Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What I Did by Christopher Wakling

What I Did by Christopher Wakling is not an easy novel to read, both emotionally– it's an upsetting story, and literally– it's written in the voice of a six year-old boy.

When Billy runs away from his dad, and right into traffic, his dad impulsively spanks him; and those events will change their lives forever. A woman sees Billy's father, and reports him.

In Billy's words: 
"This is a story about a terrible thing which happens to me. I have to warn you that nobody is bad or good here, or rather everyone is a bit bad and a bit good and the bad and the good moluscules get mixed up against each other and produce terrible chemical reactions."

That quote from the very beginning of What I Did is the best way to share what reading this book is like. It's most easily compared to novels like Room by Emma Donoghue, or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon because of the unique and young voice of the story, despite most definitely being an adult novel. Like both Donoghue and Haddon's narrators though, I found Billy to be an incredibly smart child for his age. However, at the same time, Billy was also insanely clueless about other things, to the point that I definitely wonder if he was supposed to have some Asperger type tendencies that made it difficult for him to pick up on social cues. Of course, I haven't been in the mind of a six-year-old in a long time– so maybe this is what the average child would do, but I doubt it.

At times, I actually preferred Billy's voice to Jack's in Room. The major reason for that is because Billy absolutely adores David Attenborough and animals and nature documentaries. And I just loved all the animal metaphors and connections, all the random facts. This is also what makes the North American cover a billion times better than the UK one, in my opinion. It also reminded me of those passionate, focused, interests that we have as kids when it seems like there's really only one thing in the world that matters. The only issue with this is that Billy often gets distracted from what's actually going on in What I Did by side stories or memories that mean that the pace of the novel is really slow. 

The narrator of What I Did is only one of the components of the novel ready to be discussed. There's also the entire incident that sets off this series of events. Because while the reader is there from the beginning, and knows what led Billy's father to spank him, nobody else is besides the two of them. In a way, it's like a terrible game of broken telephone. But it would also be a great novel for reading groups because I'm sure everyone would have a different opinion about if Billy's father should have spanked him. Obviously, if he'd know what was going to come next, he never would have.

What I Did is an incredibly scary story. It doesn't have gore or zombies or anything supernatural– it's quietly horrifying. I'm not even a parent, but it's the sort of story that, like See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles, is definitely a worst nightmare scenario. And, because of the pace of the novel, it's really like watching a car crash in slow motion. The fact that it emotionally tears the reader apart like that is completely due to Wakling's skilled writing. The story is told from Billy's perspective, and it's clear he doesn't know what's going on, and doesn't know what kind of impact his words are having. But reading the book, you do, and that's what makes it so heart-breaking.

When I finished reading What I Did, I was honestly very conflicted. I really loved the novel in small doses, but as a whole I found it slow and had a hard time digesting some of the misunderstandings that take place. I really just wanted to shake the pages and get the characters to talk to each other... but that didn't exactly help. I did love how, exactly as Billy promises, none of the characters are good or bad. Billy's father is in a terrible situation, but he also makes it worse for himself. Ultimately, What I Did is flawed and complicated, but so are its characters, and that's what makes Wakling's novel such a great source of discussion.

Release Date: July 17th 2012  Pages: 288  Format: ARC
Source: TLC Book Tours  Publisher: William Morrow  Buy It: Book Depository

Monday, July 30, 2012

Winners: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Just an announcement to let you know the winners of the Seraphina giveaway (found here) have been selected and have claimed their prize. Congratulations to Sarah and Fiery N. ! Thank you to everyone who stopped by and entered, and I definitely encourage you to pick up Seraphina, Rachel Hartman's incredible fantasy novel.

Just for Fins by Tera Lynn Childs

Note: This review contains no spoilers of Just For Fins, but may contain spoilers of the first book in the series, Forgive My Fins and the second book Fins Are Forever. A spoiler-free review of the first two books can be found here

For some unjustifiable reason I still haven't picked up any other books by Tera Lynn Childs after falling in love with her clever and funny mermaids in the Fins series, but when I heard there was going to be a third book I definitely had to rush to read it. Even though the last book, Fins Are Forever, wasn't quite as amazing as the first one, Forgive My Fins, I still had very high hopes for Just for Fins. And while it was a cute, enjoyable story, it didn't blow me out of the water in the same way Forgive My Fins first did.

In Just for Fins, Lily is finally Princess of Thalassinia, and her boyfriend Quince finally has the ability to breathe underwater. Things should be perfect, but of course they're not. First, there's that mer-bond (in name only) and promise Lily's made to her friend Tellin, whose kingdom is being destroyed by changing ocean temperatures. And it's not just Tellin's kingdom at risk, all over the globe mer people are suffering, and Lily knows she'll have to bring them together if she has any hope of making things right. Then, if that wasn't enough, it turns out there's actually some ancient law that might keep Lily and Quince apart after all! It will take everything Lily has, along with help from all of her friends– and maybe a few new ones– in order to make things work but Lily has no intention of going down without a fight.

I really, really loved Quince when he was first introduced. But for some reason, he just didn't really capture my heart in this novel. I think it may have been his minimal page time, because when he was there he was mostly just confessing his love for Lily or making out with her. And the whole future together forever after only dating for a few weeks seemed really rushed, especially without much of a reminder of what they love about each other in the first place. Mostly though, Quince just didn't have the snark of the first book, and that was what I loved about him so much. In Just for Fins, the romance is mostly an afterthought, and it seems like every hurdle possible was being thrown at Quince and Lily. I get that the series isn't over and it's not time for them to swim off into the sunset yet, but I wanted a conflict that was more internal and had more to do with Quince and Lily themselves and less to to do with yet another unheard of ancient law. What I did appreciate was that there was even a joke in the novel about how this keeps happening; and I can only hope that means that it won't again if there's a book four.

In addition to Quince, I just didn't feel so strongly about the supporting characters in Just for Fins either. They felt pretty flat to me, and those that did change from previous books seemed to do so too easily. There were a few instances of bad characters becoming good, which is great, but their change didn't feel realistic, it just seemed sudden. And even though they were suddenly helping Lily instead of working against her, didn't give them extra depth or layers which is what I wanted. Another minor complaint was the way Lily treated college, like of course she didn't need it because she was going to be a mer princess and they didn't teach mer politics. But obviously the marine biology she was originally interested in would still have been helpful to know about. Also, when it came to Quince she said he already had a job lined up in construction. Which is great, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have gone to trade school or gotten an apprenticeship or something. For such a big life changing decision, it really felt brushed off.

Surprising to me was the fact that the major storyline, about Lily trying to get the mer kingdoms to work together, was definitely the component I enjoyed most in Just for Fins, because going into the novel all I wanted to read about was Quince. But I liked the sweet message of harmony behind Lily's quest, and I thought it would be really wonderful for younger readers especially. It also gave Lily a chance to be a strong leader, but at the same time it showed how much she needed support in order to accomplish her mission. I loved that she couldn't have accomplished what she did on her own, because even though this is a book about mermaids, it made it feel true-to-life. It also showed how much Lily has grown up, even though this series takes place over a matter of weeks.

This Fins series by Tera Lynn Childs are definitely my favourite cute mermaid books, but I admit that some of the charm is starting to wear off and I'm afraid that additional novels will only decrease the sparkle for me. That said, I really love Lily, and I absolutely adore Childs' writing (especially the puns), so that I have a hard time claiming I wouldn't pick up another book. I probably would. I enjoyed the main storyline of Just for Fins and thought it showed a lot of growth for the character and the series, but the book just didn't awe me in the same way the first one did, and even though it ends on a good note it definitely leaves the possibility open for further novels– I'm just conflicted over if I want any more. I think I'll be picking up a different Childs' series next instead.

Release Date: July 3rd 2012  Pages: 272  Publisher: HarperCollins  Buy It: Book Depository
Also By This Author Forgive My Fins (Fins #1);  Fins Are Forever (Fins #2) 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann is the kind of book that's hard to explain and easy to recommend, by which I mean: complex, riveting, and beautiful written.

The story takes place in the United States, mainly at Tiger House which is located in Martha's Vineyard, beginning at the end of World War II and spanning several decades. When it starts, Nick and her cousin Helena– who are more like sisters, really– are parting ways as they go off to their husbands. Helena is off to Hollywood with a new husband, a man obsessed with another woman, while Nick is reunited with her husband, Hughes, who has just returned from the war, distant and cold and maybe with a secret of his own.

A decade and a half later, Nick and Helena return to Tiger House, a family home owned by Nick, joined by their children, Daisy and Ed. But the visit goes awry when the two kids discover a body that was brutally murdered and the violent crime will change all of their lives forever. 

Tigers in Red Weather is  actually divided into five perspectives: Nick, Daisy, Helena, Hughes, and Ed. It's the kind of thing I hate–too confusing and you never really get to know anyone– but Klaussmann makes it work because even when it's from another character's viewpoint the reader is constantly learning about the other key characters anyway. Plus, because 4 of the 5 perspectives are from the third person, the writing remains similar between them and provides a kind of continuity. While most events are unique, there are a couple key ones that appear in more than one of the narratives and allow the chance for the reader to see what different characters were thinking at the same moments. I especially loved that the fifth and final perspective was first person, as it just suited the narrative perfectly. Klaussmann definitely knows what she is doing!

Of course the most remarkable thing about Tigers in Red Weather is the writing, which is absolutely gorgeous. Each sentence is perfectly crafted, and the flow of them together is just lyrical. As a result of Klaussmann's skilled writing, each character is rich and well-developed, with just enough strangeness and cruelty to make them both interesting and believable. The relationships between the characters, especially Nick and Helena, was also complex. It was clear that they both loved each other, but there was also a lot of tension involved because of Helena and her jealousy of Nick, especially when it came to money, and that had some unexpected repercussions.

Although Tigers in Red Weather is definitely a literary novel, it also had an eery edge of mystery mixed into the story that I loved. Some literary novels may have beautiful writing, but Klaussmann combines that with an incredibly compelling story and plot, so that I was definitely turning the pages wanting to know what happened next and how things fit together. The ending was one hundred percent not what I expected, but it was also absolutely perfect and creepy. In fact, the entire novel was just as rewarding from page one right till the very ending, everything tied together by Klaussmann's beautiful writing and storytelling skill. Tigers in Red Weather may be Klaussmann's debut but it is absolutely not the last novel by her I will be reading.

Release Date: July 17th 2012  Pages: 368  Format: Hardcover 
Source: Publisher Publisher: Random House Canada  Buy It: Book Depository

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Auracle by Gina Rosati

How could I not want to read a book with a cover this beautiful? But surprisingly, it wasn't the cover itself that drew me to Rosati's debut novel, Auracle, it was the incredibly unique and intriguing summary that matched it.

At the centre of Auracle is sixteen-year-old Anna a girl with a secret ability that she's only ever shared with her best friend, Rei: she can astrally project, meaning she can leave her body behind as her spirit explores the world, and even the universe. With a crummy home life, astrally projecting offers Anna the kind of escape that would otherwise be impossible. But when a fatal accident claims the life of girl in her class, and that same girl takes over Anna's body instead, what was a temporary escape may become a permanent condition. With only Rei to help her, Anna has to race to get her body back because their innocent friend has been accused of murder, and the person accusing them is using Anna's body to do it.

Auracle is a really easy to read book that's more about the paranormal and its romance subplot than the mystery I initially expected. But once I realized that, I was able to appreciate the actual story instead of the one I had thought there would be.

Anna was an interesting and authentic character and I really enjoyed reading the story from her perspective. Also, because she isn't limited to where her body can go, the reader gets to listen in on a bunch of conversations and situations that would usually remain behind the curtain in a first person narrative. So that was cool. Anna also wasn't perfect– she could be jealous and selfish and mean, but she was also real and kind and hurting. In contrast, Rei was a bit too flawless. I actually can't think of anything negative about him, except maybe that he liked to hang out with a friend besides Anna sometimes, which is really only a negative from Anna's perspective. Still, I definitely thought the friendship between Anna and Rei was genuine, and I loved their interactions and all the history they had. There were some really perfect moments between them, like sharing the headphones on an iPod, or (especially) looking after Rei's little sister together. 

The character I had the most issues with in Auracle was the villain, the classmate that takes over Anna's body. She just felt all mean and evil, in the same way Rei was all good and handsome, and I wanted her to have more complexity than that. There is one attempt at it, when it turns out her parents have pushed her into a life she didn't really want, but it's barely anything and seemed like an afterthought.

The story of Auracle takes awhile to develop, which means that at first the book is a bit slow. But as time passes, it turned out to be something I really enjoyed even if I could have done with a surprise or two. The other issue I had was with some developments near the end, when it seemed like a lot of powers were suddenly (and conveniently) being added in. Still, the way the book wrapped up is one of those nice endings where everything feels concluded but there's definitely still room for a sequel, and I'll be curious to see if Rosati writes one since I can't find any news about it yet. Auracle definitely caught my attention with its characters and incredibly original storyline, and if there is a sequel to Rosati's debut novel I would certainly pick it up.

Release Date: August 7th 2012  Pages: 304  Format: E-galley
Source: Raincoast Books  Publisher: Roaring Brook Press  Buy It: Book Depository

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Girl Who Could Silence The Wind by Meg Medina

A very unique and powerful story, I have definitely never read anything like Meg Medina's debut novel, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind.

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is the story of sixteen-year-old Sonia, a girl who spends her time praying for the sick and the missing in her small village– not thinking about boys or even her own future. It's all because of when she was born, on the night of a terrible storm that stopped after her birth. Now everyone thinks she has magical powers, but Sonia knows the truth: she's a fake. Desperate to escape the guilt of her conscience and the knowledge that she has no special powers, Sonia travels to the city to work for a wealthy woman. At first, the difficult job is the escape she's always dreamed of, but then her brother goes missing while looking for work himself. Now, magical powers or not, Sonia has to do everything she can to save him.

One of my favourite things about The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind was Sonia, I just really connected with her. Even though I've never even been to the type of village she was from, let alone lived there, I think that most people have felt the kind of pressure she is under– the fear that everyone has faith in you for a false reason, the doubt that you can live up to their exceptions, that feeling of not being what you are supposed to be (and what everyone else thinks you are). That kind of emotion is universal, and Medina captures it with perfect clarity. Still, despite her fears, or maybe because of them– Sonia is a strong woman facing incredible odds and it is really emotional to read about her journey.

It's not just Sonia's story that is emotional though, it's the whole book. The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is rich and developed even though it's not that long I felt like it was just full of story and life. Each of the characters is struggling in their own way, and the end result is absolutely heart-breaking. I especially loved the relationships between Sonia and her brother, and Sonia and her friend from school, Pancho. Medina's writing was just perfect for this story, and the ending was so realistic it hurt. Overall, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is a story of hope and love, one that is beautifully written and richly rewarding that in the end Medina leaves the reader emotionally changed by her words in the way that the best authors do. 

Release Date: March 13th 2012  Pages: 256  Format: Hardcover
: Publisher  Publisher: Candlewick  Buy It: Book Depository

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

I really enjoyed Jay Asher's debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, when I read it (although in retrospect the concerns I had have increased) and so I was definitely was interested in picking up his second book when it was finally released. It turned out to be a co-written novel with another well-loved author but one I've never read anything by in the past, Carolyn Mackler.  

The Future of Us takes place in 1996, when neighbours and former best friends Josh and Emma discover Facebook on the computer. The only thing is... Facebook hasn't been invented yet. And the profile pages they're logged onto are their own, fifteen years in the future. As Josh and Emma see their actions ripple across their future, reflected in their profile pages, they're forced to come to terms with their present, and their relationship.

This was a really charming story with a unique spin on time travel that was never really explained. The scientist in me really wanted to know why Emma and Josh had access to this page. Despite not knowing the why or the how of the events, the repercussions of having access to a future self's profile page were actually quite interesting and examined well. I appreciated that not every change in the present had a direct correlation to a future self, sometimes things– like the future children they'd have– were just altered by moments too tiny to quantify.

What made The Future of Us so charming to me was its nostalgia. I was only a kid in 1996, but I still have some memories from that era. I remember using dial-up internet, and when cell phones were something special and people still made mix-tapes. So it was a lot of fun reading about a time when that was the norm. I'm uncertain if it would have the same charm to a younger reader though, somebody without any memories of that time. In that way, it's more like historical fiction, but just a little weird because it's not that historical, and even calling it that makes me feel old!

The only thing The Future of Us really lacked was the kind of suspense and tension that characterized Thirteen Reasons Why, and I was therefore pretty surprised to realize that the story just didn't have the intensity I hoped for. With really exciting stories I'll pick up an audiobook and end up finishing with a hard copy when I find they are taking too long, but I didn't have that problem with this one and managed to listen to the whole thing. I think because the only way the reader really saw the repercussions of the characters' actions were through their profile page, they didn't have the same immediacy to them they usually would. I also thought that some of the secondary characters, like Josh's brother and Josh and Emma's mutual friends, were a little flat.

I enjoyed both the male and female perspectives, or Asher and Mackler's writing, in The Future of Us. I felt like both characters were authentic and dimensional, and I liked how Emma was the one afraid of commitment and Josh was the romantic instead of the stereotypical reverse. The audiobook narrators were also really good. Ultimately, The Future of Us was a fun and endearing book, filled with nostalgia and cute moments that charmed me but just lacking enough excitement and depth to make it really memorable.

Release Date: November 21st 2011  Pages: 356  Format: Audiobook / Hardcover
: Borrowed / Publisher  Publisher: Penguin Canada
Also By This Author: Thirteen Reasons Why (Asher) Buy It: Book Depository

Monday, July 23, 2012

All These Lives by Sarah Wylie

All These Lives by Sarah Wylie

Release Date
: June 5th 2012
Pages: 245
Format: Hardcover
Source: D&M Publishers
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Buy It: Book Depository
Sixteen-year-old Dani is convinced she has nine lives. As a child she twice walked away from situations where she should have died. But Dani’s twin, Jena, isn’t so lucky. She has cancer and might not even be able to keep her one life. Dani’s father is in denial. Her mother is trying to hold it together and prove everything’s normal. And Jena is wasting away. To cope, Dani sets out to rid herself of all her extra lives. Maybe they’ll be released into the universe and someone who wants to live more than she does will get one. Someone like Jena.
The first thing I must mention about All These Lives is how incredibly, breathtakingly, beautifully written Sarah Wylie's debut is. It's in the voice of the characters and the perfect little moments. It's in statements likes this:
 “Most people think the biggest sacrifice, the greatest act of love you can give is to die for someone. And probably it is. But sometimes it is the opposite. The biggest thing you can do for someone is to live.”
That just perfectly capture what the story is about.

Dani's voice is full of sarcasm and bite and heartbreak. She's funny and mean. She's real. And as a main character, as a narrator, I just loved her. However, while she is only sixteen, sometimes Dani came across as even younger, childish even. Part of it was the huge personality change she has apparently undergone in response to her sister's disease, but mostly it was in the way she whines and sometimes speaks. One example is:
"It's an icky word. Why couldn't whoever was in charge of naming things call cancer "sugar" and sugar, "cancer"? People might not eat so much of the stuff then. And it's so much more pleasant to die of sugar."
It just sounded like the kind of comment I'd expect to hear from a kid, not a teenager.

On the surface, All These Lives is a "cancer book", but what makes it so remarkable is the fact that it's not really about cancer. It's about love and family and those moments when somebody is hurting and you feel totally helpless. It's about sisters, in the same powerful and beautifully written way that Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma is.

My biggest problem with the novel was how muddled it got near the ending. The result was that the ending felt pretty abrupt, and I was confused about what had actually happened which was kinda annoying. Despite the lack of resolution it provided, what made me fall in love with  All These Lives was the snarky and strong voice of Dani and the lyrical beauty of Wylie's writing. I'll definitely be picking up her second novel.

As a completely irrelevant but interesting to me sidenote: Wylie actually graduated from the same University I did my biology masters at the year before me in neuroscience. Yay for science-loving Canadian writers.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Struck by Jennfer Bosworth

Struck by Jennifer Bosworth

Release Date: April 26th 2012
Pages: 373
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR
Buy It: Book Depository
Mia Price is a lightning addict. She's survived countless strikes, but her craving to connect to the energy in storms endangers her life and the lives of those around her. Los Angeles, where lightning rarely strikes, is one of the few places Mia feels safe from her addiction. But when an earthquake devastates the city, her haven is transformed into a minefield of chaos and danger. Two warring cults rise to power, and both see Mia as the key to their opposing doomsday prophecies. They believe she has a connection to the freak electrical storm that caused the quake, and to the far more devastating storm that is yet to come.
I'm conflicted over Struck, there were some parts I really enjoyed, but a few aspects that didn't quite work and left me wanting a little more from the novel as a whole. In particular, sometimes there is some absurd statements, like a really intense moment right near the climax and Mia is rushing to get somewhere, and she says "This was one instance when it would not do to arrive fashionably late for the party." and it just seemed so out of her voice and character, as well as the story context. This sort of thing happened a few times, like another part that quoted (without credit) the factually inaccurate The Dark Knight saying, "Fear not, for it is always darkest before the dawn. At this moment, things are very dark, in the world at large, but especially here, in the so-called City of Angels."

But even though there were moments that jarred me out of Bosworth's world, those moments when I was one hundred in it were far more frequent. Specifically, I loved the premise of this book, I love the reality that Bosworth has created, the creepiness of these cults and the world on the brink of destruction and the lightning that strikes through it all. Struck is the kind of book that simmers beneath the surface, and when everything finally explodes it is just wow.

As a main character, I really appreciated Mia. She has this physical manifestation of everything she's been through, she's covered in lightning scars, and it gives a unique and intriguing element to her personality. She's also just really strong, she feels an obligation to take care of her family– since her dad is dead and her mom is completely useless. There's a backstory to her mom that makes her actions more understandable but there were definitely still times I wanted to shake her and wake her up.... then again, I think Mia did too!

It took awhile for me to get involved in Bosworth's world, because the background to her story is extreme– definitely relies on some suspension of belief– and not instantly clear, but when I did I found myself in for a really exciting experience. I do wish that it had been more clearly set out from the start, and that some of the phrasing in the book had been rethought. However, ultimately, Struck is an incredibly unique and thrilling book with a strong but realistic main character and a premise that is unlike anything I had ever read before.

Friday, July 20, 2012

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles

See You at Harry's is one of those books I picked up pretty randomly. I hadn't read anything by Jo Knowles yet, and I'd heard good things about her writing, so that was part of it. I was also drawn to her latest novel, and first middle grade book, because it featured the kind of big, crazy family I grew up in. Whatever the reason, I'm so glad I did.

The narrator of See You at Harry's is twelve-year-old Fern, and although she'd deny it, she's also its heart. Fern feels like an outsider in her own family, made up of an older sister, Sarah, who is working at the family restaurant, Harry's, as she figures out what she wants to do after high school, and an older brother, Holden, who is dealing with bullies at school and opening up about being gay. Finally, there's the baby, three-year-old Charlie was a surprise but he's earned his place as the adorable and hilarious centre of attention. But when the unthinkable happens, this family is pushed to the edge and it will take all of Fern's strength to keep herself from falling off.

Knowles broke my heart in See You at Harry's. From the beginning I connected with Fern, which was especially impressive because this is technically a middle grade novel, a genre I sometimes have a harder time with. But with Fern, it was easy. She was instantly sympathetic, funny and intelligent. She just wanted the attention of her family, especially her mother who often ran off to meditate or was busy with Charlie and the restaurant. I wanted to reach through the pages and tell Fern everything was going to be okay– the only problem was, it wasn't. And that's how Knowles broke my heart.

But in spite of all the darkness, and there is a lot, See You at Harry's is remarkable because there still manages to be light. A school dance. A hug. These moments are the ones that change everything. I have read a lot of books that deal with tragedies lately, but this one stands out for the quiet and powerful way that Knowles writes about it, especially because of Fern's perspective. Fern feels invisible, and I think that's something that readers– that people– can universally relate to. Emotional and heart-warming, tragic and heart-breaking, powerful and beautifully written, as difficult as See You at Harry's was to read at times, I'm so glad I decided to pick up Knowles' novel and will definitely be picking up more books by her in the future.

Release Date: May 8th 2012  Pages: 310  Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher  Publisher: Candlewick  Buy It: Book Depository

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Peeps and the Last Days by Scott Westerfeld

The Peeps Series by Scott Westerfeld includes only two novels, Peeps and it's sequel The Last Days. However, even though The Last Days takes place after Peeps it features a brand new cast of characters so I've decided to once again combine my reviews of these two novels while providing no spoilers for either.

Peeps, which I actually listened to on audio book, is told from perspective of Cal Thompson, a guy who should be busy with freshman biology but instead he's chasing down lunatic ex-girlfriends. Ever since Cal was seduced and infected by a parasite-positive, he's been a carrier for the disease, passing it on to the girls he's kissed. Cal himself is lucky enough to only have minimal side effects, like superb nigh vision, inhuman strength, and a fondness for raw meat. Peeps, like Cal's ex-girlfriends, undergo a much more extreme change, one that leaves them with an awful similarity to vampires.

I really enjoyed Cal's voice in Peeps and not just because I was listening to it on audio! He's a charming narrator, Southern and well-meaning, and I really wanted things to work out for him. Like all of Westerfeld's books, I found the storyline really engaging and unique but there was an element I found unnecessary and distracting. The chapters of Peeps alternate between Cal's story, and short ones that discuss various real parasites. At first the non-fiction bits were interesting, but there were so many of them that I felt it dragged down the story. Maybe one every few chapters would have sufficed, but when there was one after every chapter it really took me out of the story I was starting to become involved in, and ended up feeling abrupt.

Despite my complaint about the fact-heavy chapters, Peeps was a novel I enjoyed, and definitely the most intelligent vampire novel I've read. Not only is Westerfeld's writing smart, but his characters are too, which is always refreshing to read. That said, they aren't perfect, and that's part of what makes them, especially Cal, so charming.

As I said, the companion book, or sequel, The Last Days, features an entirely new cast of characters, though a few familiar faces show up near the end. As much as Peeps is a science novel, The Last Days is a music novel, as all five of its narrators are in a band together. And yes, I said five narrators. Generally, I dislike novels with more on than two narrators, but I admit that Westerfeld makes each character distinctive, and balances their stories well enough, that I didn't mind the fact that there were five points-of-view in The Last Days.

Unfortunately, even though I appreciated that the story wasn't interrupted with non-fiction chapters, I didn't find The Last Days quite as engaging as Peeps. Having learned the intriguing background of the disease in the first novel, I was mainly left to focus on the story itself. In comparison to the massive stakes of Peeps, all the characters in The Last Days really want, for most of the novel, is to get famous. And it wasn't really a goal I could find a lot of enthusiasm for.

The Last Days does offer answers to some lingering questions from Peeps but even those don't come till near the end. The rest of the story was based around characters I didn't really care for, the drummer Alana Ray was kinda interesting and definitely unique, the keyboardist Pearl had some moments, but one character is infected and pretty crazy and the other two feels mostly like throw-aways. Perhaps I can blame my lack of connection with them on the fact that I spent so little time in each of their heads, but none of them kept my interest the way that Cal did in Peeps.

This mini series– does two books count?– has a unique and interesting premise, one that I definitely enjoyed being introduced to in Peeps. Unfortunately, while The Last Days does fill in some blanks in Peeps the storyline and the characters weren't nearly as engaging to me. Unless a reader is desperate for answers, I'd recommend just reading Peeps as a standalone, because I think it works really well that way. Overall, I'd have to say that while Peeps is my least favourite of the three Westerfeld series I've read, falling behind Uglies and Midnighters, it still has that intelligent and creative Westerfeld flare that I love. Though I won't be rereading this one, I'll definitely be trying another series by Westerfeld in the future.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Canadian Giveaway: TWO copies of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

One of the most surprising and best titles I've read this year is a high fantasy novel with dragons, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (to read my review, click here). Plus, it's written by a Canadian author. Even though it's not a genre I'd usually pick up, I absolutely fell in love with this book so I'm so excited to be working with Random House Canada to offer not one, but TWO, copies for giveaway.

This giveaway is open to Canadian mailing addresses only, PO boxes are okay. Giveaway ends July 28th at midnight. Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter! Good luck everyone and I highly recommend picking up this amazing novel! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

When I say I don't read a lot of fantasy, that's an understatement. Especially, high fantasy– I can't remember the last one I read. But something about Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, drew me to it, or maybe I was just feeling open-minded. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I did because this is an exciting and amazing novel that has made me wonder if I need to give the genre more of a chance.

Seraphina, named after its main character, is Hartman's young adult fantasy debut but there is nothing novice about it. Everything, from the world-building to the writing to the plot to Seraphina herself, is strong and well-executed.

It's been four decades of peace between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd when Seraphina goes to court as musicial assistant. She's just in time for the murder of a member of the royal family; which appears to have been done by dragons. Dragons themselves can fold into human shape, but are usually forced to wear bells to distinguish themselves. And nothing can hide their silver blood.

As the celebration marking the fortieth year of the treaty approaches, Seraphina has her own reasons for wanting the peace between dragons and humans to be maintained. For one, she grew up with a dragon tutor who works as a scholar. Seraphina joins Prince Lucian in the search to finds out what's really going on– but as they come closer to the truth she has to work harder than ever to keep him, and the rest of the world, from knowing her own secret. One that could cost her her life.  

Filled with delicious tension and riveting twists, there's really nothing to critique about Seraphina. I love that it tells such a complete and rich story on its own that I wasn't even sure it was a part of a series until the end. Like I said, it's not a genre I'm familiar with but from what I know these are some original and exciting dragons. The political tension between the dragons and the humans is riveting, and it can easily reflect some of what goes on in the real world between different racial, religious, or other cultural groups. The only difference is, the dragons do really have all the power in Seraphina, they are the strong ones, but the rest of the world seems to have dangerously forgotten it.

Prince Lucian was also a wonderfully well-developed and intriguing character. He's a bastard who never knew his parents, and that gives him a unique connection with Seraphina whose mother died in childbirth. I loved his honesty and his sensitive side, and felt like him and Seraphina were perfectly matched. The only problem was, he was already promised to another– Seraphina's friend and student, Princess Glisselda. Glisselda was also great, she had so much spunk and it was a perfect contrast to how serious Seraphina could be at times. On the surface they seem to have nothing in common, which makes the development and believability of their friendship all the more interesting.  

Even though Seraphina is outside of what I usually read, I'm so incredibly glad I picked up this high fantasy debut by the talented Canadian author Rachel Hartman who combines sharp writing, a clever plot, and a rich cast of characters for an exciting and intense story. I definitely can't wait to pick up book two!  

Release Date: July 10th 2012  Pages: 464  Format: Hardcover 
Source: Publisher Publisher: Random House Canada  Buy It: Book Depository

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Before You Go by James Preller

Six years ago, when Jude was only nine years old, his little sister drowned when he was supposed to be watching her and since then, nothing has been the same. His mom has her prescription medications and his dad has his health and fitness obsession, but all that Jude has is his running, his guitar, and his best friend Corey. Then Jude gets a job working at a beach confession stand, where he meets Becka. But just as Jude is finally starting to live, his life spins out of control all over again. Before You Go by James Preller is about Jude's struggle, both before and after, and how he can either pick up the pieces, or let the darkness swallow him up. 

I really hate factual inaccuracies in books, no matter how small, as I pointed out in my review of While He Was Away by Karen Schreck. In Before You Go, Jude is described as having his wisdom teeth out as a child. I've never met anyone in my life who had them done as a kid, only teenagers or later. Add in, the doctor uses nitrous oxide, which is rarely used anymore, and it wasn't quite the believable dental experience. Sure, it was only one page out of 200, but it's the sorta thing that really annoys me in books. Because if the tiny details aren't right, then who knows what else I'm missing.

There were quite a few things I did like about Before You Go. I thought that the male perspective was authentic and interesting, it was really neat reading how Jude starts to develop feelings for Becka, and I found their relationship really believable. What the novel is really about though, is grief and when it came to that I didn't find myself connecting with it emotionally the same way I did in See You At Harry's by Jo Knowles, which I had just read.

I did appreciate how Preller shows different reactions to the same situation, how the death of Jude's sister has changed his family and how even years down the road they are not the same, but Jude himself felt a bit flat at times. I think part of the difficulty is the writing. It works well for dramatic scenes like the car accident that begins the book, but there are other points where Preller's style becomes too distant and literary, when what I craved was something more raw.

Before You Go is a really sad book, and there's a bit of a twist to it that made it even sadder than I expected– but somehow none of that really manage to tear my heart out. The part of the story I found the most tragedy in had nothing to do with death at all, and that was the relationship between Jude and Becka. While so much of the grief is dramatic and big actions, the love story is subtle and moving. In the end, I'm definitely conflicted about Before You Go; it's a short little read full of tragedy that didn't break my heart in the way I expected, mainly due to the distant writing, but I managed to find some light in the romance all the same.

Release Date: July 17th 2012  Pages: 199  Format: E-galley
Source: NetGalley/Publisher  Publisher: Feiwel & Friends  Buy It: Book Depository

Monday, July 16, 2012

Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

It was interesting picking up Kill Me Softly almost immediately after Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, because while both have fairy-tale retellings with a twist in common, they could not be more different. Unlike the sweetness of princes and princesses in Enchanted, Kill Me Softly is just as dark and twisted as the title and book cover would imply. My gut instinct is to describe it as if Dexter wrote a fairytale– but maybe Mary Poppins stopped by to make a few changes.

In Kill Me Softly, Mira runs away from the home where she lives with her two godmothers a week before her sixteenth birthday. Her parents died when she was a baby, and she has never visited their grave or her home town, Beau Rivage. However, when Mira gets there she discovers exactly what her godmothers had been hiding– it's a place where Grimm's fairy tales come to life, and Mira cannot avoid her fate.

I loved almost everything about Kill Me Softly, by which I mean, I loved it at its core but I have certain complaints with the execution (pun fully intended). One issue was that, for all that the reader is told that Mira has certain gifts, that she is beautiful and graceful and lovely, it wasn't really shown– which made the posse of boys she had chasing after her seem unrealistic, even for a fairytale. As a person though, I could definitely find myself relating to Mira, and I loved the elaborate plan she had for running away, but somehow her specialness didn't come through.

Unfortunately, Kill Me Softly was also one of those stories, like Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien, where I felt there were too many love interests. Only, in this case, it was especially obvious from the beginning who was Mr. Right, which made all the fluttering around Mira did annoying. In particular, her actions near the end made her come across as flimsy and frustrating. There's just too much insta-love, even for a fairytale. I just wanted a little more from Mira.

What I adored about Kill Me Softly was the dark, creepiness it has. It is when that darkness is at the center of the story that Cross is at her best, those Dexter-esque moments. Occasionally, it veers too much into the Disney happy endings– that's what I mean about Mary Poppins stopping by– and I wish it hadn't. The ending itself has me a bit conflicted because I didn't think it was as terrible or dramatic as it was intended to be, but I did appreciate that not everything got tied up perfectly.

Cross' writing is wonderful, she really brings Beau Rivage to life, especially the casino. There is also a large cast of secondary characters, but I felt like I could picture every one, and that each of them was unique and interesting, which I loved. The story itself was also incredibly original, and I loved the twist on the traditional fairytale. Cross has a definite talent at storytelling, and even if there were a few missteps for me I'd definitely pick up other books by her. There were a few moments in Kill Me Softly where I wanted things to be darker, or Mira to be stronger, but despite that Cross has written a rich and layered story filled with intriguing characters that surprised and delighted me.

Release Date: April 10th 2012  Pages: 336  Format: Hardcover
Source: Random House Canada  Publisher: EgmontUSA  Buy It: Book Depository

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

After enjoying Jenny Han's collaboration with Siobhan Vivian, Burn For Burn, I decided it was definitely time to try their individual works. Combined with the fact that I'd already heard fantastic things about Han's Summer Trilogy, plus that it was currently summer time and a great reason to pick up the books, and I found myself reading The Summer I Turned Pretty. Although I started the novel as an audiobook, I wasn't totally in love with the narrator, and wasn't really having the opportunity to listen to it much, so I ended up reading the final two thirds in a print edition instead.

The Summer I Turned Pretty takes place across one summer that changes everything for fifteen year old Belly, a girl who has always felt like the odd man out at the beach cottage where she, her brother and her mom stay each year along with her mom's best friend and her two boys. Always the youngest, always the girl, always ignored. But things are different this summer, not only has Belly grown up but the boy she's been in love with for years, Conrad, has changed too, sulking in his room and ignoring her. His brother, Jeremiah, is the same as always, easy-going and open-hearted, while Belly's brother Steven spends most of the summer touring colleges with their father. Then Belly meets a new boy, but does she really have space in her heart for another one? Interspersed with the story are flashbacks to Belly's previous summers, showing just how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same.

Honestly, it took me awhile to get used to Belly as a narrator, though that might be blamed at least partially on the audiobook reader. She really just seems whiny. And then when the boys point out that she's whiny, she gets whinier about it. I get that she's the youngest and she feels left out of their special little club, but she's also constantly playing the victim and it's rare to see her take action for The Summer I Turned Pretty. Despite Belly's complaining, I really loved the writing. Han's description and perfect moments just feel completely like summer, salty and warm. It was absolutely perfect that I read the majority of this book while on vacation at the beach– and I plan to pick up the next two books before I leave my ocean-side paradise.

Even though this is a summer book, it doesn't stop Han from taking on some serious issues, like divorce and sickness, as well as what it is like to grow up. The Summer I Turned Pretty is really Belly's coming of age story, but each of the characters is complicated and real. I loved the different dimensions everyone had, and it made the story feel that much more authentic. The complicated love story manages to seem genuine, even if I sometimes had a hard time seeing what everyone else saw in Belly. My own heart was definitely pinning for Jeremiah, but there were some softer Conrad moments to counter-balance that.

Overall, The Summer I Turned Pretty is a beautiful and complicated love story, a perfect summer book, and an eloquently written novel. I am incredibly glad I decided to pick up Han's book, and look forward to reading It's Not Summer Without You and We'll Always Have Summer next. 

Release Date: May 5th 2009  Pages: 276  Format: Audiobook/E-book  Source: Borrowed 
Publisher: Simon and Schuster  Buy It: Book Depository

Friday, July 13, 2012

That Boy Red by Rachna Gilmore

That Boy Red by Rachna Gilmore

Release Date
: April 4th 2011
Pages: 220
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
Buy It: Book Depository | Amazon.ca
It’s the Depression, but Red’s family is managing better than most on their Prince Edward Island farm. Hard working and resourceful, they have enough to eat and to help others, even if at times they are mocked by their neighbours for putting education ahead of farm work. Eleven-year-old Red has plenty of chores around the farm, and the days can be long, but he still gets the odd break to go swimming or fishing... provided his homework is done.
The back of this book compares it to Anne of Green Gables, and it really is that sort of novel with a male main character. It's written in the kind of language that does take the reader back to the thirties, and the writing flows easily. The book is divided into several distinct, but connected stories which makes it good for reading in chunks, though the whole novel is still a really fast read. Some of the sections– like one where Red's father injures himself– are sadder, while others– like when Red's Granny visits– are funnier, but they all have a taste of both humour and emotion within them.

As easy as the book was to read, there was some language that left me a little confused, like when Gilmore writes: "Ellen complained that he raced through his recitations with no expression whatsoever, but Red figured getting through it mattered more than any highfaultin expression." Obviously language was different eighty years ago but it's hard to imagine this ruddy farm boy that prefers building things to reading using the word highfaultin, and it felt out of place (and not just because I had no idea what it meant).

That Boy Red wasn't the kind of book that I would have gone seeking out myself, but when I had a surprise copy in my mailbox I decided to give it a try. For the short time it took to read it, I guess I'm glad I did; I feel like it's a good contribution to Canadian history and a great addition to elementary school libraries for that reason. But it also wasn't a book I felt in love it, in the emotional all-encompassing way that some novels sweep me off my feet. Instead, it was a book that I enjoyed, and it had some nice moments. Ultimately, I'd recommend That Boy Red to the middle grade readers looking for the a male Anne of Green Gables, and would hope it would hit the mark for them in the way that it didn't quite manage for me.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Winners Annouced

Winners for my last two giveaways have been selected and notified. They have 48 hours to respond or new ones will be selected. Thanks so much to everyone who stopped by, and I hope you continue to visit and enjoy the blog!

The winner of the Age of Miracles was Laura from Bookcase Laura.

The winner of a book of your choice up to $10 from the Book Depo was Catherine from The Mediators.


The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Release Date
: June 19th 2012
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher / TLC Book Tours
Publisher: Random House
Buy It: Book Depository
On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.
What an incredible debut novel. Easily one of my favourite novels of 2012, The Age of Miracles captured my attention from the first paragraph. It begins:
"We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.
We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin."
This perfect simplicity, this beautiful description, is a staple of Walker's and though at first I was riveted by her words, they would have been nothing without a strong and dimensional cast of characters to back them up. At the center of the story is Julia, an adult reflected back on when everything changed, when the earth began to slow on its axis and time piled up, each day getting longer than the last. Even though Julia is twelve at the time of the story, The Age of Miracles isn't young adult because she has the adult perspective. At the same time, the clarity and ease of Walker's writing, as well as the content, means that like Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner this could definitely appeal to a younger audience too.

Despite all the natural disasters that occur, The Age of Miracles is not a traditional science fiction or post-apocalyptic story; it's really a coming of age novel. Even as the world around her falls apart, Julia still has to navigate the normal struggles of growing up: friendship, love, family. It is these struggles that allowed me to connect with her as a reader, and I found them realistic and heart-breaking. At its core, this is a story about Julia, and not the broken planet.

Still, as a science grad student myself I sometimes have a hard time suspending belief when reading novels where things happen without explanation (like The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe). While I'm not entirely sure why the slowing occurred, otherwise the vision of the future that Walker creates comes with the appropriate science to back it up. What I mean is that the events that follow have logic behind them– for example, as the days slow, certain plants can no longer survive in the extended darkness. Each disasters that follows has a similar reasoning behind it, so that as a reader I was never thrown out the story and left questioning but instead remained fully immersed in Walker's world.

Even though I enjoyed Walker's vision of the future, ultimately, it is the words not the world that made me fall in love with this novel. Combining a simple and eloquent voice, perfect moments of description, and genuine characters, Walker's debut novel The Age of Miracles was everything I hoped it would be from that first perfect sentence.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Author Caitlin Rother on Interviewing Killers For a Living

I interviewed my first accused killer in June 1994, when I’d been a newspaper reporter for about seven years and was covering mental illness in California jails and prisons. It was long before I knew as much as I do now about the criminal justice system, mental illness and how the criminal mind works.

It was so long ago that I’d forgotten his name and just had to look up the story I wrote about him for The San Diego Union-Tribune – it was Juan Galvan. But I still remember how he looked in the fluorescent light of the George F. Bailey Detention Center in Otay Mesa, and a few details about his case: This guy was paranoid schizophrenic, and he’d been sent home on a bus from state prison to his Spanish-speaking parents’ house in the Golden Hill area of San Diego with a vial of prescription meds, which he, not surprisingly, lost on the bus.

When I talked with him, Galvan was awaiting trial on charges that he’d attacked and murdered a number of people in his neighborhood park. Uneducated and with limited English-language skills, his parents didn’t seem to understand mental illness and didn’t know what to do when their son sat on the sofa chain-smoking through a blowhole between his pulled-down hat and turned-up collar and didn’t know who they were. Or when he locked himself in the boiler room, which he’d made up to look like a solitary prison cell, played sad Mexican songs, or talked to the birds in the back yard. I remember quite clearly that his skin had a green cast in the light of the county jail, and I wasn’t sure if it was because he was not well or if it was just the artificial lighting.

Galvan, who didn’t believe he was mentally ill, told me he was “confident, optimistic” about his case because he did not commit the crimes. “I know everything’s going to be all right,” he said.

His parents believed in his innocence as well, that it was a conspiracy by law enforcement to blame their son for the murders. “If he was guilty we would know it,” his father told me. “He lived here and never did anything to us.”

Fast forward to 2012. I’m no longer a daily newspaper reporter, but a New York Times bestselling author, working on my seventh true crime book as I’m promoting my newest book, LOST GIRLS, which was just released July 3, about the rape and murder of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois by sexual predator John Gardner.

Suffice it to say, I’ve learned a lot about the criminal mind and the criminal justice system since 1994, but some things still haven’t changed: Even the convicted killers are still telling me that they’re innocent, or in Gardner’s case, that it wasn’t all his fault – that he tried to seek treatment to stop himself before he killed again. It’s unclear how hard he tried, but I did check out his claims, and was horrified to learn that there are NO substance abuse or mental health treatment beds in San Diego County that will take a convicted sex offender like him.

He and his mother did try to get him committed at a public psychiatric hospital in Riverside County, but because the laws regulating the admission of patients under the imminent danger law are so arcane, the doctor reportedly didn’t believe Gardner qualified as 5150 – someone who is deemed to be in imminent danger of harming himself or others – he sent him on his way with two vials of prescription medications. About a week later, Gardner went on a near fatal suicidal drug binge and then another week later, he raped and killed his second victim, 17-year-old Chelsea King.

Just recently, I headed up for a sentencing hearing in Orange County for Nanette Packard and Eric Naposki, two former lovers who were convicted recently of conspiring to kill Nanette’s multimillionaire boyfriend Bill McLaughlin back in 1994, the same year, coincidentally, that I was interviewing Galvan. I’ve interviewed Naposki twice now for more than seven hours and he is a charming, friendly guy. A real talker. A former linebacker in the NFL and also the World Football League, Naposki is a really big guy, who joked with me and flexed his enormous Popeye-esque biceps to prove that he doesn’t need steroids to be big.

When he wasn’t regaling me with stories of his winning tryout for the New England Patriots or background about his career in security and his two failed marriages, he was explaining to me how Packard had hired a hit man to kill McLaughlin – and it wasn’t Naposki, who was named the shooter by police and prosecutors, and then last July by a jury.

Naposki’s lawyers have spent months putting together a motion asking for a new trial, saying his first one wasn’t fair because evidence that would have proven his innocence has long been destroyed, witnesses have died, etc. So, as it turned out, he wasn’t sentenced that day, to give the defense more time to respond to the due process/new trial motion his attorneys have just filed.

Unlike Gardner and other convicted killers I’ve written books about, Naposki isn’t mentally ill. The case against him is murder for financial gain, a “special circumstance” allegation that made him eligible for the death penalty. And he has changed his story multiple times.

But what people need to understand – and why they can learn from reading my books – is that killers, whether they’ve been convicted or not, don’t have a big sign on their forehead or a greenish hue to their skin. Gardner won an award in school as “Best Conversationalist,” and could be quite friendly and seem nonthreatening – whether he was at the dog park, or on the hiking trial. Just 90 minutes before he killed Chelsea King, he was perched on a rock in the Rancho Bernardo Community Park, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and chatting with a woman, who was out running with her dogs, about the live rattlesnake he used as a ruse to get her into a conversation.

Like all three men I’ve interviewed since April 2009 -- Eric Naposki, John Gardner and Skylar Deleon – some killers can seem quite charming. They are manipulative by nature. Two of them have sung to me during the interviews. They try to play me and persuade me that they are good people as I ask them probing questions that try to uncover their secrets without them knowing and to reveal who they really are. My author friend Laurel Corona, a fellow SDWW member, says I’m brave, but frankly, I just find it fascinating.

My writing students at UCSD Extension asked me if I confront these men and call them on their lies, and I said no, not always. As Naposki put it, I play devil’s advocate, point out when they contradict themselves or say things that don’t make sense, but I know that if I become too confrontational they will shut down and the interview will be over. Or they just won’t trust me and won’t let their true colors show. So I let them say what they want, then I come around and ask what I want to ask.

It’s a subtle exercise of psychological gamesmanship, which I always find interesting. But my goal is to show readers a three-dimensional picture of these people. I’ll let my readers decide if I come away with the winning stuff.

Thanks so much to Caitlin for stopping by In The Next Room! For more information about Caitlin Rother, please visit her website at http://caitlinrother.com, follow her on Twitter, @caitlinrother, or “like” her author’s page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Caitlin-Rother/190361197708434

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge
(Illustrated by Andrea Dezso)

Release Date
: July 10th 2012
Pages: 96
Format: E-galley
Source: NetGalley/Publisher
Publisher: Candlewick
Buy It: Book Depository
Once upon a time, there was a strung-out match girl who sold CDs to stoners. Twelve impetuous sisters escaped King Daddy's clutches to jiggle and cavort and wear out their shoes. And Little Red Riding Hood confessed that she kind of wanted to know what it's like to be swallowed whole. From bloodied and blinded stepsisters (they were duped) to a chopped-off finger flying into a heroine's cleavage, this is fairy tale world turned upside down.
This isn't a book I disliked, but there wasn't anything that special about it either. If a writer is going to revisit fairytales, especially in verse form, I feel like there should be something really exciting and original about their execution. Unfortunately, even though there were passages and poems I enjoyed in Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses, when I finished the book I was left thinking Transformations by Anne Sexton is so much better. Not exactly the thought I was hoping to have.

There's a nice bit of snark and contemporary wit to Koertge's writing, and it was one of the things I did enjoy about this collection. In "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", he writes "Don't you just / love a curse with an escape clause?" a sentiment that rings true for the fast majority of fairytales,  at least once Disney gets its hands on them.  In "The Ogre Queen", Koertge quips, "Sleeping Beauty? Just another narcoleptic with a pretty / face if you ask me."

Then there are poems that are less successful, ones that seem more like snippets then the full story. "Little Match Girl" was an unpleasant surprise because it rhymes, but there were others that simply didn't make an impact at all.

In addition, the illustrations in this book as done by Andrea Dezso, at least the e-copy I had, are beautiful. I'm pretty sure they are made using paper cut-outs, which is a unique and enchanting technique, perfect for what Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses contains. However, my favourite illustration is actually featured on the cover, while many of them seemed to tell stories more interesting than the poems themselves.

Even though I wanted more from this book, more to the poems, more to the story, more than its slim 96 pages, there were still moments that left an impact. In "Wolf", Koertge writes:
"we take him out, leaving just a few
bones so the message is clear:

This is our forest. Perfect before you came.
Perfect again when all your kind is dead."
Is Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses worth picking up? If it interests you, sure, though I'd test out a library copy first. But if you're looking for the real genius of fairytale retellings in verse, I can't help once again recommending Anne Sexton's Transformations- it's everything I wanted from Koertge's Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses but didn't quite manage to get.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Invincible Microbe by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank

A great little history of tuberculosis for younger readers, Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank mixes science and stories for an easy to read non-fiction book. It's complimented by red writing and black and white images, which break up the text nicely. For such a complicated issue, Murphy and Blank manage to pare down the story to its essentials which make it easy to follow but still allows the reader some insight into specific events and people. There's even the addition of pronunciation guides for all the scientific names.

There are a few instances in Invincible Microbes when the book felt a bit superficial, but I have a pretty advanced scientific background that means I am definitely not the intended reader. Then, there were other times when historical figures were mentioned without any elaboration at all– when I felt a younger reader would probably benefit from one, even just to say that Alexandre Dumas wrote The Count of Monte Cristo when quoting him, for example.

That said, even as a biology grad student I still managed to pick up some new bits of information especially when it came to reading about the sanatoriums. It was ridiculous to read how recently they were still considered the tuberculosis cure. It was also a bit scary to be reminded that the disease is still far from being erradicated– but that was definitely the message the authors left the reader with. The advent of airplanes and the ease with which people travel the globe means that another outbreak is not only plausible but probable, which makes it more important than ever to try to discover a cure and to diagnose and treat cases world-wide. 

Invincible Microbes is an easy way for a younger reader– probably middle grade– to learn without trying. Murphy and Blank take a complicated and important topic and give a concise history, including plenty of intriguing bits to keep the reader's interest. It's definitely an approach I appreciate and I would certainly pick up another collaboration by them, or try one of Murphy's solo books, in the future.

Release Date: July 10th 2012  Pages: 160  Format: Hardcover  Source: Publisher 
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  Buy It: Book Depository

Friday, July 06, 2012

Summer Reads Giveaway Hop: The Age of Miracles (US/Canada)

 Welcome to the Summer Reads Giveaway Hop at In The Next Room. I'm going to do a giveaway of one of my favourite books so far this year, The Age of Miracles.

Giveaway for
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
open to the US and Canada
July 6th-11th 2012 
And now... your chance to win:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Author Interview with Kristina McBride

What do you do when you're not writing? 

I love spending time with my family and friends. Preferably outdoors. My favorite thing to do, other than reading or writing, is to take a hike in the woods.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? 

Write. Write. And write some more. And don’t forget to read. It’s the best way to learn what to do . . . and, in some cases, what not to do.

What are your five favourite recent reads? 

EVE – Anna Carey
11/22/63 – Stephen King

What was the inspiration behind One Moment? 

This is going to sound kind of awful, but you asked, so here goes. My first book deal was for two books, but THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES wasn’t a series book, so the two books would be unrelated and stand alone. This was tricky, because after my first book was accepted, I started working diligently on my second. When I had 75-100 pages and a complete outline, my agent submitted all of this to my editor. And my editor rejected the book. Which was a horribly awful experience. My editor thought the idea was okay, but not dark enough to follow THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES, which, I agree, is quite dark. I was sad and upset and frustrated . . . so I decided to kill someone. (A character type of someone, not a real someone.) That’s dark, right? This was actually a pretty cool development, because I then started brainstorming all the ways I could kill a character. Which led to Joey’s little fall. And then the rest of the book. (And for the record, I am SO happy that my editor rejected that first idea, because if not for that, ONE MOMENT wouldn’t exist!)

How has it been different publishing a sophomore novel, compared to your debut, The Tension of Opposites? Has anything gotten easier? Harder? 

You know, I think the main thing that changed with ONE MOMENT is simply that I knew more of what to expect. I didn’t feel as defeated when I received a lengthy editorial letter, didn’t feel quite as antsy when I was in a waiting stage, and overall felt a little bit more confident. The whole process is difficult – almost every step of the way – but it’s a rewarding type of difficult that is so worth the struggle through to the end. 6. How would you sum up One Moment in five words? Tragic, heartbreaking, intense, thought-provoking, uplifting.

Kristina McBride has dreamed of being a published author since she was a child and lived across the street from a library. She loved her position as a high school English teacher for eight years, but decided to quit teaching and take a crack at her dream when she had her first child. She has two books for young adults: THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES (2010) and ONE MOMENT (2012). Kristina lives in Ohio with her husband and two young children, stealing as many moments as she can to write, write, write.

Thanks so much to Kristina for stopping by In The Next Room! To learn more about her novel, One Moment, stop by her website. Click here to check out the other stops on this tour.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Mini Reviews: Divergent and The Gathering Tie-in Short Stories

Note: These reviews contain spoilers of the novels that the short stories tie into, Divergent and The Gathering.

I like to review every book I read, even the tiny ones, and so last time I read a couple short stories that tied into novels I'd loved I did some mini reviews on them (see here). Now I have stories from two other awesome authors, Veronica Roth with a tie-in for Divergent and Kelley Armstrong with two tie-ins for The Gathering. Although both novels have sequels I've read recently, and loved, it's been about a year since I picked up the originals and these stories were a great opportunity to revisit some crucial scenes from those novels.

Roth's Free Four and Armstrong's The Invitation retell scenes from the original novels from the perspective of the male love interest, which seems to be common in these free tie-in short stories, as that's what happened in both Miranda's Eleven Minutes and O'Brien's Tortured. But if that's a new thing for authors to do, I'm not complaining, as I loved the insight into what those moments would have been like for the guys, and it was great to get a chance to find out exactly what the character's voice was like.

In Free Four by Roth, she retells the Divergent scene that involves Four throwing knives at Tris, his future girlfriend. As a reader we get to see how Four feels about her, before any of the romance has had a chance to happen. Tris is such a strong narrator in the Divergent Trilogy that it was really cool to see what she is like from an outside perspective. Unsurprisingly, this is a really intense read– even though you know that Tris isn't going to get a knife into her face, I found myself anxious as things unfolded, because that's how Four feels. Overall, it was really cool to see the other side of the story, and I hope that Roth decides to do this again with an Insurgent scene in the future.

The New Guy and The Invitation are two bonus short stories available in a special e-book of  Kelley Armstrong's The Gathering, but she's also posted them on her website which is awesome. Like Free Four they really compliment the original novel and provide plenty of spoilers if you haven't already read it. If you have picked up The Gathering then these are both a great way to get a little more insight into the characters and the events that unfolded.

In The New Guy, Maya has to deal with her first day back at school, a day that used to be her best friend Serena's favourite day, and it includes some flashbacks into what life was like two years ago when Serena was still alive and gives the reader an even better idea of her personality. It also contains the first meeting between Rafe and Maya, which I thought was really interesting to read especially since I knew how things ended up between them.

The second bonus short story from The Gathering is The Invitation, which is written from Rafe's perspective and shares the scene when he goes to Maya's birthday party. It also showed some interaction between Annie and Rafe, which I found especially neat to read about because I got to see how Rafe felt about his sister, and how much he wanted the "real" Annie back. As a result, it was even more clear why Rafe was willing to use Maya to make that happen. Armstrong also did a great job of showing the complex dilemma going through Rafe's mind, even as he was happy that Maya might be the one he was looking for, he was already dreading having to tell her the truth about what he was doing there, already realizing that it would probably be impossible for her to trust him once she found out the truth.

Overall, I really enjoyed all three of these short stories. Free Four, The New Guy and The Invitation all give added insight and development to two amazing novels. It is especially neat to read scenes you already know from the perspective of another character, and I feel like Roth and Armstrong both did an awesome job with the new point-of-view and male voice. I don't think any of these short stories work on their own, but if you've read and loved Divergent and The Gathering like I have, you'll definitely want pick up these stories as well.