Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Life Whiplash and Book Reports

How is it that I haven't blogged for a month?

That seems impossible, but now that I think back, the past month has been filled to the brim: First pass pages for Of Giants and Ice took over my Thanksgiving (in the best possible way). A couple school visits and other events popped up next on my calendar, and revision for Ever Afters #2 stole all the time in between. (But Book 2 is with Jo. Yesssssssssss.) Then, I went ahead and started a move across the country on December 10 - driving from Charlotte, North Carolina to San Antonio, Texas (to visit grandparents) and back up to Sante Fe, New Mexico in less than a week.

Now, I'm in Big Sky, Montana for the holidays. Jo's notes on Book 2 will come in this week, but currently, free time spreads out for a few hours - enough time to blog. Of course, so much has happened that I'm having a hard time narrowing down what I would like to write about.

(Disclaimer: I still have whiplash from the crazy turns my life has taken recently, so I'm not totally sure my head is screwed on straight. Apologies for scatterbrained-ness.)

I think good books will come first. More of a book report than a book review, but still necessary. After all, some people are still holiday shopping, and some others have new bookstore gift cards burning a hole in their pockets.

And so, without further ado,

a few book reports on novels I've recently loved:

Entwined, by Heather Dixon

Age/Genre: YA Fantasy Novel
Description: a Gothic, Victorian-era retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses"

NOTE: When I say Gothic, I mean the literary genre, which you can learn more about here if you're interested. It has scary bits, but it's not super scary. Think Jane Eyre-level of creepy.

Take the sister relationships of Little Women, multiply the four March girls by three, and set them in a world of domestic magic like you find in Robin McKinley's fairy tale retellings. Add a Dad of twelve, who strongly resembles Mr. Darcy - ie. I love you so much, but I'm way too stodgy to show it. Then stir in not one but three attractive suitors, spice it up with an ancient villain, and you get Entwined.

(If you've read this post, you know that McKinley's books and Pride and Prejudice are some of my favorites ever. So, this is high praise.)

Seriously, I adored this book - it's lovely and long. It's the type of book your mind returns to again and again, because a big chunk of your imagination wants to live in this world (without the villain, obviously). Also, with the balls and the twelve sisters and the fancy dresses, it satisfied my rarely indulged craving for girly princessy things - without going over the top.

My only regret is that this is currently the author's only book, so I can't go out and find more.

BONUS: check out agency sibling Dan Haring's interview with Heather Dixon here! (She's working on another book! One with more action!! SQUEE!!!)

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu

Age/Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Description: Modern, literary retelling of "The Snow Queen" (Are you sensing a trend here? Good. - I love fairy tales, and I want to spread that love.)

If you're into middle grade, you probably have heard the buzz around this title. I heard it too, and I was wary of it (I didn't connect with some of Ursu's previous middle grade heroines). But y'all - that buzz?

TOTALLY deserved.

This book is delicious with gorgeousness. It's the language that does you in - the narrator's voice. It's about how hard it is to be a child - how change can come, the worst kind; how there are some things you can fix, some things you can't, and some things you simply must try to do. Like A Tale Dark & Grimm, it shows you the dark side of fairy tales. Like Walk Two Moons, it breaks your heart and mends it again.

Let me give you some snippets from Breadcrumbs, snatched straight from tumblr, so you know what I mean:
It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems. It was the sort of snow that transforms the world around it into a different kind of place. You know what it’s like—when you wake up to find everything white and soft and quiet, when you run outside and your breath suddenly appears before you in a smoky poof, when you wonder for a moment if the world in which you woke up is not the same one that you went to bed in the night before. Things like that happen, at least in the stories you read. It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out.

I believe that the world isn’t always what we can see. I believe there are secrets in the woods. And I believe that goodness wins out. So, if someone’s changed over night - by witch curse or poison apple or wereturtle - you have to show them what’s good. You show them love.


“Now, the world is more than it seems to be. You know this, of course, because you read stories. You understand that there is the surface and then there are all the things that glimmer and shift underneath it. And you know that not everyone believes in those things, that there are people—a great many people—who believe the world cannot be any more than what they can see with their eyes.

But we know better.”


“Hazel had read enough books to know that a line like this one is the line down which your life breaks in two. And you have to think very carefully about whether you want to cross it, because once you do it’s very heard to get back to the world you left behind. And sometimes you break a barrier that no one knew existed, and then everything you knew before crossing the line is gone.

But sometimes you have a friend to rescue. And so you take a deep breath and then step over the line and into the darkness ahead."

The Shadow Reader, by (agent sister) Sandy Williams

Age/Genre: Grownup Urban Fantasy
Description: Fairies and Shadow Trackers and Game of Thrones, Oh My!

Best book for adults I've read all year, hands down.

First off, I need to confess: I don't read a lot fantasy for adults. I used to - between grades 7 and 10, it was almost ALL I read, and I think I maxed out. I can't stand to eat Annie's microwave macaroni and cheese for that same reason, but every once and a while, I get a craving that can only be satisfied by Epic Fantasy of Awesomeness.

Cue: The Shadow Reader. I bought it back when it came out in October, where it sat unread in my neglected TBR pile (see the craziness of my life as described above). But I shipped it to myself here in Montana, knowing that I would eventually have more time.

Then, somewhere between Houston, TX and Roswell, NM, the craving hit. I needed fantasy. Not just any fantasy, but for The Shadow Reader. I started seriously wishing that I had packed it.

As soon as I got here, I dove straight into my box of books and devoured it. As in, stayed up into the wee hours of the morning until I reached the last page. That NEVER happens anymore. In fact, I tend to read the last pages of a book first, so I don't end up reading till 4AM. That didn't work with this book - I still couldn't sleep until I reached the last page.

Why? (I have been pondering this myself for a day or so.)

Lovable, tough, vulnerable, smart heroine? CHECK!

(Loved Mackenzie Lewis from page 1. That also never happens. Page three and chapter two, yes, but from page one, that's almost impossible with me.)

Two equally hot fairies to complete Mackenzie's love triangle? CHECK!

(Confession: I tend to hate love triangles. I hated them before Twilight popularized them. I'm not sure why, maybe I always felt sad and guilty for the Jacobs, maybe I disliked heroines for leading on dudes who deserved better, but the truth is: I usually put down a book if it featured a typical love triangle.

BUT I LOVED THIS ONE!! Because the love triangle doesn't define Mackenzie, or her relationship with both fairy dudes. And the love triangle is a symptom of Mackenzie's growth through the course of the book. So well done. My hat is off to you, Sandy!)

Complex, yet-easy-to-understand magic system and Fae society? Tight pacing? Great action? Lovable supporting characters? A civil war that shows horrific atrocities and heroism on both sides? CHECK!


Go, people - read these books, and love them the way I do. :-)

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