NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: CREWEL by Gennifer Albin

Title: Crewel
Author: Gennifer Albin
Pub info: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2012; 368 pp
Genre: YA dystopian fantasy

This book has a fascinating concept about an alternate society where an elite group of women weave the fabric of reality--whether they like it or not. Cool!

Goodreads summary:
Incapable. Awkward. Artless.
That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: She wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen to work the looms is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to manipulate the very fabric of reality. But if controlling what people eat, where they live, and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and used her hidden talent for a moment. Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her dad’s jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because tonight, they’ll come for her.

Status: finished 6/22/14

My impressions:
First of all, what an amazing idea for a book. It's a little bit The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood), but placed squarely in its own unique universe and with a premise that completely captured my imagination. Our heroine, Adelice, is strong and spunky, and what's not to like about that? Gennifer's writing speeds the plot right along, so the ride is easy and fun.

That said, maybe things are a bit too easy in this book. For all its originality, it includes the usual love triangle (rebellious Jost vs. company man--or is he?--Erik), and that aspect doesn't interest me much unless the relationships are unusual or unique in some way. These aren't, really. Since Suzanne Collins introduced the dystopian society-plus-love triangle plot back in The Hunger Games, it's been done often enough that it's lost its appeal. I don't get a clear sense beyond mere archetypes of either of these boys. I also feel like I've just skimmed the surface of Adelice's emotions. The opening is gripping, when she's torn from her family and their fate is unknown; but after that, I'm told more often than shown how Adelice is coping with her new life as a Spinster.

This is the first of the series, and it may well be that some of these issues are resolved in future books. And maybe it's unfair to compare a new writer to masters like Atwood and Collins. If the writing feels a bit lightweight compared to the novel's conflicts, things may improve later on. For now, this is an interesting and fun read, but I'm not necessarily racing to the next volume.

About Gennifer:
Gennifer Albin holds a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Missouri. A recovering academic, she turned to writing her own books. In her free time she sits on the National Novel Writing Month Advisory Board. The sequel to Crewel is called Altered (Farrar, Straus, 2013), and the final book in the trilogy (Unraveled) is due out in October 2014. While she used to live right near little old me in Lenexa, Kansas, Gennifer now lives in Poulsbo, Washington, with her family.

Gennifer's website has all the news about her books and author events. She also blogs here. Gennifer gets around on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: July 7.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 17

Crewel by Gennifer Albin (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2012) has been sitting on my shelf ever since I attended Gennifer's launch at Rainy Day Books in Kansas City. Crewel is Gennifer's debut novel and the first in a trilogy about young women who are honored (forced?) to weave the very fabric of reality in a fantastical world.

“The halls of Coventry are dark and twisted places readers will want to visit." —The New York Times Book Review

“Captivating and intense, the right balance of mystery, romance, and drama.” —Publishers Weekly

“The next big dystopian blockbuster.”Booklist 

I know--right? Read an excerpt of Crewel here and then read the rest. So I won't feel lonely.

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fun Friday: #BookadayUK No. 27

A final Friday contribution to #BookadayUK explores characters I'd like to be. These won't be a shock to anyone who's ever looked at this blog or anything else I've written. Ever.

BOOK A DAY No. 27: I Want to Be a Character in These Books

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Scholastic, 1997
Can I be Hermione? Please? I'm really good in school and my hair is sometimes a nightmare, so I'd fit right in. And I'd learn all the spells. Over summer holidays. Honest.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
HarperCollins, 2006 (orig. 1952)
The only character to be is Lucy--she of the unshakeable faith. Also, my sister is prettier than I am, so again, I'm a natural. I want to look through the old magician's book all day.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Children's Classics, 1998 (orig. 1911)
I'm pretty bad at growing things, but I love gardens. And I want to meet all Dickon's animal friends. I can scowl with the best of them, so I'm a natural for Mary Lennox.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: LAVINIA by Ursula K. Le Guin

Title: Lavinia
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Pub info: Harcourt, 2008;  279 pp
Genre: adult / YA fantasy/mythology

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of those authors I've been meaning to read forever. She's a crossover writer, meaning even people who don't normally read fantasy love her. Critical acclaim, awards, best-seller-dom--she's achieved it all. I'm so glad I finally got started on her canon.

Goodreads summary:
In The Aeneid, Vergil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.

Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner—that she will be the cause of a bitter war—and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life.

Lavinia is a book of passion and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.

Status: finished [date]

My impressions:
All I can say is, I'm a firm Le Guin fan now. This book isn't for everyone--it isn't a light fantasy, nor would I give it to someone who just wants a quick romp through the ancient world. Heavy on text, light on dialogue, it looks a bit dense and intimidating when you flip through the pages. But give it a try. I've never read The Aeneid, but just knowing that Le Guin has turned it on its head is intriguing (and now I do want to read it). Her portrait of women centuries before the founding of Rome is fascinating--their roles, their rituals, their relationships. Is it accurate? It's impossible to know, but Le Guin takes stuffy history/myth and breathes life and passion into it. Her take on the people and times includes less entanglement with gods than Virgil's poem--or Homer's Iliad, where Aeneas first appears--and creates a portrait not just of Lavinia's life, but that of her city.

Now having read it, would I call it fantasy? Not exactly, but it does have that myth vibe, and the attention to religious ritual and oracles enhance that. So I'm leaving it in the Fantasy for All Ages month. And I stand by my original assertion that this is really an adult novel. Plenty of teens could handle it, but it doesn't read like a YA novel to me, despite how some have categorized it.

About Ursula:
Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, among others. Perhaps her most well-known fantasy series is the Earthsea Cycle. In addition to Lavinia, her recent publications include a collection of poetry (Finding My Elegy) and an essay collection on "how and why fantasy matters" (Cheek by Jowl). She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Le Guin maintains an extensive website here, and blogs at this site.

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: July 7.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 16

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt, 2008) tells the story of Vergil's Aeneid from the point of view of--yep--Lavinia, who's given no voice whatsoever in the epic poem. The daughter of a king, Lavinia is pressured to choose one of several suitors when she turns 18. And, as usual, "none of them" isn't one of the choices. *SIGH* What fun to be a woman in ancient Italy--or, really, anywhere.

Le Guin is another author that everyone else has read and I haven't, so I'd best get started. Is this fantasy? Well, more myth, I guess, but Le Guin is generally considered a fantasy writer, and there are oracles and stuff in the book. Cut me a little slack. I'm trying to make this a Fantasy for All Ages month.
"A novel that deserves to be ranked with Robert Graves's I, Claudius."  --Publishers Weekly (starred)

"A thoughtful, moving tale of prophecy, myth, and self-fulfillment."  --School Library Journal

Full disclosure: I'm thinking of Lavinia as a novel for adults, but SLJ seems to categorize it as YA. Lavinia is 18, and the novel is a first-person POV, but to me, it reads as an adult novel. Take your pick. So far it's wonderful, so grab a copy and read along!

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: THE CARPET PEOPLE by Terry Pratchett

Title: The Carpet People
Author: Terry Pratchett
Pub info: Clarion, 2013 (originally pubbed 1971); 304 pp
Genre: MG fantasy (ages 9+)

I'd only read a couple Terry Pratchett novels before, so when I saw a free ARC of this book at the ALA trade show last summer, I nabbed it. A Pratchett book is always funny, satirical, and a great read.

Goodreads summary:
In the beginning, there was nothing but endless flatness. Then came the Carpet . . . That’s the old story everyone knows and loves. But now the Carpet is home to many different tribes and peoples, and there’s a new story in the making. The story of Fray, sweeping a trail of destruction across the Carpet. The story of power-hungry mouls—and of two brothers who set out on an adventure to end all adventures when their village is flattened.

It’s a story that will come to a terrible end—if someone doesn't do something about it. If everyone doesn’t do something about it . . .

First published in 1971, this hilarious and wise novel marked the debut of the phenomenal Sir Terry Pratchett. Years later, Sir Terry revised the work, and this special collectable edition includes the updated text, his original color and black-and-white illustrations, and an exclusive story—a forerunner to The Carpet People created by the seventeen-year-old nascent writer who would become one of the world's most beloved storytellers.
My impressions:
This story works wonderfully as an introduction to Terry Pratchett and the way he writes. He writes fantasy, yes, but often he satirizes it too, especially its thirst for bloodshed and overarching authority figures. It's simpler than his later works, and I suppose it read a bit thin for me, overall. I didn't find the story quite as engrossing or complex as others of his I've read (The Wee Free Men, for example, and A Hat Full of Sky). But I did enjoy it, and for fans of Pratchett's work, it's a must.

About Terry:
Regarded as one of the most significant contemporary English-language satirists, Pratchett has won numerous literary awards and has received four honorary doctorates from the Universities of Warwick, Portsmouth, Bath, and Bristol. His acclaimed novels have sold more than 45 million copies (give or take a few) and have been translated into 33 languages.

In December of 2007, Pratchett admitted to being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. In 2009, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He was awarded the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award in 2010.

Terry's website is stuffed with all things Discworld and other things--games, interviews, etc.--relating to his many books. You can also follow him here on Facebook and here on Twitter. Read an excerpt here of The Carpet People.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fun Friday: #BookadayUK No. 20

Time for my Friday contribution to #BookadayUK. Today we're championing the outside of the book, and with good reason. Cover design has taken off in the last few years in an amazing way. Much as I don't want to, I do judge a book by its cover. I often read books on my e-reader, but nothing beats owning a beautiful book.

BOOK A DAY No. 20: Books That Wear My Favorite Cover

I'm going to make this easy and look at only those books I've read in the past two years. Because otherwise, covers could take all day. These are a few of my recent faves.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann
Greenwillow, 2012; MG fantasy

This cover grabbed me right away--so strange, so colorful! I knew I wanted to read the book.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012; YA fantasy
I'm a sucker for cool typography. Don't you love how the S is dragonish? I adored this cover even before it was reissued in midnight blue, and now I love it even more, especially the contrast with the city.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
Random House, 2011; adult historical
I know, there's a color pattern here. I didn't intend it, but I am drawn to deep blues. This cover for a novel about Louis Tiffany and his unsung female assistant does a gorgeous job of inegrating the silhouette with the instantly recognizable Tiffany style. Love.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Disney Hyperion, 2012; YA/adult historical
Not a lot of color here, but it's haunting; the World War II fighter plane, another silhouette, and again, beautiful typography. The word Verity has a breezy style like a young girl from the 1940s. This cover perfectly captures the story elements--much better than the hardcover edition, in my opinion.

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver
HarperCollins, 2012; MG fantasy
More fantastic typography on this cover. The title looks like spider legs, and a spider is even woven in as a motif. Liza's deer-in-the-headlights expression has a timeless feel, despite her wardrobe. The story looks magical, chaotic, and a tiny bit dangerous--just as it should.

The Man Who Walked Away by Maud Casey
Bloomsbury, 2014; adult historical
This cover intrigued me enough for me to add it to my TBR list before really knowing what the novel was about. But now that I do--a mentally ill man walks through 19th-century Europe trying to put himself and his life back together--I'm doubly interested. The concentric circles and gentle colors are perfection.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Little, Brown, 2012; YA paranormal
And we're back to blue. This creepy eye superimposed on glittery, jazz-age Manhattan hooked me; the gauzy, not-quite-there aspect adds to the shiver factor. Cool.

Note:  Borough Press has changed the hashtag of this event from #bookaday to #bookadayUK to avoid confusion with the original #bookaday. I know. It's confusing. 

Next Friday: The book whose characters I want to become. Check out more #bookadayuk fun here, on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 15

Terry Pratchett is a king among fantasy writers. He's written scads of novels, including his wildly popular Discworld series (40 novels and counting in that series alone). He writes for both adults and younger readers. My TBR No. 15 happens to be an ARC of The Carpet People (Clarion, 2013). This is actually a reprint of Pratchett's first novel, published in 1971, but repackaged with his hand-drawn illustrations.
"The perfect starting place for young readers; seasoned Pratchett fans will just revel in his wit, his subversion of tropes and his sense of humanity. . . . Small in scale but large in pleasure."  Kirkus

"Sure to be sought after by Pratchett's fans, young and old, this adventure will also amuse children who have never heard his name."  Booklist
 Here's a chance to revisit a seasoned writer's starting point. Are you in?

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: SPELLBOUND by Jacqueline West

Title: Spellbound (The Books of Elsewhere No. 2)
Author: Jacqueline West
Pub info: Dial Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House, 2011; 304 pp
Genre: MG fantasy / paranormal (ages 9+)

What fun to discover a series that continues to get better with each book! Fans of fun mysteries where magical things happen will love Spellbound. If you haven't read Book 1, you won't be completely lost--the author does a good job of catching you up--but you might as well dive in from the beginning.

Goodreads summary:
With no way into the house's magical paintings, and its three guardian cats reluctant to help, Olive's friend Morton is still trapped inside Elsewhere. So when Rutherford, the new oddball kid next door, mentions a grimoire - a spellbook - Olive feels a breathless tug of excitement. If she can find the McMartins' spellbook, maybe she can help Morton escape Elsewhere for good. Unless, that is, the book finds Olive first.

The house isn't the only one keeping secrets anymore. Mystery, magic, corruption, and betrayal abound (plus just enough laughs to take the edge off). You'll never guess what happens next in this thrilling, chilling second volume in the critically acclaimed series.
My impressions:
I read The Shadows (Book 1 in the series) a couple of years ago, and I loved it at once--the writing is gorgeous, intelligent, and doesn't talk down to kids. I loved the character of Olive and her math-genius parents who are clueless about the goings-on in their creepy new (old) house. The sequel, Spellbound, is perhaps an even better book. The story is stronger and a little darker (though nothing a kid can't handle), and it shows a deeper side to Olive and her friends. The new characters are delightful, especially Rutherford, and now I've got to get the rest of the series. Jacqueline West has finished all the books, so you can own the complete set of five. This is a fantastic treat for kids who love magic.

About Jacqueline:
Jacqueline's short fiction for adults and children has appeared in a variety of publications, and her poetry has received many honors, including two Pushcart nominations, a Rhysling Award nomination, and a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize. (Her poet's soul is obvious in her exquisite word choice, even in prose.) She lives amid the bluffs of Red Wing, Minnesota, with her husband and her dog, a Springer Spaniel mix named Brom Bones. The fifth and final book in the Books of Elsewhere series, Still Life (Dial), arrives in stores and online June 17.

An interesting interview with Jacqueline about the Books of Elsewhere series can be found here, at Literary Rambles. Learn more about Jacqueline's writing on her website and blog, and follow her here at her Facebook page.

Check out more MMGM reviews and giveaways of middle-grade books at Shannon Messenger's blog.

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: July 7.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fun Friday: #BookadayUK No. 13

It's Friday the 13th, friends! And what better day to laugh at the darkness than today? I'm participating in the superfun #bookadayUK hashtag event only on Fridays because, well, I have other things to do. Frankly.

But here it is--Friday--so let the hilarity begin!

Oh ... and before you jump all over me about the scandal known as bookaday-gate, read the note at the end of this post. I'm just trying to fill my blog here, people. Honest.

BOOK A DAY No. 13: Books That Made Me Laugh

I could go on and on about Tim Federle and his books Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate! But you can read about them in the links I just snuck into the last sentence. They are books to make you snort your milk out your nose, but then, so are these:

King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography
by Chris Crutcher
Greenwillow Books, 2004
YA/adult memoir

Told in the spirit of A Christmas Story, Crutcher's memories of boyhood in the 1950s are hilariously told in this short memoir. Read my Goodreads review here for more, then go buy this. Chris is an amazing writer whose YA titles include the fantastic novel Deadline (Greenwillow, 2007) and Period 8 (Greenwillow, 2013), among many others.

The Code of the Woosters
by P.G. Wodehouse
W.W. Norton, 2011 (originally pubbed in 1938)
adult fiction

When I'm down, or sick, or just want to laugh until my stomach begs me to stop, I reach for Wodehouse. He's been lauded as the funniest writer in history, and while I love Mark Twain and so many others, I have to concur. Hapless Bertie Wooster, who has too much money and time on his hands, would be in desperate straits were it not for his faithful valet (a "gentleman's gentleman"), Jeeves. Bertie is happily forever lost in 1920s Britain, before the war, when the most anyone had to worry about was a missing cow-creamer. This is Jeeves & Wooster at their hilarious best.

Note: Borough Press, which sponsors this fun idea, lately realized that there was already a #bookaday hashtag out there. So ... sorry for the confusion. Borough Press has changed their hashtag to #bookadayUK. The original Book a Day campaign is going strong! It's an annual summertime challenge hosted by The Nerdy Book Club here. So go do that. I would, but I have other things to do too. Frankly.

Next Friday: The book that wears my favorite cover. Check out more #bookadayuk fun here, on Twitter.

Monday, June 9, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 14

I know what you're thinking. So she's back to blogging her TBR list, huh? She really expects to catch up now when she's only up to Book #14? A valid point, that. And I'm the first to admit, I may not get through the whole list. But I continue trying.

Next up! : Spellbound (Dial, 2011) is the second book in the middle-grade fantasy series The Books of Elsewhere  by Jacqueline West. The first book, The Shadows (Dial, 2010), was so good that I can't believe it's taken me this long to read Book 2. But I'm like that sometimes. This book belongs in one of my favorite genres: stories that take place in an ordinary world where extraordinary things happen.

The Books of Elsewhere is a great series for young readers who are interested in the world of spells, witches, potions and magic—plenty of fun, action and thrills.”

“Middle grade writing as it should be.”  --Minneapolis Star Tribune

Beautiful writing, magic, and a spunky heroine. So, are you in?

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fun Friday: #BookadayUK No. 6

Yeah, I'm late again to the party. Didn't even know about @BoroughPress's cool #bookadayUK hashtag. (In a nutshell: Every day in June is devoted to a different book in your collection or your general experience.) So I'll play along anyway.

BOOK A DAY No. 6: The one I always give as a gift

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002
319 pages

Young Pi Patel survives a shipwreck along with Richard Parker, a tiger lately of the Patel's family-owned zoo in India. While deftly negotiating a balance of power with Richard Parker, Pi examines life, faith, and survival.

It's not as if I've given this book to a hundred people, but it is so close to my heart that after I read it, I wanted everyone else on earth to read it. I looked in the bookstore for a copy to give my niece, and when I couldn't find one, I gave her my own. (And then bought another one for myself, later.)

Put down your joysticks, people, and read this book. If you've seen the movie, congrats--it was great--but the book is deeper, richer, and kinder. It's a life changer. Absolutely amazing.

Monday, June 2, 2014

June Giveaway

Okay, loyal blogfrogs, I realize I haven't posted in over a week, and also that I haven't reviewed any books for the entirety of May. There was good reason for this, as I was hip-deep in revisions of The Wand & the Sea (sequel to The Key & the Flame). I had planned on May being the Fantasy for All Ages month, but I'll move that to next month (giveaway date: July 7). In the meantime, for this month, I'll let you choose whatever book your dear heart desires, within reason. (Please don't ask for the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary; be kind.)

So, ready? Here goes:

1. U.S. entrants only, please.
2. Be sure to note the book (with author) you want to win AND WHY. The book must be available from and must be priced at $30 or less. Because I'm not made of money.
3. If you prefer a Kindle edition, that's cool too!
4. Giveaway prizes will be brand-new books delivered to you via They will be paperback editions unless the book is still available only in hardcover. 
5.  This giveaway ends 12:01 AM JUNE 10.
6. There's a new giveaway every month! CLICK HERE to receive a brief email every time a new giveaway is posted on the blog. 

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image by Woomiusee courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and reprinted under this Creative Commons license