Tag Archives: young adult

[TSS] The #Bookmail Post

 bookmail

It’s #bookmail time! I don’t often get book mail, but I recently won a couple of giveaways, I’m participating in a book tour at the end of the month and a publisher offered me a book I couldn’t resist. So here they are, in no particular order (or rather, in the order I stacked them in, I guess):

royal weddingMeg Cabot is one of my favourite authors, although I haven’t read anything new by her for a long while—years, actually. I’m not sure why. So when Trish from TLC Book Tours asked me if I wanted to participate in the book tour for Royal Wedding I said, “Yes!!” Trish had some shipping issues on her end—I think she tried to send me the book four times. I’m not sure what happened, but fourth time lucky (and I guess there’s a chance I’ll eventually end up with three more copies as they wander my way from wherever they ended up …).

hungry ghosts

The nice folks over at Simon & Schuster Canada emailed me to see if I’d like a copy of Hungry Ghosts, the third book in Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez series. Know what I love about the publicists over at Simon & Schuster Canada? They seem to have a real feel for my reading tastes; they almost always send books my way that I’m really interested in reading.

Inspector Ramirez is a Cuban police inspector, and the stories in each of the books in the series takes place in both Cuba and Canada. I’ve enjoyed the first two books in the series, and I’m really looking forward to reading this third book.

jonathan strange

I won the book of my choice from Book Depository from Andi earlier this year during Dewey’s Readathon. I had SUCH a hard time choosing, which is why I didn’t receive my prize until just recently. I finally opted for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell; it’s been in my to-read stacks for ages. I have it in audio, too, so I’m thinking I might try both reading and listening to this one at the same time.

mapmakers children I was SO excited when Kathy (BermudaOnion) told me I’d won the giveaway on her blog for Sarah McCoy’s The Mapmaker’s Children. I’m friends with Sarah on Facebook and we’ve had some delightful chats on Twitter, but I’ve never actually read one of her books. This one sounds like a lovely read—I’ve been on hold at the library for it for quite a while now, and it will be nice to be able to cancel that hold!

So that’s it for my #bookmail. What books have come into your place recently?

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, by Jennifer Allison [Visual Review]

gildajoyce (Click on picture to enlarge)

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, by Jennifer Allison, has been on my TBR list for a while now. I finally started reading it a few days ago, and was really glad I did. I loved this book! Gilda is such a fun, quirky character.

I also recently stumbled on Austin Kleon’s blog and started reading about visual note-taking, which lead me to look at sketchnoting. It looked like a lot of fun, so I thought I’d give it a try by doing a visual review.

One caveat: I was already near the end of Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator when I started doodling this. So a lot of my notes are from the end of the book.

It was an interesting experiment, and I’ll probably do it again with the next book I read. I certainly had a lot of fun! My favorite part was capturing quotes that I liked, something I’ve never done before while reading. Interestingly, it didn’t disrupt the flow of my reading.

More about Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator:

Ever since her father died, quirky Gilda Joyce has been working hard to sharpen her psychic skills. She’s determined to communicate with spirits from the Other Side and become a crack investigator of spooky, twisted mysteries. After wrangling an invitation to visit relatives in San Francisco, Gilda discovers that her dreary, tight-lipped uncle and his strange, delicate daughter need her help to uncover the terrible family secret that has a tortured ghost stalking their home. From poignant to hair-raising and hilarious, this is a behind-the-scenes, tell-all account of the very first case in the illustrious career of Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator.

Kobo eReader, and What I’ve Been eReading

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I was given a Kobo eReader for my birthday and yes, it’s definitely been keeping me busy!

I was able to move my library of ePubs bought from the Sony Reader Store onto my Kobo eReader – it was something I could have done before on my iPhone, by moving the ePubs to the Stanza app, but I never got around to it before now.

If you’re new to the Kobo eReader, or thinking of getting one, I highly recommend downloading the Calibre ebook management program. I was already using it to convert public domain PDFs from Project Guttenberg into ePub format, as well as converting my own WIPs into ePubs so I could do a first readthrough on my iPhone, but as it turns out, it’s a fabulous program for managing ebook content on the Kobo eReader; it’s a great way to selectively weed out the 100 classics that come preinstalled on the device.

But the thing I really like about my Kobo eReader is that I can now read DRM-protected PDFs on the go!  I have several of these, and up until now, they’ve been stuck in my “I’ll get around to reading them someday” pile because I haven’t been using my netbook very much, and I simply don’t like reading books on my desktop monitor.

Mind you, it’s not perfect (and that’s a function of PDF as a format for ebooks, and not the device itself)  – the reading experience depends on each individual PDF. With some PDFs, I can select an optimum font size and I’m still able to read each page in whole on the screen; other PDFs require me to choose either a too-small font size in order to fit an entire page onto the screen, or scroll back and forth. And let me just say, scrolling back and forth on a page (or up and down), is not fun.

So DRM-protected PDFs are now (mostly) readable on the go. But when it comes to my preferred ebook format, it’s definitely ePub.

I’ve been reading a fair bit on my new eReader. The funny thing is, I still prefer reading on my iPhone (which is why I’m holding out for an iPad for Christmas …).

What I’m eReading on my Kobo eReader right now:

No One Lives TwiceNo One Lives Twice, by Julie Moffett. This ePub came to me courtesy of NetGalley and Carina Press. Carina Press is Harlequin’s digital-only imprint publishing across a wide range of genres, and No One Lives Twice sounded like a book I’d love:

I’m Lexi Carmichael, geek extraordinaire. I spend my days stopping computer hackers at the National Security Agency. My nights? Those I spend avoiding my mother and eating cereal for dinner. Even though I work for a top-secret agency, I’ve never been in an exciting car chase, sipped a stirred (not shaken) martini, or shot a poison dart from an umbrella.

Unfortunately, it turned out I was wrong – and this is through no fault of the book itself. It’s just that it isn’t a match to my taste as a reader. I’d been anticipating more of a thriller novel with a female genius computer hacking main character doing lots of extraordinary things, but No One Lives Twice is more of a romantic suspense novel, with two possible love interests (who are both referred to in the rest of the synopsis, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t warned), and the extraordinary genius computer stunts are performed by one of the love interests and a set of super-smart twins (so far, anyway – I’m on chapter 18 of 26).

While it’s not really to my taste (I’m just not much into romance when it comes to books), there are lots of fun dollops of humor in it and the writing style is an easy read, so if romantic suspense is a genre you enjoy, you can check out the excerpt at Carina Press here.

Hacking Timbuktu

Hacking Timbuktu, by Stephen Davies, is a YA novel scheduled for release this coming November. I received my ACR courtesy of NetGalley and Clarion Books, and have just started reading it.

Danny is a freelance IT specialist–that is, a hacker. He and his pal Omar are both skilled at parkour, or freerunning, a discipline designed to enable practitioners to travel between any two points regardless of obstacles. This is fortunate, because they’re off on an adventure that’s filled with obstacles, from locked doors to gangs of hostile pursuers. Together they follow a cryptic clue, find a missing map, figure out how to get to Timbuktu without buying a plane ticket, and join the life-and-death treasure hunt, exchanging wisecracks and solving the puzzle one step at a time.

I am familiar with parkour, or freerunning, because it’s something my husband is interested in (and participated in, until he hurt his knee last year). It’s exciting to watch, and the pairing of it with the computer hacking is intriguing to say the least. So far, I’m on page 70 of 274, and Hacking Timbuktu is living up to its promise.

The LineupI am midway through The Lineup: : The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler:

What was the real-life location that inspired Michael Connelly to make Harry Bosch a Vietnam vet tunnel rat? Why is Jack Reacher a drifter? How did a brief encounter in Botswana inspire Alexander McCall Smith to create Precious Ramotswe? In The Lineup, some of the top mystery writers in the world tell about the genesis of their most beloved characters–or, in some cases, let their creations do the talking.

If you find these questions interesting – and I definitely do! – you’ll love The Lineup. I’ve also discovered some mystery series that I’ve now added to my TBR list. As a writer, the essays in this book are especially interesting; it’s a peek into how a series character has developed, and absolutely fascinating from a writing point of view.

The Element

I’m also on chapter 3 of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson:

The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. With a wry sense of humor, Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the Element and those that stifle that possibility. Drawing on the stories of a wide range of people, including Paul McCartney, Matt Groening, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, and Bart Conner, he shows that age and occupation are no barrier and that this is the essential strategy for transform­ing education, business, and communities in the twenty-first century.

I’m really enjoying reading the various stories of all the different people in the book; the rest of the material isn’t quite as interesting, as it simply reinforces what I already know to be true. But it’s fun learning things like the fact that Elvis Presley didn’t make his high school glee club because the director of the club thought Presley couldn’t sing!

[TSS] A Little Bit Holds Happy

These past six months or so, I’ve really been getting a lot of use out of my library card. Ever since I signed up for Library Elf, that wonderful service that sends out reminder emails about books coming due or overdue, I’ve even managed to keep my library fines down to a minimum (you don’t want to know about the arm and the leg I paid to my library before I discovered Library Elf – and I have no excuse, not really, because there’s a branch of the library within a few blocks of my house).

(If you’re not using Library Elf, I definitely recommend you check it out and see if your library is listed with them.)

I discovered a few months ago that my library offers monthly newsletters that feature their latest acquisitions in a variety of genres. I’ve signed up for several of these newsletters, and always look forward to getting these emails – I’m always sure to add a few more holds to my library account.

Yesterday came with a flurry of these emails. The books listed in them aren’t necessarily new releases – often they are just “new to us” acquisitions. And of course, I placed several holds!

The Crossroads

The Crossroads, by Chris Grabenstein. I’m not sure why this showed up in the new books for teens newsletter, actually, as I’d already borrowed it once previously (but then got stuck under an avalanche of deadlines and had to return it unread). It’s by Chris Grabenstein, who writes the John Ceepak mystery series for adults, which I really enjoy.

Zack, his dad, and new stepmother have just moved back to his father’s hometown, not knowing that their new house has a dark history. Fifty years ago, a crazed killer caused an accident at the nearby crossroads that took 40 innocent lives….

The Brightest Star in the Sky

The Brightest Star in the Sky, by Marian Keyes. I think I’ve read one Keyes novel in the past – I seem to remember I enjoyed it. The storyline in The Brightest Star in the Sky sounded very intriguing. Since Keyes is such a popular author, it will be a while before I get my hands on this one.

The Brightest Star in the Sky follows seven neighbors whose lives become entangled when a sassy and prescient spirit pays a visit to their Dublin townhouse with the intent of changing at least one of their lives.

But what will this metamorphosis be and who will the sprite choose? There’s Matt and Maeve, the newlyweds struggling to overcome the first obstacle in their storybook romance; Lydia, the brassy but vulnerable cabbie; Katie, the just-turned-forty PR executive searching for a more gratifying life; and the eldest resident, Jemima, currently playing hostess to her son Fionn, who is in town to star as the hunky gardener in a hot new television show.

The Book of Tomorrow

The Book of Tomorrow, by Cecelia Ahern. I haven’t read Ahern’s P.S. I Love You, but I did enjoy the movie (much more so the second time around, when I knew what had happened – I think I went through a whole box of tissue paper that time). The Book of Tomorrow sounds quite interesting:

Tamara Goodwin has always got everything she’s ever wanted. Born into a family of wealth, she grew up in a mansion with its own private beach, a wardrobe full of designer clothes, a large four poster bed complete with a luxurious bathroom en-suite. She’s always lived in the here and now, never giving a second thought to tomorrow. But then suddenly her dad is gone and life for Tamara and her mother changes forever. Left with a mountain of debt, they have no choice but to sell everything they own and move to the country to live with Tamara’s Uncle and Aunt. Nestled next to Kilsaney Castle, their gatehouse is a world away from Tamara’s childhood. With her mother shut away with grief, and her aunt busy tending to her, Tamara is lonely and bored and longs to return to Dublin. When a travelling library passes through Kilsaney Demesne, Tamara is intrigued. She needs a distraction. Her eyes rest on a mysterious large leather bound tome locked with a gold clasp and padlock. With some help, Tamara finally manages to open the book. What she discovers within the pages takes her breath away and shakes her world to its core.

Murder at Longbourn

Murder at Longbourn, by Tracy Kiely. I couldn’t resist this cozy-sounding murder mystery, although on reading the summary, I’m not sure where Jane Austen comes into play …

A die-hard fan of Jane Austen novels and the traditional English mystery, Tracy Kiely has combined elements of both for this truly delightful and witty debut. Planning New Year’s resolutions to rid her life of all things unhealthy, Elizabeth Parker has dumped fatty foods, processed sugar, and her two-timing boyfriend. Indeed, the invitation to join her Aunt Winnie for a How to Host a Murder Party on New Year’s Eve at Winnie’s new Cape Cod B and B comes just in time. But when the local wealthy miser ends up the unscripted victim, Elizabeth must unearth old secrets and new motives in order to clear her beloved aunt of suspicion.

The Taken

The Taken, by Inger Ash Wolfe. This is the sequel to The Calling, which I haven’t read yet either – a copy of The Calling is available on the shelves, so I’m going to get a hold of it and get it read before this hold on The Taken comes my way. It was actually the summary of The Calling that made me decide to give this series a try.

From The Calling:

Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef has lived all her days in the small town of Port Dundas, Ontario and is now making her way toward retirement with something less than grace. Hobbled by a bad back and a dependence on painkillers, and feeling blindsided by divorce after nearly four decades of marriage, sixty-one-year-old Hazel has only the constructive criticism of her mother (the former mayor) and her own sharp tongue to buoy her. But when a terminally ill woman is gruesomely murdered in her own home, Hazel and her understaffed department must spring to life. And as one terminally ill victim after another is found, Hazel finds herself tracking a truly terrifying serial killer while everything around her spins out of control.

Through the cacophony of her bickering staff, her unsupportive superiors, a clamoring press, the town’s rumor mill, and her own nagging doubts, Hazel can sense the dead trying to call out. Will she hear them before it’s too late?

From The Taken:

Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef is having a bad year. After major back surgery, she has no real option but to move into her ex-husband’s basement and suffer the humiliation of his new wife bringing her meals down on a tray. As if that weren’t enough, Hazel’s octogenarian mother secretly flushes Hazel’s stash of painkillers down the toilet.

It’s almost a relief when Hazel gets a call about a body fished up by tourists in one of the lakes near Port Dundas. But what raises the hair on the back of Micallef ’s neck is that the local paper has just published the first installment of a serialized story featuring such a scenario. Even before they head out to the lake with divers to recover the body, she and DC James Wingate, leading the police detachment in Micallef ’s absence, know they are being played. But it’s not clear who is pulling their strings and why, nor is what they find at the lake at all what they expected. It’s Micallef herself who is snared, caught up in a cryptic game devised by someone who knows how to taunt her into opening a cold case, someone who knows that nothing will stop her investigation.

Don’t you love placing holds on books at your library? I like adding to my holds list – it’s like having a guarantee that I’ll always have something good to read. If I’m lucky, the books trickle in at a nice, steady pace … (if I’m not so lucky, I come home with 20+ books and no time to read them all!)

The “Mom, I Don’t Like To Read” Quest (and a Mini Review of Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld)

It’s really quite a strange thing.

My older son (who, by the way, would be cranky if he knew I was blogging about him, so please keep this under your hats) has always insisted that he’s not a reader.

“Mom, I don’t like to read” is a recurring refrain around here. We’ve all been hearing some variation of this phrase from the time he learned to read.

But if there’s one thing everyone in this household agrees about, it’s that he does like to read.

I’ll be upfront about this. My mission in life is to get him to one day say, “Okay, okay! I do like to read! Are you happy now?” (or some variation thereof). I call it my “Mom, I don’t like to read” quest.

The Nonfiction Segment – Accomplished

Every Christmas, he tells me at least 9.5 times, “Don’t buy me any books for Christmas this year, okay, Mom?”

Fortunately, I am as practiced at the nuances of selective hearing as my teenagers are.

So, every Christmas, there are always a few books under the tree for him. And every Christmas, you’re guaranteed to find him curled into a corner of the room, a pile of his “big” presents still unwrapped in front of him, and everyone else calling out, “Come on! We’re waiting. Put that book down and unwrap another present!” (because we are semi-organized about unwrapping our presents and like to do it together, in a sort of synchronized manner, thereby eliminating the possibility of one person being done with the unwrapping while another one still has a mound of stuff to get through.)

Somewhere along the way, I also discovered that, 80% of the time, nonfiction reading material left in my son’s vicinity will get picked up by him and yes, read by him. (This is actually a vaguely scientific finding, based on a small experiment I did where I put out ten books or magazines in places around the house where he’s known to frequent, and received the satisfaction of seeing him pick up and read eight of them.)

We have subscriptions to the Smithsonian Magazine, Discovery, and National Geographic. Every month, these magazines get left in strategic places around the house, and every month, they get read. Not by me or my husband or my daughter or my younger son, by the way. You get the drift.

So, despite the fact that he hasn’t yet said to me, “Mom, I do like to read nonfiction”, I feel a sense of accomplishment when it comes to my son and nonfiction.

The Fiction Segment – My Ongoing Quest

But I’m not really satisfied with this. I enjoy nonfiction, but to me, there’s no thrill that matches the excitement of immersing myself in a work of fiction. Deep in my heart, I just know that my son likes fiction, too.

One day, back when he was about 12, he happened to pick up an old Piers Antony Xanth novel I had lying around. It was great timing – the pun-filled Xanth universe is perfect for young teenagers.

And then I had another stroke of good luck. My sister Dawn, who is a highly organized and very tidy individual (yes, we are related, despite what you might be thinking), happened to be cleaning out her bookshelves. I mentioned that her nephew seemed to be enjoying the Xanth novel and almost instantly, or so it seemed, she was on my doorstep with a box of her old Xanth novels.

We downplayed the whole thing – I’ve learned that downplaying the whole “this is a book you’ll really enjoy” angle is extremely important, by the way (in case you’re planning on embarking on a similar quest). We put the box of Xanth novels in my son’s room, mentioned what they contained once, and once only, and then left, quietly. (I think we might have tiptoed away.)

Within two weeks, he’d read all the novels in the box.

Score one for Mom!

I’ve since worked with this method to get him reading the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout, too. And of course, he couldn’t resist the Harry Potter novels. He also discovered the alternate history novels of Harry Turtledove (the Worldwar and Colonization series). He enjoys these novels so much he’s reread them several times.

He still says, though, that he doesn’t like to read.

My Sookie Stackhouse Triumph

Recently, I scored a major victory in my “Mom, I don’t like to read” quest. I’d signed up for the Sookie Stackhouse challenge, and in anticipation of fulfilling the challenge requirements, I’d bought the boxed set of the first seven Sookie novels.

At the time, my son had just discovered the “True Blood” television series; I told him it was based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and waved the boxed set under his nose.

Sure enough, about two weeks later, he ambled into my office and nonchalantly asked where the Sookie books were.

Without hesitation, I gave him the entire set.

He took off with them, and read them all in a week. Yes, a week!

After he finished the first book, I asked him, “So, how do the books compare to the television series?”

He gave a shrug. “The television shows are better.”

When he’d finished the boxed set, I asked him again how the books compared to the television series.

“They’re different. But they’re both good.” Pause. “So, did you say there are some more books in the series? Are you planning to get them soon?”

“Admit it! You like to read, don’t you?”

“No, not really.”

“Do you want those last three books in the series or what?” (I am not adverse to certain levels of bribery, if you really want to know.)

“MOM! That’s not fair!”

A Mini Review(-in-progress): Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld

LeviathanAll of this is my long-winded lead-up to a mini review of Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld. A few days ago I was out shopping and saw the book on display; I’d been hearing about it at various other blogs, so, curious, I picked it up and took a look.

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet,” I read from the jacket flap.

Oh my. An alternate history. Revolving around World War I. I don’t often buy newly released books in hard cover but I couldn’t resist this one.

I came home with it and gave it to my son. He glanced at it, then put it on his pillow and returned to his computer game.

“It’s an alternate history,” I piped up helpfully. “About World War I.”

He shrugged. Since I have quite a bit of experience with this kind of thing now, I left him to his game.

Late that evening, when I went to say good night to him, I found him sprawled on his bed, halfway through the book.

The next day, we had the following conversation:

Me: So, how’s Leviathan?

Him: It’s interesting.

Me: You put it down last night. Is it worth picking up to finish reading?

Him: Yeah. I’ve got homework tonight, though. But yeah. It’s pretty good.

(Here he launched into an explanation of the various Austro-Hungarian and German forces and their weapony, and the British Darwinists’ whale airship. Alternate histories really aren’t my thing, but I listened, rapt.)

Him: But it’s not really very practical, you know. I mean, really. A flying whale?

Me: You’re still going to finish reading it?

Him: Of course. It’s a good story.

So there you go. A mini review of Leviathan from someone who insists he doesn’t like to read.

By the way, if you want to help me out in my quest, I’d love to discover more alternate histories/science fiction novels that involve either of the two World Wars!

Update: Margot gave the most brilliant suggestion in her comment. She said, “He’s a reader; he just doesn’t want to have to fit your idea of a reader.” I never thought of it like this before, but I think now that’s it exactly! So … maybe my quest isn’t as ongoing as I’d thought; just maybe, it’s already accomplished …

Reading Temptations

I really hate when this happens.

The LikenessI’ve had Tana French’s The Likeness out from the library for a while now. It’s on its last renewal legs, so to speak, so I’ve got to either finish it up in the next few weeks or it has to go back to the library until I can check it out again.

I really liked French’s In The Woods (my review is here) – despite the ending – and everyone I know who’s read In The Woods tells me that The Likeness is even better. But for some reason, I’ve been having trouble getting into it. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it when I do sit down with it, because I am. But for some reason, the book hasn’t hooked me in quite that way yet.

When I was reading In The Woods, I couldn’t put the book down, and if I had to, I could think of nothing else but picking it back up again. This hasn’t happened for me yet with The Likeness. But with only a couple more weeks left for me to finish it, I will need to buckle down and make sure that it’s the book I pick up to read whenever I’m in the mood for reading.

Which will really be difficult, because I’ve got some very interesting books that are calling to me right now. No, really, they are. They’re all making those funny squeaky noises, the ones that my booklover’s discerning ears can hear all too clearly. And those voices are saying, “Pick me up! I’m the one you should be reading right now. Pick me up! I’m so interesting. You won’t regret it …”

First, there’s French Milk, by Lucy Knisley, which I talked about in my last Incoming! new book arrivals post. Since this one is in graphic novel format, it would be so easy to pick it up, because I know it will be a quick and lovely read.

Wait Until TwilightAnd then there’s Wait Until Twilight, which author Sang Pak sent to me in the summer. I read the first chapter online at Sang’s site before the book arrived, and if the book had only arrived shortly after, I would have finished it by now. The first chapter was really eerie and gothic and had me wanting more. So now I keep looking at the book and thinking, yes, I really should see what happens next.

But wait, there’s more (isn’t there always, though?). I also just picked up a whole slew of books from the library that I’d put in requests for.

Most of these books ended up on my library list because I saw it on a blog somewhere, by the way. So we know who’s to blame, don’t we?

KitchenThere’s Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto; this is the product description from Amazon: “Mikage, the heroine, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikage is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart.” Doesn’t it sound so interesting?

We Have Always Lived in the CastleAnd then there’s Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, an eerie little book that looks like a wonderfully creepy read.

This one was a rather embarrassing find – I’d quickly skimmed through a review on a blog I frequent (I can’t remember which blog it was – I really need to start jotting down where I find my reads) and for some reason I thought it was “in the style of Shirley Jackson”.

Well, I loved The Haunting of Hill House, and “The Lottery” is one of my favorite short stories, so I quickly chirped in the comments something about being a Shirley Jackson lover, so if this was in her style, it definitely was my kind of book. Then I hopped over to my library’s website, typed in the title, and discovered that We Have Always Lived in the Castle wasn’t “in the style of Shirley Jackson” – it’s written by Shirley Jackson.

Sigh. Did I ever feel stupid for making that comment. (Do you ever make commenting blunders like this, by the way? Just asking. Would love some company on this one …)

The SummoningAnd after reading so many really good reviews online, I also put in a request for The Summoning a while back; it’s the first book in Kelley Armstrong’s YA paranormal series.

There was a bit of a wait for this one, but at long last, it’s my turn – but it also means this is yet another book I’ll have to read within the next few weeks, because I’m pretty sure there’s still a wait list for this one.

See my growing reading dilemma?

Little BrotherAnd it doesn’t quite stop there. When I dashed into the library to pick up my holds, I saw Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, and couldn’t resist getting it after I read the synopsis:

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

I know that I shouldn’t do things like this; I should be disciplined enough to be able to pop into the library to pick up an armload of holds without looking around at the shelves to see if something else will catch my eye.

But I’m not disciplined at all when it comes to books and reading.

So there you go. So many reading temptations. But yes, I’m going to finish The Likeness first. I know it’s going to be good – I’m at page 110 and those hooks are finally starting to sink into me.

At least I know it’s going to be a pretty good reading month this month, right?

What about you? Is there a book you absolutely must finish right now, for whatever reason? Are you oh, so tempted by other books like I am, or do you possess the iron will and discipline that I lack?

Allergies, Lots of Reading, and Finishing a DNF

tissuebox4c After looking forward to The Word on the Street all week, we all ended up missing the entire event. On Saturday, with the colder weather and the rain, allergies began hitting us – not the tiny-sniffle type of allergies, but full blown sinus-pressure, drippy nose (you wanted to hear that one, didn’t you?), cough and non-stop sneezing type of allergies.

My older son, who, ironically, seems to have constant low-grade hayfever during late summer and early fall, was the only one who remained unaffected.

By the time Sunday rolled around, all my husband and I wanted to do was lie on the sofa with hot lemon tea and a box of tissues each.

The good news, though (I do love that there’s always good news): I ended up finishing up three books over the weekend, all of which I really enjoyed. Add to these books the handful of books I read earlier in September that I also enjoyed, and I can definitely say September turned out to be quite a good month for me, reading-wise.

I’ll be writing up reviews for most of this week, so stay tuned.

The Mystery of the Third LucretiaThere’s one book that I started a couple of weeks ago that I haven’t been feeling like picking up again to finish. It’s The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, by Susan Runholt. I thought it would be a did-not-finish for me, because I haven’t been able to really get back into it.

I can’t think of any reason why I’m not that interested in it, though, after reading about two-thirds of it already: it’s a well-written novel, with a fun and smart teenage protagonist and what looks to be quite a clever mystery. The author does have a tendency to overuse the gothic “if I’d only known” foreshadowing device (it’s a personal thing with me – I tend to think that even once is too often – and she doesn’t use those exact words, but there’s a lot of “as it turns out, this was a really bad decision, but we didn’t know it at the time”), but I’ve overlooked it in other books easily enough; I don’t like “if I’d only known”, but it’s not enough to make me stop reading a book.

I am so enamored of Blue Balliett’s middle grade art mystery series (I wrote a couple of reviews back when I first started MsBookish – I raved about The Calder Game here and enthused about The Wright 3 here); The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, another art mystery but with teen protagonists, is really a natural read for me.

Since I can’t put my finger on anything about the book that’s putting me off, I’ve decided to finish it tonight. I’ve already read so much of it, after all. Plus, it’s gotten so many good reviews, and I’m pretty sure I added it to my TBR because I’d seen a good review of it in one of the book blogs I follow.

On the theory that, for once, I’d hate to miss out because of my reading mood, I figure I might as well give it another go.

Have you ever done this – thought that a book was a DNF for you, but decided after a while to pick it up again and finish it anyway? It rarely happens to me, but then again, I don’t often read that far into a book before thinking, this one isn’t for me.

Interview: Author Joy Preble Talks About Her Writing Process

Dreaming AnastasiaUpdate: This page wasn’t loading properly, but all is fixed now. Enjoy!

Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, is believed to be dead by the world, but she is alive. And when she sleeps, she dreams …

Anne Michaelson doesn’t know much about Russian history; she is more worried about getting into a good college. But then the dreams start …

Dreaming Anastasia is a fun young adult fantasy that takes the reader back and forth from current-day Chicago to the time of the Romanovs, and throws in elements of a Russian folktale for added chills. I am so thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Joy Preble, author of Dreaming Anastasia, about her writing process! Joy is so smart and funny (something that pops out at you right away if you read her blog); I hope you all enjoy reading her answers to my questions as much as I did.

I’m fascinated by writers’ processes, how each writer has such a personal way of approaching the writing of his or her book. Could you talk a bit about your own writing process?

JP: You mean after the ritual goat sacrifice, right? Just kidding. You know, it’s probably less of a process than a ‘ooh, I’ve got a spare twenty minutes here so let’s use it wisely rather than checking Facebook.’ But in terms of inspiration – each book I’ve written has come from a different place. Dreaming Anastasia came from both my fascination with the Romanovs and my sense that like me, I had this character who was aching for something to change her life.

Another novel that I hope you see fairly soon, developed from two things – the suicide of someone I knew, and my endless fascination for Texas high school football, spurred of course, by the fact that my son was an offensive lineman and his buddies pretty much sprawled on my furniture for a number of years, gossiping like a bunch of girls and eating me out of house and home. (One time at eating group – which rotated houses each week the night before the big game and involved the parents feeding groups of seven players – Jake and his buddies consumed over eight pounds of brisket, three apple pies, untold amounts of potato salad, a couple loaves of bread and at least a gallon of ice cream.)

A third book is a love story set with the back drop of a family bakery – not too different from the one my aunt and uncle ran in Chicago for many years. (Okay the family breakups and the main character’s crazy and disastrous love life is all from my head.)

[MsBookish notes: That is an amazing amount of food!]

Some writers like to outline everything, some like to outline a bit, and some like to just start with the first word and where it takes them. Which type of writer are you? Have you always been this type of writer, or did you try a bit of everything before you found your groove?

JP: I’ve tried and tried to be an outliner. But I’m just not. Mostly I start with either an idea or a character and kind of noodle around from there, writing bits and pieces and seeing what I have. At some point later – maybe thirty pages in – I do stop to create at least a rudimentary bullet point outline. Especially with Dreaming Anastasia, which has a mystery element to it, eventually I needed to know where I was going or I was going to write myself into a corner. Even with the other books that I’ve written now, there is always a point where I do have to know where I’m going to end up – with the caveat that I don’t have to really go there if the muse decides that I need to make a detour.

Do you have an writer’s rituals or writing quirks, things that you absolutely must do or have around you before you start writing?

JP: Nope. I know a lot of people who do, but I think because I began writing seriously while I was still actively parenting a high school aged son and teaching high school at the same time, I was thankful to carve out time to write wherever I could get it. If I stopped to brew up my half-caff latte with soy milk in my special mug first, I’d have used up the spare ten seconds. So I pretty much find that I can write on demand most days.

The original title for Dreaming Anastasia was Spark. Could you talk a bit about the change in the title? What inspired your original title, and what led to the new title?

JP: Well, to be perfectly honest, once money changes hands between you and a publisher, they can pretty much title it ‘Jo Jo the Crazy Boy Goes to Camp’ and you’ll probably say, hmmm, sounds good to me. That being said, the original title did relate to Anne’s magic as well as to the nature of her role in the story – she’s the ‘spark’ to move everything from the stasis that it’s been in while Ethan’s been searching for the girl who can rescue Anastasia. However, my editor ultimately felt that Dreaming Anastasia more clearly branded the story with its historical fiction element. People would know what they were getting. And honestly, it would match the cover art Sourcebooks had been playing with. Once I thought about it for awhile, I realized he was right. Plus, it really is reflective of the dreams Anne and Anastasia both have. So I do think it was easy to embrace the change.

[MsBookish notes: Dreaming Anastasia definitely gives the reader a good idea about the historical aspects of the book. It also has such a beautiful ring to it.]

In Dreaming Anastasia, the narrative voice changes from that of Anne, to Ethan, and then back in time, to Anastasia. What led you to use this narrative structure? Were there any challenges to switching between the three different voices as you wrote?

JP: Interestingly, I wrote the first draft of this novel in third person. But I always alternated between the voices of Anne and Ethan and Anastasia. At one point, I’d even contemplated Viktor having a voice as well, but I discarded that idea early on. Every time I attempted to tell the story any other way, I ended up at a dead end. Each character brings such a specific point of view to the telling that I just wanted the reader to have that. Anne is such a snarky, funny, contemporary voice. Ethan has more of the gravitas of history behind him, and he’s just so serious and earnest much of the time. (okay, plus hot) And Anastasia gets to have this sad, mystical quality to her telling. I loved having all of that collide, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. Sometimes if I’d been away from the manuscript for awhile – such as the lengthy time between when I finished the final revisions and we finally headed into copy edits, which was a long number of months – I’d have to sort of warm up and just write dialogue between the characters for awhile until I knew I heard them. Anastasia was always the easiest to nail because she is so trapped in the past, more or less. And Anne is funny, although not nearly as funny as Tess. But she’s got that contemporary cadence that I hear every day. Ethan was always a little harder. I always wanted him to have something a little stiff and old-fashioned about him, even as he was trying to blend in. Sometimes that was tricky.

[MsBookish notes: Joy did an excellent job managing the three narrative voices; I can imagine how it could be tricky at times.]

What writers have influenced you the most as a writer?

JP: You know I don’t think there’s any one person who comes to mind but rather everyone. I think we all sort of stand on the shoulders of the greats, so to speak. Plus honestly, every writer I read rubs off in some way. So I guess the better question would be who hasn’t influenced me! I do think having studied the classics helps me get a sense of the roots of story telling. Those horrendously sad Greek tragedies. Shakespeare’s sense of the human condition. But I’m influenced by so much more than that. John Irving and Anne Tyler and what I see as her contemporary YA counterpart, Sarah Dessen. All three of those writers have taught me about what it means to be human as well. About the crazy patchwork of people that sometimes collide and fall in love or suffer or just live life large. JK Rowling taught me how to spin a tale over many, many volumes and make it work! So amazing. Judy Blume taught me that I need to reflect what it’s like to be sixteen even if someone might complain that it’s too edgy. That it’s important to honestly tell the story that needs telling. (Oh! I have such issues at school sometimes when teachers will tell students writing a personal narrative, “Well, if you can’t think of something, just make it up.” And sit there thinking, no! You are telling that student that his experiences, whatever they are, are not of value. That bothers me so much) And just so you don’t get the wrong impression, let me end this answer by adding that I’ve also learned a lot from television writers. I mean seriously – I think I owe a serious debt of gratitude to the Palladinos and their Gilmore Girls. And if Joss Whedon hadn’t combined westerns and sci fi in the late, great Firefly, I might not have had to guts to do a little genre bending myself!

[MsBookish notes: I for one am very glad that Joss Whedon  inspired Joy to do a little genre bending! I agree totally with Joy; television writers really are amazing. I’ve learned a lot about how to tell a riveting story from television, as well as the big screen. I love that Joy has included television writers as one of her influences!]

Thank you so much, Joy, for this wonderful interview!

To find out more about Joy and Dreaming Anastasia, visit Joy Preble. And make sure you stop by her blog, Joy’s Novel Idea – it’s a very fun blog, and she’s been sharing her publication journey there with her readers. You can also follow Joy on Twitter.

Review: Being Nikki, by Meg Cabot

Being Nikki

From the jacket flap:

Things aren’t pretty for Emerson Watts.

Em was sure there couldn’t be anything worse than being a brainiac the body of a teenaged supermodel.

But it turned out she was wrong. Because that supermodel could turn out to have a mother who’s gone mysteriously missing, a brother who’s shown up on her doorstep demanding answers, a former best friend who’s intent on destroying Stark Enterprises to avenge the death of his lost love, and a British heartthrob who’s written a song about her that’s topping the charts.

How can Em balance all that with school, runway shows, and weekend jaunts to St. Johns – especially when she’s got ex-boyfriends crawling out of the woodwork who want more than just a photo op; a sister who is headed to the high school cheerleading championships; a company she represents that seems to be turning to the dark side…

Not to mention trying to convince the love of her life that models aren’t really airheads after all…especially one model in particular.

But then, nobody said it was going to be easy being Nikki.

Being Nikki, by Meg Cabot, is the second novel in the Airhead trilogy, and despite the book’s cliffhanger ending, it was, on the whole, an enjoyable read. Being Nikki takes the original premise outlined in Airhead, and adds in some very interesting twists and plot turns. Now not only do we get to see what it’s like to find yourself in the body of a gorgeous supermodel, there’s also a good dollop of suspense and mystery.

While I enjoyed reading Being Nikki a lot, I must admit the ending disappointed me. Not the fact that the ending is a cliffhanger; cliffhanger endings in a book can work, as long as they’re constructed properly. In Being Nikki, the mystery that occupies the characters throughout the book is resolved before we’re moved toward the cliffhanger at the end, so as cliffhanger endings go, this one works. I still don’t like being left in the air like that, but I’ll accept it enough to be on the edge of my seat for the last book in the trilogy.

What disappointed me, then? It seemed to me that Em made what I call a “damsel in distress” decision in the end, which then leads to the cliffhanger. A “damsel in distress” decision, in my opinion, is a decision that generally results in the protagonist being put into peril unnecessarily. I probably shouldn’t call it a “decision”. It was more of an “I have no choice but to …” sort of thing. I just wasn’t convinced that Em had no other choice. Sure, what she did was noble and self-sacrificing, and guided us smoothly to the cliffhanger ending, but I wasn’t sure such a noble and self-sacrificing act was actually necessary, not for a smart cookie like Em.

Still, I’m looking forward to Runaway, the next installment in the trilogy, to see what happens. Cabot is a masterful storyteller, and in her hands the plot and characters are nothing short of fun. So despite my disappointment with the ending, I still found Being Nikki to be a good, fun read; if you haven’t read Airhead yet, I’d definitely recommend you read the two books back to back. Then settle back to wait for the last book in the trilogy.

Where to buy Being Nikki:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Point, 2009, Hardcover, 336 pages

Fantasy Road Trip: Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy

My daughter Hayley and her friends recently made a video for Random House’s Fantasy Road Trip video contest:

If you could go on a fantasy road trip with a character (or characters!) from your favorite series, where would you go? What would you do along the way? How would you travel? Create a video and show us!

They chose Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty) and had a blast making the video – I’m not sure if this is what Random House had in mind, but it’s funny with some great editing effects, too.

Click here to see their entry on Youtube and if you like it, please favorite it!