Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Something Real by Heather Demetrios

Something Real
by Heather Demetrios
Read: February 24, 2014
February 4, 2014 by Henry Holt BYR
Source: Library
Category: Contemporary YA, reality tv

Find: Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository

Goodreads Summary: There’s nothing real about reality TV.

Seventeen-year-old Bonnie™ Baker has grown up on TV—she and her twelve siblings are the stars of one-time hit reality show Baker’s Dozen. Since the show’s cancellation and the scandal surrounding it, Bonnie™ has tried to live a normal life, under the radar and out of the spotlight. But it’s about to fall apart…because Baker’s Dozen is going back on the air. Bonnie™’s mom and the show’s producers won’t let her quit and soon the life she has so carefully built for herself, with real friends (and maybe even a real boyfriend), is in danger of being destroyed by the show. Bonnie™ needs to do something drastic if her life is ever going to be her own—even if it means being more exposed than ever before.


5 reasons why this book made me incredibly happy:

1) The reality TV show plot - This is actually a reason that I initially passed this book by. The name branding and made up television company made me nervous at first, but I ended up getting really into what it was like behind the scenes of a reality TV show. Or rather, what it might be like. I was completely fascinated and horrified seeing how 'daily life' was manipulated for the cameras, and how almost everything was fair game for TV use. The whole process made me completely sympathize with Chloe/Bonnie™ and why she wanted to get away from that life so badly. 

2) Siblings - Chloe is one of 13 children, a chaos that I can't even imagine. But she's especially close with her brother Benton, who has his own issues going on in this story. Chloe and Benny's relationship was one of the best parts of this book. I love how supportive they were of each other. I love my sisters, but Benny made me jealous about not having a brother. I was also just as wrapped up in Benny's life as I was Chloe's. My other favorite sibling was Lexie™, who is the exact opposite of Chloe, in that she truly seems to relish the spotlight. But I really liked the glimpses we got of her and how her relationship with Chloe progressed in the book, even though they'll always be bickering sisters. I could relate to that.  

3) Well adjusted and supportive friends - Chloe has two close friends Tessa and Meredith, who are another great addition to this story. They don't know about Chloe's past when this book begins, and though there is some hurt when they realize Chloe isn't who they think, it's handled appropriately and realistically, and not in an over dramatized fashion. I appreciated Chloe's relationship with them, and their present/normal families too. 

4) Romance - If you read this book for nothing else it should be Patrick Sheldon. This dirty haired boy is sure to steal your heart too. I can't say enough great things about him and the romance in this book. He pursues Chloe in a very sweet way and is incredibly supportive of her. Amidst the high drama and stress of Chloe's life he is a breath of fresh air, and a very normal but also incredibly swoony boy. 

5) A plot that is fresh and fun and current - Even with the wacky reality show setup and crazy scheming mom, these characters felt like they were normal high school kids. It was a combination of the supportive friends, sweet romance and sibling relationships, but I felt like I was reading about real people and not tropes or how YA high school books think characters and angst should go. I cannot wait to see what else this author writes!

Love Triangle Factor: NONE
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone - but I have heard the rumor that the author is working on a book for Lexie

Monday, April 28, 2014

EVENT RECAP: Laini Taylor's Dreams of Gods and Monsters signing

A few evenings ago I met Laini Taylor on her Dreams of Gods and Monsters tour stop at the Public Library in Brookline, Mass. It was an amazing event. Not only for the food, fan art and photo booth, but Laini was was one of the best interviews I've seen. She was enthusiastic, engaging and answered every question she was asked thoroughly and thoughtfully. 

Some highlights from the talk:

1) How and when does she write? Morning and night, around her daughter's schedule. Laini prefers silence to music and writes the most efficiently when she goes to a hotel, which she usually does when she's writing the end of a book. She wrote 20,000 words of the end of Dreams in 6 days at a hotel on the Oregon coast. 

2) Book crashing: Publishers want a manuscript for a book a year in advance if possible, but both Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters were late, which is called "crashing the book" in the industry. She finished writing Dreams right before Christmas and then edits came quickly after. After taking a bit of a break, she's starting to write again. 

3) What aspects make up her chimera? The Kirin chimera pretty much equals Laini's magical wish fulfillment. And bat wings. 

4) What is she working on now? A short story for an anthology for Stephanie Perkins called My True Love Gave to Me, filled with romantic holiday stories. Laini's story starts with plague orphans - but she promises it gets romantic. She's also beginning to write an idea she has for a science fiction novel set in historical New York. 

Karou and Brimstone fan art*
5) Daughter of Smoke and Bone was written by cheating on another book. Laini was writing another sci-fi story that wasn't working. She gave herself one day to write whatever she wanted and Karou and Brimstone came alive from that. She sold her story based on the first third of the novel.  

5) Did she plan her series out in advance? Laini says her stories are character driven, and outlines don't work for her. When writing the first book, she knew the ultimate end of Daughter, but not beyond that. She builds her stories by creating situations and putting characters in them, often writing the same scene multiple ways before it's right. She never thought she could write this way because of her struggles with perfectionism but has found that she actually loves it in practice. 

Examples: a) Laini didn't find out who Scarab was until she started writing her. Important elements such as the heart strings came from getting the character talking on the page. b) In Days, Laini knew she was working towards the Thiago/Ziri event, but thought it would happen at the end of act one, until she started writing the book. 

6) Hair: Laini's hair's been pink for 7 years. She says it makes her easily noticed when she wants to be found, but it's impossible to sneak out of a boring conference session. 

7) How did she come up with her characters' names? Naming characters is something Laini loves to do, and she does try to make them fit together. For instance she used Hebrew names for the Seraph In fact, she enjoys exploring the idea "what if everything came out of something else?" Like what if the Hebrew names were originally from the Seraph?  Also, sometimes she chooses a not well known county and looks at village names, because they are names that have stood through time but are also obscure. 

8) Ziri means Moonlight in an obscure language. 

9) Will she write more stories from this world in the future? Not now. She needs to step away from this world and explore other things first, but it is definitely a possibility.

Akiva and Karou's First Meeting fan art*
10) What is her research process? Places Laini wants to visit are also featured locations in her books. She visited Prague with her husband Jim originally for another book which was never written, but she used the material for Daughter. Morocco was chosen as a setting because of her desire to visit. Laini used guide books to write the Moroccan scenes in Daughter. Then she visited before writing Days and ended up using the southern region with its Kazbahs as the setting for the second book.

11) Because she didn't plan her series in advance, in hindsight, does she wish she'd set anything up differently? Little things but nothing major. She doesn't world build ahead of time, and waits until she needs to know something before she starts to write it. In this way she lets the story direct the world building. Laini says she considers writing to be like beach combing. Every day she finds something different, and if she'd written a scene another day, it might have turned out differently. 

12) Are there any characters that jumped out more after she started writing them? Eliza. Laini knew she wanted to experience the event at the end of Days through the eyes of a human and a scientist. But last summer when she was trying to get the story to come together, Eliza ended up taking on a much bigger role. 

13) What is happening with the movie process for Daughter? Laini is an executive producer on the movie and feels lucky to have ultimate screen play approval. Though she hasn't altered anything major in the screenplay, she was able to polish the first edits on the screenplay that was written. From that they hired a director and went to Universal. She doesn't have any casting info, and will likely not be involved in that process. 

A mask raffled off at the program
14) Are there any mythology/elements she wanted to incorporate in this story but couldn't? She wanted more Zuz/Mik in Daughter but it didn't fit. That's why she wrote the novella Night of Cake and Puppets for them later. She would also love to see more of the end of Dream come to life, and explore what happened to the other six Seraph. But she doesn't have any immediate plans to do that. 

15) On the scope of the last book: Laini didn't want the final book to be all about Jael. She wanted it to be a bigger story. Because of that she knew she wasn't going to tie the story with a bow, but could finish the original elements. 

Laini's hair is casting a magical pink glow on my face. 
I think I could rock ram horns.

* Click through for more information on the artists and better images of the artwork. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

The Chapel Wars
by Lindsey Leavitt
Read: March 20 - 22, 2014
Published: May 6, 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Source: ALA, (Thank you, Bloomsbury!)
Category: YA, contemporary, grief, Las Vegas

Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Acclaimed author Lindsey Leavitt brings her trademark heart, humor, and romance to her hometown--Vegas. 

Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?

And then there's Grandpa's letter. Not only is she running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money--fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family's mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and... Dax. No wait, not Dax.

Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there's a wedding chapel to save.

A quick 5 point breakdown of why I had so much fun reading The Chapel Wars. 

1) Wit. One of the reasons I enjoy Lindsay Leavitt's books so much is that they are always so much fun to read, but they also deal with real topics that teens face. Hilarious + heartfelt as Elizabeth Eulberg says on the cover, and I agree with that completely.  Going with the first point, this book has fantastic dialogue in it that had me laughing out loud. Holly's inner monologue is also quite amusing. And clearly anything goes in Vegas, including pink pants, animal consumes, zombies, kissing pirates and Elvis of course. 

2) Grief. Holly's beloved grandfather has just died unexpectedly when this book begins, leaving her a lot of responsibility and sadness. But though this book includes some heavier themes, it doesn't get bogged down in them. I love the tone of Leavitt's books because she tackles serious issues in a relatable way while not completely dragging down the emotions of the book.

3) Love. The Chapel Wars includes a very sweet romance with the enemy chapel owner next door, which thankfully, managed to stay mostly drama and angst free. This was the most swoony of Leavitt's books, which I enjoyed immensely. Dax and Holly are quite amusing together. But they also bonded over grief, and struggled with how to overcome their family's long held feud. I wish that we'd been able to see Dax work through some of his own issues a little more. But overall, this was a delightful romance. 

4) Family and friends. As with all of Leavitt's stories, Holly's family is a big part of her life, and very present throughout this story. I especially loved the relationship Holly had with her brother James. This book doesn't set out to solve Holly's problems with her family, but Holly comes to terms with them throughout the course of this book, which I think is almost more important. Since family isn't something you can just lose (or fix). I especially loved the ways that the come together to support Holly and the wedding chapel. Holly's group of guy friends was also fun to read about. Especially, her close friendship with Sam, and the smaller sub-plot of Sam's own relationship issues. 

5) Place. I have never been to Las Vegas, and most of what I know is the standard tourist info, so I got really into seeing the city from an insider's perspective. The information about the wedding industry was fascinating, as was seeing the Vegas through Holly's eyes. She spends time showing Dax why she loves living there so much, and though I'm not sure the constant dry heat is for me, I hope I can visit some day. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher

The Oversight
by Charlie Fletcher 
Read: April 
Published: May 6, 2014 by Orbit
Source: NetGalley (Thank You, Hatchette)
Category: Adult, Urban Fantasy, London, Fae

Series: The Oversight Trilogy #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Only five still guard the borders between the worlds.
Only five hold back what waits on the other side. 

Once the Oversight, the secret society that policed the lines between the mundane and the magic, counted hundreds of brave souls among its members. Now their numbers can be counted on a single hand. 

When a vagabond brings a screaming girl to the Oversight's London headquarters, it seems their hopes for a new recruit will be fulfilled - but the girl is a trap. 

As the borders between this world and the next begin to break down, murders erupt across the city, the Oversight are torn viciously apart, and their enemies close in for the final blow. 

This gothic fantasy from Charlie Fletcher (the Stoneheart trilogy) spins a tale of witch-hunters, supra-naturalists, mirror-walkers and magicians. Meet the Oversight, and remember: when they fall, so do we all.

In this book there are a handful of good guys, a whole lot of scheming bad guys - both human and other, as well as many unknowns, including Lucy Harker the girl who begins it all. While reading The Oversight, I kept thinking that if Charles Dickens wanted to write about Fae, the book might have been set up something like this. Besides the very Dickensian 1840s London setting, we have quirky characters, many with names to match, a city teeming with people and fog, as well as a countryside with its meadows and mud, though no less perilous to danger and betrayals. 

One fog filled night, the aforementioned Lucy arrives in a a sack, at a house on Wellclose Square in London. In so doing, she sets off a chain of events that affect a large group of people, and thus begins the plot of this story. Lucy is a trap. Though whether she is a conscious or unconscious part of the the trapping, remains to be seen. The home at which Lucy arrives belongs to The Oversight, an organization dedicated to upholding the Law and Lore of supranatural creatures (in simple terms they police the Fae in London). The five members of The Oversight, also called The Hand are the self proclaimed good guys and have dwindled quite a bit in numbers in recent years. Some would like to see that number dwindle even further, hence the trap. 

As this book progresses we are privy to what is happening on both of the story, as well as in between. Watching the bad guys close in and the often unsuspecting good guys try to hold their line, continually increasing the intensity of the storytelling. Thankfully, the members of The Hand are really good at what they do. Although Lucy is the catalyst for the action in this book, she is only one of many players. Seeing all angles of this story, means continuously switching viewpoints and no main character. (Don't worry, there is a helpful cast list at the start of this book.) 

However, this many people to follow, along with all the different plots attached to them, had me feeling at times like I was unable to grasp one thing. Especially in this first series installment, where so much of the larger puzzle was unknown. Though I knew all the pieces had a purpose, following so many at once meant it took me longer to emotionally attach to any one character. This is a requirement for me to fully enjoy a book, and thankfully, by the end of this installment, I was successful with some of them (some I decidedly want to stay away from). But it took a fair bit of the story to get there. There were also parts along the way that were a bit slow and left me itchy for something to happen, or stressed because the narration would change again just when something was about to occur. Even so, the storytelling method was very effective at heightening the tension in this book. It was like ever tightening cogs, that left you holding your breath for when the machine would all of a sudden take off (or explode). 

The end of this book is exciting and solves some questions while leaving several open. We find out on which side most every character stands. Though there are still a very few unknowns.  This is definitely a set up book in many ways, and I think it will be easier to engage in the next installment after learning all these characters. But as a whole I enjoyed this book a lot. It was a bit different from what I've read recently, so it felt fresh. And it's historical setting reminded me of the classics I used to read, so it also felt like a little bit of literary nostalgia. I very much liked that mix. 

Love Triangle Factor: None. Very light romance. One obvious ship, and a few more maybes floating around. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium - definitely sets up the story for more. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Prisoner of Night and Fog
by Anne Blankman
Read: April 2 - 9, 2014
Published: April 22, 2014 by Balzer + Bray
Source: Edelweiss (Thank you, HarperCollins!)
Category: YA, historical fiction, Hitler, Germany 1930s

Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her "uncle" Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she's ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

Prisoner of Night and Fog is exactly why I love historical fiction. The story fascinated me so much that I kept going online to look up the characters and time period while I was reading, because I wanted to learn more. In fact, all but a handful of the characters in this book were real people. But this story also completely frightened me. In many ways, it was scarier than reading a book categorized as horror, because this evil was real. 

Prisoner of Night and Fog takes place in 1931 in Munich, Germany near the beginning of Hitler's conquest. And unlike most book villains, we know he won't be vanquished at the end of this story. It won't be for almost 15 more years before Hitler is defeated in 1945, and already his influence is trickling out in an increasingly wider arc. Germans struggling to survive after their WWI defeat are desperate for relief, and willing to believe whatever he tells them, including that Jews are to blame for their troubles. What's even scarier is how many people are able to ignore the details of his message, in favor of his promises. 

Gretchen Müller's father fought with Adolf Hitler in the last war, only to become a hero when he died saving Hitler's life in an event that took place 8 years ago. Since then Gretchen and her mother and brother have been protected by the National Socialist Party (NAZI). Gretchen trust and admires Hitler, whom she calls "Uncle Dolf," and he dotes equally on her. She sees him as the savior of her family, and believes in his mission. That is until she meets Daniel Cohen, a reporter for an anti-NAZI newspaper and Jew. Daniel tells Gretchen that the events of her father's death may not be what they seem. Meeting Daniel, and then seeing other cracks in the world view she's always held, causes Gretchen to start questioning everything she's been taught to believe. 

Even so, it takes Gretchen sometime to work her way out from Hitler's influence. It was tough to watch her struggle through that, especially watching from a future history perspective and knowing what many of these characters would become. But I felt sympathy for Gretchen from the beginning, and a whole lot of fear as she begins to drop the rose colored view of her life, and face what is really happening in her city. But I also very much came to admire her desire for truth and unwillingness to give up. 

One of the elements in this book that both surprised me, and I very much enjoyed, was exploring the psychology of Hitler. Psychoanalysis was a big movement in the early 1930s and a lot of doctors tried to figure out Hitler's personality. Seeing him and other characters through this light was chilling. Apparently, Hitler surrounded himself at with a lot of people who were similar to him, and one of them was the second villain in this book, who was just as scary, and in some ways more dangerous to Gretchen. 

The romance between Gretchen and Daniel is sweet. Although I wish we'd gotten to know Daniel a little better, I really liked him as a counter to Gretchen. He is self assured and determined to speak the truth. Through his example and the way he challenges her, Gretchen begins to make decisions about her own beliefs.  The resolution/revelation of the mystery that Daniel and Gretchen set out to uncover wasn't a completely surprise, but the process by which Gretchen gets there made for a great story. 

Prisoner of Night and Fog is part of a series, but thankfully, this book ends in a settled place. Even still, it's hard to feel peace for these characters, knowing the events they will have to weather in the future. But I know that neither Gretchen nor Daniel will stop fighting, and I can't wait for more of their story. The end of this book does give a sense of where the next one will begin, and it will continue to incorporate real events and people. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Low - part of a series. Next book picks up at a specific point a bit later, which you will find out when you finish this one. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Double Review: Scarlet and Lady Thief by A.C. Gaughen

by A.C. Gaughen
Read: March 21, 2014
Published: February 14, 2012 by Walker Childrens (Bloomsbury)
Source: Library
Category: YA, Robin Hood retelling

Series: Scarlet trilogy #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance. 

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

I am not a Robin Hood expert. I've seen several movie adaptations, and I've read Ivanhoe, but I will admit that until I read this book it was the animated movie that stuck most firmly in my head. Before I started Scarlet, I often thought of Robin in fox form, and the other character as woodland creatures. That changed as soon as I met Gaughen's adaptation. I read Scarlet and Lady Thief back to back. While I enjoyed Scarlet. I LOVED Lady Thief, but this is a solid series that I'm so glad I finally started!

Although I honestly don't remember the character of Will Scarlet from previous retellings, I enjoyed the idea of one of Rob's men being a cross dressing girl. Along with that, it was nice that the whole point of the plot wasn't a big "she's a girl!" reveal. Rob knows that Scarlet is a she from the beginning, though not everyone else does, and it was amusing to see how that affected her interactions with some characters. What Rob doesn't know, however, is where Scarlet came from, and that certainly causes conflict in this book. I liked the unfolding of Scarlet's story, and how she's fit herself into Rob's group. 

The larger plot was interesting, but it was also a lot of the standard Robin Hood fair: stealing from the rich, giving to the poor, outmaneuvering and then getting thwarted by the Sheriff and Guy Gisbourne. But I really liked Scarlet within this setting, and how she changed the dynamic of the characters. Especially her blend of strength and vulnerability.  Her struggles with identity, guilt and how to be a girl within her time period without loosing her will drew me to her narrative. 

I wasn't a great fan of Scarlet's rough speech, though it did serve a purpose in this story. But my least favorite part of Scarlet was the 'love triangle,' though I will admit that it was more irritating than it was threatening. I liked to think of it as Rob and Scarlet circling each other, while John hovered around like a fly distracting everyone. I thought it had some purpose at first - especially showing Scarlet's naiveté about relationships and Rob's insecurities. But the fly swatting went on too long for my tastes. Thankfully, it did end by the end of this book, and it was very worth it to get to book two. 

Love Triangle Factor:  Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: Low

Lady Thief
by A.C. Gaughen
Read: March 23 - 24, 2014
Published: February 11, 2014 by Walker Childrens (Bloomsbury)
Source: Purchase
Category: YA, Robin Hood retelling

Series: Scarlet trilogy #2
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Scarlet’s true identity has been revealed, but her future is uncertain. Her forced marriage to Lord Gisbourne threatens Robin and Scarlet’s love, and as the royal court descends upon Nottingham for the appointment of a new Sheriff, the people of Nottingham hope that Prince John will appoint their beloved Robin Hood. But Prince John has different plans for Nottingham that revolve around a fateful secret from Scarlet’s past even she isn’t yet aware of. Forced to participate at court alongside her ruthless husband, Scarlet must bide her time and act the part of a noblewoman—a worthy sacrifice if it means helping Robin’s cause and a chance at a future with the man she loves. With a fresh line of intrigue and as much passion as ever, the next chapter in Scarlet’s tale will have readers talking once again.

For me, Lady Thief was a stronger book all the way around. It was much more intense as well as darker and harder on its characters. To counter that, the romance between Scarlet and Rob was a shining element, and a very refreshing contrast to everything these two were facing. Also, while the regular Robin Hood elements were present in this story - including an archery contest - so much of this book surprised me. Maybe it's my limitations with the mythology coming out, but I found this installment to be more exciting, and I loved the strong historical elements that came into play. They definitely have me wondering where the story will go next. 

Three reasons Lady Thief stood out to me. 

1) Complex characters. Even the bad guys.  I was shocked to discover that Guy of Gisbourne wasn't the super villain I remembered from the first book. He hasn't suddenly transformed into a different person, but I actually found myself - begrudgingly - understanding and sympathizing with him in moments. But also hating him a whole lot in others. He definitely served to up the tension in this book, especially surrounding Scarlet's desire to be with Rob. In fact, all of the characters became much more complex in this story. They have shifting loyalties, long for power, or safety, and do a whole lot of scheming. But whether good or bad, their decisions make sense, and it made me see this story as something much deeper than just a popular retelling.  

2) A+ Romance. The romance is also incredible in Lady Thief. Rob and Scarlet are devoted to each other, but pulled in different directions because of their obligations. Any moment they are together the temperature in the room increased. But I also loved seeing them work through conflict together. This is one couple where it's easy to see how well matched they are. Their trust and support of each other is just as wonderful to see as their physical interactions. I'm very anxious to see how they navigate the final book after what happens at the end of this one. 

3) An impressive heroine. This story surprised me, both some of the plot elements, and also the things these characters were capable of. Lady Thief is a harder read than Scarlet in many ways. The situations Scarlet and the other characters encounter are not easy. Some parts shocked me and made me want to scream and sob. But I was so impressed by Scarlet through it all. Especially her indomitable will, and her desire to fight for herself. There's a strong message to girls in this book - learn to fight back yourself, because you won't always have someone to rescue you out of your circumstances. I liked seeing Scarlet teach other girls how to find their strength. But through that, Scarlet has also learned that there are people she can trust, and to accept it when it's offered. It's a healthy balance that shows her maturity. My one complaint in all this is that I really wanted Scarlet to fix her speech a little more. I got tired of the was/were switching. But besides that, this was a pretty perfect book for me. 

Love Triangle Factor:  None
Cliffhanger Scale: High - maybe I'm crazy, but this didn't stress me out as much as I feared. Mostly, I'm excited for book 3 to come. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dual Review: The Hollow Kingdom by Claire B. Dunkle
& Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

I was excited to read two stories recently where a forced marriage actually turned into love. Often it seems that when someone tells a heroine "you must be with him," the story becomes a free will vs. destiny love triangle, where she rebells and goes after someone new.  (Clearly I've been reading the wrong books.) Inevitably when these situations arise, I end up preferring the destiny guy, though the girl always chooses the other one. Of course I'm avoiding triangles at all cost these days. But I'm very interested in exploring how a relationship that starts with "you have no choice," could actually work. I had a great time thinking about that question with these two books. 

In The Hollow Kingdom and Stolen Songbird, the heroines are forcibly kidnapped (or almost), and against their wishes, end up married to mythical creatures that they previously knew nothing about. The former to a goblin and the latter to a troll. The Hollow Kingdom takes place in rural 19th century England, Stolen Songbird in a fantasy world that that seems to resemble a 19th century Britain (the characters live on an island and there is talk about the Continent). These stories share similarities in themes, but they are also quite different. I'm going to talk about them separately and together below.  

The Hollow Kingdom
by Claire B. Dunkle
Read: March 31, 2014
Published: October 1, 2003 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Source: NetGalley (Thank you, Little, Brown BYR!)
Category: MG, fantasy, goblins, Beauty and the Beast retelling

Series: The Hollow Kingdom trilogy #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

In nineteenth-century England, a powerful sorcerer and King of the Goblins chooses Kate, the elder of two orphan girls recently arrived at their ancestral home, Hallow Hill, to become his bride and queen

"She had never screamed before, not when she overturned the rowboat and almost drowned, not even when Lightfoot bucked her off and she felt her leg break underneath her with an agonizing crunch. But now she screamed long and loud, with all her breath."

Hallow Hill has a strange and tragic history. For thousands of years, young women have been vanishing from the estate, never to be seen again. Now Kate and Emily have come to live at Hallow Hill. Brought up in a civilized age, they have no idea of the land's dreadful heritage-until, that is, Marak decides to tell them himself.

Intelligent, pleasant, and completely pitiless, Marak is a powerful magician who claims to be a king-and he has very specific plans for the two new girls who have trespassed into his kingdom.

It is a goblin tradition for the king to steal a human bride. According to the current goblin king, Marak, it is also a necessity. When Kate and her sister move to their ancestral home Hallow Hill after the death of their parents, Marak picks Kate to be his wife. She is obviously not pleased with this, and does everything she can to prevent being taken by him. What follows is a Beauty and the Beast-like story, with a slow building romance, and amazing character building. Kate is fiercely determined, loyal to her sister, innocent in many ways, and also not easily duped. I liked her a lot. While reading, I waffled between wanting Kate to outwit Marak and get away from him, and wanting her to give in a little and get to know him. Marak is unapologetic about the fact that he needs Kate, and it leads to a very intriguing and uncomfortable story, which I enjoyed immensely. At least for the first half.

Unfortunately, there’s a point where this book makes a huge emotional and physical leap in these character’s relationship and the story lost me for a while. This is a Middle Grade read, which explains a lot of why the author chose not to highlight certain details, but I still wanted more. I’m all for subtle, but this was so slight that it felt more like a leap without any transition. I desperately needed more for this to work for me. The Hollow Kingdom would have been amazing as a YA or Adult book, if it was able to explore those themes, though I do think it could have managed it a bit more gracefully in this genre. Although I enjoyed seeing these two grow into a true relationship on both sides, missing the crucial transition meant that I wasn’t able to emotionally connect with them as much as I wanted. The book also ended a little too abruptly. However, as a whole this is an excellent story that does not do what is expected, in a wonderful way.

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: None. The Hollow Kingdom is part of a companion series, but this story is complete.

Stolen Songbird
by Danielle L. Jensen
Read: April 6 - 8, 2014
PublishedApril 1, 2014 by Strange Chemistry
Source: Library
Category: YA, fantasy, trolls

Series: The Malediction Trilogy #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

Cécile has just turned 17 and is finally going to join her mother in the city to become an opera singer. She has been brought up on a rural farm with her father and grandmother, a childhood that she’s loved, but she’s also excited for her new life to come, for which she's been preparing for years. That is until she is captured while riding alone. Cécile is taken to the city of Trollus, which exists deep under a mountain, and told that she is to be the wife of Tristan, the Prince and heir to the throne. Against her will, Cécile is bound and wed to Tristan, when all she can think of is escape. When trolls bind to each other in marriage their emotions become shared with each other. Cécile can feel everything Tristan does and he her, which is unwelcome and also very confusing.

Cécile soon learns that nothing is what it seems in Trollus, most especially her husband. As she gets caught up in court politics and tries to figure out what to do about the fact that she's stuck married to someone she doesn't know, Cecile has to figure out who she is and what she's most willing to fight for. Cécile starts off the story just going along with her mother’s plans for her life, but she has to grow up when she’s taken to Trollus and her life is altered wildly beyond her control. That is when Cécile, has to decide what she wants and believes - and where Tristan fits into that. I’m excited to see more of that path for her in book two, especially in light of the revelations she learns about herself in this book. 

Although this is mostly Cécile's book, part of the narrative is told from Tristan's point of view. Tristan is very much a man of secrets and convictions, and he has no idea how to fit his new wife into his long range plans. He doesn't trust easily nor is he very open, which leads to a lot of frustration for Cécile. But it is also very clear that he can't help but care for her. I really liked how the binding of their emotions affected their relationship. It added a layer of complexity and confusion, but also eventually forced them to communicate. Even though Tristan and Cécile are clear about how they feel about each other by the end of the story, it's also clear that Tristan hasn't shared all of his secrets. I'm looking forward to the prospect of watching their relationship deepen in the future, and Tristan opening up more. 

Stolen Songbird is part of a trilogy and it ends on a cliffhanger, which definitely stressed me out after the struggles Tristan and Cécile face in the book. But it is one that I think will be good of Cécile  as she continues to build up her inner strength. I'm also hoping that we get more of Tristan's narrative in the second book. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium/High

Comparing these stories
Stolen Songbird seems more coordinated in how it brings Tristan and Cecile together, where The Hollow Kingdom is decidedly messier. In the first highlighted story, Marak is the one attempting to kidnap Kate, and it makes the story deliciously uncomfortable and complex. Although Marak is described as 'pretty' for a goblin, he also has some strange features that are unsettling for humans. On the other hand, Tristan had nothing to do with Cécile's kidnapping, and he's also one of the most beautiful men Cécile has ever seenTristan doesn’t want the match, and Cécile learns very quickly that the antagonistic front he presents to the world is not his real face. Marak is much more what you see is what you get, and completely unrepentant about taking Kate, though it's clear she unsettles and challenges him in a way that makes her a perfect match. Still, it took me a while to feel settled about Marak and Kate as a couple. However, I didn’t struggle as much with the idea of Cécile and Tristan together, and I mostly just enjoyed the process of watching their relationship slowly evolve. Though the prospect of remaining underground forever was unpleasant in both scenarios.

Where I loved the beginning build up of Marak and Kate's relationship, I was much more satisfied with the emotional transition in Cécile and Tristan’s relationship, from disliking and mistrusting each other to love and commitment. It does pick up swiftly at one point, but Cécile struggled with many of the issues I would have, if I were suddenly married and bound against my will to someone I didn’t know. Those elements of internal struggle of becoming a wife were too subtle in Kate's story. I also read Stolen Songbird at a time where I needed a romance that was a little easier to enjoy, which is one reason why I liked the ways it differed from The Hollow Kingdom, and ended up enjoying it a little better overall. But I can also understand why some people prefer the other. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Blog Tour: A Photographic Tour of Plus One by Elizabeth Fama + Giveaway

Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
Published: April 8, 2014 by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (Macmillan)
Find: AmazonBarnes and Noble | Goodreads
See below for full blog tour schedule 

About the book

Divided by day and night and on the run from authorities, star-crossed young lovers unearth a sinister conspiracy in this compelling romantic thriller.

Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.

Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story.

I'm thrilled to have Elizabeth Fama visiting today to 
talk about the real locations highlighted in her story.

"One of my favorite aspects of Elizabeth Fama's writing is the way she makes her story seem real and possible. This includes the characters' travel thru Chicago and its surrounding areas, visiting national parks and places in around and under the city that actually exist."

The previous thoughts are from my review of Plus One, and I'm excited that I now have a visual guide through the pages of the book. The following post is a great resource as you read, or re-read, which is what I want to do with these images in mind. I'm such a visual person that this post helps me imagine the book even more clearly.

Welcome, Elizabeth!

A Photographic Tour of Plus One 
by Elizabeth Fama

When I wrote Monstrous Beauty, I took research photos of some of the locations, to help inspire me while I was writing. (With Wendy Darling's design help, those photos became a gorgeous post at The Midnight Garden.) Plus One is set in a contemporary, alternate-history version of Chicago that is pretty much identical to my own, which means many of the locations were in my core memory. But I still took some walking tours to inspire myself, and we took a special trip to Maquoketa Caves State Park to record the setting. Note that I was researching this book in the fall and winter, but it takes place in the summer. You'll have to warm these photos up and leaf out the trees in your imagination!

Wooded Island is a tiny urban oasis in Sol's life. She and her grandfather, Poppu, and her brother, Ciel, walk there in the evenings after dinner, and Poppu often plays his ukulele, which would otherwise violate the Quiet Ordinance on the streets. Wooded Island "was a small lagoonlike park with willows along the shores, gnarled live oaks and scrub in the woods, and an improbable, beautifully manicured Japanese garden in the middle of it all." (p. 43)

 This is where Poppu was sitting when he, Sol, and Ciel encountered the Noma for the first time. (p.44)

The Osaka Garden, looking north, toward the Museum of Science and Industry. The garden and the museum are both remnants of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, although the garden was vandalized during WWII and was rebuilt with a donation from the city of Osaka, Japan. (That tall building in the distance is my brother's apartment.)

Pagoda (looking south)

(A lot of the live oaks were destroyed in a freakish high-wind storm (with microbursts) in July of 2003, including a Bur oak that dated to the 1700s. This is one of the survivors.) 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the places Sol camped with Poppu and Ciel when she was little.

The sunken ship Sol viewed with Poppu and Ciel from an inflated raft on one of their many camping trips (although she saw it at night, with flood lights). Photo credit: John McCormick, with permission.

SS Francisco Morazan Closeup. Photo credit: Jeffrey Lee,

Maquoketa Caves State Park (Iowa) is one of my favorite locations in the book, where Sol and D'Arcy trade their views of night and day. Speaking of this section of the book, if you've never seen a murmuration of starlings, watch this video. You won't regret it.

Stairs to Lower Dancehall Cave. "We followed the boardwalk for a short way, and Day Boy turned left at the first opportunity, down a stairway....I could make out the shadows of stone walls that rose around us. The air was all earth-smell: damp rock, dust, decaying leaves. We went down and down--it must have been a few dozen stairs and several landings--into what felt like a cool grotto." (p. 198)

Lower Dancehall Cave

"The rock looked like an exuberant version of gray limestone--jagged, pockmarked, riddled with holes." 

Looking back at entrance to Lower Dancehall Cave, from inside.

Using the flash inside the cave allows me to show you the spot where D'Arcy and Sol have to duck to pass through. Gene (pictured) is 5' 10"-ish. "When I reached him, he stood still and shone the light in every direction, carefully, allowing me to survey the cave. It was stark, eerie, and utterly lovely." (p. 199)

The exit from Lower Dancehall cave. 

If you've read the book you know how important this sign is! It's a bit like the "as you wiiiish" moment from The Princess Bride.

"We walked back the way we'd come: through the woods, the long saber of our flashlight slicing through the trees; down the dirt path; passing single file between two giant boulders with stairs cut into them." (p. 210)

Ice Cave: the cave that D'Arcy chooses for them to spend the night.

Yep, the real thing. Balanced Rock. All seventeen tons of it.

"For lunch we found a pretty spot to sit down, in a bed of dry leaves beneath the trees near the creek." (p. 224)

The natural bridge."The bridge was geologically ancient, an impassive observer, surrounded by life that was fleeting in comparison: tress that would only survive hundreds of years, tourists who would live decades, insects that would thrive only for weeks." (p. 227)

The stargazing meadow. (*Sigh.*)

And now back to Chicago: 

The 59th Street Tunnel from the Jackson Park parking lot to the lake:

This is the viaduct that leads to the breakwater where, um--how to say this without spoilers?--one group of kidnappers pulls up their yacht for negotiations.

And here is the breakwater itself, with the vastness of Lake Michigan beyond.

Revetment at the south end of 57th Street Beach

"D'Arcy rowed toward the Fifty-seventh Street Beach. Soon we pulled in at the southern tip, where the beach ended and the riprap was piled high--giant boulders of limestone with an overgrowth of volunteer trees and bushes that created a mini urban wilderness." Of course the story takes place in September, so imagine this spot warm and pretty. (p.336)

Harper Memorial Library is where Sol searches for Gigi.

"Harper Memorial Library was a Gothic-inspired building with leaded glass windows, a limestone façade, and crenellations at the top like a small castle. As theme-park as that description sounded, it had a stolid scholarliness and aged patina that gave it genuine gravitas." (p. 339) Photo credit: Tom Rossiter,

"It was the most beautiful room I had ever seen, like something out of an old British movie. There were two massive chandeliers at each end of the cavernous space..." (p. 350). (I find this section poignant in the book, because we get a glimpse of the hidden longing Sol has for an intellectual life.) Photo credit: Avi Schwab, Web Project Manager, University of Chicago.

The Steam Tunnels at the University of Chicago are featured prominently in Plus One. Not many Chicagoans have been inside...just facilities workers and delinquent high school and college students.

In many sections of the tunnels you have to crouch to travel. (That's me in a hard hat.)
Photo credit: Gene Fama Cochrane.

Looking up through an entry/exit grate toward daylight from the steam tunnels. 

And finally, in this photo you can see the bench in Harper Quadrangle that Sol sits on to key-in the most important text of her life.


About the author

ELIZABETH FAMA is the YA author most recently of Plus One, an alternate-history thriller set in contemporary Chicago. Her other books include Monstrous Beauty, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection and an Odyssey honor winner, and Overboard, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a society of Midland Authors honor book, and a nominee for five state awards. A graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in biology and an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in economics, she lives with (and cannot live without) her boisterous, creative family in Chicago.

More information: Website | Twitter | Tumblr

Tour Schedule

March 31st  -  Fiction Fare
April 1st       - The Starry Eyed Revue
April 2nd      - Ivy Book Bindings
April 3rd       - Carina's Books
April 4th       - Presenting Lenore
April 5th       - Shae Has Left the Room
April 6th       - The Best Books Ever
April 7th       - Teen Librarian Toolbox
April 8th       - Love is Not a Triangle  (Release Day)
April 9th      -  The Bevy Bibliotheque



A Hardback copy of PLUS ONE

Thank you Macmillan for this generous giveaway!

Giveaway is for US/Canada residents only (Sorry, other international readers!)
You must be at least 13 years old to enter
See my policies HERE

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