Book Review: The Space Between, by Brenna Yovanoff

November 30, 2011 at 11:47 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Atop the tallest building in Pandemonium, a metal garden blooms and cuts as a woman watches her daughters in a world she can never touch. In a museum dedicated to the articles clutched by the unfortunate at death, a fallen angel oversees the collection of lost souls. And in a room, carefully insulated from the heat of the furnace, sits a girl. Who waits.
Until she meets a boy intent on destroying himself. Until her brother leaves her for a life their kind isn’t meant to have. Until her brother goes missing.
Then, for the first time, she’ll have to venture to Earth and find out if she’s truly her mother’s daughter, or if she’s better, her brother’s sister.
But only if the Angel of Death doesn’t kill her first.

“Once, my mother told a whole host of angels that she’d rather die than go back to a man she didn’t love.”

So begins Daphne’s story, as she tells us of how her mother Lilith walked away from Adam and the Garden of Eden, how her father Lucifer fell from heaven, or Pandemonium and the fragile sense of time that a few struggle to carve out of days that blur together with no proportion to the human world. She isn’t like her mother, passionate and cold, or like her mother’s other daughters, the Lilim, who prey on the human men of Earth like succubi. She isn’t even particularly like her beloved older brother Obie, son of Lilith and Adam, who goes to Earth to try to save the lost ones, half-angels who careen their way through life as broken dolls and all too often end up in the arrival terminal in Hell. Daphne simply is, with no purpose or calling, no sense that it may ever change.

And then her world turns upside down. The rules of being on Earth are simple: demons have a job to do, to collect the lost and the damned, but they don’t belong there. They can visit, but they can’t stay. Those who violate that are hunted down by Azrael, the fiercely loyal and unforgiving Angel of Death, and his cruel messenger, Dark Dreadful. Obie, though, is in love, and willing to risk death to have a normal-human– life with the woman he leaves. Daphne doesn’t know how to stop him, doesn’t know the words to make him stay, but as she tries anyway, a boy arrives in Hell in the hands of one of the bone men, a boy still soaked pink with bloody water from his death, one of Obie’s charges. A lost one, with divine ancestry that threatens at every moment to shatter him, a broken boy, a train wreck of a boy.

And Daphne holds his hand, begs for the boy to be given another chance.

This is a gorgeous book, something that goes far beyond faith and mythology to challenge the very meaning of redemption. It’s a journey, so much more than miles. Daphne starts out with nothing more than boredom and a vague fascination with a world she never expects to see. She isn’t like her half-sisters with their need to draw the energies of men. She doesn’t want to be like them. There’s nothing for her to do, no need for her to be anything. She can name her brother as good, can feel for him, but doesn’t have the slightest idea that what she feels for him is a kind of love, something that should be alien in Pandemonium but instead finds other ways to express itself. When Obie goes missing, the smart thing to do would be to write him off. He broke the rules. He reached for something he couldn’t have. Instead, she breaks rules of her own to go after him into a world she knows nothing about, a world that will awaken her to possibilities she never could have imagined. It will also awaken her to abilities she’ll have to claim through her mother’s blood, abilities she never wanted to discover or need.

And then there’s Truman, utterly bent on self-destruction by any means possible, for whom death-wish is far too mild. This is a boy desperate to die, to escape from a world that batters him at every turn. A great deal of that battery is self-inflicted, though, which he can even sometimes admit. Nightmares plague him so rather than sleep he hops up on caffeine or drinks enough booze to flat pass out but still they find him, a faceless terror that beats him down further and, sometimes, a glimpse of a pale, dark-haired girl with eyes the color of steel, a girl who once held his hand and made him believe, just for a moment, that he was safe. He’s Obie’s last known case and the only person Daphne can think of who might know anything of Obie’s whereabouts.

The narrative passes between them, sometimes alternating every other chapter, at other times lingering with one for several chapters before trading to the other. Daphne’s first person is curious and a little cold, but burdened with the potential of a slow and painful thaw that will bring as much grief as joy. She’s clueless about the above ground world, taking things at face value and making odd statements with no sense of how people fit together. She knows theory but she’s never had any practical experience with humans, and little enough experience even with other demons. She avoids most of her half-sisters, has no reason to see the bone men who collect or torture the damned souls. Truman’s story is told in an introspective third person, a spiraling decay into destruction and damnation that hovers, briefly and impossible, on a strange girl’s outstretched hand.

The discoveries they make, of themselves, of each other, are beautifully drawn with sharp and prickly edges and a hope like swallowing broken glass. It isn’t easy. Every step of the way there’s new pain, new fear. There are new threats. But there’s joy there, too, in that sense of self they slowly learn.

There aren’t really many characters in this story but most of those we meet really stand out. Lilith, cold and proud and fierce in her metal garden, craving a love she can’t find and protecting her children in the only way she knows how, hard-edged and cruel though it often is. Beelzebub, handsome and charming, Daphne’s surrogate father of sorts, who heads the Collections and remembers what it was like to be an angel. Charlie, Truman’s step-father, who tries so hard and grieves so keenly. Moloch, who is pretty much awesome in every respect. I didn’t expect to like Moloch, but the personality that unfolds through our interactions with him is multi-faceted and complicated, but stunningly, breath-takingly real, even in the wry humor and cycnicism. There’s Myra and Dierde, two of Daphne’s half-sisters, and Petra, another half-sister who’s nothing like them, and all three serve to emphasize how Daphne isn’t like any of them. Azrael who is just…beyond words creepy. And Obie, physically present for so little of the book but has such a direct impact on everything else, through his influence on Daphne, on Truman. Obie is Daphne’s only definition of what it means to be good.

There is so much more I could say, so much more I want to say, but I wouldn’t want to spoil even a moment of the incredible revelations that wait around every corner, the hope that hones truth to a knife’s edge right up to a stunning conclusion every bit as brave as defying an entire host of angels in the name of love.

The Space Between is built off of beautifully layered mythologies, a book that takes so much of its foundation from religion and yet somehow manages to stand completely outside of it. This book isn’t about Good and Evil- it’s about what it means to be good or do evil, and all the murky areas in between. It’s gritty and stark and unexpectedly lovely, and managed the very rare task of choking me up for a good thirty pages or so.

Read. This. Book.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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The Gift of Reading + Giveaway

November 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm (Giveaway) (, , , )

Growing up, Christmas was my absolute favorite time of the year.

It wasn’t really the gifts, though that was of course exciting. It was everything about the season. It was the chance that we might actually get some temperature changes (I live in a part of Florida where the temperature rarely drops below 70), the chance that the wind might snap and snarl a little- and maybe even get a flurry of snow. It would mostly likely melt before it touched the ground but for a few seconds, you could hold a snowflake against your hand and call it real.

It was the food- oh my good God, the food. In my family, Christmas is the season for three times as much baking as any other time of the year. Cookies- drop cookies and rolled cookies, iced/decorated cookies, gingerbread and ginger snaps, snickerdoodles, and countless other kinds- and Swedish tea rings, lefsa (which my grandfather insisted on calling shoe leather), cinnamon buns with orange vanilla icing, cakes and cheesecakes, and so many pies- pumpkin and apple and cranapple and blueberry. There’s ham and ham gravy- which every year my brothers threaten to drink straight from mugs- and stuffing and sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes and various other veggies and breads. For weeks, the entire house smells AMAZING, and every time you take a breath everything just comes rushing in. And, of course, there are leftovers, so the joy just continues.

It was the decorations. My family never really went overboard with the decorations. We very rarely did house lights because there was no one to safely put them up and we didn’t do the lawn decorations because they were expensive (among other reasons), but the decorating of the tree was a tradition. Mom would carefully unpack and unwrap each ornament and almost all of them had a story. Some we’d made when we were little; some were passed down through the family. My mother is a firm believer in a balanced tree- she would put the hook through the cord and hand it to one of us, and as we paced around the tree to find the perfect place to hang it, she would remind us of the history. We had an entire herd of clothespin reindeer, some of them from us, some of them from when she was a kid. And then there’d be the tinsel battle. Tinsel is a Very Serious Matter in our household. Mom usually just forbid us to touch it so she could do it herself because the way we did it drove her crazy. My brothers would take handful and just toss them up, so the tinsel got all clumpy and messy and looked like a decoration fairy had gone on a binge purge. I’d take handfuls of it as well, but I’d drape it so the strands clung slightly together at the ends, giving the tree a cobweb effect. Mom, on the other hand, put in on strand by strand. While we never did any outdoor decorations, every year on the weekend before Christmas, we’d go out driving and just marvel at some of the amazing things other people did. There were some houses that must have spent a fortune on their power bills for December, but it had to be worth it. Some of them went far past decoration to sheer art. There was one house I will always, always remember because they put on a whole show- including timing the ripple of the lights to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Carol of the Bells by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

It was the shopping. Not so much the buying stuff as the shopping experience. I’m not a shopper- I tend to walk in knowing what I need, go right to it, get it, and get out. But when I was little, I loved trolling around the mall either with my mom or my friends because there was just so much to see! And most of the stuff I wanted to look at I didn’t actually want to have, I just wanted to look at it, to admire it. Or, me being me, to laugh at it upon occasion. When I was younger I didn’t tend to notice the grumpy people that come out in droves during this time of year; what I noticed was the people being friendly and cheerful, the ones who would go out of their way to help others, the ones who always had a smile for everyone around them and were all about brightening people’s days.

It was the ritual. Filtering through all the other things there was ritual and tradition, things we did a certain way every year because the way we did them was just as important as what we were doing. There was the light of the Advent candles and the reading of the scripture. There were all the rituals for baking and cooking and getting the house ready for company. There was even the ritual of hiding the presents and laughing at my brothers as they tried to wrap things. They’ve gotten better at it, but for a long time they just divided everything into two stacks and brought half to me and half to Mom to wrap for them.

It was the family, of course, wonderful and exasperating and lovely and obnoxious as only family and close friends can be. We had our card games, our movie marathons, and my brothers and I being as we are, more than a fair share of beating the crap out of each other in video games.

More than anything for me was the music. I grew up in music. At church, in the car, in the house, in the stores, my mother and I always sang together and Christmas music was our favorite. Words can’t even express how much I loved the music.

Whether taken individually or as a composite, Christmas was the time of year I constantly looked forward to.

And then I grew up and went to college and started working retail, specifically at a craft store, and I grew to pretty much loathe Christmas. I couldn’t stand to listen to the music anymore and the stench of cinnamon pine cones in concentration meant I couldn’t smell or taste anything else. I saw a few cheerful people but I had to deal with many, MANY more grouches, and I didn’t have the time to just go browsing and see All The Things. Plus, I was a broke college student, so after selling other people decorations all day, I couldn’t afford to put up my own decorations in my apartments and I wasn’t home to be able to put them up with Mom.

After three years, and three miserable Christmases, I left the craft store and started working in a bookstore. We still get busy and we still get more than a reasonable share of grouches, but the whole atmosphere of working in a bookstore is different. It’s taken a little while, but I’m back to loving Christmas and everything about it.

Even the grouches.

SO- to celebrate, I’m giving away two prize packs.

Prize Pack 1: an ARC of Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, paperback copies of Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini, plus some fun swag from multiple authors and a handmade bracelet.

Prize Pack 2: an ARC of Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, paperback copies of City of Bones and Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, plus some of that fun swag and a handmade bracelet.

Want to know how to enter?

Just comment below and tell me your favorite part about this time of year. It doesn’t have to be about Christmas, just the time of year. Don’t forget your email address so I can contact you! Entries will be accepted through the end of Saturday, 17 December, with the winner announced the next day.

And stick around! On Friday, 2 December we’ll be having a special review post as part of Leah Cypess’ mini-blog tour. Cool prizes from the individual blogs as well as an overall prize for the tour, so check out her website for more info!

Until next time~
Cheers

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Book Review: Tortall and Other Lands, by Tamora Pierce

November 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Tucked away within the pockets of larger stories, taking place days, decades, or even centuries before or after the larger stories, are moments of life both staggering and small. Young women finding strength, finding family, finding direction, and most of all, finding themselves, fill these pages with stories that come to life and stretch across Tortall and other lands.

In some ways, this book represents some of the most brilliant potential of fanfiction.

Fanfiction?

Yep, that’s what I said. Fanfiction. Sounds crazy, right? I mean, this is the author’s own work, protected under copyright, fully approved of by her publisher. But here’s the thing: these stories do exactly what the best fanfiction sets out to do, which is fill in the gaps. It offers a snippet of life after the Daughter of the Lioness pair, gives us a tiny piece of daily life for Daine and Numair (and Kitten). It gives us another peek into the society of the Shang warriors (have to admit, I would dearly love to see a full set about a girl in training to become a Shang warrior). They give us more, in the most simple and beautiful way. Most of all, they give us a glimpse of the wider world, events and people that maybe aren’t momentous enough to have their own book or series but can nonetheless have a wonderful impact on us within this medium.

There are eleven stories in this collection, and I won’t talk about them all here, but I’ll hit some highlights.

Hands down, my favorite story was the first, Student of Ostriches, in which Kylaia al Jmaa studies the animals in the world around her to find a way to protect herself and her family. I’m a sucker for well-researched animals- a leftover from an earlier project- but what caught me most about this story was how Kylaia watched the animals and truly worked to make their skills her own. When she sees an ostrich use powerful kicks to drive off an attacking pack of hyenas, she immediately draws the parallels to when she was being attacked by a group of boys who wanted her ball. It doesn’t come easily for her- it takes work, patience, and practice, but she keeps at it. For a while, it’s enough to be able to defend herself and to win races that will put coin in her family’s purse, but then a circumstance arises that will put her skills to a far more risky use. One of the things I’ve always loved about Tamora Pierce’s books is how hard her heroines are willing to work and we really see that in Kylaia’s story.

In Nawat, we get a glimpse of life not long after the end of Tricker’s Queen as Aly gives birth and Nawat tries to reconcile what it means to be both crow and man. This story doesn’t offer any easy solutions. Matters are life and death and even in the smaller things, they’re significant. It’s about family, but more than that it’s about the difficulties that come with family. Like, melding two very different backgrounds and worldviews. Like, prejudice and deformity. Like, the reasons we make sacrifices to be with those we love, and the choices we make when those sacrifices start to seem overwhelming. It’s a look at a marriage, at how to raise children, which isn’t something we see too often in YA. Extra kudos for the birth scene; while it’s appropriately gory, it’s also accurately gory. No ripping placentas with the teeth, please and thank you, but it certainly shows what childbirth is like without hospitals and happy drugs.

Last one I’m going to talk about is Lost. It’s not set in Tortall but it’s in nearby Tusaine, where Adria is a shy girl with an abusive father and a gift for mathematics that approaches the magical. And, there’s Lost, a darking. I love pretty much any contact with the darking, I think they’re amazing creatures, and Lost’s rather black and white views on what is and is not appropriate allow us to see what Adria can’t allow herself to understand yet. And then there’s the math. I’m not a math person. Most of it is over my hear, it frustrates me terribly, and I there’s always that nagging sense of when the hell am I actually going to use this (not when can anyone use it, just when would I use it). For Adria, it’s like mysticism and poetry, like a spark of the divine. And I love reading that. I can’t make sense of half of it but I understand how Adria can be captivated by the dance of numbers across the page- and that’s because of the way Tamora Pierce writes it.

That’s not to say that I loved everything in this book unstintingly. I wasn’t particularly fond of Huntress, mainly because it felt like there was something slightly lacking in the balance between our modern world and the magic that drifted into it. The Dragon’s Tale taught me very plainly that I much prefer Kitten (Skysong) when I have no idea what’s going on in her head. I know she’s young. I know she’s immature. But seriously, she annoyed me. Testing I thoroughly enjoyed in retrospect but the strangeness of being in our world, in the middle of a city, without any magic or fantasical beasties or such was jarring. I kept waiting for it, but reflecting back on the story later, knowing that it’s based off the author’s real experiences, made for a pleasant switch. Still strange, though.

Those are small things, though, and did little to take away from my overall enjoyment. They give us strong young women- not all of whom start out that way- and real circumstances, and what I really love, the fact of consequences. For those who’ve read the Immortals quartet, you’ll remember when Numair turned an opponent mage into a tree. Afterwards, he noted that there was now a tree somewhere in the world walking around as a two-legger. Meet: Elder Brother.

This is a book that can be read straight through or savored story by story, but even if you’ve never read her works before, this is a fantastic introduction to a world that has captivated me since I was eleven years old.

And continues to do so.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Cover Love: November Edition

November 20, 2011 at 1:20 pm (Cover Love) (, , , )

It’s my favorite time of the month again! Have a mix of downright gorgeous and intriguingly detailed covers for you today. Without further ado, let’s jump in!

Endlessly, by Kiersten White. This one probably won’t be out until July, so we’ve got a bit to wait, but while it’s pretty enough on its own, it’s fascinating when next to its trilogy mates. The first book is one of stark contrasts, a black and grey background where the pink on Evie’s dress and her white blonde hair really stand out. There’s a storm brewing, one that deepens the clouds in the background and tosses the flowers in the foreground. Evie’s face is grave, looking straight out with a serious expression and her hand slightly raised in preparation for action (anyone else think that’s where she keeps Tasey?). Then we go on to Supernaturally where everything is a deep, heart’s-blood red. That shade of red isn’t just about love and passion; it’s about danger. That kind of red says blood will be spilled within. She’s still looking straight at us, still solemn, but there’s a touch of uncertainty there too, from the way her arm is raised (like she was just tucking a piece of hair behind her ear) to the way her lips are just slightly parted, as opposed to the compressed line of the first book.
Then we get to the third book and the entire atmosphere changes. The clouds in the background are light and fluffy, more reminiscent of a serene sunrise than an impending storm, and the purples are bright and clean. Dark purples are regal, royal, intimidating, bruise-colored. Almost any other shade of purple is a pretty happy color. And look at Evie- she’s not looking at us, we’re not the danger anymore. She’s looking off to one side and, given the relaxed, hopeful smile on her face, she’s probably waiting for someone. Maybe even watching him (assuming it’s a him) walk towards her. The amazing thing about this cover is that it doesn’t ignore the allusions of danger in the two previous, but rather gives its audience hope that all of that danger will have a resolution by which Evie will benefit with something resembling a happily-ever-after.

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst appeals to me on so many levels. Half of the cover is partially veiled by a sandstorm, which is an immediate sign of danger (there are sandstorms strong enough to strip flesh from bones, if the danger seems understated here), but here it also obscures reality with the hint of an illusion. For those brave enough, stupid enough- perhaps desperate enough- the fringes of a sandstorm can hide a great deal, and can you ever really be certain what you see through the haze of sand? This cover has gorgeous detail, in the intricacy of the tattoos on her wrist (which must have a meaning or why bother in the art?), the jewelry in her hair, even the texture of patterns of the fabric of her dress and the variegation of the fabric in her hands. That fabric, swept up over her like the beginning of a dance or swirling into a cloak is interesting- is it meant to obscure, to hide? Is it being spun away in a grand reveal? Is it a signal? Is it a religious ritual? So many different things that single piece of fabric could represent, and each with the potential for grand impact on a story. When taken in whole, though, from the disturbed sands to the prominent moon against a hot night sky, with this girl out in the clouds of sand with- a message? a warning? a task?- makes it seem like a fairty tale where we’re never quite sure what the ending will be, something half familiar that makes us constantly second-guess what we’re seeing. I can’t wait for this one but settle in: it’s not available unti September.

This next one is just stunning. Striking might even be the word for it. Everything in the background is dead and blurred, bare rocks, skeletal remnants of trees or bushes (some kind of plant, anyway), everything veiled by that lifeless grey, like there is literally nothing else in the entire world than this place, this moment. Everything else has passed away. We get hints of black in the corners, the rotten core at the heart of the ghost of life. We also get hints of red, and by now I think we’ve all realized what I see when there’s red on the cover. In this case, however, with the way it weaves through the grey in the background, it’s more a sign of something in the past, something that’s already happened, and the story arises out of everything that happens after. And then the foreground, the girl in the fancy dress, a party dress, but the way she’s standing, her shoulder hunched, her body in three-quarters profile and her face turned completely away, it’s a party to which we are clearly not invited. The way the fabric shifts between stark reds and blacks is ominous, a pulse of a dead heart still trying to live. The parasol is sheer, not particularly suprising, but it still has an echo of those skeletal plant remnants. This is a book where Death isn’t just a companion, he’s the date waiting for you at the start of the ball. This promises to be dark and lovely, and if it’s anything like the story from which it takes its title, it should be amazing. For Masque of the Red Death, by Bethany Griffin, we only have to wait until April.

I could look at this next one for hours and still see something new the next time I came to it. From a distance, it’s a girl standign in a garden, backed by a stark winter scene. But the DETAILS! Holy crapoley, the details. Just listing them off doesn’t do them justice, but hints to the story are woven all through the painting like a seek and find. There’s a blank eyed woman hidden in the girl’s hair, a red mist or vapir rising from a bottle in her hand. There a person with a knife just below her, and below that a skeletal figure holding what could be a spear, an arrow, maybe even a boat hook. There are talismans and books, fireflies that dance around a figure with eyes closed as in despair- or benediction. A halo of light surrounds a woman with closed eyes in the upper left corner, a small child nearly identical to her posed agaisnt her heart. The garden around the girl is rich and vibrant, full of flowers and colors (and a snake twining around her around) but as it moves away from her, it grows more brittle, thinner and with duller colors. And oh, how creepy that background! All greys and pale blues, colors of ice and the dead of winter, with a figure playing banjo in a graveyard alongside a creek and a dark church. A little farther back, there’s a doorway that could be to a tunnel, but given the shoring is more likely to a mine, and even further yet is a house nearly lost to the distance and the dead mist. This cover can tell the entire story on its own, and it’s a beautiful one full of hidden dangers, buried blessings, and a cold that kill even the richest garden. Best of all? This one’s already out. Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen is a Middle Grade sitting on the shelves right now.

For the last title this month, we’re playing with another graveyard, but how freakin’ gorgeous is this? Arise is the sequel to last June’s Hereafter. Against the deep pine at the base of the cover, the rest of the background is almost like the Southern Lights, soft blues and pink-purples, which makes the detail of the above-ground graves pop. It’s not that they’re out of place- they aren’t- but rather that they give the impression that death isn’t stark, it isn’t terrible. The graveyard is old and, as can be seen from the growth of the grass, a little neglected, but not actually in disrepair. In the center we have a girl who’s clearly a ghost. The whole seeing through her thing gives that away. BUT, as you go up from the feet towards the (missing) head, she becomes more tangible, more solid. So not completely a ghost- but not completely alive. She’s something in between, and I’d be willing to bet that a large portion of the story is dedicated to that in between state. This one will be out next June.

Any covers you’ve fallen in love with over the past month? Share below!

Until next time~
Cheers~

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Book Review: Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George

November 16, 2011 at 10:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Every Tuesday, Castle Glower changes. Sometimes a new room, a staircase, or a hidden passage, and Princess Celie’s out to map them all. When her parents and eldest brother disappear during that brother’s graduation, it’s up to Celie, Rolf, and Liliah- and, of course, Castle Glower- to protect their land and their people from those within and without who would try to claim power. The bad guys? They’ll never know what hit them.

I love Jessica Day George. I love her Middle Grade adventures, I love her teen fairy tales, I love her books, so when I heard about this one coming out, I was ridiculously excited.

Do you have any idea how happy I am when that excitement is merited?

I LOVE THIS BOOK.

It’s adorable and sweet and heart-wrenching and pulse-pounding and bold and just utterly amazing. I couldn’t put it down, and when I got to the end, I really wanted nothing more than to turn back to the beginning and start again.

Celie is an amazing character. She’s the youngest of the Glower children, bright and inquisitive and endlessly resourceful. She has a hunch that the semi-sentient castle is fond of her, and certainly the rest of her family thinks so as well, and she’s dedicated herself to creating an atlas of all the changes, expansions, and acquisitions that the castle has given itself during her lifetime. Wherever she goes, she’s bound to have her notebook and colored pencils there to properly document the course of things. She knows the hiding places, the shortcuts, and when the castle tries to tell her something, she knows to listen. What I love most about Celie is how well-developed she is across such a broad range. She can be relentlessly, reckless brave, but she’s also scared, a little girl who’s parents and brother are missing, someone who’s threatened and vulnerable and determined to stand strong in the face of it. She’s loyal and appealing, bone sweet with a bit of a mean streak (totally justified, but wonderfully vindictive), and more than anything she throws herself fully into life.

Just as much as Celie, Castle Glower is a character, strong and defined in its own right. It’s compassionate and brave, protective of those it calls its own, and a staunch defender it what it feels is right. It knows the needs of its people better than anyone else can- and chooses its own kings. Rolf, the current heir, isn’t the oldest child or even the oldest son, but he’s the castle’s choice. They found that out when the castle moved his bedroom closer to the throne room. If the castle doesn’t like someone, their rooms get smaller and smaller, farther and farther away, while those the castle does like have spacious, comfortable rooms convenient to a life at court.

Seriously? I want to live in Castle Glower. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t. A place like that with endless possibilities and limitless opportunities for exploration? It’s countless childhood dreams come true. The nine-year-old me that cried when I realized I’d mapped the entire neighborhood (including the poison ivy laced woods I wasn’t supposed to go into) was drooling over the descriptions of the castle.

The cast is gorgeously drawn, rich and varied. The villains are appropriately sinister, but also just a bit comical. You never know quite who to trust, as mysteries and betrayals abound, but there are some who can always be counted upon- for example, the siblings can always count on each other. There are distinct cultures, even dialects, which can be funny in the occasional misunderstandings but also lend a sense of menace.

As king’s heir, fourteen-year-old Rolf is a beautiful blend of responsibility and mischeif, proof that the Crown Prince can still be a prize fool when the mood takes him. His swings through anger and petulance and vindictiveness are completely believable, but they balance against the more prevalent aspects of his personality, like his humor and his hope, his protectiveness of his sisters and his willingness to indulge (mostly) older sister Lilah’s need to mother them when she’s stressed. He hasn’t lost himself in the gravity of his position, and he’s willing to take big risks for worthwhile results. Consistently through the story, he’s Celie’s older brother, even when circumstances are forcing him to be so much more.

Lilah, the older sister and beauty of the family, has a tendency to overmother things (especially when she’s stressed) but she’s also a vivacious flirt, one who doesn’t feel obliged to look purely at social status when making such decisions. She’s responsible and ladylike (proper, would be the term that comes to mind) but though she has very real fears and hesitations about some of the ventures, she finds the courage to do them anyway. Because they’re important, because they’re necessary. Because they’re what needs to be done.

And her sometimes-suitor Pogue is charming, flirtatious, and bone-deep loyal. I really liked Pogue, and he was ample proof that the title of nobility isn’t required for the existence of the virtue.

There is so much more I could say about this book, so much I want to say about this book, but I’m not going to. I don’t want to take away any of the delightful discoveries Castle Glower has in store for you.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George, available now in both hardcover and e-format.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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PSA: Holidays in Retail Land

November 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm (Uncategorized)

Despite what the calendar says, the holidays aren’t really coming.

They’re already here.

Sure, the decorations aren’t up but the signs are, and so are a lot of the products that define how we think of the holiday shopping experience. Consumers are starting to make their lists, maybe even making a dent in them to get ahead of all the stress and hullaballoo that comes with the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Dwali, or Solstice, or any of the other winter festivals/holidays that generally imply gift giving and togetherness).

I worked for three years at an arts and crafts store. Yesterday was my fourth anniversary of working in my bookstore. I’ve worked retail for a long time, and I’ve worked a lot of holiday seasons. Does this post have anything in particular to do with books? No.

But it does have rather a lot to do with the book-buying experience, and with the buying experience in general. These are things I’ve picked up through the years- and things that should probably be remembered before plunging into the chaos of Black Friday and beyond.

1. Employees are people too.
Bizarre thought, isn’t it? That strange creatures with the uniforms or the dress code and the name badges, those zoo-things with phones and radios and keys and codes…those are people. People, just like you, with names and families and friends and a general preference for not getting yelled at by strangers. We like when our basic courtesies are returned- like replying to a hello- and sure, if you’re going from store to store, it can get irritating to constantly be saying hello, but think about our end of it: someone is there saying hello to every person who walks through our door. If we can put on a smile and a friendly tone, you can, too. It gives a much nicer start to the encounters, and basic courtesies go a long way into setting up a better experience for everyone involved.

2. Employees are only sometimes to blame for your problem.
I’m sorry if we don’t have what you’re looking for, or don’t have enough of what you’re looking for, or can’t get what you’re looking for in the time you need it. I really am. It isn’t just an altruistic thing- though I do genuinely enjoy people able to help people- but there’s a perfectly selfish explanation for it too: if you don’t find what you’re looking for, that’s one less thing that you’re buying. The fact is, there are a lot of reasons why we may not be able to satisfy your request, and the employee is barely a fraction of that. If what you want isn’t out yet? That isn’t our fault. If what you want is out of print or otherwise not being made anymore? Also not our fault. If you’re in a class and you need a book for a paper due tomorrow? Definitely not our fault- the book has been on the syllabus, you’ve had however many weeks to find it, and it’s not our fault that you and half the class all rushed out at the last minute to buy the one copy we generally keep on the shelf.
This piece is bookstore specific, but it applies in a more general way to all retail: we can’t have all the things. Trying to have even a single copy, much less multiple copies, of every book is simply impossible. There are presses that our warehouses don’t deal with, there are books that go out of print, there are books that don’t sell well in an area (a book about hunting in winter in Michigan is unlikely to be a standard in Florida at any time of the year), and there’s the simple limitation of space. We don’t have the room. Trying to have copies of every book currently in print would require the planet from Doctor Who’s Silence in the Library.
Also not the employee’s fault is you being unable to tell us what you want. Yes, it’s our job to know our products and to be able to ask leading, discerning questions, but there are limits to that skill. Book-specific again, telling me about a book you saw five years ago that had a red cover, and maybe there was a dragon on the cover or was it just a dragon in the story? Or maybe it was a dancer, it’s hard to remember but it was a table near the front of the store…if I actually try to explain all the things wrong with that statement, this would be a rant that could burn up the interwebs, but we get that constantly. We will do our absolute best to find you what you’re looking for, but you have to be able to meet us halfway. Hand in hand with that, if you ask for our suggestions on something, listen to them. Don’t shoot down every suggestion and offer us nothing in return. We can’t find you something you want if you won’t tell us at least a little of what you want.

3.People are shopping. There will be lines.
The more people there are out shopping, the more people there will be in the stores. That means you may have to wait for us to stop helping someone else before we can help you. That means you may have to wait in line before you can be checked out. We aren’t out to ruin your day, we’re not out to inconvenience you. We’re just doing our jobs, and trying to do them to the best of our ability for a lot of people. We’re there to help you, to ring you out, to answer questions, but we’re not there to help only you. We will do everything we can to assist you in a timely manner but we are human and we do have limitations, especially when we’re trying to help three other people before you even walk in the door. Be patient. If you’re in a hurry, consider calling ahead. Or coming in another time when you do have a few minutes to wait. This is a very busy time of year and there are only so many people on staff. Please, please don’t give us nasty looks, makes those loud sighs and obnoxious huffs, cut in front of others, grab us (literally) to yell your question at us, or try to talk over the person next to you. We’re here to help everyone. Everyone gets a little overwhelming.

4. Be nice.
Growing up in my house, Thumper’s mother was paraphrased more along the lines of “If you can’t say something nice, shut the hell up” but there’s still truth to the original. As retail employees, we are under a huge amount of stress this time of year. Please be nice to us. I’m not saying bake us cookies or ask after our mothers, but being patient, being courteous, these go a long way into making things better for all of us. I’m not just an employee, I’m also a consumer, so I understand the frustration with long lines, with complications at the registers, with employees who don’t seem to be able to find anything. And I’m certainly not saying that there are no idiots working in retail. There are. Oh, dear God, there are some idiots working in retail. But they’re fairly few and they don’t generally last long. What’s more frequently the case is that they were just hired on for seasonal help and they’re barely into their training yet. If you’re mean and snippy to us, we will still do our job. But if you are polite and courteous and understanding, we will bend over backwards to try and find a way to get you what you need. And we’ll do it with a smile because you are making our day.

5.Online stores and physical stores? Not the same things.
That holds true even when they’re the same company. Websites are usually a separate division, a completely different part of the company run by different people under different expectations and processes. Items online and in store will almost never have the same price. Telling us that it’s cheaper online will not change anything. We know it’s cheaper online. We also know why it’s cheaper online.
Online retail works through massive warehouses and significantly different overheads. When you shop through a website, you’re often being compensated for the fact that you won’t have the item immediately in your hand. You have to wait for that, they understand that people don’t like waiting, so they knock a few bucks off the price. There’s also the fact that a warehouse buys in bulk- bulk generally means discount which means, per book (or other item) the warehouse is paying less than a store is, because we deal from single copies up to multiple cases for a big release. Still nowhere near the amounts being purchased for the online division. We don’t get the super bulk discounts.
Whether you buy in store or online, you’re still contributing to the company’s overall success. BUT. When you shop in a physical store, you can see the people you’re helping. When you buy a book in my store, you are helping me pay rent. You’re contributing to my location’s numbers, helping us pay our overhead, helping us cover the costs of rent and utilities and the excellent help we give you. The passionate hand-selling we do is a perk of being in a store, where you can talk to people who know and love their products and are excited to share that knowledge with others. You have experienced employees who can sometimes achieve the impossible by finding a book from negligible information.
When you come into a store and ask our help, use our time to find the books or series for you, tell you about, answer questions about it, that time has a cost. It sucks but it’s true. For every minute an employee is in the building, we have to earn back a certain amount to be in the black. When you then turn around and buy that book online, you are literally taking money out of my rent check. Online is convenient. It’s often a little cheaper. But if you have the time to work ahead, if you have a local store you can support, please give some thought to doing it. We deal with people all the time who complain about stores closing and people losing their jobs and the state of the economy, but well over half the time, these same people are the ones who don’t make a purchase with us because they can get it two dollars cheaper online if they’re willing to wait a week or two. OR, they spend two bucks less on the book in order to pay eight bucks more on the shipping to get it faster, when they could have walked out of our store with it already in their hand. Please, please, support your local stores if you can. This isn’t just a hobby for us, this is how we pay our bills, and the more business shifts to online retailers, even if we’re in the same company, the less likely it is that our stores will be able to remain open.

6. Tis the Season for Giving. Don’t bite our heads off when we ask about charities.
A lot of companies and stores host charitable works through the season. They’re asking for money or items, asking you to take a little extra time or a couple extra bucks. Money is tight for a lot of people, and trust me, we get that. But at least let us ask, let us tell you the reason we’re asking, before you tell us no. If you don’t want to contribute, or if you’re contributing elsewhere and to other organizations, that’s fine. But let us tell you about our cause. My location partners with an amazing organization for our holiday book drive. I make the initial question “Would you like to donate a book to [insert name here]?” simple, because chances are, I’ve already asked you a lot of questions through the transaction. If you give me even the slightest sign of interest, I will tell you all about this amazing program, and none of that passion is faked. None of that excitement is about trying to get you to spend more money. It’s about an amazing program that has amazing results, that works to something I believe in a great deal, and it’s something I want to share, something I want to contribute to. I know I’m one of a million people asking you for something everywhere you go, but I’m asking for a reason. Let me tell you what that reason is. Then, if you want to tell me no, I’m not going to ask the reason. I’m not going to call you a cheapskate or a Scrooge, I’m not going to give you a nasty look. I’m simply going to say okay and press the total button. It’s not just my job, it’s my privilege to ask. It’s your right to say no. That doesn’t make me a scumbag for asking.

7. Ask for a gift receipt.
I know not every place does them, but most do. Even if you are 100% sure that Little Timmy wants that specific video game, get a gift receipt. Chances are, others may also know that Little Timmy wants that specific video game. Without a receipt, there is very little most places can do. We try to be lenient after the holidays but there are company rules that we can only bend so far. Gift receipts are free, they take almost zero effort, and they make everything a lot easier during the massive return deluge of January. It also reduces the chances that the person you bought the thing for will stuck with a duplicate or with something they genuinely don’t want. It’s the thought that counts- so give that extra second’s thought and ask for a gift receipt, and everyone ends up happy.

If this sounds like I’m begging you? I am. I’m not too proud to admit it. This time of year is unbelievably hectic for me. I work about forty hours a week in an increasingly stressful atmosphere, and at the end of the day, I still have to do my own holiday shopping. I make an effort to treat people the way I want to be treated, both as a consumer and as an employee. Yes, as a shopper, I get frustrated with employees who are genuinely incompetent. I get irritated by inexplicable delays. Want to know a real shocker? I HATE being greeted when I walk into a store. It makes me feel singled out, and is also a holdover from the days when I’d go hungry rather than call in for pizza because I just plain refused to talk to a stranger. I hate being greeted when I walk into a store. But, because part of my job is greeting people when they walk into our store, I respond politely to the employees who greet me when I walk into their stores. I don’t like it. But I do it.

And when it comes down to it, taking away all the other possible reasons, I have to be honest and say that the most basic reason I ask these things is because I want to enjoy Christmas. I used to love Christmas. I looked forward to it all year, not just because of the gifts, but because of the season. It was the music and the decorations and the cooking (and the cookies!) and the smells and everything about it. Three years at the arts adn crafts store made me genuinely hate Christmas for a little while. Not the day itself, but everything connected to it. I’d heard so much bad Christmas and holiday music that I couldn’t even stand to hold out for the good stuff- which meant singing with my mother, as much as I love it, became a chore because the Christmas music made me skin crawl. The smells? Anyone who’s ever worked with scented candles and cinnamon pine cones will probably tell you to shove those smells someplace very uncomfortable. The decorations were a nightmare and they came in earlier and earlier every year, and just seeing how incredibly stressful (and mean!) people got about it depressed me. I came to genuinely hate Christmas.

I’ve gradually gotten back to the point where I’m loving it again. The stuff still comes too soon and the attitudes start too early and come across too strong, but I actually unpacked my Christmas CDs and our Christmas movie marathon will have some of the classics back on it this year, rather than just Bad Santa, Die Hard, and Lilo and Stitch. My roommate will put her tree up the day after Thanksgiving, maybe even Thanksgiving night, and a week or two later, I’ll put up my little one. I’ll sing carols and hymns and pop songs through the apartment when my roommates aren’t home, and I’ll sing them with my mom, because that’s always been the single best thing about Christmas.

I don’t want to come home growling because of another day like yesterday. I have no idea what it was, if there was something in the water or if there was just a sort of general hopelessness for our college’s chance of winning its game, but people were MEAN. Cutting us off before we could ask anything, snapping at us, ranting at us, calling us stupid and incompetent for things entirely beyond our control, actually being insulting, even being rude to each other. We were baffled by it! We expect the occasional mean customer but this was a serious concentration and we were all on the wrong end of the barrels. After the third straight hour of this, I shared a look with one of the other employees and we said, at the same time, “And the holidays really are here!”. And there’s something profoundly wrong with that being true.

Maybe this is less of a Public Service Announcement than it is a Plea for Seasonal Amity, but as the retail holiday season starts hitting its stride, please remember the people behind the uniforms, the people on the other end of the phone calls, and take a moment to think about the experience you would want if you were in our shoes.

Until next time~
Cheers!

P.S.- This is probably a good time to post another disclaimer. I work in a bookstore but the opinions expressed, in this post in particular and the blog in general, are not the opinions of the company I work for, and should in no way be taken as a reflection of its official views. This is a personal opinion in a public forum, but it is the opinion of the person, not the employee, and certainly not the organization.

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Book Review: Crossed, by Ally Condie

November 9, 2011 at 11:56 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Cassia gave up everything familiar to try to find Ky and save him from certain death in the Outer Provinces, but murmuring beyond her need to find him is the need to find something even more, something bigger that could rock the Society from its moorings. Ky hasn’t given up hope that Cassia might do the impossible and find him, but he knows far more of what- and who- is out beyond the fringes of Society than he can stand to tell. And Xander? Xander hasn’t given up Cassia.Somewhere between them, and beyond them, the lines are being drawn.
And crossed.

I loved Matched. I loved it the first time when I tore through it, devouring the pages because I couldn’t fathom putting it down. I loved it the second time, when I read through slowly and dissected the words and the ways they were put together. I was ridiculously excited for Crossed to release, even as I kept reminding myself that the more I get myself hyped up, the more I’m inevitably disappointed. That’s just the difference between expectation and reality.

And here’s the thing: I enjoyed Crossed. I did. But I very much felt like I was in a middle book.

Cassia’s determination to find Ky has taken her away from all the comforts she grew up with and out into a wider world, one with hard work and exhaustion and fiercer restrictions. She’s very single-minded about it. Whatever the risks, whatever the struggles, whatever the cost to those left behind, she is going to find Ky. Except- she still hasn’t made a decision about Xander. Xander is her Match- her official one, anyway- and though her love for him is different than what she holds for Ky, she does still love him, and not just as her best friend. She keeps pushing the decision out of her mind, until Xander does little things to make it nudge into her focus again, but that decision is going to have to come, and I would have loved to have seen her mull over that a little more. Focus is a good thing when you have a nearly impossible task, but I wanted to feel the pull from both sides.

One of the biggest changes from the previous book is that here we also get Ky’s voice. He and Cassia alternate chapters, and his voice, his perspective, changes A LOT. And I loved it. For all that she learned in the first book, Cassia is still very innocent, and shockingly naive. Ky isn’t. As we get to find out, perhaps he never actually was. And yet. He has this small, carefully nurtured hope that Cassia will find him. It isn’t reasonable, it isn’t practical, but he still has that hope, despite everything. Seeing things from his eyes, we get a much move pragmatic view of the world. People die, people get killed, saving yourself is what’s important. And yet. When it comes down to it, his impulse is more generous. Dangerous, but generous, and no matter how much he reminds himself that it isn’t practical, he still does it. What this all draws is a young man who is essentially good but battered by experience, and seeing the balance between those two extremes in impulse is amazing. We also, slowly, learn more about his history, the stories he hinted at to Cassia, except we learn them in more detail and, perhaps, more truth.

Xander is a physical presence for barely an hour of Cassia’s time near the beginning of the book, but he still manages to dominate a lot of what you come away from the book thinking about. A large part of that comes from a degree of ambiguity. We don’t get anything through Xander’s eyes. We see him through Cassia, for whom he’s a rock and a hero and a selfless friend, and we see him through Ky, for whom he’s rather more complicated. Friend could be one of the words used, though I think they’d both render it with caution, but Ky knows Xander better than Cassia in some respects.

And that’s where we get to one of the two things that really, truly bothered me about this book. Ky and Xander both have secrets. Big secrets. Dangerous secrets. We always suspect that Ky has them. Cassia always knew that Ky had secrets, even though she couldn’t begin to imagine what some of them were. She doesn’t ever suspect Xander, though, even when she starts to have cause. The boys both move into this murky state of existence where motives are questionable, where there’s genuine intrigue and double-guessing and this constant state of scrutinizing others for a wide range of reasons, some personal, some practical. Cassia doesn’t. Through everything, she maintains that naivete, that shocking innocence that leaves her behind as the boys are maturing into complicated, complex characters. After the strength she showed at the end of Matched, she somehow becomes passive in this. Not passive as in not having an opinion, but passive in that things are happening around her and she’s clueless, she isn’t aware of the titanic struggle that should be going on within such an intelligent person. Because she is intelligent- she has a sorter’s mind and a good memory, and her talents are based on being able to recognize patterns.

Which leads into the second thing, that I can’t talk about because it’s a major spoiler, but to dance around it just a little, it very much disappointed me that Cassia didn’t recognize the patterns that are so obvious to the reader. It’s unclear at this point if Ky recognized them and made a choice for Cassia’s sake, or if he didn’t recognize them either, but when I got to that, I was genuinely shocked. Not quite to the point of putting the book in the freezer, but it took me a few minutes to finish the last pages because of that.

Adding Ky’s perspective, adding his voice, was brilliant, and I loved what that did. Despite her innocence, Cassia’ voice is as lovely and poetic as it ever was. Ky’s companions are gorgeously, heart-breakingly rendered, and also effective. What I would have wished for is that vague, hard to define and therefore supremely unhelpful something more. All the beautiful complexity of the first one is shared between Ky and Xander here, leaving Cassia a bit like an indulged child rather than a strong young woman making hard choices. More than anything, I hope the third book reverses that and lets her grow into her potential from the frist book.

This is a beautifully written book. The language, the impulse and need to create, the nature of the choices we make, they make for a compelling story. It is very much a middle book, but what builds off of Ky and Xander should make for some pretty spectacular sparks, and that I am very much looking forward to.

Until next time~
Cheers~

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Your Go-To Book

November 6, 2011 at 11:32 am (General, Giveaway) (, , , )

For anyone sensible, the holiday season is still weeks away from beginning.

I, however, work retail, which means our holiday season started last week.

And this year, I’ve decided to ask for YOUR help with it.

You see, I’m the kids and teen expert in our store. It’s my department in a literal sense, as in that’s my job, but it’s also where I love to read. We have a few employees who read scattered books across those sections, but pretty much, I’m the one to go to with any questions. BUT- I’m not always there. Feels like it sometimes, but not actually true. Even when I am there, I’m not always able to go back to help someone if I’m already in the middle of assisting someone else.

So I’m making a cheat sheet of sorts.

One of the biggest things we see in the holidays is people who don’t really know much about the people they’re getting gifts for. Maybe it’s a party, maybe it’s a work gift exchange, or class/club gift exchange, or cousins or nieces and nephews. Maybe it’s that they know the person well, but not their reading tastes, or they know what they like but not what they’ve already read. Usually at that point we recommend a git card, to allow the recipient to choose for themselves, but we get a lot of people who don’t want to be that impersonal. Even if they have to get a gift receipt to allow the person to exchange it, they want a physical book to hand over.

When they know a little, it’s a bit easier to educated recs. A bit. If, for example, what they know is that the person loved Twilight, that doesn’t actually make it easier. Lots of people who loved Twilight don’t like other vampire books. If they can list off several books or series the person has read and enjoyed, I can usually point them towards other things within that vein- or, if the series are separate enough and ones that I enjoyed, I can go from my tastes.

But all too often, we get people who really just have no clue. They know the person likes to read, and when they’re that uninformed about what the recipient likes to read, that’s generally a clue that the gift-giver doesn’t read. Which makes pointing them towards specific books harder, rather than easier. People who don’t read tend to be very distrustful of others telling them to read things, even if you’re not telling them to read it.

So I am looking for everyone’s Go-To Books. The book (or books) that you can rec again and again and again without blinking an eye, the book(s) you think everyone should read. This is the book you can push to those who love to read or to those who hate it. This is the book that, when someone asks you for a rec, is the first thing to jump to your tongue. AND- I’m looking for why.

Pending manager approval, I’m hoping to give our employees access to a notebook that has information about series, about categories of books (i.e. vampire books, angel books, werecreature books, historical fiction books, etc), AND a few pages of these Go-To Books with descriptions and reasons. Things that the employees can familiarize themselves with so that when I’m not available, they can still help the customers who have no idea what they should be searching for.

Despite the vague customer expectation that a bookstore employee must read every book within the store (and honestly, WHERE do they get that idea?!), we all have our sections that we love. The benefit to a group of employees as close as ours is that we know what everyone else reads. If someone is asking me for a horror book, I can name a couple of Go-To Books that our horror readers have told me about (like Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box), but for anything more detailed, I do my best to hand them off to the two people on the staff who read horror. Same with anyone asking about business, law, or current affairs books- we have someone who reads within those sections. Between all of us, we cover a good chunk of the store (I’m kids, teen, and smatterings of mystery, drama/Shakespeare, fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, mythology, history, and science, if that isn’t a combination to blow minds), but we don’t always have immediate access to our experts.

So I’m asking your help! I’ll give an example below, but in the comments, PLEASE tell me about your Go-To Book and why you can rec it to anyone. Just to sweeten the pot, I recently received some swag for Firelight and Vanish by Sophie Jordan, so I’ll throw all the commenters into a hat (or a cat bed, if we’re honest) and pull winners for some of that swag. Please leave your email in the comment so I can actually contact you if you win, and feel free to post about this to others. Comments will be welcome straight through the holiday season, but I’ll draw for swag winners on Sunday, 20 November, which gives two weeks for eligibility for the goodies.

I’m looking for Young Adult and Middle Grade, the more recs the better.

Example
Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead. Lands solidly within the vampire block, but with a strong mythology based off of three different types of vampires. Solid story, strong romances, TONS of action. There is never a dull moment in this book or in this series, and the stakes continually get higher while still allowing payoff on the previous issues. The characters are amazing, especially Rose, our narrator. Rose is an impulsive, uber-protective, self-confident Guardian who throws herself at the world, gets her ass kicked, and promptly dusts herself off and goes on to kick ass in turn. There’s a great blend of funny, of sweet, of bittersweet, and enough romantic angst to satisfy even the most diehard Twihard. A little more geared towards girls than boys (female first person narration and there is some sex, both in talk of it and act of it), but boys willing to get past that would really enjoy the fight sequences and the action, complete with high speed chases, getaways, and prison breaks (later in the series). Six books in the series, complete, with a spin-off series with one book out.

So please, share below! What is YOUR Go-To Book?

Until next time~
Cheers

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Plenty To Be Thankful For

November 2, 2011 at 8:57 pm (General) (, , , )

I thought about saving this for Sunday, when I do the more general posts, but the more I’ve been turning this over, the more I’ve wanted to answer now. So. Today’s a double header. Over on her blog, Beth Revis is asking a pretty simple question: what book(s) are you grateful for? It’s a simple question, but a less than simple answer.

Because the instinctive answer, perhaps the easy answer, is: all of them.

I am profoundly grateful for the mere existence of books, for the fact of them. For the history they represent, for the scientific endeavours they help produce, for the imaginations they spark, and for the worlds they introduce. I’m grateful for the fifty word stories we read as children, for the convoluted theories we read as students and adults. I’m even grateful for Wuthering Heights and I hate that book.

(Seriously, I hate that book. My sophomore English teacher and I had to work out a compromise that said I could spin all of my assignments to discuss why it’s a terribly book as long as I read the book and did the assignments- it was still a near thing.)

I’m a reader (obviously). I’m a writer. I’m a bookseller. I’m a lifelong amateur student and, if I could afford it, I would gladly be a professional student. Books are the ultimate glorification of language, of words. They’re powerful, they’re life-changing, they’re comforting, they’re frightening. Words have the power to shake apart civilizations. They can inspire us to unthought of heights and distances. They can reach across those same distances to close the gap. They tempt us, sometimes to greater things, sometimes to things that are…not. They can cause wounds, but they can also heal them. Words, written or spoken, can damage or even take a life. Words can also reaffirm life, not only our own but the lives of others, as well.

And we take these words, spin them into fine threads, and weave them into books- amazing, stunning, life-altering books.

And for that, I am grateful beyond words for the mere fact of books.

But to an extent, that answer is cheating. A little. Okay, maybe a lot. Blanket gratitude can still be a powerful and sincere thing, but in trying to define specifics, we come to understand why we’re grateful. So, after a great deal of thought, and in no particular order, here are some of the books I’m grateful for.

Martin the Warrior, by Brian Jacques. Some of you have heard me talk (or gush) about this book before, but in every way that matters, this is the book that made me a reader. I had always loved reading but this was the book that made it amazing, that made it magical and personal and life-altering. When I was ten, my school had an open house/parents night type thing that included a book fair in the media center. By that point, I’d read through most of the books in our school library. I saw people keep picking up the same book and putting it down again after a moment. Person after person after person. So I went over and picked it up, took a look, and from the cover I could kind of understand why they were putting it down. A mouse? In clothing? Wearing a sword? But I flipped it over to read the back and thought, despite the mice, it didn’t seem that different than the fantasies I already read. So I decided to give it a try. I had my allowance with me, no surprise that I would want to spend it on books, but when I went up to purchase it, the media specialist shook her head and gave it to me instead. Just for being willing to try it. I started reading it a few minutes later. And couldn’t put it down. I read all through the open house, through dinner, through the rest of the night, and long after I was supposed to be sleeping I was actually huddled under the covers with a flashlight. Reading. Devouring. Being changed forever. When I finished the book, it was about two in the morning and I was sobbing hysterically. I went across the hall to my mom’s room- it was empty- and then down to the kitchen, where she was sitting at the table with a mug of coffee and a crossword. As soon as she saw me she stood up, asked if I was okay, was I sick, was I hurt, did I have a nightmare, and I managed to sob out “WHY DID SHE HAVE TO DIE?!” Once she finally realized I was talking about the book, she started laughing so hard she sat down too hard and broke the chair. I had never been affected by a book like that! The characters were mice and moles and squirrels but I CARED about them, so much so that I cried when they hurt and I missed them when they were gone and I cheered for their successes and joys. This book made me care, and it made me look for other books, other characters, that would make me love them just as much. I wasn’t just reading for entertainment anymore- I was reading because I wanted to be immersed in lives. I read my first copy of this book to shreds, and when a house fire claimed my second copy, it was the first book I replaced. I read that one to shreds, too, and finally replaced it with a hardcover. I have a full hardcover set of all the Redwall books, and there are some I love beyonds words, but this one will always have a special place in my heart. Without this book, I might not have been open to all the amazing books that came after.

I first read this book when I was in fifth grade, but a lot of things happened between fifth and sixth grade. It wasn’t just the shock and trauma of entering middle school. To this day, I still call that the summer of death. Four people I was close to, three of whom I loved very much, died within a span of two months. I picked this book up at the library between funerals, needing something to read something but not having enough focus to read anything new, and an amazing thing happened: things started to make sense. As much sense as death ever makes, at any rate. It wasn’t that it explained things, it wasn’t that it gave a solution, but rather it showed a lot of different forms of grief and grieving, different ways to cope, and most of all it taught me that death was a part of life. It was scary and sometimes random, painful even it’s accepted with grace, a haunting spectre over all of us that we can’t let overshadow our lives. This book taught me what it was to live with death. It’s a beautiful book, full of poetry and connections and a child-like (though never childish) sense of wonder, where scientists are the world’s last true mystics, but it is, above all, a book about life. Not death- life. Sometimes I reread it for the language, sometimes for the images and the thoughts and the musings on science, but every time someone close to me dies, I reread it specifically for those meditations on life.

I’m grateful for these next two books for a lot of the same reasons. They get compared a lot- with reason- but they both accomplishe something truly amazing.
What Martin the Warrior did for me *mumble mumble* years ago, these series have done for countless other readers across the world. These books made kids WANT TO READ. Kids who a few months before would have groaned and grumbled about a 100 page book were suddenly absorbed in a 900 page book and wanting more. Waiting impatiently for the next book in the series, and in the meantime, looking for other things to fill the gap. They turned to their friends, to their parents, and then- miracle of miracles- to their teachers and librarians and booksellers, because they wanted to know more. Wanted to find more, to discover more. The more kids read, the more books get produced, and they are devouring them. The more people read, the better they do, in school, in life, and now they have springboard series that launch them into a lifelong love affair with books. For that, my gratitude knows no bounds.

I picked this specific book because it was the first one of hers I read, but really, I’m just grateful for Tamora Pierce. I read Wolf-Speaker when I was in seventh grade. I didn’t know it was book two of a series. I didn’t know there was an entire other series before that. It didn’t matter. Pierce wrote the story so fluidly that I didn’t need the previous installments to know what was going on. I loved the book, wanted more, and when I finally found the more, I was bowled over again and again. Talk about kick-ass heroines! But what made them really kick ass was how beautifully complex they were. They were strong but they were also vulnerable. They had faults and flaws, they had weaknesses, they had strengths, they had amazing gifts and skills they worked for, and they also had obstacles they couldn’t use those gifts to solve. They had to learn to rely on other people, as scary as they could be. And here’s the thing that really got me: they had to deal with things like going to the bathroom in the woods. They had to deal with menstruating and breasts and hormones. They were real. And they still are. Book by book, series by series, she maintains characters that are all distinct in their own ways, but in many ways could be considered ideal role models for girls who are too often told that they have to conform to some tame aspect. She takes up an entire shelf on my bookcase, some of them a little battered, but starting my collection of her books took a significant part of my babysitting money one summer. For her characters, for Alanna and Daine and Kel and Aly and Beka, I am grateful.

This next one…it’s…well it’s…

I hate Twilight. I really do. As a writer, it makes me cringe; as a reader, it makes me feel less intelligent; as a female, it makes me genuinely frightened. I hate this book, and I hate this series.
I’m still grateful for it.
Like Harry Potter, like Percy Jackson, the Twilight series got people reading. It reached a massive audience crossing all ages and served as a springboard for other series. I think it could safely be argued that this book launched a hell of a lot of careers, and strengthened others. It didn’t create YA/Teen as a category but it helped define it, helped it stand on its own amidst a number of other categories.
The other reason I’m grateful for this book is a little trickier: this book reminds me on an almost daily basis one of the fundamental truths of reading: everyone reads differently. The same words on the page will be read differently by different people, and they mean different things. They’re taken different ways. And each of those ways, those interpretations? Are completely valid. Twilight reminds me that every book, no matter how much I personally hate it, has readers who love it and will champion it to the ends of the earth in the face of all disdain. There are books I love, books I recommend and gush about and read over and over, that people have come back to me and said they hated. It’s the reason I won’t argue about Wuthering Heights being a classic, only that it’s not romantic in any sense other than the time period and style of the writing. And there are plenty of people, including one of my best friends, who will argue me on that point to their last breaths. And that’s okay.

This last one is a recent discovery, and I’ve gushed about it recently. I can’t talk about this book without gushing. I can’t do it. I’ve tried. I try to talk calmly and rationally about this book but it always ends in me gushing about how absofrickinlutely amazing this book is. Curious yet?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor made me fall in love all over again with language. With the beauty of words and the sheer poetry and grace in the ways they can be spun together. Just as the types and order of the strung objects from Brimstone’s shop change the result, so do the order and choices of the words. I can easily devour books in one sitting, especially ones I love as much as this one, but as much as I didn’t want to stop, there were times when I had to close the book on my finger and just take a moment to savor the images the words painted on the backs of my eyes. Where Martin the Warrior made me fall in love with characters, this book revived my obsession with words, the foundation and the root and the heart of what we do. We can tell a story with gestures, with music notes, with pictures, but what we do as writers, what we absorb as readers, is the words, the language. For reminding me of how elegant my normally clumsy language can be, I am grateful.

And now, just as Beth asked us, I ask you: What books are you grateful for?

Need some incentive to share? To celebrate her gratitude for books, Beth is hosting a giveaway- check out her site or the image below to find out more.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Between the Sea and Sky, by Jaclyn Dolamore

November 2, 2011 at 10:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Esmerine has always longed to be a siren like her sister Dosia, guardians of the waters always dancing upon the knife’s edge of facination with the human world. It is this fascination that makes their magic the more potent, but also the more dangerous, for some sirens become as entranced as their human listeners. When Dosia goes missing, Esmerine braves the bewildering human world to find her sister, despite the homesickness that settles deep in her stomach, despite the pain that prickles up her transformed legs with every step, even despite her memories of a winged boy who used to play games and teach a young mermaid how to read. But Esmerine is a siren like her sister, and that fascination can cut sharp.

I wasn’t too sure what to think when I first saw this book in the computer at work. For months, it was only the title and the cover, no description. It might have been one of the Goodreads giveaways that gave me my first description of it, which left me in mind of The Little Mermaid (the real one, not the Disney hack-off) meets Gail Carson Levine’s Ever. But, I ordered it in anyway, and when skimming through the first few pages didn’t send off any warning bells, I bought it and took it home.

And I am SO GLAD I DID.

In a way, my initial instinct about the description wasn’t wrong. There are definite echoes here, along with a rather humorous reference to the Disney production that made me giggle in my orange juice, but the story stands on its own two legs (no pun intended). The worldbuilding was gorgeous, detailed without ever falling aside into tedium, and the three separate races are richly and uniquely drawn.

Humans, of course, are largely the same, and certainly not the focus of the story. Most of what we see of them is belligerence and lustfulness, rather typical reactions of the coastal humans in the face of a mermaid. There’s a delicate balance between the landcrawlers and the seadwellers, an understanding of how much fish can be caught of a time and the tribue owed the merfolk and the sirens who keep them from running aground- or will run them into ground if the tribute is skipped. What the typical human understands of mermaids is that they can be kidnapped into marriage if the man steals and hides their belts (a rather ingenious reference to the selkie legends) and that they sink ships seemingly at a whim. The human world isn’t necessarily a safe place for merfolk, especially not a vulnerable young woman on her own.

The merfolk don’t read or write (which, let’s be honest, would be quite a neat trick under water), nor do they have a language of pictures or icons, but they have a rich history of stories and songs that they share through clubs and theatricals. To be a siren is a mark of distinction, of honor, but they also have to be cautious. Sirens are those who already have a fascination with the surface world, a reciprocal tug that makes their magic most effective. A mermaid can give her belt away willingly but the homesickness never goes away, and there aren’t many stories of these brides- willing or not- living for long away from the sea. They exist in a natural form, not just part of the sea but also unfettered by the more human constraints of modesty and clothing, the latter of which could never be but inconvenient under water. Even their diet is different, seaweed and raw fish, a diet that leaves their bodies lean and their stomachs uncomfortable with the idea and weight of cooked food.

And then there are the Fandarsee, the winged race, and when I got to the first description of one of these intriguing creatures, I may or may not have dropped the book in my lap so I could clap with glee (all the windows are open, so I’d feel self-conscious squealing). Some of the humans call them bird-boys, but this is very inaccurate. Rather, they have wings that more resemble a bat’s, attached all along the lengths of their arms and their sides almost to their knees, with piercings in the membranes to allow for side fastenings for clothing. At the tips of these leathery soft wings, the Fandarsee have a thumb and single finger, with the other three bent back in supports for the wings, making maneuvers rather involved. Even their feet are different, curved almost like a bird’s so they can grip things while they fly. They’re intellectual, educated, and as youths often serve as messengers across the great distances.

And though this probably isn’t the most accurate comparison, they rather reminded me of an Amish community complete with rumspringa, only replace the severe simplicity of life with a scientific calling.

Though the impetus of the story is the search for Dosia, this is primarily a love story, but what a love story! As chidren, Esmerine and Alander, a rather grave-minded Fandarsee, played on an island between sea and sky, an island where he taught her to read and write, where they shared stories and games. They haven’t seen each other in four years, after Alander left to attend the Academy and complete his messenger years, but he’s the only one Esmerine can think to look for when she needs help.

Here’s where I really fell in love with this book: after four years, they weren’t immediately the best of friends again. They’d both grown up, grown in different ways, and things were awkward and stilted, full of misunderstandings and frayed nerves. As children, they could play together in a neutral space. As adults, or young adults really, things feel rather more black and white, without the grey areas where unorthodox friendships can flourish. As the story progresses, as they’re pushed together to search for the missing Dosia, they don’t just stumble upon that neutral space again. While they eventually forge a space between them, step by painful step, they earn every moment of it with fear and grief and the despair that comes of the utter certainty that there is no place where a mermaid and a winged man can create a life together. What’s between them is real and natural, full of angst but not of melodrama, and it’s something they will always- always– have to work at. Their relationship is one that will always require hard work to maintain, to keep it strong against all the struggles and obstacles and outside opinions, and I love that, because it’s real.

It isn’t quite a fairy tale, though it feels like one, but it’s a book that leaves you sappily content as you turn the final page, and well worth a read. Between the Sea and Sky, by Jaclyn Dolamore, out in stores now. Check it out!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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