Tuesday, December 18, 2012

54 hours of reading time

The planet Earth is really big. It took 27 hours of travel time to get from Vancouver to Buenos Aires, and another 27 hours to get back. Bleagh!

I didn't actually spend the entire time reading: I doped myself with Gravol and managed to get some very uncomfortable sleep on the plane. (Why do we do this to ourselves? Travel by Zepplin would be way more comfortable!) But I got through a few books on my TBR:

First I reread Pathfinder, since it's been a while, and then I read the second book, Ruins. The story idea is pretty interesting, like all Card's ideas: (spoiler for Pathfinder in yellow). Imagine a planet colonized by eleven versions of the same colonists, who are kept separate from each other for 11,000 years as an experiment to see what sort of social and biological evolution will happen.

The plot was mostly idea-based--the entire story is really one big thought experiment. I enjoyed seeing where Card took it, but I have to say that by the end of Ruins, I couldn't stand any of the characters. They spend most of the book sniping at each other in really annoying snarky dialog. They're all completely arrogant and self-absorbed, and it's hard to see why they stay together. But I'm curious enough to know what's going to happen next that I'll probably read the next book.

Cold Days is the latest (as in #14) Harry Dresden novel. You could probably start reading the series here, but you'd miss out on 13 books of  character and world-development. I guess it's a bit like a soap opera I'm addicted to, but I have to say that if a series drops off in quality then I don't keep reading it, and this one just keeps getting better. Butcher takes the typical paranormal elements--vampires, faeries, gods, magic, etc. etc.--and recreates them in fun, original ways in an internally consistent world that I find impressively believable. What's really impressive is that he manages to add more depth to the world in every book: both good guys and bad guys get more complex and more interesting. I love Harry, the wise-ass underdog wizard whose greatest strength turns out to be his bloody-minded stubbornness. He's just trying to do the right thing, dammit. And it just keeps getting harder. So, yeah, two thumbs up to this one. (There's a big twist at the end that worries me: how's Butcher going to make this turn out okay?!)

I think I'll sign off now and get another post out of my vacation reading!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

I swear, I was going to do a middle-grade book next. I went to the library and got several out that have been on my TBR for a while. But I also got out Code Name Verity, and I read the first page, because I always read first pages along with book flaps to see what I'm in for, and I was so impressed and compelled that I had to keep reading. And now I have to do a review, because YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!

Deep breaths. I'm calm now. But seriously, this is the most amazing, brilliant, wonderful, beautiful, suspenseful book I've read in a long time. I had to read some pages with a bookmark below the line I was on so my eyes wouldn't skip ahead to the end of the page and ruin the scene for me. Maggie Stiefvater calls it a "three gasp" book, and there were at least that many gasps for me. More, I think. (But read her review, and then you probably don't have to read mine.)

Other reviewers have commented that it's a very difficult book to review, because you can hardly say anything about it without giving away spoilers. I can't even tell you the main characters' names! But it's about a female pilot and her best friend a female spy, during WWII, and if that doesn't make you want to read it already. . . even if you don't like historical fiction, you've got to admit that spies and the French Resistance and Gestapo torture sound pretty exciting, right?

The people who didn't like the book complain that it's too slow, that they were actually bored for the first hundred pages. Come on: the narrator is writing her story with her feet tied to the chair and a guard jabbing his cigarette into her neck. How is that boring???!! Okay, so maybe it takes a while to get to the --never mind, I can't tell you what it takes a while to get to--but aren't you dying to know what happens to her from the very first page?

The story she tells is a story of friendship--supposedly she's revealing all the secrets of the British War Effort (that's not a spoiler, you find that out on the first page), but really she's telling us about two incredible personalities who meet because of the war and become the unlikeliest of friends. And the personalities just shine out. The narrative voice is so vivid and funny and unexpected you want to read on just to see what she'll say next. Which is why the Hauptsturmfurer (sp??) keeps giving her more paper, and more days alive to write. Scheharazade, he calls her.

Oh, the allusions. And the metaphors, and the symbolism. This book is so rich, so interwoven with plot and meaning and connections. Everything is connected. EVERYTHING is significant. I can't tell you any of the significant things, but PAY ATTENTION TO EVERYTHING. It will make you gasp, the way some little thing will keep coming back and gain new significance every time.

MMmmmgahlslflargllmpgl. That's me not saying all the things I want to say about this book because I don't want to give away ANYTHING. The way it reveals itself to you is so brilliant and I would hate to ruin it for you. I've said too much already. Careless talk costs lives.

I thought I recognized the name Elizabeth Wein, and then I discovered that she wrote the Lion Hunters series, which I read a long time ago and really liked. The five books, starting with The Winter Prince, are a very, very different take on the King Arthur story, with really, really interesting characters. I don't remember them well enough to say more, but I'm going to go back and reread them.

Code Name Verity is the full-meal-deal: your grandmother's best meatloaf, with garlic mashed potatoes and creamed corn, all washed down with a pint of something bitter and British (for me it will be malted chocolate milk, but you could have Guinness if you like).

PS: I won't be doing any blogging for a couple of weeks, because I'm off to Buenos Aires to tango! Perhaps I'll post some pics when I get back. Now I have to load up my iPod with books for the long, long plane ride.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Surplus of Sequels

I know I'm behind on my Canadian reviews, and I want to do another Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday, but on Tuesday two books came out that I've been waiting forever for, so I had to drop everything and read them! (So I may as well get a blog post out of them.)

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is book 14 of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series (more accurately, Vorkosiverse, since not all of them star a Vorkosigan. Like this one, for example.) I've raved about Bujold already, so I'll just say that if you've read the other books you won't be disappointed in this one. But if you haven't read any don't start with this one--a lot of the humor and enjoyment comes from in-jokes and from finding out more about characters we already care about. Oh, Ivan! Have to say, the climax scene was incredibly funny.

Days of Blood and Starlight is the insanely amazing sequel to Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I can't begin to say enough about this author or this series. Except, Aauuuggghhh! It's a trilogy! (At least it wasn't as horrifically cliffhanger an ending as the first one was.) This book is brutal and bloody* and bleak, but it's so, so beautiful**. Morocco this time, and an abandoned kasbah. And lots more of Eretz. Seriously evil angels. Painfully good monsters. (And scary monsters and good angels, and conflicted both.) The first book was about love. This one is about war, vengeance, retribution. But Karou still means hope. Laini Taylor is a craftswoman of consummate skill, and her stories are both exquisitely written and grippingly page-turning. (Sigh. I will never, ever write as well as she does.) If you loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone you won't be disappointed in this one, though you may wish she hadn't taken it to such a dark place. Just be aware that it's much more violent than the first book. (Think Hunger Games and Chaos Walking, and it's a bit worse.)

There are a few other sequels coming up to sabotage my attempts to be productive. Jim Butcher's latest Harry Dresden book is due on Nov 27: I'm eagerly awaiting what Dresden will do as the Winter Knight in service to Mab. I already have Orson Scott Card's Ruins, the sequel to Pathfinder, on my iPod, but I have to reread Pathfinder first, so I'm saving them both for a long plane trip I'm taking in a few weeks. And I have Terry Pratchett's latest, which I don't think is a Discworld novel, so doesn't count as a sequel, but I've been looking forward to it as well.

*Literally, in my case: I sliced my finger while chopping vegetables (a fairly regular occurrance, since we have sharp knives and I'm a klutz), and some blood was leaking out of the bandage, and I kept forgetting and putting that finger on the page. So there are authentic bloodstains in various places in my book.

**I really thought I'd gotten over that alliteration virus, sorry.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I haven't yet mentioned my writing on this blog, because that wasn't the purpose I had in mind for it. But my friend tagged me in her blog, and if I don't carry forward the tag (pay it forward?) I imagine the consequences will be as calamitous as if I didn't pass on a chain letter. (Remember chain letters? Did you know they used to be actual letters that you sent in the mail?)

I'll answer the 10 Questions about my Work In Progress that I'm supposed to, but the most important thing to take away from this post is the link to my friend's site, where she talks about her WIP (and it sounds way cool and I wish she'd hurry up and write it), and the links to the writers I'm going to tag, because they'll have way cool WIPs to talk about, too.

So, first go to Kim Neville's blog. Was I right? Isn't that the greatest idea for a story?

And now, here are

10 Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your Work In Progress?

I don't know yet. I call it Arin, because that's my main character's name. (I may or may not have named her after Aerin from The Hero and the Crown.)

2. Where did the idea come from for your book?

A half-page scene I wrote in a notebook several years ago, in which a boy is listening to his grandfather telling stories about the days when people lived in shining towers and flew through the air in giant metal birds. The boy doesn't believe his grandfather. He has to go take care of the rabbits, that keep trying to escape. I had the image of a farm in the Fraser River valley, inland from Vancouver, at a time when the climate is dry and almost desert--a great contrast to what it is now. Eventually the only thing I kept from this scene was the climate. And the rabbits.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Post-apocalyptic YA. But NOT dystopian. I'm trying to imagine a very real future scenario, when oceans have risen, temperate climates have gotten warmer and drier, weather has gotten more extreme--and I threw in some earthquakes and volcanic eruptions just to make sure society would completely crumble. But it's not going to be depressing or bleak. People are resourceful and will come up with all sorts of interesting ways to adapt. Think steampunk except with eco-tech. Eco-punk!

4. What actors do you imagine playing your characters?

Um. Hadn't really thought about this. It's a good exercise in character development! Arin's best friend, Chelse, is a young version of Karen Gillian crossed with Julia Sawalha in her role as Lydia in Pride and Prejudice--gorgeous, fearless, impulsive, and completely selfish. Kennan could be Matthew Lewis as the older Neville Longbottom--lanky, a bit awkward, but very nice, and good in a crisis. He's hopelessly attracted to Chelse. Arin is harder. A young Sissy Spacek, but with brown hair. (That just shows how old I am!) Okay, more contemporary: Caitlin Stasey, from Tomorrow When The War Began (which is based on a wonderful book of the same name, which anyone who liked The Hunger Games should go find right now). But without the Australian accent. Naive but practical, fragile-seeming but with a core of steel.

And Arin has a younger brother who could easily be played by a young Macaulay Culkin.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

That would require me to know what's going to happen! I reserve the right to completely change this, but so far:

A girl caught stealing water is forced to spy on (or maybe for) a group of saboteurs determined to start a war over the Pipe that carries the Fraser River south to Seattle.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Um. I have to finish writing it first.

7. How long did it take you to finish the first draft of your manuscript?

See answer to 6. My last novel took me five years. I'm hoping to cut down on that somewhat.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

I'm thinking Little House on the Prairie meets Kenneth Oppel's Airborn. Not sure about the airships, though. (I'd like airships, but where will they get the helium?)

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As soon as I started thinking about what Vancouver might look like in 100 years or so--assuming the worst climate change predictions come true, and we run out of oil, and the whole fragile structure of our society comes tumbling down--I came up with a whole cascade of political, economic, and social ramifications that are a lot of fun to play with. Essentially I've been reading all the dire warning books and deciding, gee, this is probably going to happen at some point in the near future. What will that look like? But I have faith in the human race: I don't think it will be dystopian. I think it might be kind of cool!

10. What else about your book might pique your readers' interest?

I think I've come up with a (reasonably) plausible explanation for why there won't be electricity in my future world, but people will still have technology, so it will be fun to come up with non-electric ways to do all the things we currently need electricity for. (Did you know that London used to have a network of high-pressure water mains all through the city to supply hydraulic power to factories, workshops, building sites, etc?)(Does that not give you all kinds of steampunky ideas?)('Cause, it was actually steam powered. Unlike airships.) (Which are just too inherently cool not to include, whatever the genre is called.)(But I don't think there are any helium repositories anywhere near Vancouver, darn it all.)(I wonder if they could pipe it from somewhere?)(There may end up being a lot of pipes in my novel. Would Pipe make a good title?)

That's it for my WIP. Now it's time for my taggees to answer these questions and post on their blogs. Give them a week or so, and then go check out

The purple-haired KT Wagner, at Northern Lights Gothic

The blue-haired Aheila, at The Writeaholic's Blog

(I should totally dye my hair.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sherwood Smith's amazing fantasy world

Whew! I'm finally finished all four of Sherwood Smith's Inda books. (When you download ebooks, you don't get a sense of how long they are: you don't get that satisfying heft of a thick book.) Now I can finally be productive again. (I've done pretty much nothing else but read for a week and a half, because they were so compelling.)

Sherwood Smith's name isn't as well-known as Robin McKinlay, Megan Whalen Turner, Orson Scott Card--but it should be. She has the ability of all the best fantasists: to make a world and a set of characters leap off the page and take residence in your brain, until you're quite certain you could buy a ticket and go visit, if only you could find the right train platform. What's unique about Sherwood Smith is that she has been working on the world of Sartorias-Deles since she was eight years old. I think she's actually been there. (My pet theory is that Smith is really a Norsundrian mage, and that's how she can skip through Sartorias-Deles's history observing everything and everyone.)

That's the strength and the weakness of Smith's Sartorias-Deles books: they read as if they were real history. The characters behave like real people, with all their contradictions and infuriating motivations; and the plots fit into a larger scope, so there are things that may not make sense in the current story, but that's what actually happened, historically. She has essentially an entire planet worked out, with political, magical, cultural and linguistic histories of probably 20 different countries. (Just go here and look at the map she's developed, and understand that for every country on that map she knows what their language sounds like, what their architecture and fashion looks like, what their food tastes like, not to mention the strengths and weaknesses of their political and military systems.)

So where should you start? So far I've only read the Inda books and Crown Duel/A Stranger to Command. I loved both sets of stories equally, but they do appeal to different readerships.

If you read my blog because you like all the YA and MG books I tend to like, then you should definitely read Crown Duel. (Make sure you get the version that includes Court Duel: they used to be published separately but the latest version of Crown Duel has both. Also, there's some awesome extra material at the end of my ebook that I don't know is there in the print version, so there's a good reason to get an e-copy. (Besides the fact that there aren't a lot of real books around.))

Meliara is one of the original kick-ass heroines (along with Harry and Aerin from Robin McKinley's Damar books, and Tamora Pierce's Alanna). The great thing about Meliara is that she's real. Sure, she's taken swordfighting, but she's not actually that good at it. She's idealistic and determined to right the wrongs in her country, but she's a little ignorant about politics and maybe doesn't make the best choices. She's got spunk--which gets her into more trouble than it gets her out of. And she's stubborn--which can be a good thing, but not always. But she has enough humility to recognize when she's wrong, and she wins everyone's hearts because of her honesty and courage.

The first half of the book (the original Crown Duel) is fighting and getting captured and escaping and being chased; the second half (Court Duel) is set at court (duh) with intrigue and plots and secrets and stuff. I'm not even going to mention the second main character, because you have to discover him for yourself. (Let's just say this is the best kind of romance: where the characters don't even know it's a romance until it's almost too late!) And when you do discover him, you'll be as anxious as I was to read A Stranger to Command, which is his coming-of-age story. (I'm not giving you a link, because I don't want you to go find out who he is before you read Crown Duel.) Then once you've read that, you'll want to read more about Sartorias-Deles, and find out about those mysterious Norsundrians.

I haven't read all the Sartorias-Deles stories Smith wrote when she was younger. They're not as polished, so I think I'll have to be in the right mood for them. (I will read them, because there are so many unanswered questions!) I decided to try the "historical" novels, which are set 400 years before Crown Duel.

If you're an adult* who likes really epic (ie: long and complicated) military fantasy, if you can handle lots of shifts of point of view, and if you don't mind being confused at the beginning as an entire social/military/political system with its own jargon is gradually revealed to you, then you'll like Inda and its sequels. The story begins with a ten-year old boy being sent to military academy. There's an Ender's Game-like section at the academy (which will be familiar to you if you read A Stranger To Command). Then Inda gets exiled and we enter the pirate phase of the story (I know: pirates!) Inda is very much an Ender-type of character, a brilliant strategist and a born leader who endures incredible suffering and remains good (kind, loyal, fair, unarrogant). He's the hero who doesn't recognize his own heroism. He and his group of loyal friends have all kinds of adventures culminating in great battles (both land and sea) against the invading Venn. The plot is epic, vast, with threads and characters going all over the place, but you care about all the characters. You care about Inda--oh, he breaks your heart! He's now up there with Miles Vorkosigan, Horatio Hornblower, Harry Dresden, Eugenides--as my current favourite noble, scarred heroes.

So far everything of Sherwood Smith that I've read is going to stay in my iPod for future escape-out-of-the-universe, fall-in-love-with-the-characters, can't-put-the-story-down comfort reading. And she's got a whole whack of other books I haven't even looked at yet. (But I have to pace myself: one must occasionally be productive.)

Since I can smell it now (I just took it out of the oven) and it is the best thing ever, I'm going to compare Sherwood Smith's books to Upside-down Buttermilk Pear Cake (which is also supremely scrumptious with plums instead of pears). To die for. I'm going to go have a piece right now. Then I think I'm going to download The Trouble With Kings. Or maybe The Spy Princess. Oops, I mean, I'm going to go be productive. Seriously.

*There's quite a bit of violence in the Inda books, though no gratituous gore, and definitely lots of sex--not graphic, but you know what's going on behind the bedroom door, and it's often pretty interesting. (Let's just say that there's probably no Marlovan word for "monogamy.")

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Scorpio Races and Grave Mercy

Carnivorous horses and assassin nuns: what's not to like! (I'm actually very mild-mannered and I hate conflict. Really, truly.)

I have to start by confessing that I'm not a huge Maggie Stiefvater fan. At least, I wasn't until now. The Scorpio Races grabbed me with its sharp teeth and carried me out to drown into a stormy sea. Everything about this book was vivid and compelling. The island, with its scent and its storms and its modern mask over an ancient culture revolving around the water horses. The capaill uisce themselves, terrifying, unpredictable, horse-like but so not horses. (They were so convincingly frightening that I had trouble believing that Puck would actually race them--my one quibble about the plot.) I loved the two characters who alternate telling the story: mysterious, skilled, respected-but-not-liked Sean, and fierce, desperate, angry Puck. I loved the romance, nicely understated and full of conflict, because they both really need to win.

The Scorpio Races is about carnivorous horses who come ashore only on this island and are captured for the annual race, which has mythic significance beyond what the tourists recognize. But really it's about the people, their relationship to the horses, to the island, and to each other. No, that sounds boring. It's about  dreaming, longing for something that is denied. It's about taking huge risks and making huge sacrifices. No, that doesn't adequately convey it. I can't really explain what it's about. It just oozes with atmosphere and intensity. Maggie Stiefvater writes beautifully. Her previous novels (about werewolves and fairies) just weren't that interesting to me, but this one was meaty and satisfying. Steak and mushroom pie.

Assassin nuns. I have to say it again, because, really. Why has no one else come up with this concept? (Maybe they have and I just don't know about it: if so you have to tell me what I've been missing!) Grave Mercy is Robin LaFevers first book about girls from the convent of St. Mortain, otherwise known as Death. They are trained to be His Fair Assassins and carry out his will, which appears to be saving Bretony from those treacherous French, so once Ismae is trained in all the cool ways there are to kill people she gets to dress all pretty and sneak around court looking for spies to assassinate. I liked the idea of Mortain. I liked the spying, the girl kicking the butt of arrogant men, the romantic tension between Ismae and the guy she doesn't know if she can trust. Grave Mercy was entertaining--not as good as Sherwood Smith or Megan Whalen Turner, but along the same lines. I think there is a lot of potential in the premise that LaFevers can still explore, so I'm going to read the next book in hopes that she does more with the depths that Grave Mercy hints at. This book was a mocha cream puff.

In the meantime, I had to go and reread Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel, because she does such a good job of the romance between people who don't trust each other. And because it's just so good. And then I had to read more Sherwood Smith, so I downloaded the Inda books. When I emerge, gasping, into the real world again, I'm going to devote a whole post to Sartorias-delas.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Legend, by Marie Lu

Yikes. How is it halfway through October already? I've got a backlog of books to blog about, so let's get right to it.

Characters. It's all about the characters, people. You can create the most fascinating fantasy world or the most devastating dystopia. I won't give a rat's eyeball about it if I don't care about the characters.

Marie Lu could give a master class on creating compelling characters. (Sorry, I think I'm coming down with the alliteration virus. I'll try to hold it in check.) Here's how Legend opens:
My mother thinks I'm dead.
Well, that catches my attention. Not only that, but "it's safer for her to think so." Why? Day is a notorious wanted criminal, "wanted for assault, arson, theft, destruction of military property, and hindering the war effort." I like him already! Then we find out he's hiding in an abandoned building that overlooks his home, waiting until the soldiers are finished going through the neighborhood so he can sneak down and leave a gift of food and useful items he's stolen, because it's his older brother's birthday. Oh! Wrench my heart and make me completely love the guy!

Then we meet the second main character. June is waiting to see the dean because she's in trouble again: she snuck out of school to "scale the side of a nineteen-story building with a XM-621 gun strapped to [her] back." This puts her in a class above your typical spunky heroine. Why did she do this? "My afternoon drills aren't teaching me enough about how to climb walls while carrying weapons." Yeah, mine neither. "Rumor has it that Day once scaled five stories in less than eight seconds." Oh ho. June is training to be the best possible soldier for the Republic, and she would love nothing better than to be the one to capture Day.

Do we have conflict? Two compelling characters set on a collision course in a pretty scarey world of tromping soldiers, crumbling cityscape, and plague. You're not going to tear this book out of my hands.

You may be getting a little tired of dystopian YA. It can be horribly grim, and a lot of the books out there are less interesting than they think they are. But Legend is an example of why the genre became so popular in the first place. Okay, I'll say it: a worthy successor to The Hunger Games. There's a sequel, but it's not a horrible cliffhanger ending. There's just lots more story to tell.

Legend is a big, juicy burger with all the fixings. Meaty and flavorful. (It's told from alternating points of view; that's what made me think layers, therefore burger. It makes sense, trust me.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Demon Princess, by Michelle Rowen

The covers tell you everything you need to know about these books: cute, funny, light, romantic paranormal. In the same vein as Paranormalcy and Hex Hall.

Nikki Donovan's completely absent father suddenly appears in her life to tell her that A: he's a demon, B: she's a Darkling, a demon/human hybrid, and C: he's dying, so she's going to have to take over as ruler of the Shadowlands. Not what she wanted to hear just when she's been invited to Winter Formal by high school heartthrob Chris. But her father's emissary is really cute, and her father is a pretty nice guy, all things considered. Plus, when she turns into a Darkling she can really kick ass.
"Everything was going to be okay, though. I could feel it. And if it wasn't, then I'd have to do something to make it okay because no one better mess with me or anyone I loved. After all, mess with the demon and you get the horns. Cut horns. But still, horns."
 The plot is fairly predictable, but it's got some fun twists in it. The second book adds a third hottie to the mix: the king of the fairies, who comes undercover to Nikki's high school to find out whether she's evil and needs to be killed.

The third book, Reign Fall,  is out, but my library doesn't have it yet. I've requested it.

If you like Meg Cabot, or if you're looking for a fast, undemanding read with some romance and the odd demon dimension to complicate things, Reign or Shine and Reign Check will fit the bill.

The Demon Princess series is like a palate cleanser: a fruity sorbet perfect if you've had a really heavy meal and you're not quite ready to dive into a rich dessert.

These are books 5 and 6 of my Canadian Book Challenge. Find out what other great Canadian books people are reading at The Book Mine Set.

Monday, September 3, 2012

MMGM: The Big Splash, by Jack D. Ferraiolo

This was a really fun read. It's up there with The True Meaning of Smekday: I wasn't peeing my pants laughing, but I had a goofy grin on my face the whole time.

Take the plot and characters of a hard-boiled detective novel--mob boss and hitmen, pretty females who might not be so innocent, bad-ass cops, and honest but hapless newspaper reporter--and plunk it all down in a middle school. Vinny Biggs runs a nice little racket in forged hall passes and stolen exams. Anyone who gets in Vinny's way is targeted by his squirt gun assassins, and the most feared hit kid is Nikky Fingers. Matt Stevens has his own side business as a private eye. Last year he brought down Peter Kuhn, who was stealing cameras to support his Pixy Stix habit. Now Vinny has a case for Matt: who took out Nikky Fingers? The money is too good to turn down. "I sat there cursing myself for breaking one of my longest-standing rules: Don't ever work for Vinny Biggs, especially on deals that were too good to be true. Nothing that paid well was ever easy."

I think the best way to convince you to read this book is to quote from it. Ferraiolo nails the tone: just over-the-top enough, but not so much that it gets tired. The absurdity stays at a low simmer all the way through.

His name was Joey Renoni, a.k.a. "The Hyena," and I knew who he worked for. [. . .] Joey wasn't a big kid, but he was crazy, and crazy trumped size. Size could be negotiated with. Nobody knows what to do with crazy.

"Let me clue you into something, kid . . . Justice is a snack," I said. "You get justice, and five minutes later you realize you're still hungry. Revenge, on the other hand, is a full meal."

He was off of the sofa and in my face. "And you don't know me very well. I'll get to him regardless, with or without you. My way, you'll have a little money to show for it."
"Go home, Kev. Vengeance isn't good for your complexion." 

Mac was honest, and at the Frank, that was as rare as a decent lunch from the cafeteria. 

Katie Kondo was the first seventh grader in the history of Franklin Middle School to ever make hall monitor chief, and she didn't get there by being sweet. 

"No thanks, Jimmy. I've got to do this alone." He looked relieved, as if his brain was angry with his mouth for making the suggestion. I started walking away. "See you around, guys."
"Hey Matt," Kevin said. I stopped. "Be careful."
"I always am. It hasn't made a difference yet." 
I love the combination of noir talk with middle-school setting. It's almost parody, but it's seasoned with real feeling. Matt's interactions with his mother are both funny and poignant. The squirt-gun assassination is a brilliant analogy for social ostracism. This tale of kid mafia intimidation may do a better job of addressing issues of bullying, friendship, and staying true to yourself than most problem novels that take them seriously.

Not everything is tied up neatly in a bow at the end; there is definitely room for more Matt Stevens, Private Eye.* (Ferraiolo's next book is about a superhero's sidekick who has a significant issue with his tights. I'm quite anxious to read it!)

The Big Splash is sweet corn basil soup, the one they serve on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale: sweet corn, spicy, savoury basil, all blended together in creamy goodness. I could eat it all day.

Be sure to head over to Shannon Messenger's blog, where all the other MMGM-ers hang out with all their marvelous middle-grade selections.

*Oh, according to Goodreads, The Quick Fix will be out in October. Yay!

Monday, August 20, 2012

MMGM: Two Young Sherlocks

I have a confession to make: I have not actually read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Well, I read the first part of A Study in Scarlet, and then got completely bored when the scene suddenly shifted to America, so put it down and never went back.)

 But I love Sherlock Holmes! At least, I love all his various incarnations, interpreted by various writers, directors and actors. (Yes, I'm talking about Benedict Cumberbatch again, don't shoot me!)

 You would think my enthusiasm for all things Holmesian would send me back to the originals, and I'm sure I will eventually get over my mental block and pick up The Sign of Four. But I happened to be browsing the kids' section of the library for books with maple leaves on the spines (since I haven't yet done my Canadian book for August), and look what I found:

Not one, but two different series about Sherlock Holmes as a boy.

Who was the young man who turned into the brilliant, enigmatic detective? Was he always that clever and observant (and obnoxious)? How did he become an excellent boxer and violinist? Why is he so friendly with street urchins? Well, Andrew Lane and Shane Peacock set their imaginations to answering all these questions, and came up with two very different but equally plausible young versions of the sleuth.

Death Cloud, the first of Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes mysteries, has a Sherlock from an upper class, though not terribly wealthy family. His father is away in the military, and his mother is unwell, so older brother Mycroft, already working for the British Government, arranges for Sherlock to spend summer vacation with an aunt and uncle in the small town of Farnham. Mycroft also engages an American tutor with unconventional teaching methods. A couple of bizarre deaths in Farnham lead Sherlock to discover a criminal conspiracy endangering the entire country. He has some help from the tutor and his pretty daughter, and more help from Matt, an orphan living on his own. His investigations put him in danger of his life, repeatedly--curiosity and fearlessness are this Sherlock's primary traits, and he uses the logic and observational skills he has learned from Mycroft and his tutor to put the pieces of the conspiracy together and single-handedly defeat it.

Eye of the Crow is the 1st Case of Shane Peacock's The Boy Sherlock Holmes. This is the book with the maple leaf on the spine, since Peacock is a Canadian. His Sherlock is a more complex character from a much bleaker background. His mother is a gentlewoman who fell in love with a poor Jew and was disowned for marrying him. The family lives in extreme poverty in a terrible neighborhood in London, and Sherlock resents it greatly. He plays truant regularly, preferring to observe humanity in Trafalger Square and read the sensational happenings in the Illustrated Police News. Sherlock is regularly harassed by a young thief who calls himself Malefactor and his gang of street kids called the Irregulars. The case that gets Sherlock's sleuthing attention is a woman knifed to death in an alleyway, and he is driven to find out what happened when the police arrest a young Arab man who claims to be innocent. But Sherlock's investigations lead Lestrade (the elder: his son who wants to be a detective has a brief appearance) to arrest him on suspicion of working with the Arab. Sherlock escapes the Bow Street jail with the help of a beautiful girl named Irene Doyle, and has to find the real killer to prove his own innocence as well as the Arab's. He enters an uneasy partnership with Malefactor, and learns how to disguise himself and ask the right people the right questions. But the murderer will do anything to prevent Sherlock from collecting the evidence he needs.

Both novels are full of excitment: escapes, fights, spying, mysterious figures in the shadows. Both mysteries are interesting and require lots of observation and deduction to solve. Readers familiar with the Sherlock stories will recognize certain elements in each novel, which is fun. Eye of the Crow is the darker of the two books, and probably the one closer to the canon in terms of setting, psychology, and characters who will appear later. But both books are great reads and will satisfy the Holmes afficionado--or will ignite afficion in readers who haven't yet caught the Baker St. bug.

This post is a two-for-one in multiple dimensions: it's my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offering, and my Canadian Book Challenge book for August. Find marvelous middle-grade books every Monday on Shannon Messenger's great siteand find great Canadian books to read on John Mutford's awesome blog.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen

I haven't ranted about Megan Whalen Turner on my blog yet, have I? She's pretty well-known, so maybe I don't have to. If you haven't read The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings, then drop everything else and go read them. Then you can continue with this blog entry.

So. Are you in love with Eugenides? If not, then I despair of you. I really do. But if the Attolia books are your kind of thing, then you should definitely read The False Prince. Sage is a worthy successor to Eugenides, and there isn't much else I need to say.

I love the premise of The False Prince: nobleman with questionable motives, plot to impersonate a prince, competition between orphans with life and death stakes. It reads like an epic fantasy, even though there are no fantastical elements. If conflict is the heart of story, this one's got oodles! But it's Sage's voice that raises this book into must-read status.
"I'd never attempted roast thievery before, and I was already regretting it."
Sage is funny and clever and mouthy, and excellent at getting himself into trouble. He also has hidden depths: he's not as callous as he makes himself out to be. You're constantly rooting for him and exasperated with him at the same time. The rest of the characters are all equally rounded: no cardboard villains; everyone has believable motivations, and right and wrong aren't exactly clear-cut.

This would be a great read for guys: there's fighting and plotting and sneaking around and more plotting, and hardly any romance. Girls will love Sage, and will be happy that the few female characters have "voices of their own, goals of their own, and brains. Yay!" as Sherwood Smith says in her review.

I'm excited to know this is the first book in a trilogy: more Sage to come!

The False Prince is pain au chocolat: buttery, flaky croissant wrapped around rich dark chocolate. Mmmm!

On another topic entirely, can anyone recommend a good medieval-setting YA fantasy about a witch? I'm drawing a complete blank, even though I'm sure I've read a bunch. (I can almost see their titles in the corner of my brain, but when I turn to look they're gone!)

Monday, July 16, 2012

MMGM: Natalie Babbitt and Sharon Creech

My reading diet has been sadly lacking in Middle-grade books lately, so I went on a browse in the children's section of the library and came home with a whole pile. So I'm making up for my absence from Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday with a three-for-one post! (Sorry I can't fit all the titles in Blogger's title space.)

Sharon Creech intimidates me a little because she's won the Newberry, and she's, you know, a Really Good Writer, so I tend to pass her on the library shelves saying, yes, yes, I'll definitely read more of her one of these days. I have to keep reminding myself that I love her books. 

Love That Dog makes me cry every time I read it; I think it's pretty much perfect in every way. So when I saw Hate That Cat, I almost didn't want to pick it up: how could she do again what she did in the first book? Would this book somehow diminish Love That Dog? No, it doesn't. It adds. We get more of Jack, more of Miss Stretchberry, more poetry, and it's just as real and touching and funny. If you're like me and hesitate to read a novel in poetry, don't. Sharon Creech is a wonderful poet, but she's also a wonderful storyteller, and these poems tell a story that compels you from page to page, even as you want to savour every poem for itself. Love That Dog and Hate That Cat make me want to be an elementary teacher just so I can use these two books to teach a unit on poetry. And if all my talk of poetry is turning you away from these books, please, please read them just to meet Jack. He's such a fun character, you just want to hug him. Trust me, you want Jack in your life.

The Unfinished Angel isn't written in poetry, but it might as well have been. Each little chapter is like a poem; every sentence is an image and a sound. The voice of the angel is astonishing, vivid and funny and brilliantly expressive. Just listen to a sample:
You won't believe this, but there are peoples who pay money to other peoples to wash their hairs and even to paint colours on their toes. Is really! And in the same world of peoples there are other peoples who have to crawl in the dirt scrounging for a measly piece of garbage to eat. I am not fabbagrating! Don't get me started.
At night I swish in the heads of the peoples with the clean hairs and feets, showing them the peoples crawling in the dirt, but in the morning when the clean peoples wake up they have already forgotten. I think maybe it is my fault that they forget so quick and so it is my fault that there are peoples who have to crawl in the dirt. I am not knowing enough. What are the other angels doing?

The unfinished angel tries to do the right thing but doesn't always know what that is. And then along comes colourful Zola who thinks she knows what the right thing is, and between them they turn the little Swiss village upside-down. It's a bit of a fable, there's definitely a moral, but it's so well-told and so true that you can't mind. It's about peoples and their flaws but it''s hopeful and sweet and funny. You see, don't get misled by Sharon Creech's Really Good Writer status: she's also a really funny writer. I like funny writers and I like poetry and I need to read more of Sharon Creech.

Natalie Babbitt is another Really Good Writer who writes spare, poetic truths about people. I read Tuck Everlasting more than twenty years ago and I still think it's one of the best books out there. I was so happy to see she has a new one out. The Moon over High Street is a bit fable-like, too, but Joe and Gran and Aunt Myra are real, round characters you care about right away. This is the story of Joe deciding what he wants to do with his life, and it will resonate with every kid who knows he has to make the same decision at some point. There's some gentle satire of Mr. Boulderwall, the millionaire who invented "swervits," and some contemplation of the American dream and what it might actually mean. It's a quietly humorous book that's deeper than it seems.

All three of these books are short and sweet. There's a tendency these days to write long books that might be good but they go on and on and they really don't need to. Good writers use as few words as possible and make every word count. (Have I mentioned that Natalie Babbitt and Sharon Creech are really good writers? But don't let that turn you off: it means they write short books!) These three little treasures are like a selection of chocolates from a fine chocolatier.

Shannon Messenger organizes MMGM and keeps the list of Marvelous Middle-Grade contributors, so be sure to visit her blog and check out all the other Marvelous books being featured this week!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Spy In the House, The Body at the Tower, The Traitor in the Tunnel: The Agency series by Y. S. Lee

Canadian Books #1, 2, and 3.

This series was another random pick from the library. The Traitor in the Tunnel was on display on top the shelves in the New Arrivals section, and I liked the cover, so I looked in the shelves for the first book. What a pleasant surprise to find the author is from Toronto!

The Agency is such a great concept. In Victorian London, where women are condescended to and dismissed as silly, emotional creatures who can't be taken seriously, what if there were a secret organization of women spies? They could take advantage of their functional invisibility to see and hear things a male spy would never have access to. (It's the perfect wish-fullfilment fantasy for anyone who has read Victorian novels and been frustrated with the constrained lives of the women.)

A Spy in the House begins with 12 year old Mary in prison about to be hung for burglary. She is rescued by the Agency, and, long story short, decides to join and be trained as a spy. So you've got your orphan story, your historical story, your spy training story (not a lot, but some), and then the sneaking around undercover story. These books have it all!

The adventure of the first book is Mary's final training exercise before she is admitted as a full member of the Agency: she must pose as a lady's companion in a house where suspicious things are going on. In The Body at the Tower there is an apparently accidental death that might not be so accidental during the construction of Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings, and Mary disguises herself as a boy to get access to the worksite. In Traitor in the Tunnel, Mary is a maid in Buckingham Palace and gets to meet Queen Victoria (wonderful characterization of that famous figure).

Our protagonist chooses the name Mary Quinn, because she can't let anyone find out her real identity. The reader eventually finds out who she is as Mary explores some mysteries in her family's past, and it's an exciting and unusual twist that adds depth to her character and emotional tension to the plot. (My advice? Don't read reviews on Goodreads, and don't read the blurbs on books 2 and 3, because they give away at least part of her secret, and what's the fun of that?)

I really liked Mary. She is resourceful and independent but has realistic fears and makes mistakes. I was also fascinated by the Agency and its two founders, and I wish Lee had explored their stories more. And then there's James. James is an engineer, and he's cocky and flippant and entirely aggravating. Mary keeps running into him in highly compromising circumstances, and their relationship is a delight of Beatrice and Benedict* proportions. Not only do we get all the orphan/historical/spy bits, but there's a smoking romance to boot!

Lee is a Victorian scholar, so her London in the 1850s is full of authentic, stinky detail. If you, like me, are fascinated by the Victorian Age, and if you like a good complex mystery (murder or otherwise), and if you'd really rather your romantic leads snap witticisms than swoon, you'll probably enjoy these books as much as I did.

*Much Ado About Nothing: the characters spend half the play wittily insulting each other, then discover they're madly in love. Great fun. The Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branaugh version is pretty good.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork

This book was on my TBR because it was mentioned in several blogs. I picked it up at the library, and then it sat on my night table for a month while I read Dorothy L. Sayers. I renewed it, because I knew I wanted to read it, but I only started reading it up a few days ago because Busman's Honeymoon wasn't at the library.

I can't believe I waited a whole month to read this amazing book.

Marcelo has a version of Asperger's syndrome. As he puts it, "From a medical perspective, the closest description of my condition is Asperger's syndrome. But I don't have many of the characteristics that other people with Asperger's syndrome have, so that term is not exactly accurate." This is the story of his summer working at his father's law firm. His father Arturo wants him out of the protected environment of his special school (do schools like that exist, by the way? Patersons sounds amazing!)  so he can engage with so-called normal people and experience the so-called real world. Arturo believes this challenge will help Marcelo grow. Grow he does, but it's the world that gets changed by Marcelo, not the other way around.

I think books narrated by people in the autism spectrum are popular because they allow the reader to experience an alien perspective; and they allow the writer to portray the world from a true outsider's point of view. As in science fiction, this provides the opportunity to comment on the world. We experience a typical lawyers' office, with all its petty rivalries and questionable ethics, with Marcelo's perception. Marcelo has a beautiful innocence--not simplistic or childish, but logical and genuinely questioning. Right and wrong through his eyes are inescapably clear, wriggle though you may try. His moral courage is heartrending and inspiring. I was literally on the edge of my seat while reading. What would you do if you were faced with his choice?

Stork explores morality, ethics, religion--all the big questions--but above all else, Marcelo in the Real World is a stunning meditation on love. I want all teenagers to read this--no: everyone should read this and measure their own relationships against Marcelo's growing understanding. He says at one point that he's not sure he's capable of love, but nothing could be further than the truth. We all should be so lucky as to be loved the way Marcelo loves.

Beautifully written, profoundly beautiful, one of those books that changes you. Marcelo in the Real World is a strawberry spinach salad made with spinach I grew myself and fresh local strawberries, served at a family barbeque amidst noisy conversation with an undercurrent of respect and caring.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

6th Annual Canadian Book Challenge

John Mutford over at the Book Mine Set has been running an awesome challenge that I had to join: read 13 Canadian books in one year, from July 1 (Canada Day, for all my overseas readers) to July 1.

I've been trying to review a Canadian book every month, but I've been pretty spotty about it, so this external motivation will be good for me. Plus, his website is an inexhaustible source of Canadian book suggestions, so I no longer have any excuse not to find a Canadian book I want to read.

My first entry is going to be a three-for-one deal: it's a Victorian adventure series called The Agency, by Y. S. Lee. (I suppose technically I didn't read it within the July 1 to July 1 time frame, but I think what counts is when the review goes up. In any case I intend to read more than 13 books, so this shouldn't skew my results unfairly!) Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Genius is the new sexy: Lord Peter Wimsey, Doctor Who, and Benedict Cumberbatch

I haven't been blogging about YA or middle-grade books lately, because I've spent the past month working my way through Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. I can't believe I hadn't encountered this character before. Lord Peter Wimsey is the Scarlet Pimpernel meets Sherlock Holmes, a foppish, fool-about-town who notices everything and sees the patterns everyone misses, and to whom everyone talks freely because he seems so harmless. And he has the brilliant Bunter as his manservent. Sayers writes long, complicated mystery plots--each of them very different--each plot uniquely suited to the specific setting, whether a Scottish fishing village or a London advertising agency or a woman's college at Oxford. She can be gently humorous or scathingly satirical about the society her mystery plot exposes; as with all good mysteries, her stories are really about the failings and foibles of humanity.

But Lord Peter, oh, Lord Peter! He drives too fast and talks too much and is scarred by his time in the War. With his compassion and arrogance, his precision and recklessness, his deep melancholy and his passion for life--I'm convinced that he is the inspiration for Doctor Who. Is there a Doctor Who fan out there who's read Sayers? What do you think?

What got me thinking in that direction is that the crush I have on Wimsey is the same kind of crush I have on Doctor Who. It's not so much that they're good looking (I mean, yes, David Tennant is good-looking, and Matt Smith is pretty cute, I'm not trying to say they're not), but what I love them for is what they say and do: their brilliant flashes of inspiration, their ruthless investigational styles, their determination--and ability--to save the world. (A couple of actors have played Wimsey--I haven't seen any of the adaptations yet, but here's a blog with photos. I have to agree with the blogger that Peter O'Toole would have made an excellent Wimsey.)

It's the same reason I'm in love with Benedict Cumberbatch--just looking at a picture of him I wouldn't say he's the sexiest man out there, but watching him play Sherlock--the expressiveness of his face as he ponders and discovers and is delighted at being proved right--not to mention his eyes, he has gorgeous eyes--I would not kick that man out of bed.

Wimsey also reminds me of another favourite fictional genius, Miles Vorkosigan (also a Lord--and hey, so is Doctor Who*! Something about having power and using it for good is also pretty darn attractive in a man, wouldn't you say?)

And, by the way, Cumberbatch is a simply brilliant actor. I saw him play Frankenstein, and he was frighteningly convincing. Not that it was a scary play--it was a wonderful adaptation that explored all the themes of power and knowledge and what makes us human. Johnny Lee Miller was superb as the monster (I'm running out of superlatives!). I'm sad that I missed the showing of the alternate production (Cumberbatch as monster, Miller as Frankenstein).

*I was trying to find this clip from The Girl in the Fireplace: "This is my lover, the King of France." "Yeah? Well I'm the Lord of Time."

Friday, June 8, 2012

Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein

Does anyone else think that sounds totally cool? Who is Benedict Cumberbatch, you ask? Oh, you poor soul. Go now and watch BBC's Sherlock (first series is on Netflix).
Now, can you imagine him playing Dr. Frankenstein? Oh, yes! But it gets better: can you imagine him playing Frankenstein's monster? You see, last year, the National Theatre in London put on a production of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller, but the cool thing was that on alternate nights the actors took turns playing Frankenstein and the Monster. What an interesting approach to the play. What an acting challenge!

Now, this might be just another story of why I wish I lived in London*, but it turns out there is a chance for those of us on the other side of the world: they filmed both productions, and now they're showing the movies. And I found out about it just in time! They're showing the Cumberbatch-as-Monster version next week, and the Cumberbatch-as-Frankenstein one the week after.

Frankenstein is not my favourite story (probably because my grade four teacher showed the Boris Karloff movie to us at Halloween and I had nightmares for weeks!). But I think this is a play that must be seen. I'll let you know how it goes!

*I missed David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing. :(

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Danika Dinsmore and the Ruins of Noe Blog Tour

First off, doesn't Danika Dinsmore have an awesome name? She could totally be a character in her own novels. And you'll soon see she's every bit as beautiful and interesting as her name sounds, because she's my very first ever Blog Tour Author!

Danika is blog touring to promote the second book of her Fairies of the White Forest series. I reviewed Brigitta of the White Forest on Monday, and now it's time to look at Ruins of Noe.

Faweh is an imaginary world (on a completely different planet: I know 'cause there are two moons!) populated by fairies and tree people and earth people and sprites and giant carnivourous caterpillars and horned Huggabeasts and . . . there's a Lexicon to help you keep them all straight.

The White Forest is a protected realm on Faweh where fairies live out their destinies guided by the Ancients. It's peaceful, idyllic--and threatened. Brigitta has already had to leave the Forest once to undo a terrible curse; now her experience makes her the best fairy to travel even further away from her comfortable home, to seek an ancient artifact in the Ruins of Noe.

The Ruins of Noe is deeper and more satisfying than Brigitta of the White Forest. Brigitta loses her innocence in the first book; in this book she loses much more. Everything she believes is called into question. But Brigitta is resourceful and determined, and she gains interesting new allies. I liked the society of warring fairies she encounters, with all its opportunities for complications and complexities. I liked Queen Maab: very evil! Loved the Nhords (otherwise known as Huggabeasts, for good reason). I liked that the ending isn't all neatly wrapped up: there's definitely room for a sequel. (Don't worry, it's not a cliffhanger!)

But you don't really want to hear what I have to say. I asked Danika to do a quickie interview, and she responded with way more than I was expecting! Turns out she's intelligent and well-read and watches movies I've never heard of! (But she's a Dr. Who fan, so we must be soul-mates anyway.) (Sorry about the funny fonts: it's what happens when you cut and paste from Microsoft Word into Blogger.)

Is there a book you read as a child that made such an impact on you that you remember the circumstances of reading it?
This is an odd memory, actually. I had found a lost dog. A little old chihuahua. His side teeth were missing, so his tongue stuck out on one side, and he was always shaking. He wouldn’t leave my side. I called him Mr. Dingleberry. And NO, I didn’t know what dingleberry meant.
It was the summer after 6th grade. My brother’s 8th grade social studies teacher had given him the book Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody to read over the summer. He gave the book to me. I sat in a chair outside in front of the garage in the sun with Mr. Dingleberry and read the book from cover-to-cover. I loved the book, but it disturbed me at the same time. It made me think about the cruelty of humans and also the courage. I remember feeling grown-up for reading such a serious and important book.
Oh, yes, then Mr. Dingleberry’s owners came and got him.

What's a recent book you read that made you go "Hmmm" (in a good way!)?
semi-recent:  Libba Bray’s Going Bovine
most-recent: Spiritwalk by Charles de Lint

Favourite recent-ish movie? (Or favourite all-time movie)
How about I just show you my tastes by listing 10 of my favourite films as fast as I can think of them. Ready, set . . .

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (one of the few films I like better than the book its based on) 
The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension
Donnie Darko
Wings of Desire
The Ice Storm
Lost in Translation
The Sweet Hereafter (loved both book and movie)
Dead Poet’s Society
(Hal Hartley’s)

Oh, wait, I think that’s 11.
Strangely my favourite movies are not generally speculative fiction. I mostly like character-driven and quirky dark dramedy.

[I'm guessing Danika would like Meg Rosoff's books]

Literary crush (Mr. Darcy? Aragon? Chrestomanci?)(Those may or may not be some of my literary crushes!)
I’m such a geek. I have both an author crush on John Green and a literary crush on Colin Singleton. It’s the anagram thing. Yeah, I know, not even on the map. Smart and funny do it for me every time, though.
If I had to pick someone in the fantasy realm it would be, hands down, Brashen Trell from Robin Hobb’s Liveship Trader’s series.

Favourite heroine (could be book, movie, comic book . . .)
Right now it’s Amelia Pond from the Dr. Who TV series. She’s awesome. Matt Smith as Dr. Who is awesome. Together they are the inside of an awesome pie and Rory is the flakey crust (in a good way).

[Yes! Go Rory and Amy! Woot!]

Would you rather go to the moon or travel up the Amazon?
To the mooooon!!!

Do you like to cook or bake? If so, what's a favourite go-to comfort food you like to make? 
For an I-need-dessert-right-now thing, the 5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake is perfect. I use ½ the sugar, btw, and it tastes just fine. And rice flour. And sometimes soy or almond milk. Just google 5 Minute Chocolate Mug cake and you’ll find fifty recipes for it.
I’m warning you, though. Chocolate cake in 5 minutes is a dangerous thing.
(I bet you thought that was going to be a one word answer, huh?)

You say you're currently working on a pop space opera (which sounds fabulous, by the way!). It's pretty much at the opposite end of the speculative fiction spectrum from the White Forest: would you say you read more sci fi than fantasy, or vice versa, or is it about the same?
I’d say it’s about the same, but it depends upon a person’s definition of sci-fi. I’m not a purist and I don’t read a lot of hard sci-fi. I like everything from steam-punk to dystopian and most of the sub-genres in between. The only things I don’t generally pick up are splatterpunk or urban/gothic fantasy involving vampires or warewolves. I just haven’t found that many that I can get excited about (except the original Interview with a Vampire and I’m actually reading Dracula right now). Zombies don’t do it for me either. [Ah, but what about zombie unicorns by John Green?] Here's a great sub-genre list.

Thank you Danika! I've gotta go get me a John Green novel, and 5 Minute Chocolate Cake? Why did I not know about this!

Get to know Danika even better on her blog, The Accidental Novelist.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Belated Battle of the Books, and Requiem Maurice Sendak

Were you following School Library Journal's Battle of the Books this year? I checked in at the beginning but then sort of forgot about it, even though two of my favourite books were in the running. It's great fun, and a great way to get introduced to great books. (When you repeat great a lot do you find yourself wanting to pronounce it "gree-at"? It should actually be pronounced "greet." Silly English. Now I'm thinking of groats and I don't actually know what they are.)

Neither Chime nor Daughter of Smoke and Bone won, but they faced off against each other and the judge did an excellent job of comparing them. Check it out here. I haven't read the winner (nor any of the books in the final round), and it doesn't sound like my sort of thing, but I'm putting it on my TBR list, because realistic fiction about depressing topics can be worth reading if it's well-written!

In other news, Maurice Sendak has died. Book Aunt did a post this morning that says everything I would like to say. He made the world a better place.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday AND Canadian Book Week

I'm back! (I knew I couldn't keep up that blistering once-a-week post schedule.) It's two-for-one day here at Dead Houseplants,* because I've got a great middle-grade read that's written by a local Vancouver writer.** Not only that, but she's a regular MMGM-er, so you all probably know about her. Danika Dinsmore just launched the sequel to Brigitta of the White Forest, and I'm going to be a stop on her Ruins of Noe blog tour next week (my first ever blog tour--yay!) But for anyone out there who isn't familiar with the White Forest tales, here's the first book.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I've met Danika, and she's a wonderful person, so that may have influenced my opinion of the book. But I'm really not a big fan of fairies, so that probably cancels out the first influence.)

Brigitta of the White Forest is about fairies with wings who live in trees and have magical seeds and make potions from flowers, and when I was twelve and in my rainbows and unicorns phase this would have been right up my alley. Now that I'm old and cynical I prefer my adventures to have less sparkle and more substance--and Brigitta delivers.

Dinsmore creates a rich and complex world (so complex it requires a glossary!) that takes the sparkly appeal of wings and flowers, and grounds it in a convincing society. Brigitta's father is an Inventor, her mother is a Feast Master, and her aunt is a Chronicler. Brigitta is waiting for her own destiny markings to appear on her wings, and she is nervous as she contemplates the possible roles she might play in White Forest society. But destiny sometimes has strange twists, and when a curse strikes the fairies of the Forest, Brigitta and her annoying little sister have to journey outside the Forest to save them.

There are monsters aplenty, and good that looks evil and evil that looks good, and magic of all sorts, big and small. Dinsmore is endlessly imaginative, and the White Forest and the world beyond it are full of original creatures and creations. Dinsmore's world has a strange, mythical history that is only hinted at in this first book, but it gives Brigitta's adventures a sense of mystery and significance.

This is a fun read that will definitely appeal to girls in their fairy/unicorn/magic phase*** but also has enough epic excitement to interest fans of series like Warriors and Gregor the Overlander. (I can't promise that a boy will read it, though!) I suspect that pipberry pies and tigermint teacakes are the right analogy for this book: you'll have to visit the White Forest to try them and find out!

Don't forget to go to Shannon Messenger's blog, where she links to all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday-ers.

* Where we try to make up for all our deficiencies in the most efficient way possible.

** If I wanted to extend my 100-mile diet to books, (which we might have to do after the coming apocalypse (see my previous post on toilets)) she would count!

*** Tell me girls still have this phase, (closely followed by all things horses): tell me it hasn't been completely eclipsed by vampires and fallen angels.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Poetry, toilets, and other fun stuff (with footnotes)

I think in some past life our family must have done something to offend the god of plumbing*. Did we tip over too many outhouses? Blow up a Roman bath? Six weeks ago the upstairs bathroom toilet overflowed its tank and water leaked into an adjacent bedroom and through the ceiling into the living room below. We rented a blower to dry the carpet and tore out some drywall to let the ceiling dry. We redrywalled and were just about to repaint the ceiling when . . . the same toilet overflowed its bowl and water leaked into the adjacent bedroom and through the ceiling to drip through the brand new drywall. I mean, seriously?**

I was on a roll there with blog posts, but we all knew it wouldn't last. I don't have a book review for you*** so I thought I'd share a few cool things I've encountered.

April is Poetry Month, and there are lots of fun poetry challenges going on around the blogosphere. I particularly like the Progressive Poem started by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem. What a fun idea, and what a cool poem is being created.

Sarah Lewis Holmes at Read Write Believe is doing one haiku a day for the whole month. What better way to start the day than with 17 syllables of wonderful imagery. And I really liked the longer poem she wrote on Poetry Friday: Poetry Forgives. Lovely imagery, and a lovely concept. I decided it was fair to extend the idea to writing in general, and hope it's true that my writing forgives me for my faithlessness and neglect (and my "insecure, pretentious stabs" when I do get around to it).

Not related to poetry, but it brought a bit of a tear to my eye and it's worth watching the 9-minute video: Kiersten White points out that Some People Are Gay.

And to return to the original topic (sort of), there is a very cool thing called an anaerobic digester (the link has a cute little video showing how it works) that turns poop and other organic garbage into methane gas for cooking stoves and lighting. (Word for the day: putrescibility. If something can rot, it can go in the digester. The more rotten it can get, the better!) You can install one of these digesters your backyard, connect your toilet to it, throw in all your kitchen waste, and presto changeo, you've got both fuel for your stove and fertilizer for your garden. It's brilliant ideas like this that give me hope for the human race.**** They didn't say anything about powering time machines with it, though.  :-( *****

* Didn't know there was a god of plumbing, did you? Called Hudor by the Greeks, Hugh by the Norse (who didn't have plumbing as far as I know, so they worshipped him as the god of cesspits)(did the Greeks have plumbing? Hmm. I'm going to have to do more research and get back to you before further explicating this little-known deity.)

** Humans have a hard time believing that coincidences like this are actually random, hence the invention of plumbing deities. A more likely but less amusing explanation is that God noticed how well things were going in our lives and decided we needed to learn some patience and humility. Plumbing incidents are good vehicles for those kinds of lessons. Just saying.

*** I have been doing brief book reviews on Goodreads. Recent reading includes a couple of Eva Ibbotson's romance novels, which I enjoyed highly, and which led me to the idea of a blog post on how authors convey their characters' emotions. I'm still working on that post, but it requires me to reread all my favourite books looking for useful quotations to use, so it may take me a while! Other recent reading is more non-fiction about various potential disasters our shaky, non-sustainable civilization is headed towards (doing research for a post-apocalyptic novel. There are just so many apocalypses to choose from!). Apparently we're going to run out of oil, food, and water within our lifetimes, so you might want to get started on that year's supply of food! And maybe learn a useful skill, like blacksmithing.

****You may want to consider installing one as part of your preparations for the apocalypse. Just saying.

***** If you're too young to get the reference, it's from Back To The Future II, where Doc fuels his time-travelling Delorean by throwing garbage into it. Unfortunately for verisimilitude purposes, the amount of biogas generated from a banana peel and a soda can (which isn't terribly putrescent) would not be equivalent to a lightning strike, and thus would probably not be sufficient for time travel. But it's an idea worth working on!