Book Recs: Vicious, Eleanor & Park, and Fangirl

September 17, 2013 at 7:20 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Got a trio for you today, because I hit a streak of AMAZING READS.

First up, Vicious, by V.E. Schwab (also known as Victoria Schwab, of The Near Witch and The Archived fame). This one isn’t YA, but oh my God, it is just as phenomenal as her others. On the surface, Vicious is a novel about super powers, but with V, is anything ever really as it looks on the surface? This isn’t a story about heroes and villains, about good guys versus bad- there are no good characters, but there are so many STUNNING and GORGEOUS characters. I could spend days arguing about whether or not the delineation of psychopath versus sociopath is still valid when it comes the making the distinction between Eli and Victor. Aside from a scientific aptitude, they seem to have nothing in common, but they have this missing, broken piece. Victor has always acknowledged that piece, that lack of empathy, but Eli masks his, until he can’t anymore. Each of the characters is so distinct, so beautifully flawed, and yet, despite the horror of some of their acts, despite the repugnance of the beliefs they espouse (or purport to espouse), we’re invested in them. I spent the entire book cheering for Victor, Sydney, and Mitch (and Dol!). We now from the very beginning that Victor is rather twisted- HE knows he’s very twisted. And as much as that matters to the story, it doesn’t matter to us; we still want him to succeed, even as we deeply dread the possibility that he will. We don’t want the actions to happen and yet we cheer when they do. It’s brilliant. It’s sharp and jagged and so deeply creepy and unsettling and yet, incomprehensibly, there’s such a thread of hope that weaves through, the possibility of happiness in terrible circumstances, the kind of family only necessity and coincidence can form. This book is beyond words.

The other two have the same author, Rainbow Rowell, and I will be EAGERLY awaiting what she comes out with in the future. Until recently, I would have sworn with total honesty that straight up contemporary really isn’t my thing, but then Jennifer E. Smith, and John Green, and now Rainbow Rowell, and I’m seriously starting to rethink my general opinion.

Eleanor & Park doesn’t seem like a book I’d be interested in at all. I listen to 80s music at work, and enjoy it, but can’t identify any of it, or any significant bands. I usually don’t dig contemporary. I can’t really claim to be a child of the 80s because I was born halfway through the decade, so the culture references (other than the comics) go completely over my head. I mostly picked this one up because I was interested in Fangirl and it wasn’t out yet- and it blew me away. Neither Eleanor nor Park feel like they belong. Eleanor is dirt poor, pudgy, red-haired, always dresses differently. Park is half Korean, an insurmountable gulf in the eighties Midwest, with a macho father, a sporty younger brother twice his size, and a love of music and comics. What emerges over the course of the school year is fragile, uncertain, and beautiful, each of them doubting themselves and each other. Even when it’s important, even when it feels like the whole world should be waiting with bated breath for things to work…there’s never a guarantee. It’s beautiful and ephemeral and absolutely mind-blowing.

Fangirl felt like Rainbow Rowell took up residence inside my college years. I was lucky, in that I had friends already at the school and had friends going down with me, and was in a program that was, by necessity, very tight knit. But the social awkwardness, the anxieties, the absolute escape into fanfiction and the debilitating fear that there are no original worlds tucked away in my skull, because the worlds of the fics are so familiar and comfortable? The panic of growing up and growing apart and going away, and worrying over those we left behind? In some ways this book felt like it could have been my diary, except I had no Levi or Nick (and for half of that, I’m grateful). Cath is shy and nervous and afraid, someone with a very insular world: there’s her father, her twin sister, her sort-of-but-very-comfortable boyfriend, and Simon Snow. Simon Snow is an equivalent to Harry Potter, with the same kind of all-encompassing envelopment of true fans. We have the books and the movies and all the merchandise…and, of course, the fanfiction. I love that we get snippets of both the original books and the fics. I love Cath’s fiction writing professor, her roommate, her father, Levi…oh so much love for Levi. This book is laugh-out-loud funny at parts (“There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of ‘other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact.”), and heart-breaking, and challenging, and I can go on and on and on about how amazing this book is and still not do it any justice. This is a MUST READ.

So, what are y’all reading? Any recs?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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So What Did You Think of the Cover?

February 17, 2013 at 11:02 am (A Wounded Name) (, , , , , )

In case you missed my semi-incoherent flailing on Friday, A Wounded Name officially has a cover- and it’s been unveiled!

The cover and flap copy are over at Shelvers Anonymous, and a HUGE thank you to Shelver for hosting me.

The full jacket, a clip of my editor reading from Hamlet, and an AWESOME giveaway with every debut novel the Lab has published (guys, the Lab puts out some pretty awesome books, you REALLY want to enter this!) is over at the Carolrhoda Lab blog, so definitely check that out, because guys, seriously, LOTS OF AWESOME BOOKS.

But just in case you don’t have time to link away, I’ve got the cover down below the break.

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And COVER!

CoverProofAWN

Let’s all take a moment to bask, shall we?

Because in all seriousness, I LOVE this cover. And not just because it’s gorgeous (though it is) but because it perfectly encapsulates Ophelia and her story. Ophelia has become this kind of iconic image in our societal language- we automatically think of Waterhouse paintings and contentedly drowning girls with flowers in their hands and hair, and to us, that defines Ophelia as much as black clothes and a skull define Hamlet.

But there was a moment before that.

And that’s the story in A Wounded Name, the story of a moment of endless potiential where Ophelia could avoid the water entirely, could jump in and fall, or- for a single, paralyzing breath- there’s the possibility that she could step out onto the surface of the water- and walk.

Or dance, or run, or whatever. In the moment before something happens, the possibilities are endless.

And that’s exactly what this cover shows.

Massive congratulations and much gratitude to jacket designer Emily Harris, photographer Brooke Shaden, and model Katie Johnson for such an incredible photo.

But there’s something else, too, something that the cover image alone doesn’t show, that can be a little hard to read on the full jacket display.

And that’s blurbs.

Having Editor Andrew tell me the book was going out for blurbs was one of the more terrifying moments of my life. Until that point, I still felt very sheltered and protected. For some reason, having it to go out to editors for submission was less frightening. Seriously. I think- and this is just a theory- that it has something to do with fangirl awe. If all goes well, we don’t really see the editor in the final product (unless you’ve read everything that editor has ever touched and recognize the fingerprints, but that’s a different matter). A good editor brings the author’s voice into full strength, so when we read a really good book, we tend to only think about the author, not all the other people who went into making it something extraordinary (this is not discounting the author, but it is definitely a collaborative effort; anyone who tells you otherwise is either deluding his/herself or just plain clueless). Editors are people who are supposed to see the not-as-polished-as-it-can-be product. We send them our best, and they help us make it better.

But other authors…when you’ve read and LOVED books by the authors who are going to be reading your book and deciding whether or not to say something about it, it’s terrifying. It’s the ultimate fangirl freak-out of OMIGOD WHAT DO I DO when you get to meet your heroes.

What came out of that process was amazing.

Tessa Gratton, author of Blood Magic, Blood Keeper, the forthcoming United States of Asgard series, and contributor to The Curiosities, had this to say:

“Madness, passion, gorgeous word-play, and the inexorable spiral into tragedy; A Wounded Name embodies everything I love from Hamlet.”

And Victoria Schwab, author of The Near Witch, The Archived, and the forthcoming Vicious said this:

“At once strange and wonderful, sensual and gripping, A Wounded Name invades the mind like madness. Hutchison’s lush, atmospheric prose and taut storytelling breathe new life into this classic play.”

These blurbs were gifts, truly (in fact, Victoria’s arrived at about one o’clock Christmas morning. Try sleeping after that, right?). Most writers are neurotic creatures, and even when we try really, really hard not to be needy, validation in the form of someone loving what we create is amazing.

So, what do you think?

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Cover Love: June Edition

June 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm (Cover Love) (, , , , , , , , , )

It’s been a little while since I did one of these, but there have been some FANTASTIC covers recently that I just have to gush over.

This one was just revealed today, and oh my God I’m in love. It’s gorgeous! It’s also thoroughly eerie and creepy, and inviting and intriguing and everything you want a book cover to be. The blues are soft and mysterious, colors of secrets and sadness and somehow also calm and deep, like the bottom of a lake. The key, because it’s bright and a very different color than the rest of the background, stands out, but it’s not just a symbol of secrets- keys are also authority and things that should be kept away, and also things that are about to emerge. Funny thing about keys is that they have a way of getting used. The girl’s face emerges from the smoke and fog of the key, like she’s shrouded in mystery, like her entire life is birthed from the mysteries of that key and everything it can stand for. Behind her stretches walls with what looks like names- which calls to mind the Vietnam Memorial and it’s lists of the dead- but the walls also seem to close in behind her, both protective and claustrophobic. This is a cover I could happily study for hours at a time, and it leads so beautifully into the description. The Archived by Victoria Schwab- can’t wait.

I love Rick Riordan covers. The artwork is fantastic and if I’m honest, I love the fact that he’s the only author I know that can successfully get pre-adolescent and adolescent boys to read books with pink covers. Throne of Fire anyone? And now he’s released the cover for Mark of Athena and I love it like cake (even though I hate the color pink). Obviously the most immediately striking things about the cover is the owl’s face, specifically its eyes. They’re piercing and direct, and being the totem of Athena, and given that Athena isn’t too fond of Percy, it’s hard to tell if that’s meant to be menacing or protective. Then your eye goes down and you notice the two boys on horses apparently about to kill each other. Um…problem? Even there it’s distinct, with different shirts, different hair colors, even different types of magical horses. You really want to hope the boys are actually working together against a common enemy, but…well, the Greeks and Romans don’t really get along, do they? Expect LOTS of conflict in this one, especially as it’s the middle book of the series.

It’s no seccret that I love this book. I can gush about this book for WEEKS. I’m fairly sure all my co-workers are fairly sick of hearing me talk about it. But my God even the cover is fantastic! The background is black- stark, unforgiving, and entirely devoid of comfort. But because of the way the eye travels, at first we only see it as a background for the left image: arms reaching from opposite directions, bound with twine at the wrists, clasping each other. It’s hard to know which piece makes the strong impact. The way they’re holding each other isn’t casual- clasping at the wrist is a rescue hold, a support hold. It offers more strength, does less damage- and is a lot less likely to be pulled apart. They’re holding each other, so the bonds are voluntary. Yet there’s the twine. Twine is an interesting material, coarse and uncomfortable, easy to find but leaves a lasting impact with fabric splinters and rashes and scratches. They’ve chosen to hold each other but external forces also bind them. This may be hard to see in the photo, but there’s actually writing superimposed on the skin. We hold our secrets so close to the surface; scratch the skin and the emerge. It’s a gorgeous cover that draws out the
fiercest elements of the story. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Another recent cover reveal was for Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight, sequel to last year’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It closely parallels the original cover, focusing on the eyes and the space around it. The mask- in this case the patterns painted around them- are striking and draw the attention in on an otherwise grey-scale cover. The first cover was blue- relaxing, bright, reminscent of Karou’s hair and her easy manner- but here the focus has shifted. Here we have flames and blood and the deep menace associated with that color, BUT, if you look through the letters, you can also see just a slight hint of a smile. Not much of one, and not a very nice smile, but it’s there, and it makes you remember that red is also a color of seduction and of passion. They’re exotic markings, and it’s only when comparing it to the first cover (and the first story) that you start to wonder if they’re actually painted on or if they’re somehow more inherent than that.

Any covers that you’re looking forward to?

Until next time~
Cheers

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Book Review: The Near Witch, by Victoria Schwab

August 17, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , )

“The wind on the moors is a tricky thing. It whispers and it howls and it sings. It can bend its voice and cast it into any shape, long and thin enough to slide benath the door, stout enough to seem a thing of weight and breath and bone.”
Lexi has grown up falling asleep to the voice of the wind over the moors, sure of the language that speaks just beyond her ability to comprehend. Isolated within the barren expanse, Near has forgotten too much of its own history, consigned it to legend that should never have been left behind. But then a stranger comes to town, an unheard of event that heralds a string of disappearances. As Near tracks down the stranger to blame him for the missing children, Lexi seeks answers within the moors themselves.

There are some books that come off as much poetry as prose, where the descriptions linger in our minds long after the page is turned or the cover is closed. This is absolutely one of those books. Lexi’s words are a love song to the moor, full of the caution afforded to any living thing with a myriad of dangers, full of an exquisite awareness of the beauty and the fear and the admiration the moor evokes. She has her father’s appreciation for the half-incomprehensible language of the moor, for the tracks that whisper secrets for those with the eyes and ears to know them. The moor comes alive within the words, more than mere atmosphere or setting. There are times when the description, lovely as it is, bogs things down, but this book is a tribute to the beauty of language, and leaves haunting images that whisper in your ears as you fall asleep and paint stark pictures across your dreams.

The relationship between Lexi, her little sister Wren, and their mother owes a great deal to the relationship of the Everdeen women in The Hunger Games albeit with some softer edges. The sisterhood between Lexi and Wren is a beautiful thing, full of devotion and cute rituals, and most of all a sense of trust and protectiveness. I think it would have been better served if Wren had been just a little bit older- at the age of five, she seems just a little young for some of her insights. She’s sweet and all things worth protecting, but sometimes a little too wise for a five-year-old. At first their mother seems as much a ghost from her husband’s death as Mrs. Everdeen, but slowly- carefully- she shows her hidden strength and her willingness to protect her daughters. She just has to do it in a way that doesn’t promptly put them in danger from her brother-in-law’s boorishness.

Speaking of the brother-in-law, Otto Harris was, for me, an incredibly interesting character. Our perception is colored by Lexi’s, given the first person narration, but there are flashes that she doesn’t particularly pay attention to, flashes that speak to much more of Otto than she’s been willing to see. He’s definitely a boor. He’s chauvanistic, domineering, over-protective, dismissive, contemptuous, but– sometimes you can see the genuine need to protect the family his brother left behind, the need to make sure they’re taken care of. Every now and then, you can actually see how much he cares for Lexi, even as she infuriates him. With just a few more fine-drawn lines in his character, he could easily have stolen the show for me.

Tyler? Tyler’s a douche. Enough said.

I love the Thorne sisters. They complement each other beautifully, with Magda’s softness and Dreska’s prickly sharp edges. Their speech patterns overlap, an overlapping, eerie rhythm that somehow stays more comforting than creepy, the spoken version of the Near Witch’s song and the endless, shifting murmur of the moor. They’re a piece of things, as much so as the wind and the barren soil and the rocks and heather that surround the town. The more we learn about them- a slow process, given the sedentary nature of those within the town- the more interesting and dynamic they become.

I would have loved to know more of Cole. He’s intriguing, someone as fascinating and capricious as the winds over the moor, someone we slowly fall in love with. I would have loved to know more about him, more about his history, but to speak more about him threatens some spoilers, so we’ll just leave it as: Cole is an amazing foil to Lexi’s.

By far my favorite character was the wind, and it absolutely is its own living force and personality. It reflects every aspect of human nature, wraps through the thoughts of the readers and shivers down the spine. It grows on its own, forces the other characters to interact and grow, both creates and eases the obstacles towards finding the missing children. It haunts and it whispers and it teases and it seduces, beautiful and mysterious. I love books that allow specific pieces of the setting to become breathing characters in their own right (like the town of Olive in Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls)because it twines the story and characters through the atmosphere until it becomes genuinely inextricable.

There’s a peculiar sense of timelessness with this, as well as a disorientation. We don’t know when or where this is happening, which sometimes adds to it- increases the overall claustrophobic feeling of just how isolated and tradition-bound Near is- but also sometime distracts, given that we have absolutely no idea how to anchor it to anything. Near is the only indicator of location. We hear of the town Cole came from but not its name, and that’s the only indication that anything at all exists beyond the town of Near and its moors. Like I said, sometimes I really liked it, thought it added a great deal, but I would have wished for just one or two hints so I could dismiss the question (Then again, I’m a somewhat strange person).

This is a book to savor. I think I would have had a very hard time picking it up and putting it down for little things like stages of cooking or parts of a string of errands. This is a book to take with you to bed. Turn out all the lights but one, so the darkness presses against the windows, and feel the drafts from the ceiling fan or air conditioner and wonder in the pauses as you turn the pages whether it’s the wind trying to speak to you. This is a book that keeps you up long past your bedtime and folds around you with the comforting, slightly unsettling knowledge that sweeps over the moors.

The Near Witch, by Victoria Schwab, out in stores now.

Until next time~
Cheers!

(Don’t forget, check out my Cover Love post to win a copy of Lauren Oliver’s Liesl & Po)

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