TTT: My Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2015 (So Far)

IMAGE CREDIT

So, once more, I was off having adventures* apart from my computer, and I have neglected my blog. But you just can’t blog and drive. Not yet. But I digress (as usual).

I am nearly always confused about what day it is, but my computer decrees that today is Tuesday, which means it’s time for the Top Ten Tuesday meme with The Broke and the Bookish. If you’d like to participate, click here.

The theme today is Top 10 Favorite Books I’ve Read So Far In 2015. Despite my busy work schedule, writing, and marathon driving, I have actually read a lot of books this year. So this might be hard. But I always try, I do.

MY TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2015 (SO FAR)

1. Both Thorn and Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

You may have read my review of Thorn here (if not, do it, or better yet, just read Thorn,) and if so, you know I loved this book. However, I liked her novella, Sunbolt, even more. Though I haven’t reviewed it here yet, I fully intend to, but you need to know that I liked it even more than Thorn. From the gorgeous prose to the fabulous world building, Khanani is a talent to watch, and her heroines are both strong and realistic. Do yourself a favor and read her books. Now.

“Absolutely. Justice served with a side of pineapple. That’s what I’m here for.”
Intisar Khanani, Sunbolt 

 

 

2. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

The Princess Bride is one of my all time favorite movies, and I really enjoyed this genteel, humorous, and thoughtful look behind the scenes. As a bonus, Elwes really comes off as a gentleman and a thinker, which was nice. From backstage anecdotes to touching tributes, this book is a must read for any Bride aficionado.
And seriously, if all of that background stuff on the “Greatest Swordfight of All Time” didn’t make you pull out your DVD again, I don’t know what will.

“like a good wine without iocane powder, it seems to get better with time.”
Cary Elwes, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

 3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Shakespeare, viruses, aging actors, Michigan locales that I recognized, and so much more made me love this dreamy, nostalgic, and beautifully written novel. It’s basically a literary post-apocalyptic novel with real depth and imagination. The way every little detail ties into the plot gave me a severe case of writer’s envy. This was the first book of Emily St. John Mandel’s that I ever read, and it will not be the last.

“He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light. This was actually the main difference between twenty-one and fifty-one, he decided, the sheer volume of regret.”
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

4. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

 I tend to avoid most R-rated movies**, so I never saw the movie, but I did pick up the audiobook for one of my long drives last week.  I had no idea what to expect. However, I was utterly disarmed by Pat’s narrative after only three sentences. Quick’s depiction of mentally “different” characters is spot on, sensitive and never patronizing. From Pat’s endless repetition of certain phrases and ideas, to his obsession with staying fit and Eagles football, I loved every bit of this book. It was so funny, yet so sad, and one of the best contemporary novels I have read in a looooooong time.***

“Life is hard, Pat, and children have to be told how hard life can be.” “Why?” “So they will be sympathetic to others. So they will understand that some people have it harder than they do and that a trip through this world can be a wildly different experience, depending on what chemicals are raging through one’s mind.”
Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook 

5. Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

Another book I recently reviewed, BW:FR was a fun spy novel that featured one of my favorite Avengers.
As an added bonus, my copy is a signed ARC that I got at BookExpo, which made it extra special.

“Natasha Romanoff hated pierogies—but more than that, she hated lies.
Lying she was fine with. Lying was a necessity, a tool of her tradecraft. It was being lied to that she hated, even if it was how she had been raised.
Everything Ivan used to say was a lie.“—Margaret Stohl, Black Widow: Forever Red

 6. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

This was one of those love it or hate it books, I think. Everyone was reading it, there was so much hype, yada yada.

Fortunately, I avoided most of that, and didn’t read any reviews, so I read Red Queen with zero expectations. The fun X-Men vibe and treacherous characters made for good reading, and it was far better than a lot of its fellows.
I really liked that the romance wasn’t the ultimate plot. (Power, betrayal, family, revolution, and all of that interesting stuff supplanted it).****

“It’s our nature. We destroy. It’s the constant of our kind. No matter the color of blood, man will always fall.”
Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen

7. Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

I met Christie at BookExpo. She was a lovely person who made time to sign my book, even though she was tired and it was ten minutes after her official signing.

Where Women Are Kings was not a “fun” book — but it was a beautiful, compassionate, heart-rending story about a little boy with a tragic past, his troubled Nigerian birth mother, and the English family who just wants to love him.

“Your story begins in Nigeria, which is a place like heaven . . . Nigeria
is brightness and stars, and earth like the skin of your cheeks: brown-red,
soft and warm.” — Christie Watson, Where Women Are Kings

8. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

I just wrote a post about my love for Cupid and Psyche/Beauty and the Beast retellings, so I’m sure that this isn’t a surprise. What is surprising is that it took me so long to get around to reading it!
From the romance***** to the world to the writing to the concept, I loved pretty much everything about this book, and I can’t wait to read more of Hodge’s writing.

“Why is he scared of the dark?”

I meant the words for a joke, but Shade nodded seriously. “Like all monsters. Because it reminds him of what he truly is”.”
Rosamund Hodge, Cruel Beauty 

9. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The only thing I really didn’t like about this was the ridiculous swooning woman cover. I was too embarrassed to read it until I found out that it was more like a romantic drama in the world of The Thief.

 Honestly, what’s with the ball gowns in a world based on Ancient Greece and Rome? Naturally, since it’s on my list, I really liked it anyhow. It was fluffy but not stupid, romantic but not soppy, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding.

 “She saw, yet again, that her friend’s compliments were just bits of art and artifice. They were paper swans, cunningly folded so that they could float on the air for a few moments. Nothing more.”
Marie Rutkoski, The Winner’s Curse 

 However, nothing prepared me for how epically horrible the sequel’s cover would be.


Just LOOK AT THIS FOR A MINUTE———–>

YOU DON’T/CAN’T HOLD A SWORD LIKE THAT, WOMAN!!!

 I won’t be able to read this one for awhile, no doubt.

10. William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher

I love both Shakespeare and Star Wars, so obviously this silly series is a hit with me. It’s hilarious and brilliant, and I have loved every installment. I can’t wait for the Attack of the Clones one, I’m anticipating more side-splitting humor of this variety:

“QUI-GON: I know not who you are or what you want, Yet I do have skills most particular, Acquir’d throughout a Jedi’s long career. These skills do make me nightmarish to such As you. Surrender now, and you shall live— If not, you shall be dead, and there’s an end.
MAUL: I’ll not be taken by you, man naïve; Your feeble skills are naught when match’d to mine. This is the moment I have longèd for: Two Jedi to assuage mine appetite.”
Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First

Footnotes:
*I drove up and down the country 4 times. Parts were fun, parts were dreary, but I felt like a trucker.
**I can easily count the R-rated films I’ve seen. Most of them just weren’t good enough to be worthwhile, but this is a matter of opinion. For the record, Slumdog Millionaire and The Fall were two of the worthwhile ones.
***The language is foul, often coarse or crass, and there is a lot of cursing. Just an FYI. 
****I swear I’m not anti-romance, really. I just get tired of it (especially the shallow faux-love in YA novels), and want exciting swashbuckling things to happen.
*****See, this book is basically a romance, and I loved it. Point. Proven.

Tale as Old as Time

The timeless appeal of an enchanted dude with an awesome library . . .

It’s a truth to be universally acknowledged- we love Beauty and the Beast – whether it’s the Disney movie or a retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth. 

Even at its most subversive, the story is still powerful. And it really is a “tale as old as time,” with hundreds of similar stories found in cultures all over the world.* Sometimes, the story is even found in the real world (it’s certainly more common than Cinderella!)

I was thinking about this as I finished my latest read, the (excellent) Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodges. I had finished numerous novels in the past three months, and [at least] four of them were basically retellings of Beauty and the Beast. 
I decided to look at my Goodreads page and see just how many distinct retellings I had read, and came up with over thirty. There were the straight up retellings, and the ones that were too close to leave out. There were also stories that were basically the same thing, just hidden under other plot threads (i.e. Jane Eyre).** If you think about it, Pride and Prejudice could even fall into this category (“beastly” guy, spirited and intelligent heroine who has to make personal sacrifices/lose everything before she wins his hand, etc.)

In its most basic form, the “Beauty and the Beast” story is this: 

1. We have a girl who is smart and principled (but not always physically beautiful or moral, per se. The ‘Beauty’ can refer to her mind or strength of spirit).
2. And whether she is naturally so (or forced by circumstances), she sacrifices herself for a lapse in judgement (hers, her parents, etc), and gives herself as a “bride” or a “gift/sacrifice” to a Beast.
3. The Beast is often a prince in animal form, but he might be a god or minor deity. The reason for his “Beast” form is one of two: either he was “beastly” in nature and offended a powerful woman, or he (or someone close to him) is testing his bride.
4. How it pans out here is always a little different, but either the girl fails the test and gets to go through trials to reclaim the beast (that she has grown to love), or she leaves and comes back at some personal loss (there always has to be a sacrifice) and her love restores his human form/proves she’s worthy to be his wife.

Somehow the story never gets boring.

So here are a few standouts:

Favorite Retelling: This is hard! Probably Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis, with Robin McKinley’s Beauty as a very close second.

Worst Retelling: Beastly, by Alex Flinn

With Scottish Highlands and a Werewolf: By These Ten Bones by Claire Dunkle

When the Beast Doesn’t Get the Girl: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

More Like Tam Lin (basically the same story): The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Where the Girl is the One Under a Curse, and the Guy is Beastly Anyway: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Needless to say, there are a bunch of retellings that I’ve never read. And I will probably never get sick of them (and I’ve written a few of my own!). If you’re interested in the more scholarly look at Cupid and Psyche, there are some good essays here.

So do you have a favorite Beauty and the Beast/Cupid & Psyche retelling? Do you think the library scene (in Disney’s B & B) is basically the best Disney scene ever? Sound off in the comments, and brownie points for retellings that I’ve never heard of.

Footnotes:
*SurLaLune Fairy Tale Blog has a nice list of variations here.
**There is a huge list of B & B retellings on Goodreads.

Book Review – Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl (No spoilers)

Because I have not had time* to do a BEA review post, and now it would be sort of pointless, I’m going to review the first ARC (that I have finished) from my BEA haul:

DRUMROLL PLEASE

Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red 

it’s so (appropriately) mysterious that the Goodreads blurb is only this:

“This novel features all the thrilling adventure readers will expect from the Marvel brand, backed up by the young-adult cred of #1 New York Times bestselling author Margaret Stohl. Uncover a new side of the Marvel Universe, accessible to old fans and new readers alike, as Stohl weaves an unforgettable story through the world of the Black Widow.” 

First: This cover is GORGEOUS. My cover is sort of boring (still cool though), without this fabulous artwork ——->

<——–But more importantly, it’s a signed copy 😉 I can forgive it for lacking the awesome art.

  And yes, this ARC was generously given to me by the lovely people at Disney and Marvel press in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Gifs are from Tumblr.com and belong to respective copyright holders.
When I first heard this was happening, I was so excited. Natasha Romanov a.k.a. Natalia Romanova a.k.a Natasha Romanoff a.k.a you get the picture, is one of my favorite Marvel characters (comics and movies) in both the classic and modern Marvel storylines. Her no-nonsense efficiency, her awesome skills, and her troubled past make for a fabulous character in the right hands.
Which leads in to the next part: I read three chapters of Beautiful Creatures once. Suffice it to say that I am not a fan.
I don’t do sappy, drippy, really drippy witch/teenage-angst novels. Period. So I was all, Marvel, really
But then I met Margaret Stohl at BEA. She was fabulous – humble – and filled with trepidation about the general populace reading her take on Black Widow. That made me feel a little better. And she geeked out with us about how awesome Black Widow is in the comics, and then she signed my book.

And honestly, I shouldn’t have worried so much, because I really liked the book.

So people of the world, here is a brief, spoiler free summary of Black Widow: Forever Red

Forever Red starts in Ukraine, 8 years in the past (you can actually read the beginning online). The Black Widow is hunting down her old mentor/trainer, Ivan Somodorov. The mission goes south, but not before Natasha rescues the girl that Ivan was experimenting on, turns the girl over to S.H.I.E.L.D., promises she’ll come if the girl needs her, and leaves.
8 years later, we are introduced to the primary characters (other than Natasha): teenagers Alex Manor and Ava Orlova. Ava is, of course, the little girl that Natasha rescued eight years earlier. Ava had been living in a (dreadful sounding) secure S.H.I.E.L.D. facility before she escaped, and she currently lives in the bottom of a Brooklyn YWCA. Both of them have strange dreams, but Ava’s are about Alex (she’s never met him). Ava has also nurtured hatred against the woman who saved her life, and then left her to fend for herself in a strange world.
But children are disappearing again, and the Black Widow suspects that Ivan survived their confrontation. That means he is after her, and after Ava, so Natasha heads back into the field, and back into Ava’s life. However, things are far more tangled than Natasha realized: her memories are leaking into Ava’s head, thanks to Ivan’s experiments in “quantum entanglement.” Ava absorbs Natasha’s skills, and the Black Widow can’t feel it. As frustrating as this is, it’s also incredibly dangerous. They aren’t the only Entangled pair that Ivan left behind.
To disentangle themselves, Ava and Natasha must find Ivan, face their childhoods, and go back to where it all began. And what does Alex Manor have to do with everything?

My thoughts – without spoilers

5 things that worked:

1. I loved the book’s format. Each present-day chapter is followed by a S.H.I.E.L.D. Line-Of-Duty Death (L.O.D.D.) case document. They are interviews (often with Natasha) and other files that tie into several plot threads. I love how these were worked in to the story
2. Margaret Stohl does a great job with Natasha’s character. She’s the hard edged, sensible, and capable assassin/spy we all love, but she’s also human (but with a very messed up past).
3. Ava and Alex were both likable (surprisingly so), and I was interested in their character arcs. Ava as Natasha’s “mini-me” provided some humor and insight into the Black Widow.
4. The plot. It was old-school spy stuff with gadgets, disguises, mad scientists, and chase scenes, but with an awesome heroine instead of a suave, suit wearing James Bond type.
5. The covert peeks into Natasha’s classified past. Black Widow is mysterious, and that’s one of the things I always liked. I was worried that a novelization would take away too much of that mystery, but it didn’t. Natasha is given just enough history, just enough name-dropping (I didn’t grin stupidly at everyone in the airport when I read a certain case note**), to both reconcile her comic/cinematic character, and leave a lot of interesting openings. Oh, and Coulson is in there a bit 🙂
BONUS: The Russian. I never forgot that I was reading about Russian characters, and it gave both realism and grounding to a book with a crazy mind-meld plot.

5 things that didn’t work as well:

Image Credit

1. While I liked Ava and Alex, and was rooting for them, but they weren’t why I was reading the book. I just didn’t care as much, and I was far more engaged when Natasha was on the scene.

2. This was a minor part of the book, but the predictable Alex/Ava romance (while believable) didn’t do anything for me. Sure, they were cute and not annoying, but (see above), I didn’t really care. But hey, they’re kids.

3. I felt like it occasionally suffered from trying to be too cryptic and mysterious. There were a few details that needed further explanation/examination for the plot’s sake. The only major example of this was all the disappearing children.***

4. Ivan. He had a bit of Marvel Movie Villain Syndrome: Ivan was evil, sadistic, and had quite the past, and yet he felt a little flat. But again, only Loki and Wilson Fisk (Daredevil) have truly escaped this.****

5. This one is 50/50 for me (because sometimes it worked better than others): the constant reminders that we are in a very normal, modern, but alternate Earth where superheroes are an acknowledged thing and Avengers destroyed/saved New York once.

Overall:

4 out of 5 Spiders. 

I’m just one of those annoying people who wanted more Black Widow. Maybe a novel that takes place in the past now? With Winter Soldier or Daredevil cameos?<—YES

Footnotes:
*I know that having time and making time are directly related.
**(not really a spoiler but just to be safe) Black Widow’s file has her age redacted. And there is a footnote that says to reference the files of Rogers, Steve and Barnes, James. Which means that they haven’t thrown out her backstory from the comics. There is still a chance that Natasha will be more like her real age (just rewritten every time) and has trained under the Winter Soldier. So I grinned at strangers ( I was reading in a busy airport, people).
***Seriously, where did all those kids go? If this was really addressed in the book, I must have missed it. I think it was just mentioned in passing toward the end.
****If you count the Winter Soldier as a villain [which in CA:TWS he technically is), then that makes three.

So, have you read this? Will my review be whisked away into secret S.H.I.E.L.D. files even though I avoided spoilers? 

Do you love Black Widow, or think she was less deserving of a novel than other Marvel ladies? 

How do you feel about her treatment in the movies? Would you like to see a Black Widow and Daredevil or Winter Soldier team up in the cinematic/novel/TV universe?


Book Review: Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce (YA Fantasy)

Happy Monday 🙂

I read quite a few Advanced Reader Copies, due to generous publishers and the wonderful people at Netgalley.com. A lot of these books are from major publishers, such as Tor or Random House, but I also like to mix it up with independent publishers and self-published authors. As anyone who reads this blog will know, I love fantasy , so that is often my go to for self-pubs.

Today I’m featuring Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce (Curiosity Quills Press 2015), a fantasy adventure aimed at teens.

(This ebook was provided by NetGalley and Curiosity Quills Press in exchange for a fair and honest review)
Here’s some of the official blurb from Netgalley.com:

“Almost everyone in the world of Aluvia views the fairy keeper mark as a gift, but not fourteen-year-old Sierra. She hates being a fairy keeper, but the birthmark is right there on the back of her neck. It shows everyone she was born with the natural ability to communicate, attract, and even control the tiny fairies whose nectar is amazingly powerful.

     Fairy nectar can heal people, but it is also a key ingredient in synthesizing Flight, an illegal elixir that produces dreaminess, apathy and hallucinations. She’s forced to care for a whole hive of the bee-like beasties by her Flight-dealing, dark alchemist father. 

    Then one day, Sierra discovers the fairies of her hatch are mysteriously dead. The fairy queen is missing. Her father’s Flight operation is halted, and he plans to make up for the lost income by trading her little sister to be an elixir runner for another dark alchemist, a dangerous thug. Desperate to protect her sister, Sierra convinces her father she can retrieve the lost queen and get his operation up and running.

    Sierra journeys with her best friend and her worst enemy — assigned by her father to dog her every step — to find the missing queens. Along the way, they learn that more than just her sister’s life is at stake if they fail. There are secrets in the Skyclad Mountains where the last wild fairies were seen. The magic Sierra finds there has the power to transform their world, but only if she can first embrace her calling as a fairy keeper.”

Amy Bearce’s debut novel was one of the more unique fairy stories I’ve read. The characters were well-developed and thought out, and the world was well rendered. And the Fairy Keepers – everything about this concept was interesting to me – the book definitely delivered in that respect. Sierra was a believable character, and her struggle with her lack of choices, her relationships, and her antipathy for the fairies she is bound to were well thought out.

As for the other primary characters:
Sierra’s father, Jack, is a horrible, twisted man, and he constantly uses her younger sister, Phoebe, as leverage against her. This keeps Sierra under his thumb, and helps her rationalize how she harvests nectar for him. 
Corbin, Sierra’s older best friend, is nerdy and gentle. However, he also harvests nectar from his fairies without a second thought, because his parents are healers who can use it to help people.
Nell, the “worst enemy” in the description, reminded me of Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon [Movies]. She was prickly, grim, and capable. However, traveling with Corbin and Sierra drags out Nell’s back-story, and reveals that she and Sierra have more in common than they think.

Five things I liked:

  1. The Characters. They were (for the most part) well-developed and thought out.
  2. NO LOVE TRIANGLE.

    There are moments when it could have gone this way and it didn’t. The issues of attraction, different kinds of love, and feelings were all dealt with in a mature and realistic way.

  3. The whole morality issue with the Fairy Keepers’ positions: did they have any right to take the nectar, what was it doing to the world, etc., was never dropped and was a major aspect of the story.
  4. In that same vein, I felt like the world and its magic system had a lot of interest and depth. I would love to hear more about it.
  5.  There was a great underlying message about being a steward and caretaker of the land that was never preachy.

Five things I didn’t like so much:

  1. The tone was a bit uneven, especially at the beginning. All of the stuff with Jack and Flight was dark and very YA, but most of the remainder was a little more Fablehaven. I would have trouble deciding exactly what group to recommend it for. Too old for middle grade, maybe 12 to 16 year olds? (This might be a marketing problem-I don’t think it’s an author problem)
  2. My usual complaint. The world seemed like it had so much to offer, and like Bearce had put a lot of work into it, so I would have liked to read more about it.
  3. Micah wasn’t my favorite. He was the least necessary and least developed of the characters.
  4. In that same vein, I felt like Sierra and Micah’s relationship was a little off. She was only fourteen, after all, and still confused by all of her feelings about everything else. Her yo-yo back and forth from: Who is this random dude and why do I care? And I feel fuzzy when he’s around, to Maybe we have something *starry eyes*  and I don’t know anything about him but there’s this connection I can’t ignore (NOT ACTUAL THOUGHTS OR DIALOGUE-hers was much better). Or maybe it’s just because I was even less interested in romance at fourteen than I am now, and my own perceptions are coloring this.
  5. I felt like the ending was a little too easy. But this is really minor, as it all made sense, and played into the themes of making the harder, right decision, and doing right by the land and its creatures.

OVERALL: 4 out of 5 stars. Give this to teen girls who enjoy relationship centered stories, or liked Fablehaven and Inkheart (especially if they are looking for something shorter than both of those).

Beautiful People for Writers: June Edition

Link

So this will be my second time participating in the “Beautiful People for Writers” meme (hosted by the fabulous ladies of Paper Fury and Further Up and Further In. If you want to know what the meme entails, click here. It’s basically a meme full of questions that participants answer for their book characters.

This month’s theme is “Parents” (they assure me that guardians/mentors count too)
This is interesting, as my current novel is about two adults without parents, but who do have mentor/quasi-parent figures that influenced their characters.

So I’ll start with a little context: My novel (tentatively titled “The Last Coffee Shop,” follows the mishaps and adventures of coffee shop owner, Madeleine “Mads” Capot. You can read a little more about her here

There is a core group of important characters, but the other major character is Luc Garou (one of many fake last names). Luc is the “mysterious bounty hunter” alluded to in my other “Beautiful People” post. Since he is almost as important as Mads in this story, I decided it was time we gave him some “screen time.” I am going to answer the questions for both of them this time around.

1. Do they know both their biological parents? Why/why not?
Mads: Mads never met her father, and her mother (Lisette) died when she was fourteen. Her father left before she was born (presumably he never knew that her mother was pregnant). Mads was raised by her grandmother, Heloise, who is youthful, charming, and elegant, but was never the most adept parent.

Luc: As far as he knows, he never met his father, and he has no idea who he [his father] is. Luc’s mother died in childbirth. Luc was raised in a literal underworld (a post-apocalyptic den of vice in the former Parisian catacombs), so he never had a real parental figure until he was an older teenager. Alien mercenary and con man, Captain Graynard Peck, takes Luc in and basically teaches him how to do a lot of illegal things.

2. Have they inherited any physical resemblances from their parents?
Mads: Mads is biracial, so her skin is completely different from both her parents. She looks basically nothing like her mother, though her expressions and mannerisms are similar. She takes after her father (more than she realizes), and wears her hair in dreadlocks like he did.

Luc: He has his mother’s eyes: deep, startling green, He also has her athleticism. Other than that, he has no idea.

3. What’s their parental figure(s) dress style? Add pictures if you like!

Copyright: MARVEL comics
Found here

Mads: I picture her dad as Marvel’s Blade (comics, not movie) meets Mel Gibson’s Mad Max in looks/style. He wears functional and protective clothing scavenged from the ruined world, and he has that menacing survivalist vibe. However, he keeps a classy element, to remind his people that he’s in charge. (Plot twist: Mads has no idea he’s alive)

Her mother was the polar opposite. I picture Lisette in looks and style to be a lot like this picture of French actress Melanie Laurent.

Found here
Found here

Luc: Luc’s parents were descendants of apocalypse survivors as well, but unlike Mads’ mother, they didn’t grow up in the carefully preserved Springs Village. Instead, they grew up in the vice dens below (what used to be) Paris.

I assume his father was a rake, a wastrel, and charming. And tall. Most likely in debt. But he’s a figure of mystery.

Luc’s mother was a courtesan and accomplished dancer. It is unknown how she felt about this.

4. Do they share any personality traits with their parental figures? And which do they take after most?
Mads: Mads is stubborn like her mother, but her pragmatism, resourcefulness, and commanding personality come from her father.

Luc: Luc is a chronic liar (almost to the point of illness). Whether this is due to his genetics, upbringing, or his con man mentor, who knows? As Luc was raised (and had to fend for himself) in a seedy environment where he couldn’t trust anyone, or be vulnerable, he developed a malleable, adaptable persona that changes with circumstances. Even he doesn’t know what he’s really like anymore.

5. Do they get on with their parental figure(s) or do they clash?
Mads: Mads and her grandmother but heads on a lot of things. However, they love and respect each other, so they can work things out before it gets serious. She never really understood her mother, who was detached and disinterested most of the time.

Luc: Luc and Graynard have a sinking sand relationship: it looks solid until you step on it. Their mutual loyalty is rarely questioned, but that might be a mistake. Nevertheless, Graynard is the only one who hasn’t deserted/put a reward out for Luc by the time the book starts

6. If they had to describe their parental figure(s) in one word, what would it be?
Mads, describing Heloise: Regal

Luc, describing Reynard: Duplicitous

7. How has their parental figure(s) helped them most in their life?
Mads: Heloise raised Mads, and has always supported her. She has also given Mads room to run The Last Coffee Shop (and her own life) as Mads sees fit.

Luc: When Luc crawled out of the sewers, beaten to a pulp and near death, Graynard took him aboard his ship. When Luc survived, Graynard taught him how to find his way in the larger universe. Now, as Luc is the brains of their operations, Graynard has shifted to a support role.

8. What was their biggest fight with their parental figure(s)?
Mads: Mads and Heloise had their biggest disagreement when Mads was a teenager. Heloise thought that they should hire someone else to run the shop until Mads was older. After they settled that, they haven’t had a real reason to fight.

Luc: Graynard and Luc’s biggest fight has not happened yet (pre-novel). They’ve had business disagreements (especially when Luc did something foolish, like robbing an emperor or digging up a potentate’s grave), but their true falling out involves major plot points.

9. Tracing back the family tree, what nationalities are in their ancestry?
The novel’s world is a parallel earth, several centuries after apocalyptic events that destroyed 99.9% of all life. I use variations on place names and nationalities, as if our present is a near-mythical past.

Mads: Mads’ mother and grandmother are English and French. Their family could trace its roots back centuries to royalty. Mads’ father’s ancestors came from (what was once) the island of Barbados. He has no written record of his family, but his deep black skin and powerful build suggest African origin.

Luc: Luc’s mother, at least, was a Russian-French fusion. She was a ballerina, and the women in her family have passed the art/skill down since before the apocalypse (needless to say, it isn’t the legitimate Russian ballet, but you get the point). Luc’s father was French, or so Luc assumes.

10. What’s their favourite memory with their parental figure(s)?
Mads: Mads’ best memory of her mother is from when she was quite young, and Lisette hadn’t been so distant. Lisette spent hours teaching Mads how to care for the Shop and their farming complex, starting with the bees and ending with making mochas (and many other drinks). That was the happiest part of Mads’ childhood.

Luc: Luc has few happy memories associated with parental figures. However, he does enjoy memories of previous scores and successful cons with Graynard.

“In Which I Am Flummoxed by Beach Reads (and Excel at Creative Procrastination)” – A Love Letter (not the title of a Panic! at the Disco song)

All of the images in this post are copyrighted and belong to their respective owners. I am making zero money off of this blog, and off of them. And MARVEL, if you ever see this. I love you.

I could say that I’ve been neglecting my blog because of New York. That would be true. 

I could also say that it’s because I’ve been crazy busy since I got back, which is also true. However, I’ve been avoiding the Internet because I’ve been trying to read as many books that could possibly pass for beach reads as possible.

Confession: I never read at the beach, I swim

Confession: I have no real idea what people read at the beach

I assume it’s a lot like what people read on vacation, but I’m not sure. When I’m on vacation, I’ll read whatever I was reading before I was on vacation, be it an ARC from work or a dry tome on genetic engineering, or whatever subject I happen to be researching for a novel.

Anyhow, I’m supposed to be writing reviews and recommending beach reads. Not for my blog, but for the women’s magazine that I contribute to on a monthly basis. It’s aimed at professional Michigan women of diverse tastes, so I always try for maximum variety in my book suggestions. This is great: it makes me read outside of my normal taste zone, and makes me better at my job (bookselling!). I really do understand that not everyone has reread The Lord of the Rings almost every year, and even more so, I understand that not everyone wants to read gritty, post apocalyptic novels with gallows humor and dry social commentary.* This is a wonderful thing-we are all different.

So today I had the day off from my real job, and I made myself stay home and read. This sounds wonderful, until you realize that I was trying to read about ten different books that I had zero interest in. They were not bad books. Someone would be interested in them. That someone was not me.

I succeeded in finishing a couple, which is a testament to the writers’ skills. I can freely add these to my recommended beach reads, no reservations. But now that I am sitting at the computer, I don’t feel like writing reviews at all. I’d rather work on my current project-a post apocalyptic humor/adventure novel that is silly and snarky and full of duels (wits and weapons), sci-fi tech, criminals, and coffee love.

Or I could be watching Daredevil (the Netflix series, not that dreadful movie). I only have 1.5 episodes left, and I am constantly distracted from what I am doing by wondering what will happen in that finale. It is pathetic.

But this post was not supposed to be about Daredevil.

I Googled beach reads (I do this every time), and found the answers unsatisfactory and banal: Gone Girl,** Beautiful Ruins,***The Notebook, ****The Fault in Our Stars*****

I could go on, but you could probably fill in the rest of this list with most of the pop book hits of the past decade. Some of the suggestions were interesting (And the Mountains Echoed and Where’d You Go Bernadette? for example, both of which are on my to-read list). But the problem was, even the interesting ones aren’t sitting on my floor, waiting to be grabbed. So I considered going to the library.

But no, I was wearing holey jeans and a scrub top******and I didn’t want to change. [As excuses go, this is pretty bad, but there you go]

I also knew that when I got to the library, I would see all the shiny books, forget which ones I wanted, and grab shinies like a magpie in a silver shop. And they would be about monsters, or chosen ones, or ninja assassins, or flying people. They would not be books that land on Real Simple‘s beach reads, or even BuzzFeed.

I try to limit myself to only one book about ^^^^^ per month. Variety, remember?

So instead, I starting reading a book about a woman who was fifty-six and had a falling out with her daughter about a television show. There was architecture, and family drama, and there were bizarrely attractive men sprouting out of the ground, like daisies (not exactly, but you get the point).

And I thought “How is this any more plausible than Harry Potter? How are these financially stable, uber-talented, attractive and successful people any more relatable than Bilbo Baggins or Elizabeth Bennet?

Answer: No. They are not.

I am twenty-six. I work at a bookstore. I write books, read books, and will watch (almost) anything MARVEL. I live with my sister, and if I don’t budget scrupulously, I will not be able to pay my rent or buy food. I chain-drink tea and coffee, and sometimes I wear make-up.

Of the above characters, I relate the most to Bilbo. He’s cranky, he lives in a hole, and he’s enamored with elves [see my other posts]. I love adventures, but I am usually burned out before I embark on one, and decide to stay home instead. I have waited roughly twenty years for a stubborn wizard and a pack of dwarves to show up, but if they did, I would probably be a perfect beast, and if they raided my (lean) pantry, I would be irate. But I would go with them anyway.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about me, and if you are still reading, you get a gold star. 

But back to the point (I know there was a point): all novels are fantasy!

And before you wave that super-realistic holycrapsorelatable! thisbookjustgotme! or that thisbookissogritty! sorealandraw! can’tyoujustfeelthedirtthroughthepages,man? at me, hear me out. (I’ll restrict myself to two examples)

EXAMPLE 1: I have never met a bizarrely attractive man in my life (sorry, every man I have ever met). They might exist, but they don’t grow out of the ground, fall from the sky, hang out in my library, or live anywhere near me.*******In fact, sometimes I suspect that they are brewed in a secret S.H.I.E.L.D facility. And the women in the book never seem to notice that this is strange and unusual, instead they spend pages staring at the guy in excruciating, TMI, cringe-inducing detail . . .

AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON UNREALISTIC WOMEN! THIS IS OLD NEWS AND HAS BEEN HOTLY DEBATED ELSEWHERE. I am specifically addressing the book I just read.

EXAMPLE 2: Most twenty-somethings through thirty-somethings that I know are:
A. Back in school because paper DECREES they need more if they want to get their dream job
B. Only wish that they were financially secure enough to have their own studio/fancy car/condo/dream house
C. Have student loans
D. They are married/engaged-to [if they aren’t single] absolutely normal (wonderful) people who aren’t secretly spies/master hackers/wizards/billionaires or whatever, and would never concoct schemes to kill them [this is something I’m sure we’re all grateful for].

So those are examples directly addressed to the contemporary realistic fiction that I just read. There are more, but I could write an essay and I have not done enough research for that. I need way more footnotes, and quotations.

But my point remains: regardless of why or what you read, all fiction is fiction, and all fiction is fantasy of a sorts.


Even if we lived a world where we got Hogwarts letters or visits from Gandalf, we’d have to obey the rules of that world, just like ours. I always think about this while reading Jasper Fforde’s lovably loony Thursday Next series. They are crazy and chaotic and wonderful, and I would love to live in them. But what if that meant I couldn’t have other worlds too? What if books there weren’t books here? Call me crazy, but I’m a writer, and this is the sort of thing I like to consider when I’m supposed to be writing reviews.

If you had to give up every book you’d ever read, and the whole world you’ve experienced, but you could have a totally uncertain life in a book-world of your choosing [no guarantees that you would survive, meet Mr/Mrs. Right, be chosen for an adventure, etc], would you actually do it?

Think about it.

Say what you will, we read for a lot of reasons. To know that we’re not alone (you saw that coming, I’m sure). To experience things we’d never want to (really, who wants to be kidnapped and slung over an enemy horse, headed to who knows what terrible fate?). For sheer entertainment. But at the end of the day, if the book is scary, or miserable, or crazy, we can leave. It is the ultimate no-strings relationship. Books never ask for anything, but they give a lot. And after the book, there are people to talk about it with, there is an author to doggedly follow (stalk), and there are often feelings to deal with. There are Pinterest boards and Tumblr posts, and whole websites to make.

I love fantasy-as-a-genre because it is shameless. It says, “this isn’t real, but I can make you believe it.” It challenges your perceptions of reality, and often exposes deep, universal themes and truth. And it is fun.

But I will not force anyone to read it.

And because I know that not every successful, professional woman would like to read about monster hunting, I will read more books about successful, professional women. I will evaluate writing and plots and characters, and be better able to relate to more people.

All of this will help me as a bookseller (and I hope, as a person). But when I finally hit “send” on those reviews, I will dig under my bed for the first book with a monster or a wizard on the cover, and I will forgive every single overly-gifted orphan or bizarrely attractive man, and it will be wonderful.

So, do you have any good “beach reads” to recommend? Do you believe a beach read is anything more than just a book you bring to a beach?

 And how do you feel about the fantasy genre? Do you think that all novels are fantasy novels? Have you ever met a bizarrely attractive man, or are all your twenty-something acquaintances financially stable and ridiculously accomplished? I NEED TO KNOW

FOOTNOTES:
*I honestly love books like this. That may mean I have issues. But even I get tired of them sometimes.
**Really? I couldn’t stand that book. I figured it out by chapter three, then made it through pages of vomit-inducing characters to find out that I had been right about the plot all along, and that there was no plot twist at all. Made me so mad.
***Sooooo boring. We read it for book club. It was sentimental and full of annoying characters and I Just. Didn’t. Care.
****Never read Nicholas Sparks. Never seen one of his movies. Never plan to. But I know why Ryan Gosling is iconic.
*****Preposterous, pretentious, sentimental, and over-rated. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, and yes, I read it for book club. I felt horrible because I was the only one present who hadn’t felt a thing the whole novel.
******I do not work in the medical field. My dad had to wear scrubs when I was born, and he gave me the top as a momento (sweet, huh?). No, I don’t look good in them.
*******In this respect, I refuse to believe they exist until I’ve seen one. Not on TV. In real life. If they are hiding in basements, I don’t think I want to meet them.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books I’d Like to See as Movies/TV Shows

Image Credit: Broke and the Bookish

After a week-long hiatus due to an (awesome) trip to Manhattan for Book Expo,* I am ready to get back in the ring with a Top 10 Tuesday via The Broke and the Bookish. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out their Top 10s and other features here.

I tend to be leery of book to screen adaptations, though there are really good ones out there.** Still, it’s hard for me to see beloved characters (or awesome plots) destroyed. Movies like Ella Enchanted (which would have made a great movie as is) or the 2008 Prince Caspian had me running for the hills. That being said, I love BBC miniseries adaptations (most of the time), such as the 1995 Pride and Prejudice or the 2006 Jane Eyre.*** (all gifs are from Tumblr.com, and belong to respective copyright holders)

So here are the Top 10 books I’d like to see hit the screen (in varying degrees of detail):

1. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas) as a BBC miniseries

There is a movie of this that lots of people love. I read the book first, so I was pretty disappointed. It’s an epic (read: long) adventure/revenge novel that was practically written for TV. Duels, honor, Betrayal, daring escapes, vengeance, and lots of characters. The BBC’s stellar casting, sets, costumes, and attention to detail are a perfect fit. With the right actor as Edmond Dantes, it could be a cult classic.

2. The Lunar Chronicles (Marissa Meyer) as an anime (or movies)

As Sailor Moon was one of Meyer’s biggest inspirations, it would be fitting for her Lunar Chronicles to go the anime route. Can’t you just see New Beijing as an anime city? With the right group of artists and writers, this could be an awesome cross-cultural phenomenon. Everything from the characters to the futuristic world would translate so well. And seriously, Prince Kai’s fan club was meant for anime—->

3. The Dante Club (Matthew Pearl) as a movie or miniseries

Tell me I’m not the only one who wants to see Longfellow and his literary cronies solve murders connected to Dante’s Inferno? Cast a group of brilliant actors, and sell it as the murder mystery/costume drama that you didn’t know you needed. I think it would be awesome. I haven’t seen an old school straight-up murder mystery on the big screen in awhile (there might be one, I just didn’t see it).

4. The Others Series (Anne Bishop) as a miniseries

I have gushed about these books other places, so I’ll just say that now is the perfect time for a serious urban fantasy/political thriller fusion. Meg Corbyn is such a kind, unique heroine, and the world of Namid is fascinating and brimming with great material. And who doesn’t want to see Howling Good Reads as a tv set? With a vampire and a Wolf manning the counter? And Tess, Tess would be a great TV character. Actually, they all would. (You can read an excerpt of this book here

5. The Queen’s Thief Series as a Miniseries

Roman/Greek inspired mythology, politics, adventure, costly mistakes, awesome characters, and at the center, cheeky thief Eugenides. I think you could split each of the books into segments and air them in groups of three. Irene and Gen, when played by the right actors, could be one of those pairs that keeps everyone watching on the edge of their seats. (One of those will they end up getting married or getting executed things)


6. Sabriel (Garth Nix) as a movie

Another book I have yakked on ad nauseam. Sabriel has everything: fantasy, anti-necromancers, a world of decaying grandeur, slow-burning romance, and most importantly, a strong and logical heroine who wears practical clothes and is more worried about saving her dad than getting the guy. The Old Kingdom would be epic on the big screen.

7. Crown Duel/Court Duel (Sherwood Smith) as movies

Described as “a fantasy of manners,” this book (my edition was one volume) is one of my favorite pick me up reads. It’s a little Scarlet Pimpernel, a little Pride and Prejudice, and some general silliness (and the fan language!). There are pokes at fantasy tropes, and manners madness, and adventures. It would make a great movie (or two) for those days when you are tired of “dark, gritty, realism.”
Image Credit

8. Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman) as a movie

There is an excellent radio adaptation of this book, with a cast that should have been grabbed for an actual movie. James McAvoy as Richard. Natalie Dormer as Door. Sophie Okonedo as Hunter. And Benedict Cumberbatch as The Angel Islington. At the very least, seek out the audiobook and imagine it as you listen. So good.

9. The Two Princesses of Bamarre (Gail Carson Levine) as a movie

TPoB is actually my favorite book of Gail Carson Levine’s. I discovered it on one of those family vacations (the ones where you’re supposed to participate instead of reading) and fell in love with the story of two sisters. The fantasy world is lovely, but it is really Addie and Meryl’s relationship that makes this book so special. Addie, with her hard won courage and terror of spiders, always struck me as such a real girl. I think that (in the right hands), this could be made into a classic fantasy movie. There are some great fan-casting pics here at iflist.com
Image Credit

10. The Monster Blood Tattoo series as a miniseries/movies.

Sort of steampunk series that has Dickens vibes and awesome characters. It would be a cool miniseries, as long as the (many) monsters were well done. However, the whole thing would really hinge on the actors playing Rosamund and his mentor Europe. Europe is a little ex-society girl, a little Natasha Romanoff, and all boss-so you’d have to have a great actress with just the right balance of edge and superiority. Rosamund would be best suited by a pale English waif with phenomenal acting powers. I could just see all the quirky other characters as famous cameos. Maybe Guillermo Del Toro could achieve the mixture of dark, sober, and whimsical necessary?

Close contenders: Rot & Ruin, The Silmarillion (not the whole thing though! I think Beren and Luthien’s story would make an epic miniseries), Artemis Fowl (which they’ve been talking about forever), The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Sorcery and Cecelia, Captain Blood (yeah, I know there’s an Errol Flynn one, but I want a reboot with Orlando Bloom as Peter Blood!), and every single Marvel comic with the Winter Soldier (Black Widow too).****

So is there any book you’d really like to see come to life? Do movie adaptations of your favorites scare you too? Are you better at casting book/movies than me? (Probably, I’m terrible). Sound off in the comments

Footnotes:
*BEA post to come, promise!
**The Princess Bride is a perfect example of the book-to-movie adaptation.
***Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell would have been on this list if it wasn’t already a miniseries. Which I can’t watch until the BBC lets us have it!
****Speaking of comics-they tend to adapt better. Netflix’s Daredevil is my new favorite thing. So. Well. Done.