Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book review: Unspeakable by Caroline Pignat

Unspeakable by Caroline Pignat (published by Razorbill Canada, May 6, 2014)

Unspeakable is a historical novel based on the sinking of the ocean liner Empress of Ireland in 1914, and is published just in time for the hundreth anniversary of the disaster. Over a thousand people died, but unlike similar shipwrecks such as the Titanic (the most famous of all) or the Lusitania, this disaster seems to be relatively unknown.

The book goes back and forth in time, telling the story of the fictional main character Ellie's life before, during, and after the disaster. Ellie is an eighteen-year-old young woman from England, and it was her first voyage working as a stewardess on the ship. She had a shipboard romance with Jim, who was working as a stoker and who she assumes was lost in the disaster. Prior to the voyage, Ellie suffered a great personal loss, and what happened is slowly revealed as Ellie is interviewed about her experience by a reporter and thinks back on the voyage and the circumstances that led to her leaving home and getting a job as a stewardess.

Unspeakable is a very well written book about a lesser known historical tragedy, but more than that, it is also the story of Ellie's personal journey. Recommended for readers who enjoy young adult historical fiction.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Where I've been

So, anyone following my blog may have noticed I was MIA for a while (though I have still been on active on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, etc...). I meant to post something earlier but never did. I haven't abandoned the blog. I haven't posted for a while because of this little cutie:

I am now the mom of a baby girl born in February. I didn't feel very well during my pregnancy so I wasn't feeling up to reading or reviewing very much. Now that she is here and I am feeling so much better (other than sleep deprivation!) I really want to get back to reading and of course, reviewing, again. So, hopefully I'll have some new reviews up soon and thanks to everyone who didn't unfollow me during the nine months this blog was dead.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dragonwitch blog tour: intreview with Anne Elisabeth Stengl

I am excited to have Anne Elisabeth Stengl here today for an interview for her newest fantasy novel, Dragonwitch. There is also an awesome contest you can enter. First, here is a bit about the book:

Who Will Dare to Face the Dragonwitch?

Submissive to her father's will, Lady Leta of Aiven travels far to meet the future King of the North Country and a prospective husband she neither knows nor loves.

But within the walls of his castle, all is not right. Vicious night terrors plague Lord Alistair. Whispers rise from the family crypt. The reclusive castle Chronicler, Leta's tutor and friend, possesses a secret so dangerous it could cost his life and topple the entire nation.

And far away in a hidden kingdom, a flame burns atop the Citadel of the Living Fire. Acolytes and priestesses serve their goddess to the limits of their lives and deaths. No one is safe while the Dragonwitch searches for the sword that slew her twice...and for the hero who can wield it.

Why did you decide to become a fantasy writer?
Fantasy is my favorite genre to read, so it was a natural fit for me to write as well. I was twelve years old when I wrote my first fantasy novel, a funny little adventure story about a wish-granting cat and all the various baddies who wanted to capture and use him for their own nefarious purposes. With fantasy, I discovered there were so many options for adventures; I wasn’t limited to what was realistic or feasible in our world because, hey! It wasn’t our world.

All your published novels so far have been fantasy - could you ever see yourself writing a book in another genre?
Not so much. I’ve toyed around with both historicals and contemporaries, but neither has suited my style particularly well. I’ll get the barest inklings of an idea, but the moment I try to put them to paper, they vanish. That’s not to say that I’ll never write in a genre other than fantasy . . . but fantasy suits me rather well.

Your novels are similar to fairy tales - what is your own favorite fairy tale?
Yes, I like to think of my novels as new fairy tales, containing many of the themes and styles of the old tales we all grew up reading. My own favorite fairy tale might be George MacDonald’s “The History of Photogen and Nycteris.” It is a wonderful little story, full of beautiful imagery, powerful themes, and George MacDonald’s own brand of humor. Highly recommended!

What are some of your own favorite writers - either fantasy, or other genres?
Well, George MacDonald is one, particularly for his short fairy tales. C.S. Lewis is another. Sir Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones might be my two absolute favorites, but that might just be for the moment! For something other than fantasy, I recently discovered a love of Georgette Heyer’s mystery novels, which are fantastically well-written, hysterical, and intriguing all at once. I always dismissed her in my mind as “just a romance novelist.” I was so wrong! She is much, much more than that, and I am glad to have discovered her.

When you aren't writing, how do you enjoy spending your time?
I enjoy drawing and painting, playing the piano, walking my dog, reading aloud to my sweet husband (especially while he cooks . . . he’s by far the better cook of the two of us!). I also work with wild kittens, rescuing, rehabilitating, and finding them new homes. That can be quite a time-consuming hobby, but so rewarding!

Thank you for having me on your blog today, Rebecca. It was lovely to stop by! :)

Anne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the award-winning Tales of Goldstone Wood series, adventure fantasies told in the classic Fairy Tale style. She makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a passel of cats, and one long-suffering dog. When she's not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and studies piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University.

Tour Schedule
July 14 - Day 1
July 15 - Day 2
Crafty Booksheeps - Interview
Young Adult Books - Sneak Peek
Darling Diaries - Interview
Blooming with Books - Interview/Sneak Peek

July 16 - Day 3
July 16 Evening
Blog Tour Finale and Prize Awarded back at the Tales of Goldstone Wood!

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Sirens by Janet Fox blog tour: guest post & giveaway

I love Janet Fox's books, so I am so excited to be hosting a guest post from her today for the SIRENS IN THE TIME OF GATSBY blog tour, hosted by Mod Podge Blog Tours. In addition to Janet's guest post about women's fashion in the 1920s (a great topic!), there is also an awesome contest, and be sure to watch the book trailer!

Kicking Up Their Heels: The Women’s Fashion Revolution of the 1920s

Flappers were defined in part by how they looked. When in SIRENS Jo meets her cousin Melody, she see the perfect flapper; and when Jo borrows her cousin’s clothes she worries she’s turning into a flapper. But, golly, it was a great look! And it sure beat wearing those horrific corsets.

In an earlier blog post I talked about some of the reasons fashion changed so radically in the years from 1900 to 1925. The war, the suffrage movement, the feminist movement, women in the work force, even cinema, the automobile and advertising – these elements came together to encourage more practical, less restrictive women’s clothing (corsets – gone!)

But what happened in the early 1920s pushed the clothing evolution into revolution. And the greatest proponent and inventor of the new fashion was Coco Chanel.

Chanel was thin, athletic – she was a great horsewoman – and attractive, and she personally favored less restrictive clothing, adopting men’s clothing and the comfortable styles worn by sailors (like boatneck sweaters and espadrilles.) It was her personal taste that women found attractive, as Chanel used knits and flannels rather than silks and taffetas, and she dispensed with frills and ruffles in favor of simple lines that allowed freedom of movement. To make up for the lack of fabric adornment, Chanel introduced beadwork and patterned cloth. It was Chanel’s slim, straight silhouette that became the fashion almost overnight.

Young women in America particularly took to Chanel’s chic new look. Dresses were tubular, with no waist
or a dropped waist, and those huge, overdone hats were reduced to the close-fitting cloche. Long hair went out of style – too fussy, too much work – to be replaced by the short, loosely styled bob. Hemlines in about 1919 were mid-calf, but by 1925 had climbed well above the knee. While frills were gone, they were replaced by the “Oriental” look that featured beading on the dresses, and jewelry of beads, bangles, and long strands of pearls.

Because these slender dress styles sporting bare arms and lots of leg look best on young figures, those who dressed in Chanel style were mostly young and thin. And the young women of the 1920s were already pushing against their elders’ formal restraints across society. When women entered the work force during The Great War, they didn’t want to return to passive domestic duties. They needed comfortable clothes, and they needed them ready to wear.

That was the other part of this revolution in fashion: the shift away from elaborate hand-sewn costumes made from delicate fabrics that required lots of care to practical fabrics sewn into
practical garments that could be purchased – by an ordinary working girl – off the rack. Technology combined with practicality: a factory could produce many more dresses using far less fabric with the new styles. And a girl could walk into a shop with her week’s wages and walk out with the latest flapper style, and have money left over for entertainment.

Which was a huge part of the 1920s culture. Dancing, drinking, and dating – every self-respecting flapper wanted to be out all night taking in the “scene” and being “seen.” More about that in an upcoming post.

Check out this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72oC9_PTiQo

About Sirens:

When Jo Winter’s parents send her off to live with her rich cousin on the glittering island of Manhattan, it’s to find a husband and forget about her brother Teddy’s death. But all that glitters is not gold..

Caught up in the swirl of her cousin’s bobbed-hair set—and the men that court them— Jo soon realizes that the talk of marriage never stops, and behind the seemingly boundless gains are illicit business endeavors, gangsters, and their molls. Jo would much rather spend time the handsome but quiet Charles, a waiter at the Algonquin Hotel, than drape herself over a bootlegger. But when she befriends a moll to one of the most powerful men in town, Jo begins to uncover secrets—secrets that threaten an empire and could secure Jo’s freedom from her family.

Can her newfound power buy her love? Or will it to ruin Jo, and everyone around her?

About Janet Fox:

Janet Fox is the author of award-winning books for children and young adults. FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Young Readers 2010), set in Yellowstone National Park in 1904, is a YALSA Best Fiction for YA nominee and an Amelia Bloomer List pick, 2011. FORGIVEN (Speak 2011), set in 1906 San Francisco during the great earthquake, is a Junior Library Guild selection 2011, and a 2012 WILLA Literary Awards Finalist. Her most recent novel, SIRENS (Speak 2012) is set in 1925 New York. Janet has numerous MG and YA projects underway. She is a former high school English teacher and received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2010 (Vermont College of Fine Arts). Janet lives in Bozeman, Montana. 

You can learn more about Janet and her books at her website.

Book Trailer for SIRENS:


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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers Blog Tour - Excerpt & Giveaway

I absolutely LOVED Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, so I am very excited to be part of the blog tour for the second book in the series, Dark Triumph. In addition to an exciting excerpt, I have two great contests - one is just for my tour stop, while the other is shared across all the tour stops.

Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. Naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, the convent views Sybella as one of their most dangerous weapons.

But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?

This heart-pounding sequel to Grave Mercy serves betrayal, treachery, and danger in equal measure, bringing readers back to fifteenth century Brittany and will keep them on the edge of their seats.

About Robin:
Robin LaFevers was raised on a steady diet of fairy tales, Bulfinch’s mythology, and 19th century poetry. It
is not surprising she grew up to be a hopeless romantic.
Though she has never trained as an assassin or joined a convent, she did attend Catholic school for three years, which instilled in her a deep fascination with sacred rituals and the concept of the Divine. She has been on a search for answers to life’s mysteries ever since.

While many of those answers still elude her, she was lucky enough to find her one true love, and is living happily ever after with him in the foothills of southern California.

In addition to writing about teen assassin nuns in medieval Brittany, she writes books for middle grade readers, including the Theodosia books and the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series. You can learn more about those books at www.rllafevers.com

Excerpt from Dark Triumph:

The gardens are deserted, since no one else is fool enough to venture out to this raw, barren spot. I take a slow breath and revel in the solitude. I am forever attended by someone — my ladies in waiting, my brothers, the various hangers-on of my father’s court — and I crave solitude. That and freedom. I glance overhead and try to recapture that soaring feeling I had when my falcon launched from my wrist, but I cannot.

 Instead, an irritable caw brings me back to earth as Monsieur Crow lands on a branch before me, then cocks his head, as if wondering why I have taken so long.
 “You’re a fine one to talk,” I scold him, but he knows I do not mean it and hops close. As I move toward the branch, I see that the note is wrapped tightly around his ankle and covered with black wax so that someone would have to be very close in order to see he bore a message.
 I slip my knife from its sheath, and the bird gives a caw of objection. “I have no other way to get it off, you silly creature.” A quick snip and a slice, then wax crumbles and I am able to unwind the note from his leg. As I shove it into the knife sheath at my wrist, the crow looks to me for a reward. “I have nothing for you today — I am sorry. Now go. Quickly! Before you get us both killed.” I flap my hands at him and he hops but one bush away. “Hsst!” I say, and with a caw of reproach, he launches into the sky and disappears over the castle wall.
 “Talking to the crows, my lady?”
Bertrand de Lur’s deep voice nearly causes me to jump. Instead, I use the startled movement to swing gracefully around and face him.
 “That will earn you a reputation of witchcraft,” he says.
 I tilt my head and smile mockingly at him. “Do they not say that already?”
He inclines his head, conceding the point. “Even so, it is not safe for you to be out here alone, my lady.” While his voice is rich and cultivated, there is something about the way he says my lady that makes the words feel like a slur. Or perhaps it just seems that way because his lust is so thick it reaches out and enfolds me like a mantle. How long has he felt this way?
 “Where are your attendants?” he asks, his voice hard.
 Even though I do not care for Jamette, I cannot surrender her to the threat I see lurking in his eyes. “I ordered them from my side. I have a headache and wanted fresh air.”
 He glances around at the secluded section of garden, his eyes missing nothing. “I would think my lady’s beauty would attract a nightingale or a linnet, not a bedraggled crow.” He steps closer then, and for the first time I grow wary. Does he think me such damaged goods that he can take liberties without fear of reprisal from my father?
 “It is not safe to be alone out here, not with all the men-at-arms we have posted. Any one of them might come upon you and be moved to take advantage of your unattended solitude.” He takes another step toward me.
 Because I want to back away from him, I force myself to move forward until there is but a  handbreadth between us. I gaze steadily into eyes. “Do you really think any of the men would be so foolish as to risk my father’s wrath in such a way? Surely they would not wish to see their guts strung up from the castle walls?”
 There is a long moment of silence, then finally he nods. “Your point is well taken. Come, I am to escort you to your lord father.”

Contest #1 - A paperback of Grave Mercy and a hardcover of Dark Triumph. This contest is exclusive to my tour stop. US/Canada only.

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Contest #2 - a prize back from the author. US only.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Flame in the Mist Blog Tour: Interview with Kit Grindstaff

I am very excited to be hosting a tour stop for The Flame in the Mist blog tour with Mod Podge Bookshelf blog tours, since I love high fantasy! For my tour stop, I have an interview with the author, Kit Grindstaff. Be sure to read on after the interview, because there are two awesome contests!

Set in an imagined past, this dark fantasy-adventure is for fans of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Features  Jemma, a fiery-headed heroine held captive in Agromond Castle, yet destined to save mist-shrouded Anglavia.
Fiery-headed Jemma Agromond is not who she thinks she is, and when the secrets and lies behind her life at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle begin to unravel, she finds herself in a chilling race for her life. Ghosts and misfits, a stone and crystals, a mysterious book, an ancient prophecy—all these reveal the truth about Jemma's past and a destiny far greater and more dangerous than she could have imagined in her wildest fantasies. With her telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, and her trusted friend, Digby, Jemma navigates increasingly dark forces, as helpers both seen and unseen, gather. But in the end, it is her own powers that she must bring to light, for only she has the key to defeating the evil ones and fulfilling the prophecy that will bring back the sun and restore peace in Anglavia.

Why did you decide to write high fantasy? 
I never actually made a conscious decision to write fantasy, or anything remotely epic. I was scrawling down a few quick synopses to shake out some ideas, and the third one reached out from the page and pulled me into it, a story that was demanding to be told. The essence of it was, “Girl trapped in castle…abducted…dreams of escape”--the bare bones of THE FLAME IN THE MIST. As I began to flesh it out with the Mist, the creepy Agromond family…well, it became clear that it was clearly not quite of our world! 

Having a central symbolic element around which there’s a high-stakes destiny for the main character is another thing that to me, marks high fantasy. In THE LORD OF THE RINGS it’s the Ring; in HARRY POTTER it’s horcruxes; in HIS DARK MATERIALS it’s Dust. In THE FLAME IN THE MIST it’s the Mist, a symbol of suppression (not just Jemma's, but the whole country's), and Light, representing Jemma's true self, her Power. However I didn’t sit down and think “How can I add this kind of symbolism?” so again, these elements weren't a conscious decision; they just evolved naturally once the larger background of how and why Jemma got to Agromond castle began to emerge. 

What are some of your own favorite high fantasy books/authors?

The first two that spring to mind are HARRY POTTER, and Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy. I love that both are rooted in familiarity, with parallel worlds that exists alongside, or within, the real one. The Muggle world is literally our own, and Book 1 of Pullman’s trilogy—THE GOLDEN COMPASS (NORTHERN LIGHTS in the UK)—opens in a steampunkish version of Oxford which is still recognizably Oxford.  

C. S. Lewis also comes to mind, not just for the children’s books most of us at least know of, but also for his adult sci-fi SPACE TRILOGY. I read them at college, and the last in particular stayed with me, with its brooding sense of big, dark doom.
Fast forward to current series-in-progress, and I have to add Leigh Bardugo’s fabulous GRISHA TRILOGY. I loved SHADOW AND BONE (and Alina and Jemma have Light in common!) and can’t wait for SIEGE AND STORM. 

What is the most challenging part of writing high fantasy?
Any fantasy world has to have its rules, which have to be consistent: If a character suddenly steps out of line with them, the reader will be jarred out of the story. So one tricky part is establishing that world's logic and making it feel as natural as if it were part of our known reality. 

Another mark of high fantasy being an epic quality, which demands high stakes, the tension has to be kept up throughout. Even in passages of relative calm, you can’t afford to let the main issue disappear from the page for too long. It has to constantly be there, lurking around a corner or under a rug, ready to pounce on your hero or heroine. That can also be tremendously challenging. 

If you could have any fantasy power, what would you choose?

Being able to fly! I dream about that quite a lot, and it feels fabulous.
Can you tell us anything about what you are writing next - is The Flame in the Mist the start of a series?

Well, there might be a sequel, which might be about three quarters written, and might have to involve a spoiler alert if I say much about it! I’ve also had two other ideas brewing for a while. One, already started, is a dystopian fantasy told from three points of view. It has similar paranormal elements to THE FLAME IN THE MIST, though in a very different setting. The other, told from two points of view, flips between a dystopian current world and Tudor England. At the moment that one is pulling at me more. 

When you aren't writing, how do you enjoy spending your time?
I love reading. Walking. Cycling. Hanging out with friends. Cozying up with my husband to watch a movie. Any of those things might win, depending on my mood and how energetic I feel—or not. Widening the lens, spending time with my gorgeous niece and nephew in England, when I can get over there, is high on the list. So is traveling and exploring new places, which I’d love to do more. It's a great way to stir up new ideas!
You can find out more about KIt Grindstaff and The Flame in the Mist at her website.

There are two contests you can enter. The first is a Rafflecopter giveaway, just fill out the form to win:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
There is also going to be a Twitter chat on April 19th, where you can win some awesome swag:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Book review; Throat of the Night by Karyn Henley

Throat of the Night by Karyn Henley (Published by Andon Press, March 12, 2013)

Throat of the Night is the third book in the Angelaeon Circle series, and picks up shortly after the ending to the second book. Melaia has two of the three harps needed to restore the stairway to heaven. After the destruction of the stairway, the angels were all trapped in the human world. Melaia has only one chance to restore the stairway, and time is running out. Melaia sends Trevin, the young man she loves, into enemy territory to search for the harp, while their enemy, an evil immortal being, continues to try and obtain and destroy all three harps so the stairway cannot be completed. Trevin finally has a plan for how he will be able to marry Melaia, a princess of much higher rank than himself, but first he must find the harp, which won't be easy when someone wants him dead.

Melaia had stayed back at court, separated from Trevin, but soon finds herself in danger, too. Melaia and Trevin struggle to keep their hope and their love alive. Can they save the world and their love for each other, and finally be together? Or will they be forced to make terrible sacrifices?

I loved the first two books in this series, so I have been eagerly anticipating reading the conclusion, and I am happy to say it does not disappoint. This book is a very satisfying conclusion to the series, but would probably be confusing to readers who have not read the first two books - there are a lot of characters, with a complicated back story and mythology and so on, so this is a series I definitely recommend reading in order. If you love young adult fantasy, particularly high fantasy, and are looking to read something different than the usual young adult paranormal romance, then I definitely recommend trying this series.
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