July 31, 2013

Review: Earthbound

Earthbound First in a series
By Aprilynne Pike
Available now from Razorbill (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Tavia Michaels survived the plane clash that killed her parents and more than two-hundred strangers.  She's on her way to physical and emotional recovery when she starts seeing things.  A boy, triangles, flickering people.  Worse, there's a man following her.

I enjoy books where characters find out that they're living in a paranormal universe, not a realistic one, and they have to piece together the rules.   Thus, I liked quite a bit of EARTHBOUND.  On that note, however, the book got more disappointing as it went on.  Several important pieces of the puzzle are handed to Tavia in a long infodump, one delivered when the characters should be running for their lives.  Then it turns out that the rules of the universe might not apply.

There is a love triangle, which will excite almost no one I know.  I will give Aprilynne Pike this: I am slightly unsure which boy Tavia will end up with, which is rare indeed.  (I have strong feelings about which I think will be Tavia's choice, but the second book will probably be needed to solidify those feelings.)  One of the boys is Quinn, who she keeps seeing around but who talks in an elliptical fashion and keeps disappearing.  The other is Benson, her best friend whom she wants something more with.  He works in a library, which certifies his hotness bona fides.  So far my favorite thing about the triangle is Tavia's insistence that she will date and fall in love with who she wants and everyone else can keep their opinion to themselves.

In other words, the triangle didn't bother me much.  What did bother me were a couple of brief passages that dropped in on the bad guys.  They didn't flow, and I felt they were too obvious about upcoming plot twists.  I'm not sure cutting them would have changed EARTHBOUND at all.

EARTHBOUND doesn't really get moving until the end.  It's mostly setup - not bad setup - but I felt like the opening was a bit long.  I think Pike is developing an interesting mythology and I'm interested in seeing where her strong-willed heroine will go, but I wasn't entirely satisfied with EARTHBOUND.  At the same time, the book ended with the main characters in an interesting place.

EARTHBOUND is a good choice for paranormal fans who enjoy conspiracies, secret societies, reincarnation, and love triangles.  It's a bit slow, but it promises exciting things for the series to come.

July 30, 2013

Review: Prep School Confidential

Prep School Confidential First in a series
By Kara Taylor
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin
Review copy

It could be easy to hate Anne Dowling, the protagonist of PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL.  She's pretty, rich, confident, intelligent, and popular.  I liked her instantly though, with her sardonic voice, kindness, and knack for getting in huge trouble while trying to cover up a little misdeed.  She gets expelled from her current private school and shipped to boarding school in Boston.

At first, her new home isn't that bad.  Just as Anne begins to settle in, her roommate is found dead in the woods.  Worse, it seems like no one is really investigating.  The school is determined to keep the murder as quiet as possible and deflect any attention from the other students.  After all, the school has a safety rating to maintain and these are the children of important people.  (It's a bit of corruption that sadly rings true.)

PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL reminded me of another YA debut that came out this year: ESCAPE THEORY by Margaux Froley.  It's a good year for people who like mysteries set in boarding schools!  This one is a lot funnier and less sad, because Anne has less of a personal connection to the victim.  She only knew Isabelle for a week.  However, her roommate was nice, and even if she wasn't, she deserves justice.  Thus Anne begins investigating and finds out that too many people had a motive.  There's a tangled web of blackmail, espionage, stalking, and teenaged hurt feelings.

There are two love interests: Anthony, Isabelle's hot-tempered brother and Brent, the school's king bee.  I liked both boys and that the romantic storyline didn't overwhelm the mystery.  It's more a setup for romantic tension to last throughout the Anne Dowling mystery series.  The second, WICKED LITTLE SECRETS, comes out March 4, 2014 and I'm looking forward to it.

Mystery series live and die on the strength of their detective.  Anne just might be my favorite girl sleuth since Jasmine Callahan of Michele Jaffe's Bad Kitty books.  (Trust me, that's a massive compliment.)  Her confidence is refreshing and her humor is spot on, which makes her narration a delight to read.  At the same time, she has a tendency to rely too much on talking her way out of trouble and thus doesn't plan enough to keep from getting into trouble in the first place.

PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL is the perfect summer read for mystery fans.  It certainly won't make anyone unhappy that they aren't in school.  I'm happy that there are more books coming because Anne is a great protagonist.

July 29, 2013

Review: Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures By Emma Straub
Available now from Riverhead in hardcover and paperback (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I love stories of Old Hollywood.  I get unbearably excited whenever Anne Helen Petersen posts a new entry in her column Scandals of Classic Hollywood.  (And I can't wait to read her book when it comes out from Plume.)  Basically, when I was offered a chance to review the paperback release of LAURA LAMONT'S LIFE IN PICTURES I jumped on it because I had been wanting to read the book.

At first I struggled to immerse myself in Emma Straub's debut.  The title, which I enjoyed for its lyricism, I found quite apt as Elsa Emerson's life seemed to me a series of pictures.  There was a stillness and a remove to the vignettes of her youth.  Strangely, when I really became absorbed Laura Lamont's days as the biggest movie star were gone and she was a struggling mother of three almost grown children.

LAURA LAMONT'S LIFE IN PICTURES spans several decades, taking its heroine from her childhood in Wisconsin to her twilight years as a grand dame of the stage.  In that time she changes her name, marries, dyes her hair, has children, and reconciles her childhood dreams with the reality of being a star - and worse, an adult.  As I said in the previous paragraph, this book took a long time to really work for me.  I found it interesting, but dry.  Then it changed in one sentence, when Laura ignores something happening in front of her face because she doesn't trust her own instincts.  She knows she has terrible instincts and feels she's better off ignoring something screamingly obvious because she can't possibly be right.  It was a moment that summed up Laura perfectly.

Those looking for a really juicy, scandalous Old Hollywood read should probably look elsewhere.  Laura never quite escapes the conservative nature of her youth.  She does not live a totally pure life - no one does - but she is no hedonist.  She lives an interesting life, but perhaps not the most interesting even in the story.  My favorite was Ginger, a thinly veiled version of Lucille Ball and Laura's best friend.  Who can resist the allure of the first female studio head?  (Cinema and television fans will note fictional versions of many early stars.)

I think Straub is a talented writer and I'm looking forward to what she writes next.  I'd be wildly enthusiastic about LAURA LAMONT'S LIFE IN PICTURES if I enjoyed the first half as much as the second half.  As is, I'd recommend this debut to readers really intrigued by character, who want to spend a book getting a handle on a woman struggling to define herself.

July 26, 2013

Review: Siege and Storm

Siege and Storm Book Two of the Grisha Trilogy
By Leigh Bardugo
Available now from Henry Holt BFYR (Macmillan)
Review copy
Read my review of Shadow and Bone

Leigh Bardugo's debut SHADOW AND BONE made a big splash.  The sequel, SIEGE AND STORM, had a lot to live up to.  And it did.  In my opinion, SIEGE AND STORM is even better than its predecessor.

Alina and Mal escaped Ravka.  It came at a cost, however.  And now, if Alina uses her power, they might be found.  But not using her power is making her sick.  Unfortunately, the two cannot hide forever.  Alina and  Mal must use all their wit and skill if they want to survive and stay together.

The new additions to SIEGE AND STORM were wonderful.  Sturmhond is my favorite type of character - changeable, enigmatic, and too clever by half.  The twins are bloodthirsty delights.  But I love even more that all the old characters are back, although I hate when bad things happen to them.  Bardugo has the trick of making me care for characters who don't even show up that often.  I also liked that Alina's past in cartography is remembered and important.

Those who are fans of the Darkling will find plenty of scenes to read and re-read.  I prefer Mal (and Sturmhond, obvs), and there's definitely lots of drama and romance on that front.  Although Alina and Mal grew up together, she's perceived as more high class now.  It causes difficulties for them, as does Alina's rise in power - and her development of a lust for power.

The only thing I'm unhappy about is that I don't have the final book of the trilogy right now.  I cannot wait to find out how it all ends.  I'll just keep my fingers crossed for my favorites until next year and hope that Bardugo doesn't torture her loyal readers too much.

July 25, 2013

Review: Wonder Light

Wonder Light First in the Unicorns of the Mist series
By R.R. Russell
Available now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Review copy

WONDER LIGHT caught my attention from the opening chapters.  Twig is going to Lonehorn Island because it has a ranch for delinquent girls.  She's not happy about it, but at the same time doesn't want to stay with her stepmother.  But it's quickly clear that Twig isn't an entirely reliable narrator.

R.R. Russell does a wonderful job of combining Twig's family drama with a tale about unicorns.  Twig begins the book feeling unwanted, unloved, and unworthy.  But after she takes responsibility for Wild Light, an orphaned baby unicorn, she begins to find her footing.  As a bonus, these aren't treacly, fluffy unicorns.  They're wild animals, and when they go bad they hunger for flesh.  Fans of this series are going to grow up to read Diana Peterfreund's RAMPANT.

I wish there had been a bit more development of the other girls on the island.  But since this is the beginning of a series, there's time for that.  And really, Twig's characterization and growth is given quite a bit of depth.  Don't worry that this is too girlish; there is a boy on the island, known initially as the "wild boy."  He's a good companion to Twig, and I liked seeing their friendship and mutual respect grow.

There's enough depth to the plot and protagonist of WONDER LIGHT that older readers might find themselves pleasantly surprised.  But it's definitely a great choice for the elementary or middle school kid who likes fantasy and being a little creeped out.  Pick it up if you're hooked by the words "killer unicorns."

The ebook is on sale through August 4 for $1.99.

July 24, 2013

Review: Raven Flight

Raven Flight Second in the Shadowfell trilogy
By Juliet Marillier
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Juliet Marillier's fantasy novels have long had a crossover audience.  Unlike some adult authors, she seemed like a perfect fit to write YA.  SHADOWFELL, the first novel, was mostly well received and beautifully written.  Common complaints were that it was a bit slow, not much happened, and somewhat generic.

Much the same could be said about the recently released RAVEN FLIGHT.  Marillier's writing is wonderful. She lays out the setting and the action beautifully.  But while I would defend SHADOWFELL from accusations of being slow - I enjoyed Neryn's flight across the country - I wouldn't do the same for RAVEN FLIGHT.  Neryn has learned she has powerful magic and needs to be trained.  Thus, RAVEN FLIGHT covers her finding teachers and getting training.  There are some moments of peril, and the Gathering is a riveting bit of horror, but there's a lot of introspection and there are those who don't have the patience for it.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I wish I hadn't read it during a drive.

Now there's the problem of being generic.  Marillier is a terrific traditional fantasy author.  But the Shadowfell trilogy is truly traditional fantasy.  It doesn't bow down to the subversive trend.  It's technically and artistically well done, but there's not a lot of flair.  It's a quiet book, on that differentiates itself through character.  Reading it is slightly nostalgic, like rediscovering a fantasy novel from my childhood.

The romance between Flint and Neryn continues to be a highlight - it is all slow smolder.  They want each other, but their other duties come first.  And consummating their relationship could have long-term unfortunate consequences.  Thus, Flint is off proving his loyalty and the two barely interact.  The biggest relationship in RAVEN FLIGHT is the growing relationship between waifish-but-determined Neryn and Tali, the fiercest warrior in Shadowfell.  Tali is steadfast, yet impulsive, and she's much more willing to kill than Neryn.  It's a good counterpoint, because Neryn struggles with how she'll contribute to the war effort.  Her powers could be devastating, but she has no desire to devastate.

Fans of traditional fantasy looking for a work with a female friendship front and center will enjoy RAVEN FLIGHT.  In fact, most fans of traditional fantasy will enjoy RAVEN FLIGHT.  It's a good book with a female protagonist who relies on communication, empathy, and her own sense of purpose rather than physical or mental strength.  Neryn reminds me strongly of Aang, from Avatar: The Last Airbender, albeit more mature.  This series would definitely appeal to fans of that show.

July 23, 2013

Review: Extremities

Extremeties Tales of Death, Murder, and Revenge
By David Lubar
Illustrated by Jim Kay
Available now from Tor Teen (Macmillan)
Review copy

David Lubar is known for his humorous books for young readers, which bear little resemblance to this collection of thirteen deliciously dark tales.  Seven of them have been published previously, but six are all new.

I have to give major props to Jim Kay.  One of his illustrations appears before each story and sets the mood.  Some of them are on par with the nightmare fuel from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series.  The "Whoodoo" illustration is particularly hard to forget.

This is one of the better short story collections I've read.  It's very cohesive - all the stories are about the same length, all are horror - and the quality is consistent.  It's hard to pick a favorite story, but mine might be "Feelings," which went right where I expected and then kept going.  The irony in both "Split Decision" and "Apparent Motive" is delicious, and I particularly like that the former revolves around a bad pun.  "Morph" is less horrific and more hopeful than most of the others, but it's got a nice bit of action.

I can see lots of kids eagerly devouring this collection.  It will likely be recommended more for teens and older readers, but the ones who will enjoy it the most are probably the elementary-school kids who will find it slightly illicit and perfect for creeping friends out at camp.

I do not recommend EXTREMITIES to fans of David Lubar who aren't into horror.  This is not an anthology that subverts the genre in anyway.  But for those who do enjoy horror, it's a great choice.  Just delightfully perverse and nasty.

July 22, 2013

Review: The Shining Girls

The Shining GirlsBy Lauren Beukes
Available now from Mulholland (Little, Brown)
Review copy

South African author Lauren Beukes is well known among genre fans for ZOO CITY, her Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel.  She makes her big six debut with THE SHINING GIRLS, a novel that is more literary but still true to her genre roots.

Harper is a serial killer.  And when the Depression-era vagrant finds the House, he's a serial killer who can time travel, any time between 1931 and 1993.  He's guided to the shining girls, women with potential and ambition.  He meets them as children and kills them as adults, taking and leaving little trinkets from girl to girl.

Kirby Mizrachi is the one who got away, who survived a brutal attack that left her with scars and difficulty making friends.  She's determined to track down the man who tried to kill her and maneuvers herself into a journalism internship so that she can access the homicide archives.  Soon enough she has her boss Dan helping her out.  But the dates just aren't adding up.

THE SHINING GIRLS is fast-paced, with the short chapters and paced scares of any summer thriller.  But it's also clever and involved, using time travel to its full advantage.  There's only one passage that I felt came too early in the novel, but I like how Beukes came back to it multiple times from different perspectives.  THE SHINING GIRLS has many narrators and it's amazing how different their voices sound.  Kirby and Harper are the main two, but almost all of the shining girls get their own chapter or two.  They're mothers and daughters, lesbians and wives, cisgender and transgender, scandalous and pillars of the community.  Beukes develops each one in their short time and makes their loss meaningful.

I did appreciate that THE SHINING GIRLS wasn't overly gory.   There is gore, and violence, and Harper's unpleasant musings.  But Beukes doesn't linger over the violence and make it sexy.   It's short and only described in detail when necessary.  I don't think I could've made it through THE SHINING GIRLS, good as it was, if the attacks were longer and more descriptive.

As it was, I read THE SHINING GIRLS in one sitting.  I was happy I had the day off, because I don't think I could've put it down.  It's a brilliant thriller with time travel.  I was hooked from the first deliciously creepy chapter and then it was off to the races.  THE SHINING GIRLS is everything I could've wanted from a book about a time-traveling serial killer.

July 19, 2013

Review: Dreams and Shadows

Dreams and Shadows By C. Robert Cargill
Available now from Harper Voyager (HarperCollins)
Review copy

When I learned that there was a modern faerie story set in Austin, TX, I was there.  I love faeries and I love my former home.  I certainly enjoyed reading DREAMS AND SHADOWS.  It was much more fast-paced than I expected.  Also, it centered around the Tithe, which is always a good bit of mythology to play with.

While DREAMS AND SHADOWS was an entertaining novel, it could be better written.  Now, it's probably paling in comparison to the other adult fantasy novels I've read recently, all of which were masterful.  C. Robert Cargill's writing isn't bad, but it doesn't invite one to linger.  I don't remember any clever turns of phrase or particularly memorable images.  His prose went in one ear and out the other.

The characters aren't well developed.  Several figures exist just to give pseudo-philosophical speeches.  Now, I don't think we're expected to buy into those speeches entirely.  They tend to be given by untrustworthy or biased characters.  But the main character seems to buy into them, which is kind of lame.  (The main character being Colby.  He and Ewan are given equal billing in the blurb, but it's much more Colby's story.)  Speaking of Ewan, he more often resembles a plot device than a co-protagonist.  He's an object of desire or loathing, but rarely someone whose actions move the plot along.  Knocks, the antagonist, is given zero billing, but I finished the novel knowing a lot more about what made him tick than Ewan.

The first two hundred or so pages are about Colby, Ewan, Knocks, and Mallaidh (a female faerie) as children.  They eventually all meet on a night that sets the course for their future lives.  It is Colby's coming of age story and the other three are caught within it, even though none of the four know it.

Going back to the whole faeries in Austin thing . . . it doesn't quite work.  There's a kitchen sink of fantasy creatures with no explanation of why those creatures are all together or how they happened to end up in Hill Country.  Almost every other chapter contains an excerpt from an ersatz academic text explaining the mythology, but there's just as much left unexplained.  C. Robert Cargill never really puts his own spin on the mythology and just lets the rules crop up when they're plot relevant, often to the detriment of the protagonists.

Perhaps the best tragedy in DREAMS AND SHADOWS is the opening, a nasty tragic vignette about how Ewan came to be raised by the faeries.  Much of the darkness in the latter half of the novel is more miserable than fantastic.  I much preferred the first half to the second.

DREAMS AND SHADOWS isn't a bad novel.  It's an extremely readable one that I expect will satisfy many fantasy fans.  But despite its thick spine, it's a shallow novel.  There's talent there, but Cargill isn't a rock star yet.

July 18, 2013

Review: Sylo

Sylo First in the Sylo series
By D.J. MacHale
Available now from Razorbill (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

It was before I started blogging, so no one here knows that I was a fan of the Pendragon series.  (Albeit one who was perpetually disappointed it wasn't more Arthurian.  Oh, those initial expectations!)  Thus D.J. MacHale's name was enough to make me pick up a dystopian novel.

However, SYLO isn't much of a dystopian.  There's certainly creepy government control, but it happens here and now.  Jimmy Kimmel is still a thing.  It's more of a thriller with possible aliens.  (No one in the book mentions that it could be aliens until the end, but I am betting on aliens.  Because aliens would be awesome, that's why.)  It takes place on Pemberwick Island, an idyllic tourist destination in Maine.  First, people start dying, possibly due to a strange new performance-enhancing drug.  Second, they get cut off from the mainland by a branch of the US Navy known only as SYLO, led by Captain Granger.

Tucker Pierce and his friends Quinn and Tori Sleeper know something funky is going on.  Given that they're a curious bunch of fourteen year olds, they soon have their noses in everything.  They also keep crossing paths with Kent, an older football superstar, and Olivia, a hot tourist trapped with the townies.  It's not exactly the dream team, but Tori in particular is very capable.  I liked the balance MacHale struck between Tucker being a level-headed kid and wanting a bit of glory.

There's nothing particularly complex about SYLO.  But I enjoyed it quite a bit - MacHale knows how to keep the pages turning.  I'll definitely be back for STORM after the game-changing ending, and I'll have my fingers crossed for aliens.  Why aren't there more aliens in YA right now?  I mean, there's THE 5TH WAVE, but aliens are always great for conspiracies, and battles, and strange regulations.  They go perfectly with the dystopian craze.

Don't expect genius, but do expect an absorbing plot and fun characters.  MacHale's middle grade fans should be fine reading this YA effort, although there are a few deaths younger fans might find upsetting.

July 17, 2013

Review: Playing Tyler

Playing Tyler By T.L. Costa
Available now from Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Review copy

I love the bottom half of the PLAYING TYLER cover.  The red poppies against the white are dramatic and different, especially in person.  But the silhouette of the helicopter feels awkwardly angled and out of balance to me.  The way I feel about the cover is similar to how I feel about the book.  There are parts I really like, and parts I really don't.

PLAYING TYLER alternates between two points of view.  Tyler MacCandless is a talented gamer, but he's failing school.  He doesn't want to take his ADHD medicine, his mom is never home, and his brother is in rehab.  All he wants to do is fly, and this new simulator he's testing could be his ticket into flight school.  Ani Bagdorian is also a gamer, but she's an even better programmer.  It's gotten her into Yale years early, although she didn't get a full ride.  She's paying for the rest with a job creating a simulation.

Despite both being narrators, Tyler is definitely the protagonist.  The major events of the plot happen to him, and he undergoes a change in character.  But I did like that Ani's point of view was given.  Plus, her passages are a nice break from Tyler's run-on, rapid thoughts.  The chapters are also short, which keeps the pages moving.  All in all, PLAYING TYLER was a quick, easy read.

Probably the biggest flaw is that it takes more than a third, closer to half, of the novel to reach the good stuff.  It doesn't take anything more than reading the blurb to know that Tyler is going to turn out to be piloting drones for real.  But it takes forever for the book to reach that foregone plot point.  It also glosses over the nuanced moral issues of drones by throwing drug running into the mix.  Everyone can agree that drug runners suck - especially teen boys with addict brothers.

I did like T.L. Costa's portrayal of the affects of drug addiction on a family.  There are subtle hints that this isn't Brandon's first stint in rehab.  Their mother is wrong to not be there for Tyler, but it's understandable that she's cut ties with Brandon.  Sometimes, even though you love people, you just can't let them in your life while they're being toxic.  Costa's portrayal of romance isn't as good as her portrayal of family.  In fact, I might've found it creepy if not for Ani's passages revealing that she is into Tyler.

PLAYING TYLER is a quick, fun read.  But it's also one I started picking apart in my head almost as soon as I finished.  I think it's a debut that shows promise and look forward to Costa's future novels.  I don't regret reading PLAYING TYLER, but I wouldn't go out of my way to pick it up.

July 16, 2013

Review: Outcast

Outcast By Adrienne Kress
Available now from Diversion Books
Review copy
Read my review of The Friday Society

"Sixth year, I shot an angel in the face."

So ends the first chapter of OUTCAST, the newest book by Adrienne Kress.  I adored THE FRIDAY SOCIETY, thus picking this one up was a no brainer.  And that first chapter hooked me and kept me reading long after I should've gone to sleep if I wanted to be daisy fresh for work the next day.

Once a year, angels take people from Riley Carver's hometown.  The year after they take her best friend, who recently kissed her, she decides to fight back.  She ends up with Gabriel, a naked punk who thinks it's still 1956.  But perhaps two people can fight back better than one.  But perhaps even more than two . . .

I liked quite a bit about OUTCAST.  It has the same zany, madcap energy as THE FRIDAY SOCIETY.  It has an intriguing, slow-building female friendship.  It has a gradual romance filled with tension.  It has a crazy plan that involves shooting angels in the face.  It's slightly absurd and over the top, but it still makes decent points about our reality, including race relations in the Deep South, girl-on-girl crime, and the power of smoke and mirrors.

OUTCAST is held together by the force of Riley's personality.  When the book begins, she's not that confident.  She's not fashionable or socially gifted, her best friend disappeared and left her without a social or love life, and she's stuck in a town she doesn't like that much.  Gabe's arrival - her attraction to him and the possibilities he opens up - help bring Riley out of her shell and discover who she wants to become.

The only thing I don't like about OUTCAST is the ending.  It gutted the romantic in me.  I want another book set in this world to sooth my hurts, but I suspect it's a standalone.  (Please note I would welcome a book about cheerleader Lacy just as much as another about Riley.)  I still think the book was a ton of fun, and I think the ending works with both the characters and the world.  I just wanted everything to end with rainbows and sparkles.

OUTCAST is a good light paranormal for people who like laughing while reading, girls who can handle guns, and guys who fix up their own motorcycles.

July 15, 2013

Review: Twerp

Twerp By Mark Goldblatt
Available now from Random House BFYR
Review copy

TWERP is the story of Julian, a young boy growing up in 1969 New York.  He's twelve, a bit of a follower, and his main claim to fame is being the fastest kid in school.  He's writing a book throughout the school year as punishment for an incident of bullying that remains unspecified until the end.

I loved the structure of TWERP.  Each chapter is a vignette of sixth-grade life and reminded me of the work of Louis Sachar, albeit less absurd.  But the various threads - crushes, races, bullying all work together to paint a detailed portrait of Julian and his personal growth.  I definitely wouldn't have enjoyed the book so much if the incident was detailed earlier in the book.  At the end, it's easy to see that Julian is maturing and unlikely to do such a thing ever again.  At the beginning, it would've made me dislike Julian too much to be interested in his progress.

TWERP deals with bullying in an excellent way.  It shows how easy it is to go along with people who are being mean, to fit in by not making waves.  But this isn't a heavy book.  Most of the other topics explored are much lighter and funnier.  I wouldn't have compared it to Sachar's work if it wasn't hilarious.

I really hope TWERP finds its audience.  It's a great middle grade read - engaging, smart, funny, and poignant.  It's Goldblatt's first novel for younger readers, and I hope he writes more for this audience.  He's got the knack of it.

July 12, 2013

William Shakespeare's Star Wars

William Shakespeare's Star WarsVerily, A New Hope
By Ian Doescher
Illustrations by Nicolas Delort
Available now from Quirk Books (with permission from Lucas Books)
Review copy

Ian Doescher had a great idea.  I can't imagine how many people wish they had it first.  Star Wars, that nerdy yet mainstream cultural touchstone, uses classic structure to tell of space battles.  Why not push it even farther?

(If they can do it with Pulp Fiction . . . )

Ian Doescher does a great job of telling Star Wars in the style of William Shakespeare.  He has the benefit of having seen all the movies to add a bit more weight to lines that foreshadow what's to come.  (He also gets to references fan fervor over whether Han shot first.) He alludes to a large number of Shakespeare's most famous lines, including both my favorite lines from Macbeth and Julius Caesar.  He also matched the characters well to Shakespearean counterparts.  I particularly loved R2-D2 as a Shakespearean fool, tricking the pretentious C-3PO.  The pastiche continues to the very end, when a parody of Prospero's 'Our revels are now ended' (The Tempest) directs readers to extras on the Quirk Books' website.

The greatest weakness is Doescher's reliance on a Chorus.  Yes, it's a theatrical technique, but not one Shakespeare much used.  I can understand Doescher wanting to reference the movie's famous visuals, but it seems like some of the lines could have been folded into the dialogue.  I think Doescher didn't want to stray too far from the original script, although he does give many characters speeches that reveal more of their internal turmoil.  (That being a good theatrical change, of course.)

I wish I could see WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S STAR WARS performed, instead of just reading it.  It is a stage play, after all, and performance always gives the words new life.  There are, fortunately, twenty scratchboard illustrations by the fantastic Nicolas Delort in the book.  They're appropriately old fashioned and manage to reference famous iconography from both sources.  I particularly liked the way he drew Chewbacca.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S STAR WARS is a good pick for Star Wars fans.  It's a novelty, sure, but one that is done with great style.  I can also see English teachers picking it up for use in the classroom.  It's not only a good introduction to iambic pentameter, but also a way to teach the meaning of pastiche.

July 11, 2013

Interview (and Giveaway) with Kimberly Sabatini

Author photo by Dawn Sela Photography - www.dawnsela.com
Today I have an interview with Kimberly Sabatini, the author of TOUCHING THE SURFACE.  I reviewed this debut novel in November and called it "a good choice for speculative fiction fans tired of monsters and dystopias and looking for something a little quieter, if no less dramatic."

Her official bio:

Kimberly Sabatini is a former Special Education Teacher who is now a stay-at-home mom and a part-time dance instructor for three and four year olds. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and three boys.
Kimberly writes Young Adult fiction and is represented by Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary Agency. TOUCHING THE SURFACE is her debut novel. (Simon Pulse – Simon & Schuster, October 30, 2012)



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1. TOUCHING THE SURFACE is set after Elliot dies for the third time. Why did you decide on three lives? 

This question hasn’t been asked very often, but it always makes me chuckle. After reading TTS, a good friend of mine once pulled out a laundry list of books on different types of spiritual theory. She was wondering if I’d read any of her favorites and if they’d played a roll in my decision to have Elliot die for the third time. I then had to fess up and admit that my sole inspiration (or my soul inspiration) for the concept was the baseball song…’cause it’s one, two, three strikes your out! But I am completely willing to take credit for having been well read if you’d like me to pretend. :o)

2. If reincarnation is real, which life to you think you're on? 

I’ve thought about this—even worried about it a little bit. I’m not sure I can pick an exact number, but I think I might have turned a corner. I feel as if I had a bit of an awakening, almost a Delve, when my Dad died. By getting to the place where I wrote a book and put so many honest feeling out into the world, I may have changed my own trajectory just a little bit. Perhaps I’m finally paying attention to the important things. It sure feels good to be making even a little bit of progress.

At the end of the day, I figure I’m a little bit above an earthworm, but not within shouting distance of Gandhi. I guess I’m the spiritual equivalent of a mid-list author. LOL!

3. Many readers are wary of love triangles, but many enjoy them too. There's a reason they're so popular! How did you approach your love triangle to keep it fresh? 

 Ahhhh the love triangle. Well, first of all, I’m not anti-love triangle. If you watch the world around you and the people in it—there is an awful lot of triangulation going on. I believe it’s more about HOW it’s done, not IF it’s done.

Touching the Surface
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When I started writing TTS, Oliver was 4-years-old. In fact, he was still four when I sold it. In my mind * SPOILER ALERT * there isn’t a love triangle, between Elliot, Trevor and Oliver in the traditional romantic sense. But there IS love and all the pushing and pulling that go along with it.

When asked to age Oliver up to a teenager, I loved the idea. I could see the benefits of making that change, and to this day, it has been the most fun I’ve ever had revising. Admittedly, I did put small bits and pieces of doubt and angst into the triangular relations ship between Elliot, Oliver and Trevor, but it was because my characters still needed to go through the process of figuring out what they already knew.

 4. I love novels (and other media) set in the afterlife. Where there any depictions of what comes next that influenced the Obmil in TOUCHING THE SURFACE? 

Reading The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, had a big impact on writing TTS from the point-of-view of a dead girl. Prior to ingesting that book, I’d never thought of approaching the voice of a story from that direction. I was fascinated by what Sebold had done and the creative desire it kicked off in me.

More often than you’d expect, I found my inspiration for the afterlife in rather normal ways. This is Mohonk Mountain House (http://www.mohonk.com/Photos-Videos). It’s a popular place in the Hudson Valley, where I live. After a day of hiking at Mohonk, I couldn’t stop thinking of it as the afterlife location for my novel. I don’t know what it was that flipped the switch, but this is exactly how the Obmil looks in my mind. It’s still on my Bucket List to stay overnight here—while I’m alive. LOL!

Picture taken by Kimberly Sabatini
5. You've been a published author for close to eight months now. How does it feel? What's coming next? 

It is bizarre. Yes, that is the only word I can come up with that takes it all in. Some days I pinch myself because it’s that amazing. Other days I’m knee deep in three-boys-worth of laundry and I’m talking to the underwear saying… “You do know I’m an author, right?” Just so you know—the underwear really doesn’t seem to care.

I’ve come to think of myself like a book-nerdish-super-hero. I walk around doing normal things in normal clothes (which I will later have to wash) but every once in awhile I get to strip off my average self and I get to be the super part of me. I go on school visits, talk to librarians, speak at events and sign books. It’s incredible. I need to get a cape.

But ultimately, most things haven’t changed too much. I still juggle boys and household chores in order to get writing time in. I struggle to find a balance with my marketing and social media. I eat too much ice cream and must spend some of my writing time going for a run or buying new pants. What drives me forward every day, is the same beliefs that I had before I sold TTS.

*I have no choice but to write and be a part of this book community—it is what I must do and where I belong.
*Rejection is a learning experience and quitting is not an option.
*I am open to things happening when they’re supposed to happen, versus when I THINK they should happen.
*I will grow and change for the better with time and practice.
*Sometimes I need to push myself more.
*Sometimes I need to push myself less.
*I cannot compare myself to everyone else and have time to be my best self.
*I WILL make mistakes, it’s what I do after that matters.
*Publishing is a business and I need to be educated on how it works. Writing is everything good in my life and it should be done without the publishing business sitting on my shoulder.
*If ONE person has read something I’ve written and it’s changed them for the better, I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do.
*I will always dream bigger than what everyone thinks I’m capable of, because I love to see their faces when I actually do it.

Right now I’m doing a lot of laundry and revising my second novel, THE OPPOSITE OF GRAVITY. I’m also working on my third, CHASING ADAPTATION.

Thank you so much for having me over to your blog and thank you to all the readers who are supporting the Book Tour. Your support is incredible and I appreciate it so much.


Experience the afterlife in this lyrical, paranormal debut novel that will send your heart soaring.When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she knows she must have messed up, big-time. She doesn’t remember how she landed in the afterlife again, but she knows this is her last chance to get things right.

Elliot just wants to move on, but first she will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed.

As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of her past, Elliot must find a way to earn the forgiveness of the person she’s hurt most, and reveal the truth about herself to the two boys she loves…even if it means losing them both forever.


There are two options for the giveaway: US and International.  There will be one winner of a signed hardcover of TOUCHING THE SURFACE for each.  Must be 13 years or older to enter.  Must choose which giveaway and leave a comment on a blog tour stop to enter.  There are optional ways to get bonus entries.

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