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Sunday, July 31, 2011

In My Mailbox: July 31, 2011

Make sure to leave a link to your IMM in the comments, so I can see what goodies you got!  And if you've read any of my goodies, let me know what you thought of them. :)
And as always, In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren.

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman
 --   sent by Alyssa @ The Shady Glade
  --   versus StarCrossed by Elizabeth C Bunce;  winner announced here.
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
The Faery Reel, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous
Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Battle Winnah: Series 4, Bracket 23!

I don't know if you've been following the YA Book Battle for Best Overlooked Book over at The Shady Glade, but for the 2nd year I am a judge on the panel. Last year, Natalie and I chose Before I Fall, which went on to win the whole damn thing.
This year, I'm judging with Kate from The Book Monsters (you may also know her from The Neverending Shelf). We had to choose between Elizabeth C Bunce's StarCrossed and Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza: City of Masks.  Here's a little about the books:

Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Gerse, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the city, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so.

Accepted as a lady's maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold--as well as plenty of jewels for the taking.

But after the devious Lord Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes that her noble hosts aren't as apolitical as she thought... that indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion.

Lucien is seriously ill but his life is transformed when an old Italian notebook gives him the power to become a stravagante, a time traveller with access to 16th century Italy. He wakes up in Bellezza (Venice) during carnival time and meets Arianna, a girl his own age who is disguised as a boy in the hope of being selected as one of the Duchessa's mandoliers. Arianna gives Lucien her boy's clothing and he is selected as a mandolier himself, becoming a friend of fellow-stravagante Rodolfo, the Duchessa's lover, and saving the Duchessa's life when she is threatened by an assassin hired by the powerful di Chimici family. For state occasions the Duchessa uses her maid Giuliana as a body-double but Guiliana commits the fatal mistake of revealing the secret to her fiance Enrico and a sequence of devastating consequences unravels. Meanwhile Lucien has met the original stravagante, the Elizabethan alchemist William Dethridge, and he begins to understand that he may be called to follow in his footsteps.

It was interesting, judging between the two, because in a lot of ways, they are very similar.  Both are about courtly intrigue and secrets, and magic where there should be none.  And they weren't paired together because of that.  This was purely luck of the draw.  

It made for a sort of introspective judging experience for me, because I had to sometimes ask myself how the reading of one was coloring the reading of the other - was I treating them as their own, separate books? - while at the same time, there is a very clear side-by-side comparison opportunity.  It was easy to say, Oh, well, X definitely did ________ better than Y...

But my own introspection aside, Kate and I had a very obvious winner.  Neither of us liked one of the books, and both fell in love with the other.  So the winner is....


StarCrossed captivated right from the beginning, and have insane tension building and building throughout.  It was atmospheric, Digger was awesome, and it was all around a clear winner.  You can find out all about my thoughts on it when I review it this week, but for now, you can check out the trailer.

For more on the Book Battle, and to see if StarCrossed makes it to the top, check out The Shady Glade.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Face Off: This Lullaby v. Holding Her Breath

I'm not going to lie, this type of stock photo (a blurry girl holding a paper heart, or making a heart with her hands) is becoming one of the most recognizably overused tropes in book covers.  I get it, it makes an impact, but uh...maybe a little less of one when all of the book start to look the same, yeah?  So here we have This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen and Holding Her Breath by Nicole Green.  Same cover, same style of treatment, but still different all the same.  So which makes you want to pick it up, based solely on the cover?
Which one did it better?

Last week on FFO:  A stock photo of a girl running in a field cropped up on the covers of Wander Dust and Grounding Quinn.  The battle was heated, and in the end, a tie - every time someone voted Wander Dust, the next person would vote Grounding Quinn.  So I'm going to play tie-breaker on this one, and that means the winner is.....
Wander Dust!
When it comes to the actual details of the cover, they really are neck and neck.  I mean, Grounding Quinn makes better use of the photo, with beautifully crisp clarity to the details and great lighting.  But Wander Dust makes the most of edits, transforming the sky to something a little otherworldy, and sprinkling the edges with magical little orbs of light.  So for me, it all came down to the font.  Wander Dust is bold and impactful, and looks far more professional than the standard word processor-style font.
Winnah ------->

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wishlist Wednesday: Dearly Departed

Dearly Departed
Lia Habel
October 18th, 2011
Random House

As far as romantic pairings go in the year 2195, you don't get much more unlikely than an upper-class schoolgirl and a poor miner from enemy tribes. Filter in the fact that he's a zombie, and you're definitely talking about star-crossed love.
Dearly, Departed is a cyber-Victorian/steampunk romance that takes place in the shadow of a new ice age. Nora Dearly, a mouthy teenage girl and apparent orphan, leaves school for Christmas - only to be dragged into the night by the living dead. Luckily for her, though, the good ones got to her first. From her reanimated rescuers she learns not only that zombies are roaming the countryside, but that her father is one - and that he's in terrible trouble. She also meets Captain Bram Griswold, a noble, strong, and rather sweet undead boy for whom she starts to fall.
Meanwhile, her best friend, Pamela Roe, is just trying to carry on with life as best she can in the wake of Nora's disappearance - when she ends up killing an evil zombie in self-defense. Pam is galvanized into action, and ends up leading a group of survivors as the city of New London is thronged by the ravenous dead.
Upon hearing of Pamela's plight, Nora and Bram set out to rescue her friends, find her missing father, and maybe just save what's left of the world.

Steampunk.  Zombies.  Dystopia.  Debut.  That cover.
Um, yes, please.

What's on your wishlist?

CLOSED Interview & giveaway with Karen Essex, author of Dracula in Love!

Yesterday, I posted my review for Dracula in Love, as part of the Dracula in Love blog tour.  (You can check out the other stops here.)  The story is a retelling of the classic gothic horror novel, from the point of view of Mina Murray-Harker.  Today, I am pleased to welcome the book's author, Karen Essex!
Make sure you stick around to the end to find out how you can win one of 5 copies of Dracula in Love!

Kittens and toms, I give you...Karen Essex!!

How did you go about choosing to work with the Dracula story, and how has writing your own take on the story changed the way you view the original material?
I'd read Bram Stoker's Dracula when I was fifteen years old, and even at that time, I was sure that the character Mina Harker was dissatisfied with her role as the passive, cooperative Victorian virgin. Then, several decades later, strangely—inexplicably—I was sitting at my computer one night staring into space and the thought popped into my brain: What if I retell the original Dracula myth from Mina Harker's perspective? The idea just descended on me. But it took hold because all my books are about women and power, and this was the perfect opportunity to put the girl power back into the Dracula myth. I have also been a bit of a vampire freak since childhood.

What were some of the difficulties in working with established - and well known - material like Dracula?
It was both challenging and intimidating, but I soon realized that I had to get over that if I was to deliver a story of my own. At some point, I had the revelation that I would make Stoker a character in the book. He would encounter Mina, become intrigued with her situation, and begin to investigate her life. And he would get it all wrong! That element freed me from having to follow his narrative, and allowed me the story to take on a life of its own. It changed everything. It made telling the story so much more fun and gave me license to deviate from the original.

Can you tell us a bit about the research involved?
Whenever I begin a work, I do a massive investigation into the time period. I read all the relevant history and I also seek out as much of the contemporary writing as possible. In the case of Dracula in Love, one of the most helpful things was to read issues of The Woman’s World, a slick magazine that was edited by Oscar Wilde. That gave me a real feeling for what was going on in the female mind in 1890. I also actually MOVED to London, where I now reside, to research and write the book so that I could drink in the atmosphere of late Victorian England as I wrote. I never write about a place that I do not visit (unless I can’t get in because of visa problems).

Another fascinating area of research was the late Victorian obsession with the supernatural. Things like séances and spirit photography, which factor into the book, were common practices at the time in the upper echelons of society.

In addition, I did a tremendous amount of research into the early days of psychiatry and Victorian insane asylums, which I wrote about in a post: http://blog.readinggroupchoices.com/?q=node/640
Readers tell me that the most harrowing parts of the book are not the vampire sequences but the asylum scenes. Sad but true: women in Victorian times had more to fear from their own cultures than from vampires!

Your take on the story is infused with sexuality, a trait that many feel goes hand in hand with the story of Dracula, even though bold expressions of sexuality would have been highly controversial when it was published. How did you approach the sexual aspects of the story, both in general and in telling it from Mina's perspective?
The vampire’s kiss has always been representative of sexuality, and in giving Mina Harker a voice, I wanted to include expressing what could not have been expressed in the 1890s—unbridled female pleasure. As is clear from the sequences in the book that take place in the insane asylum, women were being locked up and given bizarre treatments to cure them of having sexual pleasure. That was the state of things at the time. I wanted to liberate Mina from the bonds of her Victorian virtue, and giving expression to her sensuality was an important part of that. I have written extensively about my feelings on this matter: http://www.weeklylizard.com/blog/2011/07/15/no-sex-please-were-literary/

What is your favorite scene from the original Dracula, and from your re-imagining of it?
The two scenes I like most in Dracula are the scene where the Russian ship crashes into port in Whitby, and the scene with Dracula’s brides. Consequently, I had to work trebly hard to make those scenes of equal quality and value in my book, and I must say that they are now the two favorite scenes of mine in my own book. The bride of Dracula scenes I re-envisioned as a sort of mystical Venetian masked ball that takes place out of time, and I’m really happy with it. In fact, if anyone knows a way to get me invited to that particular party, I’d love to go!

Are there any other classic tale you'd like to rework?
Yes, I am researching one now but I have to keep it a secret at this point!

Can you give us a teaser of what you're working on next?
I am strongly considering a sequel to my book, Leonardo’s Swans, which takes place in the Italian Renaissance and is about the women Leonardo painted when he was the court painter in Milan. I just returned from a trip to Italy that reinforced that idea. But I also want to write a sequel to Dracula in Love. Some readers aren’t happy with the choices that Mina makes in the end, so I want to make it up to them in the next book.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Karen!  You can visit Karen on the interwebs here:

You can also see Karen talk about the creation of Dracula in Love, and her New Orleans spiritualist roots, here.

Or maybe you just want to read the book for yourself?
5 lucky readers are going to win a copy of Dracula in Love of their very own!
To enter, fill out this form.
Additional entries for tweeting, leaving some love for Karen or commenting on my review.
US only
Ends July 31st.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dracula in Love by Karen Essex

Hey, kittens.  I'm pleased as punch to be part of the blog tour for Karen Essex's Dracula in Love!  You can catch my review today, and tomorrow, I have a fabulous interview with Karen, as well as 5 copies of Dracula in Love to give away!

Dracula in Love
Karen Essex

From the shadowy banks of the River Thames to the wild and windswept coast of Yorkshire, the quintessential Victorian virgin Mina Murray vividly recounts in the pages of her private diary the intimate details of what transpired between her and Count Dracula—the joys and terrors of a pas­sionate affair and her rebellion against a force of evil that has pursued her through time.

Mina’s version of this timeless gothic vampire tale is a visceral journey into the dimly lit bedrooms, mist-filled cemeteries, and locked asylum chambers where she led a secret life, far from the chaste and polite lifestyle the defenders of her purity, and even her fiancé, Jonathan Harker, expected of her.

Bram Stoker’s classic novel was only one side of the story. Now, for the first time, Dracula’s eternal muse reveals all. What she has to say is more sensual, more devious, and more enthralling than ever imagined. The result is a scintillating gothic novel that reinvents the tragic heroine Mina as a modern woman tor­tured by desire.

Dracula in Love isn't just a fill-in-the-gaps retelling of Dracula, fleshing  out the story from Mina's point of view.  No, it is a sort of feminist retelling in which Mina asserts that the story that everyone knows, the story that's been told by men, is false.  True to their Victorian beliefs and morés, the men have cast the women of the story as either saints of harridans, relegating them to sidelines to seethe or swoon as they may.  But thinking, feeling, intelligent Mina isn't having it.  There is so much  more to Mina's story, things her husband and the doctors and lovers who have spun the story so far have no idea about.  Because for Mina, the story begins long before Jonathan travels to the continent to do business with a Count...

It's been a long, long while since I read Dracula.  I was thirteen, and I devoured it, but in some ways, it left me unsatisfied.  I think that same dissatisfaction may have been the impetus for Essex's reimagining of the tale, at least in part.  I mean, the story is so wrought with Victorian fear of female sexuality and human passions in general, so to have it told by a female character who is neither sinner nor saint but just human and humanly flawed, with human cravings - it fills the tale out and makes it more authentic and powerful to me.  I really, really liked the idea of getting Mina's side of the story, and of having Mina be lass passive and perfect and more passionate and strong.  In that respect, I got what I  wanted out of the story.

But what I wasn't expecting, and what I found most fascinating, was her interactions with the men of the story, human and inhuman alike.  Dracula's role in this is not the demonic, power-mad, lustful creep of a villain.  Or at least, not for the most part.  There is certainly a fair amount of lust and a good deal of power and submission.  But he bears no resemblance to this guy in looks or manner.   Though he is somewhat...unnatural, I guess you'd say, he's not really the villain of the piece.  Dracula doesn't appear to be all-encompassing evil.  He was terrifying to the Victorians for what he made them confront (lust, mortality), but a thinking, passionate woman need not necessarily fear, so Mina's reaction to him, slowly evolving, intrigued, is appropriate and enjoyable.

All of the domineering men, Drs. Seward and Von Helsinger, Arthur Holmwood/Godalming, even sometimes Mina's husband Jonathan, they're the ones you have to watch out for.  And they're the perfect types of villains to creep the bejeezus out of me, because they are overzealous fools given unchecked power they shouldn't have, over people who have no real defense against them.  Reasons this makes my skin crawl more than monsters under my bed: a) they feel completely justified in the awful things they do, b) their victims have no real recourse, because in the eyes of the law, they are justified, c) just by virtue of being men, they win control, and anything one could try to take control back would further cement their authority and add to their claims that everything they're doing is justified, and d) they are 100% real.  I mean, not these particular characters, of course.  But men like them, Victorian psychiatrists and the like, really did exist and practice horrific things on people whom we would consider completely sane.  It's this horrible vicious circle that meant that any woman in the Victorian era who had the audacity to express a lustful thought was fair game for their experimentation and "curing" and if she dared stand up for herself and fight, it was further proof that she was insane and needed curing.

I think this is where Essex's book shines.  Her human characters can be pretty monstrous, and her portrait of Victorian life and what it meant to be a woman, especially a passionate woman, is very well realized.  You can tell she has done a lot of research and a lot of work to bring Mina's world to life.  Mina herself straddles the line between proper Victorian woman and fully-realized, passionate woman.  She has friends in her life who aren't afraid to express their passions and break the mold, and they are presented in realistic ways, as forward-thinking suffragettes, etc, lending more authenticity to the tale.  Because of them, Mina doesn't feel out of place, and the story doesn't feel false or as unrealistic as it could have, given the setting.  It was reminiscent of the original, but modern and feminist and womanly enough to be believable.  I'm sure Mina would have struggled with some of the things she struggled with, and the feelings and dreams and ordinary experience of sexual awakening and how startling that is for her.  From this aspect, it is very well done.

There were some minor setbacks for me.  There were times, especially in the beginning, when I just wanted the story to move on.  I am not a big fan of excessive description; I am all for setting a scene, and for showing, not telling, but I get more than a little antsy when I feel like useless description has brought the action to a halt.  This is a style preference, and I know there are plenty of readers out there who love to have all the minutia described so that they can really see everything in detail.  But for me, there were times when I wanted to skim or set the book aside because it wasn't getting on with it at a quick enough pace for me.  This was less a problem for me as the story moved along and got into the meat of it, especially once they reached the asylum.

I think there are also those who will be put off by the sexualization of the story.   I never found it to be pornographic per se, but it certainly leans toward the erotic at some points.  I think this is in keeping with the original in a weird way, since it was so very much about repression and forbidden sexuality (ie, everything that screams Victorian...).  While it's never what I would really call explicit, it will most certainly make some people blush; I wouldn't suggest reading it to your grandma.  (Well,  I may have read this to my grandma.  She would have cracked up.)  There were times when everything was a little over the top for me, or a little timed ("It's been X pages, time for some writhing...").  But overall, I found it an interesting way to modernly explore what was actually a sexualized tale à la Victorian morés.

I don't remember Dracula enough to really compare specifics, but I think it's certainly an interesting riff on the story.  Especially to have Mina telling the tale, firmly and with conviction, because Mina was always the focal point for me anyway.  The added gothic elements,  like Mina's lifelong bouts with supernatural and Essex's take on the vampire mythology, as well as the very creepy, very gothic and very authentic use of early psychiatry, really brought the book to another level, and made it creepy in a new, modern way.  (That sounds like a contradiction, that the use of the Victorian beliefs made it creepy in a modern way.  But I think you know what I mean.  I hope.)  It didn't completely sweep me off my feet, but for the most part, I was pretty pleased with Essex's take and the Mina she presents.  If you're not adverse to a little lovin', and you enjoy the gothic ambiance, I'd recommend this one.

Don't forget to stop by tomorrow for my interview with Karen and my giveaway of 5 copies of Dracula in Love!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Supernaturally by Kiersten White

Kiersten White
Release date: July 26th, 2011

Evie finally has the normal life she’s always longed for. But she’s shocked to discover that being ordinary can be . . . kind of boring. Just when Evie starts to long for her days at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s given a chance to work for them again. Desperate for a break from all the normalcy, she agrees.

But as one disastrous mission leads to another, Evie starts to wonder if she made the right choice. And when Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend Reth appears with devastating revelations about her past, she discovers that there’s a battle brewing between the faerie courts that could throw the whole supernatural world into chaos. The prize in question? Evie herself.

So much for normal.

I started off my year with Kiersten White's debut, Paranormalcy, and I said in my review that it was the perfect funk-breaker and way to start the year.  I've been recommending it heartily ever since.  And so, though I don't usually actively pursue review books, the sequel, Supernaturally, was one I was bound and determined to get my hands on.  (As politely and professionally as possible, of course... ;p)  So yes, Misty + ARC of Supernaturally = Pleased As Punch.  I was so, so ready to slip back into Evie's world and have her funny, effervescent voice back in my head.

Supernaturally picks up a few months after the events of Paranormalcy, with Evie settled into the normal life she's always craved - and she's quickly learning that normal's not all it's cracked up to be.  I mean, she's even beginning to lose her enthusiasm over lockers.  Evie is...sad, but she doesn't quite realize it yet.  I kept thinking as I was reading this that the Evie we meet in Supernaturally is going to be hard for some fans of Paranormalcy to swallow.  She is going through some major changes and confronting the facts of her life - no longer a super-special kick-ass IPCA chick, not quite as human as she thought she was, missing her best friend and almost-sister, finding out normal = boring, and relationship slightly on the rocks - and all of this makes for a less likable Evie.  She's not as buoyant and irrepressible; she's sort of angsty and occasionally whiny, and at times, downright sulky.  She's a little hard to bear, and it may well put some fans off.

But the thing is, I still have to give credit to Kiersten White because I think these changes were honest.  It makes perfect sense that after everything, after losing so much and finding out that her life has always been a lie, that Evie would be reeling and not dealing with it all that well.  Her world has been turned upside down, and she can't trust anything anymore. She's starting from scratch, and the shiny wears off pretty quickly, especially when the only thing you've got to look forward to is a locker.  Not to mention that she's pretty much lived her life in a controlled bubble, so she doesn't necessarily have the coping mechanisms to deal with these huge changes, nor does she have the people in her life that would have been the ones to help her through them.  It's only fitting that this introduce some angst into her life, and that we see her in a rough patch. It wouldn't have been believable to have everything go on smoothly and nonchalantly as before.  But even if it's understandable and even necessary to advance Evie's character, there will be people who just don't have the tolerance for it.  And with a lot less Lend in the story than people are going to be happy with, and most of the cutesy gone, there may be those who were fans of the first book, but heartily dislike the second.

There were times when I was irritated with Evie or the story, but for the most part, even if it lacked a bit of the magic of the first, I enjoyed it pretty thoroughly.  There were some new beings introduced, either briefly or for the long haul, that brought in a lot of the fun I've come to associate with White's writing.  Much of it expanded the world nicely, and some of it was downright hilarious (unicorns!).  One of the new major characters, Jack, was a great deal of fun, very Puckish* and irreverant, and school-boy/smart-ass charming.  He's good, crazy fun.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I saw his storyline coming a mile away, but I still enjoyed getting there, and what he brought out in Evie or allowed to be revealed.

(*I mean that in the old-school sense, not the J. Kagawa sense. Stop squeeing.)

Many of the old characters were there too, even some that you may not have expected to see again.  Raquel is back with her sighs - though less of them, thank god - and we get to know some of the formerly minor characters a little better.  And Reth makes an appearance or three, and I ate up every minute of it.  I love me some Reth, I don't even care.  Say what you want, he may be a Fey dick at times, but I lurve him, and I don't even care to hide it.  One thing I was happiest about, though, was the continuance/resolution to the Vivian storyline.  Vivian is still a part of the story, in her way, and while still just as intriguing, it is a much calmer relationship.  I really like her and the consistency of her character; even when she grows and changes, it's believable, and she facilitates that in Evie, too.  The realities of Evie's struggle and what she and Vivian are paves the way for a great expansion of Evie's history.  There is still so much there to explore, both in the person she is going to become (and I love her struggle, love the temptation and the horror of being what she is), and in the way the other paranormals treat her.

I think, in some ways, this was a book to get through.  I don't mean that it was bad or you have to slog through it, but I think it acts as a necessary bridge between what has happened and the things that need to come into being.  Just as Evie needed to go through these hard, angsty times to come into her own (I hope) and grow, I think there are a lot of things that either happen or are hinted at that give a sense that the story is much bigger.  Something big is brewing, and it always feels as if it's about to explode.  There are things that aren't 100% tied up at the end, and though that may frustrate some, it's doesn't seem done in that false way that's meant to get you to buy another book.  There are just...implications of a bigger picture, hints about the elementals and other beings, of tensions and alliances, and though the main events of this story are wrapped up nicely, you get a sense that it's just the calm before the storm.  And personally, I love storms...

Looking forward to book 3.

Related: If you haven't read the book, here's the trailer.  If you have, this fan-made, Sims-based trailer kills me.  So bleeping funny. [Intenionally or not...]


In My Mailbox: July 24th, 2011

Make sure to leave a link to your IMM in the comments, so I can see what goodies you got!  And if you've read any of my goodies, let me know what you thought of them. :)
And as always, In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren.


The Summer I Learned To Fly by Dana Reinhardt
Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
(also mentioned The Year of the Flood)
Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott
Liz @ Consumed By Books

Don't forget to leave your Qs for the Q&A in the comments (or email them to me)!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Beach Reads: Dreamland Social Club

Beach Reads is a summer meme, posted here every
weekend.  It consists of quick, light reviews about books that
make good beach or backyard reading.   Find out more here,
and feel free to post your own Beach Reads and enjoy the summer right!

Dreamland Social Club
Tara Altebrando

Jane has traveled the world with her father and brother, but it's not until her fractured family-still silently suffering from the loss of Jane's mother many years before-inherits a house and a history in Coney Island that she finally begins to find a home. With the help of a new community of friends, a mermaid's secrets, and a tattooed love interest with traffic-stopping good looks, the once plain Jane begins to blossom and gains the courage to explore the secrets of her mother's past.

Colorful characters, beautiful writing, and a vibrant, embattled beachfront backdrop make this the perfect summer read for anyone who has ever tried to find true love or a place to call home.

I think this book may have been the genesis for the Beach Reads idea. I took one look at the cover, with it's bright colors, boardwalk and mermaid, and I had this yearning to be at the beach.  (Minus the boardwalk craziness, though a mermaid would be cool.  But still; you get what I'm saying.)  It seemed like sort of the perfect beach read.  And the thing is -- it is.  The beach, the boardwalk, Coney Island - the scene become a palpable character, just as much as any of the others.  But more than that, it's a quintessential "let your freak flag fly" type of story, done with heart and understanding.

I've never been a huge contemporary reader.  For whatever reason, I'm always convinced contemporary books are going to be either sappy-romantic or Gossip Girl.  Couldn't tell you why that is, because I have read some damn good contemporary, and I know that it exists.  Like this one.  I connected to this story, to Jane's quest to find her place and her past.  And I connected to the freaks that people the story, and their passion and boldness and lack of fear in being who they are.  I found myself missing them when I was done, in the way that book characters sometimes feel like they're your friends.  I wanted to pick up the phone and call them, or visit Coney and chat.  There came a moment in the day after I'd finished the book where I realized it was over and I felt a little bereft.

And the thing is, it's not that anything amazing ever happens.  I mean, it's all pretty amazing, from the pov that it's full of circusy freakishness and over-the-topness, but it's not the type of story to really wow you with some dramatic event or unbelievablt effecting writing.    But there's just something about it that makes it feel comfortable and real, and I enjoy that when I find it.   I feel like I'm being a little rambly, so I'm going to move on from this, but I just want to say, this book felt like a friend, and I liked that.

I think Altebrando understands characterization really well, too.  There is a good mix of characters in this, and sometimes I mean Characters-capital-C, and they worked together believably for their age and for the setting.  Seeing everything through the eyes of Jane, the uber-normal newbie on the scene, provided a lot of opportunities to connect with the characters and allow them to grow on the reader.  Even though you're plunged in a bit, there's still a slow-reveal style, and the opportunity to let characters unfold.  Readers are given the chance to let things grow on them, and see the real person beneath the tattoos or missing limbs or bearded female faces.  Altebrando, through Jane, gets to the humanness of everyone involved, even many of the minor characters, and she does it with understanding and love.  Jane's quest to understand her mother allows her to understand everyone else.  I appreciated that.

But I think what sold me the most on the story as a whole was Altebrando's subtlety.  It's hard to be subtle when your characters are all over-the-top.  It would have been really easy to pigeon-hole everyone and let them remain stock characters, OR to be very, very didactic and admonish the reader against judging a book by its cover and a lady by her beard.  Altebrando skillfully avoided both, letting the reader make their own decisions about the characters, and using Jane to help us love them, despite or because of things that make those around them do double-takes.  It was nice to have them just be, and have the love and acceptance just be, and not feel like it was being used for A Lesson of Great Importance.

So though it's never a super fast-paced read, and it didn't necessarily leave me breathless or make me cry, in the end I was left pretty impressed - Dreamland Social Club is one I think I will remember.

On a related note: I did a reading of the "mermaid auditions" from Dreamland Social Club for A Bakcwards Story's Splash Into Summer mermaid event.  You can check it out here!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Face Off: Wander Dust v. Grounding Quinn

It's always so fascinating to me to see what cover designers make of a stock photo.  I love seeing how each party looks at one set picture and creates their own story and atmosphere.  Even though it kinda sucks for the author to have a stock photo on their book...
Anywho, hears another stock photo, and I'm sure this one crops up on more than just these two covers, since the sense of movement is great and it would probably work for a number of books.  For me, it all comes down to one simple thing: font choice.  But I'm curious how you feel about this one.  Either one make you want to pick up the book, or at least find out what it's about.   Let me know what you think:
Which one does it better?

Last Week on FFO:  The old and new covers for Lauren Oliver's Delirium went head to head, and surprisingly enough, neither one came out ahead.  Hahaha, get it.  Gosh, aren't I punny.  Anywhoodle, yeah, it was a tie.

Everyone's a winnah!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

TAG - You're it!

It's my first book tag, yall!  I've been wanting to do this for awhile, and I can't wait to see your answers for the questions.  =D

The Qs:
Note: the books can have been published any time, so long as you read them in 2011 (with the exception of Fave cover)

  • Book you're an evangelist for
  • Most surprisingly good book
  • Biggest disappointment so far
  • Funniest
  • Favorite cover (published in Jan-June 2011)
  • Favorite character
  • New-to-you series
  • Most beautifully written
  • Most thought-provoking OR book that grew on you
  • Book you want to see made into a movie
  • Wishlist for the second 1/2 of 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wishlist Wednesday: Cinder

Marissa Meyer
January 3rd, 2012
Feiwel & Friends

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. In this thrilling debut young adult novel, the first of a quartet, Marissa Meyer introduces readers to an unforgettable heroine and a masterfully crafted new world that’s enthralling.

I've been waiting for this one to have a cover so I could Wishlist it for you.  You may recall during Fairy Tale Fortnight, we had an interview and a guest post with author Marissa Meyer, and from the interview and my chats with her, I knew Cinder would be a book I'd be putting on my wishlist.  So hopefully, Ashley and I will be presenting some Cinder-y stuff for you next year, but either way, I will be reading this one.  
Also, I kinda want stockings that make me look like I have cybernetic parts, now...

What's on your wishlist?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

TBR Tuesday: Fat Vampire

Most of us have books we've bought with all intentions of reading (or maybe just because it was cheap!), only to have them fade away on a shelf or disappear into a stack of books, never to be seen or thought of again.
TBR Tuesday is a way to talk about the books we own but haven't read, see what other people think about them, and help us decide whether to bump it up our list or knock it off completely.

On my TBR

Fat Vampire
Adam Rex

Doug Lee is undead quite by accident—attacked by a desperate vampire, he finds himself cursed with being fat and fifteen forever. When he has no luck finding some goth chick with a vampire fetish, he resorts to sucking the blood of cows under cover of the night. But it's just not the same.

Then he meets the new Indian exchange student and falls for her—hard. Yeah, he wants to bite her, but he also wants to prove himself to her. But like the laws of life, love, and high school, the laws of vampire existence are complicated—it's not as easy as studying Dracula. Especially when the star of Vampire Hunters is hot on your trail in an attempt to boost ratings. . . .

Searing, hilarious, and always unexpected, Fat Vampire is a satirical tour de force from one of the most original writers of fiction today.

Sorry this one's up so late today, guys.  I forgotted. ;P  
Anywho, I've had this one on my shelves since Christmas (when an especially awesome person sent it to me), and on my wishlist since before that.  I absolutely ADORE the cover.  It's simple and striking and hilariously perfect.  I think I want to try to work it into my Helluva Halloween reads this year, but that is quite a long list that just keeps growing, so I've got to prioritize.
Anyone read this one?  Should it be in the definite pile or the maybe pile for this year's HH?  
And if you haven't read it, do you want to see a review of it this October, or are there more pressing books?

Let me know in the comments, and don't forget to tell me what's lurking in your to-be-read pile!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

In My Mailbox: July 17, 2011

Make sure to leave a link to your IMM in the comments, so I can see what goodies you got!  And if you've read any of my goodies, let me know what you thought of them. :)
And as always, In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren.

Heartless by Gail Carriger
Beastly by Alex Flinn
A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter
The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
The Very Thought of You by Rosie Allison
The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss
Relations that Suck: The Story of Eva and Dries by Marilyn Yu
Femme Fatale by Marilyn Yu


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