Friday, December 16, 2011

The Young Adult Reading List

So the recently I published this latest blog piece at work, but seeing as parents everywhere are searching for the right book to give this holiday season I decided to publish it here also:

During this time of year we get all sorts of “help” requests—“help me find a book for my history loving father”, “I need a book about cute pigs for my sister”, “what’s the newest and best thriller for my husband”—you get the drift. Lately, possibly because of the location of my office, the most common question I’ve been hearing is regarding books for teenagers, namely, “what book do I get for my teenager for the holidays”. So, parents, aunts, uncles, friends, and grandparents—here’s your heads-up, a list of some of the newer and better teen* reads out there.

For lovers of The Hunger Games and all things dystopic:

Legend by Marie Lu: You can’t put this one down. It’s one of the few teen reads that has captivated readers of different genres. Dystopic, with alternating boy and girl chapters, this is fast paced and addictive. A must read.

Crossed by Ally Condie: This sequel to Matched still has the romance of its predecessor, but is equally filled with action and adventure. Its cliffhanger style ending is a little frustrating, but it is the middle book of a trilogy, so it goes with the territory. Solid series read.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis: Dystopia in space—that ought to draw you in alone! New in paperback, this is an interesting story revolving around a ship carrying frozen personnel as well as generations of ship workers, destined for a new Earth. Chaos begins when the lone teen boy on board awakes one of the frozen. The sequel, A Million Suns, arrives in January and is just as intriguing.

For those who dig zombies, creepy schools, and a touch of fantasy:

Dearly Departed by Lia Habel: Zombie armies, underground cities, and a modern America turned Victorian, all make for one heck of a surprising read. Don’t let the cover fool you on this one; it’s chapters alternate between multiple characters—boys, girls, army generals, and scientists—it’s for anyone who enjoys a good science fiction mystery (with a skosh of romance). Entertaining and original Dearly Departed is a definite pleaser.

Variant by Robison Wells: What do you do at a mysterious academy that’s surrounded by wire fences, monitored by video cameras, and ruled by three very specific cliques—trust no one! A great mystery with a slight sci-fi twist, Variant is the perfect guy read (girls will enjoy too) this holiday season.

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce: The last in the Beka Cooper series, Mastiff is a fun action-adventure fantasy. The series is a nice prequel to her other Tortall books, and Mastiff does a fantastic job of sucking you in—such a good job in fact that it led me to reread all of the other Tortall books upon finishing (that’s 14 books, 15 if you count the short stories).

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater: With the Shiver trilogy under her belt you can guarantee that Maggie Stiefvater will take a myth and turn it on it’s head in a remarkable way. In The Scorpio Races she takes the kelpie myth and turns it into a beautifully written story that follows a boy and a girl as they prepare for the gruesomely difficult Scorpio Race, a race that is stalked by death. This is an unusual tale, gripping for guys and girls, and very satisfying.

The one non-paranormal/dystopic/fantasy etc. on my list:

The Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John: New in paperback, this is a great all around teen read. It centers on Piper, a young deaf teen who takes up the challenge of managing a band. Filled with fantastic music references, a touch of romance, and enough angst to satisfy fans of Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti, Five Flavors of Dumb, is a solid and engaging read for young adults.

Hopefully this list gives you some ideas for the holiday season; of course we have many fabulous booksellers who are filled with far more recommends than I could possibly list here. So, come in and talk to them, I promise you will learn about some amazing books.

*or the adult reader who just enjoys good fiction (hey, I’m one of them)
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Friday, December 2, 2011

A Mini-Review: Legend by Marie Lu

In a time where dystopic novels seem to be running rampant it is hard to imagine picking up yet another futuristic post-apocalyptic novel, but trust me when I say Legend is worth it. Set in North America, a rather dark future awaits—one where a totalitarian government rules with an unyielding grip, plague decimates the poor, and children’s futures are limited based on test results. It is here we meet Day and June, two teens--one an infamous criminal, the other the government’s prize pupil. Legend follows these two unlikely allies as they traverse through webs of deceit and dangerous assignments in an attempt to survive a world that will do anything to destroy those who knows it's secrets. This is fast paced, full of adventure, and just downright fun to read. Perfect for fans of The Hunger Games, both teen and adult.

Released on Tuesday, November 29th Legend by Marie Lu, is available at your local independent book stores and well worth the read. Optioned as a trilogy, readers will become instant fans, eager to get their hands on the next books.


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Saturday, November 19, 2011

How Have We Missed This Author


I get a lot of books sent my way. So many that it seems I can never quite trim down the stack and because of this, I sometimes miss really great reads. Example of my book chaos: I had an advanced copy of Hunger Games sitting on my shelf for a couple of years before realizing it. Crazy right? So, while I do read as many new authors/books as quickly as possible, I often will place them at the bottom of the pile when some of my favorites come in, and so I sometimes am slow to pick up on what a treasure I might have on my desk. This past summer I found one of these treasures and boy am I hooked.

I am usually, ok, always, the recipient of anything that appears to be remotely paranormal or dystopic. While those genres are most definitely not my only fortes, I do thoroughly enjoy them. That being said, I have to wade through a lot of mediocre and sometimes downright awful stuff in order to get to the gems. So it was nothing new when a couple of books from EgmontUSA (division of Random House) were thrown my way. The books were Raised by Wolves and it’s sequel Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Normally, these books would sit on or around my desk for months before I would pick them up, but I was in a mood, let’s call it a “werewolf mood” so I dove in. What I was expecting—mediocre paranormal fiction that would give me a quick and easy escape from reality for a couple of hours. What I got—a remarkably original take on the werewolf theme, highly interesting characters, and an unshakeable urge to pick up the sequel right away. Here was a story, not of a girl falling in love with a werewolf (been there, done that), not of a girl becoming a wolf (ditto), but of a girl rescued and raised by a pack of werewolves, developing the same skills, and eventually breaking off to become a leader in her own right—all while remaining human. I’m simplifying it here, but suffice it to say that there was plenty of action and emotion, an engrossing read for fans of the genre. I was actually a bit irritated when I came to the end of Trial by Fire because I couldn’t find out any information when the next book would be coming out. So, I passed on the books to my sister (also a big reader and fan of the genre) and moved on to pick something else from my pile, pretty much forgetting about to two great books I had just read.

Flash forward a couple of months. Every Other Day (release date 12/11) was a book that had been relegated to another pile (this one in my trunk) and then picked up by said sister and passed around to our mother to glowing reviews, finally made it back into my hands for my own reading pleasure. I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was Jennifer Lynn Barnes who wrote the book they had been raving about.

 Every Other Day follows sixteen-year-old Kali who is human one day and something other the next. What is Kali? It’s a question that consumes readers as they devour the story. I’ve never seen a character quite like this before in paranormal fiction. She is unique and the plot is engaging. I couldn’t have been more pleased to have dug this one out of the pile.

 I will put this caveat out for adult readers; the book does not dig deep into character complexity. It skims the surface, where I as a reader would have liked to get a little more information, but, as it’s marketed to teens of the Twilight-type fan base, this should not be a major roadblock to reader enjoyment. It didn’t derail my entertainment—just left a yearning for something a little more, and I guess that’s not such a bad thing. Isn’t that what authors strive for, leave the audience wanting more?

 So, while I highly doubt that I’ll be thinning out my pile anytime soon, it is reassuring to know the possibility that hidden treasures like these three books by Jennifer Lynn Barnes are within its’ depths waiting to be found and enjoyed.


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Friday, November 4, 2011

What is "The Future of Us" ?

I’ve read a few nostalgic books in the past several months. When I say nostalgic here, I mean that these books either occur sometime in the past of my own timeline (i.e. 80’s or 90’s) or frequently reference pop culture from that period. Most notable of these is the brilliantly entertaining novel Ready Player One, which I reviewed (most favorably) this past summer. So, when I grabbed my advanced copy of Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s highly anticipated young adult novel The Future of Us, I was ready to take a trip down memory lane and enjoy a novel with a rather cool premise. Now, having finished it, I’m stuck here at my computer trying to figure out if this book is a hit or a miss for teens. So, before I get to my pondering I should give a little synopsis.

It’s 1996. Sixteen-year-old Emma has just received her first desktop computer when her neighbor and good friend Josh stops by with an America Online free install disk. The two upload the program, create an email account for Emma, and a small blue box appears in the middle of the screen asking for a repeat Emma’s login information, a webpage pops up, filled with pictures and text, its logo says it’s called Facebook, and the year on the page is now.

Needless to say, Josh and Emma are looking at their future. They spend the rest of the book trying to understand the actions that led to the lives they see on their pages, and in Emma’s case trying to change, and change, and change the life she doesn’t think she wants. I’ll start of with saying that this is a seriously cool premise. I too got America Online in ’96, and at 15, if I saw my current Facebook page who knows what I would change or I how would feel about the path my life has taken in the 15 years between. That was the part of this plot that had me picking up this book in the first place (that and the fact that Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why was both brilliant and devastating). Here’s the past that I had trouble with; the plot devises, to me became a way for the authors to drop in frequent, and often unnecessary references to fads and culture that took me out of the story. Instead of focusing on the action I found myself saying “Oh, yeah, Oasis’ Wonderwall, I remember the first time I heard that” or “we used to rollerblade or skateboard everywhere, I remember when [insert skater friend’s name here] used the wax for my surfboard to wax the curb in front of my house so he could grind on it” or “I remember my Discman, it was so awesome, I could even hook it up to my car with this cool cassette adaptor”.  You see, the authors know that these things were part of the 90’s teenage life, but instead of incorporating them briefly and seamlessly into the text, it felt forced—like they said to each other, “Hey, remember this? We gotta drop that in.” It’s as though they are forcing their own nostalgia on their young prospective readers. Oddly enough, I checked their ages, and if Wikipedia is correct they are 36 and 38 respectively, which takes them just out of reach of the teens they have created. So, it’s not even really their own teenage nostalgia, they would have been in their 20’s in 1996. Please don’t think this means that authors need to create characters in their own age-span, that is ridiculous, and we, quite frankly would be missing out on a bevy of amazing novels if that were the case. What I’m trying to say, is that the pop culture references are so forced, it makes it seem like the authors can’t help, but reminisce on what it was like to be a teen in 1996, so to find out that they are beyond the age range was a little confusing to me.  

Here’s another issue I had. The nostalgia seems to call to people my age, but the writing, and the character building is a bit weak, skimming the surface, where it could easily go deeper, but also it’s very specifically aimed at today’s teens. It is not a crossover, the writing and characters are not compelling enough for adult readers, the content clearly young adult, but the nuts and bolts of the writing—primarily the constant presence of pop culture appears to be aimed at the 30 somethings. It’s like they wrote the book for us and then took out the meat, and packaged it for teens. The thing is, teens love the meat. They like complex stories and characters just as much as adults do, and I’m trying to figure out if they can read this book, which can’t quite decide who it’s audience is, and enjoy it, without a lot of eye rolling.  

So my question is—can teens enjoy this book? Maybe. The meddling with your future aspect of the novel is appealing and interesting, so perhaps that is what will catch their eyes and minds. Perhaps I’m biased because I couldn’t get past my own nostalgia of the era, so it became a roadblock in my enjoyment of the text. Am I blind to the entertainment because of this? I think that is very well possible. Yet I can’t help thinking that the lack of depth to the characters, the mere brushes with real deep emotion and conflict is something that presents an actual problem with the text, and is a bit of an insult to young adult readers who have grown accustomed to more complexity in their reading.

In short, am I wrong in my assessment? What I would really like is for a teen to read The Future of Us and give me feedback. I want to know if the nostalgia really is an overused prop that does nothing to propel the story excepting of course, the dawn of the internet age and America Online. I would be remiss if I did not mention that this element is truly essential to the story and does capture the nuances of the old dial-up platform very well.

Here’s my call to action—if you are a teen and you read this book, please send my your own review or just a few thoughts. I really want to know how you view this book. Am I just the wrong age to enjoy it for what it is? Comment back with your thoughts, for once, I actually want to hear what everyone else is thinking.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Dearly, Departed: Not Your Average Zombie Steam Punk Romance

Don’t let the cover throw you, this isn’t your average paranormal read, nor is it the epic love saga that the back cover leads you to believe. Instead, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, is a complex, multi-narrative, futuristic steam punk, war epic, with a dash of romance. Taking place in a future world that is an interesting mesh of Victorian manners, modern conventions, and futuristic technology, this new novel follows the stories of Bram—a young soldier with an unfortunate affliction (he’s a zombie), Nora—a young woman of surprising depth, Dr. Dearly—a underground leader and savior, Pamela Roe—Nora’s best friend, and Bram’s shady Captain, as they fight their way through a war outside of all human comprehension. Is this a zombie book? Well, yes, but it’s also different from any zombie series I have ever read or seen (and I’ve seen a lot), in that these undead are walking, talking, thinking, human beings banded together to keep those other zombies, the unthinking flesh eating hordes, away from the rest of humanity. Also, since the story is told by multiple narrators of varying ages, sex, social standings, and beliefs it avoids falling into the schmaltzy meanderings found in similar young adult books of the genre.

I blazed through this one. It was new and invigorating, something that I’m not finding too much of in the current selection of books. I enjoyed the fact that it was a tale about survival, and while there is an eventual romance, it didn’t take precedence over the plot, allowing character development and a much better image of the world in which these characters reside. Suitable for both guys and girls, thanks mostly in part to the male POV chapters, and slight gore content (very slight), and also multiple ages, author Lia Habel will have a much larger audience to appeal to. I eagerly anticipate the next installment (entitled Dearly, Beloved) in this wholly original new series.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ashes Ashes We All Fall Down

In Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, 17-year-old Alex, suffering from both the loss of her parents and the ever encroaching presence of an inoperable “monster” of a brain tumor, is thrown inexplicably into a war beyond the imagination. Power is out, people are dropping dead, the monster in her head feels like it exploded, and teens are turning into crazed cannibals. Is it the zombie apocalypse? No, but it might seem like it at first glance.

Bick takes a highly unoriginal topic and manages to make it fresh and compelling. Alex, an experienced backpacker is on the outskirts of civilization (the Michigan Mountains to be exact) when EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) bombs are set off throughout the world. Teamed up with an 8-year-old girl and young soldier fresh out of Afghanistan, Alex must navigate and learn to understand the changed world. Bick uses her past as a former Air Force Major to pepper the narrative with brilliant survival tips, weapons knowledge, and very believable plot elements. At times I even found myself wondering what I own that could survive an EMP. This is the cleverness of Bick’s story, she takes something very possible and turns it into a gut wrenching saga that involves, of all things, zombie-like teenagers eating their way through the handful of people, mostly elderly, who survived the attack. Instead of an all out bloody zombie battle, we only see them about four times, but with each successive sight they seem to be growing smarter, planning, and working together. This first book, in what is to be a trilogy, is more about what has happened and how people are going to try and survive, as opposed to a “World War Z”. It’s subtle and smooth, transitioning ever so carefully toward the set-up that is to come in the last pages. I do have to warn of a cliffhanger ending that is preceded by a very “Village-esque” scenario seen all to often in films and books like The Passage, or The Forest of Hands andTeeth, but the prior 300 pages are so real, and move so swiftly, that it’s difficult to be annoyed by Bick falling into the clichéd pit of post-apocalyptic thrillers.
 
So, final verdict: Ashes, great premise, infuriating ending (let’s get that next book rolling out soon please), and all around good read for both teens and adults.


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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Night Circus


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 There has been much talk around my office on the proper way to describe Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.Morgenstern herself has commented on her blog about the misrepresentations regarding her novel (someone, please tell the WSJ that it’s NOT Harry Potter). With reviewers glomming onto this stellar debut like booksellers to free books, I questioned my own attempts to discuss it in writing. Yet, despite the fact that I know I just cannot do it justice, I have found that I must make some effort to mention this novel, if only to get its title into the minds of my readers, so that they too can be transported by this magical tale.

I use the word magical, not because, as was mentioned previously, this novel is full of people performing magical tasks, although manipulation and illusion are a basis to the plot, but because the storytelling itself is magical in that it utterly bewitches the reader. It is easy to become enchanted by the characters and their stories, but easier so, to become enchanted by the writing itself. It’s quite simply compelling. Unfurling itself layer by layer, a labyrinth of a tale that one must wander through, much like the characters must wander through the circus discovering new tents and delights with every turn—never fully capable of exploring every crook and cranny no matter how many times they visit.

I hesitate to describe the plot, I can’t do it justice, I can only say that at this base of this novel are a man and women, bound together in a competition. The circus, Le Cirque des Rêves, is the venue. The rules are unclear, the outcome unknown, but their actions will set the course for the impossible to happen. The circus is not just a location or thing; it is a full-blown character, wholly fleshed, a living breathing intricate part of this novel. All things are possible in the world of Le Cirque des Rêves and thus, for the reader of the The Night Circus, the possibilities of this novel and the places it can transport are limitless. The human characters are just as gripping, their stories intricately entwined with the circus and the battle in which they have been caught. These people live and breath for the reader, their actions mysterious, yet oddly familiar by the novel’s close. Morgenstern creates them so that in the end the possibilities for their futures are infinite.

I can say no more, I don’t have the skill, not for such a complex, yet dream-like feat of imagination. I can only praise an author who has made me want to revel in the depths of her pages, visiting them again and again, never tiring of the familiar or ceasing to be amazed by newly revealed treasures. This is a novel whose secrets and hidden depths will never run out. I leave readers then with this quote from the novel; it far better explains the spellbinding qualities and enormity of The Night Circus, as Friedrick Thiessen, describes the captivating allure of Le Cirque des Rêves.


“I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus. To visit the circus again, if only in their minds, when they are unable to attend it physically. I relay it through printed words on crumpled newsprint, words that they can read again and again, returning to the circus whenever they wish, regardless if time of day or physical location. Transporting them at will. 
“When put that way, it sounds rather like magic, doesn’t it?”
            (The Night Circus, Part V, Divination)



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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Get Ready for "Ready Player One"

Hold on to your seats cyber geeks and eighties freaks this is your book! Set in the year 2044, in a world where people are literally plugged into a virtual reality world, called OASIS, and rarely physically leave their homes, Ready Player One is a fascinating mesh of cyberpunk, adventure, and pop-culture. Think Surrogates, meets The Matrix, meets Willy Wonka, meets the works of Neil Stephenson, meets every geeky 80’s movie ever made, and you might just come close to the brilliance of Ernest Cline’s debut novel.

 Like the characters, readers quickly become enmeshed in the inner-workings of OASIS, a VR world that allows you to shrug away physical human contact in favor of virtual meetings, chat rooms, and ceaseless adventure gamer-style. At times it even becomes difficult for the readers to remember that these characters are not physically present in their OASIS lives, so clearly are their personalities placed into their Avatars. In fact, when we do have glimpses of the real world, they are so jarring, so bleak and empty, that it is easy to see why the world has opted for the ultimate escape. We cheer for underdog hero Wade Watts, whose cyber know-how and ridiculous knowledge of pop-culture helps to transform him into a figure of mythic proportions. Yet, we also recognize (as does Wade, eventually) that in the end, people are more than their virtual avatars, and life must also be lived, in the real world, in order for us to emotionally survive.

This is a fantastic read for science fiction and cyberpunk fans yearning for a novel to take them places they’ve never gone before (or if you’re a product of the eighties, places you haven’t been in quite a long time). Read it, live it, love it…and hope that we never have our own OASIS, trust me, no one wants to be that plugged-in to anything.

ps: The ARC cover was so much better than the final!

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blood Red Road

Moira Young’s debut young adult novel Blood Red Road, is a searing adventure that follows Saba, an eighteen year old girl searching for her kidnapped twin as she travels throughout a desolate and what can only be assumed to be post-apocalyptic world. The first-person prose is unique in that it is told in a dialect rather reminiscent of an uneducated “hill person”, with spelling to match. Grammar has been thrown by the wayside by Young, with words written as they sound; understands becoming “unnerstands”, distinctly becoming “distinckly” and an abundance of “yers”, “ain’ts”, “gits” and “whaddayas”. Punctuation hardly exists here. The text flows, one sentence into another, speakers not differentiated by quotations, thoughts running into each other. In other words, exactly what it would look like if an uneducated eighteen-year-old’s thoughts were mapped out into text. At first I have to admit I found this distracting, but after a few chapters I got used to the cadence of Saba’s speech, and found myself sucked into an utterly captivating story of survival, filial devotion, desolation, and love.

It could be said that Blood Red Road is a nice mash-up of Mad Max, Dune, and The Hunger Games. This is not a sweet world that Saba lives in. It is desert. It is sand storms that constantly suck away or reveal the vestiges of “Wrecker” life, or as we come to discover, the world that we the readers come from. This place is primitive. The people living without the written word, technology, or education, and suffering under the influence of a mind-numbing drug called chaal and a tyrannical leader who either enslaves his people or throws them into a cage, where they fight gladiator style for the amusement of the rabid hordes of chaal addicted citizens. The few outside of the drug’s influence form their own alliances, living on the outskirts of what could be deemed ”civilization” acting as highway robbers, and eventually revolutionaries.

Saba’s journey is a nice blend of coming-of-age and bloody survival in a world that has lost all bearings of sanity and decency. Young does a fine job of creating a unique cast. The band of characters that surround her on this journey are mysterious enough to keep you in the dark about their histories and personal motivations, but at the same time fully formed and endearing. Saba herself is a nice blend of insecurity, leadership, and warrior as she starts to learn who she is without her twin brother.

In the age of trilogies and never-ending series, what struck me most, aside from the wonderful storytelling, is that, while this is to be the first in a series, the book can easily be read on it’s own. The main story is tied nicely together, no hanging storylines to frustrate the reader, forcing them to come back to the next book just to find out what happens next. Instead, the reader will come back for the sheer enjoyment of the world and it’s characters, not to mention there are enough hints and unsolved little plot twists to keep the reader completely checked-in for the next installment

I picked up this book and literarily did not put it down. I thoroughly enjoyed it and cannot wait to introduce it to readers when it comes out, June 7, 2011.


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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Month of Lost Memory

Forgotten
by Cat Patrick

It seems as though June is the month of lost memories. I’m not making some philosophical statement; it’s just that I recently reviewed Before I Go to Sleep, an adult title out of HarperCollins and am now looking at Forgotten, a teen read about memory from Hachette. Both are debut novels, and both deal with characters that lose their memories when they go to sleep. Fortunately for me the similarities end there.

London Lane is a 16-year-old girl who cannot remember what happened the day before. Every morning she must read through a pile of notes detailing minor things such as homework and clothing, and major things like her boyfriend and why her best friend isn’t speaking to her. The thing is, London might not know about yesterday, but she does remember what is going to happen tomorrow. London remembers the future. Once the future becomes the past she forgets it. So, when she has no forward memory of her boyfriend Luke and when she starts to become plagued by dark and disturbing nightmares, she must recover her past to try and save her future with Luke.

Convoluted concept I know, but it actually works fairly well. The author draws out the revelation of London’s affliction so that the reader knows there is an issue, knows it deals with her memory, but isn’t quite sure what is really going on. Just waiting for that reveal was entertaining by itself. I really like the unique idea of memory as presented here, I have never read a book where the character only remembers forward and I loved Patrick’s ingenuity in creating such a misery. What a brilliant idea!

Unfortunately, while the idea is imaginative and unique, the plotting falls short. The why or her misfortune is answered—sort of; enough to somewhat mollify my curiosity, if not answer all of my questions. The problem is that Patrick throws in this mystery—why she can’t remember Luke from the future, her disturbing nightmares—but she forced the revelation, it spews forth quickly and is fixed far too easily. There is a very deus ex machina feel to the second half of this ending; it’s too convenient, too loose in its conception, and too formulaic for such a fascintating plot.

Endings can make or break a book. If done well, the book is brilliant, if done poorly and brilliant book can become mediocre. This is the case with Forgotten. I think teens will enjoy the love story, and those who are not too discerning will not mind the suddenness of the revelations and resolutions, but with the bevy of fully formed teen novels lurking around on bookshelves Forgotten just might find it’s name to be prophetic of it’s reception.




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Monday, May 30, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep: A Review

Before I Go to Sleep
By S.J. Watson

The subject of memory, or the lack there of, is the premise of this debut psychological suspense. Christine wakes up every morning shocked by her surroundings. Sometimes she is a small child, at others a twenty-something university student, but never is she the middle-aged woman that appears in the mirror. Christine suffers from a form of amnesia slightly similar to that made famous in the film Memento; every time she falls asleep she loses her memories; an affliction that has haunted her (although she does not know it) for twenty years. Her life and memories rest within the hands of her husband Ben, a man she has no memory of.

We are all liars. We change the past in our minds to save ourselves the pain and humiliation of past deeds and events. We alter the good and make it better to heighten our sense of euphoria. We dampen the bad on occasion, but sometimes we blow it up, making it far worse than it was in reality. We are the masters of our own minds, memories, and thoughts—at least we think we are, but sometimes we are fooled by our own psyches, tricked into believing the fantasies we’ve created, and never able to draw the truth from beneath the layers of deceits and half truths we have fed ourselves. This concept is one, which makes the premise of Before I Go to Sleep so compelling. Christine cannot discern what her truths are, she has no memory, only brief snippets from her life, rarely the same each day, to guide her. When she begins, at the behest of her doctor, to record her thoughts and snippets of remembrance in a journal, the question for both her and the reader becomes, “how much can you trust yourself not to manipulate the truth”.

As Christine, with the aid of her journal, begins to “remember” more she must choose who she can trust—herself, her friend, husband, or doctor—because she has remembered something and someone is willing to kill her to ensure her memory never awakens again.

The thrill of this novel is that the reader only ever knows as much as the narrator. Christine’s life unfolds for us as the pages of her journal, Watson keeps us just as much in the dark confusing world of Christine’s memories as he does with Christine herself. I do have to say that I figured a few elements out rather early, but Watson did enough misleading, to lead me on a few different paths, none of which were remotely close to the final outcome. Watson weaves an interesting tale, he deftly handles the horror of Christine’s situation, sucking the reader into her fears, and the panic and utter terror that we would all feel in her situation. An impressive debut, one sure to hook readers quickly and successfully.




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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ruby Red: An International Bestseller Making it's Way to the U.S.

Never before have I so thoroughly wished that I kept up with my German. Three years of classes and the most I can read are simple instructions (namely how much and where is the bathroom). Yet now, after having the opportunity to read the first book in Kerstin Gier’s internationally bestselling Ruby Red trilogy, I was tempted to go online and order the next two books (Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green) in their original German, just so I could keep reading. Alas, I’m afraid to say that my German skills are just not up to par, so I’ll have to wait along with everyone else for the English translations.

In both the adult and young adult book world, paranormal, dystopia, fallen angels, vampires, and werewolves rule the shelves, which can make sifting through the masses a little difficult. When I came across Ruby Red, a novel that seems to sit in it’s own genre—not quite paranormal, not quite historical—but definitely full of time travel, something about it just drew me in. In short, the plot revolves around 16 year old Gwen, a girl whose family has a time traveling gene. Gwen’s cousin Charlotte has been trained since birth to be the family time traveler, fulfilling a centuries old prophecy, only when the time comes, Charlotte doesn’t travel, Gwen does. What ensues is an introduction to an ancient society filled with dark and compelling characters, a handsome and dangerous fellow traveler, assassins, and the discovery of a family secret that will forever change Gwen’s identity. The story is not exactly complex—it’s only about 300 pages and moves very quickly, but it is captivating. In this first book Gier does preliminary character set-up, but does not delve (outside of Gwen) into motivations and allegiances. Many of Gier’s characters are shadowed, their natures and motives unclear, while others are so dark they seem to swallow you whole. The reader really doesn’t know what to think about many of the supporting characters—will they work with or against Gwen—and it is this that helps to draw you toward the sequels (that and a cliffhanger ending).

This is an easy book to read. Not because it is simple and juvenile (which it is not), but because it’s good. Good characters, original concept, and fun storyline; these all come together to create a fun and entertaining read. I eagerly anticipate the next books in this trilogy.

I wonder how long it would take me to brush up my German??



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Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Beauty Queens": A Disaster to Avoid

Satire, according to the World English Dictionary is a novel, play, entertainment, etc, in which topical issues, folly, or evil are held up to scorn by means of ridicule and irony.

Good satire can be seen in Max Barry’s Jennifer Government, Voltaire’s Candide, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and even Max Brook’s zombie epic World War Z. A great satire induces snickers and occasional guffaws, when the reader realizes that the character “so and so” is really similar to “that infamous CEO of that one company”, or when it is realized that “that ridiculous line” was really said by “this president”. Truly great satire mimics the real world in a way that takes away the horror of a moment and turns it into something not only comical, but also flips the event/person/quote/etc… into a rather intelligent comment on the world in which we live.

Beauty Queens, teen author Libba Bray’s (A Great and Terrible Beauty) newest novel, in a nutshell, is the story about a plane full of Miss Teen Dreamers (think Miss Teen USA) that crashes on a supposedly deserted island leaving the girls to fend for themselves. Of course the island isn’t what it seems—it’s really a secret base for “The Corporation” (think ultra-evil, world dominating conglomerate with political aspirations), complete with gun toting black shirts, an inactive volcano, and freaky, genetically mutated snakes. The girls are not what they appear either—although their true motives are all too plain to the reader. Throw in secret arms deals with terrorists, assassination attempts, and a boatful of reality TV teen pirates and you have the plot…what there is of it.

So is this satire? Bray sure thinks it is.

Unfortunately, despite it’s brilliant cover, Beauty Queens comes nowhere close to being an even halfway decent satire. It tries—very hard—to cover all of the bases; beauty pageants, feminism, the rights of indigenous people, transgenders, reality television, gun-toting former beauty queens (yes, the Sarah Palin digs are there in the form of character Ladybird Hope), race, sexuality, corporations, terrorism, capitalism, sex, stereotypes, self-image…the list could go on and on and on, unfortunately. Bray tries way too hard. She even includes footnotes and commercial breaks advertising (made-up) Corporation products, TV shows, and famous people. At first this tongue-in-cheek device is moderately humorous, but it gets old really fast. I think there were more nonsense footnotes here than there were useful ones in Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

This book is just too all over the place to be entertaining. It begins so promisingly, with a great “Word From Your Sponsor” moment, but it ends there. The plot wobbles, the characters are annoying, and not just because they are beauty queens (I know someone would say that is a given, but I digress), but because Bray is trying to infuse too many politically correct/incorrect/obnoxious characteristics into each girl. I almost wanted them all to blow-up with the island (not a spoiler btw). The book is too frenetic, tries too hard to be relevant and funny at the same time, and the ending; an Animal House-like homage to characters’ futures is a nice touch, if a little cliché, but not enough of one to make this book readable.

Avoid, avoid! If you want satire please read one of the books listed above or try out Animal Farm, Catch-22, Syrup, Fool, hell, even Molière’s Tartuffe—just stay away from Beauty Queens!


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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dystopic Tellings

Dystopias and anti-utopias (yes, I know they are two separate terms, but I’m not joining that hair-splitting debate) have long been a part of fiction. From Orwell’s 1984 and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to The Hunger Games, the concept of a world hiding behind a wall of an (at first) well-meaning, but ultimately, heavily controlled utopic principles, has always fascinated readers. For some time we have been awash in a sea of vampires, fairies, then zombies, and then fallen angels—the paranormal literally overtaking bookshelves and movie theaters, but now, thanks to Suzanne Collins, the tide has shifted and we are caught in a frenzy of dystopic bestsellers. What does this mean exactly? Well, for one it means that my desk is literally covered in dystopic novels from every publisher out there, but it also implies that we, as readers, as people wishing to be entertained, are just as fascinated with the often frightening aspect of dystopic worlds as our predecessors.

I have always enjoyed the edgy feeling of dystopian novels; that slight sense of apprehension when you start to compare the “real world” and all of it’s stunning technologies and it’s militant use of political correctness, to this imagined alter-earth, where all these concepts lead to totalitarian governments and the squashing of free thought and actions. Is it any wonder that readers, young and old all experience the same thrill and general awe when reading about that one fictional person or group who decides to defy that power?

The popularity of this genre has been under much scrutiny, particularly since the majority of these novels are aimed at young adults and/or taught in schools. Scott Westerfield, the author of the Uglies series, which presents a dystopic world where 16 year olds are able to have a beautifying surgery (turning them from Uglies to Pretties) that allows them to live in a work-free, party-filled, high tech environment, gives his thoughts on this topic:

“Teenagers’ lives are constantly defined by rules, and in response they construct their identities through necessary confrontations with authority, large and small. Imagining a world in which those authorities must be destroyed by any means necessary is one way of expanding that game. Imagining a world in which those authorities are utterly gone is another …It’s little wonder, then, that a lot of YA dyslit embraces both extremes of hyper-control and chaos, wedding an oppressive government with post-apocalyptic ruin.”
(Teenage Wastelands, http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/04/teenage-wastelands-how-dystopian-ya-became-publishings-next-big-thing)

 I have to think that Westerfield has something here, but why have adults so thoroughly embraced this genre? Laura Miller of the New Yorker presents this concept (as discussed by Kay Sambell in “Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults”)

"The adult dystopia extrapolates from aspects of the present to show readers how terrible things will become if our deplorable behavior continues unchecked. The more utterly the protagonist is crushed, the more urgent and forceful the message.“ (The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2010/06/14/100614crat_atlarge_miller?currentPage=1)

 I guess this could be true also, in a rather Brechtian way of catharsis. But really, who cares why we love it—we just do and the publishers are having a field day. So, here’s what I’m going to do; mention of few great new genre novels and steer you all away from a couple of the horrid.

I’ve written about Penguin’s Matched, and in October of 2011 Ally Condie is back with the sequel Crossed. I’ve yet to receive an ARC, but am eagerly awaiting one. This is a series to be read and enjoyed, well-written and entertaining, it’s Penguin’s top dystopic novel. Also from Penguin, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, is another dystopic novel, but one which takes place in space. This one is an okay read, nothing enlightening, and there is a general feeling of discontent when you reach the end.

From Simon & Schuster, look for Blood Red Road by Moira Young. This is a great debut, a little rough around the edges, but sure to pick up as the series progresses. Look for a full review here in June.

From HarperCollins comes Divergent by Veronica Roth. This is another glittering debut, sharper and more fully defined than Blood Red Road, it is an edgy look at a world that for the betterment of humanity, has broken itself up into factions according to traits brought forth during an aptitude test given to all sixteen year olds. When Beatrice, a member of the Abnegation faction (the governing faction, devoted to selflessness) chooses to become a Dauntless (a wild and reckless faction, devoted to courage above all else) she must deal with a the hidden danger of her own true status, factions that have taken their well-intentioned programs to the extreme, and her own personal morals, as she navigates through an increasingly volatile world. This is a great new novel, one I’m quite happy to see come from a publisher with such a strong paranormal and dystopic list (ie. the utterly fantastic and gritty post-apocolyptic Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy by Carrie Ryan). It’s a difficult book to put down and has a whopper of an ending—a must for genre fans.

From Scholastic comes Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens—an truly aweful dystopic-like satire, that will be throughly reviewed and harrangued in May.

As dystopia continues to prevail and over run the paranormals and steampunks, it is sure that we will see more and more of these novels. We are a society that thrives on such tales: Maybe because we’re teens searching for a way to outlet our rage against authority, or maybe because we desperately need some pity and purgation. Whatever the reason, they will write it and we will come, because we all want to topple a totalitarian world every once in awhile.




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Thursday, April 7, 2011

If I Stay & Where She Went: Why You Must Read Them

A couple of years ago I read a book that stuck with me. It was one of those teen novels that an adult can pick up and devour, one which I’ve seen more adults love than teens. I loved this book, spoke about it often, wrote about it, and even spoke about it at the 2009 Warwick’s Reading Group Recommends Night. Here’s a brief snippet of what I had to say.


Mia is a promising cellist living a fulfilling life with her parents, young brother, and boyfriend, when in the blink of an eye her entire world is taken away. As she sees her past and the promise of an uncertain and painful future Mia must make a heart wrenching choice: let go of her tenuous hold on life, or stay, live without all that she holds dear. If I Stay by Gayle Forman is the most compelling book I’ve read this year, and surprisingly enough it is a teen novel. This is an amazing debut novel that pulls you in and does not let go.


It’s true, this book stayed with me, and two years on I still remember the visceral effect this book had on my emotions. It is one of the few books I had to sit and contemplate upon finishing, rather than hop directly onto the next book. I even downloaded the music mentioned in it—and have become a fan of many of the songs—because I wanted those unique feelings to last.

On Tuesday (April 4, 2011), Where She Went, the sequel to this amazing debut came out. Taking place three years after the horrific accident that destroyed Mia’s family, this book is told from the point of view of Adam, Mia’s former the boyfriend, the person who made Mia stay in this world, when it would have been so easy to let go. Adam, now a famous musician, is barely holding it together mentally, emotionally, and socially when a chance encounter with Mia, a rising star in the classical world, sets off a night of remembrance that will finally give him the answer to where she went and why she stayed.

I don’t know how she does it, but Gayle Forman manages to tap into your emotions in a way few authors can. You feel not only for the characters, but also with them. If I Stay was such an emotional roller coaster, dealing with the pain of loss and question of living with that pain or leaving it all behind, and Where She Went is equally brilliant emotionally, but here it is the anger of being left (physically and metaphysically) behind that rolls over the reader like a tidal wave. Her use of music and lyrics are inspired—truly tapping into the importance of music within the lives of Mia and Adam, but also how much we, the readers rely on music and its’ cathartic powers in our everyday lives. It’s as though she has this brilliant score running beneath the text, not so noticeable that it detracts, but just enough to add to our understanding of the plot and character development. She moves us with music without us ever hearing a single chord. I don’t know how she does it, but I want more.

If every book could this good, more people would be reading. I don’t know how to put it more succinctly than that. There are “must reads” and there are “read this nows”. Read this set of books now, you will crave more.


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Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Mini Review of "Heads You Lose"

Heads You Lose
By Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

Lutz, of Spellman Files fame and Hayward, of no fame at all, team up to create a brilliantly neurotic whodunnit, with bodies, motives, and plot points flying in like Dorothy’s tornado in the land of Oz. A veritable he said/she said, with the authors blindly writing every other chapter, no one is safe and nothing goes as expected. I don’t know which is better—the story of siblings Lacey and Paul as they muddle their way through murder, drugs, and money—or the squabbling and character assassinations between authors Lutz and Hayward at the end of each chapter. No one is safe. Nothing is sacred. And if Lutz and Hayward do not publish The Fop (you have to read the book to find out what I’m talking about), they are missing out on a great marketing opportunity!
Highly original, exceptionally entertaining, and an ending that is wholly unexpected, Heads You Lose is a read unlike any other.




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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bent Road

While I would hesitate to call Bent Road by Lori Roy a psychological suspense or even a dedicated mystery, I can say that it is an engrossing read. This new novel brilliantly captures the small town aura of 1960’s Kansas. Flitting between the 3rd person narratives of four characters; Celia, her two youngest children Daniel and Eve-ee, and her sister-in-law Ruth, the novel manages to be both literary in its encapsulation of small town life and prejudice and intriguing in it’s presentation of two mystery subplots, the unexplained death of Eve (Celia’s sister-in-law) decades before, and the sudden disappearance of a young girl. I say subplots because while both are essentially the blood in the veins of this story, their strength in terms of plot falls in comparison to the infinitely more interesting character study that this novel becomes. It is easy to become sucked into the world of these characters, to feel sorrow with them, fear for them, and to be angered by their actions. One becomes far more concerned with the thoughts and actions of these individuals than the (to my mind) less interesting mystery-plot. The ability of Roy to elicit this response from a reader as a first time novelist says a lot about her writing prowess. I would highly recommend this new novel to lovers of solid character-driven fiction.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gothic Mystery Meets CSI

Instruments of Darkness
by Imogen Robertson

Set in late 18th century England, Instruments of Darkness is a wonderfully intriguing novel. Robertson successfully manages to intertwine gothic suspense with period forensics, a concept that has never before been so charmingly presented.

The story follows Harriet Westerman, the strong-minded wife of a sea captain and Gabriel Crowther, a crusty and secretive anatomist. The two are drawn into an unlikely team after Harriet finds a dead man on her property with ties to Thornleigh Hall, the rather menacing home of the invalid Earl of Sussex. As Harriet and Crowther begin their partnership a man is murdered in front of his children in his London music shop. While it is no great leap to see that the two events are thoroughly connected, or who it is that set the events in motion the story unfolds compellingly.

Roberton’s characters each have their own hidden depths and secrets, many of which are not answered within this first novel (it will become a series), these multi-layered beings entice readers to stay with the plot, despite the rather obvious conclusion. Yet, don’t let the ease of the plot throw you off, the book is well-written and entertaining, it’s enough of a mystery to keep you hooked, if only to see how the characters will react to the outcome. It is these characters that will bring readers back for future sequels.

In all, this is a good period mystery, sure to entertain fans of writers like Alan Bradley and Anne Perry.


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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vampire Cat Burglar: What's Not to Love

Bloodshot
By Cherie Priest

In the midst of the vampire fiction tidal wave Bloodshot is a breath of fresh air. Centering on Raylene Pendle, a world-renowned thief who happens to be a vampire, Bloodshot manages to make a rather tired genre fresh. This is a fast paced novel where the heroine, although undead, is decidedly human. Whip smart, agile, and cocky Raylene is not some super human creature stalking the night for prey. She’s a thief who is drawn into the job of her life when a blind vampire sends her on a mission to track down his missing medical records from a government facility. What follows is filled with adventure, tongue-in-cheek comedy, drama, and just plain fun.

This was one of those books you pick up and don’t put down, not because it is deep and thought-provoking, but because you are just having too much pleasure reading and don’t want to stop. Raylene is a one of a kind heroine, flawed, funny, and brave and the motley cast of characters she picks up on the way are just as unique and endearing. Fans of Charlaine Harris who are looking for a little more intelligence and a lot less brooding look no further; you will become a convert to this new series and a fan of Priest. As we speak I’m picking up her some of her backlist titles and can’t wait to dive in and after reading Bloodshot, I have a feeling you will be too.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The End of Fever?

I have been patiently awaiting the book Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning since I finished her last book Dreamfever in August of 09. It’s difficult to wait for a sequel and even twice as hard when you know that the next book is last in the series. This difficulty was expanded for me significantly because I finished Dreamfever in Dublin, the series’ location—it just made me want to read Shadowfever that much more. Shadowfever came out Tuesday, January 18th; I finished it on the 19th.


What do you say when a series you love has come to an end? How do you critique the culmination, when what lead up to it was so good? I find myself asking these questions in the dark of night, knowing that I should have some mention of this beloved series within this blog, but not quite sure how to sum up my thoughts. I’ve sat on it for several days, and hope that I will be able to successfully convey my thoughts, both praise and the occasional criticism, in a manner benefiting such a unique and thoroughly enjoyable series.

I do not wish to give any of the plot away, I hate it when people do that with series conclusions, but I will say that I was happy with where the characters end up, enjoyed their journey, and am a grateful reader now that I know Moning is working on another series within this world. I love how the characters, primarily protagonist MacKayla Lane, evolve throughout the five books. The changes in Mac from a spoiled, flighty, pink-loving bit of fluff (or Mac 1.0 as she calls herself), into a strong, damaged woman, willing to risk it all to solve her sister’s murder and essentially save the world is wonderfully done. Mac and those around her are fully fleshed, three-dimensional characters, ones you want to know, or in some cases, ones you hope to never meet. Moning brilliantly nails the emotional journey of these characters; and she does so in a manner the reader feels genuinely understands the large shifts in character that take between Darkfever and Shadowfever. One cannot help, but love her unique world, characters, and story.

That being said, it is clear that I loved the series, but I didn’t necessarily love Shadowfever. Don’t get me wrong, the characters and plot were fantastic, but Moning utilized some stylistic choices that were distracting, sometimes confusing, and extremely existential. As one reader pointed out to me, it seemed as though there was a completely different author between this and the first book. The style was so dramatically different, extraordinarily philosophical--to the point where, for the first time when reading Moning, I found myself skimming passages. Also, Moning employed a confusing dialogue style where many one-line conversations would take place between several characters at once, causing confusion as to who was speaking, what was being said, etc., something that works well when used sparingly or when used in live productions, but is just plain distracting when used as prolifically in print, as it is in Shadowfever. These style choices have not been present in Moning’s other works, and actually works against the flow of the plot, as opposed to accentuating the storyline, which is what I’m sure she is trying to do. Look, this is a paranormal series, not Nietzsche, don’t try to be what you are not, it doesn’t create fans, it just makes you seem pedantic. I want a great story, not one that puts on airs. That was my brief rant. I hated saying it, but it needed to be said.

So, Fever series? Read it. Shadowfever? Read it. Despite the excess philosophical ramblings the story is so good it would be a shame to miss it, especially as the series itself is phenomenal.



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Monday, January 24, 2011

"I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters..."

The Weird Sisters
By Eleanor Brown

Told in the collective ‘ala the original “weird sisters” of Macbeth fame, The Weird Sisters is a wonderful new novel which follows the three Andreas sisters, young women brought up by their Shakespearean Professor father to speak in verse and find life’s answers between the pages of a book. When their mother’s breast cancer draws them all home the three sisters are inexplicably forced to deal with each other’s disappointments and face their own personal failures and fears.

“See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much.”

What I loved about this book is the wonderful contradiction between the feelings of the sisters, who live by the concept of loving each other because they must, but are unable to find joy within the bitterness that they feel toward each other, and the fact that these three women who are so separate are telling their story as one being. I is never used in this novel, it is always we, or our, or us. This is a group of women, who although they strive to be separate from each other (to the point of alienation), cannot stop being a group, they are literally not whole unless together. This contradiction between plot and the narrative is inventive and compelling, a rather original use of storytelling by the author.

Also, Brown’s depiction of the strange and often bitter relationship between sisters is so smoothly and heart-wrenchingly drawn that I found myself nodding along recognizing if not actual events, but themes from my own life as a sister and my observations of sisters over the years. She does not hold back in creating a picture of the brutality of words and actions that only a sister can use to cut apart her sibling, and also the comfort and insight that only a sister can bring to a painful situation. No one can quite hurt you or comfort you like a sister and Brown captures that feeling intelligently and emotionally.

The Weird Sisters is deceptive in that at first glance it appears light, almost chick-lit, but after close reading is far more insightful than one would ever think. This is a touching and creative novel sure to bring laughter, tears, happiness, and at times, anger to even the most casual of readers.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Edgar Nominees!

The Edgar Nominees are up at http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html. My vote is for Tana French's Faithful Place; a brilliant psycholgical mystery with great depth and wonderful use of language.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Susan Elizabeth Phillips: Simply Irresistible

Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips has been writing for three decades, she’s won several awards including the Romance Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award, but a lot of you reading this blog have probably not read her or even heard of her. Let me tell you about how much you are missing.

I first came across Philips’ writing a little over a decade ago, I was a teenager who primarily read old Hollywood biographies or film histories, but wasn’t above stealing some of her mother’s romance novels. It was on one of those romance-pillaging forays that I found a book called Honey Moon. I flipped it over and giddily realized it had everything I loved to read about, namely romance and movies. At first I was a little skeptical of the story, I thought it too close to the movie Inside Daisy Clover--a movie I thought to be extraordinarily weird and a bit unlikable, despite the stellar cast of Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, and Christopher Plummer-- but as I got going, the epic quality of the storyline and the fully rounded characters absolutely drew me in. I thoroughly loved the novel and never did forget the storyline, but after I was finished I put it back on my mother’s bookshelf and moved on to the next book (I’m fairly certain it was Lauren Bacall’s autobiography By Myself) and didn’t think about it again.

My next foray into the world of Susan Elizabeth Phillips didn’t come until I was in college. I really needed to read something that was not written by Aristotle or Brecht, and since I now had to read the film histories I had so loved as required classroom reading, they weren’t quite as appealing. Luckily, my grandmother allowed me to check-out books from her vast home library (she was a bookbuyer) to bring with me to school, and in one of those borrowed bags of paperbacks was a book my grandma was sure I would love, Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Once again I found myself falling in thrall with the great storyline and all too human characters living in the not so human world of Hollywood (I can say this because at this point I too was living in the fabled LALA land and working in the same industry). How I loved that book, I even read it again before I had to bring it back to grandma for my next bag of books. Needless to say, when I found Breathing Room, SEP’s newest hardcover within that next bag I was overjoyed. So began my love affair with the works of Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Over the last decade I have read everything (still in print) by Ms. Phillips and have yet to be disappointed. I walk away from each book with a trace of tears and large smile. The truly remarkable thing about these books is that when you finish one, there is (at least for me) an almost overwhelming urge to read another. Outside of my first encounter with Honey Moon (which I have now reread several times), I have been unable to read just one of her books. I seem to go through SEP reading cycles each time she has a new release. Suffice it to say that my copies of her books, while in excellent condition (I’m a tidy reader) are all very well broken-in.

Call Me Irresistible, Phillips’ latest (out 1/18/11), while not her best, is sure to have fans clamoring. Why? Because the protagonists are the offspring of characters from two earlier books (Glitter Baby & Fancy Pants), but she also briefly touches on characters from First Lady, Lady Be Good, and What I Did for Love. Incorporating past characters is something that Phillips does very well. She always manages to either throw in a mention or actually place a past character into her latest book. She understands that readers yearn for “the rest of the story” the after “the happily ever-after”, and she smoothly inserts the information into each new story. When you read these novels the characters are laid bare for you, their faults, strengths, and emotions become important and when the story is done you honestly want to know what comes next. The ability to invest readers in your characters is a true talent; something that Ms. Phillips has in spades. Also sure to capture fans is Phillips trade-mark mix of humor, heart-felt moments, and romance; all of which are put together by a masterful storyteller—definitely the best writer of romantic comedy that I’ve come across.

All these elements are present within Call Me Irresistible, and while I might not loved ever part of it, I did enjoy the story. I also need to mention that right after I finished Call Me Irresistible I absolutely had to pick up and reread another SEP book (What I Did for Love) because she always leaves you yearning for more. If that’s not the mark of a master storyteller, I don’t know what is.

*As a side note. I’m not usually one to surf author websites, nor mention them within this blog, however Susan Elizabeth Phillips has a very well run (and wonderfully personal) site and I highly recommend you check it out. http://www.susanephillips.com/



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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Poison Tree

Fans of Tana French rejoice! No, she doesn’t have a new novel out yet, but debut author Erin Kelly will most assuredly captivate fans of French’s fluid prose and suspenseful plots. The Poison Tree is a winding road of intrigue and psychological drama. Kelly’s prose unfolds in brilliantly, smoothly interweaving past and present as the narrator, Karen tells of her mystifying, obsessive relationship with the Capel siblings and the murder which took place one hot, drug-filled summer.


This book was mesmerizing in that the reader is never quite sure who in this shady cast of characters was murdered. The story journeys through the events of that summer, occasionally flicking into the a present 10 years on where Karen is raising a daughter and Rex Capel has been released from prison, where he had spent ten years for manslaughter. This is a first person narrative filled with secrets and lies where the narrator successfully manipulates the reader with red herrings and partial truths.

A thoroughly enjoyable psychological suspense, well-written, with a twist of an ending sure to jolt readers from any sense of complacency, The Poison Tree is a must read for any lover of the genre.

Just to shamelessly promote Warwick’s in La Jolla, California; Erin Kelly will be appearing there on Wednesday, January 19th at 7:30pm. It’s free to attend, there will be refreshments, and the book will be on sale for 20% off. This is a great opportunity to meet a promising new author and of course visit a top-notch independent bookstore.


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