intricate story of faeries and mages in another world.

Clara Stole is haunted by the brutal murder of her mother, but she has to care for her younger sister and drunken father, the mayor of New York City in 1899. Her only constant is her godfather, Drosselmeyer, who teaches her self-defense and provides an escape from the watchful eyes of the Concordia mafia, and especially the cruel Dr. Victor, who expresses a bit too much interest in Clara.

On Christmas Eve, Clara’s home is attacked by mechanized creatures shaped like rats, and her father is kidnapped. She must venture to Cane, another world entirely, with the help of Nicholas, a dethroned and cursed prince, and her own hidden powers to defeat the evil faery queen and rescue her father.

Clara experiences an exceptional growth over the course of the novel in every way. Legrand is rare in her inclusion of deliberate teenage sexuality and discovery. It was realistic in progression from fear and curiosity to acceptance and comfort.

The most interesting character, though, comes in the form of Anise, the faery queen. Half faery and half royal, her magic is stronger than that of anyone Cane has ever seen before. Her sordid backstory and uncertain motivations add complexity to her disposition and enrich the world around them. The two of them make very strong female characters on both ends of the spectrum, protagonist and antagonist. Each woman is not only capable of taking care of herself, but they both choose to do so at various intervals.

Winterspell is not an exact retelling by any means; it is a much darker and more mature version of the ballet. Sugar becomes an addictive drug forced on humans to coerce them into complacency. The Nutcracker figure (Nicholas) is angry and mysterious in his intentions for Clara and for Cane. There is a surprise element of LGBT, but I don’t want to reveal too much about it. The descriptions of both setting and actions are so vivid in world-building, it could make an excellent fantasy film, but only if given a Hobbit-sized budget. It could go very cheesy very fast if put on the big screen without great effort.

I recommend this book for the older YA fan, someone looking for an impressive fantasy world and a distinctive twist on an old classic. Legrand’s first venture from middle grade to young adult is, in my opinion, a definite success.

4 out of 5 stars

Buy it now on IndieBound

See this review on Girls in Capes

November 4 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Want to Re-read

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  3. Peony in Love by Lisa See
  4. Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce
  5. Shakespeare Secret/Interred with Their Bones by
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  7. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  8. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  9. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
October 30 2014

Panel Discussion : How Are Books Bought?

At Rosemont College, the Graduate Publishing program hosted a panel discussion with both an indie bookseller and a library book-buyer on how books are bought by different channels. All publishing students attended. Here are some highlights: 

Panelists:

Marjorie HallDirector of Ludington Library in Bryn Mawr, PA

Hannah Schwartz — Owner of Children’s Book World in Haverford, PA

How do you make your decision when buying books?

HS: Being close to NYC, salespeople from publishers will come to the store so employees can read through them and look at pictures. They used to be more catalog-driven, but today’s catalogs are not as colorful and detailed, and are often online — it is better to hold and read the books before purchasing them. The buy two seasons in advance. 

MH: Libraries focus heavily on reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. She and the other librarians also need to pay attention to appearances on talk shows and radio stations. Purchasing books requires knowing what is popular, what is rare, what the community demographic enjoys, and what will become available in four-months’ time. They also make sure to buy non-reviewed series titles (the next book in a sequence), new and revised editions of older books, and ‘no-brainer’ authors (James Patterson, Stephen King, etc.). The opinions in reviews matter for fiction,the language matters most in non-fiction (would the average person understand?), and good translations are important across all genres.

Is there a certain amount of subjectivity to the decisions you make?

Both: Even when purchasing books for sale or lending, Hannah and Margery agreed that they will attain books they personally do not like because there will be at least one person out there who might like it.

Hannah always gets the input of her employees so that more than just her own opinion is going into it. Marjorie, has a panel of librarians and community members who all review the review journals and catalogs and make recommendations. Both make sure to compile suggestions and requests.

How would you define success for your work?

HS: For a bookstore, success is generally based on sales. Beyond that, listening to customers’ wants and needs. Success can be finding an obscure book that fits perfectly to the customer and what they may be searching for, or listening to a demand for a certain book to be sold in the store.

MH: Libraries are somewhat different in terms of success, since there aren’t really sales. Instead, one must pay attention to circulation as well as the number of reserves on a book. If a book is constantly moving in and out of the library instead of sitting on the shelf and gathering dust, or if there are suddenly dozens of holds on the same book, it is successful. These are usually signs to Marjorie that she should purchase another copy.

Do you have any advice for current and future publishers?

HS: Publish more picture books to encourage reading in children. Pay attention and edit properly. And remember that independent bookstores (and really all brick-and-mortar bookstores) are important, so they shouldn’t be forgotten, even with the boom of e-publishing.

MH: Editors and publishers need to remember their audience and the fact that they have varying interests. When something becomes a hit — like vampires, 50 Shades, dystopian — she wishes publishers would not jump the bandwagon and only publish similar titles. Like Hannah, she wants publishers to remember the libraries and their role in the book world.

October 28 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Halloween Edition

Big thanks as always to The Broke and the Bookish blog.

I love splitting these into 5 and 5 apparently, so once more with feeling!

5 Characters I’d Be for Halloween

1. The Paper Bag Princess from The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

The Paper Bag Princess was my favorite picture book as a little girl. I was big into fantasy stories, and my mother is big into feminism, so Munsch’s classic was perfect for both of us. This photo from WhimsyDarling is a great representation!

 

2. COUPLES COSTUME! Mildred & Mortimer from Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio 

Instead of a book from my childhood, Zombie in Love is a recent publication that I received at Main Point Books and fell in love with. Mortimer was so adorable! I want to make my fiance dress up with me.
Apparently the picture book has been turned into a musical by the Oregon Children’s Theatre, and I am incredibly sad that I didn’t get to see it.

 

viola

3. Viola Swamp from Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard

Where did Miss Nelson go? And who is this woman in her place?
It might be fun to dress as Miss Nelson for the first part of the night, then change into Viola Swamp later on!

 

 

4066572555_94aef1634b4. Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Because Elizabeth Bennet from regular old Pride and Prejudice just isn’t cool unless she’s covered in blood and carrying a sword.

 

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5. Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Full disclosure: I have actually done this one. But not on Halloween — at an anime convention. Yes, that is me, with my fiance dressed as Howl. Kindly withhold all judgment.
I love Howl’s Moving Castle, both the book and the film, because of all the fantastic elements and a love story that doesn’t hold back flaws.

 

 

5 Books for the Halloween Mood!

I don’t read many scary things, because I tend to read before bedtime and that is not a smart move. However, I definitely have some applicable titles for this one

1. Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson (middle grade)

This was my first introduction to Ibbotson’s books, and I devoured it as a child. Upon re-reading it last year, it still holds up. Which Witch? is unique and hilarious tale about Arriman the Awful who holds a contest to determine who his new bride will be. The witch who performs the darkest piece of magic will have the honor of marrying the wizard. Belladonna is madly in love with Arriman and wants to win more than anything, but she is a good witch. She cannot perform dark magic, but she will stop at nothing to win this contest. The other witches in the coven are dark and unusual, always picking on Belladonna for being so good, but they all have their own specialties and personalities.

 

2. Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer by Cecily von Ziegesar (young adult)

A ridiculous parody written by the author of the original series, Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer puts a very different spin on the rich boarding school story. Hannibal Lecter and Freddy Krueger even provided blurbs for the cover copy! In this novel, Serena and Blair decide that many Upper East Siders deserve to die, and they take it upon themselves to make it happen.

 

3. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (adult)

Contrary to what the movie would have you think, this book is not a YA title. Marion’s writing is astounding — there were several parts of this novel that I read aloud to people around me. Told from the perspective of R, a zombie with no memories but full cognizance of what’s going on in his zombie society. One day he saves a girl from being eaten instead of eating her. Their unnatural bond causes rifts in both the zombie and human worlds. A unique take on the classic zombie story mixed with some Romeo & Juliet.

 

4. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga (young adult)

Read for a Girls in Capes book club, this is a YA murder mystery told from the perspective of the son of a serial killer. Jazz is constantly trying to prove to the people in town that he is not and never will be like his father. When someone starts committing copycat murders from his dad’s original crimes, Jazz has to use his insider knowledge to find the killer and prove that he is not the killer.

 

5. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (adult)

Helen Oyeyemi is a young genius who has already written four brilliant critically acclaimed novels, and she hasn’t even hit age 30 yet. This is the sort of book I could never explain. This book has so many layers and concepts to it, so much symbolism and intricate language. There are some sentences and passages that you have to read twice  — they just make you go “wow”. It blends reality and supernatural seamlessly, and edges on disturbing, especially the last portion.

 

 

What are some of your favorite books to read for Halloween? Share any pictures of you dressed up as a book character!

October 24 2014

Book Review: GRACEFULLY GRAYSON by Ami Polonsky

        This is the story of a brave child who goes through a transformational journey of self-discovery through theatre and good people.

        Sixth-grader Grayson lost his parents at a young age, and now lives with his aunt and uncle. He never felt like he belonged anywhere, so he stays quiet and uses his imagination to draw hidden princesses in his notebook and pretend he is wearing different clothing. When a new girl joins his class, Grayson thinks he’s finally found a friend. He decides to try out for the upcoming play, The Myth of Persephone. But when Grayson auditions at the last minute for the role of Persephone, he is unprepared for what lies ahead, both at home and at school.

        This book should be on every required reading list for middle school. It should blow up the bestseller lists. It is WONDER for the LGBT community and should be shared nationwide. Grayson’s story needs to be heard.

GRACEFULLY GRAYSON will be released on November 4th of this year.

5 out of 5 stars

Learn more via Goodreads

Purchase from your local independent bookstore

Update:

My review of GRACEFULLY GRAYSON will be featured in the Winter IndieNext Children’s Picks List! 

October 16 2014

Review: ROOMS by Lauren Oliver

“The fire begins in the basement.”

Lauren Oliver’s first foray into adult fiction is both complex and impressive. I never would have guessed that her roots were in juvenile fiction had I not read several myself.

When Richard Walker dies, he is alone. His estranged ex-wife and children show up after the fact only to settle his estate and plan the funeral. Caroline, the mother, relies on the warmth of vodka to quell her bitterness. Teenage son Trenton is troubled, friendless and on the brink of suicide. Minna, there with her five-year-old daughter, battles her own demons with anger and sex.

Unbeknownst to the Walkers, they are not alone. Two ghosts reside in the structure of the old house. Alice and Sandra reveal the secrets of their own (former) lives even as they observe the secrets of the Walker family.

Out of nowhere, a new ghost appears in the house, and neither Sandra nor Alice knows why, who, or from where. Even more curious — she can communicate with Trenton. The mystery of this new ghost intertwines with the mysteries of the past, for both the living and the dead.

Though a “ghost story”, this book is much more literary than supernatural. Oliver lets the reader know her characters intimately, no holds barred, with a lot of aspects that definitely make Rooms a solid adult novel.

The pacing was excellent, quick without feeling rushed. I sat down to read and had finished half the novel before looking back up. The writing is straightforward but still eloquent, with each character having a clear and unique voice, especially the ghosts.

I will say, Alice’s timeline gets confusing sometimes. She has so many revelations that it is difficult to ascertain the order of events in her past. There were also a few parts that were unnecessarily graphic — they felt more like shock value than advancing the plot.

If you’re seeking a novel similar to the Delirium trilogy or Before I Fall, this is not the book for you. If you want an adult novel with good writing and interesting characters that reads quickly but still makes you think, then Rooms is a great pick.

4 out of 5 stars

Learn more via Goodreads

Purchase from your local independent bookstore

October 9 2014

TBT: Great Online Resources for Writers and Editors

    • New Pages: Good Reading Starts Here. News, information and guides to independent bookstores, independent publishers, literary magazines, alternative periodicals, independent record labels, alternative newsweeklies and more.
    • Duotrope. Duotrope is an established, award-winning writers’ resource, and we’re here to help you spend less time submitting so you can focus on writing.
    • Publishers Marketplace. The biggest and best dedicated marketplace for publishing professionals to find critical information and unique databases, find each other, and to do business better electronically.
    • Publishers Lunch. The industry’s “daily essential read,” now shared with more than 40,000 publishing people every day. Each report gathers together stories from all over the web and print of interest to the professional trade book community, along with original reporting, plus a little perspective and the occasional wisecrack added in.
    • Publisher’s Weekly. The what’s-what for the publishing industry. There are several free newsletters to sign up for that are sent to your inbox.
    • Literary Rambles. Spotlights children’s book authors, agents, and publishing.
    • Figment: Write Yourself In. A community where you can share your writing, connect with other readers, and discover new stories and authors. Whatever you’re into, from sonnets to mysteries, from sci-fi stories to cell phone novels, you can find it all here.
    • Local Lit. Literary events & resources in the Philadelphia area — and beyond.

 

(Note: All of these resources were recommended by literary agents and published authors that spoke at Push to Publish 2012)