Free Books, Movies, Oh my!

After wandering around the blogsphere while stuffing my face with leftover pumpkin pie (who doesn't love the holidays and time off?), I'm stumbled across some very fun things I want to pass along.

Books become Movies:
One of my favorite British series has to be the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson by Louise Rennison. Girl is a Riot. If you haven't experienced the hilarity of Georgia yet: imagine if Bridget Jones had started her diary when she was still a teenage walking disaster. Love the books and thanks to the GreenBeanTeenQueen I just spotted the trailer for the movie Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging which will air on Nickelodeon on January 1st. I've got my fingers crossed that it'll be good - I might be more than a little excited to watch this one.

PBS Masterpiece just gets better every year. I adored the Jane Austen remakes last year - which totally changed my opinion of Northanger Abbey, thank-you-very-much. For their 2009 season they are premiering such favorites as Emma and Return to Cranford. But if you haven't yet seen the first part of Cranford (which aired last year starring the luscious Judi Dench), they are rebroadcasting it on Sunday or you can watch each episode online for a few more weeks.

Free Reads:
Lisa McMann is offering her readers a chance to download a free copy of Wake. You have until 12/31/09 to download it and 30 days to read, so hop over to her blog for all the details.
Maureen Johnson - Queen of Cheer - (also author extraordinaire) is giving everyone a free ebook of Suite Scarlett. You can only download this marvy book until 1/15/09, so hurry over.
Happy New Years Everybody!!

Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

When Lockdown came for me in the mail I might have experienced a slight panic attack. You see, ever since the ninth grade when my friend lent me her copy of Stephen King's Misery and I ended up alternating between wide-eyed panic and downright terror anytime I got near a car or was left alone, I vowed to steer clear of the horror genre henceforth. I've remained steadfast in my resolve for many years now, only to be tempted to crumble in the face of Alexander Gordon Smith's horrific view of a teenage prison, Furnace. I reasoned with myself that one, Furnace is actually labeled YA fiction, so really it can't be that bad and two, seeing as I am an adult, I could probably get through this one just fine.


There's probably a good reason why I haven't stepped foot near a haunted house in over six years.*

Alex Sawyer has been condemned to life behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. Although he's not looking forward to time spent in a sparse juvy institution - no, after murderous teenagers killed innocent victims on the streets of England, Alex has been sent to the imposing prison Furnace. A prison constructed to hold any and all dangerous youth and the only sentence at Furnace is a life-sentence, basically a death-sentence. As Alex tries to navigate his way through the harsh reality of his new life - fear, hide, fear, work, fear - he begins to dream of the unthinkable: escape.

When asked about his inspiration for the horrific conditions of Furnace in an interview with The Discriminating Fangirl, Smith explained:
I was thinking less about the news and more about my own worst fears. The thought of being convicted of a crime you didn't commit, and spending your life in jail, is absolutely terrifying.
And terrifying it is. From the heartless jailers to the complete lack of parental control or contact with the inmates on the inside, Furnace is a place directly out of anyone's nightmares (including this reviewer). That said, I was surprised to find Alex's story was full of heart. I know, cliche right? But I have to admit Alex's buff and gruff cell-mate Donovan and his fellow newbie Zee were bright spots in an otherwise red haze.

And for all of you who are scratching their heads with me over the cover? Please, please someone help that clip-art happy cover artist. Dogs! Barb-wire! Guns! Red strobe lights! I feel like I'm looking at some 10th grader's collage on nightmares and frankly it just gives me a headache. The UK cover is much better.

Let's just say after diving deep into the terrifying underbelly of Furnace, I think I'm going back to my original policy of no horror. Although it didn't exactly leave me with nightmares, I'll be the first to admit that I at least like the possibility of rainbows and a happy ever after. Which will never feature in a Furnace book. Never. Smith does a good job of dangling the possibility just out of reach, but it doesn't happen. That's not to say I'm not totally rooting for Alex to figure his way out of Furnace. I am. I'm just not crossing my fingers that it'll happen any time soon.

* You guessed it: It's because I'm a wuss.

See Michelle Read in 2009

2009 was a pretty busy year for me and full of firsts. I quit my dream job as a librarian to be a full-time mom, I moved 3 times (to 3 different states), and started this here bloggy in order to keep my sanity while I stay at home with a toddler. Of course, I also read a monstrous pile of books (over 180) and thought I'd pick out some of my favs to share.


Best YA...Period: Fire by Kristin Cashore
Some of the most beautiful and original writing I've come across in a while, surrounded by characters who will just about break your heart with their loyalty, love, and courage. Love, love.

Best YA Fantasy: The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
Just knock me over and tie me up, cause Nick takes the cake in this book. At one point I alternately either loved or despised each and every character and could not have been more caught off guard by the ending. Can. Not. Wait. For. The. Sequel.
Best Urban Fantasy: Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews
What began as a promising kickbutt heroine UF set in a magic-ravaged Atlanta has turned into one of my favorite UF series to date. Kate and Curran keep circling each other and even though they aggravate each other to no end, I have a feeling things are just going to get more interesting in the much anticipated sequel, Magic Bleeds.

Best Sequel: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
James' tragic love story with a rockin' soul-sucking faery was nothing short of drool-inducing, heart rate-spiking, grade-A Book Crack.

Best Throwback to 2008: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Frickin' brilliant writing that I am still trying to wrap my brain around. I think Marchetta should also get an award for creating one deliciously flawed cast of characters - every one is a ringer.
Best Classic Novel: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
I picked this one up after loving Amy Adams in the movie remake and promptly got lost in the clever dialogue and gorgeous vintage illustrations. A laugh out loud feel-gooder that will remain a keeper.

One New York man trying to live every single law in the Bible for an entire year? Hilarity will ensue.

Best Author Discovery: Ellen Emerson White
Hands down this goes to Ellen Emerson White along with a big thank-you to Angie at Angieville for bringing her to my attention. After devouring The Road Home, I quickly moved on to her Echo Company series and then straight into the President's Daughter books. Seriously, anything that woman writes is solid gold and if you haven't had a chance to dive into her books yet, please DO!

I hope Santa stopped at the bookstore...

Here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas full of friends, family and lots of shiny books. Thank you for always putting a smile on my face.
Happy Holidays!

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

What do you do when you're 16 and your previously undiscovered musician boyfriend writes a hit song about how you dumped him and now you can't go to school, to work, let alone on a date without the paparazzi or drooling fans dogging your every step? And so begins Audrey as she explains her side of the story on how her ex-boyfriend Evan shot from obscurity to stardom by using their break-up as inspiration for his bands' hit song "Audrey, Wait!". Audrey has always lived and breathed for music - the louder the better - but now that musicians, magazines and even MTV want a piece of her, all Audrey wants is for people not to see her as a fluff-brain teen obsessed with fame.

What has to be the best part of this book hands-down are Robin Benway's descriptions of Audrey's interactions with her friends: her outspoken best friend Victoria, Victoria's chill boyfriend Jonah, and her so-lovable shy and quirky co-worker James. Like Audrey, all three are seriously obsessed with music but each one helps Audrey handle the media attention in importantly different ways. Teenage potty mouths aside, some of their exchanges were frickin' hilarious, making this one heck of a page-turner. For a good idea of the crazy way Audrey's mind works, take a look at this apology scene between her and James.
All I wanted to do was apologize to him and make it right, make it like it was before.

So of course I answered the door wearing a ring made of aluminum foil around my head.

"What is that?" James said after he had rushed inside and Pierce squealed out of our driveway. He tapped at my makeshift arts-and-crafts project with one finger. "Are you trying to attract aliens?"

"No, they've probably already heard of me. But this," I added as I gestured to my head, "is my halo."

"Your what?"

"My halo. You might have noticed that it was missing earlier today. But good news! I found it! And it was sitting right next to a big apology for you."

I could tell he was trying not to laugh, which was exactly what I wanted him to do.

"A big apology?" he asked. "Or a huge one?"

"Gigantic. Elephantine."

"Elephan -- what?"

"PSAT word. But don't interrupt me!" I sidled up to him and wrapped my arms around his waist, pressing my face against the cold denim of his jacket. "I'm sorry," I told him. "I was crazy. I was DramaGirl."
That girl totally cracks me up ("But good news! I found it!") -- and that, my friends, is what makes this book so fun. Hilarity and friends who are dang good at keeping Audrey sane yet who don't hesitate to call her on her crap. I dare you to try out the first chapter of Audrey, Wait! and see if you're not cracking up just like I was after only a few lines.

I am so not a hip music person by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought I'd take a page from Audrey and compile a playlist from the song quotes she uses to begin each chapter of her 'confessional.' Just make sure you turn it up real loud.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

book source: The Epic Rat giveaway

See Michelle Laugh: The Ultimate Showdown

Let me preface this by saying something first: The Hubby is an engineer and often exhibits a somewhat skewed sense of humor. So when he told me all his co-workers were a-flutter over a music video I sort of nodded and agreed to watch, not really expecting much comedy wise. And surprise, surprise - it was dang funny (no really, that's a big surprise). Supes of every ilk make an appearance and I couldn't help but give a little cheer of glee when my favorite family-psychologist-never-nude-Blue-Man-wannabe Tobias Funke popped up.*

Who are you rooting for?

*you've really never partaken of the awesomeness that is Arrested Development?? I'm so sorry. Really. Please do yourself a favor and get to Bluth-ville pronto while preparing for some serious hilarity. And loose seals. Or is it Lucilles?

Cover Alert & Excerpt: Bewitched & Betrayed

As a Christmas present to her readers (thank you, thank you!), Lisa Shearin has graciously posted the cover and chapters 1-3 of her latest Raine Barnes book Bewitched & Betrayed due out April 2010. After hurrying through her previous three Raine books (one, two, three), I promise I'm trying to wait very impatiently for Raine to pick either Tam or Mychael.



Ash by Malinda Lo

What drew me to this book first off is the gorgey cover. And trust me when I say that it's even prettier in person than on this here screen.

After the death of her beloved father, Ash is left to fend for herself against her cruel stepmother, who forces her to work as a servant to repay her father's debts. Lost in her despair, far away from friends, Ash begins to seek out the faeries - when she meets the dangerously beautiful Sidhean, whom she hopes will take her away from all her pain and misery. Then Ash meets the King's Huntress Kaisa who befriends Ash and teaches her to hunt and ride; showing her things Ash never thought possible. Kaisa's friendship forces Ash to consider her choices and eventually leads her to turn to her dark faery for help as she tries to keep her place in the world of the living for a chance at love.

Knowing Ash was a Cinderella retelling I was looking for the proverbial plot devices and was pleasantly surprised to find only slight mentions at the most. Yes, Ash is orphaned and left to her cruel stepmother, yes, she ends up sleeping next to the fireplace a time or two, and yes, she does charm the prince at the ball - but those details are by no means the most intriguing parts of the story. Malinda Lo seamlessly weaves a lyrical story of not just a girl trying to find her place in the world but also of faeries and love and the strength to fight for what you want. All this happens in a completely spell-binding new world that I found myself too lost in to even begin thinking about how this is not your traditional wishy-washy Disney Cinderella. Ash is no storybook princess and it's no surprise she is drawn to the King's Huntress with her steady sword and ability to roam free.

I do wish Malinda Lo had taken a bit more time to explore Ash's world since the world building was only partway explained and I wanted more back-story on the Huntress, more about the faeries, and more about the royal family and their customs. Each of these facets brought a new and compelling aspect to Ash but the details for each left me hoping for more. Although, what we do get is unfailing beautiful and compelling and made this a standout amongst other Cinderella retellings.

Since I've never read a book that featured same-sex romance, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well Malinda Lo handled the entire situation. It's not over the top and the buildup quietly subtle and by no means unnecessarily dramatic. In Ash, homosexuality isn't even an issue, which created this wide open space for Kaisa and Ash to maneuver in since no one even felt like it was anything out of the ordinary - other than the fact that the two were well on their way to True Love Land.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Book Smugglers review
Library Lounge Lizard review
Pop Culture Junkie review
Presenting Lenore review
S. Krishna's Books review
The Story Siren review

book source: Presenting Lenore giveaway

Men in Tights

I just spotted this courtesy of Katibabs over at Babbling about Books and couldn't help but start jumping up and down in my seat. Okay, and maybe some squealing was involved too.

Russell Crowe as Robin + Cate Blanchett as Marian?
Yeah. Thinking I'll be first in line for that one ;)

And because I just don't think I can wait nine more days for this duo...

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

As always, I'm trying to keep things spoiler-free here, but trust me when I say you won't want to read this review unless you've already read the heart-stopping Hunger Games. What are you waiting for? Go read it! Now!

After defying the Capitol and President Snow in the last Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta have returned home as joint victors – an unprecedented achievement – to find they are still in as much danger as before. This danger however is not such an in-your-face-fight-for-survival, but nonetheless deadly with exponentially more lives at stake. All Katniss wants to is to return home after the Games and resume her former life: hunting with Gale, arguing with the black market vendors of the Hob, and generally keeping a low profile. That dream however is shattered after President Snow makes it perfectly clear to Katniss that he expects to be fully convinced of her undying love for Peeta not just on their Victory Tour but permanently. And if she can’t? The consequences won’t just be limited to herself this time: her family and friends would be the Capitol’s next targets.

On thing I really like about Suzanne Collins’ books is that I never really know what will happen next. Her constant twists and turns catch me of guard and I really, really like that. Despite the somewhat rushed, horribly abrupt cliff-hanger ending (why do authors ever feel the need to do that to their readers?!?) Catching Fire held me from the get-go and played havoc with my emotions the entire ride.

So much about Catching Fire is focused on relationships and barring Katniss' interactions with Gale and Peeta, I eagerly anticipated any scene where Cinna came into play. The man is a genius designer and I couldn’t be more impressed with his subtly and symbolism in everything he creates for Katniss. A talented designer and truly committed to Katniss, Cinna is one stylist I’d want in my corner too.

I’ve read many reviews that compalined that the pacing in this book was off – to which I say, not off, just different. For a while Katniss really doesn’t do much of anything besides try to figure out where she stands on a variety of subjects: how she feels about Gale, how she feels about Peeta, how to convince the President she really isn’t trying to foment a rebellion, etc., etc. This is a drastic change of pace in one sense, because Katniss isn’t physically fighting for her life every at every turn. Instead, she’s waging war on a variety of fronts, only now she has to think about how to keep her family and friends alive too. So for a 17 year old, she’s got a lot on her plate and I, for one, was intrigued by her inner turmoil and struggle to define herself. Which maybe makes Catching Fire more of a coming of age/determination story than a dystopian survival novel, but differences aside, I loved it and can’t wait to see where that cliff-hanger ending will go next.

series reading order:
~ Hunger Games
~ Catching Fire
~ untitled book 3 due out Aug. 2010

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
The Compulsive Reader review
Karin's Book Nook review
Linus's Blanket review
Presenting Lenore review

book source: Book Binge giveaway

Stumped by a subplot

Ready, Set, GO! for some massive ramblings on my part.

So I'm just about finished reading Audrey, Wait! (so very, very fun) when this one little random scene pops up between the title character and this way secondary character from her school, Tizzy, and I still can't quite wrap my brain around the significance of what happened. The most annoying part is that it wasn't even that important of an exchange. Although after repeated attempts at trying to tell myself just that, I still can't let it go. Did this girl Tizzy mean her gift to Audrey as an innocent joke or was she just being downright rude? And why, above all, do I care about this unimportant snippet?!

I Don't Know!!

Sad part is, this isn't the first time I've found myself in such an agonizing situation. More often than not, I find myself going back and forth on possible interpretations of a scene that has no real impact (whatsoever) on the overall plot of the book. What I really should be trying to puzzle out is why does it matter so much to me in the first place? The only conclusion I have come to is that I am crazy. Certifiably. But some people might see that as a cop-out.

So. Please. Someone tell me I'm not crazy and that you too find yourself in agonizing situations such as this. Or if you've read Audrey, Wait! and know what in the heck I'm rambling on and on about, please feel free to explain what you think happened in that one-sided gift exchange.

Rites of Spring (Break) by Diana Peterfreund

What Amy Haskel thought would be her best (and last) year at prestigious Eli University has been crazier than she could have ever imagined. After being tapped into the uber-secret Rose & Grave secret society she's dealt with:

1. disgruntled patriarchs who think adding girls to the society will be it's downfall

2. fellow society brothers who have no qualms about publishing society secrets; breaking several oaths in the process

So Amy hasn't exactly had much breathing room or time to work on her thesis for that matter. By the time Spring Break rolls around, Amy is more than ready for some R&R at the private Rose & Grave island, Cavador Key. Only she's not about to escape the ever-present R&G intrigue including threats of exposure even as she's eyeballing a particular patriarch who is looking less annoying and suddenly ever more appealing. *rubs hands together*

I don’t know why it took me so long to return to the Secret Society Girl series. Sure, I enjoyed reading about Amy’s escapades with her Rose & Grave brothers in Secret Society Girl and Under the Rose, but the previous two books just didn’t grab me in an unforgettable way. Don't get me wrong - both were lots of fun, just not...perfection. I could also attribute my reticence in continuing to the fact that the cover of Rites of Spring (Break) looks suspiciously like a fluffy gossip girl read and I was less than inclined to pick it up on that base alone. Shame on me for judging by the cover and all that nonsense.

And now? Well, after reading about 20 pages of Amy’s story, my backside was so sore from kicking myself that I don’t think I can sit down for a week. Natch. I had forgotten just how intelligent, how layered, and ultimately just how much fun Amy and the crew are. Not to mention the genius inclusion of numerous lists, charts, and footnotes (of all things) right in the middle of the book that, if anything, were enough to make my inner OCD organizer fall madly in love. Who else but Diana Peterfreund could break up one of the hottest scenes(!!) I've read in a long time with Amy's list on why she shouldn't be in said situation and not have me completely put out but actually loving every bit of it? No one else, that's who. So why has it taken me so long to return to Amy, the Diggers and the all-encompassing drama of Eli? I have no idea. But return I did and I couldn’t have been more pleased. And, I hereby confess it will not take me half as long to pick up Tap & Gown.

series reading order:
~ Secret Society Girl - my review
~ Under the Rose - my review
~ Rites of Spring (Break)
~ Tap & Gown

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Darque review
Fresh Fiction review
Me and My Books review
Teen Book review

book source: purchased

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

Life in the Fells hasn't been easy for Hanson Alister. He's left a life of crime behind and now is just trying to keep his mom and younger sister off the streets. While hunting in the woods one day with his friend Fire Dancer, the two come across a trio of young wizards who should not be anywhere near the mountain. Trying to make the wizards pay for their trespass, the boys take an amulet of magic from their leader, Micah Bayar, not having any idea how powerful said amulet is. But Micah's father is the High Wizard and he knows exactly how powerful the amulet is and will stop at nothing to get it back.

As distant from Han and his troubles in the streets is Raisa ana'Marianna, Princess Heir of the Fells is struggling with her own set of problems. Even though she's only 16, he mother wants to marry her off as soon as possible, a move which Raisa can only see as bad for everyone in their country. Unlike her flighty mother the Queen, Raisa wants to take a more hands-on approach to the monarchy, but continually meets resistance at every turn. When Raisa's clandestine escape from the palace takes an unexpected detour and she ends up in the path of 'Cuffs,' her entire outlook on the city - and the criminal himself - will change.

There are so many good things going on in the Demon King. While I really enjoyed Cinda Williams Chima's Heir series, I often found myself not completely focusing on the story at hand, but The Demon King? It shares no such flaw and is miles above it’s predecessors. Fabulous world-building, flawed characters with closets stuffed full of skeletons make this an unputdownable read even though it boasts a weighty 512 pages. I will confess that it did take me a good 50 or 100 pages to really get into the rhythm of The Demon King. Perhaps it was the setup of so many characters and different cultures, but I did have a hard time at first connecting. But boy howdy, once I got Ms. Chima’s groove – I was moving fast and hard through the Fells so completely caught up in the story, I was more than miffed when it ended unexpectedly. Cliff hangers!! Gah!! I don’t know how to handle the wait.

And speaking of characters, let's talk about Han for a moment: the boy is a chameleon – he’s a dutiful brother and son who is trying his hardest to keep his nose out of trouble when the easiest way for him to protect and provide for his mom and sister would be to return to his life of crime in the streets. Han was fostered with the Marisa Pines clan, a group who live separate from most of the people in the Fells: full of earth magic and splendid craftsmen where everyone has a story; a past and a future. Han would like nothing more than to be a part of that structure. Then there are the silver cuffs on his wrists he’s had since birth, which no blacksmith has ever been able to scratch, no less remove. And ironies of ironies is that they are one thing he could really sell for money but simply won't come off. Han’s emotions are full of turmoil and you Just Know he’s got a past full of secrets that will make everything understandable if only you (or he) had all the pieces. Trust me when I say I'm sticking around to find out.

series reading order:
~ The Demon King
~ The Exiled Queen (2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Carrie's YA Bookshelf review
Kidliterate review
Library Lounge Lizard review
Oops...Wrong Cookie review
The Story Siren review

book source: my local library

Cover Alert: Rules of Attraction

A ginormous thank you to Chelle over at Tempting Persephone for posting the cover of Simone Elkeles' newest called Rules of Attraction, sequel to the oh-so fabulous Perfect Chemistry. I'm so in love with this cover. All that implied movement - come on, kissing in the rain from a car? so cool - I just know this will be another fantastic ride. But GAH!! How can I wait until next April to see what Ms. Elkeles has planned for Carlos?!

Back from the land of no internet

I hate moving.

Anyone else with me here?

Sorry to start out on such a downer, but can I get a Heck Yea on that one? Let's just say a week and a half spent moving to the Middle of Nowhere* with toddler in tow and not getting internet set up until a week later is enough to leave me with the shakes. Turns out when you live in The Boonies* you have to bribe the service technician with homemade oatmeal coconut cookies just to get him to drive the 45 minutes to come and install a DSL modem. Who knew? But it's all good now - we are settled, I have internet (YAY!), and with all that free (internet free, that is) time, I made a real dent in my TBR pile. All very good things.

Thanks so much to Holly (isn't she just great?!) for holding down the fort over the last week and for all those who made her feel welcome - I know I've added both The Bride's Farewell and The Lost Conspiracy to my TBR pile *sigh* Thank again!!

* Don't believe me? Think I'm exaggerating? Well, here's picture proof. I give you: The View from my Backyard:

The Elusive Question: What to Read Next

Holly here!

Have you ever felt like you would have had a completely different reaction to a book if you’d read it after a different book? Just a few months ago I had a relatively unfamiliar and unpleasant experience with one said decision. This summer I read the The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale and I had a very strong and unfavorable reaction to it. Thinking any book I was giddily looking forward to would both restore my loss of book-faith and placate my usual need for a compelling read, I eagerly followed it up with Fire by Kristin Cashore, a read I’d highly been anticipating since reading Graceling last year. Though undeniably well-written and better than its predecessor, I found myself nick-picking and being easily offended by elements of the story and characters that normally wouldn’t faze me. (FYI loyal readers: Michelle saw it more clearly than I did and LOVED it.)

So I’m tempted to think that my dissatisfaction with Fire was just a coincidence, but the fact that I remained so unsettled after only a book’s length away from The Actor and the Housewife definitely smelled fishy to me. Realizing my mistake, I immediately sought to remedy the situation by sitting down and seriously pondering not which title from my TBR pile I was most anxious to get to next, but what kind of story I really needed in the fickle, jaded reading mood I was in. And the descriptions which emerged surprised me. Happy Ever After, sweet, predictable; even fluffy. Luckily I knew exactly which slightly (and cozily) formulaic author would fit the bill. After studying in Oxford, traveling to the Amazon, performing Swan Lake and falling in love with the dark and mysterious Rom, Eva Ibbotson’s A Company of Swans successfully brought me out of my funk.
Anyone else have a similar harrowing but happy-ending book choice they'd like to share? How do you go about deciding which book you should read next, particularly after an especially brilliant or glaringly awful read?

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

Holly here again!

Have I said I love my job? Besides working for and amongst the love and hobby of my life right now – books - I’m surrounded by coworkers that are also avid book readers. What this also means is that I have the privilege of hearing about excellent books that I never would’ve otherwise. So when the children’s librarian claims a book to be the best she’s read all year (and she’s read a lot of good ones), you better listen. Because The Lost Conspiracy is just one of those under-the-radar books that deserves any hype and shout-outs it can get.

The Lost are special, rare people who are born with the ability to send their senses away from their body, like dust carried by the wind. They essentially control Gullstruck; bringing tributes to towns and acting as the communication network for the volcano-laden island.

The Lace are the native brown-skinned islanders of Gullstruck. Decades ago when the Calvalcaste invaded the island, claimed it as a sanctuary for the ashes of their dead, and built cities on top of their sacred temples, the Lace fought back by human-sacrificing the colonizers. As punishment they were banished to the Coast and the Caves of the Hollow Beasts where food was scarce and shelter from the daily jungle rains was negligible.

Twelve-year-old Hathin is the invisible attendant to her sister, the Lady Lost Arilou. Though Arilou, as the only Lace Lost and supplier of much-needed food and provisions to Hollow Beasts village, she is not the prophetess and oracle a Lost is supposed to be. She seems to speak only gibberish and requires Hathin to attend to her every physical need as well as act as her “translator”. What is not known is how much Hathin actually understands and how much Arilou can comprehend. When the Lost Inspector Skein and his assistant Minchard Prox show up for Arilou’s Lost testing, Hathin couldn’t feel more helpless. How will Arilou pass the tests if she cannot speak coherently? With the life of her village at stake Hathin must find a way to keep the fraud a secret. But even as Hathin’s plan unfolds, she’s unknowingly caught up in a murderous island-wide conspiracy which points to her and her people. On the run and with no one to turn to, Hathin must find the determination to go over volcano and mountain and do absolutely anything and everything to protect Arilou.

I still can’t get over what an odd but inventive fantasy The Lost Conspiracy was. Not only that but the writing is singularly poetic and deeply-laden with meaning it’s difficult to find many YA novels that compare. It takes more than a few pages to find your bearings in this fully-lit world and metaphoric-heavy writing (I had to use my 100-page rule) but once you do it sweeps you off your feet and rather than getting lost in the complex world of peoples, languages, and politics; an entire personified physical world; the changing third-person narrative; and the sometimes distractingly poetic language with which it’s written it’s swept you off your feet and 576 pages feels like nothing. This doesn’t represent the book justly as a whole but here’s a small taste of what I mean:
The winds shifted again, the ashen clouds puckered and plummeted, and everyone glimpsed something enormous plunging through the valley and the town below: sleek, gray-brown, and muscular like an enormous serpent, its back strewn with timber and trees that it did not notice. Not fire but water, a dragon of scalding, murky, terrible water. As they watched, chunks of slope below them vanished as though bitten away by a vast, invisible maw. Bite after bite, working its way up the slope…
See what I mean? Frances Hardinge is both intimidatingly brilliant and limitlessly imaginative. This book is not capable of being hated. You’ll either love it or it will simply not be your cup of tea. I adored it, not only for what I already mentioned but because of the characterizations. Hathin grows so much and learns how to make her life what she wants it to be. Sorrow, the white volcano; the King of Fans, her tall neighboring mountain; Lord Spearhead (another volcano) and other topical features also become dear characters that have a larger role to play in the story than the usual mountain or volcano. I even came to enjoy the confusing dialects (such as Doorsy) and the many tribes and people such as the Sours. The bounty hunters called Ashwalkers – who literally gain power from wearing their victim’s ashes - were again, pure brilliance. Loved, loved, loved this book! These images will stay with me for a long time.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Young Adult and Kids Books Central review
School Library Journal review

The Basic Book Meme

Holly here!

Since I (as of yet) don’t have a book blog of my own, I couldn’t resist filling out a book meme for the first time. I found this meme at Dovegreyreader Scribbles awhile back and just loved it.

The book that’s been on your shelves the longest.

I don’t know. j/k I’ll have to ask my mom about that one.

A book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time).

This is hard, because there are so many. First Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey because I read them for the first time while I lived in London. I’ll never forget grabbing my bag and iPod, passing Waitrose grocery and government housing, and finally reaching the small but quaint Fulham City Library. That was one joyful errand. I also have to mention The Time Traveler’s Wife. DH and I had been trying to conceive for over a year and I had just had what may have been an early miscarriage. I balled and balled and balled in the car, in my bedroom, in the kitchen - wherever I could sneak in a few pages. In fact I don’t think a day will go by where I will not think of that book. And wait, Harry Potter in the Goblet of Fire. I read the English version while riding in a rented van from London to Scotland, Dramamine and all.

A book you acquired in some interesting way.

I don’t own enough books to answer this question properly. It would have to be Orem Public Library’s former copy of Cecilia by Fanny Burney. After a week-long houseboat trip of careful handling on Lake Powell it fell out of the back of the car while luggage was being rearranged and straight into a dirty puddle. What’s worse than water damage? Black water damage.

The book that’s been with you to the most places.

Again, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London, Edinburough, Paris, New York, and finally Utah.

Your current read, your last read and the book you’ll read next.

Current: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Last: The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge
Next: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Gracia and Margaret Stahl

The most recent addition to your shelves.

Wake by Lisa McMann

The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff

Holly here!

Ever since I read Meg Rosoff's fantastic dystopian YA novel How I Live Now I've planned on picking up another of her books. The desperate, traumatic, and epic-feeling story and the well-drawn characters sparked my interest initially; but it was the lovely, sparse writing which totally engulfed me and urgently pressed me to try another Rosoff novel. And the gorgeously despairing cover, the alluring historical British setting, and the doomed runaway bride premise of The Bride’s Farewell made it just the one.

It's the morning of Pell Ridley's wedding, and she's creeping out of the bed she shares with her three sisters and onto her horse Jack. Although Birdie says he loves her, she cannot marry him or anyone for that matter. She will not be her mother, abused and starved, bearing child after child to her drunken, good-for-nothing preacher father. So without much thought for where she will go or what she will do, Pell's off to the horse trading at Salisbury Fair, but not without the company of her mute younger brother Bean, who follows her out the door.
The open road. What a trio of words. What a vision of blue sky and untouched hills and narrow trails heading God knew where and being free - free and hungry, free and cold, free and wet, free and lost. Who could mourn such conditions, faced with the alternatives?
But being free involves even more suffering than she anticipated, and Pell's hardships are mounting - consequences or not - and she will learn that maybe we can't or don't ever truly wish to be free from our childhood and familial ties.

Like all of Rosoff's novels, I didn't know what to expect when opening The Bride’s Farewell. I made sure I was in the mood for something dreary and possibly tragic but hopeful and totally different than anything I've ever read. I expected to savor the writing, and I did. Certain passages just struck me in their sharp depictions and poetic imagery. At barely over 200 pages it's short but feels much longer and bigger than the few months the story covers. Pell is hard to decipher but likable in her tenacious will and unbreakable spirit. In the face of starvation, exhaustion, exposure, loss, and shame, she is ever patient and submitting in her search for work and a new life. Her kinship with horses and talent for horsemanship is admirable. I have almost no experience with horses but I was interested in all the breeds, temperaments, and delicate grooming techniques. The book also offered me a new picture of 1850s Britain; the lowest of the lower class, the nomadic gypsies, and small rural town culture. Some of these images will stick with me. While the ending to Pell and Bean's story was fitting and offered some closure and sweetness after all that was bitter, the story left me somewhat underwhelmed in its simplicity and regrettably will not stay with me as much as I would've liked. Still, I would recommend it selectively and Rosoff definitely wins a prize for her unique and memorable character names. Daisy, Piper, Pell, Bean, Dogman, and Dicken the dog are all names that strike the perfect chord of uncommon but appropriate and even beloved.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Bookwitch review
Fluttering Butterflies review
My Friend Amy review
Sassy Monkey Reads review
Things Mean a Lot review