a confusion of princes

Thursday, May 31, 2012 | | 3 comments
Dear Garth Nix, 

I will buy any and every book you write – and often extra copies for gifts.  Seriously.  I think your work is fantastic.  Shade’s Children chilled me to the core years before dystopian fiction got big.  My copies of the middle grade fantasy Keys to the Kingdom books are well-loved and much-read.  And I don’t think I can say it any better than Amanda of Dead White Guys did on twitter: “The best YA trilogy I've ever read was Garth Nix's Sabriel. I don't know why I just remembered that it existed, but it owned my face.”  Also, you sent me a signed postcard once (thanks!), which I still have (not creepy, not creepy at all).  As expected, I loved your newest sci-fi YA title, A Confusion of Princes.  Thank you for writing wonderful books!

a confusion of princes by garth nix book coverA grand adventure that spans galaxies and lifetimes, A Confusion of Princes is also a page-turning action adventure.

These are the three deaths of Prince Khemri. Told in his own words, we follow him as he trains to become a Prince of the Empire, an enhanced human being, equipped with biological and technological improvements that make him faster, stronger and smarter than any ordinary person. Not to mention the ultimate benefit: should he die, and be deemed worthy, he will be reborn…
Which is just as well, because no sooner has Prince Khemri graduated to full Princehood than he learns the terrible truth behind the Empire: there are ten million princes, and all of them want each other dead, because there can only be one Emperor…

As A Confusion of Princes opens, the reader is introduced to Khemri, an altered and improved human being whose fate it will be to rule as Prince in a vast Empire – as long as he isn’t killed first.  Khemri has been brought up his entire life to believe in his own importance, and his first steps into the universe he is sure he was born to dominate are an unpleasant shock.  The book follows his journey from an egotistical and selfish novice Prince to an adult, with understanding and capabilities that do justice to his purpose.  The story explores Khemri’s coming-of-age on intellectual and emotional levels, and manages to be a fully entertaining sci-fi adventure at the same time.  In a word?  Awesome.

This book is: a first-person narrative from a male perspective, hard* sci-fi, and all about character growth (Prince Khemri goes from blank, selfish slate to somewhat patient, empathetic, and humble over time? Be still my heart!).  Also: there’s alien action, sweet star ships, manufactured beings, mind-controlled servants and made-from-scratch beasts, and of course the battles and adventures and impossible tests that go into the making of any space opera worth its salt.

Have I mentioned the world-building?  The world-building was REALLY GOOD.  There you have it.  Oh, you need specifics?  Okay.  Nix took sci-fi clichés and twisted them into new configurations.  The Empire is arranged along a strict social hierarchy and surveillance, with no real ‘religion’ (no Star Wars-type Force, in other words).  But Princes and Priests and the Emperor come from somewhere, and the long-abandoned history of Earth makes appearances in the narrative.  The morality and purpose of Princes is also an interesting theme – as is Khemri’s evolution in that area.  And I am now fascinated by movement via wormhole jumps and the different kinds of Tek – I want more! 

In all, Nix’s latest is satisfying for a couple of reasons: complex characterization and exciting plot being two of them.  But the best barometer of its appeal (to me) remains the fact that my 21-year-old brother called to discuss how much he enjoyed it.  One day after getting it in the mail, I might add. That is a good book.

Recommended for: fans of science fiction and first-person narratives, those who have enjoyed the recent spate of superhero films and books, and anyone with a taste for excellent characterization in YA fiction.

*Liviania pointed out the difference between hard sci-fi and this book's characteristics in the comments.  Thanks for setting me right!

waiting on wednesday (28)

I’m participating today in "Waiting On" Wednesday. It is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, and its purpose is to spotlight eagerly anticipated upcoming releases. 

I often find myself searching for ‘happy’ books.  I don’t mean fluffy or light, necessarily – I mean a book that will knock me right out of my mundane, stressed-out self and into someplace cheerier, with much more resourceful protagonists than I.  And if there is anything that will ‘fix’ a bad day and make me laugh my way out of a gloomy mood, it’s clever Regency romance, à la Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen.  This book, with its lovely cover art and promising synopsis (!) will be out in just a few weeks – and I am VERY excited.  Keeping the Castle will be published by Viking Juvenile (Penguin), and releases on June 14th, 2012.

keeping the castle by patrice kindl book coverSeventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her entire family, and she must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors—or suitors of any kind—in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then, the young and attractive (and very rich) Lord Boring arrives, and Althea sets her plans in motion. There's only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans…

This witty take on the classic Regency—Patrice Kindl's first novel in a decade—is like literary champagne!

What books are you waiting on?

cocoa almond meal banana muffins

You know how you have that one friend who is always sending you yummy-looking recipes, but then she makes it herself and substitutes out stuff like butter? Then when you make your own recipes with butter (because dear Lord, why wouldn’t you?!) you feel guilty and unhealthy? I’m the opposite of that. I take recipes that are supposed to be uber-diet-y and make them less healthy, I do not feel guilty about it, and I can make you feel guilt-free, too. Turns out you just need a dose of my supreme confidence (your way is the right way, honey).

Waaait a minute… is that a good thing?! Never mind. Behold: a recipe that is still pretty healthy but which I totally made less healthful by using REAL SUGAR. And more of it than is called for. Because I love you. And me. And my tastebuds, especially.

Cocoa Almond Meal Banana Muffins (modified from this recipe by FitnessLovingMom)


2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 1/3 cup almond meal (if you can’t get your hands on almond meal, it’s just finely ground almonds – you can make it yourself in a coffee grinder or food processor)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 bananas (I used overripe bananas that I had been keeping in my fridge for banana bread)
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
non-stick cooking spray


Preheat oven to 300˚F. Prep muffin pan by lightly spraying with non-stick cooking spray, and set aside.

In medium bowl, mix almond meal with baking powder and set aside. Combine eggs, sugar, bananas and cinnamon with electric mixer for 5 minutes on medium setting. Pour in almond meal mixture slowly and stir thoroughly. Divide one third of batter and return to medium bowl – mix the cocoa powder into this portion to create the batter for the muffin cocoa center.

Fill muffin cups partway with the normal batter, then layer on a tablespoon or two of the cocoa filling. Cover cocoa filling with more normal batter, making sure not to overfill the muffin cups. Sprinkle tops of muffins with chopped almonds.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Yields 9-12 muffins.

So I’m not going to lie to you: I liked this recipe, but I did not love it. However. The roommate LOVED IT. Like, wanted-to-take-it-to-bed-at-night loved it (okay, so that was hyperbole, but whatever). And several days after the fact the muffins are still flavorful and have good texture, which is a sign of a good recipe. I dub this baking experiment a guilt-free success.

Recommended for: a tasty morning treat or dessert that is perfect to share with your health-nut friends (or your gluten-free eater), or just that time when you have a lot of overripe bananas and don’t want to make banana bread for the umpteenth time. Enjoy!

Interested in other food-related posts? Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.

the strange case of origami yoda

Two weekends ago I drove from my home here in DC to western Pennsylvania, picked up one younger brother, and then headed to my grandmother’s house in upstate New York.  On our way back to DC from that delightful stay, Lincoln (aforementioned younger brother) and I listened to the audiobook of Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  I, ahem, engineered that little bit of listening time to fit into our trip.  Use what you have, right?  Our joint thoughts were that it was cute, funny, and entertaining.

the strange case of origami yoda by tom angelberger book coverIn this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel.

Tommy and his friends are in sixth grade.  They’re doing their best but, well… each is facing his/her own challenges.  Most challenged of all?  Dwight.  Dwight can’t seem to function like a normal human being, and Tommy and his friends don’t know what to do about it.  That’s why it’s strange that Dwight’s origami finger puppet of Yoda seems so wise.  Yoda gives good advice – but is it because Yoda IS Yoda, or does Dwight have anything to do with it?  Tommy puts together a case file to make a final decision – because he needs to know if he can trust Yoda on one specific answer. 

Angleberger has created a memorable cast of characters in Tommy, Dwight, Harvey, Kellen, Quavondo and Sara (to name a few).  Each of them contribute either an interaction with origami Yoda for the case file or comments on the same.  Some believe that Yoda has an actual connection with the Force, and others think that Dwight is the one behind Yoda’s answers.  The main question that emerges is whether Dwight, socially-awkward Dwight, can have the sort of insight that Yoda possesses.  And if so, why doesn’t he use it for himself?  WHY is he such a mess?

The book is by turns sweet, funny, intelligent and awkward – like real sixth-graders!  It will appeal to all ages, and be an especial hit with boys, by nature of the Star Wars references alone.  My brother (currently age 23) turned to me at one point and asked “Do you SEE what sixth-grade boys have to go through?!”  I was really amused and glad that we could discuss it afterward, and laugh during the listen.  A good bonding experience, for sure.

A word on the vocal artists: most of the narration was stellar, but Lincoln and I both agreed that Harvey’s ‘voice’ was annoying in the extreme.  And possibly that’s as it was supposed to be.  Who knows?  In any case, it’s a fun listen, and I’d recommend it even to those not usually audiobook aficionados.

Recommended for: readers aged ten to fourteen, young Star Wars fans, and anyone who remembers the agonizing days of middle school – and knows they require a healthy dose of humor and patience to survive.

the girl in the clockwork collar tour: quote + giveaway

Welcome to The Girl in the Clockwork Collar blog tour!

the girl in the clockwork collar blog tour

You may remember that I thoroughly enjoyed Kady Cross’ The Girl in the Steel Corset last year.  And by ‘enjoyed’ I mean ‘loved to bits,’ clearly.  It was non-stop action, fun, and steampunk goodness.  Kady Cross has returned to Finley Jayne’s story and created another adventure full of suspense, adventure and dark mystery.

the girl in the clockwork collar by kady cross book coverWhat happens when someone you love becomes a weapon to use against you…

In New York City, 1897, life has never been more thrilling — or dangerous.

Sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne and her “straynge band of mysfits” have journeyed from London to America to rescue their friend Jasper, hauled off by bounty hunters. But Jasper is in the clutches of a devious former friend demanding a trade—the dangerous device Jasper stole from him…for the life of the girl Jasper loves.

One false move from Jasper and the strange clockwork collar around Mei’s neck tightens. And tightens.

From the rough streets of lower Manhattan to elegant Fifth Avenue, the motley crew of teens with supernatural abilities is on Jasper’s elusive trail. And they’re about to discover how far they’ll go for friendship.

More than ever, Finley Jayne will rely on powerful English duke Griffin King to balance her dark magic with her good side. Yet Griffin is at war with himself over his secret attraction to Finley…and will risk his life and reputation to save her. Sam, more machine than man, finds his moody heart tested by Irish lass Emily—whose own special abilities are no match for the darkness she discovers on the streets.

Now, to help those she’s come to care for so deeply, Finley Jayne must infiltrate a criminal gang. Only problem is, she might like the dark side a little too much…

The tour will be (and has been) visiting several blogs over a few weeks – check out the full schedule below:

Monday, May 14th - The Story Siren
Wednesday, May 16th - Harlequin Paranormal Blog
Friday, May 18th - Letters Inside Out 
Wednesday, May 23rd - The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia TODAY!
Friday, May 25th - My Shelf Confessions
Monday, May 28th - A Book and a Latte
Monday, May 28th - Book Birthday! - Alice Marvels
Wednesday, May 30th - Seeing Night Book Reviews
Friday, June 1st - Read Me, Bookmark Me, Love Me

At each stop there’s an excerpt from the book and a daily giveaway to win a copy of The Girl in the Clockwork Collar. Check out today's excerpt:

This snippet of text made me laugh because I (not-very-dangerous human that I am) have made the same sort of threat to my younger brothers when they've been annoying - but I didn't mean it as much as Finley does.  I couldn't literally follow through on the threat either, for that matter! Just a good bit of dangerous dialogue for your day. *grin*

But back to giveaways - there’s a grand prize, too – for the Clockwork Collar featured on the book cover!  If you'd like to win the Clockwork Collar, enter HERE.

win the clockwork collar at harlequin teen facebook page

Want to enter the daily giveaway for a copy of The Girl in the Clockwork Collar?  Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below.  US/Canadian addresses only, please!  Full contest rules available here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to learn more about The Girl in the Clockwork Collar and Kady Cross?  Check out Kady's author website and twitter feed.

Thanks for checking out the tour stop, and look out for a review of the book tomorrow!

Fine print: Blog tour and daily giveaway coordinated by Kismet Book Tours & Harlequin Teen. Grand prize Facebook giveaway sponsored by Harlequin Teen.  I received no compensation for hosting this tour stop!

teaser tuesday (83)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 | | 15 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted every week by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page (or if you're reading on an electronic device, pick a random number and scroll to that section). Post two or more sentences from that page, along with the book title and author. Share your find with others in the comments at Should Be Reading, and don't give anything vital away!

storybound by marissa burt book cover“Una often told herself that she was invisible.  Perhaps that was the reason people passed her in the halls, their eyes skimming over her slight form as if she were part of the scenery: a desk, a book, a classroom, a girl.  It could also be the reason why Ms. McDonough, perched on her musty old pink chair, talked to her cats about Una as though Una wasn’t there.”

p. 1 of Marissa Burt’s Storybound

the disreputable history of frankie landau-banks

I am in a book club.  And now I sound like every well-rounded young woman in DC (I’ve been reliably informed that everyone is in a book club).  But clearly, I attend a book club of awesome.  How else would I be talking about it in connection with a clever YA book like E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks?

FYI: this book club is made of SPARKLY RAINBOWS.  Which is appropriate, you see, because it is the DC Forever Young Adult book club – related to that cool blog filled with snark and good times.  If you haven’t checked the site out yet, definitely put that on the ‘to do’ list.  Do you know another place where you can regularly find drinking games based on YA books?  I didn’t think so.  Anyway, awesome (have I overused that word yet?).  And for this month, we discussed – you guessed it – that National Book Award finalist and Printz Honor book I mentioned above, about Ms. Frankie Landau-Banks.

the disreputable history of frankie landau-banks by e. lockhart book coverFrankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father's "bunny rabbit."
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take "no" for an answer.
Especially when "no" means she's excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society.
Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she's smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew's lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

So what is this book?  It is a smart (possibly too smart) look inside the head of titular Frankie, a sophomore girl who catches the eye of the resident senior golden boy at her exclusive Massachusetts boarding school.  And it’s the story of her transition – from “Bunny Rabbit” to self-actualized prank master and secret society puppeteer.  Frankie’s orchestration of not only her own life but of those around her speaks of both genius and obsession.

Frankie herself is brilliant, frustrated, and not sure quite what to do with her newfound popularity and position.  She also hasn’t decided how to respond to the fact that she knows that there’s a secret society at school, that she can’t be a part of it, and that she wants quite desperately to maintain her ‘in’ status with the young men who effectively rule the school – and have a great time doing so.

E. Lockhart has written a thoughtful novel that will put the reader in touch with their inner prankster (presuming of course that they have one).  More than that, though, Frankie’s actions beg certain questions: will they think about social structures? Evaluate their self-awareness level?  Make connections and choose, with eyes open, who they want to be, and who they will not be?  I found the book both entertaining and wise, and I wish I had read it myself at 14 or 15.  Thankfully, scheming and thinking big can be done at any age.

Recommended for: pranksters of all ages, those who enjoy reading about clever protagonists, and anyone in the mood for an extremely well-written young adult novel that examines what may happen when you challenge the boundaries of the world you live in. 

raspberry and almond mini cakes

Saturday, May 19, 2012 | | 13 comments
You may have noticed that I have a little link in the sidebar to the right that leads to my Pinterest page.  I became enamored with Pinterest when I realized that it was a place I could collect all of the cool recipe ideas I come across but don’t make right away – sort of an online recipe box.  I love browsing it and ‘pinning’ beautiful photos of food.  Even better yet?  Eventually making those recipes and seeing if they’re as delicious at they look.  This is one of 'those.'

raspberry and almond mini cake

Raspberry and Almond Mini Cakes (from a recipe by The Fromagette)


1/2 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons butter, room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup almond meal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

1/2 cup halved fresh raspberries

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 Tablespoon milk

1/8 teaspoon vanilla

1 square Ghiradelli white chocolate

several whole raspberries


Preheat to 350. Lightly butter two 3-inch ramekins, sprinkle with flour and set aside on a small cookie sheet. 

In a medium bowl, mix butter, sugar and eggs together vigorously with whisk until well blended (or in my case, mix until you get tired and then call it done). Add vanilla and buttermilk. Mix remaining dry ingredients together in separate bowl. Add to wet mixture, stirring until blended. Gently fold in the raspberries (it is very tempting to put in more than 1/2 cup of raspberries. don’t do it!). Spoon equal amounts of batter into each ramekin and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

When cool, transfer onto a serving plate. In a small bowl, mix the glaze ingredients until well blended and immediately spread atop each cake allowing it to drip down the sides. Garnish with a few fresh raspberries and white chocolate – using a peeler to shave the white chocolate into decorative curls.  Makes two mini cakes.

If you head to The Fromagette’s original recipe, you’ll see that this was originally meant to make a 6-inch cake.  I don’t have a 6-inch cake pan, so I made two 3-inch mini cakes instead.  And… for the most part it worked.  The result is DELICIOUS, as confirmed by several friends.  It is, however, very moist.  Like a bread pudding consistency.  And that is because of the deep-walled ramekins.  If you make these in regular pans, plan to cut the baking time and end up with a more cake-like result.  But if you DO use ramekins, rest assured that it still tastes lovely (and can look lovely, too!).

Recommended for: that tea party for two you’ve been meaning to host, a delicious late spring treat, and a sweet raspberry dessert for either after dinner or with your morning coffee.

Interested in other food-related posts? Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.

waiting on wednesday (27)

I’m participating today in "Waiting On" Wednesday. It is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, and its purpose is to spotlight eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

I’ve been following the ‘rise’ of steampunk since 2009, when I realized that it combined two of my favorite things: historical fiction (umm, what my childhood was made of?) and science fiction.  Best recent additions to the subgenre?  Philip Reeve’s Fever Crumb, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, and Meljean Brooks’ Iron Seas books.  Of course for pure fun and fluff, Kady Cross’ The Girl in the Steel Corset earns a nomination too.  Imagine my delight when I saw this book cover and read the description.  It sounds like I’ll have another wonderful series to add to my reading list (joy!).  Tiffany Trent’s The Unnaturalists will be published by Simon & Schuster, and releases on August 14th, 2012.

the unnaturalists by tiffany trent book coverIn an alternate London where magical creatures are preserved in a museum, two teens find themselves caught in a web of intrigue, deception, and danger.

Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life cataloging Unnatural creatures in her father’s museum, but as she gets older, the requirement to become a lady and find a husband is looming large. Syrus Reed’s Tinker family has always served and revered the Unnaturals from afar, but when his family is captured to be refinery slaves, he finds that his fate may be bound up with Vespa’s—and with the Unnaturals.

As the danger grows, Vespa and Syrus find themselves in a tightening web of deception and intrigue. At stake may be the fate of New London—and the world.

What books are you waiting on?

teaser tuesday (82)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 | | 18 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted every week by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page (or if you're reading on an electronic device, pick a random number and scroll to that section). Post two or more sentences from that page, along with the book title and author. Share your find with others in the comments at Should Be Reading, and don't give anything vital away!

“I took a breath and caught the stench of decay from the Dumpster.  I also smelled something else on the wind: blood.  And then I saw a splash of paint across a crumbling wall—a skull with a pair of red wings on either side—and I realized where we were.”

p. 101 of Julie Kagawa’s The Immortal Rules (ARC version, courtesy of Harlequin Teen)

fire and hemlock

Monday, May 14, 2012 | | 4 comments
Diana Wynne Jones had a gift for writing books that you can’t put down, that show you the truth about humans (they aren’t always noble, for instance!), and that manage to make you believe in magic for whole blocks of time altogether.  I count some of her novels (The Merlin Conspiracy and Howl’s Moving Castle, in particular) among my most favorite of books.  They’re ones I’ll read again and again, and pick up purely for comfort.

All that said, I haven’t read every book in her backlist.  And one of the books I hadn’t read until just last week was Fire and Hemlock.  I was prompted to order this title by Kristen M. of We Be Reading.  She assured me that it was good (not like I need much pushing with DWJ!), and so I placed the reprint on pre-order and got ready for what was sure to be something wonderful and strange.
fire and hemlock by diana wynne jones book cover
Polly has two sets of memories...

One is normal: school, home, friends. The other, stranger memories begin nine years ago, when she was ten and gate-crashed an odd funeral in the mansion near her grandmother's house. Polly's just beginning to recall the sometimes marvelous, sometimes frightening adventures she embarked on with Tom Lynn after that. And then she did something terrible, and everything changed.

But what did she do? Why can't she remember? Polly
must uncover the secret, or her true love – and perhaps Polly herself – will be lost.

Fire and Hemlock is the story of a girl named Polly, who while home from college one break realizes that she has two sets of parallel memories, and one set has been completely laid over top of the other.  The book is about Polly’s teasing out of this mystery, and finding herself, her family and her place in life in the bargain.  It is vague in parts, and the reader must puzzle through it with Polly, as if assembling lost pieces of history.  What results is a somewhat baffling dénouement that will (I am certain) be different each time I reread it.

Fire and Hemlock is not as overtly magical as most of Diana Wynne Jones’ books (though when is the ‘magic’ in her books ever really overt?).  Instead, its fantasy is in its framework, as a reinvention of the fairy tales of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer.  I am not extremely familiar with either – that’s one part of my fairy tale education that is missing, and which I intend to fix posthaste.

Yes, yes, but what did I think of it?  I am not sure.  There’s always something strange and mystical and usually lovable about DWJ’s books, but they aren’t comfortable by any stretch of the imagination.  The hero (or in this case, heroine) is truly challenged by his/her circumstances, by happenstance, by fate and outside power and things beyond control.  What I do know is that I liked Polly, and her grandmother, and even Tom Lynn (maybe not all together, though), and I hope to never be satisfied with Fire and Hemlock, but always to try to find unique stories in it.

Recommended for: fans of Diana Wynne Jones’ canon, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, the Chris Nolan film Inception, and Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose.  It is for the reader with the time and patience to puzzle over stray bits of story, to pay attention to coincidences, and to come to a conclusion that the world is really quite fey.

the hero’s guide to saving your kingdom

Retold fairy tales are a favorite fantasy sub-genre of mine.  Whether we’re talking about something classic like Edith Pattou’s East or a graphic novel fairy tale mash-up like Bill Willingham’s Fables, I am all-in and interested.  These stories not only re-mix something familiar, they show us important truths – that there is a heart inside the beast, or that the loveliest wrappings sometimes hide wicked hearts.

When I first heard about Christopher Healy’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, I thought that turning the ‘Prince Charming’ tale on its head might just be the retelling of the year.  And while it’s still too soon to tell, the book did make me crow with laughter at multiple points.  I’ll be looking for more middle grade fantasy from Healy, that’s for sure!

the hero's guide to saving your kingdom by christopher healy book coverPrince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You've never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change. Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it's up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

Debut author Christopher Healy takes us on a journey with four imperfect princes and their four improbable princesses, all of whom are trying to become perfect heroes—a fast-paced, funny, and fresh introduction to a world where everything, even our classic fairy tales, is not at all what it seems.

The Hero’s Guide introduces the reader one by one to various Princes who have been heroic enough (at least according to the bards) to attain the title of ‘Prince Charming.’  Each of these fellows (Frederic, Gustav, Liam & Duncan) has his own version of his story, and it doesn’t match the official tale.  They also have their particular faults and strengths.  What follows is a story of teaming up and running into trouble (over and over and OVER again!).

Healy combines the traditional stories of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel and Cinderella into the overall narrative, and from there things go haywire, sideways, and explosions feature prominently.  It’s fun, silly, outrageous and a really good time.  While I don’t want to spoil any of the storylines or (gasp!) tell you how it ends, I think I can safely say that we’ll be seeing more of this hilarious and rag-tag group of Prince Charmings in the future.

In spite of the Princes’ zany antics and frequent clashes with monsters, the main theme of The Hero’s Guide is character growth.  Frederic, Gustav, Liam and Duncan all learn various lessons (some less savory than they would have hoped), and come to appreciate each others’ quirks and strengths.  And let me not forget the Princesses of all of their tales!  The twists put on the personalities of Briar Rose, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Snow White fleshed out the story.  I have no doubt those (dis)reputable ladies will feature prominently in future adventures.

One of the best bits about the book is the tongue in cheek, smart-alecky dialogue.  It will appeal not only to the middle grade target audience, but also to the adults who read it to them.  It’s a bit silly for the usual YA audience, however teens with a sense of humor will likely get a kick out of it too.  And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fantastic artwork throughout the book.  Todd Harris' drawings add something special to the reading.

My one (only, tiny!) annoyance with the book were the frequent asides to the reader – things like ‘But you’ll have to wait until Chapter 20 to find out more!’ and ‘Spoiler alert!’  These did not alter my final opinion of the book – I thought it was a smashingly good time.

Recommended for: fans of fantasy, fairy tales and monsters, devotees of funny middle grade fiction, and anyone who has wondered if there was something ‘more’ to the classic Prince Charming than just the traditional story.

Fine print: I received an ARC of The Hero's Guide for review from Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins).  I received no compensation for this review.

retro friday - the forgotten beasts of eld

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville that focuses on reviewing books from the past. These can be old favorites, under-the-radar treasures that deserve more attention, woefully out-of-print books, and so on. Everyone is welcome to participate!

retro friday

Do you remember the book that turned you into a fan of an author?  I have many favorite authors (Neil Gaiman, Robin McKinley, Garth Nix, and Patricia McKillip, to name a few), and I vividly recall the books that changed me from casual reader into devoted, ‘no really, I’ll read ANYTHING you write’ fan.  With Gaiman it was Neverwhere; with McKinley, The Blue Sword, and for Nix, Sabriel.  For Patricia McKillip, my go-to high fantasy fix?  The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

the forgotten beasts of eld by patricia mckillip book coverSixteen when a baby is brought to her to raise, Sybel has grown up on Eld Mountain. Her only playmates are the creatures of a fantastic menagerie called there by wizardry. Sybel has cared nothing for humans, until the baby awakens emotions previously unknown to her. And when Coren—the man who brought this child—returns, Sybel's world is again turned upside down.

I read Patricia McKillip’s World Fantasy Award-winning The Forgotten Beasts of Eld at age eighteen, during my first year in college.  I found it interesting and strange, but didn’t particularly like it.  However, it did introduce me to Patricia McKillip, and from that moment on I read anything she published (and most of her backlist, too).  Recently while browsing the teen sci-fi and fantasy section at my locally library I came upon it again and thought it worth the re-read.

As an adult re-acquainting myself with this book, I see it with a clarity that I did not before, and perhaps have a greater appreciation for it.  McKillip always writes about the tricky, unknowable intent of the heart.  Well, and magic of course!  In The Forgotten Beasts of Eld she explores themes of independence, power, responsibility, familial duty, deception and forgiveness.  But above all, the book is about knowing oneself.  I rather think that part of the reason I didn’t love it the first time out was that I didn’t yet know myself, and couldn’t see the complex motivations of the characters for what they were – an explanation of truth.

Though Sybel’s story is classified as YA, it would now I think be a little hard to place.  The protagonist starts quite young, but by the end of the book she has raised a child.  In any case, while the issues are deep and the scope broad, the fact that the book is fantasy helps soften the edges a bit and younger readers will likely gloss over things they do not understand (like I did).

Recommended for: an easy entrance into a world of exquisitely written high fantasy, and fans of Robin McKinley, Patricia C. Wrede and Kristin Cashore.

waiting on wednesday (26)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 | | 12 comments
I’m participating today in "Waiting On" Wednesday. It is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, and its purpose is to spotlight eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

Guys, I don’t read as many contemporary thrillers as I should.  I just enjoyed Megan Crewe’s The Way We Fall, and loved Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, but I’m somewhat hesitant to take on other books (it’s that towering TBR pile of fantasy and sci-fi, i think – i feel guilty even thinking about it).  Good news: a cover caught my eye, the description seems to promise contemporary thriller with a heavy dash of mystery, and I’m all in.  Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon will be published by HarperCollins, and releases on August 28th, 2012.

don't turn around by michelle gagnon book coverSixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her computer-hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.

Enter Peter Gregory. A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance, Peter needs people with Noa's talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation threatens his life. But what Noa and Peter don't realize is that Noa holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who'd stop at nothing to silence her for good.

Filled with action, suspense, and romance, this first book in a new trilogy offers readers nonstop thrills.

What books are you waiting on?

teaser tuesday (81)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 | | 15 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted every week by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page (or if you're reading on an electronic device, pick a random number and scroll to that section). Post two or more sentences from that page, along with the book title and author. Share your find with others in the comments at Should Be Reading, and don't give anything vital away!

ship of souls by zetta elliott book cover
“When Mom got sick, I had to enroll in a public school, and I didn’t exactly fit in.  Kids on my block called me 'reject.'  Grown folks at church called me 'an old soul.'  One girl at school told me I talked like a white boy.”

p. 3 of Zetta Elliott’s Ship of Souls
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