Musings on My Favorite Book

I found myself in a funk this past week. It was the kind of week where I found no joy in the things I normally would—my books, my favorite shows,  my blog, and hobbies—nothing held my attention.  Hiding under the covers from the outside world seemed like the best option; and indeed, aside from my daily trek to work, I achieved this quite well.

During these sometimes bouts of the blahs,  I find it helpful to return to the familiar, to remember why and from where my loves began. Books have long been a constant in my life. Growing up overseas, unspoiled by television and Disney movies, books were my escape and my passion. By grade six, I’d read most of the classics from Aesop to Shakespeare, Grimm to Dickens, Tolkien to L’Engle. Despite the scope and variety of my tastes, it was to Lewis Carroll’s tale of Alice to which I always returned.

Yearly, I reread Alice in Wonderland, always finding something new. As I have grown, so has the tale grown with me.  In weeks like the one I’ve just had, I feel like Alice falling down a rabbit hole feeling  as though there is no end  to the descent. There were moments at work this week that made me feel as though the Red Queen were chasing after me screaming, “off with her head!” And just when I thought the insanity was over, it became clear, as the Cheshire Cat warned, “we’re all mad here.”   

Alice’s adventures in Wonderland and through the looking glass introduced me to fantastical worlds full of whimsy and danger. As a child, I was caught up in the fun of it all. As an adult, the book has become allegorical, a metaphor for events in my life. Alice is familiar to me, someone who has gone through a series of weird and wonderful events and who has come out stronger as a result. At the same time, Alice never loses her sense of curiosity, she seeks constantly to understand and to discover—in this sense, she is a lifelong learner. 

Whether I’m diving in to reread the entire book or just stopping by to puruse my favorite chapters, Alice is always there for me.  Travelling through Wonderland with Alice helps me escape my funk and reminds me of the beauty of being lost in a book.  

What is your go-to book?

Call to Action: A Family in Need

Once Upon a Twilight

I just found out that Yara, founder of Once Upon a Twilight lost her home to not one, but two separate fires. She, her husband, and her two boys are now picking up the pieces and trying to figure out the next steps.

Anyone who knows Yara knows what an amazing and kind person she is. While I've never met her personally, she was one of the first bloggers to take me under her wing as I started this blog. I'm sure many of you who read my blog also read hers. So here's your chance to do something awesome. TwilightMomsEve's Fan Garden and Late Bloomer Online have set up a PayPal account  here for doations to help the family. Even if you can only give a dollar, every little bit helps. Let's gather together to do some good for an awesome woman and her family.

Indie Love Guest Post: Zombies in Disguise

Thea Isis Gregory, author of the Zombie Bedtime Stories series is stopping by the blog today to share her musings on everyone's inner zombie. 

You can check out Thea on her blog:

Zombies in Disguise

I’ll be the first to stand up and say that I, Thea Gregory, author of the Zombie Bedtime Stories, am a zombie. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that you’re a zombie, too. We’re all zombies, from the right perspective of course. Except you, because I know you’re a super special exception.

I may not look like a zombie, and I don’t crave brains or feel a cannibalistic lust for uncooked human flesh. But, does that really matter? I think that there is a force out there that will make even the most articulate and bright people into frothing knuckle-draggers.
It’s no secret that many zombie movies take place in malls, or have other shopping-related scenes. On a base level, we all point and laugh. After all, the zombies go to the mall, just like their normal clientele of mindless mall-rats. It’s funny because we’re not zombies, or mall-rats. In our respective myopic little universes, we’re all survivors. We’re not like the mall clientele at all—we’re not driven to zombie-like consumerism. We live for other things, and that’s what sets us apart, right?

That’s just the problem. We neglect the fact that zombies can be found everywhere that an individual can exist to the exclusion of everything else. There are zombies in the office, zombies in school, zombies at the pub, and zombies walking in the streets.  In my short story, Locked In, zombies just walk around in packs, going anywhere normal people go.
My point is, that every activity can be considered a mindless compulsion if indulged deeply enough. It’s a base satisfaction of some need—one that can become all consuming. Academics, sports players, the religious, gamers—they share one thing in common: a perceived narrow-minded focus that often appears shallow and inconsequential to the outside world. The zombies clearly don’t stop at just the mall. Imagine a flock of unperturbed zombies mindlessly wandering the halls of a university, or any place of work. It looks about the same as a normal day.

Could you tell the difference? They’re not covered in blood, or groaning. They look like people, like you or me. Until it’s too late, and that single minded focus tramples you under on the cannibalistic ladder to that one little goal. For me, that’s committing literary homicide, one zombie-inspired killing at a time.
Zombies in disguise, indeed.

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

It’s well past midnight on a Friday and I am sitting on my couch bawling. For this, I blame John Green.

I had a general idea of what The Fault in Our Stars was about, what I was not prepared for; however, was how deeply this book would affect me and how, in 313 pages, I would feel so completely connected to two fictional characters.  This is not to say The Fault in Our Stars is one of those sappy sad books, it’s not. It’s bittersweet and beautiful; it is a celebration of life.
Those familiar with John Green’s writing will know how masterfully he creates his characters. Looking for Alaska remains one of my favorite books because, again, I felt entirely connected to the characters and their story. The Fault in Our Stars introduces us to Hazel and Augustus, two quirky teens who find each other in a cancer support group.  Hazel is a “brilliant young reader with a side interest in horrible television shows.” She is beautiful and brilliant, snarky and sincere. She finds her match in Augustus, a young basketball star who has had his career cut short by a cancer-related amputation.

And wouldn’t it be easy here for John Green to have made cancer the thing that brought our two protagonists together? But it’s not, you see, because these characters are more than their diagnosis. It is a shared love of metaphor, symbolism, dark humor and the novel, An Imperial Affliction, that seals the bond between the two.  

Green’s prose is intricate but natural. Reading The Fault in Our Stars feels like listening to your best friend tell a story about her past. Hazel’s voice is not forced the dialogue is genuine and the character’s actions realistic. Because of the natural narrative voice, Hazel and Augustus become more than names on a page, they become friends. Readers will be invested in their story, they will laugh, cheer—and yes, they will cry.

It’s been a long while since a book actually brought me to tears, and there are so many reasons why, but I’m sticking to my strict no-spoiler policy. What I can say is that this book was a treat; it’s one that has stuck with me and one I can recommend without hesitation to readers young, old, and in-between. The Fault in Our Stars is more than a story about two kids with cancer: it is a story of life, of the emotions we all feel, of the hopes and dreams we all share, it is a story of hope and of beating the odds. It will leave you feeling privileged to have shared the journey of two amazing people and will make you appreciate the amazing people you already have in your life. Simply, it’s a story for all of us.

Finally, to John Green,  I say thank you, the world is a better place because of your stories.

Indie Love: Introducing Megan Curd

Confession time: I've not always been a fan of indie published, small-house published, or self-published books. I was guilty of the same bias I'm trying to confront with this feature. For whatever reason, I bought into the assumption that if something were put out by an indie house or self-published, it must be somehow inferior. And then I discovered Megan Curd. It was one of those random twitter things, "I'm giving away a copy of my book to follower #700" or something to that effect. I followed on a whim, and was the recipient of a Kindle copy of a book that presents a captivating and original spin on faerie lore.

Bridger was not at all what I was expecting. I began the book to kill time on a summer road trip. I hadn't read many books about faeries and really wasn't sure what to expect. The tale begins abruptly, wasting no time in getting the characters involved in tragedy and mayhem. While I didn't love that crazy beginning, I was still curious about the characters and their story. Megan Curd spins a great tale, and she creates worlds and characters readers want to know. This was my introduction to the world of indies and I am thankful that Megan was able to help me expand my horizons; in fact, some of my favorite reads of 2011 were indie/self-pub.

October 2011 marked the publication of Megan's second novel, Forbidden. This book presents a great spin on the guardian angel myths. This time, I was hooked from page one. Levi and Hannah are brilliantly brought to life and I was completely invested in their story. Deftly avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump, Curd gave readers a book even better than the first.

If you've not read any of Megan's books, do yourself a favor and check them out. You can also find Megan at her blog:

This year, look forward to follow-ups to Bridger and Forbidden. Here's a sneak-peek at Traitor, the next installment in the Bridger series.


Review: Destiny's Fire

Goodreads synopsis: It’s the year 2040, and sixteen-year-old Dez Harkly is one of the last of her kind—part of a nearly extinct race of shape-shifters descended from guardians to the Egyptian pharaohs. Her home and her secret are threatened when the Council lowers the barrier, allowing the enemy race to enter the Shythe haven. As the Narcolym airships approach, Dez and her friends rebel against their Council and secretly train for battle. Not only is Dez wary of war and her growing affection for her best friend Jace, but she fears the change her birthday will bring. When Dez’s newfound power rockets out of control, it’s a Narcolym who could change her fate… if she can trust him.  Dez’s guarded world crumbles when she discovers why the Narcos have really come to Haven Falls, and she's forced to choose between the race who raised her and the enemy she's feared her whole life.

The synopsis of Destiny's Fire set my expectations high and I'm thrilled to say Trisha Wolfe's novel did not disappoint one bit. 

Readers are thrown right into the middle of the action from page one, when we meet Dez and Jace fighting with one another as part of a training session. We're introduced to this new world, full of tension and magic, mystery and fun. Dez is part of the Shythe and just days away from her birthday and her first transformation, an event that terrifies and excites her. Compounding her anxiety is the tension between Scythe and Narcolym and the arrival of a fascinating and dangerous new stranger.

Trisha Wolfe has crafted a breathtaking new reality. Far from typical, the shape-shifting Shythe and Narcolym will satisfy readers' appetites for something new in the world of YA supernatural fiction. At the same time, the world building will appeal to fans of science fiction and fantasy and the steampunk elements are just the icing on the cake. The thing is, this isn't an easy book to categorize, it blends elements of multiple genres beautifully to create something new and exciting. 

One of the things I loved most about this book was the friendship between Dez and Lana. There is no cattiness or competition to their friendship. Lana stands by Dez through some pretty tough times, which is refreshing to see. In a world where girls are so often pitted against one another, it was great to read about two girls who put aside differences to join forces and kick some butt. It's also great to see a female character who is not defined by her romantic entanglements. There is of course, romantic tension; but, far from being annoying, or distracting, it helps propel the action forward. 

The pacing of this story is perfect. Wolfe knows when to slow down the action to let readers savor a moment and when to speed things up and keep us on the edge of our seats. There were twists and turns I didn't expect and I was sad to turn the final page. I thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in this fictional world. There are so many things I want to say about Destiny's Fire, but I don't want to spoil anything for you, so the best advice I can give is go read the book now. 

Bout of Books 3.0

Bout of Books

Despite having a crazy busy week ahead of me, I've decided to jump into Bout of Books 3.0, sponsored by the awesome Amanda at On a Book Bender.

I've not been having great reading luck this first week of 2012. So far, the books I've tried to get into haven't kept me interested, so I'm hoping Bout of Books will help me dig into my TBR pile and also work toward some of my reading challenge goals.

While I don't have any specific title goals yet (I have to go scour my shelves and Kindle) I do want to get through at least 6 books this week. Not a huge number, I know--but I do have a busy work week coming up so I want to keep my goals realistic.

You can follow everyone's progress and check out the other awesome bloggers participating by going here: Bout of Books 3.0

Happy Reading :)

Indie Book Love Inaugural Post

Some indie books are brilliant, others are awful. Just the mention of indie/self-pub writers is sure to spark debate in certain circles. People have posted various opinions about the relative worth of indies and self-pubs all over the interwebs. Some indie authors have become infamous for inability to take constructive criticism, lack of editing, and hackneyed plots. However, to judge an entire group of writers based on the actions of a few is more than a little unfair. I read several great indies in 2011, Megan Curd's Bridger is one that stands out immediately as an indie worth reading. 

So, I decided to create a weekly post where I would highlight some of the indies I've found and have enjoyed. This may come in the form of reviews, guest posts, author interviews, or giveaways; but it will always be to feature indie authors I think are worth reading. 

I'm kicking off Indie Book Love with a guest post from John Abramowitz, author of Atticus for the Undead and Weaver (reviews coming soon). 

Here's a short description of Atticus for the Undead, "borrowed" from John's Site: Hunter Gamble is an idealistic young attorney in a very special area of the practice: arcane defense. Funded by enigmatic billionaire Charles McClain and aided by shy-but-energetic research attorney Kirsten Harper, he's making the world a better place -- one vampire, zombie, or werewolf client at a time. After all, they deserve their day in court too, right? 

Today's guest post is an opinion piece submitted by fictional congressman Hoyt Boone, concerning the rights of those who are capable of spell-casting. Enjoy :)

Supernaturals and the Law

            Surely by now every American is familiar with the Post Unveiling Tort Reform Act, also called "PUTRA". (Read more about the law here.) I authored this bill in an attempt to update a body of criminal and civil laws which were written largely before the existence of mages, vampires, and other such creatures was widely known. In response, I have been compared to Hitler and Stalin, and accused of trying to roll back the basic freedoms of which Americans are rightly proud.
            For instance, Ellis Boyer, the district attorney in Austin, Texas, has accused me of launching an "all out assault" on the freedom of speech by proposing to make offensive spellcasting a crime. Since spellcasting requires only words, Mr. Boyer argues, we are effectively empowering the police to jail innocent citizens for what they say. He argues that this would open the floodgates for politically-motivated prosecutions and a new round of Salem Witch Trials.
            I would expect a lawyer of Mr. Boyer's considerable talents to know better. Anyone who examines my voting record will find that I have been a stalwart defender of the First Amendment, and anyone who watches C-SPAN has seen me argue passionately against past attempts to curtail the rights it provides. (Ironically, some of those attempts were made by some of the very people who now call me a "fascist".)
            To defend his absurd claim, Mr. Boyer cites the recent case of Austin high school student Sabrina Orr, who was charged with attempted offensive spellcasting after a classmate caught her in the school auditorium rehearsing lines from Macbeth. Boyer describes this case as "an example of the travesties of justice that could occur regularly if PUTRA becomes law," and laments that his office "was forced to expend valuable time and resources prosecuting such a sham."
            First of all, Mr. Boyer wasn't "forced to expend valuable time and resources" doing anything. As the district attorney, he has near-total discretion over whether or not to prosecute a case. Had he instructed his office not to pursue Orr's case, the charges against her would almost certainly have been dropped. In light of this face, one must wonder whether Mr. Boyer's charges have less to do with his opposition to PUTRA and more to do with his own rumored plans to mount a Congressional campaign.
            Second of all, prosecuting offensive spellcasting is not a travesty. Rather, it is prudent, humane, and constitutional. The courts have always allowed for prosecutions of speech posing a "clear and present danger." Is Mr. Boyer arguing that being turned into a frog or lit on fire does not constitute such a danger? There are commonly-known offensive spells to do both, and worse.
            Third, under my law, anyone accused of offensive spellcasting would have ample opportunity at their trials to prove that they are incapable of magic. Nothing in PUTRA affects the right of an accused person to a trial, and I have no intention of doing so.
            The unprecedented legal and social challenges posed by the existence of supernaturals deserve a vigorous and robust discussion. But this discussion is not well-served by those who distort the facts for political gain.
            Congress should pass PUTRA immediately, for the good of humans and paranormals.

Mr. Boone is a Congressman from Austin, Texas.

Review: Cinder

Goodreads synopsis: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

I grew up reading fairy tales and feeling sort of let down by every princess’ need to be swept off her feet by a charming prince or rescued by a handsome huntsman.  As I got older, I found the original Grimm’s fairy tales and found they were must less happy yet much more compelling than the “happily ever after” versions. Shortly thereafter, I discovered science fiction and found futuristic tales of kings, queens, and warriors to be vastly preferable to those of the Brothers Grimm.  

Then along came Marissa Meyer, weaving together elements of fairy tale, science fiction, and anime with beautiful prose and a compelling plot. I’m not sure what I expected when I turned the first page of Cinder, but any expectations I could have had were far exceeded as I found myself drawn completely into the world of New Beijing.

First of all, it’s great to read a book that gives us a not Anglo-centric hero and heroine and takes us outside the usual settings. New Beijing is part of a new Earth, a planet trying to rebuild and maintain peace after a fourth world war, but make no mistake, this is not another dystopia. Instead we are presented with a world sure to make any reader of Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings happy. New Earth finds itself in a precarious peace with the Lunars—residents of the moon. That peace now hangs in the balance and it is up to the young and inexperienced Prince Kai to maintain the tenuous alliance.

Another refreshing aspect of this novel was the glaring lack of a love triangle. I know, I know, people love choosing sides in the triangles, but I tend to get weary of all the indecision. There is romantic tension and a fair share of heartbreak, but none of it feels overdone or melodramatic.  Meyer’s characterization is spot-on and feels natural. While nods are given to the characters of the wicked step-mother and step-sisters, rest assured this is not some lazy update of an old fairy tale.

So much more than just a retelling, Meyer has used hints of inspiration from the tale of Cinderella we all know and has created something deliciously new yet eerily familiar. Making Cinder a cyborg in a society that distrusts cyborgs and sees them as good for little more than servants is a brilliant choice and helps to set the tone. Prince Kai is a tormented soul, struggling with the weight of so much responsibility; but absent is any hint of broodiness or whining that is often associated with YA romances. The supporting characters are equally well-developed.  Peony and Iko, Cinder’s step-sister and best friend are wonderfully colorful characters. Iko provides much of the comic-relief, and Peony brings a sense of wonder and innocence.

Finally, no fairy tale would be complete without an evil queen. That role is played by the Lunar Queen Levana, a woman set on expanding her empire with little regard for human life.  I am hopeful we’ll learn more about the Lunars in upcoming books, because their culture is fascinatingly corrupt.

Of course there is also a royal ball, and a makeshift carriage, and even a nod to the glass slipper—none of this is done in a way you’d expect. While some parts of the plot were a bit predictable, the story is never boring and the reveals are always satisfying. And as for the happily ever after—well, you’ll just have to read and find out. 

PS: Cinder is the first in planned four-book series.  The next installments will also find their inspiration in fairy tales. I cannot wait to see how this series unfolds. The book will appeal to fans of science fiction, anime, and fairy tales—no prior knowledge of any genre is required to enjoy J  (I received an advanced reader copy of Cinder from Netgalley.)

Review: Clockwork Prince

In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa's powers for his own dark ends. With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister's war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move and that one of their own has betrayed them. As their dangerous search for the Magister and the truth leads the friends into peril, Tessa learns that when love and lies are mixed, they can corrupt even the purest heart.

December 7th, 2011 marked the release of one of my most anticipated follow up books of the year, Clockwork Prince, the second book in Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series.  December 7th was also the day that Cassandra Clare was reading and signing at the Columbus Circle Barnes and Noble.

Here’s Cassandra Clare and Ed Westwick saying hello to the crowd.

Not being up to date on my CW teen dramas, I had no idea who Ed Westwick was. Those of you much hipper than I will recognize him from the Gossip Girl series. He is also the narrator of the audiobook versions of Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince.

After all the squealing died down and Cassandra Clare was left alone on stage (and by the way, isn’t she awesome?) she read a passage from the book and took a series of audience questions.  Then there was the endless line of people waiting to get things signed. I love seeing so many bookish people gathering together at once, it makes me feel good about the world.

And she signed ALL the things.  Authors must have special endurance to be able to sign their names repeatedly for hours, perhaps publishers and publicists provide autograph stamina training.

So the Barnes & Noble event was fun, but what about the book, right?

The book did not disappoint. Whereas the first installment in the series was very much plot driven and focused on all the steampunky goodness of this version of Victorian England, Clockwork Prince is much more character driven. We learn a great deal about character backgrounds and motivations. Tessa, of course, is still struggling to decide who is a better match, Will or Jem. While I generally don’t like triangles, this one makes sense. Tessa, being a product of the Victorian era is not enough an individual to choose neither and so she is left with having to decide between her brain and her heart.

I love the way Clare makes the setting seem like another character. The details given to describe the various locales serve only to bolster the mood and drive the plot and are never distracting or tedious. It would have been great to have seen more of the steampunk creatures back for book 2, but it also would not have fit the story. We do get to see many of the contraptions including awesome mechanical spy spiders. Readers are also given a sneak peek of the underbelly of this alternate London and are introduced to a menagerie of evil creatures. Having not yet read any of The Mortal Instruments series (I know, I know, they’re on my list for 2012!) I’m not sure if these characters will already be familiar to readers, but I enjoyed seeing just how devilish this world is.

There are some unexpected twists and turns, though I guessed early on who the “mole” was, the reveal was still delicious.  Learning more of Will’s back story made me like him more and I especially enjoyed the bits about how he and Jem came to be so close. Finally, Clockwork Prince ends well, if not happily, leaving most ends tied up but enough loose to make us crave book three, Clockwork Princess.  Well played, Ms. Clare!

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