waiting on wednesday (49)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 | | 14 comments
Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Erin Bow’s debut novel Plain Kate was a masterpiece.  Bow’s wondrous way with words and her story of unthinkable choices wrapped me up in emotion and didn’t let me go. It was the sort of experience that turns you into a rabid fan, scouring Goodreads and/or Amazon for any hint of a new release.  When I looked through the Scholastic catalog last week I struck gold – Bow’s next book comes out this fall.  Sorrow’s Knot will be released by Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic) in November 2013.

sorrow's knot by erin bow book cover
From the acclaimed author of Plain Kate, a new novel about what lurks in the shadows, and how to put it to rest... 

In the world of Sorrow’s Knot, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter's mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known. 

But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what's more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people's only hope against the shadows that threaten them. Will the challenge be too great for her? Or will she find a way to put the dead to rest once and for all?

What books are you waiting on?

top ten authors on my auto-buy list

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 | | 17 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

This week’s list was easy to put together – it’s as if the authors and books were tripping over themselves to get out of my head and into this post.  I’ve limited myself to living authors (it’s only fair that I have a possible book to ‘auto-buy,’ after all).  If you look closely you’ll notice that all of these authors write sci-fi/fantasy, but not all write young adult.  I certainly have my favorites, and THESE ARE IT. THEM. Whatever.  I love their books with all my heart.

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Authors on My Auto-Buy List

1. Robin McKinley – author of Pegasus, The Blue Sword, and several other lifelong favorites

2. Garth NixSabriel is another book that spoke (and still speaks!) to my soul, and Nix’s character Suzy Turquoise-Blue from the Keys to the Kingdom series is someone I’d like to meet in real life

3. Patricia McKillip – elegant high fantasies like The Bell at Sealey Head and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld keep me coming back for more

4. Neil Gaiman – this man writes lovely, dark stories that are satisfying and dangerous (favorite? Neverwhere.)

5. Patricia C. WredeDealing with Dragons was one of the first fantasies I read as a teen (my gateway book, if you will), and I’ve never looked back

6. Diana Peterfreund – my love for Peterfreund’s writing started with killer unicorns, and then she wrote For Darkness Shows the Stars, a retelling of my favorite Austen book

7. Sarah Rees Brennan – I remember laughing out loud at Brennan’s debut, and now that I’ve had my heart handed back to me in pieces by her latest, Unspoken, I shall never stop reading Brennan’s books

8. Gail Carriger – I knew I liked steampunk, but I didn’t know I loved it until I tried Carriger’s Soulless; the wit and adventure in her writing are addictive!

9. Nalini Singh – author of two of my favorite romance series... EVER

10. Meljean Brook – another steampunk reading discovery; Brook writes complex, layered romances like The Iron Duke and Riveted

Which authors are on your auto-buy list?

a natural history of dragons: author interview & giveaway

a natural history of dragons blog tour

As part of the blog tour for A Natural History of Dragons, which I thought was “fascinating, uncommon, and full of unexpected bits of alternate world society trivia,” I’m interviewing author Marie Brennan today and hosting a giveaway (courtesy of the kind folks at Tor).

marie brennan photo
Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to many short stories and novellas, she is also the author of A Star Shall Fall and With Fate Conspire (both from Tor Books), as well as Warrior, Witch, Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, and Lies and Prophecy. You can find her online at SwanTower.com or follow her on twitter.

On to the interview!

1) A Natural History of Dragons is clearly a dragon book, but it's also a fictional memoir.  Did both of those story elements occur to you at the same time?
Very nearly. I actually thought first about running it as a role-playing game; one of the inspirations was the D&D supplement Draconomicon, and I wondered what it would be like if you had D&D characters going around trying to study dragons, instead of killing them and taking their stuff. But within about half an hour, I was also thinking of it as a novel, and the novel ended up winning out. The memoir voice followed naturally from the setting.

2) Your books are always meticulously researched, and you have an academic background in history, archaeology, myth and folklore.  What types of sources did you delve into for this (slightly) more scientific fantasy?
I tried to take it a bit easier this time, compared to the Onyx Court series . . . which means I only read, y’know, a small stack of books on Eastern Europe, Victorian fossil-hunters, Judaism, and so on. Plus random questions about chemistry, early rappelling techniques -- oh, and the climatology reading that went into figuring out the map and the weather.

I appear to be constitutionally incapable of taking it easy.

3) You've mentioned previously that you'd like to write YA.  I think that A Natural History fits as a YA/adult 'crossover.'  Do you have any projects in mind/coming to fruition that are purely YA?
Interesting you should say that; I actually wondered at one point whether this could work as a YA. The first book probably could, but since the series is going to continue on through Isabella’s life, it will move out of YA territory pretty fast, in terms of her age and what kinds of issues she’s dealing with.

As for your question, I tend to keep future projects under wraps until they become definite, but I do have several things potentially in the works. And Lies and Prophecy, my first novel with the Book View Cafe, is right on the YA border, too -- the protagonists of that one are in college.

art by Todd Lockwood

And now for a bit of fun...
4) Do you have any hidden (or not-so-hidden) superpowers?
I can find things. People will be looking for something they've dropped or mislaid, searching all over the place, and I'll find it in about five seconds.

5) If you could host a dinner party for fictional literary characters, who would you invite and what would you serve?
Oh, yikes. I could spend months wibbling over this -- there are so many great characters, but then the ones I find the most compelling aren’t necessarily the ones I’d want to have at dinner, and then of course I start wondering how they would get along . . . but I’ll say that Francis Crawford of Lymond, from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, could be relied upon to make lively dinner table conversation.

6) What books are on your nightstand (or wherever you keep your "to read" pile) right now?
I actively avoid keeping a pile or anything in that vein; the size of it would only depress me. My unread books are shelved with the ones I’ve read, and I just pull things out as they strike my fancy. But since I mentioned Dunnett above, I’ll say that I’ve started reading her House of Niccolo series, and am looking forward to the next book.

Thanks so much for answering those questions, Marie!  I shall have to read the Lymond Chronicles and meet Francis for myself.

Finally… a GIVEAWAY! I have three hardcover copies of A Natural History of Dragons to offer to you, my lovely readers. To enter, simply fill out the FORM. One extra entry will be granted to those who leave a comment on this interview post. Giveaway open internationally, will end on March 3rd, 2013 at 11:59pm EST. Giveaway winners will be selected randomly and notified via email. Prizes are provided and shipped by the publisher. Good luck!

Fine print: giveaway prizes courtesy of Tor (Macmillan).

a natural history of dragons

I’m so glad dragons are making a resurgence in fantasy.  I know they never ‘left,’ per se, but I grew up on the tales of Wrede, McCaffrey, and Yolen, and it is a wonderful to see books like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina taking home awards for writing.  Of course, young adult doesn’t have a corner on the dragon market, and there have been many wonderful dragon stories in adult fantasy as well.  I’ve just read one of them, and I’m happy to report that it was unique and spell-binding.  Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent is a fabulous tale.

a natural history of dragons by marie brennan book cover
You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten... 

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day. 

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever. 

Marie Brennan introduces an enchanting new world in A Natural History of Dragons.

A Natural History of Dragons is written in the style of a memoir, one by a famous dragon naturalist, Isabella, Lady Trent.  ‘She’ writes from the perspective of a scientist at the end of a long career.  As she examines the youthful interests and experiences that sparked her interest in dragonkind, she also muses on life, love, society, politics, and the progress of technology over time.  In so doing, she shows herself to be a keen observer, a passionate devotee of natural history, and an eccentric who cannot resist the pull of scientific study.

This book, the first in a planned series, follows Isabella from her childhood in the country through her adolescence and on her first expedition.  As is the case with memoirs, it is told entirely through the lens of Isabella’s experience, but it does not suffer from this focus.  Isabella gradually progresses from studying sparklings (insect-sized dragon cousins) to admiring living dragons, to finally joining an expedition to study them in their natural habitat.   The story is also full of hijinks from Isabella’s younger years, falling in love, and coming of age. The common thread through all of this (of course!) is a passion for dragons.  Dragons are the be-all and end-all of Isabella’s existence. 

I found A Natural History of Dragons fascinating, uncommon, and full of unexpected bits of alternate world society trivia and twists of fate.  I felt as if I was reading nonfiction, albeit exceptionally interesting nonfiction (a la Into Thin Air), with the added bonus of fantasy elements and gorgeous illustration.  Todd Lockwood’s art is certainly one of the highlights of the reading experience – just look at this drawing!

sparkling a natural history of dragons todd lockwood
art by Todd Lockwood

Beware: these aren’t the awesome but basically tame dragons of lore.  They’re wild beasts that belong to an unfamiliar world, and they will strike close to the heart if provoked.  At the end of the volume I found myself wide-eyed and longing for the next installment in Lady Trent’s adventures.

Recommended for: fans of dragons (all kinds), those who enjoy books that pay homage to the manners and mores of Regency/Victorian England (i.e. Georgette Heyer, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey), and anyone who has caught themselves wondering about the anatomy and physiology of mythological creatures.

Check back tomorrow for a blog tour stop with an interview with the author (and GIVEAWAY!).

Fine print: I received an e-ARC of this book for honest review from Tor.

waiting on wednesday (48)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 | | 10 comments
Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

One of my goals in 2013 is to read more YA science fiction.  It seems to be easier to pick out of a lineup of forthcoming novels these days – gorgeous cover art matches the quality of the book.  Perfect example?  Arclight by Josin L. McQuein is recommended for fans of Veronica Roth and Stephen King, so it sounds like it’ll be a thrill ride and a half, possibly with some horror-esque elements.  It also has a stunning and simple cover.  I’m in.  Arclight will be released by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins) on April 23, 2013.

arclight by josin l. mcquein book cover
The Arclight is the last defense. The Fade can't get in. Outside the Arclight's border of high-powered beams is the Dark. And between the Light and the Dark is the Grey, a narrow, barren no-man's-land. That's where the rescue team finds Marina, a lone teenage girl with no memory of the horrors she faced or the family she lost. Marina is the only person who has ever survived an encounter with the Fade. She's the first hope humanity has had in generations, but she could also be the catalyst for its final destruction. Because the Fade will stop at nothing to get her back… and Marina knows it. Tobin, who's determined to take his revenge on the Fade, knows it. Anne-Marie, who just wishes it were all over, knows it.

When one of the Fade infiltrates the Arclight and Marina recognizes it, she will begin to unlock secrets she didn't even know she had. Who will Marina become? And who can she never be again?

Josin L. McQuein has created a story that will haunt you, that will keep you reading late into the night even though you're afraid to turn the page, and that will break your heart. Arclight is a bold and astonishing debut about identity, disarming connections, and the courage we find when facing our worst nightmares.

What books are you waiting on?

top ten favorite characters in steampunk

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 | | 18 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

Today’s task is to list favorite characters in a genre of your choice.  I could pick fantasy, but then how would I narrow the list down to ten favorites?  There are too many choices (good ones, too!).  It is with this in mind that I picked the sci-fi subgenre of steampunk. Steampunk is about alternate Victorian history with advanced steam-based technology, and all of the fun you can have with gadgets, gears and imagination. 

Top Ten Favorite Characters in Steampunk

1. Deryn Sharp from Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan – Deryn hides her identity in order to do what she loves (which is flying – very unladylike!).  Her adventures in the sky above an alternate-history WWI-era Europe make me long for a time that never was.

2. Alek from Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan – Alek is the Clanker counterpart to Deryn’s Darwinist.  He’s been raised to behave a certain way and believe certain things, but his personal journey (and honor) make him someone you’d want on your side.

3. Fever Crumb from Philip Reeve’s Fever Crumb – Fever has grown up as the only girl (the only child, really) in a society of engineers and inventors.  The discoveries she makes about herself and her city’s history change everything, but Fever’s resourceful enough to survive.

4. Mina Wentworth from Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke – Mina is strong and proud despite living in and being born to a terrible world.  Society is forever turned against her, and yet she fights for what is right and good.  In other words?  She’s awesome.

5. Eff from Patricia C. Wrede’s Thirteenth Child – Eff has been born unlucky, but her pluck, heart, and find-a-way-around it mentality save her family and create a new future.

6. Alexia Tarabotti from Gail Carriger’s Soulless – Alexia is not fashionable, but that’s alright, because she’s clever, enterprising, and just happens to be the perfect foil for a werewolf.  Adventures abound around Alexia, and it’s all good fun.

7. Archibald Clare from Lilith Saintcrow’s The Iron Wyrm Affair – Clare is one half of a Sherlock Holmes and Watson-esque detective duo in a steampunk world, and he’d be on the edge of madness if not for the help of his counterpart, Bannon.  Their ridiculous/dangerous/slapstick antics make for an enjoyable tale.

8. Finley Jayne from Kady Cross’ The Girl in the Steel Corset – Finley doesn’t take any nonsense, and that is true for both of her selves.  This girl has dual personalities, but both enjoy a spot of fun.

9. Mad Machen from Meljean Brook’s short story ‘Here There Be Dragons’ – Crazy characters have a strange allure, don’t they?  This ship captain is renowned for his mad antics, and his pursuit of his lady love is the stuff of sailors’ lore.

10. Half mermaid from Frewin Jones’ short story ‘The Cannibal Fiend of Rotherhithe’ – I can’t recall the name of this character, but I can remember the wild beauty of her ignorance and the violence of her hunger.  Haunting!

Do you have a favorite steampunk character or book?  Do tell!


Monday, February 18, 2013 | | 8 comments
I’ve been meaning to read Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina for months now – in fact, I’ve had it out from the library as an ebook at least three times.  Somehow, the time never seemed ‘right.’  When Seraphina won the Morris Award for best debut young adult novel of the year, I knew the time for procrastination was over.  I started this dragon-filled high fantasy one evening and read straight through until dawn, and it was worth it.

seraphina by rachel hartman book cover
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high. 

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life. 

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

Seraphina is new to her job as assistant music mistress in the royal palace of Goredd, but she already loves it.  After spending most of her life trying to remain anonymous, she’s on stage, performing music, and she’ll be noticed by those she’d rather avoid.  For not only are there typical royal politics in Goredd, there are dragon politics.  In two weeks a reaffirmation of the decades-long treaty between species will require everything Seraphina has and more, for she is not only a musician, but a keeper of secrets.

Seraphina is an excellent book.  It is also a gripping one (as my all-night reading binge will attest), and it explores important themes while remaining true to the good of the story.  Education and tolerance versus the traditions of the old guard, hiding and lying versus telling the truth, loving people as opposed to protecting them, and the purpose of art – these are all woven into the fabric of Hartman’s debut.  Having said all of that, the world building is the strong point of this book.  It is rich, interesting, layered and unexpected, and the accompanying plot is twisty.

Ultimately though, the ‘success’ of a book relies on more than world-building, plot, and big ideas.  Were the characters well-drawn?  Did I feel empathy towards them and witness growth?  These questions are funny in a way, because the dragons of Hartman’s world do their best to remain uncompromised by emotion.  They’re rather like the Vulcans of the Star Trek universe.

As for Seraphina, I believed in her as a character.  She’s painfully transparent, except she manages to hide a great deal of herself, and she’s lonely with it.  What is harder to accept are her various relationships with other characters.  As a reader, I was sucked in and I willingly followed the progress of Seraphina’s thoughts and emotions, but I trusted only her relationship with Orma – I saw weaknesses in the interactions with Glisselda, Lucian and others. 

The thing about being slow to believe in a major relationship in a book is that it makes you question your instincts.  If you love everything else, why is it such a sore spot?  I think it comes down to timing, feasibility, and the real (personal) effects of betrayal and truth-telling for the individual reader.  I loved the book, but I think there’s room for improvement.  I am looking forward to more (and even better) from Hartman.

Before I sign off, a quote from chapter sixteen which I think is both poignant and a great example of Seraphina’s voice:

The right note played tentatively still misses its mark, but play boldly and no one will question you.  If one believes there is truth in art – and I do – then it’s troubling how similar the skill of performing is to lying.  Maybe lying is itself a kind of art.  I think about that more than I should.

Recommended for: fans of fantasy, dragon-loving readers, and anyone who liked Patricia McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Jane Yolen’s dragon books, or Ann McCaffrey’s Pern.

nobody by jennifer lynn barnes giveaway

Thursday, February 14, 2013 | | 1 comments
Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes was a one night read for me – the fast-paced action with a hint of sci-fi kept me glued to the page well past midnight (on a weeknight, no less!).  Egmont USA has been kind enough to allow me to host a giveaway for both a hardcopy of Nobody and a newly released paperback of Every Other Day. Check out my review of Nobody and the summaries of both books below.  Also feel free to check out Jennifer on twitter (and the great folks at Egmont).  Giveaway at the end of the post!

nobody by jennifer lynn barnes book cover
There are people in this world who are Nobody. No one sees them. No one notices them. They live their lives under the radar, forgotten as soon as you turn away. 

That’s why they make the perfect assassins. 

The Institute finds these people when they’re young and takes them away for training. But an untrained Nobody is a threat to their organization. And threats must be eliminated. 

Sixteen-year-old Claire has been invisible her whole life, missed by the Institute’s monitoring. But now they’ve ID’ed her and send seventeen-year-old Nix to remove her. Yet the moment he lays eyes on her, he can’t make the hit. It’s as if Claire and Nix are the only people in the world for each other. And they are—because no one else ever notices them.

every other day by jennifer lynn barnes book cover
Every other day, Kali D’Angelo is a normal sixteen-year-old girl. She goes to public high school. She argues with her father. She’s human. 

And then every day in between... she’s something else entirely. 

Though she still looks like herself, every twenty-four hours predatory instincts take over and Kali becomes a feared demon-hunter with the undeniable urge to hunt, trap, and kill zombies, hellhounds, and other supernatural creatures. Kali has no idea why she is the way she is, but she gives in to instinct anyway. Even though the government considers it environmental terrorism. 

When Kali notices a mark on the lower back of a popular girl at school, she knows instantly that the girl is marked for death by one of these creatures. Kali has twenty-four hours to save her, and unfortunately she’ll have to do it as a human. With the help of a few new friends, Kali takes a risk that her human body might not survive... and learns the secrets of her mysterious condition in the process.

Would you like to win a hardcover copy of Jennifer Lynn Barnes' new release Nobody and a paperback of Every Other Day? Simply fill out the FORM! One winner will receive both titles.  Giveaway open to US & Canadian mailing addresses only, and will end on February 24th, 2013 at 11:59pm EST.  Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email.  Good luck!

Fine print: All books are provided by the publisher (Egmont USA); I did not receive any compensation for posting this giveaway.

waiting on wednesday (47)

Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

I read Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves’ InterWorld back before I started blogging, and I loved its sci-fi plot.  Its tone reminded me a bit of a grim Diana Wynne Jones – with a full measure of inventiveness, a couple of unreliable characters, mystery and worlds unknown.  I packed that book up when I moved across the country, and I haven’t read it since.  When I went through the spring YA catalogs I was surprised and pleased to see a sequel is on its way.  The Silver Dream: An InterWorld Novel by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves will be released by HarperTeen on April 23, 2013.

the silver dream by neil gaiman and michael reaves book cover
The sequel to the New York Times bestselling fantasy adventure InterWorld, from award-winning and bestselling team Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. 

Sixteen-year-old Joey Harker has just saved the Altiverse-the dimension that contains all the myriad Earths-from complete destruction. After mastering the ability to walk between dimensions, Joey and his fellow InterWorld Freedom Fighters are on a mission to maintain peace between the rival powers of magic and science who seek to control all worlds. 

When a stranger named Acacia somehow follows Joey back to InterWorld's Base, things get complicated. No one knows who she is or where she's from-or how she knows so much about InterWorld. Dangerous times lie ahead, and Joey has no one to rely on but himself and his wits-and, just maybe, the mysterious Acacia Jones. 

Full of riveting interdimensional battles, epic journeys between worlds, and twists and turns along the way, this sequel to InterWorld is a thrilling, mind-bending adventure through time and space.

What books are you waiting on?


Tuesday, February 12, 2013 | | 5 comments
If you’ve ever taken public transportation in a city during rush hour, you’ve probably noticed the soullessness and anonymity that grips people and turns them into waking zombies.  They’ll ignore anything, put on headphones, turn away, shuffle on… These non-interactions always make me feel a little lonely, even if I am one of the horde.  I am there too with my ever-present phone or book – but I always do a quick scan to see if anyone will smile, make eye contact.  It reminds me a bit of the outsider-ness of high school, and it may well be what inspired Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Nobody – the question ‘What if you were, for all intents and purposes, invisible?’  What if no one noticed or cared?  And then… what if that were a sort of superpower?

nobody by jennifer lynn barnes book cover
There are people in this world who are Nobody. No one sees them. No one notices them. They live their lives under the radar, forgotten as soon as you turn away. 

That’s why they make the perfect assassins. 

The Institute finds these people when they’re young and takes them away for training. But an untrained Nobody is a threat to their organization. And threats must be eliminated. 

Sixteen-year-old Claire has been invisible her whole life, missed by the Institute’s monitoring. But now they’ve ID’ed her and send seventeen-year-old Nix to remove her. Yet the moment he lays eyes on her, he can’t make the hit. It’s as if Claire and Nix are the only people in the world for each other. And they are—because no one else ever notices them.

Claire has always been good and sweet, and this summer she is hoping that it will finally make a difference to her parents, or to anyone, really.  Nix is a trained killer who has unnatural abilities, nightmares, and anger issues.  These two Nobodies have spent their entire lives isolated, suffering in different ways from the fact that they are a type of extremely rare, unnoticeable being.  When Nix is dispatched by the Institute to kill Claire, no one is more surprised than he to find that she isn’t what he was led to believe – and that discovery will spark something massive, something that will change Nix and Claire forever.

The concept of a Nobody as a non-human entity is intriguing.  I assume that most teens have felt like outsiders from time to time (I certainly did), and in a way, this story is based on the same premise, only multiplied by several thousand degrees.  Nobody has an appeal that reminds me of the X-Men universe, and the movement, omnipresent danger, romance and teenage assassins all mashed together are almost irresistible.  If you can follow the leaps of probability, it’s a thrill ride of read.

On the other hand, if you are the sort who likes to sift through the world-building for plausible infrastructure, Nobody may strike some sour notes.  The reach of the Society, Nix’s tattoos, insta-like – these inexplicable bits/weaknesses may turn some readers off.  I wasn’t bothered until after I’d finished the book, which goes to show that it is possible to finish in one gulp due to spot-on pacing and a take-no-prisoners plot.

As for characters, Nix is the broken but honorable killer, and Claire the sheltered, frustrated, quiet one with untapped inner strength.  While their maturity might not have been as believable in a contemporary young adult novel, their unique upbringing and Nobody nature allow for some leeway.  One of the book’s themes was that there are no blameless adults, and very few (if any) blameless teens.  This is an adventure-thriller, but it also takes a hard look human nature, often showing the dark, dangerous side.

Barnes’ prose flows between seamlessly between thought, action and speech.  It won’t win any awards for beauty, but it accomplishes its purpose: to create an atmosphere full of danger, to make you care for the characters, and to pull the reader along into the conflict of a world other than his/her own.

Recommended for: fans of young adult thrillers and dystopian/paranormal fiction, those who enjoyed Neal Schusterman’s Unwind and Kathy Reichs’ Virals, or anyone who imagined Kiersten White’s Paranormalcy a little bit darker and deadlier.

Fine print: I received an ARC of Nobody for review from Egmont USA

chicken, lemon and dill with orzo

I love hosting dinner parties.  It may have something to do with my firm conviction that the best conversation happens over shared a shared meal.  The thing is, many of my friends are booked for the weekends, so we end up having to make it work on random weeknights.  For me (or whoever else is hosting) that means finding no-fuss recipes that will feed several and allow us all to eat, drink, laugh and get home in time for a good night’s sleep.  The following baked chicken and orzo recipe was a huge hit this past Wednesday, and I was able to make Greek salad as an accompaniment while it was in the oven. YUM.

Chicken, Lemon, and Dill with Orzo (modified from an Everyday Food recipe)


4 cups (32 ounces) chicken broth
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 pound chicken tenderloins, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound orzo
2 1/2 cups crumbled feta (5 ounces)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice and zest of one lemon)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a saucepan, bring broth, water, butter, salt, and pepper to a boil.

In a 3-quart (9”x13”) baking dish, combine chicken, orzo, feta, dill, lemon zest and juice. Pour hot broth mixture over orzo and stir once to incorporate.

Bake until orzo is tender and cooking liquid is creamy, 40 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle parmesan on top and let stand 15 minutes before serving.  Yields 6 servings.

Note: the feta, lemon and dill give this dish a serious burst of Mediterranean flavor.  If you’d like to serve with Greek salad, I suggest The Pioneer Woman’s recipe.  I also put a Pear and Cranberry Crisp in the oven – they baked at the same temperature.  It was a supremely delicious night.  Serve with white or red wine.

Recommended for: a delicious and stress-free recipe (if you can chop ingredients and zest a lemon, you can do this!) to serve friends or family and a flavorful baked casserole that will make several meals in one.

Interested in other food-related posts? Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

kill me softly

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 | | 1 comments
I learned an important lesson this week.  Friends may know you better than the internet ever could.  Particularly, real life book club friends have a better handle on the sort of story you’ll enjoy (or even simply find interesting) than a blog.  I know that seems like an obvious conclusion, but I often trust blog advice above all else for book recommendations.  And if I had listened in this case, I would have missed an interesting book – not to mention the chance to discuss young adult fantasy (in person!) with a very smart friend.

kill me softly by sarah cross book cover
Mirabelle's past is shrouded in secrecy, from her parents' tragic deaths to her guardians' half-truths about why she can't return to her birthplace, Beau Rivage. Desperate to see the town, Mira runs away a week before her sixteenth birthday—and discovers a world she never could have imagined.

In Beau Rivage, nothing is what it seems—the strangely pale girl with a morbid interest in apples, the obnoxious playboy who's a beast to everyone he meets, and the chivalrous guy who has a thing for damsels in distress. Here, fairy tales come to life, curses are awakened, and ancient stories are played out again and again.

But fairy tales aren't pretty things, and they don't always end in happily ever after. Mira has a role to play, a fairy tale destiny to embrace or resist. As she struggles to take control of her fate, Mira is drawn into the lives of two brothers with fairy tale curses of their own... brothers who share a dark secret. And she'll find that love, just like fairy tales, can have sharp edges and hidden thorns.

Beau Rivage is a town on the shore where fairy tales (and those cursed by them) congregate.  It’s a place where mothers disappear, fates manifest, and dangerous destinies await – and it is the town of Mira’s birth.  She’s been kept away from it by her godmothers for years, but now, just before her birthday, she can’t take the mystery and loneliness and she makes good her escape.  Once in Beau Rivage, Mira finds that it isn’t all she dreamed: it’s complicated and risky to be on her own. There’s also suddenly a lot of unfinished business (and romance?) waiting right around the corner.  Mira will need to adjust fast, or face lethal consequences.

Doesn’t the description for Sarah Cross’ Kill Me Softly sound a bit like a teaser for the show Once Upon a Time?  It’s very fairy tale/doom is waiting.  The cover art is perfectly lovely, but it doesn’t strike me as menacing.  And that IS one thing this book does exceedingly well (a menacing tone, I mean).  It also has a FABULOUS concept.  Bluebeard boy and Sleeping Beauty girl = tragic and fascinating.  That isn’t to say the result is perfectly executed (it’s not), but it’s certainly enough to keep you reading.

As a character, Mira almost treads into infuriatingly naïve territory, but her motivations and conflict are well done and her choices understandable (if stupid).  She’s a sheltered teen who has chosen to throw herself into a crazy situation, and the story reflects that.  Of course this is also fantasy, so the reader must make allowances.  The world around Mira is fairly well drawn, though the reading experience is hampered somewhat by the slow reveal of facts and the inclusion of a couple of characters who remain off page and yet are given extensive back stories.

The romance/involvement aspect is tame-ish, and there are hints of cliché that may annoy some readers.  My favorite characters were Blue and Freddie, who have a funny good cop/bad cop dynamic to start and believable teenage boy dialogue.   If you can get far enough into the book to hit Beau Rivage and Blue, I think you’ll be sucked in.  From then on it’s all manipulation and secrets and must-find-out-how-this-ends, though you may have a clue (I did). But the concept!  The concept was the thing that kept me reading this book. 

When it seems like tragedy is the only possible ending to a story, it usually is, and that may be why this tied-with-a-bow ending felt like a bit of a cheat.  There’s no way there’s a ‘waltz off with all the money in the vault’ ending in Mira’s future.  BUT.  Kill Me Softly is a solid take on fairy tales, and it manages creepy and complicated in spots.  I’ll be looking for more nightmares and dreams set in Beau Rivage.

Recommended for: those who like YA fairy tale retellings and fantasy.

dark chocolate puppy chow

I’m spending this weekend at my brother’s place in western Pennsylvania, or as I call it, Narnia (always winter and never Christmas).  The forecast high temperature on Sunday is 24 degrees F (that's -4 degrees C for you non-USians).  I can safely say that we’ll be enjoying indoor activities.  This is also Super Bowl weekend, and people everywhere will be getting together to eat ‘game day’ food and watch the biggest football game of the year.  Puppy chow (also known as muddy buddies or monkey munch) is one of my favorite special occasion snacks, and bonus factor: it’s easy to make!

Dark Chocolate Puppy Chow (based on this Food, Fitness & Family recipe)


9 cups Rice Chex cereal
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate (two 60% cacao Ghiradelli bars, can be found in baking aisle), chopped
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups powdered sugar


large mixing bowl
medium microwaveable bowl
large Ziploc bag (gallon size at least!)
self control (optional)


Empty Chex cereal into the large bowl and set aside. 

In medium bowl, combine chocolate and peanut butter, then microwave for 20 seconds.  Remove from microwave and stir briskly with a spoon.  Microwave again for 15-20 seconds, stir after.  Repeat steps as necessary until mixture is thoroughly combined.

Pour peanut butter chocolate sauce over the Chex cereal and fold repeatedly (and gently) to coat.  Once cereal pieces are completely covered, transfer mix into the large Ziploc bag.  Dump powdered sugar in on top of mix and seal the bag.  Shake carefully until cereal pieces are totally dusted with sugar.  Empty into a bowl and enjoy!

Makes 12-15 servings.  To store, seal in airtight container and keep away from heat (ha! as if you’ll have any left over to store!)

Recommended for: a crispy, melt-in-your-mouth snack for game day, an easy-to-make crowd pleaser that doesn’t require hard-to-find ingredients, and a decadent comfort food for anytime.

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!
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