penmage: (fairy tale innocent [art by John Bauer])

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Samara Taylor is the daughter of popular, charismatic Pastor Charlie. Everyone loves Pastor Charlie, who always knows the right thing to say and always has time for everyone. Everyone except his family. Everyone except Sam, who is alone after her mother's quiet drinking problem resulted in a DUI which landed her in rehab. Sam, who is not even sure if she believes in the God she always took for granted anymore.

And that's when tragedy strikes. A girl goes missing from their small town, and suddenly, nothing is the same. Things that Sam took for granted as safe suddenly seem threatening. And her father--and her faith--feel more distant than ever.

Sara Zarr is a master at the quiet novel that grips your heart. Even in this book, where the plot revolves around a sensational story of a missing girl, the heart of the book is still Sam's very personal and very real struggle with her faith, her family and herself.

The realistic portrait of a small town marred by tragedy--the way it changes everything, makes you mistrust things you once took for granted--it comes alive in this book. More importantly, while the central mystery never loses its hold on the reader, it also never overshadows the more interesting story--Samara's crisis of faith. It takes a very skilled writer to weave a novel that has room for both plotlines and lets the much quieter story be the more significant one.

I devoured this book in a few hours. It's a very quick, compulsive read, and Sam's honest voice pulls you in and doesn't let go. This is one of the more honest teen novels I've read in a long time--I can't recall another novel that dealt so frankly with a genuine crisis of faith. I think this is going to be a book teens come back to.
penmage: (reading pigeon)
Basically all anyone in the office was talking about today was how to snag an ARC of Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games.

All the conversation was about when it would be available at BEA, and if it was ticketed, and who everyone knew who could get them a copy, and who was next to read it after that person. Whispered conversations all over the place. If you came across two people talking hurriedly in the hall, it was probably about Catching Fire.

One marketing person had already snagged one--and instead of staying up all night reading it so she could pass it on, like a sensible person would, she had only read about 20 pages. This fact made its way around the hallways, and she got some serious dirty looks.

Seriously, it's like Harry Potter 7 all over again. We all have to read it NOW. We have to have read it BY MONDAY or maybe we'll get spoiled omg.
penmage: (holy stupid ideas batman)

Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Camelia (sounds like Chameleon) almost died three months ago, when she bent down to pick up her earring in the parking lot and nearly got hit by a car. Before she knew what was happening, a mysterious hot guy had shoved her out of the way, saving her life, before running off when she tried to thank him.

She is, of course, determined to find out more about Ben, the mystery guy. But when she confronts him in the hall and tries to thank him, he pretends he doesn't know what she's talking about.

Camelia's chemistry teacher has an annoying practise of decreeing that whoever you're sitting next to on your first day will be your lab partner for the rest of the year. As luck would have it, the last empty seat in the room is next to Camelia--and then Ben walks in. At first, he acts like he can barely sit next to her. But then he starts to warm to her--even though he warns her that she shouldn't be friends with him, it's too dangerous.

Sound familiar?

Yeah. The plot diverges after this little bit of prettied-up plagiarism, and turns into a Mysterious Stalker novel (Camelia has a stalker. Ben wants to help her) but still--did it seriously have to rip off the most famous crappy YA novel of our time?

Camelia and Ben's relationship is hot, I'll give you that much, but seems to be based on nothing more than his looks (she describes him looking yummy and delicious and hot hot hot as often as Bella described Edward as a marble statue of a Greek god) and her fascination with his bad boy reputation (he reportedly killed his girlfriend back at his old school.)

The writing is not amazing--I get the sense that we're supposed to care about and like Camelia's neglected best friends (she ignores them in her fascination with Ben) but they're really not that interesting--they're actually kind of annoying. And Camelia's family drama is contrived.

This book would be a mild "pass" for me if it didn't rip off Twilight in an unbelievably derivative way. That elevates it to a "can you believe this book?"

Sigh. I feel like I've been disappointed by every book I've read recently. I'd really like to read a good book again.


May. 7th, 2009 11:38 am
penmage: (himym - awesome)
We're having a meet and greet for one of our authors tomorrow morning, and we are trying to economize, so instead of buying a couple fruit platters and pastry platters like we usually do, I was in charge of purchasing orange juice, cream cheese and bagels.

I tried to order orange juice and cream cheese from Fresh Direct, but they require you to order $50 worth of groceries for a delivery.

So this morning, AJC (my awesome coworker, who will hereby be known in the LJ by those letters) and I went on a mission to Food Emporium to pick up the goods.

Along the way, we were accosted by a couple of women yelling "Free chocolate!"

Naturally, we had to investigate. We went to the M&Ms store, and outside it was a huge bowl of chocolate. They were giving out free chocolate.

And the person giving it out was Neil Patrick Harris.

That's right, my friends. Today Neil Patrick Harris gave me chocolate.


ETA: This is what it is!
penmage: (peter and susan isn't this exciting?)

A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz

At the Barbary Asylum, every child was strictly classified: a girl was pretty or plain, clever or stupid, good or bad. Maud knew quite well that she was plain, clever and bad.

Maud Flynn, growing up in the Barbary Asylum, knows exactly how much she's worth: not much. She's willful and plain, and gets into too much trouble to be ever considered for adoption. So when Hyacinth and Judith Hawthorne waltz into Barbary Asylum looking for a child and insist on leaving with Maud, it's hard to tell who is more surprised--the headmistress or Maud herself.

At first, life with the Hawthorne sisters is a dream come true. They buy her new clothes and books, and feed her delicious food. But after the novelty of life outside the Asylum wears off, Maud begins to question the strangeness of her situation--because she is a secret child. The Hawthornes keep her confined to the third floor, and don't let anyone know that they had adopted a child.

Soon, Maud discovers the truth. The Hawthornes are mediums, and they need a child in order to bilk a wealthy woman out of her money as she tries to contact her dead daughter. Maud is willing to do anything to keep her new home and make the Hawthornes love her--but how far is too far?

There is a great idea for a story here, but the thing that really makes this book is Maud. She is just so genuine--she leaps off the page and feels like a real little girl. She's tough and proud and fiesty, but also broken inside. She rarely lets it show, but there are moments when I just wanted to wrap her in my arms and hold her. Maud broke my heart into teeny tiny pieces.

This book also has a chillingly deceptive villain, and what's so impressive is that you only see her through Maud's adoring eyes. Maud is not stupid, but she is desperate for love and desperate to be wanted, so the picture we see of the Hawthornes is colored by what she wants so badly--and yet we still have a very complete, well-rounded picture of the Hawthornes.

That's another thing I love about this book. No one--including Maud's enemies in the Barbary Asylum--is one dimensional. They are all so well-rounded and three dimensional--the villainous characters have their good moments, and the good characters sometimes have a temper and make hasty unfortunate decisions. Everyone is real.

This is the second time I'm reading this book, and the second time it has made me tear up at the end. It's a quiet book, but it's the kind of book that burrows into your heart and finds a permanent home there.
penmage: (metamorphosis and discovery)
Today is the last day of April, so I will share with you my favorite favorite poem. You have probably seen it here before, but if I can't read it enough times, then neither can you.

The Ivy Crown
by William Carlos Williams

The whole process is a lie,
crowned by excess,
It break forcefully,
one way or another,
from its confinement—
or find a deeper well.
Antony and Cleopatra
were right;
they have shown
the way. I love you
or I do not live
at all.

Daffodil time
is past. This is
summer, summer!
the heart says,
and not even the full of it.
No doubts
are permitted—
though they will come
and may
before our time
overwhelm us.
We are only mortal
but being mortal
can defy our fate.
We may
by an outside chance
even win! We do not
look to see
jonquils and violets
come again
but there are,
the roses!

Romance has no part in it.
The business of love is
cruelty which,
by our wills,
we transform
to live together.
It has its seasons,
for and against,
whatever the heart
fumbles in the dark
to assert
toward the end of May.
Just as the nature of briars
is to tear flesh,
I have proceeded
through them.
the briars out,
they say.
You cannot live
and keep free of

Children pick flowers.
Let them.
Though having them
in hand
they have no further use for them
but leave them crumpled
at the curb's edge.

At our age the imagination
across the sorry facts
lifts us
to make roses
stand before thorns.
love is cruel
and selfish
and totally obtuse—
at least, blinded by the light,
young love is.
But we are older,
I to love
and you to be loved,
we have,
no matter how,
by our wills survived
to keep
the jeweled prize
at our finger tips.
We will it so
and so it is
past all accident.
penmage: (scc - come with me if you want to live)
A couple of PSAs for you:

I don't know how much of a different it will make, but I am willing to try anything to say Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (including compulsively watching and rewatching episodes on

The EOnline Save One Show campaign has moved into the Game Changer round--five shows are left. So go and vote for Sarah Connor! Even if you don't care about the show. I am begging you. Do it for me. I really really really want a third season. I want more of this story more than I have ever wanted more of any TV show ever.


There is a free panel with Neil Gaiman this Thursday night. The topic is Leaps and Bounds, Fits and Starts: The Evolution of a Children’s Book Writer. It stars Neil Gaiman, Mariken Jongman, and Shaun Tan, and is moderated by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

The description reads:

Picture books! Novels! Graphic Novels! And more! Authors and their works develop in distinctive ways. Some ideas and books are nurtured for years while others have a eureka moment. Join children’s book authors Neil Gaiman, Mariken Jongman, and Shaun Tan for a discussion about the ever-evolving landscape of children’s and young adult literature with Scholastic Vice President, Executive Editor Andrea Davis Pinkney.

More details here.
penmage: (Default)
As usual, John Scalzi says it best:

Observers of the science fiction field will note the Nebula Award for Best Novel was won this year by a YA book, that the Tiptree Award is co-shared by a YA novel, and that in the Hugo Best Novel category, two and a half of the books nominated are also YA (the “half” in this case being Zoe’s Tale, written to be YA-friendly but shelved with the adult SF). This surge of recognition for YA has caused some consternation and grumbling in certain quarters. Here’s what I have to say about that:

Yes, how horrible it is that some of what’s being hailed as the best science fiction and fantasy written today is in a literary category designed to encourage millions of young people to read for the rest of their natural lives. Because God knows the last thing science fiction and fantasy publishing needs right now is whole generation of new and enthusiastic readers who might actually get hooked into the genre until they die. It’s a goddamn tragedy, it is.

YES. Yes, that.

It just so happens that we are living right now in the heyday of YA fiction. We are in the glorious golden age of the teen novel. There are some amazing talents writing YA--writers I adore turning out books that make me excited. This is a glorious time to be a children's book editor, or to be reading teen fiction, or just to care about the kidlit industry.

I spend so much time in the kidlitosphere these days that I forget sometimes that there are people out there who gripe about the attention that YA gets, or conversly, think that YA is not every bit as strong and smart and complex and fascinating and exciting and well-written as adult books (and sometimes even better.)

And then this happens. YA gets a swarm of recognition from the FSF world. As a children's book editor and a kidlit lover, I am thrilled beyond words. First of all, for the books that were chosen. The Knife of Never Letting Go was one of my standout books of the year, and I am so happy to see it get this kind of recognition. It's groundbreaking and brave and compulsively readable. And second, of course, because it's time our corner of the industry was acknowledged as sharing the playing field with the grownups.

If you are still grumbling about the fact that YA swept the FSF awards this year, do yourself a favor. Read some YA books. I'll be happy to give you a short list of recommended titles, but if you don't want to ask, the shortlists and award lists for the awards is definitely a good place to start. Read The Knife of Never Letting Go, and then come back and we can have a conversation.

YA is here and it's proud and it's good. And it's not going away.
penmage: (scc - mothers and daughters)
First, [ profile] sainfoin_fields wrote this ficlet for me. It is gorgeous and perfect and I adore it. And it made me hungry for more Weaverfic.

So then I found Seven Sunday Mother-Daughter Mornings.

Over the course of S2, I have grown increasingly fascinated with the Weavers. I <3 them so very much, and this fic is perfect and heartbreaking and I love it so much.

If you love SCC, read these fics, because they are excellent.
penmage: (editing like an editor)
Today I got a cold call from someone who wasn't trying to hawk her manuscript and wasn't trying to convince me that she was an agent. She was actually a person with a legitimate request following the right channels. In fact, I was able to help her with what she needed and direct her to the proper party.

It's ridiculous how happy that makes me feel. And also how rare that is.
penmage: (garak rarely pure (selluinlaer))
I've spent the day shaking my head at AmazonFail. Obviously because it is just wrong, but also because it just didn't make any sense to me. It just didn't make sense to me why Amazon--Amazon, of all places--would choose to do this. I know, homophobia never makes sense logically--but here even moreso.

But it had to be true, right? I mean, the sales rankings were gone, and then there was the text of the reply to Mark Probst from Amazon customer service:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

So it was clearly happening. And it was clearly Not Okay.

But I was still puzzling over the Why.

And then, finally, I was linked to this. Which may just be a cop-out for Amazon, but my gut tells me that it makes more sense than Amazon developing a sudden case of rabid homophobia.

I'm not saying they didn't. And if I was about to make a purchase from Amazon, I would still be holding off until I found out the truth. I am reserving judgment until I have more information.

But it makes sense. Let's say Amazon decided that it made sense to remove actual adult materials from its search criterion. Which--I don't agree with that kind of censorship either, but that kind of marketing decision I can understand. What I can't understand is randomly deciding to categorize GLBTQ literature as "adult."

Ah. But the response to Mark Probst doesn't address GLBTQ lit. It reads like a form response to a standard policy explaining the policy on adult content.

And my gut tells me that there's something fishy about the whole thing, and a massive trolling--as insidious and effective as the google bomb used to fight it--that makes sense to me.

Just something to consider.
penmage: (fairy tale innocent [art by John Bauer])

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Rose is the oldest of the twelve princesses of Westfalin. She and her eleven younger sisters and the beloveds of their father and kingdom, but they don’t live a charmed life. Instead, they are cursed to spend their nights dancing at the Midnight Ball of the evil King Under Stone. Galen is a young soldier-turned-gardener, returned from the front after a long war to live with the only family he has—and to work as a gardener in the king’s garden. It is there that he meets Rose and her sisters—and there that he begins to see the dark cloud hanging over the princesses. And while the king and his court try in vain to discover why the princesses’ dancing shoes are worn out night after night, and why the girls are always so exhausted, Galen may be the only one who can learn their secret—and the only one who can save them.

This is a really engaging retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” fairy tale. The burning question in that story is always, why? Why do the princesses dance? It always bothered me that the soldier revealed and stole away their secret paradise, and in exchange got to marry one of the girls. How dare he!

So I liked the curse twist in this retelling. Here, the princesses are trapped in a truly horrific curse. Early in the book, when Rose has to go dance when she’s sick, I really felt sick to my stomach for them—I felt the awfulness of their curse in my bones. So Galen’s finding their secret is a good thing—a very good thing.

Things I didn’t like: it always bothers me a little bit when an author co-opts real geography and gives in a slightly different-sounding name. Espana for Spain. Breton for Britain. Etc. And Westfalin was clearly Germany, or at the very least Germanic. If you’re going for a fantasy world, make up your own country names and geography and religion. If you’re placing your fairy tale retelling in a real time and place, then use the real names. I don’t like the wishy-washy, can’t make up her mind version of places.

Also, I know it’s a fairy tale, but the ending felt a little too happily-ever-after for me. Really? Galen the solder/gardener gets to be the king? I would even be okay with Galen getting to marry one of the princesses, but not getting the throne, but politically—he gets to be king? Really? How does that even make sense?

Maybe I am too much of a realist. Don’t get me wrong, I like happy endings just fine—but I think this ties in to my previous complaint. If you are going to model your kingdom on real places and cultures from our history, then follow through. I can’t imagine any king willingly handing over his thrown to a commoner, no matter how grateful he was. It just feels too tidy and Disney.

I think it’s very interesting to compare this retelling with another I recently read, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Mariller. In that story, the dancing was a wonderful thing, something to look forward to, and the danger came not from the fae but from fellow men.

Wildwood avoids the major pitfall of Princess--it is solidly based in time and place, in a Transylvania that feels real and right. The gender politics in that book made me bristle, but for the characters, not against the illogic of it. There, control over the business is wrested from Jena by her domineering cousin who thinks girls are not capable of a business mind. Here, Rose and her sisters are treated like full-fledged people by their father, the king.

Overall, I think Wildwood Dancing is the better book. The details hold together better—it feels more researched, more nuanced, more anchored in place and time—-more real. And the lush writing is gorgeous and captivating. That said, I enjoyed reading Princess of the Midnight Ball a little bit more—-probably entirely because Rose and Galen both were more likeable characters, and I didn’t want to shake either of them.
penmage: (scc - come with me if you want to live)
If you are not watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you are missing the best thing on TV right now, bar none.

This show is smart. It is so very smart. It has fascinating, complex characters, and it really, truly develops them. It builds on classic canon and takes it to brilliant new places. It sets up its plot, slowly, slowly, and then, bam! it delivers.

I just caught up on the last two episodes, and I am agog with how good it is. I haven't seen anything this good on TV since, um. I can't remember when.

Watch this show. It's a little uneven at the beginning, but trust me--it delivers. It is so brilliant. I am ashiver with waiting to see how they will finish it. I am stubbornly refusing to believe that it will get canceled. I am watching it on Hulu about 20 times a day (with my computer, not my eyes) to try and give the ratings any boost I can.

Watch this show.

Spoilers up until The Lighthouse. )
penmage: (wicked stepsisters [ever after])

Fall of Light by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Opal LaZelle is a makeup artist, specializing in monsters and the grotesque. She’s excellent at what she does—partially because she applies more than makeup to her creations. Because Opal comes from a magical family, where every member has magical gifts and abilities—and Opal can change someone’s face with a touch and a thought.

On the set of the horror movie Forest of the Night, Opal is in charge of Corvus Weather, the Dark God of the movie. But it soon becomes apparent that Corvus is sinking too deeply into the role, and Opal realizes that something is possessing him. There is an ancient power in this town, a power that wants to rise again and is using Corvus—and the movie—as its vehicle. And while Opal may be the only person on the set who realizes the enormity of the danger, she may not be strong enough to stop it.

A Fistful of Sky is my favorite Nina Kiriki Hoffman book, and one of my favorite books in general, so I had high hopes for Fall of Light. Unfortunately, I really didn’t like it very much at all. I think it was missing a lot of what I loved about the LaZelles in Fistful—the introspect of the way their family magic works, and the interplay of the family and magical people and magic being common and accepted. It DID have the other trademark of Nina Hoffman’s work that I love so much—the way normal, nonmagical people accept magical events pretty easily.

I know it’s not fair to expect it to be the same book as Fistful, especially because Hoffman, maybe more than any other writer, never writes the same book twice. But I felt like it was missing some of the elements that made me love Fistful so much.

Cut for spoilers... )

I don’t need every question answered in my fiction—sometimes you just don’t get to know the answer, and I like that. Not every loose end is tied up—that feels honest and real, even when it’s frustrating. It’s just when NONE of the loose ends are tied up that I’m left feeling out of sorts.

I will definitely keep eagerly devouring Nina Hoffman’s new books as quickly as she can write them, but I think she really missed the mark with this one. Hopefully there will be more books with the LaZelle family to make up for it. Dare I hope for a book featuring Flint?
penmage: (queen of narnia (rage_my_darling))
You still have a few more days to comment to win a signed copy of The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor book!


Girl of the Moment by Lizabeth Zindel

Lily Miles thinks her life is over when her prestigious internship at MOMA falls through. She was banking on the internship to help her stand out on her Brown application. Then, Lily is offered the chance of a lifetime—an internship with Sabrina Snow, hottest starlet in Hollywood.

But life among stars isn’t as amazing as Lily had hoped. Sabrina is selfish and spoiled, full of outrageous demands and totally fickle. Lily has her hands full walking Sabrina’s pampered dog, finagling tickets to a sold-out Yankees game, and trying not to fall for Sabrina’s gorgeous boyfriend—who seems to be falling for her, too.

Can Lily juggle the pressures of Sabrina’s life and her own? Or will she let star fever lead her into disaster?

The first two thirds of this book are great. Lily is a fun character, and there’s something undeniably appealing and having a front row seat into the life of a Hollywood starlet. There’s a hugely entertaining sense of voyeurism and getting the inner track. And I like that Lily doesn’t have it too easy—she screws up, she makes dumb mistakes, and she struggles.

But in the last third, the plot gets a little clichéd. Lily’s fight with her father is straight out of cliché city—and there’s no real buildup to it. It just kind of erupts, as if Zindel figured, “okay, now’s the time to insert some external conflict.” And the plotline about Lily’s mom’s pie business, which is given so much attention and is dragged in to Lily’s fight with her father, is never resolved. Is the business successful? Does it fail? Does it eat all the money in Lily’s college fund, or does it replenish it? It’s a minor plot point, but it seems to me that if you’re going to introduce it, you should resolve it.

Finally, Sabrina never really gelled for me. Her actions in the end of the book made her seem much more like a caricature than a real person.

And the prologue page at the beginning made me think that Lily had done something awful to Sabrina—had violated her privacy, or something. I was waiting the whole book for Lily’s awful crime to be revealed, and then…nothing.

I read Zindel’s other book, The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies, and she seems to be following the same pattern: great concept, great start, and then it all falls apart towards the end. She has these great concepts and ideas, but doesn’t seem capable of seeing them through to an equally satisfying conclusion.


Shift by Charlotte Agell

Adrian Havoc is tired of toeing the line. He is sick of following the rules, sick of being indoctrinated with Rapture propaganda, sick of not knowing what happened to his father who went to the moon and stopped writing to him. When his mother, a prominent scientist, goes off on a mysterious government mission, Adrian is tired of sitting around. One thing leads to another, and he finds himself on a mission to rescue an aged penguin, along with a very attractive zookeeper and his somewhat psychic little sister.

But what they find in the North is far more dangerous and shocking than any of them were expecting. Before he knows what's happening, Adrian finds himself involved in a dangerous mission that might be the key to saving his family and the world--or destroying it.

What a strange little book. I'm not sure what it was attempting to do, but I certainly don't think it accomplished it. Was this a post-apocalyptic novel about a world ravage by nuclear accident? A dystopian novel about a society ruled by a strict Christian government? An buddy novel about three kids and a penguin traveling across and nuclear wasteland to find a better life? An action-adventure story full of disguises and heart-pounding moments? It was all those things in part, but none of them really successfully. It seemed to changed tones every thirty pages or so.
penmage: (x-23 likes cats (phasonfire))
[ profile] strangerface pointed out to me that my babies had a baby! And he is SO CUTE OMG.

Chana and Avigdor, the tigers at the Jerusalem Zoo, were released into thier brand spanking new enclosure right at the end of my time there. It was very exciting. They were building it for a while, and let me tell you--that is one gorgeous enclosure. I was there for the staff-only ceremony when Dennis, the Carnivores guy, released them into the enclosure and they roared their mighty roar.

It's so exciting to see that they had a cub (too bad Chana is such a bad mom.) Nili and Liz (the vet in the last picture) were two of the vets I worked with when I was there. It's fun seeing their names and faces, and pictures from the clinic where I spent so many hours. I remember when we raised Roo, the baby leopard.

I bet it's just as fun (and dangerous) raising this little guy.


PS--Remember to enter to win a signed copy of Fablehaven!
penmage: (i-do-believe-in-fairies!)
I am pleased to announce that the winner of the signed copy of Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner is...

[ profile] cidercupcakes!

Congratulations, [ profile] cidercupcakes! Please send me an LJ message or email with your mailing address.

Everyone else, stay tuned! I'm running a little behind schedule, but the next signed book giveaway for my birthday month will be up later today, and it's going to be a REALLY good one!
penmage: (queen of narnia (rage_my_darling))
I wanted to remind you all about my Bones of Faerie giveaway! You still have a few days left to enter, and you can gain extra entries by linking to the giveaway post and posting book reviews. I'll announce the winner this Sunday, so get your entries in while you can!


The Red Queen's Daughter by Jacqueline Kolosov

Mary Seymour, daughter of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, is determined never to be bound by love and marriage. With the example of her mother—a woman who was queen, who then was brought low when she fell in love with Thomas Seymour, who was executed a traitor—Mary is determined to keep herself free of love’s dangerous influences.

So when her new guardian, the mysterious Lady Strange, tells Mary of her destiny—to serve as a white magician in Queen Elizabeth’s court—Mary is determined that it is the right course for her. But although she spends her formative years training in the art of magic with Lady Strange, nothing could prepare her for the intrigues and dangers of Elizabeth’s court—or for the temptations of the heart. Despite Mary’s ideals and her vow to serve and protect Elizabeth, she can’t deny the way she feels around one Edmund Seymour. Edmund is Mary’s cousin, but he is also her opposite—he is a black magician who stands to use magic for his own gain and against the Queen. It will take all of Mary’s determination to find her way through the intrigues of court and the temptations of the heart.

The writing in this book is just lovely. Mary’s an engaging protagonist—one who so clearly belongs and lives in this tumultuous Elizabethan time period, but who has slightly modern feminist ideals. But unlike some feminist novels that take place during this time period, they feel rooted in reality and history.

I love the historical detail, the way Elizabeth’s court really comes alive around Mary. Reading this book felt like stowing away in a time machine—I felt completely immersed in the past.

I was so immersed in the details of Elizabeth’s court and Mary’s training as a white magician that I barely realized that it takes nearly three quarters of the book for the plot to get moving, and once it does, it barely feels complete. I am wondering if there is going to be a sequel, and that’s why things are left so up in the air. Almost nothing is concluded with any amount of satisfaction. And Mary, despite all her protestations against love, seems to topple to it without any resistance or reason at all.

Despite these flaws, the writing is so good that I really did enjoy reading it. It’s only when I think about it objectively that I realize that the conclusion didn’t really conclude, the enemies set up in the book still feel like a threat, and the budding romance that seemed on the verge of coming to a head still feels—unfinished.

I really hope that there’s more in store for us from Jacqueline Kolosov and Mary Seymour. I want to know what happens next.
penmage: (i-do-believe-in-fairies!)
It's March 1, which means it's my birthday month! To celebrate, I want to give YOU something. Once a week, for the next four weeks, I am going to be giving away a signed copy of a book I love.

This week, I am giving away a book that was one of my most anticipated titles of 2009--a book that totally lived up to all my expectations and excitement.

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

If you've been hanging around here for a while, you've probably heard me rave about this book. I reviewed it over here, but honestly, what's not to love about a Post-Apocalyptic YA Faerie Novel? (You can read Invasive Species, a short story that takes place in the same apocalypse, to give you a taste of what you have to look forward to.) And now you can have your very own copy, signed by the author (the fabulous, talented and wonderful [ profile] janni!)

So here's how to enter:

1. Comment here. If you don't have an LJ, please leave an email address in your comment so I can contact you if you win.
2. If you link to this giveaway somewhere in a public post or blog entry or message board, comment here with the link and you'll get another entry.
3. Review a teen or middle grade novel published in 2009 in a public post or blog entry (GoodReads, LibraryThing and other book-specific sites don't count!), and comment here with the link, for another entry.

I'll select a winner next Sunday, March 8. This giveaway is open to people with US mailing addresses only, sorry!

Good luck!
penmage: (queen of narnia (rage_my_darling))

Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle

Three YA authors come together to write three intersecting novellas about a snowed-in Christmas.

Jubilee's dreams of a perfect Christmas anniversary with her perfect boyfriend is shattered when her parents get arrested in a riot for Flobie Christmas Village pieces, and she's carted off to her grandparents in Florida--only her train get stuck in the snow, and she is stranded in Graceville. But what starts as a snowy disaster may turn into her best Christmas ever. (The Jubilee Express, Maureen Johnson)

All Tobin wants is to spend Christmas Eve watching James Bond movies with her best friends JP and The Duke. But a snowed-in train and a frantic phone call from the fourth member of their little group send Tobin and his buddies out on a quest for every dude's fondest wish--a Waffle House full of stranded cheerleaders. But the quest for cheerleader heaven will lead Tobin to something he never expected--love with an old friend. (A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle, John Green)

Addie has a tendancy to be overdramatic, but this time, she thinks she's being exactly dramatic enough. It's Christmas Eve, and Jeb didn't show. She feels awful for having cheated on him, but she wrote him a email asking for his forgiveness, and he didn't respond at all. She is heartbroken, and sure that Christmas is ruined. But two best friends, a teacup pig, and a Starbucks full of snow-braving customers may go a long way in helping Addie realize that sometimes it's not all about her--and that sometimes it is. (The Patron Saint of Pigs, Lauren Myracle)

The great thing about this book is the way all the stories intersect--the way bits and pieces of them all overlap into each other. It makes them feel homey and friendly, like this is a little town that you've been to--the sort of place where everyone knows everybody, with its fair share of harmless kooks (Tinfoil Guy!)

Maureen Johnson's novella, The Jubilee Express, is fairly unexceptional by way of content, but in typical Maureen Johnson style it's packed full of humor and personality and Maureen Johnson-y goodness, and it's a pleasure to read.

John Green's novella, A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle, is far more original and creative, and probably the most fun of the three. Tobin and JP and The Duke are certainly the most memorable of all the characters in the book, and thier quest and travails on the way to the Waffle House and cheerleader heaven are hilarious.

Lauren Myracle's Patron Saint of Pigs is...okay. It's not terrible. It's fine. Unfortunately, placed as it is after Maureen Johnson and John Green's stories, it's just not as strong. One thing that irritated the hell out of me, and I guess this isn't technically the fault of the story, is that one of Addie's best friends is Jewish, and Lauren Myracle plays her as the stereotypical Jew from hell. I mean, it's one thing to embrace your Jewish heritage and claim to be in love with bagels and lox, but it's another thing altogether to spout Yiddishisms and "Oy!"s all over the place, and make it seem like the only gifts she's interested in recieving are Jewish-themed gifts. It pulled me out of the story--every time Dorrie said, well, anything, it irritated me. Addie was also a much more annoying character than any of the others--which is kind of the point, I guess, but I still just didn't care about her as much as I had cared about Jubilee and Tobin and The Duke.

It's a fun, flufftastically awesome collection overall, and the weaker story is strengthened by the stronger stories. It's a quick read and I really enjoyed devouring it at breakneck speed.


The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies by Lizabeth Zindel

Maggie has just started the ritzy Berkeley Prep as a senior, and she's hoping to make a few friends and avoid social ignominy. But she never expects to be welcomed into the most exclusive clique at Berkeley--and she never imagined that the clique is actually a secret society called the Revelers.

The Revelers have a mission: to document what life is like for today's teenagers so future generations can learn from the past. To that end, once a week, each Reveler must bring three Truths...more Maggie has just started the ritzy Berkeley Prep as a senior, and she's hoping to make a few friends and avoid social ignominy. But she never expects to be welcomed into the most exclusive clique at Berkeley--and she never imagined that the clique is actually a secret society called the Revelers.

The Revelers have a mission: to document what life is like for today's teenagers so future generations can learn from the past. To that end, once a week, each Reveler must bring three Truths about a member of their class or the staff of their school, and write it on the Wall, a secret monument to their high school experience.

At first, the Wall seems like a fascinating social project. But as Maggie begins to bring Truths to the Wall, she begins to suspect that the Revelers have an ulterior motive in their quest for truth. How far is she willing to go to stay friends with the in crowd? And can she get out, even if she wants to?

The best thing I can say about this book is that it's better than Gossip Girl. There's a lot of brand-name dropping, but it's got more heart and personality than Gossip Girl--not that it's difficult. But the Upper East Side prep school setting, plus the clique of wealthy popular girls definitely bring Gossip Girl to mind.

The trouble with this book is that it's just very formulaic. It strives to be original and shocking and interesting--even places hints throughout the story that imply that something vastly more interesting is going to come together or be revealed--and then falls flat.

The big shocking events of the ending, quite simply, aren't shocking. It's fairly easy to predict the outcome, knowing what you do about the players and the way the first page hints at disaster. I spent the book hoping Zindel was going to surprise me with a slightly less predictable end, but she didn't.

Maggie is a sometimes engaging, mostly Mary-Sue-esque protagonist, who really doesn't seem to retain her personality--the brash, confident girl of the earlier pages melts into someone clingy and desperate for popularity, but it's not a realistic character arc. She just exists to tell Zindel's story, but she's not believable as a character herself.

I spent the whole book waiting for the book to impress me, and it never did


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January 2016



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