Saturday, January 31, 2009

Writer's Challenge 2009

One month down, eleven to go!  Go here for the full scoop.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth The Forest of Hands and Teeth 
by Carrie Ryan

March 10th 2009 by Delacorte Press
0385736819   (isbn13: 9780385736817)

I was one of the first people to read Twilight, before the whole Bella/Edward craze took over. One of the reviews that I read months later said that Twilight signaled the new "in" subject in YA - vampires. They were the "new zombies;" and zombies were "out."

I had never read any books about zombies, for two reasons. First, Robin McKinley has never written a book about them. Second, I am a wimp. A big one. I saw "Poltergeist" when I was 19 and I still have nightmares about it. Forget "Thriller." Undead doesn't do it for me.

Keep that in mind, then, that it's a compliment when I say that I almost couldn't finish The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Her writing is intelligent and sure-handed. Her descriptions are vivid without being verbose. Her zombies jump off the page and try to eat my brains. Oh, wait.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth introduces Mary, a teenager who lives in a dystopian future. The rules set by the Sisterhood are clear - stay inside the gates, away from the undead who run free in the forest. But when tragedy strikes and Mary must join the Sisterhood against her will, she finds herself thinking about what might lie beyond the fence.

I really want to be able to tell you more, but then I would have to feed you to the undead. Instead, watch this trailer:

Truly, I am lucky beyond lucky to even have gotten my hands on the ARC of this book. The fantastic Sharon at "Sharon Loves Books and Cats" chose me as the default winner of her holiday giveaway. The day I received the ARC in the mail, I put the kids to bed and then stayed up late to read the whole gosh darn book. And then I stayed up late because I couldn't sleep. I'm not sure how to eruditely say, "I was creeped out."

But Forest of Hands and Teeth was not a slasher brain candy kind of story. Ryan's characterization of Mary shows the depth of a perceptive, complex teenager. Her relationships are not easily defined, and her penchant for questioning authority puts her in frightening situations.

The only hesitation I have in totally recommending this book is its ambiguity concerning religion and spirituality. This is an occupational hazard and if I ever wrote a book Ryan would probably say the same thing about my grasp of law. The Sisterhood which governs the village seems to take its reference from the sisterhood of Catholic nuns; the Bible Mary is forced to read seems to be the Christian Bible. Because the purpose and power of the Sisterhood are so roundly questioned in the first part of the book, I expected religion and spirituality to be a theme throughout. Mary expresses her disdain for the religion in which she's been brought up, but there's no further development. Since my field is religion, I would have liked to have seen this thread continue throughout the story.

Then again, maybe Ryan will explore it more in the second installment of Mary's story, which will be released in 2010. And maybe by then I'll have desensitized enough that I can enjoy Ryan's excellent writing without resenting the fact that she writes well enough to bring zombies into my bedroom.

So. I highly rate this book, despite the fact that I do not consider zombie stories pleasant reading. Whoever said zombies were "out" is in for a shock when Forest of Hands and Teeth is released March 10. I'll leave it up to you whether it's a pleasant shock or not, but thanks to Carrie Ryan, zombies are definitely back "in."

Other reviewers:  Carrie at Carrie's YA Bookshelf

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hit Me

I entered a contest I found through random Googling, the NY Midnight Madness Short Story Challenge 2009.   One week, 2500 words. 

When I realized that I picked "comedy" I pretty much gave up and just wrote it the afternoon of the last day.  I don't do comedy. 

Another reason I'm posting this today:it coincides with Rabbit Hole Day, which is tomorrow.   And trust me, this is definitely upside down and inside out for me.

ANYWAY.  My heat was genre comedy, subject - wine cellar.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

"The White House Wine Cellar"

From the author of The Night Tourist

I emailed Katherine Marsh with the review I posted last night, and received the following reply:

Dear Aerin--
Thanks for sharing this wonderful review--I'm so delighted you liked the book! Hope you find as much--or more--to like in the sequel, The Twilight Prisoner, which comes out April 7th.
Best wishes,

So, hurry, hurry, read The Night Tourist so we can all grab The Twilight Prisoner together in April!!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh

Night Tourist, The The Night Tourist
by Katherine Marsh

September 2nd 2008 (first published 2007) by Hyperion
256 pages

isbn 1423106903   (isbn13: 9781423106906)

rating: 5 of 5 stars

from Amazon:

Jack Perdu, a ninth grade classics prodigy, lives his with father on the Yale University campus. Smart and introverted, Jack spends most of his time alone, his nose buried in a book. But one winter evening, a near-fatal accident changes Jack's life forever. His father sends him to see a mysterious doctor in New York City--a place Jack hasn't visited since his mother died there eight years ago. In Grand Central Terminal, he meets Euri, a girl who offers to show him the train station's hidden places--the ones only true urban explorers really know about. Eight flights below the train station, however, Jack discovers more than just hidden tracks and mysterious staircases. He has stumbled upon New York's ghostly underworld. This, Jack believes, is his chance to see his mother again. But as secrets about Euri's past are revealed, so are the true reasons for Jack's visit to the underworld. Masterfully told, The Night Tourist weaves Classical mythology together with New York's secret history and modern-day landscape to create a magical adventure, full of unexpected twists and page-turning action.

There are so many reasons to rate books highly. And it's difficult to confine myself to a rating system that is limited by whole steps (one star, two stars, but not three and a half, for example.) So while Moby Dick gets five stars not only because I enjoy it but for its literary qualities, The Night Tourist merits five stars because it's one I can't wait to read to my children someday (when they're out of toddlerhood. And can sit still. So, what, when they're 20? Wait, am I off topic?)

I put Night Tourist on my wishlist after reading about it on Jen Robinson's Book Page. I scored an ARC on bookmooch, and took it to bed with me that night.

This is not a nighttime book. This book is fun. The action is described with such wonderful language that you can feel the chill of the New York winter, catch your breath at the dizzying heights of the tall buildings, delight in the friendship Jack develops with Euri as though you'd just made your own friend.

In addition to being fun, Night Tourist is well written. It's one of the smoothest books I've read in a while. The pace and the storyline, the characterization and the dialogue, the layers which peel away little by little to reveal the mystery of Jack's mother all flow perfectly - not so fast that the reader gets lost, but neither too slow that the reader gets bored. I found myself in the middle of the mystery without even realizing how I'd gotten there, but completely connected with Jack as he moves through the story.

Finally, the ending is tidy but not unbelievably so. It's nicely satisfying.

The book is recommended for teenagers, but I think that's because of the topic of death and because there are so many references to Greek mythology. Those references might be lost on younger students who haven't studied that subject. The story itself is ideal for imaginative older elementary and certainly for middle grades - and beyond. I enjoyed it immensely, and hope my kids will, too.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Inkheart (Inkheart Trilogy, #1) Inkheart  
by Cornelia Funke

June 1st 2005 (first published 2003) by Scholastic Paperbacks
534 pages
0439709105   (isbn13: 9780439709101) 

rating: 3 of 5 stars

The premise of Inkheart is that a Meggie, a precocious preteen, discovers that her father Mortimer (Mo) has the ability to call into reality the characters he reads aloud from books.  And, unfortunately, he allowed a pretty nasty chap to escape, a nasty chap who will stop at nothing to force Mo to read other nasty characters into the world.  When Mo is kidnapped, Meggie and her great-aunt Elinor set out along the Italian countryside to find him.

The truth is, I wasn't super keen on Inkheart.  The plot is decent but predictable.  It was well written but not Rowling-well-written.  And unlike, for example, Harry Potter, which read better than it translated to screen, I think Inkheart, for all its book-loving characters and plot, was written to be seen.

Let's be honest.  I bought this book because it was on a display for the just-released movie of the same title starring Brendan Fraser.

Brendan Fraser. 

Like I don't spend enough on books already without publishers using him to lure me into buying more. 

After I read the book, I went in search of information about the movie.  Its website is gorgeous.  The cast is outstanding:  Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent (is there anything that man can't do?).  My secret confession is that I think Andy Sirkis as Capricorn looks particularly fab.

I know, I'm digressing.  I think the point is that the book itself was not enough to make me care about reading the next in the Inkworld series.  But throw in Brendan Frasier, and I just might buy the rest of the trilogy.

Ironside by Holly Black

Ironside: A Modern Faery's Tale (Book 3) Ironside: A Modern Faery's Tale
by Holly Black

published 2007 by Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
336 pages
184738062X   (isbn13: 9781847380623)

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I skipped over the second book in the Modern Tale of Faerie series by Holly Black.  That book, Valiant, veers away from the Kaye-Roiben story, which is what really interested me.  I grabbed Ironside, book 3 in the series, almost as an afterthought at last week’s trip to Borders.

After a brief recap of the story in the form of a prologue, Ironside begins on the eve of Roiben’s coronation as King of the Unseelie Court.  Kaye is unwelcome by his subjects, since she alone has the power to control him (using his real name), and she alone is his weakness.  Banished on a quest because of her declaration of love for him, Kaye struggles to find the balance between the life she knew as a human and the life she’s learning in the realm of Faerie.

I love the style of this book.  It’s fresh and honest without falling into clichés of angst or nonchalance.  Black knows how to balance sweeping battle scenes with details like making a bed on the floor. Descriptions are vivid without being verbose; dialogue is snappy and natural.  Everything seems to be in place, despite the flip-flopping that Kaye does between Faerie and Ironside. 

While the movement between settings works, the movement between characters is more problematic.  My main difficulty with Ironside is that I’m still not certain who the protagonist is.  There’s almost equal time given to Kaye and Corny, with side trips into Roiben’s perpective.  In terms of who develops and changes, it’s Corny.  In terms of a hero, it’s Kaye – kind of.  Her characterization in this book is weakest, and if you didn’t know Kaye from Tithe, I doubt you’d like her in Ironside, because she seems shallow and uninteresting.  The really most sympathetic, interesting, quirky, imperfect and lovable character is Cornelius.  Although Kaye dominates several key scenes, it’s Cornelius whom you feel is leading you through the story.

The other disappointing part of Ironside, I think, is the loss of the romantic intensity between Kaye and Roiben.  There is romantic intensity between another couple, half of which is Corny, and it’s darling.  Overall, though, the best scenes are the raw ones with Ellen, Kaye’s human mother.  These are perfectly conceived, perfectly written gems.

Despite the fact that her style is very different from what I usually read, I really enjoy Holly Black.   Her website is friendly and welcoming, and I encourage you to check it out.

Other Reviewers: The Story Siren

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Critique Group?

I need a mini critique group for the short story submission I've written for the Short Story Challenge.  I'm not quite done with the story yet, but I should have it in email by tomorrow morning, and I need it back by Saturday morning for submission Saturday evening.

Anyone game? Thanks!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Clarity of Night results

Blog buddy and Writer's Challenge participant Pete Dudley's entry "Sliding" won First Place!  Congratulations on a well-deserved win, PJD!

I actually received an honorable mention in the Clarity of Night Ascension contest.  This was a really difficult prompt for me, so I was proud of myself that I entered at all.  Many thanks to Tris for feedback, and to Nicholas for all kinds of help and basketball info.

Jason's introduced a helpful feature to the results.  He uses a point-based system for rating entries, with the highest possible score a 45.  Now, he's identifying the entries that rank 40 or above.  Since I've always used this as a writing exercise, I hugely appreciate this sort of feedback.


Now let's do the subjective part.

What did you think of the entries?  Which were your favorites?  Let's discuss...which reminds me...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Updated Crazyness

Sundance truly exceeded my expectations.  I had wonderful adventures, and thank you all for your kind wishes.

On my plate this week:
  1. The Inauguration (no, I'm not attending in person)
  2. Registering the kidlings for school
  3. Friday deadline for the Short Story Challenge 2009 
      • as well as, you know, actual job-work, housework, and solving global poverty
Results for the Clarity of Night "Ascension" contest will be posted tomorrow!!

I haven't forgotten that I need to do a bit to set up The Writer's Challenge.  Please grant me your patience a little while longer, and I will have all done soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Out of Town

I will be out of town from Jan 15 through the 19th.
Go read the entries over at Clarity of Night!

We'll discuss your thoughts about the contest when I get back.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Urban Fantasy Land Awards

Urban Fantasy Land just announced that voting is open for the 2008 Urban Fantasy Awards.  The definition posted on the U.F. website's welcome page is:

"Urban fantasy looks like our modern world, except for the creatures. You might walk into a department store and find vampires, werewolves, faeries, demons, zombies, ghosts and ghouls, where you would find other shoppers or clerks. Or you might be the only one who sees them. Sometimes the creatures are openly part of the world, and sometimes they are hidden. There’s not always a romantic story, but when there is, it doesn’t end happily. [Happily Ever Afters are considered Paranormal Romance.]"

There is a YA category for the 2008 awards, so I was able to cast a vote based on informed opinion. Thanks to Charlotte for the heads up!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Prémio Dardos

Vasilly, who lives in Long Beach where there's a great aquarium and an only so-so airport (I'm an ex-Orange County girl), awarded me the Prémio Dardos ("Best Blog Dart Thinker") Award!  I'm very honored, especially because Vasilly is so uber-fantastic herself.  (Also, her list of reading challenges makes mine look tiny.)

The Prémio Award acknowledges the values that every blogger shows in their effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values every day. 

The rules to follow are:

1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person that has granted the award and his or her blog link.

2) Pass the award to other 15 blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment. Remember to contact each of them to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

So I just revealed my Google Reader in Weekly Geeks, but here is an attempt to recognize the best in transmitting cultural, ethical, literary and personal values in their blog.  Also, I'm limiting myself to 10 darts, which is probably snarky of me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Weekly Geeks - my First!

In the spirit of the amazing community building that Dewey was so good at, tell us about your favorite blogs, the ones you have bookmarked or subscribe to in your Google Reader, that you visit on a regular basis. Tell us what it is about these blogs that you love, that inspire or educate you or make you laugh. Be sure to link to them so we can find them too.

Well, this is my very first Weekly Geeks. Yay, me! We'll see if I can keep it up.

As for today's topic, I felt bad just choosing a few of my favorite blogs. I use Google Reader and subscribe to a bajillion of 'em. And because I use Google Reader, I can judge pretty quickly whether I'm interested in specific posts. (Since, let's face it, even the ever-brilliant Ello sometimes puts up posts that aren't my cup of tea.)

I exported my GR list, which is below, but in no particular order. I do want to give a shout out to One Blue Marble, which I haven't technically put on the reader yet.

For the purposes of honoring Dewey, I've put in bold what I think are the best book blogs. Enjoy!


paws and reflect...

Presenting Lenore

Sarah Specht

The Surly Writer

Write for a Reader

Zoe's Book Reviews


A Novel Challenge

At Home With Books


Bookroomreviews's Weblog


Charlotte's Library

Jen Robinson's Book Page

Sharon Loves Books and Cats.

Animation Backgrounds

a little sweet, a little sour


BookEnds, LLC — A Literary Agency

Carrie's Procrastinatory Outlet

Conduit - Adventures in Novel Writing

Corner Kick

Editorial Ass

Mom and More

Paperback Writer

Pub Rants

Scott Sherman Online

Stephen Parrish

The Clarity of Night

Underneath the Bridge

What Am I Doing In Mexico?

Writer Beware Blogs!

Astonishing Productions


Lolcats 'n' Funny Pictures - I Can Has Cheezburger?

I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read?


Center for Global Development

Born to Fly

Joan Chittister Column

liberal church nerd

Some kind of Gospel

Absolute Vanilla... (& Atyllah)


Arch Words

Hello Ello 2

Life at the Riverbank

McKoala Days

One Word, One Rung, One Day

Post Mediocre

Recess for Writers

Short Stuff

spy scribbler

Whittering On...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sneak Peek

For those of you participating in the writing challenge - or who are still thinking about it - I wanted to unveil what I'm working on to help track, remind, hold accountable etc. Keep in mind it's still in progress, butcheck it out!


I've been trying to get some fun stuff together for the 2009 Writing Challenge, so I wrote to Tamora Pierce on the weird, off-chance she's a normal person and responds to her Goodreads email - and SHE DID. 

Aerin (gee, I wonder why Robin McKinley is your fave!) ;-) (she's one of my absolute faves as well),

Of course you can send books or bookplates for me to sign! Send them to me at .....

And I'll get them back to you as soon as possible. Anything in the causes of writing and reading!

Wishing you a New Year filled with creativity and good books,

Tammy Pierce

OMG OMG OMG OMG!  Yay!  So we'll have some Tamora Pierce books personalized & signed as prizes for the Challenge!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Courtesan's Daughter by Claudia Dain

The Courtesan's Daughter The Courtesan's Daughter 
by Claudia Dain
published October 2nd 2007
           by Berkley Publishing Group
Paperback, 336 pages
isbn 0425217205   (isbn13: 9780425217207)

1 of 5 stars

“Claudia Dain’s emotionally charged writing. . .will take your breath away.” – Sabrina Jeffers

Jeffers’s statement might be true, but I wouldn’t know because Courtesan’s Daughter didn’t have any. Or any wit. Or any heat. Or any lukewarmth.

And I’m pretty sure Dain used the word “delicious” more than Rachel Rae uses it in a decade.

The basic premise of the book is that men can be manipulated by sex, and only by sex; and that women can manipulate with sex, and only with sex. I don’t care if this is true or not; that Dain based an entire book on the premise made the feminist in me disdainful – on behalf of both genders.

Sophia Dalby was a courtesan who became a countess. Her daughter Caroline is unmarriageable because of her mother’s past. Lord Ashdon is the son of Sophia’s bitter enemy, so of course, she thinks he is the perfect one to marry Caroline. Add in several yards of pearls and a couple of half-Iroquois cousins, and you’ve got a novel that uses 713 synonyms for “breasts” but can only seem to describe the vulva as “folds.”

I’m not a romance fiction girl, but since winning the BBAW prize from Tote Bags n' Blogs, I’ve been exposed (no pun intended) to a variety of it. Romantic fiction may be fluff, but it’s not the drivel many people take it for. Except for Courtesan’s Daughter. This is a book to give your bitter enemy.

The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan

The Legend of Holly Claus (Julie Andrews Collection) The Legend of Holly Claus
by Brittney Ryan

published October 1st 2006 by HarperTrophy
Paperback, 544 pages
isbn 0060585153 (isbn13: 9780060585150)

rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a crier.  I cry most easily when I’m angry, but I also cry when I’m sad, and when I’m happy, and when my kids are being cute, and when there are freshly baked cookies to be had.  I’m the person Brian Andreas had it mind when he wrote, “She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful & life was so short.”

The Legend of Holly Claus is a cry book.  It made be cry because of its wonder and beauty.  Publishers Weekly said it was a “lush and leisurely Yuletide read.”  It’s part of the Julie Andrews Collection, that “offers gentle wisdom for the growing years.”  If you’re thinking Tasha Tudor meets Louisa May Alcott, you wouldn’t be far off.

To be honest, I bought it because it was 50% off in the Barnes and Noble after-Christmas sale.  The premise looked interesting and the illustrations by award-winning Long are breathtaking.

What I found was one of my new favorite books, one that I will read year after year during the Christmas season.

Nicholas Claus is the King of Forever, the Land of Immortals.  When a child writes an unusual Christmas letter, he and Mrs. Claus are granted their hearts’ desire: a child.  Their daughter Holly grows up intelligent, kind, and spirited.  Unfortunately, she also grows up with her heart frozen inside a block of ice, as part of a complicated curse involving the uber-evil being, Herrikhan.  The gates to the Land of the Immortals are barred, so that Immortal may carry out his or her work on Earth, and no new Immortal may enter.

Seeing Holly rather than Herrikhan as the cause of their misfortune, the Immortals shun Holly, so that she reaches adolescence with only animals as her friends.  Determined to right the wrong done at her birth, she finds a way to travel to the Empire City – Victorian New York – where she proves herself a truly selfless and strong heroine.

In addition to being sappy and sentimental, I’m also superlatively suspicious.  I’m almost impossible to surprise.  But Ryan manages a few authentic twists and revelations that amazed even me.  The Legend of Holly Claus brims with innocence and goodwill, without pandering to naïveté.  I highly recommend it, even – and especially – if you’re a crier.

Elephant in the Playroom by Denise Brodey

The Elephant in the Playroom: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About Raising Kids with Special Needs The Elephant in the Playroom: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About Raising Kids with Special Needs 

by Denise Brodey
published February 26th 2008 by Plume
Paperback, 256 pages 
isbn 0452289084   (isbn13: 9780452289086)

rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hated reviews of this book, a collection of essays I think everyone should read. 

Elephant came about because Denise Brodey, editor of Fitness mag, wanted to hear the stories of other parents of special needs children when her son was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder and childhood depression in 2003.  Using her professional background, Brodey asked these parents to share their stories – the ups and downs, joys and pains, laughter and tears – in short essays.  These are the experience of parents and siblings whose lives are affected by special needs children.

I took immense comfort in these stories even as I seethed at the reviewers.  I went through with a pen (not even a pencil), starring and underlining and drawing smiley faces and exclamation points .  Everyone spoke the truth of my existence, even if the diagnoses of our children differed.  “[T:]he whiplash of being a special-needs mom seemed permanent,” writes Brodey (p 83). 

A mother of a son with autism echoes my fatigue: “I could never, ever, let my guard down, and by the end of the day, the strain of always trying to stay one step ahead of his overactive mind exhausted me physically and mentally.” (p 64)

The contributors have experiences that range from simply tiring and/or training, to heartbreaking.  There’s one mother who recounts what a teacher friend overheard in the teachers lounge, when another teacher came in and complained she “had that damn autistic kid.”  Or the woman who had two boys, both in need of medication for their ADHD, and kept a blog of her personal challenges.  A national group singled out her experience as an example of their cause – mandatory sterilization.

An experience universal to the parents of special needs children is the dearth of services – therapy, school, social.  Still, one glaring absence in this collection was the experience of low-income families.  The families in this book had the resources to push and advocate for their children with government agencies, schools, etc.  Families in which there is only one parent, or in which both parents have to work, have no recourse available.

All of the reviewers of this book praised it, recommending it to any parent of a special-needs child.  And, well, sure, community is great.  But how many people, who are childless, or who have neurotypical and physiotypical kids, are going to crack this book?  In the end, that seems to me to be the point.   So many of us have endured the comments from strangers about how to raise our “disobedient kids,” or the teachers who ignore our children because “they don’t get it anyway.”  We know these people are not cruel, only ignorant.  Why isn’t this book recommended to them?

Feed it to the media, shout it to the masses: READ THIS BOOK.  It’s quick, it’s well-written, it’s humorous and hopeful.  Everyone needs its message, because any time someone in cruelty or thoughtlessness belittles someone with special needs, the fabric of humanity frays, and we are all the shabbier for it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Contest Code

Copy and Paste the code in the box to your own post.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Saturday Smidges

My grandmother was known for her fantastic baking - pies, cookies, cakes.  She'd serve them right after dinner, which is when my grandfather ("Granpa Great," my kids call him) still likes to have dessert.  But without fail, when everyone was served, she'd sit at her place at the head of the table with only coffee.  When we asked if she was going to have some of the fabulous desserts, she'd say, "well, maybe just a smidge," and cut herself a thin slice of whatever.

So, here are a few of the smidges I've found around the blogosphere:

Despite the fact that Jason Evans announced his latest Clarity of Night contest 'Ascension' a week before its opening, I still do not have an entry.  I don't know if it's the fact that about 3 novels popped into my head over the holidays, or if I'm just too intimidated by Sarah's winning entry last time, or if I have just had too many chocolate martinis over the last couple of days.  I'm using this contest to kick off my 2009 Writer's Challenge (stay tuned!).

Tamora Pierce accepted my friend request on GoodreadsSeriously, people, I went my whole life with Robin McKinley at the head of my pantheon of Writer Gods.  Then, last year, I discovered Tamora and - bam! Robin had competition for Queen Goddess.  If you're a first-time author (cough, cough, Cindy, Ell, etc) it seems to be a good idea to join Goodreads as an author - you get a special "Goodreads Author" badge and fans flock to you.  There are also contests to win ARCs and other books.  I'm no publicist, but I think it's a pretty quick and easy means of promotion.

Ello has moved her personal blog, so be sure to go give her some "Follower" love.  She also revealed a little-known picture of me:

Even though I did very little to help out, I appreciate the sentiment. (And the waist.)

In Other News:

The 2008 Cybils finalists have been revealed, Cindy arrived home to find her ARC (yay!), Whirl is anticipating his 100th post, Moonie's quashing ovewriters,  and one of my dearest friends welcomes her New Year's baby - happy birthday, Meg!!!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice Chalice by Robin McKinley

published September 18th 2008 by Putnam Juvenile
Hardcover, 272 pages
isbn 0399246762 (isbn13: 9780399246760)

rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Please be as you were.  I will try to help you."  She hesitated, and pulled out the handflower honey and added a little more to the mixture in her cup.  The water was faintly gold against the silver cup; the small stones in the bottom shone like gems.  She did not want god and silver and gems; she wanted ordinary things, commonplace things.  Trees and birdsong and sunlight, and unfractured earth. "Let the earth knit together again, like - like darning a sock.  Here are the threads to mend you with." And she threw a few drops from her cup into the trench. (p 24)
Chalice is the most recent work of Robin McKinley, whose last novel, Dragonhaven (2007), fell short of what McKinley fans know she is able to do.  Prior to Dragonhaven, McKinley had published Sunshine(2003), which won the Mythpoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.  Still, Sunshine, a vampire love story, was a departure from the sort of voice McKinley was wont to use.

Chalice, at last, brings classic McKinley back to us.  Woodwright and beekeeper Mirasol is chosen for a role in the governing Circle of her demesne: the role of Chalice, a position second in importance only to the Master.  As young and uninitiated as she is, the new Master is more so: a Priest of elemental Fire.  The two of them must learn to work together to pull the earthlines back into harmony after the previous Master's seven years of wanton, careless destruction.

This, McKinley's 14th book, offers the same soothing sweetness as Mirasol's honey.  McKinley’s strengths are evident, if not at full force.  Her characterizations are flawless, both engaging and subtle.  Her sense of geography, the ability to create an unknown world and make it tangible to the reader, is unparalleled in fantasy writers.  And while McKinley’s characters battle evil, there’s nothing simple about their understanding of it.  There’s little that’s black and white, but much that ends up being rosy, or even honey-colored.

If I had to describe her weakness in this book, it’s too much telling (of the wrong sort – the sort of backstory narration common to the “Once Upon a Time” of a fairy tale) and not enough personal interaction.  The Master speaks in paragraphs, and a large part of the first section of story is flashback.  This writing style lends to the characterization of Mirasol herself as a loyal over-thinking introvert.

Don’t misunderstand me.  This book is enchanting, full of the McKinley that I have long worshipped – erudite and lovely, a fairy tale as personal journey.  It’s well worth your time, particularly if you have ever loved Cecil/y or Lissar or Honor-as-Beauty. 

While there’s not as much action as The Blue Sword or as much romance as Spindle’s End, Chalice contains the sort of world where, it seems, even Luthe might feel comfortable, and certainly a world to which I hope McKinley takes us again.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

Earth, My Butt, And Other Big Round Things The Earth, My Butt, And Other Big Round Things 
by Carolyn Mackler

published November 2005 by Demco Media
244 pages
isbn 0606343938 (isbn13: 9780606343930)

rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's hard to reconcile the fact that 2008's Hunger Games and 2004's The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things are both recipients of the Printz award for young adult literature.  The first is a a dystopian adventure novel, while Earth is more of a memoir of teen angst.

Virginia Shreves is the blonde youngest sister in a family of over-achieving athletic brunettes.  The Shreves live in New York City, where Virigina attends the same exclusive prep school her older sister Anais and older brother Byron-Can-Do-No-Wrong graduated.  Ginny's an email-text-messaging-celebrity-junkie, a good student, who struggles with her weight - specifically, how people perceive her because she's heavy.  Her make-out buddy doesn't seem to mind, although he doesn't acknowledge the relationship at school.  And Virginia's best friend Shannon has moved away.  Her adolescent-psychologist mother has just taken her to a new doctor, while her dad ogles the thin actresses on TV.

There's a lot of set-up before the main plot device.  Ginny goes on a starvation diet, and starts gaining her parents' approval.  Then, a phone call from the Dean of Columbia, Byron's current school, spurs the changes which form the main catalyst in Virginia's perception of herself.

Byron has been accused of date rape.  He's forced to move back home, and Virginia is forced to examine all of her relationships and preconceived ideas - about her perfect mother, the snobs at school, the girl her brother raped, and herself.

This is an excellent book to get younger teen girls who aren't avid readers into reading, although the subject matter (rape) is a little advanced.  Mackler has a knack for getting inside Virginia's head, into her angst - real angst, not the overplayed melodramatic kind on "Gossip Girl." She also has a dry, but fun, sense of humor that peeks through even the serious offense that the novel addresses.

While the trials Virginia experiences at school were a little too painful for me to read and relive, they certainly will speak to anyone who hid out in the bathroom during lunch period to avoid having the ostracism of sitting alone.

LOG: Book Challenge, Childhood Favorites


LOG: Book Challenge, TBR


1. The Pact, Jodi Picoult
2. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
3. The Odd Sea, Frederick Reiken
4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
5. A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass
6. Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
7. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
8. Claiming Georgia Tate, Gigi Amateau
9. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
10. Ahab's Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund
11. Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenides
12. The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester


1. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl
2. The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
3. The Door to Time, Pierdomenico Baccalario, trans. by Leah Janeczko
4. Pollyanna Grows Up, Eleanor H. Porter
5. The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club, Laurie Notaro
6. The Finishing School, Gail Godwin
7. The Grand Tour, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
8. The Curse of the Appropriate Man, Lynn Freed
9. The Stolen Child, Keith Donohue
10. Tamar, Mal Peet
11. East, Edith Pattou
12. Inkheart, Cornelia Funke

LOG: Book Challenge, Pages Read

January: 3234
February: 1597


LOG: Book Challenge, Paranormal

1. The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh
2. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

LOG: Book Challenge, Buy a Book

1. Elephant in the Playroom
2. Courtesan's Daughter
3. The Legend of Holly Claus
4. Ironside
5. Inkheart

6. Katie the Kitten Fairy
7. In the Woods
8. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

LOG: Book Challenge, New Authors


LOG: Book Challenge, My Year of Reading Dangerously


LOG: Book Challenge, Cornelia Funke (thru March 1)


LOG: Book Challenge, A to Z

C: Chalice, Courtesan's Daughter
E: The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, The Elephant in the Playroom
F: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
I: Ironside, Inkheart, In the Woods, The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club
K: Katie the Kitten Fairy
L: The Legend of Holly Claus
M: The Midwife's Apprentice
N: The Night Tourist
R: The Red Tent
S: St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
B: Denise Brodey, Holly Black
C: Karen Cushman
D: Claudia Dain, Anita Diamant

F: Cornelia Funke, Tana French,
G: John Green
M: Carolyn Mackler, Robin McKinley, Katherine Marsh, Daisy Meadows
N: Laurie Notaro
R: Brittney Ryan, Carrie Ryan, Karen Russell

LOG: Book Challenge, 100+

1. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, Carolyn Mackler
2. Chalice, Robin McKinley
3. Elephant in the Playroom, by Denise Brodey
4. The Legend of Holly Claus, by Brittney Ryan
5. The Courtesan's Daughter, by Claudia Dain
6. The Night Tourist, by Katherine Marsh
7.The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
8. Ironside, by Holly Black
9. Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke
10. Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club, by Laurie Notaro
11. Katie the Kitten Fairy, by Daisy Meadows
12. In the Woods, by Tana French
13. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell
14. The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman
15. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
16. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant


Book Challenge: Childhood Favorites

Lynda from Lynda's Book Blog is hosting the Childhood Favourites Challenge. She's given the challenge its own dedicated blog. Here are the rules:
  1. Read a minimum of 5 books which you loved as a child. Anything from Dr.Seuss and Beatrix Potter to Water Scott - you choose your favourites.
  2. They must be books you read as a child, not new children's books
  3. Cross overs with other challenges, audio books, eBooks all acceptable.
To join and learn more, visit the dedicated blog for the challenge.

Book Challenge: TBR

January 1 - December 31, 2009

Jenn is once again hosting the TBR Challenge for 2009. Here are the rules:
  • The challenge is to read 12 TBR books in 12 months -- you can read those all in one month if you want, or one a month, or however you wanna do it.
  • You need to have a list posted somewhere for others to see
  • You CANNOT change your list after January 1st, 2009!!!
  • You can create an Alternates list of MAXIMUM 12 books, if you want, in order to have options to choose from (you can read these in place of books on your original list).
  • Audiobooks and e-books ARE allowed
  • Re-reads are NOT allowed, as they aren't TRUE "TBRs"
  • You CAN overlap with other challenges
OPTIONAL: you can join the Yahoo! Group created for participants of the TBR Challenge, if you want to have a place to keep your list, or just to share with others about how you're doing!

There are LOTS of new buttons for 2009 on the post about the challenge. To sign up with Mr. Linky and for more information, go to the post about signups.

**Please note, for those readers not wanting to commit to 12 books, Jenn is also hosting the TBR Lite Challenge.

Book Challenge: Pages Read

January 1 - December 31, 2009

Kathrin at Crazy Cozy Murders is hosting the Pages Read Challenge. Participants select a number of pages they hope to read for the year and to complete the challenge must read that total. Here are the rules:

* List all the books and other stuff you read with the pages and add up the pages as you go.

That's it!

To sign up, please leave a comment on the post about the challenge with a link to your blog post.

Book Challenge: Paranormal Challenge

Kathrin over at Cozy Murders is hosting this year's Paranormal Challenge.
For the challenge you will read books with paranormal aspects - this can be werewolves, vampires, fairies, witches, ghosts, mediums, psychics etc. It's pretty much your pick!

The challenge will start January 1, 2009 and end December 31, 2009.

The goal is to read 2+ books in 2009, that's it. It should be manageable, I'd say

To sign up, please leave a comment here with a link to your blog post.

Book Challenge: Buy and Read

Amy from My Friend Amy is promoting book buying...and in the 2009 version of Read One Book she's made a few changes. Amy writes:

We live in a culture so saturated with choice that the past time of reading a novel seems to be falling by the wayside. There are many Americans who don't even read a single book in the span of a year. Books, once considered to be recession proof, are facing the same economic troubles as everyone else.

This challenge is designed to encourage you to rediscover the joy of reading, while supporting the authors who bring us books.
There are two levels or choices for this challenge.

1) The first option is to simply buy one book and read it. The book you buy and read should be a book you have chosen for yourself for pleasure. It should not be work related and books read to your children do not count.

2) The second option is to buy one book a month and read it. I am asking that those of you who will probably already have one book read by January 2 choose this option. Books can be on your other challenge lists, it is only necessary that you buy them and read them!

Books should be bought in 2009, since part of the goal of this challenge is to promote the book industry. However, Amy is allowing that three of the books you read can be books bought prior to 2009.

To join, leave a comment on the post about the challenge. At the end of the year, there will be a prize draw from each pool of participants to win a 10 dollar Amazon gift card.


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