zita the spacegirl author interview with ben hatke

Author and illustrator Ben Hatke is here today at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia for an interview.  His middle grade graphic novel Zita the Spacegirl is the first in a sci-fi comics trilogy that features a young heroine saving the day... and the planet. The third book, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl, was released by First Second (Macmillan) on May 13, 2014. 

zita the spacegirl series covers

Ben Hatke's first graphic novel was Zita the Spacegirl. He has published comics stories in the Flight series as well as Flight Explorer.  In addition to writing and drawing comics, he also paints in the naturalist tradition and, occasionally, performs one-man fire shows.

Hatke lives and works in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife and their boisterous pack of daughters.  You can learn more on his author website.

Welcome Ben!

You have four girls of your own.  Did any of their antics inspire Zita's adventures?

Their crazy antics definitely inspire me but I think the two handiest things about having a pack of little girls is 

1) that I have an immediate audience of different ages all checking up on my work. They are often my first story critics and it's great to talk to them about whatever I'm working on because they always let me know if story points are confusing, or if jokes fall flat.

and 2) I have a bunch of little models of various ages running around. Sketching kids is a fantastic exercise, and because they really don't sit still you learn to draw fast -- catch things in as few lines as possible. In fact the book I'm working on now stars a 6-year-old girl, and I've caught a lot of poses from my own 6-year-old.

What is your favorite Zita quality?

I think it's her temper. She has this terrible sense of justice and she ends up being kind of a dangerous enemy when she's angry.

Who/what are your influences in comics and prose?

That's a rather looong list, but I'll name a few of the big ones. In prose I'd say Roald Dahl was a big one, as was G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Neil Gaiman, Randall Jarrell...

Artistically, there's the intersection of Jim Henson and Brian Froud, Maurice Sendak and Trina Schart Hyman, Arthur Rackham and Howard Pyle.... And funny enough, I'm still very much inspired by the Italian Renaissance because it was a time of such explosive creativity when the idea of the artist and the inventor were often very much the same. 

What are you working on right now? 

Right now I am working on a book called Little Robot. It's about a young girl and a small robot and their very particular friendship over the course of a summer. It takes place in locations based on places near my own house so I've been able to go out and sketch from life quite a bit and take a lot of reference photos. It's been a really fun project.

What's one book you read as an adult that you wish had been around when you were a kid?

You know, I feel like there were more books that actually were around when I was a kid but that I just didn't know about. Jeff Smith's Bone was around when I was a teenager. WHY DIDN'T ANYBODY TELL ME?

What is one sci-fi classic I absolutely MUST read?

Oh man... I wish I had some little-known gem... If you haven't actually read The Time Machine then do that even if just for the crabs. And this might not qualify as a classic, but one book I've really enjoyed is The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven. It's like a whole book of the Star Wars cantina scene.


Thank you for taking the time to answer those questions, Ben!  I thoroughly enjoyed Zita’s adventures (see my review of the first in the series here), especially the mix of humor and friendship, and the subtle homages to sci-fi in pop culture.  I can’t wait to see where your next book takes us!

the return of zita the spacegirl by ben hatke book cover
Ben Hatke brings back our intrepid space heroine for another delightful sci-fi/fantasy adventure in this New York Times‑bestselling graphic novel trilogy for middle grade readers.

Zita the Spacegirl has saved planets, battled monsters, and wrestled with interplanetary fame. But she faces her biggest challenge yet in the third and final installment of the Zita adventures. Wrongfully imprisoned on a penitentiary planet, Zita has to plot the galaxy's greatest jailbreak before the evil prison warden can execute his plan of interstellar domination!

Fine print: I received the Zita the Spacegirl trilogy for honest review from the publisher.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

zita the spacegirl

Thursday, June 19, 2014 | | 1 comments
I’ve been on a bit of an unconscious break from middle grade sci-fi and fantasy.  I continue to want to pick these titles up, and I’ll borrow from the library or buy, but they’ve (for the most part) lain in unread piles around the apartment.  Why this malaise toward a genre I love and spent several months reading exclusively as a judge for the 2013 CYBILS awards?  Just that, I think—too much exposure in too short a time.  But as I said, this has (until very recently) been unconscious on my part.  I didn’t realize I was avoiding them until I read a really lovely set of middle grade sci-fi graphic novels.  When I was done, I looked around for other MG books to compare them to – and found that I’d gone into a black hole in 2014.  Well, you’ll be happy to hear that Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl books have cured me, and I can’t wait to dive back into to wonderful middle grade sci-fi and fantasy.

zita the spacegirl by ben hatke book cover
Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of  an eye.

When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don’t even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest in Zita’s quest.

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, captivating tale of friendship and redemption from Flight veteran Ben Hatke. It also has more whimsical, eye-catching, Miyazaki-esque monsters than you can shake a stick at.

While romping outdoors one day, Zita and her friend Joseph discover a device embedded in the remains of an asteroid.  When Zita presses a button and a flash of light swallows Joseph, she is frightened, but determined to follow and rescue him from his uncertain fate.  So begin Zita’s adventures in space – for using the device has catapulted her through a portal and onto another planet, into the midst of a whole host of unknown creatures.  Zita will have to exercise all of her wit, courage and kindness to survive (and find a way home).

The absolute star of the piece (as the title suggests) is Zita.  She’s adventurous, brave, loyal to friends new and old, and stuck in the ultimate uncomfortable situation.  When she can’t immediately rescue Joseph she uses her strengths to find the path to a solution.  Zita is tenacious, and she’s just the active, non-violent heroine for a rescue operation. 

As for setting, Zita has landed on Scriptorious, a planet that everyone is desperate to flee due to an approaching asteroid.  The scenes in the market, when everyone is trying to get off-world, reminded me of the same predicament in the first Men in Black film.  There are enough strange and amazing creatures filling the pages to stretch any imagination.  Zita’s especial friends are Piper (a shifty, tinkering humanoid), Mouse (a giant mouse whose collar spits out paper communiqués), One (a flying, armed battle ball) and Randy (a mish-mash robot with wheels for legs).  Together they are a motley, unstoppable force held together by the glue of Zita’s friendship and purpose.

Ben Hatke has created a colorful world for Zita to venture through, and while the comic panels vary in size, the art is uniformly lovely.  The landscapes vary – some are Earth-as-we-know-it, and others bring to mind Tatooine from Star Wars or Wall-E’s waste-ridden future Earth.  Zita herself could belong to one of many nationalities or ethnic groups, and I believe that is a huge point in the book’s favor.  She’s drawn in such a way that the reader may make his/her own conclusions.

Overall, this is an engaging read with a heroine who relies on the power of friendship, trust and ingenuity to succeed.  While Zita the Spacegirl is certainly sci-fi, there are enough whimsical touches (the Pied Piper who owns a tube of doorpaste, for instance!) that this graphic novel will please fans of fantasy as well.

Recommended for: fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses, and anyone (ages 8+) who enjoys speculative fiction, true heroism, and stories about friendship.

Fine print: I received a free copy of Zita the Spacegirl for review from the publisher.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

waiting on wednesday (76)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 | | 5 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.

At this point, my fairy tale retelling obsession is a matter of blog record.  I don't know what that says about me, except that Robin McKinley and Jane Yolen converted me early on, and there's no hope for a change at this point.  *grin*  Not that I'd want to change!  In the past year I've enjoyed reading the first two installments in Lili St. Crow's A Tale of Beauty and Madness series - they're interesting twists on familiar tales, and the sort of book you read in one (happy) bite.  I reviewed Nameless, and though I didn't review Wayfarer, rest assured that I gobbled it up, too.  The final book in the trilogy, Kin, will be released by Razorbill (Penguin) on March 3, 2015.

kin by lili st. crow book cover
New York Times bestseller Lili St. Crow stuns once again with this enchantingly dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

Ruby deVarre is Rootkin, and the granddaughter of the most revered clanmother in all of New Haven.

In the kin world, girls Ruby’s age are expected to settle down and start a family. But settling down is the farthest thing from wild-child Ruby's mind--all she wants to do is drive fast with her friends and run free through the woods.

Then Conrad, a handsome boy from a clan across the Waste, comes to New Haven to stay with Ruby, and the sparks fly immediately. Conrad is smart, charming, and downright gorgeous. Ruby gets to know him more, she begins to realize something's...off. Like most kin boys, Conrad's temper can be a bit...short. But does he have to be so rough with Ruby--to the point of leaving bruises? On top of all that, Conrad seems to be isolating Ruby, until he all but forbids her from seeing her best friends Cami and Ellie.

And then the murders start. Someone is terrorizing Ruby’s small woodland community, and now she is more alone than ever. Just when she starts to suspect her Prince Charming is anything but, she becomes his next target. Ruby’s about to find out that Conrad's secrets run deeper than she could have ever imagined...

Get ready to surrender to Ruby's charm in this mesmerizing third and final installment of Lili St. Crow's Tales of Beauty and Madness series.

What books are you waiting on?

handwriting and blogging

Monday, June 16, 2014 | | 6 comments
You may have read a recent article in the New York Times about handwriting and education, and the links that researchers see between putting pen (or pencil!) to paper and idea creation, memory and learning ability.  What you probably didn’t do is print it out, highlight the particularly interesting bits, and then carry that paper copy around in your purse for two weeks, waiting for the ideal moment to stop and write a reflection blog post.  Who does that, anyway?  A nerd like me.  *grin*

Maria Konnikova’s June 2nd piece gathered information from recent studies that suggest that handwriting can have a long-standing effect on learning.  She wrote that “[P]rinting, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns – and each results in a distinct end product,” and, “[W]riting by hand allows … a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.”  It’s an interesting premise, and in my case, a convincing one.

I began to think of the ways in which I wrote as a child, and continue to write today.  I learned to print in kindergarten.  I began to learn cursive lettering in first grade (age six!).  In third grade, my mother began homeschooling my siblings and me, and handwriting landed very far down the priority list.  In middle school my family bought a home computer, but I shared the use of it with everyone else. I wrote anything I wanted to say down on paper, usually in print.  And I eventually started corresponding with pen pals all over the world, some of whom used beautiful and peculiar print that almost looked like a different script. 

By the time I was back in a formal classroom in high school, I’d taught myself to write only in my version of perfect print: some of it borrowed from the Norwegian pen pal who lived above the Arctic Circle, some handed down from my mother, some cadged from an English teacher whose chalkboard printing I particularly admired.  I learned to type in a high school class by sheer force of will – I would not get anything less than an A grade!  And most of the rest of my life has been spent typing (with the essential caveat that I took class notes by hand), including college and grad school papers, work and personal emails, and endless chat messages to friends. 

The interesting thing about blogging is that it has reintroduced me to handwriting.  Over the past 5+ years I have filled a succession of notebooks with scribbled thoughts on characters, plots, weaknesses, strengths, lists and who I’d recommend the book to.  Whether or not I put those notes in a later review doesn’t matter – there’s something about writing out my visceral response to a book that helps me connect to it AND dissect it.  I begin to see larger themes and similarities, and I remember the reading experience far longer. 

So, that NYT article made perfect sense.  Handwriting has always been one of my outlets of personal expression, but it is also a tool that helps me understand things on a deeper level, and think more creative thoughts overall.  No wonder I love it!  And no wonder I persevere in writing my reviews and blog posts long-hand, even when it would be far easier to type and hit ‘Save,’ and not bother with that in-between draft. 

Now I’m wondering about you, my fellow readers.  Where does handwriting fit in your life? Do you believe the handwriting hype?  How do you write your reviews?

pão de queijo (cheesy bread bites)

I spent one of the most delicious summers of my life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  I lived in an apartment in the Copacabana neighborhood with three other girls and a house mother, and attended language school every day.  As you can imagine, I ate my weight in tropical fruit, drank many caipirinhas on the beach, and had an amazing time in general.  One of the treats I learned to appreciate? Pão de queijo, cheesy little bread bites that everyone eats for breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack throughout Brazil. 

With the World Cup going on in Brazil right now, I’ve been reminiscing about that summer in all of its delectable glory.  I decided to find a recipe and try my hand at making these treats for myself.  I was worried they wouldn’t turn out, but this recipe is super easy!  I may even get brave and move on to bolinhos de bacalhau (salted cod fritters) and feijoada (pork and black bean stew) next!

Pão de Queijo (from this recipe – translation is mine)


400 g heavy cream
250 g grated parmesan cheese
250 g shredded mozzarella cheese
500 g cassava flour (also known as tapioca flour – I found a package at Whole Foods)
salt to taste


Preheat oven to 355 degrees F.  Butter or spray a couple of baking sheets with baking spray, set aside.

In a large bowl combine dry ingredients until well mixed, then add in the cream.  Knead until mixture holds together when you squeeze a handful.

With your fingers, gather small portions of dough and form balls (2-3 tablespoon-sized).  You may need to squash the dough into balls, but they’ll hold together in the oven.  Don’t give in to temptation to add more liquid!

Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet and bake in the oven until golden brown, around 18-20 minutes.  Let cool a bit, and enjoy!  Makes 3 dozen cheese bites.

Yay!  The texture is what really make these: on the outside they look dry and nondescript, but the inside is sticky, cheesy goodness with little air pockets.  Plus, they’re gluten-free!  And delicious.  So, you know, make them, and then brag to all of the folks at your World Cup party that you made an authentic snack.  *grin*

Recommended for: a delicious, gluten-free savory snack, an authentic Brazilian appetizer, and a special treat for the cheese-obsessed.

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

the strange maid blog tour - tessa gratton author guest post (+ giveaway!)

Author Tessa Gratton is here today at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia with a guest post.  Her new YA fantasy The Strange Maid features a girl who would sacrifice all to be a Valkyrie, and is set in The United States of Asgard, an alternate version of North America. The Strange Maid was released by Random House Books for Young Readers on June 10, 2014.  Check out the end of the post for a giveaway!

tessa gratton author photo
When Tessa was a kid, she wanted to be a wizard. Or a paleontologist. Maybe both.She’s neither now, but magic and monsters are still her favorite things.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, while her Dad was on duty with the US Navy, Tessa moved around throughout her childhood and traveled even more. She’s lived in Japan, California, Kansas, and England, and visited 4 continents.

After graduating from the University of Kansas in 2003 with a degree in Gender Studies, she went on to graduate school for a Master’s in the same. Halfway through, she ditched the program in favor of the blood, violence, and drama of  Anglo-Saxon and Germanic epic poetry and to focus on her writing. Tessa doesn’t have a graduate degree, but she did translate her own version of Beowulf!

Despite having traveled all over the world, she settled in Kansas where the sunsets are all in Technicolor, with her partner, two cats, and a mutant mutt named Grendel.  You can learn more about Tessa and her books at TessaGratton.com and on Twitter.

Welcome Tessa!  When we were talking about possible guest post ideas, I mentioned The Avengers… and you came through with a US of Asgard version of Captain America.  YUM.  I mean… yay!  *grin*

A brief history and analysis of Steve Josephson, aka Captain Asgardia, the First Avenger
Born to immigrants from Eireland nearly one hundred years ago in New Amsterdam City, with a frail constitution and parents dedicated to Tyr the Just, Steve Josephson seemed an unlikely candidate for such a shining and long-reaching destiny as the one woven for him. Perhaps Freya the Witch herself might have seen the knot, and preserved him through childhood illness and the deaths of both his parents, but she’ll never admit it.

When the misguided cult of Odin stirred across the ocean and began the Second Eurland War, the United States of Asgard tried to stay out of it, reverting to isolationist policies the government adopted in the wake of the Thrall’s War which had divided the country – and the gods – eighty years beforehand. But when news reached the Alfather and his administration that the cult in Deutschland had begun experimenting with super-solider serums in order to create their own cast of warriors to match the magically-born berserkers of the Alfather’s own line, the USA entered the war.

Though the Alfather’s priority was ending the offensive project, Thor Thunderer had always been a champion of humanity and equality and wanted to fight for the sake of the people of Eurland. He agreed with his generals who suggested soldiers as strong as berserkers but without their inherent weaknesses of madness and lack of control could turn the tide of conflicts for the rest of time. The Thunderer disliked secret projects, but reluctantly agreed to shelter a group of his military scientists who began looking into the super-serum. Though there was much trial and error, eventually Steve Josephson was chosen to receive the experimental dose.

He took to it mightily. Having already gone against his family’s dedication Tyr the Just in favor of the Thunderer, Steve had spend his life standing up to bullies and defending the weak – despite being weak himself. He proved to have the strength of heart and courage necessary to survive the serum, waking with super strength and a vastly improve war-machine of a body.

The Alfather was predictably furious, and refused to allow the newly dubbed Captain Asgardia to fight. Steve was relegated to raising money for the real soldiers, until he took matters into his own, super-strong hands and bucked the Alfather’s authority to follow his heart and favored god into battle. History shows us how he used his power to help turn the tide of the war, and though he did not survive the war, his ultimate sacrifice appeased the Alfather – the god of sacrifice – and Odin helped the Thunderer in later years to enshrine the name of Captain Asgardia as the ultimate hero of New Asgard.

Both while he was performing to raise funds and while he fought bravely as a symbol of Asgardian values, Captain Asgardia wore a uniform based upon the US flag: red, green, and blue for the highest gods, with wing-symbols for the Alfather’s bloodthirsty Valkyrie, lightning bolts for the Thunderer’s bravery, and red stripes for Freyr the Satisfied’s drive and passion. His shield was shaped by the last of the elves-under-the-mountain from their horded extra-terrestrial steel. Onto it was imprinted the Seal of New Asgard: blue and silver with a silver apple of immortality and nine stars for the nine supreme gods and nine Valkyrie and nine years of presidential service.

Though some have speculated after his death he was raised to the Valhol to become one of Odin’s immortal warriors, most agree his bones wait somewhere at the cold bottom of the ocean for the day when Thor Thunderer calls all his faithful servants up from death to join him in the final battle. 


Thank you for sharing that, Tessa!  I imagine I’ll be daydreaming about Chris Evans all day now (that’s what you meant to happen, right?!).

If this post has sparked your interest in The Strange Maid (or The Lost Sun, United States of Asgard Book #1), please enter the giveaway! Tessa will send a signed copy of The Strange Maid to one lucky winner, and a signed copy of The Lost Sun to another. TWO SIGNED BOOKS!  *happy dance*  To enter, simply fill out the FORM. Giveaway open to US addresses only, will end on Wednesday, June 18th at 11:59pm EST.  Winner will be notified via email.  Good luck!

the strange maid by tessa gratton book cover
Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard, where cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. Where the president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyries, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls. 

Signy Valborn was seven years old when she climbed the New World Tree and met Odin Alfather, who declared that if she could solve a single riddle, he would make her one of his Valkyrie. For ten years Signy has trained in the arts of war, politics, and leadership, never dreaming that a Greater Mountain Troll might hold the answer to the riddle, but that’s exactly what Ned the Spiritless promises her. A mysterious troll hunter who talks in riddles and ancient poetry, Ned is a hard man to trust. Unfortunately, Signy is running out of time. Accompanied by an outcast berserker named Soren Bearstar, she and Ned take off across the ice sheets of Canadia to hunt the mother of trolls and claim Signy’s destiny.

Fine print: Giveaway books provided and shipped by the author.  I received no compensation for this post.

top ten books i've read (so far) in 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 | | 9 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

Top Ten Tuesday list prompts do me the favor of making me dive back into books I’ve read in past months and reevaluate whether I really like them as much now, at a distance, as I did when I first finished them and wrote up my reviews.  List posts also bring me a decent amount of blog traffic, but that’s a discussion for another time.  So, today: the top ten books I’ve read so far in 2014, regardless of publication year (and in no particular order).  I looked up how many stars I gave each of these on Goodreads, and we’re talking 4- and 5-star range exclusively. I’m sure several of these picks will make my ‘Best of 2014’ post at the end of the year, too!

Top Ten Books I've Read (so far) in 2014

1. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker – Adult fantasy with a literary grounding is my cup of tea any day, but add in a heroine who questions the patriarchal standards of the world she’s thrown into, and you have a book that not only delighted, but stretched my senses.

2. Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley – What would life be like for a modern day Oracle?  That’s the question that Kimberly Pauley answers in Aria’s story.  The fact that the book is also a young adult thriller?  Bonus.

3. Antigoddess by Kendare Blake – You know how I love my mythology and fairy tales.  Well, this one is Greek gods and legends and all around awesome (if you like that sort of thing).

4. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson – I actually read this one last year, but the review went up in January, so I’m counting it.  Most unique magical system and world-building that I’ve read in a long time?  Check.  I want to go back to school and learn how to stage a magical chalk battle!

5. Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke – Science fiction graphic novel for the younger set, with adorable/brave heroine.  Need I say more?

6. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt – Another book that I read at the end of last year but reviewed in 2014, and a real winner.  Animal fantasies are not my thing, usually.  This one claimed my heart with its delightful characters, setting, and pitch-perfect dialogue.

7. Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier – This one was a dark werewolf fantasy with unique mythology and diverse characters… and therefore AWESOME.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

8. Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci – One of the best young adult science fiction novels I’ve ever read, period.  Castellucci explores the effects of isolation inherent in space station life, and what it means to be human.

9. Cruel Beauty and Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge – Fairy tale and mythology mix together in retellings with dark, vicious twists.  Both the novel and novella have compelling romances, too (that doesn’t hurt at all).

10. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – This is totally cheating, because Black’s modern fairy tale doesn’t come out until January of NEXT year.  BUT.  I’ve read it already and, okay, it’s just that good.

What books would make your list at this point of the year?

waiting on wednesday (75)

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.

Can you have too many fairy tale retellings?  RHETORICAL QUESTION, do not pass go, do not collect $200.  The answer is always NO.  At least in my case it is.  I get a fizzy feeling whenever I think of reading another fairy tale.  Maybe that will fade someday.  Well, doubtful.  It hasn't yet, and we're 30 years in. So yeah, fairy tale retellings are my jam, and this one looks... amazing.  DAHHHH, I want it now!  But in all seriousness, it sounds twisted and awesome, and there's not a single love triangle in sight (love triangles get major negative points in Cecelia Bedelia-land).  Stacey Jay’s Princess of Thorns will be released on December 9, 2014 by Delacorte (Penguin Random House).  And I will buy it immediately. *grin*

princess of thorns by stacey jay book cover
Game of Thrones meets the Grimm's fairy tales in this twisted, fast-paced romantic fantasy-adventure about Sleeping Beauty's daughter, a warrior princess who must fight to reclaim her throne.

Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora's throne ten years ago.

Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it's too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

What books are you waiting on?

do you review every book you read?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 | | 14 comments
I had a number of interesting conversations last week with fellow bloggers at the BEA Bloggers Conference and Book Expo America. One of the topics we covered popped into my head again while I was at work today. I thought I'd pose it to you (my readers who are also bloggers): What percentage of books read do you review?

@celialarsen tweet

Since I couldn't open a Word document and write a post then and there, I took to social media.  I got a lot of interesting responses, varying from right around where I am to 100%, but it seemed as though most of the replies were grouped toward the high end. Please feel free to share your own estimate in the comments! I'd love to know if it's abnormally skewed due to the active twitter audience on a given Tuesday morning (or any other plausible factor!).

Now for the confessional portion of this post. The reason my percentage is so low? Is because around half of the books I read are romance novels.  And I generally do not review or record them in any way (you won't see them populating my Goodreads shelves, for instance). There's always the off chance that my mother or grandmother will read my blog, after all!

Lest you think I am *afraid* of my family knowing I read romance, I'm not. Well, not much. It is more that I have little desire to have a conversation about the romances I read, and especially not 'in public.' That is not the case at all with middle grade and young adult literature. When I read a fantastic YA book, I want to shout it from the rooftops. So, if we redefine the original question, I'd say I review about 90% of the young adult and middle grade lit I read.

The rest of my reading pie is taken up with slices of adult fiction and adult science fiction and fantasy.

So, please do tell: what does your read-to-reviewed ratio look like?

p.s. In case you also read romance and haven't discovered them, two romance-reviewing blogs I trust implicitly are Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and Dear Author. They do a much better job of recommending romance than I ever could/would.

gilded ashes

Fairy tale (and myth) retellings are a particular weakness of mine.  The last time I met up with my DC FYA book club, someone joked that if they named any story, I could come up with a young adult or middle grade retelling of it.  I laughed with everyone else, but when they tested the hypothesis with two stories, I snapped right back with several titles of retellings.  I guess I read predictably?  *grin*  Earlier this year I picked up Rosamund Hodge’s debut novel Cruel Beauty, which was a fascinating mash-up of several legends, myths and tales.  Then recently I borrowed a library ebook of Hodge’s Gilded Ashes, a Cinderella retelling/companion novella set in the same world as Cruel Beauty.  It was just as good as (or possibly better than!) Hodge’s first story, which is saying something.

gilded ashes by rosamund hodge book cover
A romantic reimagining of the classic Cinderella fairy tale, Gilded Ashes is a novella by Rosamund Hodge set in the same world as her debut novel, Cruel Beauty.

Maia doesn't see the point of love when it only brings people pain: her dead mother haunts anyone who hurts Maia, and her stepsisters are desperate for their mother's approval, even though she despises them. Meanwhile, Anax, heir to the Duke of Sardis, doesn't believe in love either—not since he discovered that his childhood sweetheart was only using him for his noble title. But when Maia's and Anax's paths cross before the royal ball, they discover that love might not be the curse they once thought. And it might even be the one thing that can save them both.

What if Cinderella was complicit in her own abuse so as not to stir up even darker horrors?  Maia lives a precarious half-life: she serves her stepmother and stepsisters not because she is unloved (though that is true in her stepmother and stepsister’s case), but because she is too much loved by her mother’s ghost.  Maia’s mother made a devil’s bargain with The Gentle Lord before she died, and Maia has been navigating a truly horrible existence ever since.  When the Duke’s son Lord Anax decides to take a wife at an upcoming ball, Maia believes it may be a chance to find a way out of her father’s house.  The trouble is that Lord Anax is a wildcard, and Maia has been well-trained never to act on the longings of her own heart.

Well!  This may be one of the most twisted Cinderella retellings I’ve ever encountered.  The ghost of Maia’s mother is just one of the ‘villains’ of the piece.  All of the antagonists (and there are several) are of the complex, gray-area variety, though that doesn’t make them any less dangerous.  Meanwhile, protagonist Maia is a self-sacrificing liar.  If that didn’t spark your interest, I give up.  Really, though, this is a quite a story.  And even though there are dark elements, I would say that Gilded Ashes is an examination of what love truly is: caring enough to sacrifice yourself, being able to tell someone not only the Truth, but your own truths, and making the kinds of decisions that ensure another’s happiness.

The tone is grim and desperate (rather like Maia’s life), but there’s also an unquenchable hope at the center of it all.  That is the thing that keeps this tale in YA territory (and turns horror into something romantic).  As you can guess from that last sentence, there is a budding relationship that grows in the thorny soil of Maia’s life.  However, I would not call it the central focus.  The main bulk of the story revolves around the effects of individuals’ choices in a world that is built upon the magic of demons. Final verdict? Hodge uses the novella form to tell a deliciously dark fairy tale of Faustian bargains, danger, and love.

Recommended for: fans of fairy tale retellings and young adult fantasy, and Cinderella stories in particular (examples: Lili St. Crow’s Wayfarer and Mercedes Lackey’s Phoenix and Ashes).
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