Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Published by Random House, July 10, 2012)

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

I can't wait to read this book! I wish there were more YA high fantasy books. And this one has dragons! It sounds so awesome.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

In My Mailbox - 12/24/11

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

I just got one book this week. I won it from a contest and I am super excited to read it.

Gilt by Katherine Longshore

In the Tudor age, ambition, power and charismatic allure are essential and Catherine Howard has plenty of all three. Not to mention her loyal best friend, Kitty Tylney, to help cover her tracks. Kitty, the abandoned youngest daughter of minor aristocracy, owes everything to Cat – where she is, what she is, even who she is. Friend, flirt, and self-proclaimed Queen of Misrule, Cat reigns supreme in a loyal court of girls under the none-too-watchful eye of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.
When Cat worms her way into the heart of Henry VIII and becomes Queen of England, Kitty is thrown into the intoxicating Tudor Court. It’s a world of glittering jewels and elegant costumes, of gossip and deception. As the Queen’s right-hand-woman, Kitty goes from the girl nobody noticed to being caught between two men – the object of her affection and the object of her desire.
But the atmosphere of the court turns from dazzling to deadly, and Kitty is forced to learn the difference between trust and loyalty, love and lust, secrets and treason. And to accept the consequences when some lessons are learned too late.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My post for the 2012 YA/MG Fantasy Challenge

I wasn't really planning to join anymore 2012 reading challenges, but I came across the YA/MG Fantasy Challenge hosted by The Book Cellar. And I decided to give it a try, because I'd love to read more fantasy. The goal is to read 10 YA or MG fantasy novels published in 2012.

Books I have read so far:
1. Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
2. Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler
3. A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink
4. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
5. Eye of the Sword by Karen Henley
6. Spell Sisters: Sophia the Flame Sister by Amber Castle
7. Spell Sisters: Lily the Forest Sister by Amber Castle

Here is the list of books I will possibly read for the challenge. Books in italics I already have an ARC or other copy of:

Wings of the Wicked by Courtney Allison Moulton
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo
When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen
Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
Queen of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (need to read book 1 before book 2 is published)
Above by Lea Bobet
Shadowell by Juliet Marrillier
Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
Shadows Cast By Stars by Cathering Knutsson
The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsos
Defiance by C.J. Redwine
Allegience by Cayla Kluver
Daughters of the Sea: Lucy by Kathryn Lasky
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Stolen Away by Alyxandra Harvey
The Grave Robber's Apprentice by Allan Stratton
Warrior Princess: Caradoc of the North Wind by Frewin Jones

End of year wrap-up post for 2011 reading challenges

For the first time, I decided to do a post for the end of the year to write about how I did on my 2011 reading challenges. I tried for three different reading challenges. One was my general reading challenge on Goodreads. I also participated in the Young Adult Historical Fiction Challenge and the Debut Author Challenge.

For the Goodreads challenge, I started with a goal of 75 books, which I later downsized to 55 books. As of today, December 23, I have read 56 books. I'll probably read a couple more and end at 57-59. So I didn't make my original goal, but read slightly more than my revised goal.

The second challenge I participated in was the Young Adult Historical Fiction Challenge. My goal was 15 books (the highest level) and I ended up reading 45. So most of what I read this year was either historical fiction or historical fantasy.

The third and final challenge was the Debut Author Challenge. I'm not sure how many books I was supposed to read, but I read four 2011 debuts in 2011. I also read 4 in 2010 (ARCs or foreign editions) that I couldn't count, and I read an ARC of one book that got delayed to a 2012 release date, so I can't use that for either the 2011 or 2012 challenge now. So I don't think I did that well. I am trying again and hope to do better with this challenge next year.

How did everyone else do on their 2011 reading challenges?

Book review: Dear America: Behind the Masks by Susan Patron

Dear America: Behind the Masks by Susan Patron (Published by Scholastic, January 1, 2012)

Fourteen-year-old Angeline Reddy lives in the wild mining town of Bodie, California, in 1880. Her father is a famous criminal defense lawyer who is known for having never lost a case. But when he is presumed murdered, Angie doesn't believe it, and neither does her mother. Many people could have wanted her father dead, but Angie is sure he is alive and in hiding.

Angie is determined to solve the mystery of what happened to her father, but it will be difficult. Bodie is wild and dangerous, and a gang of vigilantes is causing trouble in town. On top of everything else, her mother is ill, and there seems to be a ghost haunting their house. Can Angie, with the help of her friends, solve the mystery in time?

Behind the Masks is a bit different than other books in the Dear America series. It's still written in the usual diary format, but instead of being about just the daily life of a young girl from an important place or time in American history, this particular book has a strong central plot, which is Angie solving the mystery of what happened to her father. As a result, it didn't seem as much like a "real" diary, since the diary entries are really long (since it's a 300 page book set over about four weeks). I still really enjoyed the book, and recommend it to readers who love historical fiction set in the Old West, but at times it didn't seem much like a Dear America book.

My top ten new releases I am looking forward to in 2012

There are lots of great books I am looking forward to in the upcoming year, so I thought I'd make a list of the ten I want to read the most, to go along with my list of my ten favorite books I read in 2011. These are in no particular order, since I couldn't decide how to rank them - it was hard enough to pick just ten! All links go to Goodreads, if you would like to find out more about each book.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diane Peterfreund

Why I can't wait to read it: It's a dystopian retelling of a Jane Austen novel. And it's a standalone. I am so tired of everything being a series. YA needs more standalones!

Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle

Why I can't wait to read it: I loved Marissa Doyle's first two books, Bewitching Season and Betraying Season, so I can't wait to read her third book. I think this one is a prequel to the other two books.

Magic Under Stone by Jaclyn Dolamore

Why I can't wait to read it: I loved book one, Magic Under Glass, as well as the author's standalone novel, Between the Sea and Sky. So I can't wait to find out what happens to the characters!

The Academie by Susanne Dunlap

Why I can't wait to read it: I love Susanne Dunlap's YA historical fiction. The characters, settings, and stories are always great!

The Girl in the Mask by Marie-Louise Jensen

Why I can't wait to read it: Marie-Louise Jensen is another one of my favorite YA historical fiction authors. She always picks wonderful historical settings for her stories, and I love the characters and romance.

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Why I can't wait to read it: It's about a girl thief designed as a boy who joins up with Robin Hood and his band. Sounds awesome!

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

It's a YA high fantasy. With dragons. And magic and castles and royalty. And did I mention dragons? Enough said.

Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame

Why I can't wait to read it: It sounds a lot like the Luxe series by Anna Godbersen, which I loved. Plus it's set in England in 1912, which makes it even better!

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Why I can't wait to read it: Because it's a YA historical with zombies. Am I totally geeky for thinking that sounds completely awesome?

The Legacy of Trill: Soulbound by Heather Brewer

Why I can't wait to read it: It's a YA fantasy that actually sounds original and is set in a fantasy world instead of the usual urban fantasy with werewolves or vampires.

So those are the ten new books I'm most looking forward to reading in 2012. What upcoming releases are you eager to read?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My top ten favorite books of 2011

Just like last year, I read a lot of great books in 2011, so I had a hard time choosing my ten favorites, but here they are. They are in a random order, it was hard enough picking ten, so I decided not to rank them.

Fateful by Claudia Gray

I love books set on the Titanic, but I wasn't sure what to think about the premise of werewolves on the Titanic. But I ending up loving Fateful - it's probably my favorite paranormal romance *ever.* The romance between Tess and Alec, the two main characters, was adorable and I loved the setting on the Titanic. (reviewed here)

Dear America: Cannons at Dawn by Kristiana Gregory

The Winter of Red Snow was one of the first books I read in the Dear America series, and one of my favorites from the entire series. So I was very excited to read the sequel, and I was not disappointed. Cannons at Dawn has now joined the first book about Abigail on my list of favorites from the Dear America series. (reviewed here)

The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in Medieval England. I enjoyed this book even more than the author's first book, The Healer's Apprentice, which was on my top ten favorites list last year. (reviewed here)

Between the Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore

This very original YA fantasy tells the story of the romance between a mermaid and a winged boy, who must find a way to be together despite their very different worlds. (reviewed here)

Darker Still by Leanna Renee Heiber

Another very original YA fantasy, this book is set in 19th century New York City and is about a young woman named Natalie, who has been mute since her mother's death when she was a little girl. She falls in love with a mysterious young man who is trapped in a painting. (reviewed here)

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

This book is one of my favorite fairy tale retellings ever. It is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses story, set in Medieval Romania. Reveka, the main character, is a delightful and entertaining narrator, and I loved the unique historical setting. (reviewed here)

Forgiven by Janet Fox

Kula has had a hard life and dreams of something more. So she travels to San Francisco in 1906, wanting a better life. She finds adventure, romance, and mystery, but also learns some hard truths about life. (reviewed here)

In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap

After she loses her job as a servant, sixteen-year-old Molly stows away to become a nurse with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War. She must confront the harsh reality of war as she struggles with her feelings for two very different men. (reviewed here)

Sigrun's Secret by Marie-Louise Jensen

Marie-Louise Jensen is one of my favorite authors of YA historical fiction, and her most recent book is no exception. Her books always have great characters and interesting historical settings. Sigrun's Secret is set in Iceland and Jorvik (now York, England) in the 9th century. (reviewed here)

Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan

I started reading Gloria Whelan's historical fiction when I was a child, and many years later I still enjoy her new books. This book is the story of fifteen-year-old Rosalind, a girl who has grown up in Indian with her British parents during the time of World War I. She longs to make a difference in the world, but her parents don't understand and force her to visit England to live for a while with her aunts. (reviewed here)

So that's my top ten favorite books of 2011! If you also posted about your favorite books from this year, feel free to share a link in a comment - I'd love to take a look!

My 2012 YA Historical fiction challenge post

I completed this challenge last year and really enjoyed it (since historical fiction is my favorite genre), so I am glad YA Bliss is hosting it again. You can read more about the challenge and sign up here.

Once again, I am going for level 3, which is to read at least 15 YA & MG historical fiction books. This year, I think I read around 40, maybe I'll get 50 next year! Here is my list of books read as well as a tenative list of some of the books I hope to read, I split it into books I already have a copy of, and upcoming releases I am looking forward to. It's a long list but I hope to read a lot of these. Most of these are historical fiction, but a few are historical fantasy.

1. Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
2. The Pirate Captain's Daughter by Eve Bunting
3. My Story: No Way Back by Valerie Wilding
4. A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink
5. Gilt by Katherine Longshore
6. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
7. Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skypruch
8. Dear Canada: Torn Apart by Susan Aihoshi
9. Our Australian Girl: Meet Nellie by Penny Matthews
10. The Last Song by Eva Wiseman
11. The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges
12. The Hidden Gold: A Marie-Grace Mystery by Sarah Masters Buckey
13. My Story: Wartime Princess by Valerie Wilding
14. Forget Me Not by Sue Reid
15. Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill

And the books I hope to read:

Books I already have:
Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen
The Wild Queen by Carolyn Meyer
The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell
Ladies in Waiting by Laura Sullivan
Farmer Boy Goes West by Heather Williams
A Forest of Gold by Courtney Maika
Vice and Virtue by Veronica Bennett
The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coates
The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf
Just a Girl by Jane Caro
Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
The Traitor's Kiss by Pauline Francis
The Rogue's Princess by Eve Edwards
Lights on the Nile by Donna Jo Napoli
River of Time series by Lisa Tawn Bergren
Velvet by Mary Hooper
Bracelet of Bones by Kevin Crossley Holland
The Faerie Ring by Tiki Hamilton
Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter
Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller
Crusade by Linda Press Wulf
Cleopatra Confesses by Carolyn Meyer
Secret Letters by Leah Scheier
Scarlet by AC Gaughen
The Mastermind Plot by Angie Frazier
The Academie by Susanne Dunlap
Daughters of the Sea: Lucy by Kathryn Lasky
The Girl in the Mask by Marie-Louise Jensen
Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle
My Story: Berlin Olympics by Vince Cross
Pendragon Legacy: Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts
All Fall Down by Sally Nicholls
Violins of Autumn by Amy McAuley

Upcoming releases:
Victoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer
Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb
Changeling by Philippa Gregory YA novel
Seeking Eden by Ann Turnbull
The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen
Odette's Secrets by Maryann MacDonald
Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
My Story: Lady Jane Grey by Sue Reid
My Story: Nowhere to Run by Carol Drinkwater
Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame
Spy for the Queen of Scots by Theresa Breslin
Venom by Fiona Paul
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
Voyage of the Sea Wolf by Eve Bunting

Book review: May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (Published by Schwartze & Wade, January 10, 2012)

Twelve-year-old May lives on the Kansas prairie in the 1870s. She wants to be a teacher when she is old enough, but she has trouble reading. She understands the lessons, but when she tries to read, the words get all mixed up. Her parents have decided that to help out the family, May has to go work for the Oblingers, a married couple who live nearby, for a few months. She will have to leave school and not see her family that whole time.

Shortly after arriving, Mrs. Oblinger, who came from back east and hates the prairie, decides to leave her husband and return home. Her husband goes to follow her, and never returns. May is left all alone in the Oblingers' soddy. When they never reutrn, she doesn't know what to do, because it would take an entire day to walk home and she is afraid she will get lost. So she decides to try and survive on her own until her father comes for her. But then winter comes early, and May must find a way to survive, trapped in the middle of nowhere with dwindling supplies of fuel and food.

This novel is written in verse format. I haven't read many verse novels, but I think the format fit this story well, particularly when May described her struggles with reading (although the condition was not known at the time, May had dyslexia). Because of the format, this was a very quick read, and I wish it had been a bit longer, because I wanted to read more about what happened to May. However, I did really enjoy the book, and would recommend it to readers who enjoyed the Little House on the Prairie and Dear America series.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle

Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle (Published by Henry Holt, August 7, 2012)

Sophie’s entrance into London society isn’t what she thought it would be: Mama isn’t there to guide her, Papa is buried in his work fighting Napoleon, and Sophie’s newly acquired limp keeps her from dancing at any of those glittering balls. If it weren’t for her shopping escapades with her new French friend Amélie and a flirtation with the dashing Lord Woodbridge, she would think this season a complete disaster.
But when someone uses magic to attack Papa the night of Sophie’s first ball, her problems escalate, especially when it becomes clear that all the members of the War Cabinet are being targeted. Can she catch the culprit and keep her own magic powers hidden long enough to win herself a match?

I loved the other two books by this author (Bewitching Season & Betraying Season) so I can't wait to read book three!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In My Mailbox - 12/17/11

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

This is actually a few weeks of books. I haven't posted an IMM in a while because I've pretty much been sick since Thanksgiving. I got a lot of books this week, so I decided to finally post another IMM.

Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley

Where angels walk the ground and the future is told in song, does a man of low rank have a chance at love with a princess?
In Camrithia, a land of shadows and mystical secrets, Trevin lives to serve King Laetham. But his heart belongs to the princess, Melaia. When the King sends Trevin on on a dangerous quest to find the missing comains—captains in the king’s army—he must leave Melaia to the advances of a swaggering Dregmoorian prince.
Challenged to prove his worth, Trevin throws himself into his quest. Striving to prove his love, Trevin undertakes a second mission—find the harps Melaia seeks in order to restore the stairway to heaven. Through fire caves, rogue winds, and murderous threats, Trevin remains steadfastly dedicated to his quest—even when he is falsely accused of a heinous crime. As Trevin’s time runs out, he realizes he must face the shame and horror of his own past and the nightmare that has come to life. Will he have the courage to finish what he has started?

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

I've known it since last night:
It's been too long to expect them to return.
Something's happened.

May is helping out on a neighbor's Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it's hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May's memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she's determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose's fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

Struck by Jennifer Bosworth

Mia Price is a lightning addict. She’s survived countless strikes, but her craving to connect to the energy in storms endangers her life and the lives of those around her.
Los Angeles, where lightning rarely strikes, is one of the few places Mia feels safe from her addiction. But when an earthquake devastates the city, her haven is transformed into a minefield of chaos and danger. The beaches become massive tent cities. Downtown is a crumbling wasteland, where a traveling party moves to a different empty building each night, the revelers drawn to the destruction by a force they cannot deny. Two warring cults rise to power, and both see Mia as the key to their opposing doomsday prophecies. They believe she has a connection to the freak electrical storm that caused the quake, and to the far more devastating storm that is yet to come.
Mia wants to trust the enigmatic and alluring Jeremy when he promises to protect her, but she fears he isn’t who he claims to be. In the end, the passion and power that brought them together could be their downfall. When the final disaster strikes, Mia must risk unleashing the full horror of her strength to save the people she loves, or lose everything.

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.
A huge store isn’t the worst place to be stranded. There’s food and water, bedding and books. But what if it’s not safe to leave? Emmy Laybourne had us from the get-go with her utterly fresh and fast-paced debut.
Six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids are trapped together in a chain superstore. Together they build a refuge for themselves inside, while outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapon spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences. Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.

Of Poseidon by Anna Banks

Emma and her friend Chloe are spending vacation in Florida. When Emma (literally) runs into a hot guy named Galen on the beach, little does she know he’s a prince of the Syrena. Galen and Emma both feel something strange – is it attraction? – and Galen suspects that Emma might well be the girl he’s heard of – a human who can communicate with fish.
What follows is a deadly scene with a shark in which Galen witnesses Emma’s gifts. He must know more about her, and follows her back to New Jersey, and high school, to find out for sure if she’s the key to saving his kingdom. Soon, Emma can’t deny her feelings for him, but can’t explain them, either – and both she and Galen must learn more about where she comes from and what her powers are before they can trust one another and their feelings.

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.
With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My 2012 Debut Author Challenge post

I am going to try this challenge again this year. Last year I kind of failed and only read like six books or something like that from my list. Hopefully, this year I do better. I really want to read a lot of the books on my list, so I'm hoping to improve. The Debut Author Challenge is hosted by the Story Siren and you learn more and sign up for the challenge here.

Books read so far:
1. Gilt by Katherine Longshore
2. Dear Canada: Torn Apart by Susan Aihoshi
3. The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

Here's my tentative list of books I hope to read:

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
The Selection by Kiera Cass
The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coates
Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves
Struck by Jennifer Bosworth
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
Venom by Fiona Paul
Queen of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Defiance by C.J. Redwine
Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Books in bold, I have already read. If I have reviewed the book, you can click the title for a link to my review.

Books in italic, I have a copy, but haven't read it yet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame

Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame (Published by Simon & Schuster, May 1, 2012)

The Darlington family is among Edwardian Britain’s most revered,
but underneath this façade of respectability hides secrets that could mean their ruin. Lord and Lady Darlington’s seat at Wentworth Hall is one of England’s oldest estates, but the servants have been whispering about the lack of hands (and funds) for the upkeep of the grand manor. Are the Darlingtons hoping to find 18-year-old Maggie a wealthy husband? Is that why newly moneyed Teddy Fitzhugh, whose father recently drowned in the sinking of the Titanic, has been invited to stay? His visit-and the complete change in Maggie’s personality since her return from a year abroad in France-gives the ever-curious staff even more reason to gossip than usual. When scandalous satires start appearing in the newspaper with details suspiciously similar to the goings on of Wentworth Hall, the Darlingtons are determined to keep their secrets to themselves and their affairs (both private and public) in order. And the first order of business is finding the culprit. But where to start? Downstairs among the staff? Or should the Darlingtons look even closer to home . . .
Abby Grahame’s debut novel mixes the teen appeal of series like
Gossip Girl and The Luxe with the upper-class drama of the hit BBC series Downton Abbey.

This book sounds a lot like the Luxe series but set in England (the publisher's summary even compares it to that series) so I can't wait to read it, since I loved those books.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Interview with Tracy Barrett, author of Dark of the Moon

Tracy Barrett is the author of Dark of the Moon, a retelling of the myth of the minotaur. I previously reviewed the book and you can read my review here. To learn more about Tracy and her books, you can also visit her website.

What inspired you to write a more "realistic" version of the myth of the minotaur?

The minotaur myth as we know it is a garbled retelling by Greek travelers (traders, sailors, whatever) of the religion of ancient Crete, an island that is now part of Greece but that in the Bronze Age was a foreign country to the mainland Greeks. The Cretans worshipped the moon, perhaps as a cow, and the sun in the form of a bull-god. The Greek travelers must have seen a ritual where a shaman or priest wearing a bull's-head mask ritually wed a priestess of the moon, and came back with a strange story of a half-man, half-bull that ate people (the Cretans might have practiced human sacrifice, but even if they didn't, it was in the best interests of the Greeks to cast their rivals, the Cretans, in the worst possible light).

The story we have is full of inconsistencies.

Why would you keep a man-eating monster in a labyrinth? The minotaur wasn't too bright but surely after years and years of confinement, he'd find his way out.
Why would Theseus sail home with a black sail on his ship, after telling his father that a black sail would mean that he had died? Would you really forget to hang a white sail?
Why would his father commit suicide upon seeing the black sail, when he had sent his son (whom he hadn't bothered to meet until he was a teenager) to certain death? Could he possibly have been surprised that he had supposedly died?

Why did Theseus take Ariadne, the minotaur's sister, away with him, and then dump her on the island of Naxos? If he didn't want her, why not just leave her on Crete?

And also, there are no motivations given for the actions of any of the characters in the story, except Theseus, whose motivation in killing the minotaur is to avoid getting eaten.

So I wanted to straighten out those inconsistencies, try to imagine a religion that could have given rise to the rituals that the Greeks so badly misunderstood, and make the characters in the drama more human by figuring out why they acted the way they did.

What kind of research did you do to try and make the characters and setting as accurate/realistic as possible?

I did lots and lots and lots of research! It helps that my major in college was Classics and that I've spent time on Crete. But I still had to look up a lot of things, and many facts that I found gave me ideas, and then I had to research those ideas.

I started with The White Goddess by Robert Graves. I checked out the six mammoth volumes of The Palace of Minos by Sir Arthur Evans, the archaeologist who did the first real excavations there, and studied them intensively. I mostly used books, but I also did a lot of on-line research, including Google Earth to see the places where the story takes place.

I loved how the novel was told from the alternating viewpoints of Theseus and Ariadne. Do you have a favorite of the two main characters, or did you like them both equally? Was it difficult to make their voices sound different from each other?

I originally planned to have the whole story told in Ariadne's voice, but I soon figured out that she had led such a sheltered life that she couldn't really comment on it; she knew nothing different so it wouldn't occur to her to discuss the palace, her brother, her religion. I needed a narrator who was clueless about Crete so someone could explain things to him, and thus to the reader. So I brought in Theseus.

I like them both, but I think I like Ariadne more. She's so courageous and loving, aware of her duty but also aware that the world is changing and that she'll have to change along with it.

It seemed natural for Ariadne, who is mired in the past, to use the past tense in her narration, and Theseus, who's eager for the future, to use the present tense. I noticed after I had finished the first draft that Ariadne is always questioning herself, her mother, her life, and Theseus rarely does. So I went through and took out the few times that Theseus questions himself, to make the contrast between the two of them even stronger.

What are some of your own favorite books and authors?

I'll limit myself to just a few: Linda Sue Park, M. T. Anderson, Philip Pullman, Katherine Paterson.

When you are not writing, how do you enjoy spending your time?

I don't have much time! I'm also a college professor, but I'm quitting in May (see my blog, Goodbye, Day Job!). Maybe I'll be able to answer this question better after that, but at this point I can list reading, reading, reading, and knitting. I used to be a skydiver, but that was long ago, and I don't plan to pick it up again after I retire!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book review: The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson (Published by Zondervan, November 29, 2011)

Seventeen-year-old Annabel Chapman grew up as the daughter of a wealthy merchant in 14th century England. Several years ago, her family’s fortune was lost when her father’s ships sank in a storm. Soon after that, her father died from the pestilence. Since then, her family, who believed themselves better than the other villagers because they were once wealthy, has refused to do their share of the required fieldwork. Until now they have managed to get away with it, but with the death of the absent old lord, and the arrival of the new lord, his son, they now must accept the punishment for their actions. They must either pay a fine they cannot afford, or one of them must go to work for three years as a servant to the new lord of the manor. Annabel's family wants to force her to marry Bailiff Tom, a repulsive, cruel man who is old enough to be her father, because he says he is willing to pay their fine if he can marry her. To avoid being forced into an unwanted marriage, Annabel volunteers herself as an indentured servant. Although the new lord is said to be beastly, she knows anything would be better than marrying Tom, even though she would prefer to become a nun so she can study the Bible and learn about God’s word.

Lord Ranulf le Wyse is the new lord now that his father has died. Although he is young, he is very bitter. He was badly scarred by a wolf several years ago. His wife, who married him only for his wealth, was repulsed by him and was unfaithful, and died only two years into their marriage. As a result, he doesn’t trust women and vows never to marry or fall in love again. At first, he sees Annabel as just another beautiful young woman who is not to be trusted. However, soon a friendship grows between Annabel and Ranulf, a friendship that could become something more, if they can overcome their fears of love and marriage.

The Merchant’s Daughter is an enjoyable and very sweet historical romance set in England in 1352. It is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, so there is a bit of a fairy tale feel to the story too. I think I enjoyed this book even more than the author’s first book, The Healer’s Apprentice, which I read last year. I love anything set during the Medieval era and I loved how sweet and touching the romance was. I felt so badly for the characters and so wanted them to have a happy ending - Annabel because her family was so cruel and wanted her to marry such an awful man, and Ranulf because he was so kind and noble yet had been treated so badly by his wife. If you enjoy historical fiction, fairy tale retellings, or more “clean” romance novels, I highly recommend The Merchant’s Daughter.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by author.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In My Mailbox - 11/20/11

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

Here are the new books I got this week:

For review:

The Wild Queen by Carolyn Meyer

Mary is only six days old when she is crowned after the death of her father, five years old when she is sent to France to be raised alongside her future husband. Surrounded by friends and beloved by the royal family, Mary absorbs the culture, becoming more French than Scot. But when her frail young husband dies, Mary, now eighteen, is stripped of her title as Queen of France and set adrift in the harsh world, alone.
Determined to reign over what is rightfully hers, as well as to claim the throne of England to which she believes she is entitled, Mary returns to Scotland. The fiery young queen must sometimes go to brutal lengths to establish her sovereignty. And she is just as willful when it comes to her love life. Hoping that a husband will help her secure the coveted English throne, Mary marries again, but the love and security she longs for elude her. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in a murder scandal that could cost her the crown. And her attempts to bargain with her formidable "sister queen," Elizabeth I of England, could cost her her very life.

The Merchant's Duaghter by Melanie Dickerson

An unthinkable danger. An unexpected choice. Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf's bailiff---a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past.Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff's vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf's future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.


Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Rhine and Gabriel have escaped the mansion, but danger is never far behind.
Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago - surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness.
The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous - and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the any means necessary.
In the sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price - now that she has more to lose than ever.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund (Published by HarperTeen, June 12, 2012)

Generations ago, a genetic experiment gone wrong—the Reduction—decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.
Eighteen-year-old Luddite Elliot North has always known her place in this caste system. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. But now the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress and threatening Luddite control; Elliot’s estate is floundering; and she’s forced to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliott wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she abandoned him.
But Elliot soon discovers her childhood friend carries a secret—-one that could change the society in which they live…or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she has lost him forever.
Inspired by Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

There's a few reasons why I can't wait to read this book. I love the idea of a dystopian retelling of a Jane Austen novel. And also, this book is going to be a standalone, and I think YA *really* needs more standalones. I'm tired of everything being a series, and having to wait years to find out the ending, since I'm not the most patient person!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In My Mailbox - 11/12/11

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

I haven't done IMM in a couple of weeks, so some of these books I got a while ago. I've kind of been in a reading slump lately, which is the reason for the lack of posting. Hopefully I'll get back into it soon.

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.
An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, even if he's repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.
The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?

Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo

Malora knows what she was born to be: a horse wrangler and a hunter, just like her father. But when her people are massacred by batlike monsters called Leatherwings, Malora will need her horse skills just to survive. The last living human, Malora roams the wilderness at the head of a band of magnificent horses, relying only on her own wits, strength, and courage. When she is captured by a group of centaurs and taken to their city, Malora must decide whether the comforts of her new home and family are worth the parts of herself she must sacrifice to keep them.
Kate Klimo has masterfully created a new world, which at first seems to be an ancient one or perhaps another world altogether, but is in fact set on earth sometime far in the future.

The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner

Arnold Ruben has created a memory machine, a utopia housed in a picture palace, where the happiest memories replay forever, a haven in which he and his precious daughter can shelter from the war-clouds gathering over 1937 Britain. But on the day of her seventeenth birthday Amaryllis leaves Warlock Hall and the world she has known and wakes to find herself in a desolate and disturbing place. Something has gone terribly wrong with her father's plan. Against the tense backdrop of the second World War Sally Gardner explores families and what binds them, fathers and daughters, past histories, passions and cruelty, love and devastation in a novel rich in character and beautifully crafted.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interview with Jaclyn Dolamore, author of Between the Sea and Sky

Jaclyn Dolamore is the author of Between the Sea and Sky (which I really loved and reviewed here). She is also the author of Magic Under Glass and the upcoming sequel, Magic Under Stone.

The story of Between the Sea and Sky is very unique. What was your inspiration for it?

The romance between a mermaid and a winged boy was one I tried to write some years ago, but the way I interpreted the idea was inspired largely by Jane Austen novels and the films of Studio Ghibli (Hayao Miyazaki). I wanted to write a cozy sort of fantasy, where there is no villain or world to be saved, but conflicts coming from within the situation. And I wanted an Austen-esque touch of social humor. The Mediterranean-esque 19th century setting and the flying scene are definitely typical of Miyazaki movies like Howl's Moving Castle.

The setting has a very historical feel to it, was it inspired by any particular place or time?

Specifically, the setting is supposed to evoke Italy around 1800.

What are some of your own favorite books and authors?

The Emily books and diaries of L. M. Montgomery, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (I actually have a biography of Rose Wilder Lane to read right now), A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant, Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate and In Pursuit of Love, Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell.

When you are not writing, how do you enjoy spending your time?

Reading is kind of a given... I like to cook, and I also like to eat: total foodie, and I'm particularly passionate about vegetables. They're underappreciated! I just went to an Afghani restaurant the other day and had these amazing turnips. Turnips! Amazing! Who knew? I love to comb thrift stores for vintage clothes although I don't get to do it as often as I'd like because I don't drive. And I spent more time watching TV than I'd like to admit. That's one of those things that just happens

And for a fun question - if you could choose, would you rather be a mermaid, or a winged person?

A winged person. I would love to be able to fly. I seriously get jealous when I watch birds.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Spirit's Princess by Esther M. Friesner

Spirit's Princess by Esther M. Friesner (Published by Random House, April 24, 2012)

Himiko, the beloved daughter of a chieftain in third century Japan, has always been special. The day she was born there was a devastating earthquake, and the tribe's shamaness had an amazing vision revealing the young girl's future—one day this privledged child will be the spiritual and tribal leader over all of the tribes. Book One revolves around the events of Himiko's early teen years—her shaman lessons, friendships, contact with other tribes, and journey to save her family after a series of tragic events. Once again, Esther Friesner masterfully weaves together history, myth, and mysticism in a tale of a princess whose path is far from traditional.

This sounds like a great topic for a historical novel. I have never heard of Himiko before but it sounds like she had a very interesting life.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book review: Between the Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore

Between the Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore (Published by Bloomsbury, October 25, 2011)

For years, Esmerine has longed for the day when she can join her older sister, Dosia, as a siren, and now that day has come. Becoming a siren is a great honor for a mermaid and her family. But the very next day, Dosia disappears. Esmerine's worst fears come true when she learns that her sister has gone to the surface world and married a human. Esmerine fears her sister was taken against her will and is desperate to find her, even though it is unlikely she can save her.

Unable to make her way on the surface world alone, Esmerine seeks out the help of Alan, a young man from a winged race of people called the Fandarsee. As children, Esmerine and Alan played together on an island, but she hasn't seen him in several years, since he left to study. After reuniting, their feelings of friendship begin to grow into something more, but a love between them seems impossible, for Alan cannot live in the sea, and Esmerine cannot live on land without terrible pain, unless she permanently gives up her ability to return to the sea.

I really enjoyed Jaclyn Dolamore's debut novel, Magic Under Glass, so I have been looking forward to reading Between the Sea and Sky, and I am happy to say I enjoyed it even more than her first book. I loved the two worlds she created, the underwater world, and the surface world, which seems inspired by southern Europe in the early nineteenth century. And the romance was adorable! Highly recommended for readers who enjoy fairy tales and historical fantasy.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book review: Our Australian Girl: A Home for Grace by Sofie Laguna

Our Australian Girl: A Home for Grace by Sofie Laguna (Published by Penguin Books Australia, October 3, 2011)

The year is 1808, and after being sent from London to Australia as a convict because she stole food, ten-year-old Grace is now working as a servant for a young married couple, Tom and Beth, who live on a farm in the Australian wilderness. Beth is very kind to Grace, but Tom has never trusted her. In the previous book, Grace had to take Tom's beloved horse, Glory, and ride for help when Beth went into labor while Tom was away working. Glory was injured, and now Grace fears that Tom blames her for what happened, even though riding the horse was the only way Grace could get help in time.

Grace feels terrible about what happened to Glory, because she has always loved horses. Now that Tom is home and Glory seems to get sicker each day, Grace fears that she will be sent away. She loves helping Beth with the housework and caring for her new baby, Alice, and she doesn't want to have to leave them. Grace decides the only thing she can do is try to help Glory get better, but who can she turn to for help?

A Home for Grace is the fourth and final book about Grace from the Our Australian Girl series. I have really enjoyed reading Grace's story. She had such a hard life as a poor orphan in London, so I loved reading about her finally getting the happy ending she deserved. I love the time period the stories are set in, and since I haven't read that many books about Australian history, I enjoyed learning about what life was like for the convicts and settlers in early 19th century Australia. I think this series is a great choice for young Australian readers who want to learn more about their country's history, although I wish these books were more easily available outside Australia too. As an American, I've always wished for more historical fiction to be available here that isn't set in either the United States or England.

In My Mailbox - 10/23/11

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

I only got one new book this week, but I am really looking forward to reading it.

The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell

It’s a long way from Baltimore to Oklahoma Territory. But Zora Stewart will go any distance to put the tragic events of her sixteenth summer behind her. So this city girl heads to the tiny frontier town of West Glory to help her young widowed aunt keep her homestead going.
When another Baltimorean shows up in West Glory, Zora couldn’t be more surprised. Theo de la Croix made the long trip out west hoping to court Zora, whom he has long admired from afar.
But Zora has developed an attraction to a rather less respectable fellow: Emerson Birch, a rough-mannered young "sooner" whose fertile land is coveted.
As Zora begins to suspect that there may be more than luck behind Emerson’s good land, she discovers an extraordinary, astonishing power of her own: the ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a "springsweet" to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land.
Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water. Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.
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