Monthly Archives: May 2010

No more Lingering

I am one of not-so-very-many lucky people to have an ARC of Maggie Stiefvater’s upcoming Linger (July 2010). That would be the sequel to her NYT Bestselling book, Shiver. Besides the fact that there are readers out there probably weeping with impatience to read this book, I have this evening discovered something super-inspiring which has made me want to drop everything and read this book. Now-ish.

I present, the book trailer (made by Ms. Stiefvater herself, I might add. Oh, and she also plays the music on it. Try not to be jealous folks).

Wow.

I’m thinking that if Maggie Stiefvater weren’t a bestselling author, she could be a famous maker of book trailers. Truly beautiful. You can learn more about the making of the trailer here.

Advertisement

Turtle in Paradise

I haven’t read any of Jennifer L. Holm’s books beyond the Babymouse series (which I adore in all of its perfect pinkness). I was looking for an audiobook a few weeks back, and I came across Turtle in Paradise, Holm’s newest solo effort. When I choose an audiobook, it’s really all about the reader. To be honest, there aren’t many audiobooks that I end up listening to all the way to the end. They often don’t hold my interest the way reading a book does, unless the performance is really strong. Some audio performances are just creepy. They sound stilted and weird or the reader’s intonation is completely monotonous. I don’t get it when the producers cast an actor for a character who is 11 or 12 or a teen, and the actor sounds like s/he is 40-something. Hmm… something not so convincing about that, I’d say. So when I find an audiobook that grabs me, with a performer who perfectly conveys the mood of the narrative, and it keeps me hooked all the way to the end, I feel lucky. Turtle in Paradise was a listening treat.

Set during the Depression in Key West, this book tells the story of Turtle, an 11-year-old filled with gumption and smarts. Her mother is a housekeeper and she takes a new job working for an older woman who hates kids, which means Turtle has to go to Florida to stay with her mother’s sister and a whole gang of cousins. When she gets there, she discovers a quirky community, very different from any place she’s lived before. Her cousins have created a gang, called the Diaper Gang, in order to earn a bit of extra cash babysitting testy infants. They are the most unlikely collection of babysitters you could imagine. Turtle spends most of her days hanging around with the gang, and the kids end up on an adventure seeking buried treasure. Turtle learns to open herself up to others, and what it means to be part of a family.

This book seems made for reading aloud. There’s a lovely rhythm to the language, and it’s plenty funny. The characters are sassy and they are all big personalities, leaping off the page and coming to life as the adventure unfolds. I’d have a hard time choosing my favourite. I would read more about this crew in a heartbeat. Holm has created a story that captures a time gone by without making the historical period an obstacle for younger readers. In fact, I’ll bet they might be eager to learn more about this time in history. It’s charming and sweet and perfect for summer. Doesn’t that cover say, “Read me at the beach” (by the lake, on the dock, under a tree, in a deck chair…)?

Turtle in Paradise is published by Random House.

The Jane Cure

I’ve been feeling distinctly, “meh” lately.

Is it the heat?

Is it the fact that I still need to wait 86-ish days for this book?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be cured by lemonade or reading or even eating a lot of gelato.

So this week I finally went with the Jane Cure. A little P&P cannot fail to lift a girl’s spirits. You know you’ve watched the BBC miniseries one too many times when you can whistle the entire theme song (and play all of the parts). Remember this scene?

Well, I’m thinking the Jane Cure would be even more powerful if I watched while wearing this:

You could get one too. Right here.

Thank goodness for Jane.

The Agency

I was entirely pleased by Y.S. Lee’s The Agency: A Spy in the House. It has many elements that put together, make it exactly the type of book that I am inclined to devour: a well-crafted mystery, historical setting, and an amusing romance with a certain Darcy/Elizabeth quality. To tie up this satisfying package, it also happens to be the first in what will be a trilogy. Yes please!

Our heroine is Mary Quinn, an orphan who had the very good fortune to be rescued from the gallows to attend Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. At the Academy, Mary receives an impressive education and learns fine manners.  After completing her studies, her teachers offer her an unusual opportunity. She is invited to join the Agency, a secret organization of female investigators who work on high stakes cases. Mary chooses to accept the invitation and is sent out on her first job. She is placed in a position as a lady’s companion in a rich merchant’s house, where she is meant to investigate a possible case of international shipping fraud. What she finds is much more complicated and personal, and her work will take her into some of London’s seediest and dangerous parts.

Lee certainly succeeds in bringing London of this period to life. (Could this be due to the fact that she has a PhD in Victorian literature and culture? Likely). The novel takes place during a terrible heat wave, and you can practically smell the stink of the Thames. One of the highlights of the book is the relationship between James Easton and Mary, which has definite shades of Darcy and Elizabeth, as they show a similar cutting banter and the same swing from love to hate and back again. I liked that Lee manages to comment on the limited choices available to women during this time, without making it seem like she is pausing for an Important History Lesson in the middle of her story. This plot really moves, and the secondary characters are well-drawn.

I’m all set to see what Mary tackles next, in The Body at the Tower, coming August 2010 from Candlewick.

For a teaser, click here.

And for a nifty behind-the-scenes look at photos from the cover shoot for that title, take a look here.

Fever Crumb

Philip Reeve’s Fever Crumb is a book to sink into. For some of you, all I really need to say is “Prequel to the Mortal Engines Quartet” and you won’t feel it’s really necessary to read any more of this review. That would make you already a Philip Reeve fan. That would mean that you know that a Philip Reeve book is all about amazing world-building, creative vision, and characters as quirky and rounded as they come. A Philip Reeve book is a truly transporting experience. If you haven’t yet read any of his work, I’d say Fever Crumb is a fine place to begin.

Fever Crumb takes place far in the future, a few centuries before the first book in The Hungry City Chronicles. Fever is a girl who was abandoned while she was still a baby, and raised by the Order of Engineers, scientists for whom logic is all. Years before this happened, Auric Godshawk, a powerful ruler and member of a strange social class known as the Scriven, was deposed during a violent uprising. Things haven’t really been stable in London since that time. When she’s nearly grown up, Fever is sent to work with an archaeologist named Kit Solent who believes that he may have found Godshawk’s secret laboratory, where he hopes he may uncover amazing scientific secrets. At the same time, invaders are drawing closer to London’s borders, and they have plans of their own for the city’s future.

Where to start with why I loved this book? First off, there’s an appealing Dickensian quality to it. I think it has something to do with the way that the atmosphere is alternately gritty and then suddenly funny, and how the characters are perfectly captured in their smallest gestures and interactions with other characters. You will feel like you are reading a real tale, a little bit old-fashioned in feel and grand in scope. And the world-building. One word: incredible. Every aspect of the London of Reeve’s imagination is right there for you to picture and smell and hear. Reeve is one of those amazing authors who manages to convey attention to the smallest details (the Scriven’s facial markings, the scent of a summer night), the kind of small details that make a world come to life for the reader, but at the same time, his big-picture world-building is remarkable and consistent. The story moves at such a pace but you never feel that you aren’t getting a sharp, fully-realized picture of things. His inventiveness is apparently unending. One of my favourite examples of this? There are these spooky/fantastic paper assassins that feature at several points in the plot. Just when you thought the mail slot was safe.

Of course, for those who are already wild fans of The Hungry City Chronicles, there is a great deal of additional appeal as you will discover in Fever Crumb more about the origins of traction cities, as well as the history of some of the characters featured in that series. I think Philip Reeve is masterful in how he develops different story threads, always knowing when to leave one to return to another but never leaving anything for so long that you stop caring about it. Every plot line gets its fair share of development and care, making for a rich reading experience.

If you’re still reading this review, and you haven’t raced away to get your hands on this book, check out this mini interview with the author. And then hurry off and get your hands on this book.

(He’s a charmer, yes?)

Fever Crumb is published by Scholastic Press. And it’s worth every second.

(This post is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire).

SBBT – Days 3 & 4

Look at all these fantabulous interviews. Go. Read. Be amazed.

Day 3

Chasing Ray: Michael Trinklein

Fuse Number 8: Nick Burd

A Chair, A Fireplace And A Tea Cosy: Sarah Darer Littman

Finding Wonderland: Tom Siddell

Shaken & Stirred: Jess Leader

Day 4

Matthew Reinhart at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Jenny Boylan at Fuse Number 8

Lisa Mantchev at Writing & Ruminating

Tara Kelly at Shaken & Stirred

Donna Freitas at Bildungsroman

Enjoy!

Summer Blog Blast Tour: Charise Mericle Harper

It’s Day Two of the Summer Blog Blast Tour and I’m pleased to welcome Charise Mericle Harper, author of many fun and funny books, including the Just Grace and Fashion Kitty series, to Shelf Elf. Thanks for joining the tour Charise! Let’s get the questions going.

Both Fashion Kitty and Just Grace are girls with a lot of imagination. In their adventures / daily lives they discover that sometimes, solving problems just takes a little imagination. While your books are way too much fun (and far to clever) to be messagey, I think that this is an awesome, empowering message for young readers. What else do you hope kids might learn or take away from these two series?

First off I would always hope that the books are fun to read –a flashlight under the covers kind of experience. Not because you’re embarrassed to be caught with them, but hopefully because you can’t put them down and Mom said to turn the lights out. There, now that we have that covered (bad pun on purpose here), I guess the thing that I think these two series have in common is a confident main character with a strong sense of compassion. Sort of a, “Life’s not easy, but some creative problem solving and an optimistic attitude just might get us through” kind of vibe. And then wrapping the whole empathetic can-do sandwich together a sense that being different is not such a bad thing, and that maybe, just maybe it’s even desirable.

One of the aspects of the Just Grace books that most impresses me is the way that you’ve captured so perfectly the interests, perspectives, challenges and voice of that age group. I feel like you must spend time spying on eight-year olds or hanging out in classrooms so that you can get everything to be so convincing. What are your secrets? How do you create such believable kids?

Well I happen to have a child spy living right in my house at this very minute. My daughter is eight and she has definitely been a big inspiration for the character of Grace. I started the books when she was five, but since then watching and listening to her has given me quite a few new story ideas. I don’t take direct dictation, but having her around definitely helps me get back into that eight-year old mindset. She’s like the diary I never kept. Of course we are both different and our experiences are not the same, but having her in my world helps me jump into that time capsule to visit my past. Things like remembering the monkey bars – the swinging and that great happy feeling of getting to the end without falling, and even though your hands were stinging like crazy you’d just shake them off and turn around and do it all over again.

Fashion Kitty and Grace are blessed with unusual super powers (extreme fashion sense and amazing empathy power). What is your secret super power (but not secret for very much longer)?

Hmm. I don’t know if I have a superpower. Doesn’t a superpower have to be instantly available the second you need it? I don’t think I have that kind of instant action ability, but if I could maybe have an hour or two to get it together, then I think my power might be creative optimism. Not always available in the thick of things, but when the fog clears hopefully my costume’s on and I’m moving forward. One hand pointing the way and the other holding a nice hot cup of coffee (that’s my spinach.)

On your website, you mention that you like to have lots of silly things around you when you’re working. What are your Top 5 Silly Things?

Top five favorite silly things:

1) Little person my daughter made for me out of a stick of gum. So far I haven’t eaten her (the gum not my daughter).

Continue reading

Summer Blog Blast Tour: Malinda Lo

I couldn’t be happier to be part of the crew launching the 2010 Summer Blog Blast Tour today with Malinda Lo, author of the much-praised Cinderella-retelling, Ash. I loved this book. Read my review here, and then come on back. The New York Times called it “somber and lovely,” and Kirkus blessed it with a starred review, saying it is “exquisite and pristine.” It happens to be up for a 2010 Lambda Literary Award. Bottom line? If you haven’t read it yet, you are in for a moody and magical treat. Save it for just the right moment. You will be enchanted and you will become an instant Malinda Lo fan. So aren’t you lucky that she’s right here with us today? Welcome Malinda!

What first interested you about the prospect of retelling such a classic story? What surprised you about the process? What proved to be more challenging or satisfying about re-imagining Cinderella than you had initially anticipated?

The first first thing that interested me in retelling a fairy tale was most likely reading Robin McKinley’s Beauty when I was a kid. That retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” showed me how wonderful a fairy tale retold can be. I wanted to retell “Cinderella” because it has always been my favorite fairy tale, but I had never read a retold version of it that I really enjoyed.

When I started thinking about how I would retell “Cinderella,” I thought it would be relatively simple because, well, I knew what happened! But the most surprising thing about retelling it was the realization that actually, no, I did not know what happened. Figuring out what happened — the plot — turned out to be the most challenging part of writing Ash.

One of the real pleasures for readers of your book, is the mood you create throughout – a little magic, a little darkness, romance and loneliness all mixed together. So here’s a million dollar question: how did you do that? On your website, you share a playlist that you listened to during the writing process. What else did you do to help you get into the right writing space as you worked on Ash?

I wrote Ash on and off over a period of eight years, so I did a lot of different things — I was always chasing that mood! Looking back on it, I think I was experimenting a lot with techniques that would put me in the right writing space. One of the things that definitely did help was music. I own every single Loreena McKennitt album now because listening to her brand of Celtic music was so helpful in getting myself into that Ash place! I also learned that I write better when I can do it for long stretches, as opposed to an hour at a time. So I began to block out four to eight-hour chunks of time to work.

Back then, I was working full-time but had a flexible schedule because I was a self-employed freelance writer. I scheduled every Friday afternoon and evening as Ash writing time, and I did this for a couple of years. It did mean I sacrificed part of my social life, but it was worth it. And honestly, you can do plenty of socializing on Saturday night!

There could be some potential readers out there who as soon as they hear the words “lesbian retelling of Cinderella” think that Ash will live happily ever after in the LGBT section of libraries or bookstores, and that if they aren’t LGBT themselves, this book might not be something they’d be interested in reading. Why do you think this story has broad appeal for teen readers?

You know, I get this question a lot, and I understand why. I would ask it, too. I don’t think that many minority writers would want to be ghettoized by having their books placed only in a special interest section. At the same time, I recognize that having those special interest sections was once a mark of progress. In the not-so-distant past, LGBT books weren’t even carried in most mainstream bookstores, much less in LGBT sections. So while I’m glad that Ash hasn’t been relegated to that dusty corner of the bookstore, at the same time, I feel like it’s a privilege for it to be categorized in the LGBT section. Many of the other books in that section paved the way for my book to be published, and I’m thankful for them.

Of course, I do hope that Ash has broad appeal. I can’t say for certain whether it does or not — I’m no Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer! But I do think that Ash is a love story told in a fairly mainstream voice. Yes, Ash falls in love with another girl, but the gender of her love interest is almost incidental. The book isn’t about being gay or coming out; it’s about falling in love. Continue reading

A Most Improper Magick

Stephanie Burgis’s debut fantasy, A Most Improper Magick, The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson was excellent fun, exactly what I was hoping it would be. It was a frolic – a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Libba Bray with some Highwayman action tossed in for good measure. This is a book that does not take itself too seriously. I like that in a book.

Kat Stephenson has discovered she has inherited her mother’s magical powers. This is exciting, but it is also difficult, because in 1803 in London, magic is very much frowned-upon. Kat is not sure how to handle her new-found talents, and she has a lot on her mind because her eldest sister is likely going to be forced to marry an ancient but wealthy gentleman and also, a mysterious group of witches known as the Order is trying to convince Kat to allow them to give her proper magical training. Her brother Charles has gambled away much of the family’s money and her other sister Angeline is casting some irresponsible love spells and generally making a mess of things. Kat feels it is up to her to solve as many of these problems as possible, and she’s not afraid to use a little magic to do it. Did I mention there is a highwayman lurking in the woods? What fun!

I knew I was going to like the smart and funny voice of the narrator after the first two sentences:

“I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden.”

Burgis keeps it all light and clever and certainly communicates the Austen-like balance of frustration and love between the sister characters and the other family members. Kat is feisty and memorable. The other two sisters are not as well-developed overall, but I’m hoping to see that fleshed out in the second and third books in the trilogy. Some might find that there isn’t enough tension as the book advances, since most of the focus is on the romantic outcomes for Kat’s sisters, and ultimately, it’s Kat we care about the most. In some ways, this book feels like it’s primary purpose is to set-up what is to come in the next two titles. The social situations are amusing though, so I didn’t mind too much that the pace felt a shade slow towards the middle. As in Austen, it’s the conversations that entertain more than anything. This is a quick and charming read, with a heroine you will want to spend more time with. If, like Stephanie Burgis, your favourite movie is Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility and you’ve been known to enjoy a little Doctor Who, I think you will get a real kick out of this book and be eager for the next installments.

(Note: Based on something the author wrote at her blog, I’m not sure that this is going to be the title of the book when it is released in the U.S. We’ll see).

A Most Improper Magick will be published by Atheneum.