“Are you married yet?”

I was working at the circulation desk, as is my way. When a woman came up to the desk to return a book. She was nice and I was in a good mood at the time so I was in a state of mind where I could deal with exchanging pleasantries (this would become harder with Smelly Man whose cologne was so strong that it made me sneeze every time he came near the circ desk).

Suddenly, in the middle of a mundane transaction, the woman looked at me a bit more discerningly and asked me a question out of the blue.

“Are you married yet?”

I responded that I was not. In my head I had planned to add that I was only 24 but then I realized that really I’m at a point where the two (age and marriage-able age) are not mutually exclusive.

The woman nodded. She did not say I should use baked goods to snag a man (as others, including a man, have suggested as a sound strategy). She did not say I was too pretty to be single. She did not, in fact, say anything judgmental.

Instead, she made a prediction.

“You’re going to get married suddenly. You’ll fall in love suddenly, you’ll get married and you’ll have like three kids. You’ll look back on your life and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it changed.”

And. I kind of hope she wasn’t crazy because if it is a real prediction it would be such a pretty story to tell my (like) three kids one day.

I know there are people out there saying this is bunk and the woman was crazy and would have said  that to anybody. But I don’t come from a family that dismisses things like this and it makes a person wonder.

Wouldn’t it be nice, sometimes, if the things people predict for themselves (or others) really did come true?

City of Ashes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

City of Ashes by Cassandra ClareWhat would you do if the worst person in the world was your parent? Valentine Morgenstern is bent on destroying the Clave–the Shadowhunter’s arm of the Law–and ridding the world of the demons that Shadowhunters are mandated to hunt and the Downworlders the Clave holds as uneasy allies. Valentine already has The Mortal Cup. Will stealing The Soul Sword bring Valentine closer to his goal? Sure, some innocent people might get in the way, but what’s a little collateral damage when you want to remake the world in your own vision?

Clary and Jace are not bad people. Yes, they might be in love. Even if they are sister and brother. But that doesn’t mean they’re destined to follow in their father’s footsteps, does it?

Clary wishes she could turn her back on the secret world of the Shadowhunters and return to a normal life with her best friend. But nothing is normal for Clary, not while her mother lies in the hospital in a coma.

Jace meanwhile tries to drown out his troubles by hunting and alienating the people he cares about. The only problem is, the alienation part isn’t that hard when no one he cares about seems to trust him anymore. Instead of seeing the Jace they knew, it seems like everyone sees Valentine’s son lying in wait to betray them.

Will Jace be able to prove he isn’t his father’s son? Will Clary’s mother wake up? And what about the Downworlder children being murdered throughout New York City? Find out in City of Ashes (2008) by Cassandra Clare.

City of Ashes picks up soon after the first book in The Mortal Instruments series (City of Bones). Clare goes over the key past events without excessive rehashing. It is likely that this book would even stand on its own although readers will miss out on a lot of the fun if they skip the first book.

This book offers more introspection for all of the characters. Clare shifts viewpoints between several principal characters offering a wider view of events and the world Clare has built. Readers also get a wider view of the characters themselves. Jace in particular is fleshed out a lot in this book.

Then, of course, there is the star-crossed romance aspect as Clary and Jace struggle to move past their impossible feelings for each other as they try to understand what it really means to just be brother and sister. It might seem like a strange situation to add to a story, but Clare handles it tastefully and well enough that it’s easy to bear with her for the length of the book (and the rest of the series) to see where things will lead.

City of Ashes is as action-packed as its predecessor but with more character and world development. Clare has created another gripping, enjoyable read sure to dazzle.

The Mortal Instruments saga continues in City of Glass.

Possible Pairings: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, White Cat by Holly Black, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, The Inferno by Dante, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Gideon the Cutpurse: A Review

Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-ArcherAll Peter Schock wants is for his father to finally keep one of his promises. Peter’s twelfth birthday is long gone, but his father has yet to provide Peter with their long-promised day of celebration including sledding, lunch in town, and a Premiership football match–a day spent doing his favorite things with his father! What could be better?

Unfortunately for everyone involved Mr. Schock once again fails to follow through, postponing Peter’s birthday treat for the fourth time. Instead Peter is being dragged off to the country with his au pair to visit her friends–a family Peter doesn’t even know.

Not that Peter really expected anything else from his workaholic father who always seems to have another meeting or another client that is inevitably more important than him.

In the country, Peter meets Kate Dyer–a girl Peter’s age who seems to be a headstrong know-it-all and no one Peter would choose to spend time with. If he had any choice in the matter, anyway. After an encounter with an anti-gravity machine catapults the children back to 18th century England, Kate and Peter will only have each other.

Back in the 21st century everyone knows the children are missing and a massive police hunt is launched. But no matter how hard the police search it seems that the two children have vanished into thin air.

Meanwhile in 1763 the Tar Man, a fearsome criminal, has stolen the anti-gravity machine–their one hope of returning home. Stranded in a foreign time, the children have no choice but to try and get the anti-gravity machine back. Gideon Seymour, reformed cutpurse and mostly gentleman, has agreed to help the children. Will they succeed? Or will Gideon’s dark past interfere with his good intention and conspire to keep Peter and Kate in the 18th century for good in Gideon the Cutpurse* (2006) by Linda Buckley-Archer.

Gideon the Cutpurse is a richly-told fantasy. Buckley-Archer blends the improbable and fantastical to create a vibrant story that, amazingly, is peppered with strikingly authentic depictions of what life in 18th century England might have looked like not only to its historical occupants but also to modern children.

Some readers will love the story for its fantasy and time travel, others for the wonderful characters. Still others will love the novel approach to historical(ish) fiction. Most readers will love Gideon the Cutpurse for all of these reasons. The story takes its time getting started and setting the scene for events to come, but it builds to an exciting conclusion sure to leave readers eager for the next installment.

Possible Pairings: The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

*This book was originally published in England under the title Gideon the Cutpurse. I don’t know why they changed the title, but the American edition is sometimes called The Time Travelers. This book is the first book of the Gideon Trilogy (alternately called The Enlightenment of Peter Schock).The second book is called The Tar Man/The Time Thief (US edition). The third book is called The Time Quake/The Splintering of Time. I will be referring to the books by their English titles because I received an English copy from the publisher for review and because I generally prefer the English titles and cover art.

City of Bones: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

City of Bones by Cassandra ClareFifteen-year-old Clary Fray is almost content with her boring real life in Brooklyn. Trips to the Pandemonium Club for dancing and people watching with her best friend Simon add enough excitement, even if Clary is too shy to talk to anyone.

That changes when Clary witnesses three teenagers with mysterious tattoos murder another boy in the club. Clary is ready to report the murder until she watches the body disappear into thin air. The murderers being invisible to everyone but Clary also complicates matters.

But nothing is as it seems when the murderers explain themselves to her. Not murderers at all, the teens are part of the hidden world of Shadowhunters–warriors who fight to rid the world of demons.

Clary is drawn deeper into the Shadowhunter world when her mother disappears and demons start to attack. Suddenly Clary’s boring real life is anything but in City of Bones (2005) by Cassandra Clare.

The book itself is also anything but ordinary. Reviews have cited City of Bones as an unoriginal pastiche of other fantasies–a claim that, after finishing the novel, seems unfounded.

Clare blends elements of biblical myth, urban fantasy and suspense to create a truly unique story. The writing is snappy with wit and verve that might explain the comparisons between the book and the Buffy TV series.

As Clary delves deeper into the world of the Shadowhunters and the demons they hunt, Clare creates a richly developed world filled with vivid characters that readers will look forward to seeing again.

City of Bones is the first of Clare’s Mortal Instruments books. Clary’s adventure continues in City of Ashes. The first three of the series are already published with a fourth due out in 2011. Clare is also working on a prequel trilogy called The Infernal Devices. The first of the prequels, The Clockwork Angel will be published in 2010.

Possible Pairings: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, White Cat by Holly Black, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, The Inferno by Dante, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

“Are you Miss Print?”

What ensues is going to be an embarrassingly detailed account of the events leading up to Thursday night which was, by far, the highlight of my week:

On Wednesday one of my favorite authors, Carolyn MacCullough, tweeted about an event at Books of Wonder where she would be appearing. I almost never get to go to events like this because they inevitably conflict with my work/school schedule. But the stars aligned on Thursday and I was able to attend!

I had posted on my own twitter about the event and my plans to attend because, well, it seemed like something everyone should go to. Much to my surprise and excitement, Ms. MacCullough responded to my tweet saying she hoped to see me there. I was pleased, but didn’t think much of it because I imagine authors always get crazy amounts of replies on Twitter and just try to respond to what they can to be nice (because writers are inevitably the nicest people in the world after librarians).

The event was short, but so much fun. I always love visiting Books of Wonder because it reminds me of Meg Ryan’s store in You’ve Got Mail. And because they have a cupcake shop. I always feel like the employees are watching me, but that might be my own paranoia from bringing in my own books to be signed–it feels wrong somehow.

Anyway, after Ms. MacCullough and the two other authors (Philip Reeve and Mari Mancusi) finished talking about their books, people were encouraged to get their books signed. And I did not need to be told twice.

I went up to Carolyn MacCullough feeling very awkward with my three books to be signed (Once a Witch and Drawing the Ocean are two of my favorite books and I’m looking forward to reading my library-borrowed-copy of Falling Through Darkness and my newly signed copy of Stealing Henry). I felt really awkward because that’s a lot of books for one person to want signed, so I went up to her (first person to do so, also super awkward) and said that I didn’t know if she would want to sign all of them.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Carolyn MacCullough, one of my favorite authors in the world, asked me who I was because I looked familiar. I was so floored that only bad, tongue-tied explanations came from my mouth. I tried to explain that I had retweeted about the even and she had replied but I don’t think it came out right. But eventually it came across that I was on Twitter.

And then something else unthinkable happened.

I was recognized (by one of my favorite authors!) as a book blogger. Carolyn MacCullough said to me, “Are you Miss Print?” And, as my readers already know, of course I am! I became, if possible, even more tongue-tied and needed a moment to regroup, telling her that I couldn’t believe she knew who I was.*

And so Carolyn MacCullough signed my books (saying it was nice to meet me in one of them) and we had a really nice conversation. It turns out she had been reading my blog and even asked how my mom was doing.** I told her that Drawing the Ocean is one of my favorite books (it actually has been since I read it after seeing her read part of it at an author event at Jefferson Market Library several years ago). And she said, I had given her one of the best reviews on Amazon and that it brought tears to her eyes.

Then we parted. She said it was nice to meet me in person and I said of course that I was thrilled to meet her and to have made it to the event and confirmed her suspicion that she would see more of me on Twitter. And then I went home with some of the cupcake shop’s awesome cupcakes in tow.

The funniest thing about the whole thing was that I almost didn’t go. I felt weird about going alone. Especially to an event that featured young adult authors. No one is a bigger champion of YA books being for everyone (not just teens) but it felt strange, somehow, to be going to an event ideally targeting teens when I was not a teen. But I went anyway because my mom said I was being silly and the stars had aligned to allow me to go and because I really wanted to meet Carolyn MacCullough even if it was weird and I was nervous before talking to her (at which point I was so excited there was no room for anything else).

I’m so, so glad I did. Because it was worth it. So, I guess if you’re going to get anything besides my fangirl-y happiness from this just know that if you want to go somewhere, you should go. Even if it means going alone or feeling weird or silly, it’s worth it. Because you’ll be doing what you want to do. And maybe Carolyn MacCullough (or you know, whoever you might call your favorite ________) will recognize you too. And that will be an opportunity that you claimed for yourself and made into a really amazing moment***.

*I’ve won scholarships and awards before. I’ve gotten good grades. But somehow this recognition was almost sweeter because it was for something I built from scratch on my own, simply because I wanted to.

**If even one of my favorite authors is wondering about my mom, it occurred to me that I should post something mentioning that she is, in fact, doing well.

***If anyone doubts me, Ms. MacCullough also tweeted me after the event saying it was nice to meet so I have incontrovertible proof that I wasn’t dreaming all of it.

“Some people can cook and some people just can’t.”

A conversation my mom and I had about cooking a few days ago:

Mom: “Some people can cook and some people just can’t.”

Miss Print: “I don’t know about that. I can’t cook but I follow recipes and I’m learning.”

Mom: “That’s because you can cook. You’ve seen me try to follow recipes. It just doesn’t work.”

Sadly, she is absolutely right. Sometimes it just doesn’t work for her.

13 Little Blue Envelopes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Rule #1: You may bring only what fits in your backpack.

Rule #2: You may not bring guidebooks, phrase books, or any kind of foreign language aid. And no journals.

Rule #3: You cannot bring extra money or credit/debit cards, traveler’s checks, etc.

Rule #4: No electronic crutches. This means no laptop, no cell phone, no music, and no camera.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen JohnsonThe rules were straightforward, sent to Ginny Blackstone in the first of thirteen letters from her eccentric Aunt Peg. Ginny is used to her aunt’s whims and willing to play along because Aunt Peg is the only person in the world who can make Ginny seem interesting–even if it is just by association.

The letters will take Ginny to England and across Europe on an adventure that starts in the hope of understanding her wayward aunt. Along the way she’ll get a behind-the-scenes tour of Harrod’s from one of the store’s employees, meet artist/sometimes-thief Keith Dobson, and encounter youth hostels of various ilks. She will also karaoke. At the end of the summer, Ginny might discover she’s more interesting than she thought–all because of those 13 Little Blue Envelopes (2005) by Maureen Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Broken into chapters and separate headings for each envelope, this is a fast read that still has a lot of depth. The cover, along with some of Johnson’s other covers, is sometimes slammed for having a semi-headless, midriff-bearing girl on the cover. All the same, I love it. Not so much because it’s indicative of the story but of the novel’s overall vibe.

Equal parts travelogue, comedy, and Bildungsroman 13 Little Blue Envelopes is  jam-packed with excitement and appeal. It’s also a book about an ordinary girl discovering that sometimes just being herself can be extraordinary enough. Ginny is a persistent, resilient narrator that readers will be cheering for throughout this (sometimes) madcap novel.

Johnson is also working on a sequel called The Last Little Blue Envelope with a projected publication date in 2011.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Howard’s End by E. M. Forster, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Winter’s Child: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Winter's Child by Cameron DokeyA long time ago, when fairy tales still had a way of being true, the world was a different kind of place: A wish could be a dangerous thing when uttered with a curse. The North Wind could touch a child and change them forever. True love, and true friendship, really could fix everything on the path to happily ever after in Winter’s Child (2009) by Cameron Dokey.

In this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” the titular character begins as a child with a destiny she never would have chosen for herself. Touched as a child by the North Wind, she is a Winter Child. Her features bleached to a wintry paleness, she will not feel the cold or age a day past her sixteenth birthday until she can change her fate. Until she can mend that hearts that were scarred when her mother’s mirror shattered on the day she became a Winter Child.

Her journey will take this Winter Child across the world and will last many years. It will also bring her to two adjacent buildings that slant toward each other where two children live peacefully until their own sixteenth year when everything changes.

Free-spirited Grace and practical Kai have been friends forever. Still, when Kai asks her to marry him Grace cannot bring herself to accept no matter how much she knows they love each other. Grace dreams of adventures beyond the horizon while Kai seems firmly grounded their small lives in the small town.

All the same, it is Kai who leaves Grace behind for his own adventure following the Winter Child on an unnaturally cold day. Left alone, Grace finally begins to understand what she has lost and sets out to find Kai–beginning a journey that will change all three character’s lives.

Winter’s Child is a really fast, fairly light book–both in terms of weight and the writing. The story is broken up into ten tales and reads very much like a story from the oral fairy tale tradition. Grace, Kai, and even the Winter Child all take turns narrating the story and adding their own commentary to its events. Unfortunately, their voices are not quite distinct enough to make each character’s narration feel unique.

Dokey takes a story that many readers will recognize and retells it in a new, engaging manner. In fact a lot of the fundamental flaws in the original (a very devout, Christian tale) are handled in a more sensible way here. Even seeing the Winter Child/Snow Queen in a more balanced, less evil, light was really great. Still, the ending of the story seemed abrupt and a bit pat. In trying to add her own spin to the ending, Dokey unfortunately created a conclusion to Winter’s Child that ultimately felt unsatisfactory and ill-fitting with other aspects of the story.

Leviathan: A (Linktastic) Review

Leviathan by Scott WesterfeldThe year is 1914 and Europe is preparing for war. Although the events leading to a world war are sudden, the lines have long been drawn between the Clanker and Darwinist nations. While Austria-Hungary and Germany put their faith in steam-driven iron machines and guns, the British Darwinists fabricate monstrous beasties as their weapons and ships.

At the center of the conflict is Alexsandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and son of the ill-fated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. With the death of assassination of his parents, Alek’s title is worthless; his own country ready to betray him. Only a battle-worn Stormwalker and a loyal crew stand between Alek and a fate similar to his parents as the young prince goes into hiding.

Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp is a girl hiding a monstrous secret to join the British Air Service. Disguised as boy, Deryn can hold her own as an airman. But the risk of discovery is as constant as the danger of battler as her airship flies nearer to battle.

Born in two different worlds, from different sides of the same war, everything will change when Alek and Deryn finally meet in Leviathan (2009) by Scott Westerfeld with illustrations by Keith Thompson. Until then, the only question is: Do you oil your war machines? Or do you feed them?

Find it on Bookshop.

Leviathan is the first book in Westerfeld’s new series (a projected trilogy, I’m almost certain). It is nothing like his vastly popular Uglies series or anything else he has written. The first thing readers need to know about this book is that it does not fit into the traditional science fiction niche that so comfortably houses Uglies (and Peeps). Instead, Leviathan is a steampunk* novel.

Instead of looking to the future as science fiction often does steampunk looks to the past creating an alternate history where it was not the modern era but the Victorian era who made all of the great technological advances. Instead of the technology we have today, steampunk suggests a world running on clockwork mechanisms, brass and steel, and in the case of Leviathan genetic engineering that we can still only imagine.

That is the world that Alek and Deryn inhabit–a world changing before their eyes as World War One begins in Europe. Westerfeld weaves the two teenagers’ stories together to create a seamless picture of both the Clanker and Darwinist lifestyle. Their two paths also converge as both characters realize that their futures lie far from their European homes.

Leviathan might be the book I was most excited to read in 2009. It was also one of the best. As usual, Westerfeld’s writing is pitch-perfect blending science, action, and brilliant characters to create a book made of pure magic. It hardly seemed possible, but for me this book has far surpassed all of Westerfeld’s previous (awesome) books.

Keith Thompson’s brilliant illustrations set the mood for the story and bring the world of the Clankers and Darwinists to life in intricate line drawings**. The American/Canadian and Australian editions of Leviathan also feature full color endpapers with an allegorical map of Europe as drawn by Thompson*** that only adds to the book’s charm.

The series will continue with Behemoth.

* You can read more about steampunk in “Steampunk: Reclaiming Tech for the Masses” by Lev Grossman in the December 14, 2009 issue of Time Magazine (Grossman quotes Westerfeld in the article)

**If you need even more reasons to read this book, be sure to watch the Leviathan Trailer on Youtube to see some of Thompson’s illustrations quite literally come to life.

***You can view The Grand Map on Westerfeld’s blog where Thompson also provides an in-depth commentary on the making of the map.

Possible Pairings: We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett, The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers with illustrations by Kelly Murphy, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, Jackaby by William Ritter, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Everland by Wendy Spinale, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, Firefly (television series) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (graphic novel and movie), The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (television series), Serenity (movie)