2013 has been a rough reading and blogging year for the Readventurers thus far. One terrific example of this problem is our last She Made Me Do It
challenge, which took us (well, to be fair, me (Flann), Catie, and Maja from Nocturnal Library
) SIX MONTHS
to complete and close out. Our perfect solution is to make our challenge this time to be one easily completed. So, for this edition of She Made Me Do It we are challenging each other to read recommendations that are all under 200 pages in length. Many of our picks are far shorter than that; some even just a few pages long. We are all hoping to be hugely successful this time around. Let us know what we should each pick in the comments section.
Catie's Recommendations for Tatiana
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash
What it's about:
Characters spanning a huge time frame (Civil War era to present day) from the American South deal with the fleeting nature of life and their crumbling hopes.Why I think she'll like it:
I was introduced to Ron Rash through another installment of SMMDI, so it's only fitting that I should pay it forward in the same venue. I recently listened to the audio version of this collection and loved it even more than Rash's full-length novel, Serena.
The audio version is just over four hours and has an incredible cast of narrators, but she doesn't need to listen to the whole thing. I particularly think she'd enjoy the title story, Nothing Gold Can Stay,
about two childhood friends whose lives have changed since they discovered prescription drugs, Where The Map Ends
because it has a great twist ending, Those Who Are Dead Are Only Now Forgiven
because it broke my heart with how inevitable the conclusion felt, and Cherokee
because it kept me at the very edge of my seat and gave me exactly what I was hoping for, only to make me realize just how awful and limited that hope was.
The Gorgon In The Gully by Melina MarchettaWhat it's about:
Young Danny Griggs (Jonah's little brother!) struggles with overwhelming fear, especially for the horrible Gorgon which lives in the gully behind the play yard of his school. When he kicks a soccer ball into the Gully's lair, will he have the bravery to go after it?Why I think she'll like it:
This is the only Melina Marchetta novel that Tatiana has not read yet. Enough said. Bonus - I will mail it to her myself since I know it is hard to find.
A Mo Willems Sampler
(To be obtained at the library as separate books...unfortunately the "Mo Willems Sampler" is not a real product...yet.)What they're about:
Thoughtful, clever, and hilarious stories for kids that grown-ups won't mind having to read over and over and over (AND OVER) again.Why I think she'll like them:
As a new mom, Tatiana might enjoy discovering some wonderful children's book authors, and Mo Willems is one of the best. I recently ordered a bunch of the Elephant and Piggie books for my five year old daughter and couldn't help reading them all myself before giving them to her. His stories are entertaining for all ages and while they sometimes have a lot of emotion and heart, they're never overly preachy or didactic. Mo Willems always writes to children and for children and never down to children. My favorites are:Hooray For Amanda And Her Alligator
- about a little girl and her favorite stuffed alligator toy.The Elephant and Piggie Series
- about an Elephant and a Pig who are best friends.The Knuffle Bunny Series
- about a little girl who chronically loses her favorite toy (the series spans her life from babyhood to adulthood and my husband can't read the end of the last book without getting all emotional).The Pigeon Series -
about a pigeon who always wants what he can't have (great for younger kids and toddlers).
Tatiana's Verdict: Well, next time I am at the library, Mo Willems' books are definitely going into my bag. It is so true, it's been a pleasure to discover children's writers. Who knew that 20-page books with pictures in them could be so interesting? I am hoping Willems will become one of my faves too. Nothing needs to be said about Melina Marchetta's book, I've been waiting to read it for ages. Ron Rash's collection might be a challenge. There is a bunch of people waiting for it at the library, fingers crossed, it won't take me months to get it. I am confident though, at least one of Catie's recommendations I will be able to finish this year, to add to my count of, what?, six full-length books read in 2013:)
Tatiana's Recommendations for Flannery
Music for Chameleons by Truman CapoteWhat it's about:
Short works (fiction and non-fiction) by one of the best American writers who never fully realized his potential (IMO).Why I think she'll like it:
I am cheating here a little bit. This collection is more than 200 pages long, but I wouldn't want Flannery to read it all, it is not even in quality. However, a couple of titles here are sure to catch her attention. Knowing that Flannery likes biographical non-fiction, a conversational portrait of Marylin Monroe "A Beautiful Child" should be of interest to her. "Handcarved Coffins" is a true crime story, and I think she will like it as well. As for the rest of the collection, short stories can be easily skipped, while some other conversational portraits are great too, but it's up to Flann if she wants to read more. I am only "assigning" these two:)
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate by Ted ChiangWhat it's about:
A Middle East-flavored fairy-tale/time-travel story.Why I think she'll like it: Well, I recommend Ted Chiang as often as I can (still waiting for Catie to read him, too). He is a SF author who writes cleverly and elegantly. This story is the most accessible of his. Flannery loves SF and time travel, plus, the story has a certain fairy-tale element to it that she, who enjoyed Fables so much, will appreciate. It is also available as an audio podcast for free here and can be easily found in iTunes.
Ethel & Ernest by Raymond BriggsWhat it's about:
A lovely story of life of the author's working class parents.Why I think she'll like it:
While I don't think this graphic novel is the best ever, I think Flannery will be pleased by this charming, funny life story. It'll be a nice departure from her more beloved action-packed comics.
Flannery's verdict: I am going to read all three of these. Overall, I'm ecstatic that all three of us agreed to challenge each other with short books this time around because reading something that someone else is recommending can suck the enjoyment out of a book. This isn't because the book or the rec is bad but just because it isn't what I'm in the mood for. (I am very fickle) I had not heard of any of these picks before this moment and that excites me even more. I can almost feel Tatiana's enthusiasm for Ted Chiang in her paragraph on that book so there is no way I can skip it, but I must admit that she also hit on two of my 2013 hot spots with her other two picks -- biographical nonfiction and graphic novels. I put all three on hold and cannot wait to knock them all out. If I had access to them at this moment, I feel like I could read all three today.
Flannery's Recommendations for Catie
| || | The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
What it's about:
The Queen discovers a love of reading, despite the disapproval of many of her family and those around her.
Why I think she'll like it:
This book reminded me why I love to read. All three of us have been having a frustrating reading life lately so I think Catie might enjoy the reminder as much as I did. It's quotable and the story made me chuckle a few times. She'll read it in one sitting if she chooses to go with this one and I think she will enjoy reading about a woman who discovers what it is like to get lost in the endless information and possibilities of books.Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean WebsterWhat it's about: A strong-willed orphan girl is sponsored to go to a ritzy school and required to write letters to her anonymous benefactor.
Why I think she'll like it:
Catie loves Anne of Green Gables
as much as I do and it's hard going to find a heroine as unapologetic about her personality and as snarky as Anne can be, but Judy comes pretty close. Catie said she was in a romance reading type of mood and I think this one will suit her. She will like to imagine the school Judy goes to and the sense of humor in the book is surprising, given that it was written in 1912. It is available for free
, though some editions have illustrations, and there are several movie adaptations if she wants to do a Book vs. Movie post.The Last Question by Isaac AsimovWhat it's about: A series of people, over time, ask a developing machine to explain the future of the universe.
Why I think she'll like it:I read that this is Asimov's favorite short story from his own writings and I think it is one that every fan of sci-fi should read at least once. I saw people on Goodreads, or maybe Reddit, discussing what a shock the ending is and I read it just preparing to be amazed. I'm not sure Catie will be blown away but she'll be happy to tick it off on her read list. It's available many places for free and will take her about five minutes to read.
Catie's Verdict: Wow, I want to read all three of these! I will probably at least start all three of them and see what happens. I've been so fickle and distracted lately that almost nothing is able to hold my interest, but I think Flannery has done an excellent job with her picks. I'm going to start with Daddy Long-Legs because I am indeed in a romance mood which is a rare thing for me and so I feel compelled to indulge it while it's here. Flannery also knows that I love Isaac Asimov though, so that one will probably be a must.
So what do you think? Have any short recommendations for us?
In December, we started a She Made Me Do It challenge
with Maja from The Nocturnal Library
. Life got in the way for all three of us, as it does, but as of last week we were all able to read at least one of the challenge books. We are happy to finally close out the challenge and concentrate on the laundry list of other reading goals each of us has. We'll probably start another challenge in the next few weeks, and hopefully it won't take us over five months to complete it next time. Here's a recap of who read what and how we felt about the experience this time around...
Maja Challenged Flannery to Read...
Flannery read: Lucid and Virtuosity, and tried Discount Armageddon. Verdict:
I was so sure I was going to love Lucid
. At the onset of the book and through probably about the first third or so, I was insanely curious what was going on. If anyone is unfamiliar, the book switches back and forth between Maggie, a budding young actress in Manhattan and Sloane, a typical teenage girl in Mystic, Connecticut. Each night, when they go to sleep, they dream of each other's lives, but which one is real? Both? Neither? I think the book just dragged on too long before getting to its point, but I did like the narrative style, the sense of humor and random references, and the idea behind the book. It was a 3-3.5/5 for me. I attempted to read Discount Armageddon
but could not get into it on my initial try. There was nothing specifically off-putting to me besides the cheesy outfit on the cover (which actually makes sense in the book), so I will definitely try it again. Virtuosity
I read in one sitting. I loved reading about Carmen and her mad violin skillz. It was also a 3.5-star read for me. Thanks for the challenges, Maja! I definitely needed the shove to read these ones.
Flannery Challenged Maja to Read...
Maja read: Holier Than Thou
I had a bit more difficulty with the books Flannery recommended, but not because she doesn’t know me well (trust me, she does, she even knows how to pronounce my name and doesn’t hesitate to spread that knowledge to unsuspecting mutual acquaintances), but due to a series of unfortunate events. My sudden love for fantasy made me decide to read Alanna first, so I went ahead and downloaded the audio, only to realize that I loathe the narrator. The poor book didn’t stand a chance. I then picked up Never Let Me Go
from my library, but my sister was visiting at the time and she convinced me I wouldn’t like it. We rarely agree about books and I don’t usually take her advice or recommendations, but in this case, her lack of enthusiasm was contagious. In the end, Holier than Thou
couldn’t be avoided any longer. I finished it just last night and liked it enough to give it 4.5 stars, although it accomplished exactly what I’ve been trying to avoid: it left me feeling melancholic, restless and a little bit sad. I will eventually read Alanna
too because I’m certain I’ll like it, but I won’t be going back to that audio.
Thank you, Flann! Please don’t hit me anymore.
Maja Challenged Catie to Read...
Catie read: The Stranger.Verdict: I’ve had The Stranger on my shelf unread for an embarrassing number of years. It’s one of those books that I have because I picked it up at some library book sale with every intention of reading it and then of course didn’t…possibly because of the intimidating “snooty intelligent book” waves which emanate from it or possibly because when it comes to books, I just get sidetracked easily, like a toddler at a petting zoo. Regardless, I was thrilled when Maja finally gave me a real excuse to force myself to read this book. Back when we started this challenge, I pulled it off my shelf and promptly started it, fully intending to finish within a week or two. And then I chronically found an excuse not to read it for the next five months. I’m sure you all know how that goes. BUT, I am happy to report that I finally found my way back to good old Camus and finished this thing a couple of weeks ago. And I loved it! I mean, I always knew that I would. Back in college I practically handed around my copy of The Plague to every friend I had (I was a really exciting person back then, obviously). What got to me the most about The Stranger was that, despite its cool and disconnected tone, the simmering waves of grief and loneliness and rage were so palpable to me. Actually, in that way it really reminds me a bit of Holier Than Thou (which I’m so happy that Maja enjoyed). It’s also completely depressing to consider how quickly we humans will judge one of our own for acting in any way "abnormal", but you all know how I love depressing books. So thank you, Maja for finally making me revisit Camus. Now, which member of my playgroup wants to borrow it first? Anyone? Bueller?
Catie Challenged Maja to Read...
Maja read: Eon
I should start by saying that I fell madly in love with fantasy just a few months back. It started with Seraphina
by Rachel Hartman, continued with Kristin Cashore’s books, and I haven’t been able to stop myself since. I should also say that, when it comes to fantasy recommendations, there is no one in this world I trust more than Catie. Out of the three books she chose for me, I picked up Eon
first simply because I already owned a copy. To say that it wasn’t what I expected would be an understatement. For some reason, I assumed it would be more middle grade than young adult, and I assumed Eon(a) would be an admirable character, but neither was correct. While I didn’t adore the book like I adored Seraphina
, I ordered the second one as soon as I finished reading, and it’s been taunting me from my shelf ever since. However, every time I look at it with its 600 intimidating pages, my reading schedule starts growling at me. I guess I’ll just have to wait for another challenge.
I will definitely read the other two books as well as soon as I find the time. Thanks, Catie!
Have you read any of these books? Did any of us pick the wrong ones to read?
I know there are a several book blogging memes about acquiring books. In My Mailbox
, Showcase Sunday
, and Stacking the Shelves
are a few that readily come to mind. Here at The Readventurer, we are way, way too lazy to commit to a weekly post on anything. I do, however, want to post a few times a year about a few acquisitions I make to my ever expanding bookshelves so I am going to call the series…wait for it…My Ever Expanding Bookshelf. I know, original, right? Maybe I can harass the other two into doing the same, though my powers of persuasion seem to be minimal these days. Also, I am going to leave a lot of books I purchased for myself and many I received as advanced reader copies out of this post. Why? Because it’s my post and I can do whatever I want!
I am kind of addicted to entering giveaways. I usually go through phases where I will completely binge on giveaways and spend about a half hour per day entering things. Don’t worry too much about my sanity, it is usually while I am catching up on the DVR. I try to enter all the giveaways my friends are hosting, not only because I can be snarky (some might even say annoying) in the giveaway forms, (My name, you ask? ‘IT’S ME, YOUR FRIEND FLANN! PICK ME RAFFLECOPTER, PICK ME!’) but also because I like to support them in everything they do. And boy am I lucky. From blogger giveaways, I recently won All This Could End
by Steph Bowe, signed copies of Slammed
and Point of Retreat
by Colleen Hoover, The Kassa Gambit
by M.C. Planck, arcs of TransAtlantic
by Colum McCann and Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson, The House at the End of Hope Street
by Menna van Praag, a signed copy of The Evolution of Mara Dyer
, and Grave Mercy
and Dark Triumph
by R.L. LaFevers. From publisher giveaways I won School Spirits
by Rachel Hawkins, Crewel
by Gennifer Albin, and an arc of Our Song
by Jordana Friebourg.
Won from the Dark Triumph blog tour
Won from Maree's Musings
Won from Layers of Thought
Won from Kelly @ Effortlessly Reading
Won from publisher giveaways.
Won from Bonnie's Sweet Tidbits
Won from The Reader's Den
My coup de grace was when I happened to be on Twitter and saw people tweeting about Epic Reads’ Wednesday Tea Time, which I’d never heard of. I clicked over to watch it and they were having an “arc party” and one lucky winner would win every arc they were talking about. I think you see where this is going. Here are the ones I received in my box of awesome:
Won from @EpicReads' Wednesday Tea Time. (watch every Wed. afternoon at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/epic-reads)
I know, right? I am one lucky lady. I mailed three of the arcs off to blogger buddies of mine after I took the picture because I am not caught up on some series and they were very excited to read and review them. It would be jerky of me not to help my friends out! Because I sent a Twitter friend of mine the Kasie West arc, she kindly mailed me her arc of Raven Flight
by Juliet Marillier, which I have been looking forward to since I read Shadowfall
Here are ways I find giveaways, in case you are wondering:
1) On Twitter, I search “signed copy,” “win a copy,” “book giveaway,” “blog tour,” “blog hop” etc.
2) I read through all the post headings in my Google Reader/Bloglovin’ and find ones that might have a giveaway. (Listen, I also read regular posts, I'm not a jerk, but I'm specifically talking about how I find giveaways to enter. I don't unfollow people after giveaways are over, either, unless they clog up my Twitter feeds.)
3) I go through the giveaways lists on I Am A Reader, Not A Writer
and often make my way through the giveaway hop
lists. (this is huge time suck, though)
4) I sometimes google the Twitter search terms I mentioned and add a filter for the past few days
5) I ‘liked’ most of the publishers I read on Facebook and Twitter, as often they will run promotions through their websites and Facebooks and mention them on those platforms.
6) I subscribed to Shelf Awareness
(for Readers and Pro), Publishers Weekly
, and Tor.com
e-newsletters, which sometimes have giveaways in them.
7) I attend many, many book events and often, if there is a publishing rep there (and sometimes even where there isn’t!), there is a giveaway or a few, especially if it is a multi-author tour.
8) I regularly check publisher websites, which often run giveaways.
9) I can’t think of any more line items at this moment. 10) Which is a shame because everyone knows you need 10 line items to make a list.
Gifts (and one swap) from the last week.
Purchased in the last week.
The biggest time investment in obtaining books is making friends and maintaining friendships. Barf. Who needs friends, amiright? All those months (years!) of feigning interest netted me two books this week: Bronze Gods
by A.A. Aguirre (from Maja!) and Wildlife
by Fiona Wood (from Nomes, with candy!). Huzzah! And though I know most of you know I am kidding, just let it be known that I am joking about feigning interest. It is probably a little sick how interested I am in the lives of my friends. The only other books I want to mention are Blackout
by Mira Grant, which I found in perfect condition at Half Price Books
for $4 the other day, The Witness
by Nora Roberts, which I undercover bought at Costco when my mom asked me to go there to pick up some stuff for her (Muahahaha!), and a remaindered copy of Okay For Now
by Gary D. Schmidt that I found at Third Place Books
when I went to see R.L. LaFevers. That one made me insanely happy as I read an e-arc and did not have a hardcover copy.
So what about you? Do you enter giveaways? Have any tips or tricks for me? Have you acquired any great books lately?
I read Grave Mercy
a few months back, when I was a panelists for The Cybils
. At the time, I think I was just saturated with YA sci fi and fantasy books and I needed something to be bang! flash! zing! with uniqueness, solid writing, great appeal, and tons of other criteria. I thought the book was fun and readable but not as earth-shattering as some of my blogging buddies and Goodreads friends thought it was, though it's quite a mixed bag when it comes to reviews from reader friends of mine. I still wonder if I would've liked Grave Mercy
more if I'd read it at a different time, especially because it is sometimes very hard to remember details of every book I read when I am on a binge. I remember quite a bit about Grave Mercy
and I was/am still very excited to read book two in the series, so much so that I followed the entire blog tour for Dark Triumph
and entered all the giveaways so I could (hopefully) score copies. I think Maggie from Young Adult Anonymous
would probably tell you that it is a foregone conclusion that I would win a set, since I seem to be insanely lucky these days, but I did
win a paperback of Grave Mercy
and hardcover of Dark Triumph
. There is a point to bringing this up: I bought another paperback of Grave Mercy
at the event I am currently crappily recapping and had it personalized so I will be giving away the paperback I won at the end of this post. Back to regularly scheduled programming.
Robin/R.L. LaFevers is a bit of a badass, in my opinion. She is totally matter-of-fact and seemed completely at ease with her audience and what she was going to talk about. I felt under-informed at the onset because I did not realize she also wrote two middle grade series, the Theodosia Throckmorton
series and the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist
series. She said her audiences can often be quite a mixed bag and thus seemed a bit relieved that the present audience seemed to be completely comprised of the target audience for the His Fair Assassin
series. After writing for younger readers, she was itching to write something darker and on a bigger scale. She said that she has always loved Arthurian stories, Mary Stewart
novels (particularly The Hollow Hills
and The Crystal Cave
), and the merging of history and fantasy.
An audience member asked how important historical accuracy is to her, LaFevers says she favors "historical fantasy." Most of the time, she feels beholden to stay pretty true to historical events but some truths are probably best left out of young adult novels, like perhaps early teenagers being married to 35 year old men, etc. Another questioner asked the author to elaborate a bit about the magic system in place in the series. LaFevers said that the "magic" (if you can call it that, she says it is more mystical than magical) is caused by birth trauma to certain children and their connection to the god of death. One reason she wanted to include nuns was because she wanted there to be a moral aspect to the story. Also, she knew that there are folklore stories about being "marked for death." If forced to pin down the historical accuracy of her work, LaFevers says that about 80% is true history, 10% is history she's taken liberties with, and 10% is completely made up.
To pick the names for her characters, the author said she pored over historical records. Quite unsurprisingly there were many, many common names which kept recurring (e.g. Elizabeth) but she did not want to use those, nor did she want to use any "silly" names like Mildred or Gwyneth.
Ismae is a deviation from the name Esme and means dismay. Her last name, Rienne, is a play on the French word rien, which means 'nothing.'Both books had their challenges
in the writing process but LaFevers said that Grave Mercy
was probably easier to write since she had the luxury of time while working on it. Dark Triumph
had a deadline and Sybella's story is much darker than Ismae's--she said she had gray clouds over her for months. Grave Mercy
actually started in third person but LaFevers says she kept losing Ismae into the shadows she is so good at hiding in so she had to switch the perspective. She wrote SEVENTEEN drafts of Grave Mercy
and the original manuscript was 500 pages. Dark Triumph
, comparatively, took only seven drafts, which compared to the many authors I've seen on tour before who have answered this question, is still a large amount. LaFevers says she likes to do many rewrites--each time she focuses on something different and she prints each draft in a different color.
A lot of people ask her how she came up with the series. She said that after that idea of assassin nuns came to her, she was looking for an excuse to set a book in the Middle Ages. During that era, a majority of people were very young.(she is not certain why but it could be many factors-plagues, war, life expectancy, etc.) People started “adult” life much earlier, sometimes being married at 10-12 (“not that [she’s] advocating that!”) and leading battles at 18-19. At this point, LaFevers talked a bit about the possibility that the prevalence of war and the tumultuous time period of the Middle Ages could have been a direct result of so many young people being in charge of countries, armies, etc. After all, just look at Joffrey in Game of Thrones
and imagine people like him and Sansa Stark in charge of decision-making. (I’d really rather not, thanks!)
From the idea and the time period, she knew she wanted to incorporate old gods/goddesses into the belief system, which really was not far-fetched, as it was common practice back then. The idea of girls going to a convent as an escape was also based on factual history. Though the idea may be a bit scary to imagine, many young women saw convent life as a life of relative freedom. Much of the history in the series is based on fact, a lot of it concentrating on Anne of Brittany
, whose father, the Duke of Brittany, promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to several different people (6-7 suitors, it is said) in exchange for military support, after which point the Duke died and left general confusion. A later question revealed that the whole council was based on real events and that Anne was betrayed in the same way. The story element of illegitimate children living with full-blooded children in the same palace was also based on real events. The area of Brittany also has rich folklore which LaFevers wanted to include, including Ankoù
, who personified death, Celtic druidesses, and stories about the night rowers who would hear knocks on their doors in the middle of the night and then go to row the souls of the dead across the water.
Besides history, LaFevers wanted to write about love. She found a real love herself and she sees so much YA that includes unhealthy relationships so it was important to her to include a real, healthy relationship but also to incorporate the ideas of love of country and duty. In addition, it was important to show that being a teenager is hard, so it is at least in part about one girl’s struggle. When she first started writing Grave Mercy
and Ismae got to the convent, Sybella (the protagonist from Dark Triumph
) seemed half crazy and she threatened to take over every scene. The author said she had to “take her aside” and explain that she would be the center of her own book, and now she is. Dark Triumph
is darker than the author thought it would be, but the character came to her as a whole and she felt she had to stay true to her. Sybella has been through a lot in her life and, in real life, a lot of people do not make it through these trials. Some people heal, but not many victims become the hero. The fact that Sybella ends up with Beast, was never intended to be a spoiler, according to R.L. LaFevers. Actually, he was supposed to die in the narrative but LaFevers just couldn’t do it; he was perfect for Sybella. He could deal with her dark past because he had his own darkness, having seen war. The author really likes the fact that though he is a soldier, Beast is gentle.
An audience member asked how much time LaFevers spends on research. It took her seven years to write Grave Mercy
. She was working on other contracted work and considered the book to be her own “private sandbox” that she could play around in. She Googled everything and the luxury of time allowed her to add more layers to the story. When she is writing, she will often get on a roll and leave blank spots where there are holes in her research, such as [They eat breakfast. What did people eat for breakfast back then?] and then moving on to keep the creative juices flowing without interruption. Those holes are easily filled with a few minutes of Googling.
The third book, Mortal Heart,
will be about Annith. LaFevers says Annith is pissed off about her place in life and why everyone around her is getting to do all sorts of things while she is stuck at the convent. In Mortal Heart
, the author says Annith will find out the answers to all her questions and we, as readers, will have lots of questions about the abbots/abbesses answered as well.
Sadly, LaFevers has yet to make it to France herself. She said if the books do well enough, she would love to go, but for now she has to make do with coffee table books and Google to find information about the region. I hope she eventually gets to see the region that inspired her series! Because I bought a copy of Grave Mercy for the author to sign for me, then subsequently won a copy, I’m giving a paperback copy away to one reader from US/Canada. Just leave your name and email in the Google form and I’ll let random.org pick a winner one week from today. (Open until 5/18 at midnight, PST)
CONTEST OVER: The winner is Roselyn from Bookmarked Pages! Congrats!
Have you read Dark Triumph yet? Is it even better than Grave Mercy? Have you seen
R.L. LaFevers at an event? Or anyone else interesting lately?
The Pirate's Wish (The Assassin's Curse #2)
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke
Publication Date: 6/4/2013
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
After setting out to break the curse that binds them together, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island in the north with nothing but a sword, their wits, and the secret to breaking the curse: complete three impossible tasks. With the help of their friend Marjani and a rather unusual ally, Ananna and Naji make their way south again, seeking what seems to be beyond their reach.
Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must still face the repercussions of going up against the Pirate Confederation. Together, Naji and Ananna must break the curse, escape their enemies — and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.Review:
Above all else, this is a pretty satisfying conclusion to a story that began not so long ago with one runaway pirate bride on a camel. I thought I would have to wait a whole year to find out how the dreaded Assassin’s Curse was dealt with, but lo – the internet is generous to me. I read this book in about four noncontiguous hours of metro riding and would have happily holed up with it somewhere if I’d had the chance. It was a quick, enjoyable read. However, this second installment was not as enjoyable as the first for me, for a variety of reasons.
This second half of the duology starts off pretty much exactly where the first left us – with Ananna and Naji trapped on a mysterious magical island and bound by an impossible curse. As with all impossible curses, the cure involves three impossible feats – one of which is true love’s first kiss (naturally!). Poor, scrappy Ananna knows that it would be all too easy to complete that particular feat, but Naji is still delightfully clueless about her feelings. However, once a rather feisty manticore enters the picture, bent on curing Naji so she can have a tasty meal of non-cursed blood magician meat, things really get cracking.
I went into this thing expecting the final resolution (and mostly the kiss) to get pushed off (realistically or artificially – by any means necessary) until the very end. After all, the romance novels I know and sometimes love are notorious for dragging out final declarations and for placing undue emphasis on THE FIRST KISS. Here is how the average plot structure of a romance novel looks like to me:
Note the slow building tension, the climactic declaration scene, the HEA, and of course – the unnecessary epilogue where we’ll probably see the heroine blissfully happy with two precocious kids and a lust-filled marriage.
I must say that I was shocked when that didn’t happen! I have to give Clarke major kudos for punching my expectations in the face and surprising me many times in this book. I mean, not only did she give me yet another talking cat (close enough) for my collection, she let the heroine claim the first kiss in the beginning chapters AND learn to be an independent badass lady by the end of the book. However, weirdly enough I think that some of the things I admired about the book’s nonconformity to romance novel standards actually ended up lessening my overall enjoyment of the book. The plot of The Pirate’s Wish felt something like this:
While I applauded the kiss coming so early in the story, the pages and pages of angst which occurred after the kiss did start to feel tiresome to me. The battles (always occurring just in time to prevent something important from happening) were small and unexciting. The cures for the curse felt anticlimactic and unimaginative (and sometimes rather silly: see talking sharks). And the huge romantic declaration, which is something I’d usually rather skip, was largely MISSING from this book. I didn’t need a huge gushfest by any means, but I did need SOMETHING. I needed some small glimpse into Naji’s head, to be able to understand why he would want to be with Ananna. Sure, maybe Ananna is an independent woman who doesn’t need a ton of assurances or any proof of Naji’s love…but I guess I needed it.
And I think she deserved to have it. How strong and independent is she really, if she can't even ask for what she needs from him? Also, can I just say that I was sorely disappointed that Naji's bratty ex didn't make a reappearance for some good old-fashioned comeuppance, courtesy of Ananna?
However, I did really like that the ending was left open and only partially resolved and I also liked the lack of a completely gushy-mushy HEA slash epilogue. This was a bit of a let-down for me after the brilliance of The Assassin’s Curse,
but it was still a fun ride.Perfect Musical Pairing
Heart - I Didn't Want to Need You
This series is still satisfying, like the perfect pop song. And best of all, there's no more waiting required because it's a duology! I'm hoping she writes a spin-off series or two, but until then here's my tribute to Ananna and Naji from Heart.
Happy Spring (except for all of you in the Midwest, where apparently it’s still winter…guess that groundhog wasn’t kidding around)! Here are the updates for last week, plus a few from the week before that we simply couldn’t leave behind!
A bunch of awards and best-of lists were announced, including:
The ALA also released its 2013 State of America’s Libraries report
, which has both hopeful and disheartening news and also includes a list of the most challenged books in 2012. As the tough economic times encourage more and more people to turn to libraries, they also "encourage" more and more budget cuts for those much-needed libraries, which is unfortunate. Check out this excellent infographic from CityTownInfo
about American’s libraries, which illustrates the problem very well. It always shocks me how many dedicated readers don’t take advantage of their libraries for print and digital books (as the infographic shows, only 31% of Americans are aware that they can get ebooks from libraries at all).
There was some good news for New York Public Libraries this week – Simon & Schuster announced
that for the first time they will allow digital copies of their books to be checked out and purchased from the NYPL system, on a one-year trial basis. It remains to be seen whether S&S will expand its partnership to other libraries, or whether the idea of selling ebooks through libraries will be a successful one.
In other very exciting library news, the Digital Public Library of America
launched last week.
Many of you are already aware of this, but every year Sync offers free young adult audiobooks, paired thematically with classic audiobooks – two each week throughout the summer months. This year’s selections were announced last week
and there are a TON of great books coming up. Check it out and sign up for your free audios!
There were a few interesting bits of news to come out of the London Book Fair last week, including this great keynote speech given by Neil Gaiman
(summarized by Publisher’s Weekly
). I love it when smart people in the industry realize that we should embrace change instead of just running around shrieking about it in panic. I also saw this little story (from The Guardian) about a very futuristic ebook
which was debuted at the fair. In a re-release of the classic mystery The Thirty-Nine Steps
by John Buchan, publisher Faber & Faber has reportedly created a “fully-immersive product” which includes:
“…classic stop-frame animation and original silent film music. It would allow readers to "unlock dozens of achievements and items to collect on their reading journey, and explore hundreds of hand-painted digital environments and context from 1910s Britain."
In fun news:
- I know all of you were probably huddled around your smartphones as soon as the Catching Fire trailer was released last week, but here it is so you can watch it again (for the 9th time).
- Parks and Rec fans saw a portion of this genius rant from Patton Oswalt last week on the show, but here’s the full eight minutes of it – it’s sad just how little of it they used.
- And lastly, for all of my Jesters out there – WE DID IT!!!! Yeah! If you’ve read Infinite Jest, check out this amazingly involved theory about the ending. It basically blew my mind, and I thought I was actually doing well in comprehending the book (I totally wasn't). How much of it do you think is right?
A month or two ago, Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks
and Alyssa from Books Take You Places
convinced me to try the Fables graphic novel series by Bill Willingham. Boy, am I ever glad they did. I usually trust those two with fantasy recommendations, but with this one they just hit it out of the park. I put the first few on hold at the library and as of last month, I’ve read all eighteen trade paperbacks to catch up with the series. Honestly, I was a complete newbie when it came to graphic novels so I did not know where to go after I found out how much I liked them. I am a bit embarrassed to say that I basically thought my brother and several of my guy friends from college were pretty lame for reading comic books. I chuckled at my younger sister for watching Sailor Moon
and reading some manga. This post is basically me doing an intervention on myself:
Dear Flannery, You were a complete idiot. Comics and graphic novels are amazing, or at least they can be. You were stupid to ever think people who read them were not really reading and anyone else who still thinks something along those lines is also an idiot. There might not be as much text going on but when done right, there is just as much story, the characters have just as much (if not more) personality, and you get the absolute bonus of seeing a visualization of so many aspects of a book.
But I’ll head back to Fables for now, so you can see if this series might also work for you.
Bill Willingham has imagined a world inside of our world, where characters from fables and folklore exist alongside us. The “Mundies” (us) are unaware that a section of New York City is actually Fabletown, with (at the beginning of the series) Old King Cole as mayor, Bigby (the Big Bad) Wolf as sheriff, and Snow White as head administrator. There is a farm in upstate New York where all the non-human Fables or those who are unable to blend into normal society live, from the three blind mice to Baloo and Sheer Kahn from Kipling’s The Jungle Book to Orwell’s maniacal pigs from Animal Farm. Willingham writes the entire series so the voices remain constant and for the most part, the artistry is consistent. Because each of the trade paperbacks compiles several of the issues, there are usually several smaller story arcs and one or more larger arcs going on in the 250-odd pages in each installment. The first edition, Legends in Exile, opens with Jack (of all the Tales—Jack Horner, Jack Be Nimble, Jack Frost, etc.) alerting Bigby that Rose Red, Snow White’s sister, has disappeared. Her apartment is completely ransacked and covered in blood. We are introduced to several characters as the mystery unfolds and I actually found the mystery to be far less predictable than some so-called mystery novels I have read in the past. But in the larger scheme of the series, the first installment is probably somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of quality, in my opinion. It must be hard to introduce a rather bottomless cast of characters while solving a crime in such a contained amount of space and text so I just went with it, but I can see how it might be a challenge to keep up with everyone and always know what's going on. In addition, the sense of humor and occasional swearing and sexual content might not appeal to some fairy tale fans. (One of the library copies I read had the sex scenes ripped out, bahaha. I hope there is a tween boy somewhere with them folded up under his pillow.) As the series went on, I was more and more invested in the characters, their backstories, and their interconnections to the point that I was giddy when I saw issues devoted to certain characters and audibly groaned when I saw others pop up. (If you're wondering, I love the cubs, Bigby, Flycatcher, and Rose Red and I don't really care about Pinocchio, Gepetto, Jack, Beauty and the Beast, or Bluebeard.)
Each installment highlights the characters who will play major roles in the story arcs
They obviously get more complex as the series goes on...
It is hard to review an entire series, as I do not want to give any spoilers away, but I will say that my favorite installments of the eighteen have been March of the Wooden Soldiers
(#4), which deals with an impending war in the Fable Homelands, The Good Prince
(#10), which deals with the Frog Prince, and Rose Red
(#15), which tells about a lot of said character’s background. The only total miss for me was in Volume 16, The Great Fables Crossover
, when Willingham attempted to bring Jack’s offshoot series (unsurprisingly called Jack of Fables
) and the regular Fables together. Jack’s character is a womanizer, a schmoozing con-man and oftentimes a total jackass. A lot of readers seem to dislike him or love him. I am generally apathetic but I would rather read about no less than thirty other Fables before I read about him so I have only read the first Jack of Fables installment. (The (Nearly) Great Escape
) The crossover edition was hard to enjoy as readers unfamiliar with the storylines in Jack’s series (read: me) have no idea what was going on. Characters in that series made less sense to me even after I read one installment—there seems to be another hidden Fable community containing the usual fairy tale-ish characters, but also Literals, characters who are part of the writing process—the Pathetic Fallacy, Revise, Genres etc. I had/have a harder time getting my head around the idea of those characters existing alongside the Fables in the real world. As in a few other books I’ve read in the past, most notably Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series
, Fables are kept alive by their popularity. A popular Fable is harder to kill and more likely to come back to life, whereas a lesser known Fable might disappear forever. It is confusing to me where characters like Revise and the Genres come from and who, if anyone, is perpetuating their existence.
At its worst, Fables volumes are three star reads, but it is very consistently four star (and even five star) fun reading for me. I cannot wait for the next trade paperback to come out. Or, perhaps I should just suck it up and venture into a comic book store for the first time in my life. If you are looking for an entry point to read graphic novels, this was mine and it absolutely got me hooked. I do not recommend just picking up any later installment as you will miss character and story development and I imagine you would be pretty lost. Start at the beginning and give it two editions before you decide on whether to continue. In other news, stay tuned for several posts about the eighty or ninety graphic novels I've read so far this year since starting this series. No joke
. Here's my roundup of ratings for each installment (and a few offshoot books):
Have you read any of this series? What are your favorite graphic novels?
Under the Light (Light, #2)
Author: Lauta Whitcomb
Publication Date: 5/14/2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Helen needed a body to be with her beloved and Jenny needed to escape from hers before her spirit was broken. It was wicked, borrowing it, but love drives even the gentlest soul to desperate acts.
When Jenny returns to her body, she finds that someone has been living her life while she was away. She doesn’t remember being Billy’s lover or defying her family. But now she is faced with the consequences. And Helen, who has returned to warn Jenny—to help her—finds herself trapped, haunting the girl she wished to save.
In this captivating companion novel to A Certain Slant of Light, the love story between Jenny and Billy begins out-of-body—where they can fly and move the stars--and continues into the tumultuous realm of the living, where they are torn away from each other even as they slowly remember their spirits falling in love.Review: How much recapping do you like in your sequels/companion novels? It appears that even I, a reader with a very short memory for details, have my limits. If a sequel verges on being 50% recap of its preceding story, then what's the point of its existence, really? I remember A Certain Slant of Light to be a lovely, elegant, sensual and gently unsettling ghost story. (It's been years since I read it though, in fact, it was one of my first YA reads after, naturally, Twilight, so I can't be held fully accountable for my memories of it until I reread it, ok?) Under the Light
is equally elegantly written. Laura Whitcomb published books on writing and indeed she knows what she is talking about, her prose is lovely, in my opinion. The last chapter is just gorgeous. But the plot, the plot! Where art thou? The premise of Under the Light is that we follow up on Jenny and Billy once their bodies, previously possessed by Helen and James, are returned to them. A Certain Slant of Light
left Jenny and Billy in quite a bind (possibly a pregnancy? ooh-la-la!), so I see how it would be interesting to see how they deal with their difficulties and with the realization that their bodies were inhabited and used by ghostly lovers. But so much of this new novel is taken up by Helen, who in this book returns to see Jenny through her ordeal, and Helen's recapping of what she and James did in the previous book, that there is hardly any space in this rather slight tome left to develop Jenny and Billy's story. This book thoroughly lacks in new material and good conflict. There are almost no new revelations or new developments. Jenny and Billy finding out what happened to their bodies? But WE already know! Any new stories with Jenny's parents? Hardly! Getting to know Billy a bit better? Eh, a bit. It seems, everything exciting happened in the first book, and this follow-up just ties some loose ends, and barely offers anything more. We do learn about Billy's reasons for abandoning his body, however this plot line is fairly insignificant and short. The way I see it, the novel would have been better if Helen weren't in it at all. She is fairly useless as a helper anyway.
In the end, the only thing that Under the Light
achieves is make you want to reread A Certain Slant of Light.
I recommend you all do the same and don't bother with this companion. I feel that A Certain Slant of Light
is a better book if it is experienced as a standalone.3/5 stars
The Lucy Variations
Author: Sara Zarr
Publication Date: 5/7/2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.
That was all before she turned fourteen.
Now, at sixteen, it's over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano -- on her own terms. But when you're used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?
National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations
is a story of one girl's struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It's about finding joy again, even when things don't go according to plan. Because life isn't a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.Reviews:
I love Sara Zarr's writing and I always will. At my very first book club meeting with the fabulous ladies of Fairfax Forever YA, I listed her as one of my favorite YA authors (this after being told that I would be judged based on my answers). I even got my club to go rogue one month and read Sara Zarr's How To Save A Life instead of the Forever YA selection. I love that Sara Zarr’s novels will always find a way to reach right under my rib cage and rip out my heart, no matter how little I initially relate to any of her characters. Her characters always, always find a way to get under my skin. Sigh. So why didn’t that happen with The Lucy Variations? When I wanted to feel connected, I felt unconcerned. When I wanted to feel the massive gut punch of Sara Zarr, I felt a fluttery twinge. When I wanted to swoon, I cringed. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the reason for my lackluster feelings lies in her use of the third person point of view, something that’s new for her. Some authors are able to use third person to great effect, in a way that still feels very personal (Stacia Kane, I am looking at you). The third person narration in The Lucy Variations feels distanced and impersonal. Worse, it sometimes feels overly summarized in that way that says there isn’t enough action and dialogue.
Then they went over here.
Then she talked about this.
Then he left.
Know what I mean? I want to know how they’re getting from place to place. I want to see the movement. I want to hear the conversation. I need more description, dialogue, and action and less simple narration of events.
However, does this mean I will be abandoning Sara Zarr and striking her from my judgment-worthy list of favorite YA authors? Hell no. I can only speculate, but maybe this is Sara Zarr’s attempt at a new creative direction, something that I can only support. Maybe this is the equivalent of her going up on stage and playing Philip Glass when we all expected to hear Bach. It wasn’t a perfect, error-free rendition, but I appreciate her effort. And I will keep reading and supporting whatever she decides to put out there.
The Lucy Variations was, for me, a parade of unlikable characters. I do not necessarily need likable characters in a novel but I do need something to keep me going if I am not enjoying the characters, and that is usually a compelling story. What could have been a literary Searching for Bobby Fischer-esque rise and (at least quasi-) fall of a child prodigy ended up falling flat for me. Without Zarr's typical first-person narration, I missed hearing the main character's perspective throughout and from the outsider's view, I never truly understood how Lucy could not see her own situation for what it was. Instead, she was pretty insufferable to her friends and family and refused to problem solve so I was unable to sympathize with her character. Several families in Zarr's prior works have similar communication problems to the Beck-Moreaus of The Lucy Variations, but as I get farther and farther away from this book, the characters who resonated most for me were Lucy's younger brother and Lucy's best friend--the only two straight shooters in the novel. The rest of the characters had me turning page after page waiting, waiting, waiting for people to tell others what they were thinking or how they had hurt each other.
In terms of the story, I was disappointed in the lack of resolution. The ending felt hurried and there were several loose ends--not "oh, I guess it could go either way and it's left up to interpretation" types of loose ends, more "why was this subplot even introduced if it was going nowhere?" types of loose ends. For example, the relationship between Lucy and her prior teacher felt like a speed bump in the story and I was not sure why it was included. And arguably the largest conflict in the book, that between Lucy and her grandfather, goes out with a fizzle. When it comes down to it, as a reader I felt that this novel was missing its emotional core, something Zarr is typically fantastic at cultivating, so I never really connected to the story, the characters, or the style. I'll still be first in line to read Zarr's next book, and in all likelihood, her next ten.
How great would it have been if Lucy had sat down at the concert and played the song from her grandfather's record collection that reminded him of his late wife? That would've been a kick in the pants for him.
It appears the three of us are pretty much on the same page as to why this new Sara Zarr novel didn't work for us. Pardon me for repeating what has already been said.
Generally, it's a good thing when authors try to experiment and explore new points of view and styles of writing. But sometimes when they try something new, it just doesn't work as well as the old. This is the case with The Lucy Variations
I think. The thing I disliked the most about this novel is its POV, specifically its 3rd person POV instead of Zarr's signature 1st. It was a challenge for the author herself (she talked about this in her blog post
), and the challenge, in my opinion, not well met in this case. I am still scratching my head in an effort to understand why Zarr chose to write this new novel this way. 3rd person POV added nothing to the narrative (it is a very close 3rd person, with only Lucy's perspective used, we never get insight into any other character's mind) and added unnecessary feeling of detachment to the story. As for everything else, while the book was still enjoyable to a degree, the plot felt a bit stale. I never finished Virtuosity, but these two novels sound fairly similar - artistic girls in creative and personal crisis and all that
. Whatever new and interesting Zarr had in her version - mainly Lucy's inappropriate relationships with older men - never materialized into anything tangible and punchy. Lucy's friends were a waste and underutilized in the plot, and so were many other plot lines which started out promising but ended wit.All in all, The Lucy Variations
is just an average read and by far Zarr's weakest. Fingers crossed, her next effort is better. 3/5 stars
“With Amazon in the drivers' seat, you can bet that B&N, Kobo and Indies are going to drop and be dropped by Goodreads like a hot potato. If any non-Amazon "buy" buttons remain, they're going to be buried deep. And B&N is hardly going to encourage people to use Goodreads now that every item of data Goodreads get goes to build Amazon and the Kindle features Goodreads is promising.
In short, we gained a lot of friends today.”
I tend to agree with Tim Spalding on this one. Will publishers and booksellers really want to partner with Goodreads and pay for advertising on the site only to increase the revenue of their major online competitor? It seems doubtful. Indeed, I think Goodreads stands to lose any indie cachet it once had as a result of this partnership.
But can any other site match Goodreads for ease of use and that elusive social component (which I really haven’t seen done well anywhere else)? Mediabistro
lists 5 Alternatives To Goodreads
, which may be possible contenders for the throne. (And here’s a sixth one
that I don’t know much about but have seen people mention…on Goodreads, haha.) LibraryThing is offering a free one-year subscription to people thinking of defecting through the end of today
I think that this article, published last week at Forbes magazine
hits the nail on the head: the current challenge for readers isn’t book discoverability; it’s the sheer, crazy number of books we all have access to at any given moment. We are all able to easily discover thousands of books, but how do we decide what to read? The one disagreement I have with the article relates to this passage:
“Reviews are also unreliable because they depend on the reviewer having the same taste as you. I’ve read many a book that received five star review after five star review, and still managed to be rubbish, and I doubt I’m alone in that.”
That, I think, is where Goodreads excels. Goodreads provides an environment in which you essentially can
find reviewers who have the same taste as you. It remains to be seen whether any other sites can capture that same success.
There was one small positive step for libraries last week, as Penguin announced that it will now allow libraries access to all Penguin ebook titles as they are released
. Previously, libraries were forced to wait six months following the print release to have access to Penguin ebooks. The article linked above (from American Libraries Magazine)
also predicts more changes in the future as the Penguin/Random House merger goes through.
The California Department of Education drew criticism this week when it published a revised edition of its recommended reading list
for grades K-12, including several books that feature LGBTQ themes and issues. It is worth noting that the California Dept. of Ed has included at least some books with similar themes FOR THE PAST TEN YEARS
and also that none of these books are required reading for any child – they are simply recommended. And yet, we still get comments like this one (from radio personality Sandy Rios):
“"The reading lists are very overtly propagating a point of view that is at odds with most American parents. Leftist educators are advocates of everything from socialism to sexual anarchy. It's very base; it's raping the innocence of our children. "