Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Forsaken (The Demon Trappers #1) by Jana Oliver

Actually, my copy (ARC) has the title "The Demon-Trapper's Daughter" ---- 

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Riley has always wanted to be a Demon Trapper like her father, and she's already following in his footsteps as one of the best. But it's tough being the only girl in an all-guy world, especially when three of those guys start making her life more complicated: Simon, the angelic apprentice who has heaven on his side; Beck, the tough trapper who thinks he's God's gift, and Ori, the strikingly sexy stranger who keeps turning up to save her ass. One thing's for sure - if she doesn't keep her wits about her there'll be hell to pay..

And here's what I thought:   I thought this was an original, clever, and kind of fun story.  I mean -- it starts with a demon in a library -- I love that!   Riley is an interesting character.  Having learned some of the basics from her dad, she starts out the story by tangling with a Bibliofiend (book demon), and she's not quite successful.  However, she's determined to keep at it, and that determination holds true throughout the story.   She's got a wry sense of humor, which I like.   I didn't always like the way she related to some of the other characters --- she's not always nice to Beck (although I think it's because she really does like him, deep down and hates that she used to crush on him when she was younger).  I did see some growth for her character, though, and I'm looking forward to what happens to her in the next story (Soul-Trapper, which seems to have a release date of August, 2011).

I appreciated the world that Oliver created here, where demons seem to be the norm, and Trappers keep them under control.  It's never explained how the demons got here, or why things seem to be so economically depressed (the book is set in 2018, so it's not too far off).  However, I just assumed that Oliver meant this to be a version of our world, not our world that suddenly has demons.   There are a few inconsistencies, like the fact that Riley can afford gas for her car, which is extremely expensive, but struggles with paying rent -- but it didn't bother me too much (I assumed she just budgeted for one and not the other) -- and the story had such a quick pace that I really didn't care too much about some of these details.   What I really liked was how Oliver set up the demons, with different levels, and different ... preferences.  I've already mentioned the Bibliofiend, who loves to destroy books, and there's the Magpies, who go after anything shiny.  And then there are the level 3 and 5 demons, who are more dangerous.   I appreciated the creativity of this part of the story.

The only other thing that I wasn't wild about was..... Denver Beck.  As a character, he's just fine, but his dialogue was jarring to me at times.  He's a country boy, so he always says "Ya" instead of "You", and sometimes, it just sounds like his accent is a little forced.  However, after a while, I just didn't let it get to me ---- I found that imagining him as some kind of Matthew McConaughey/TimMcGraw kind of guy (that laid-back kinda talking, you know).               

First sentences:   Riley Blackthorne rolled her eyes.  "Libraries and demons," she muttered.  "What is the attraction?"

Thoughts on the cover:  My cover is actually a bit different from the one I saw when I pulled this up on GoodReads (and is the one I've put in this post), so I'm not sure what will be on the finished book..... but I like this one.  I like how it shows a girl holding a sphere (part of the story), with a backdrop of the city, and the swirling red at the bottom.  Eye-catching and matches the story.  The other cover (see the GoodReads link) shows something completely different, and while it's eye-catching, I don't know if I like it as much.

Wordless Wednesday

Bpk poppet keyhole

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.    Annah's world stopped that day, and she's been waiting for Elias to come home ever since. Somehow, without him, her life doesn't feel much different than the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again.  But Catcher has his own secrets. Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah: can she continue to live in a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?

And here's what I thought:  Ok.... I have a confession to make: I received this book as part of the Book it Forward ARC Tours and I had just read it.  I had actually forgotten all about the book tour (but not the book, no, not at all)...  and it arrived in my mail and I realized.... I had read it and never posted anything about it.  And this is such a good book.... I think I just needed to get my thoughts all together before trying to write anything down.

Let me just say --- I picked up the first book in this series, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and was completely entranced.  I waited and waited for the second book, The Dead-Tossed Waves, and I held my breath when I got it, hoping hoping hoping that it wouldn't fall into a sophomore slump.... and it was just as good as the first book (maybe even better).   And then... I waited for this book, the third in the series.  I had ordered it for my library and had been waiting to get my hands on it (after the first few people who had a hold on it, that is).  And then, I had one of my best days ever... last Friday, at C2E2, a most lovely and wonderful girl from Random House gave me an ARC of this book.  I do believe she was some kind of angel in disguise.   Needless to say, I started to devour this book on the way home.... and gulped it right down.  Then, had to sit and digest everything.

If you are familiar with the first two books, you will be ready for the way this book plunges right in to the story.   And if you haven't read the first two books, please stop reading this post..... and go read the first two books (please).   Annah is such a wonderful character -- my heart just ached for her all the way through the book.  Her situation is pretty dire, and things really never seem to let up.  I have to say, she's one of the strongest female characters I've read in a long time --- she's not a "take names, kick-ass" kind of girl; she's the kind of girl who, when things get rough, just squares her chin and keeps on going, determined to figure out a way to make things work.  She's not perfect, but her flaws make her intensely real.  What she goes through, alone, waiting for Elias, is difficult enough, and when Catcher arrived in the story, I hoped life would ease up on her a bit.  But no.  Catcher's got his own issues (and they are pretty big issues, I must say), and while he helps Annah, he doesn't make anything easier for her.

What I love about these books is the world that Carrie Ryan has created for us.  It's certainly not a world I would want to live in, so when I say I love it, it's not like that.  What I love is how vivid it is.  Her writing is descriptive and effective, evocative.  It's a bleak world, and difficult to imagine --- but I get a pretty clear picture in my head when I read, and I'm grateful for that.   Ryan gives me just enough so that my imagination can fill things in (and make the world truly gritty and awful).   The horror she presents isn't just in the Returned, but in the people who are still left.  When Annah reaches the Recruiters, it starts to become plain that the men who have survived against the Returned have truly become monsters, themselves.   This is what is frightening, and very real.

I can't say enough about how much I love these three books.  I was talking to someone at the library recently, and I mentioned this author and we both were saying, "She is so awesome.  LOVE those books!"   Yes. 

First sentences"This city used to be something once.  I've seen pictures of the way it gleamed - sun so bright off windows it could burn your eyes.  At night, lights shouted from steel like catcalls loud and lewd, while all day long white-gloved men rushed to open doors for women who tottered about on skyscraper heels.   I wonder sometimes what happened to those women when the Return hit - how they were able to run, and survive, with such absurd contraptions strapped to their feet."
Thoughts on the cover: So, so, perfect --- with the girl laying, with her hands curled -- conveys the mood of the story perfectly.

Friday, March 25, 2011

So glad it's time to Hop!!!

preparing to hop......
I'm still getting back on my feet, but I'm mostly up now..... and I can Hop!!!    The Book Blogger Hop, that is.  Hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books, it's a great way to spend some time over the weekend visiting blogs, discovering new books, etc etc etc...... 

This week's question comes from Mina, who asks: "If you could physically put yourself into a book or series, which one would it be and why?"    Well, I admit I wouldn't mind being a student at Hogwarts (pre-Umbridge, of course), because it sounds so cool.....   and I think living in Narnia could be pretty interesting, as well.   Those were the first two that came to my mind, but I'm sure I'll think of others as I go through the Hop and see what everyone else has to say.

Have a great weekend, everyone!!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

slowly recovering......

Apparently, because it was so much fun to have a virus a few weeks ago, my body decided to have it again!   (I'm thinking it was a bit of revenge after not getting enough sleep and going to C2E2 for two days) This time, I'm determined to kick this thing into submission, so I'm taking it slow....   drinking lots of water, getting lots of rest......     

and reading only one book, slowly.   Seems I can take in a few pages before my eyes have enough ...  

sneezy..... and wheezy.   Geez......
spending some time visiting everyone's blogs and catching up --- and hoping to be back on my game by the weekend. 

Wordless Wednesday

Bpk poppet black sr

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vegas Knights by Matt Forbeck

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  When two college freshmen decide to use Spring Break making magic on the gambling tables of Las Vegas, little do they imagine that Vegas harbours a dark magical secret of its own… the whole place is run by magic, and they won’t believe who’s in charge…

And here's what I thought:   The tagline on the book cover reads: "It's Ocean's Eleven meets Harry Potter when two college students scam a Las Vegas casino - using Magic!"   Exactly!!!    Doesn't it sound like a cool story?     I started this book and realized right away that I was in for a great (and fast) ride.   The snappy back-and-forth dialogue pulled me in, and the action started and just kept ramping up.... and I was hooked.   The cool thing about the story is that there's the up-front story of these two guys who are out to scam the casino, but there's another story running through the whole book, about family relationships.   And just when you think you know what might happen next, everything flips and it changes (kind of like sitting at a blackjack table).   There's also more than meets the eye with a number of the characters --- but I won't ruin any surprises here.

I enjoyed how Matt Forbeck worked magic into the story.  There aren't any magic wands, and the magic isn't all sparkly, either.   The way it's described, it actually not only makes sense, but sounds completely realistic and plausible.   Jackson explains it this way: "Using your mojo is simply the conscious manipulation of the quantum state of things. By taking control of an altering probability, we can make things happen that seem magical, but every bit of the process can be explained with science."   Sounds easy, right?  Actually, not so much, as it turns out.  Like a lot of things in Vegas, what you see isn't necessarily what you get, and there's always someone (or something) behind the scenes with their own agenda. 

The writing is descriptive (I've been to Vegas twice, and after reading this, want to go back for a weekend), and funny.   Example: "Not exactly Hogwarts, is it?" a brown-skinned man with slicked back hair said as he sidled up to us along the bar, a half-empty Corona in his hand.
"Maybe if Harry Potter had grown up reading Esquire or GQ," I said.    (p. 155)

If you like books with a lot of action, quick dialogue, and a consistently fast pace, this is up your alley.  If you're a fan of Harry Potter, I think you'll get a kick out of the story, although a love of magic isn't required to enjoy this read.    And if you've enjoyed a trip to Vegas?  Definitely pick this up.   I had pre-ordered this book for my library, and now I'm just waiting until it gets here so I can get it in the hands of our patrons.  Yes, yes, I'm a book pusher.....       But this book was so much fun that I want lots of people to read it!

   I thought it was weird timing that just when I finished this book, I saw this story on Chicago Sun-Times page --- apparently, there is a new "mob experience" in Vegas.   (this will make sense if you read the book -- let me say no more.)

First sentences:  "Luck is for losers."

I hated it when Bill said that  I hated the tone, the words, the way it made me feel.

Thoughts on the cover:  Completely perfect.  I like how the Welcome to Las Vegas sign is modified with the book title, and how there's lightning coming down from the top. 

Please note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher, in exchange for my honest review -- thus any quotes or page numbers may differ upon final publication.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Sad Blue Frog -- first children's book reviewed on this blog.....

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   This books is the first in a series called The Madison Street Tales. It's beautifully illustrated and the story is told in wonderful, lyrical rhyme. It's about a frog that is sad because he's blue, but the other animals he runs across during his day teach him that being different isn't a bad thing.

And here's what I thought:  Let me preface my thoughts by explaining that while I usually would not review a children's book for my blog, the author contacted me, and she seemed so nice that I agreed to review this.   I'm not a children's librarian, and I don't have children of my own (although I have a young niece and nephew), so please keep in mind that my opinion of the book is most likely colored by that.

My first impression of this book was that it would make for a wonderful read-aloud, where you could show a child the illustrations while you're reading.  The book is written in poem format, and has a nice syncopation to it.  It gives a good message that it's okay to be different, and that there is always somewhere for anyone who is different to fit in.  You can tell the story is very personal to the author, especially when you read about her and why she wrote this book.  It's clear that she has given loving attention to the story, and made it very personal.

The illustrations in the book are very soft and watercolor-y.  They are very simple, and compared to some picture book illustrations, they look a bit unsophisticated.  But does this detract from the book?  I don't believe so.  I felt the art completely suited the simple rhymes of the story.  The ant looks especially friendly, and I could see an afternoon spent playing with watercolors, drawing and painting ants (maybe I'll do this with my niece).

I will note, as an adult reading this story, two things did strike an odd note.  The punctuation is a bit odd, as seen from the example on the first page:  "Why are you sad?" asked a voice from the Ground. Why capitalize Ground?  This is something continuous throughout the story.   As an adult who reads (and has written) poetry, it catches my eye, and I found it a bit distracting.   The other odd note is that the Blue Frog, who is unhappy about the fact that it is blue, keeps mentioning "the others are green and I am blue"-- but there are no other frogs in the illustrations.  This leaves us to assume that this frog lives somewhere where all frogs are green, and that to be blue is unheard of.  It would help to have a few other frogs in at least one illustration, especially if this is being read aloud to a child, and you're looking at the illustrations together.  I don't need a big group of them, laughing at the blue one, but maybe just two on the side would help give a little perspective.

Overall, this is a sweet book, and I can see it being perfect to read to and with a child.   That being said, writing this review has made me realize that reviewing children's books might not be my strong suit (unless it's a book from my own childhood that I choose to spotlight).  However, it was enjoyable to change things up and do something completely different.
this is a poison dart frog. Quite blue.
First sentence: "On an autumn day in the courthouse square Sat a sad blue frog in a high-backed chair."

Thoughts on the cover:  Shows the soft-looking blue frog, and the happy ant, with nice bright colors.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hopping !!!!!

I'm towards the bottom of the linky this morning .... got hopping a bit late today....   
ready to hop......
But I'm hopping now!!!    This week's Book Blogger Hop (hosted by Jennifer) asks the question (from Ellie -- who, by the way, has an awesome blog):   "If I gave you $80 and sent you into a bookshop right now, what would be in your basket when you finally staggered to the till?"

Fun question!!!    Let's see.... shiny and new, shiny and new.....

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon, Flinch by Shaun Tan, Chimerascope by Douglas Smith, the Mortal Instruments trilogy by Cassandra Clare, and probably a few more that I can't think of right now.... but I'm sure I could spend $80, easy!!!!

Looking forward to seeing everyone's choices  --- Happy Hopping !!!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Choker by Elizabeth Woods

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   What if the only friend you could trust turned out to be dangerous? A new thriller from debut author Elizabeth Woods!

And here's what I thought:   Well, that summary is short and sweet, isn't it?  And it totally doesn't convey how creepy this book is.    I'm going to try to avoid any spoilers, so my review is going to be a bit short, as well.    This is a psychological thriller of a book, where the reader picks up bits of clues to figure out what's really going on in the story.   As you see from the first sentences, the book begins with Cara and Zoe at nine years old.  However, the book really begins when Cara is 16.  She's a bit of an outcast at school, especially after a disastrous choking incident at school.   Luckily (?) for Cara, her best friend from childhood, Zoe, shows up one night.   Zoe has apparently run away, and asks Cara if she can stay with her, hidden in her room (easy to do, since Cara's parents are workaholics who aren't home much).  Cara finds strength and self-confidence once Zoe's around, but oddly, the better Cara feels, the more resentful Zoe seems to grow.  An odd friendship, yes?

This is one of those stories where things aren't what they seem, and the longer the story goes on, the weirder things get.  You start wondering what's really going on with Cara and Zoe, and if Zoe has some kind of plan for Cara.   The even, increasingly quick pace of this book just intensifies this.  And what happens?   Sorry, not telling -- you'll need to read the book.

I wouldn't say this book is perfect.  I liked the idea of the story, but at times, it felt a little uneven.  Cara's character sometimes seemed a bit off-balance -- she'd suddenly do something that wouldn't resonate with what I thought she was like.   There were sometimes a few things which seemed inconsistent, and which threw me off track (and distracted from the story).  And I never quite understood just how obtuse Cara's parents were.  But, I liked the idea of the story, and how I was kept guessing at what was really happening (and what the ending was going to be).   

First sentences: "Come out, come out, little frog.  We've made you a nest.  It's under a log."  Zoe's clear voice piped through the shaggy thicket of honeysuckle.  Nine-year-old Cara stuck a leaf in the little heap of grass and paused to gaze at her best friend.

Thoughts on the cover:   Simple, with what look like frosty tree branches encircling the title, spelled out with a rose's stem.   It's an odd color of pink -- a bit like if you used a Crayola pink carnation and salmon to blend together to make the cover.   Doesn't really convey the creepiness of the story at all --- not sure if this a good thing or not. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Clarity by Kim Harrington

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  When you can see things others can't, where do you look for the truth?
This paranormal murder mystery will have teens reading on the edge of their seats.
Clarity "Clare" Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It's a gift.  And a curse.
When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare's ex-boyfriend wants her to help solve the case--but Clare is still furious at the cheating jerk. Then Clare's brother--who has supernatural gifts of his own--becomes the prime suspect, and Clare can no longer look away. Teaming up with Gabriel, the smoldering son of the new detective, Clare must venture into the depths of fear, revenge, and lust in order to track the killer. But will her sight fail her just when she needs it most?

And here's what I thought:   This was a fast read that had me constantly guessing who might be the murderer.   The story starts right away with action (see first sentences below), so there's a tension driving the entire book.   Clare's a great character -- smart (and sometimes a bit snarky).  Her gift is explained as being "retrocognitive psychometry," where, if she touches an object, she can pick up imprints from the previous person.  Actually sounds pretty cool, until you consider how nasty some people are, and how picking up their imprints could be pretty unpleasant.   I liked how the story would go back and forth between Clare and her relationships with her brother, her ex-boyfriend (Justin), and the mysterious (and sexy) new guy in town, Gabriel.  The dialogue was well-written and completely believable, so I easily got pulled into the story (the smooth pace also helped quite a bit).

I really liked the setting, of the small beach-town.  The way that Harrington wrote about it, I felt like I was actually there at times.  I also liked how the different psychic abilities of Clare, her brother, and her mom were worked into the story, and how the three of them could combine their abilities to see something clearly.   Clare's mom was, at times, a little annoying, but I thought she was pretty cool. 

I will admit, there were a few things I was a little "meh" on.  Some of the characters were a little too predictably written, like Stephen, who actually reminded me a lot of Steff from Pretty in Pink.  There's a mean girl, Tiffany Desposito (a/k/a "the queenpin of the Trifecta of Mean" - p. 23).   Also, Clare at times seemed a little predictable.  She obviously chafes under the "freak" classification given to her by some of her classmates, so she's got her armor up.  But, of course, under all that, she just wants to be loved.   I didn't need that spelled out.  However, my reaction to all of this could just be the fact that I'm not a teenager (if I had read this when I was 15, I would have been in love with this book).  

Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I'm already looking forward to the next one, Perception.  This was a fast read, with characters that I generally liked, and with a plot that had a lot of twists and turns to it.  I gave it a 3 ink bottle rating because I don't have anything that's between 3 and 4 --- the book is actually closer to a 4 in my mind, but I went with the 3, since I found a few things I wasn't completely wild about. 

This was a pretty good book, so don't let the 3 scare you away!!

First sentences:   "You don't want to kill me," I said.
"Of course I don't, Clare.  But I have to."
If I wasn't already bleeding, with the room tilting and swaying, I would have slapped myself.  I never saw this coming. 

Thoughts on the cover:  Very nice, and definitely eye-catching.  Reminds me of summer -- I like how her hair seems to be blown by a breeze, with birds and the sea in the background.  Nicely suits the story.

Please note: I received an ARC of this book, courtesy of Book it Forward ARC Tours -- thus any quotes/page numbers may change upon final publication.

Guest Post from author James LePore !!!

I just reviewed James LePore's story collection, Anyone Can Die, and now bring you his guest post!  

The first thing I did when I was asked to write this piece (on ”anything I wished,” were my very generous instructions) was to read the three stories that comprise Anyone Can Die, something I hadn’t done since I wrote them over a year ago. My reaction was an emotional one. I remembered conceiving and living with the characters (Pat Nolan, Megan Nolan, Max French) over the course of the twelve months it took to write A World I Never Made. I remembered writing the stories. I remembered, with a jolt, how much I loved these fictional (but very real to me) people. That jolt opened my eyes to something that had never quite come into focus for me before: the emotional connection between me and my characters that is absolutely essential in order for me to write to the level of credibility, and drama, that I believe makes for good fiction. At the core of my writing is what I feel for my characters and what I hope my readers will feel for them.
            As I write to this end, I also read to this end. I read in order to experience what it’s like to enter the lives of others, to see the world from their perspective. That experience is to me primarily an emotional one. For this reason I am not drawn to novels or stories that are primarily plot-driven, no matter how intricate the puzzle may be. I need real life in what I read: people hurting, working through their pain; people pulled in opposite directions, working through their conflicts; people in trouble and trying to figure out how they got themselves into it. Plot is important of course. I do love action and pace. But the thing for me is what I feel.
            The human heart is a strange thing. It opens and closes on commands from a source that will always be a mystery to us. I do hope that the hearts of the people who read the stories in Anyone Can Die, as well of course as my novels, will hear the hidden command to open, will love Pat and Megan and Max and my other characters as much, if not more than, I do. I would be happy to sell a monstrous number of books, but happier by far if my writing can be said to touch people—to open hearts—this way.
 Thank you, Mr. LePore!!!    If you'd like to know more about James LePore, or his books, please visit his website --- his book Sons and Princes is due out in May, 2011.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Anyone Can Die by James LePore

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   
James LePore’s first novel, A World I Never Made earned raves from reviewers, readers, and fellow authors alike. Blogcritics called it, “An outstanding first novel, and a wonderful thriller.” Bella Online said, “I highly recommend this compelling suspense story filled with vivid characters and haunting storylines. A story that will stay with the reader long after the final pages.” And M.J. Rose, the acclaimed author of The Memorist said A World I Never Made was, “A compelling page-turner &mdash one of those wonderful books with characters as strong as the story and a story worth reading. Don’t miss it.”
Now LePore returns to the characters of A World I Never Made to present us with three suspenseful and unforgettable stories:
Till Death Do Us Part: A young Pat Nolan and his wife are on their honeymoon in New Mexico when they find a bond they did not know they had as they are forced to confront trouble in the form of a surly trio of locals.
God’s Warriors: Megan Nolan, a cynical American woman on her own in Europe makes a life-changing decision that both reveals and belies her true character.
Max: Max French, a quirky, deadly and, in his own eyes, oddly lovable FBI agent faces a personal drama that will set the course of his future.

And here's what I thought:
   So, this is a bit different, mostly because it's 3 small stories in a slim book -- and I haven't read this author's first novel (although I'm trying to interlibrary loan it right now).   I wasn't sure if it would matter too much that I hadn't read the first book, so I just treated these 3 stories as stand-alone stories.     The funny thing is, once I finished the third one, I realized they were all connected, and things started to make more sense (especially because I had been wondering at the second occurrence of a strawberry blonde in the second story -- which then made sense).  The writing in all three stories is very straightforward; descriptive, but to the point, and completely suiting the tone of the stories.   At times almost terse, LePore's writing paints a very clear portrait of each of the three main characters.  Did I like all of them?  No, not really.  However, to me, that just means it's good writing; if the writing isn't good enough to give me a good impression of a character, I don't have much of a reaction to them.  And in a short story, this is essential.  Well done, Mr. LePore!   

The one thing I took exception to was once in a while, there would be a sentence written in a way that took a detour from the usual tone.  For example, in the second story, when it is stated that Megan grew up as a pretty girl (p. 30): "Megan, beginning around the age of sixteen, was acutely aware of the envy and jealousy she aroused in other females.  Their eyes were paintbrushes dipped in fear and hate."   Um..... what was that second sentence?  I don't know - just kind of tripped me up, and broke the nice flow that was going.

The author states in his introduction to this book that these there stories were to give more background on certain characters.  He states, "This is my chance, I said to myself, my chance to both honor my characters and respect my readers."   I believe that is true; after reading these short stories, I definitely have insight into three distinct characters.  I'm looking forward to reading A World I Never Made because I'm curious now about these people.  

First sentence (from the second story):  "Megan Nolan emerged from the bowels of the Abbesses Metro station into a cold and raw late afternoon in January of 2001."
Thoughts on the cover:  Almost looks like the shadow of an outstretched figure, set across lines -- could be wire - and an ice-like background.  Actually, not wild about the cover, but I'm not sure what would be a good cover for these kinds of stories. 

Please stay tuned --- I am hoping to provide a guest post from this author tomorrow!!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   The story of two very different women, one mortal, one mermaid, and the clash between worlds best kept apart... It is a cold day at the end of the world when a young woman, a princess in hiding, looks out across a Northern sea and sees something she could not have seen. It can't be. It looks like a mermaid's tail. And, as she looks more closely, she sees that the mermaid is dragging a drowning sailor in her arms. Because, only hours before, another princess, the daughter of the sea queen, has decided to risk everything and take a look at the world above the sea: the world of mortals. And there she finds a storm, a shipwreck, a sailor, and sets in train events which will change both women's worlds forever.

And here's what I thought:   I was already familiar with one of this author's books, Rain Village (which I love), so I had been eagerly anticipating this book.   Admittedly, I'm also a fan of mermaids (not like, a crazy, entire house decorated with them kind of way, but in a "aren't they cool" way).     If you're already familiar with the fairy tale about the mermaid who wants to be human, then you're in for a treat here.   In this book, Turgeon gives us not only the mermaid's story, but also the story of a human girl who is drawn to the sea.  Both of them hunger for a young man, (which is interesting, considering neither of them know much about him), and this draws them together at first, and then causes upheaval later in the story. 

We first meet Margrethe, the mortal princess, when she is staying at a convent (for her own protection, according to her father).  Slipping out of the convent, she is staring out to sea when she sees a mermaid's tail.   Transfixed, she watches as the mermaid brings a man (Christopher) to the shore -- and then feels compelled to go down, herself, to rescue the man.   As it turns out, he is from the South, an enemy of her father's kingdom, and while Margrethe is drawn to him (because he's handsome.... and mysterious....), he's completely off-limits.   Does that stop her? Um.... no.   More on that in a moment.

Lenia, the mermaid, is also a king's daughter, although of a kingdom under the sea.  She is the youngest daughter, so she is surrounded by her sisters, who don't understand her fascination with the mortal world.    Lenia has apparently always been curious about mortals, and while she knows that it's forbidden to interact with humans (except on your 18th birthday, just once), she can't stop herself.    What I found interesting was her detachment when she observed certain things; It's obvious that the human world is completely foreign to her.  For example, she is present during a shipwreck, and observes men drowning.  She knows that humans cannot survive under water, but it isn't until she watches the first one struggle for breath that it really hits home for her: "It struck her, what she knew already: men could not survive under the surface of the water." (p. 13).   She has ample opportunity to observe people up close, when she makes the sacrifice and stays at the castle, among Christopher's family and court.  

What I found really cool about Lenia is that not only do we get to experience the world of the sea through her character, but we also experience the mortal world through her.  She is completely unused to wearing clothes, for instance, or eating cooked food --- all of these things we take for granted, she is experiencing for the first time, and it's a really interesting to read a story this way.

So is this a love story?  If so, between which characters?   You could say it's about Lenia's love for Christopher and the sacrifices she makes for him.  You could say it's about Margrethe's love for Christopher and the sacrifices she makes, as well, for the two kingdoms to be at peace.  Or, you could say it's a love story between Lenia and Margrethe, two similar but different women, who are drawn to each other, and set at odds because of Christopher.  They each make sacrifices for each other, and it is the relationship between them that really drives the story.  They are drawn to each other, and then set against each other when Lenia falls in love with Christopher .... and Margethe shows up to claim him as her own.  

Turgeon's writing is so beautiful --- when I finished this book, I wanted to start it all over again, savoring it this time through (instead of just devouring it like I did).  I did the nice thing, however, and brough it back to the library so the next person on the list wouldn't have to wait for it.  When I would read the descriptions of Lenia, and the world under the water, I was completely transfixed.   And I was captured by the story, as well, about how love can drive us to sacrifice things that don't initially seem that significant, but which we realize later are essential to who we are.   Wonderful, wonderful book!!!   Makes me want to track down Carolyn Turgeon's address and send her a gift, just for writing this!!

First sentences:  It was a gloomy, overcast day, like all days were, when the princess first saw them.  The two of them, who would change her life.  there was nothing to herald their appearance, no collection of birds or arrangement of tea leaves to mark their arrival."

Thoughts on the cover:  So beautiful, with the light playing off the mermaid's hair and tail -- very eye-catching! 

Book Blogger Hop --- it's all about the bad guys.......

Somehow, I got partway into my day and realized I had almost forgotten to Hop!  So, quickly correcting that now.....

Today's question comes from Mia, who asks: "Who's your all-time favorite book villain?"

 Easy!!  It's actually two people:  Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandermar from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.   Croup is verbose and pompous, and actually pretty funny (if you don't mind snarky, slightly disturbing humor).  Vandemar barely speaks at all and when he does, he's blunt.  The two of them present a menacing pair that, while I wouldn't like to meet them in a dark alley, actually completely intrigue me.    

I'm looking forward to discovering some villains this weekend around the Hop!   Happy Friday, everyone!!!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country by Allan Richard Shickman

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   The prehistoric saga continues in Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, the sequel to the award winning Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure. In this story, Zan s troubled twin brother, Dael, having suffered greatly during his earlier captivity, receives a ruinous new shock when his wife suddenly dies. Disturbed and traumatized, all of his manic energies explode into acts of hostility and bloodshed. His obsession is the destruction of the wasp men, his first captors, who dwell in the Beautiful Country. When he, Zan-Gah, and a band of adventurers trek to their bountiful home, they find that all of the wasp people have died in war or of disease. The Beautiful Country is empty for the taking, and Zan s people, the Ba-Coro, decide to migrate and resettle there. But the Noi, Dael s cruelest enemies and former tormentors, make the same migration from their desert home, and the possibility develops of contention and war over this rich and lovely new land

And here's what I thought:  Definitely a compelling story.  I finished the first book and dove right into this one, so that first sentence was a little startling.  However, this book has the same pace and writing style of the first book, so I was hooked, and just whipped through the story.   In this continuation, there is more focus on Dael, and we not only get more insight into Zan-Gah and Dael, but into Rydl (a boy from the first story), and we meet a new character, Pax.    Dael is a sympathetic character; it's clear that he has psychological damage from the time he spent as the captive of another tribe, and his behavior definitely affects his relationship with his brother (and everyone else).  At times, his behavior is disturbing, and it's interesting to follow him through the story, to see what what will happen to him.

Like the first book, Shickman's writing is descriptive and clear, and his characters are interesting and realistic.  He has again crafted an adventure story where the reader is not only drawn into the adventure, but into the lives of the characters.  I believe it would also make a good read-aloud story.   It's a great companion to the first book, and I found I was wondering if a third book will be forthcoming (I hope so!).   I don't know if these two stories would appeal to all adult readers, but I found them to be enjoyable reads.

I will admit, after reading these two books (Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure, and this book), I had several flashbacks to Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear and subsequent books (and actually might revisit one or two of those books now). 

First sentences:  "When Lissa-Na died, Dael wept real tears.  No one blamed him - except for Dael himself, who was shocked at his own melting.  Through his long, nightmarish captivity, suffering humiliation and torture at the hands of enemy peoples, he had never shed a drop." 

Thoughts on the cover:  Very eye-catching, as it gives us a portrait of Zan-Gah.  Behind him, there is a ghostly second person, frowning, and it seemed clear to be Dael.  I liked how there was the focus on Zan-Gah, but with the presence of Dael, as well. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

this poppet has turned blue

Want more? Here's the WW site

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure by Allan Richard Shickman

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Zan-Gah, seeking his lost twin brother in a savage prehistoric world, encounters adventure, suffering, conflict, captivity, and final victory. In three years hero passes from an uncertain boyhood to a tried and proven manhood and a position of leadership among his people. Themes include survival, brotherhood, cultures, gender roles, psychological trauma, and nature's wonders and terrors. This is the electronic version of Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure, which has been awarded Mom's Choice Gold Medal for Series, the Eric Hoffer Notable Book Award, and was a finalist for ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year.

And here's what I thought:   Please allow me to state that I do not typically read middle-grade fiction (I stick to older YA and adult material, for the most part).  However, the publisher contacted me to see if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing this book, and the companion story (review coming up in a day), and frankly, I was curious.  I had seen a number of reviews on other blogs, so I figured it would be something completely different for me.   And, I was right.

This story has a quick pace, and great storytelling, and I think it would be a great choice for a young reader who enjoys adventure.  Right from the beginning, the book sets the stage for where Zan-Gah lives, and what his life is like.  The author has definitely done his research -- the descriptions of life seem completely realistic.   I found it interesting how Shickman created the culture, not only of Zan-Gah's own people, but of neighboring people as well, dividing certain tasks between men and women, and how Zan's character grew and developed through the book.   The writing is descriptive and clear, and dialogue is straightforward, as well.

The only thing that threw me off a bit was when, in chapter 3, there was a bit of a twist.  The chapter begins with the reader reflecting back on something Zan-Gah did, in the past.  It broke the flow for me slightly, as it's mentioned that Zan-Gah did something a long time ago, and then, one page later, we're back into Zan-Gah's present time again.   I understood why the author did this (I think), because it sets up part of the story, and also gives a bit of explanation of how Zan-Gah discovered something important.   However, it temporarily broke the even pace that I had been reading at.

I believe this book would really appeal to younger readers who enjoy adventure stories, because it's got a great main character, a believable setting, a quest, and even a battle.  I also think it would be a great book to read aloud (or listen to being read aloud).    The writing is basic enough to be understood by a younger reader, but the author never talks down to his audience (which I really appreciated).   I really enjoyed this book, and reached right away for the second book (review is coming up....).   

First sentence:  "From a long distance a traveler, or some wild thing, might see within the deep and absolute blackness of night an intense orange light which looked from afar like a glowing coal."

Thoughts on the cover:  Bold title, and the lion (in action-pose), clearly convey that this is an adventure story.  Definitely eye-catching to a young reader.
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