Wildwood Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet MarillierIn the wilds of Transylvania, set on a high spur of rock next to the Wildwood, rests a castle named Piscul Dracului. The castle itself is unexceptional, old and crumbling as it is. Looking at it, you would never know it hides a portal to the Other Kingdom.

Each full moon five sisters travel through the portal into a magical glade where they dance with creatures rarely seen outside of fairy tales–fairies, dwarves, trolls and other creatures only whispered about back home.

For nine years of full moons, the sisters have gone dancing in the Other Kingdom.

Until now, the secret of the portal has been safe in Wildwood Dancing (2007) by Juliet Marillier.

Part retelling of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses; part reinterpretation of classic vampire lore, Wildwood Dancing is an eerie, atmospheric story of forbidden love, precious gifts, and otherworldly creatures.

Marillier’s writing is rich and vivid, immediately transporting readers to the world of Jena (the narrator) and her sisters. Although dense with foreign terms (defined in a glossary at the end of the book) and unusual names (explained in a pronunciation guide at the end of the book), this story is sure to quickly enchant readers looking for a classic fantasy story with an original twist.

All of the sisters are distinct and well-developed characters who bring their own charms to the story. Although the eldest, Tati, grew tiresome as a lovesick heroine, she provided a good counterpoint to sensible Jena who prefers the company of her enchanted frog Gogu to the prospect of marriage.

Wildwood Dancing is largely a story about characters rather than events. Marillier takes her time getting to the crux of the story, using the beginning of the book to establish the setting and the characters, only to ultimately create a powerhouse, page turning, ending with unlikely twists and unexpected consequences for all of the sisters.

The story of Jena’s younger sister Paula continues in Cybele’s Secret, a companion to Wildwood Dancing.

Possible Pairings: The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Exclusive Bonus Content: The cover illustration is my Kinuko Y. Craft–one of my favorite illustrators of all time. I loved the cover immediately but when I first started the book I wondered if it was really in keeping with the often dark tone of the book and the sparse, atmospheric prose. I have since decided it works perfectly. If you look really closely you can find a plethora of important elements and motifs to the story. And while the illustration might not be in keeping with Jena’s image of herself, I think it might be exactly how other people see her.

Unrelated: This review was really, really hard to write. I feel like it doesn’t do the book justice or go very far to explain how great it was. But it was really good and a must read.

It’s a Book: A Picture Book Review

It's a Book by Lane SmithIs it wrong that I liked the book trailer for It’s a Book (2010) by Lane Smith more than I enjoyed the actual book? If it is, I don’t want to be right.

What happens when a monkey* sits down with his copy of Treasure Island and a donkey** sits down with his laptop? Well, let’s just say the book might not do as much, but it sure has a lot of staying power.

It’s a Book has a great message. In snappy text and fun illustrations, it shows all the fun a book can be. And yet . . .

There is something very meta about discussing the merits of a book in a book format. There is also the issue that anyone who really needs to know how great books are (or show their children how great they are) is not going to be reading It’s a Book in the first place. I could see this being a fun read aloud but only in a nose-thumbing kind of way among people/children who are already readers. Honestly, the trailer was more effective as a medium and I’d love to see something like it being adopted by ALA to compliment their READ posters.

There’s also the issue of the donkey. The book introduces him as a jackass and ends with a mouse reminding him, “It’s a book jackass.” And that’s fine because it’s a legitimate term for donkeys. But it’s also a language issue*** and it just feels awkward and superfluous in the story.

I’m not really sure what Smith wanted to accomplish with It’s a Book or what it actually will accomplish. It’s an interesting idea and the book trailer is wonderful in its own right(do watch it!). Oddly as an actual book this one falls short.

*I feel really strongly that what we have here is a gorilla and it’s been driving me nuts since I first saw the book that he is called a monkey throughout.

**Smith actually calls the donkey a “jackass” from the get-go, not I think in a negative way but just in a “jackass is another name for a donkey” kind of way, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

***I’m kind of a prude when it comes to bad language, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable reading this book to anyone. Some reviews have said it’s snarky or obnoxious, I wasn’t feeling that but it was . . . a really weird element to include.

*I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher*

Poetrees: A (non-fiction) (picture book) Review

Poetrees by Douglas FlorianAre you a fan of poetree? A lover of all things green and leafy? Ever want to know more about a Baobab or an oak? Or tree roots and seeds? Look no further than Poetrees (2010) written and illustrated by Douglas Florian. Find it on Bookshop.

Poetrees is filled with quick, witty poems to entertain, inform, and amuse. Combined with original illustrations done with what looks like water colors and maybe some pastels. The book is clever and a lot of fun right down to its unique vertical orientation to give the trees shown their maximum height.

Poetrees is a delightful book for aspiring poets, botanists, and anyone looking for a little fun. The back of the book even has a glossatree with information about all of the trees featured in the book.

Want a preview of the illustrations and poems? Check out Amazon’s product page for Poetrees to see some excerpts.

*I acquired a copy of this book from Simon and Schuster’s Fall 2010 preview which I was lucky enough to attend*

Presenting Tallulah: A (young) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Presenting Tallulah by Tori Spelling, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley NewtonTallulah is not supposed to get dirty. Or talk loudly. Or make a mess. She isn’t that kind of girl. Tallulah can’t wear jeans or sneakers to school or keep her hair down or do any of the other things that the other kids do every day.

According to her parents, Tallulah is special and that makes her different. But Tallulah doesn’t want to be different. It’s hard to have fun or make friends when everyone is busy telling you the things you can do because you’re different.

When Max, the new boy in school, stands up for Tallulah (and assists with a risky pug puppy rescue) Tallulah starts to see that sometimes being different can be okay. And most of the time the best of friends like you just the way you are in Presenting . . . Tallulah (2010) by Tori Spelling* and Vanessa Brantley Newton.

There are a lot of books about being different learning that it’s okay to be yourself even if that might mean being a little silly, or weird, or not mosterly. Some of them are quite bad using cliches and heavy handed writing to convey their message while ultimately creating major issues in the story.

Presenting Tallulah has none of those problems. This was a delightful story about a little girl many kids can relate to. Maybe not everyone goes to school in a limo, but who hasn’t been told to be quiet and not get dirty?  This story captures that (and Tallulah’s rather . . . opulent . . . . lifestyle) without making it a big thing. Tallulah is who she is and, as she learns, that’s okay. I liked that instead of beating readers over the head with this message, it’s just at the core of the text.

Newton’s illustrations are also fantastic. The style is reminiscent of illustrations by Lauren Child (of Charlie and Lola fame) which probably means a similar medium (that I am unequipped to identify) is being used here. It’s no secret that Tallulah is based on Tori Spelling. And Newton captures that while combining broad strokes and line work to create intricate illustrations that bring Tallulah’s world to life.

Presenting Tallulah is sure to be a fun addition to any story time with simple, short sentences and a well-paced plot. Hopefully this charmer won’t be the last to feature Tallulah, Max and Mimi.

*With contributions by Hilary Liftin who is apparently a ghostwriter. I could get into who actually “wrote” the book or the recent number of celebrities putting pen to paper. But I’m not going to because this book deserves better and is more than able to stand on its own with or without is celebrity author.

Possible Pairings: Bark, George by Jules Feffer, Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer and Scott Magoon, For Pete’s Sake by Ellen Stoll Walsh

On Reading Without Remorse (A manifesto of sorts)

By conventional standards, I might be what’s called a narrow reader. I know what I like and I stick to it. I read fantasy books (sometimes I read science fiction, but when I do I’m always left waiting for the dragon that will never come). I read mysteries (but currently only Cassandra Chan’s Gibbons and Bethancourt series). I read realistic fiction. I read Chick Lit (but my own expanded version of it as seen here each Wednesday). I read classics. But only by authors I like or my mom likes. (I doubt I will ever read Lady Chatterly’s Lover for instance. And my Hemingway quota was more than filled by The Sun Also Rises. Don’t even get me started on Kafka.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking. That isn’t narrow at all. I read a lot of genres. But most of the books I read–in fact, I’m comfortable saying that 80 percent of the books I’ve read to date–are Young Adult books. And, for a lot of (unenlightened) people (who do not read it) YA is its own genre.

More than that, it’s a genre that seems to require a lot of apologies or explanations from its readers and its authors. Many YA authors, I’ve seen it happen on Twitter to at least three, are asked when they’re planning on writing a “real” book. You know, one with real, adult people. Because anyone who’s  a teenager can’t be experiencing anything “real” or sincere or, you know, literary.

Margo Rabb wrote a whole essay for The New York Times a while back working through her own mixed feelings about being a debut YA author with her novel Cures for Heartbreak. That essay, back in 2008, raised some discussion about the phenomenon of the YA Ghetto and how so many wonderful books are seen as “less than” just because they happen to be targeted to teens (even though they are rich, strong books that have appeal for people of a variety of ages).

Just last week the New York times featured another essay, this time by Pamela Paul, explaining that it’s okay to read young adult books because (guess what?!) some of them are really, really good. Shocker. My favorite quotes: “A lot of adult literature is all art and no heart.” “Y.A. may also pierce the jadedness and cynicism of our adult selves.” Snark aside, Paul made some good points though my main issue is simply that any of the points needed to be made.

Then, of course, we have the infamous chick lit stigma which afflicts many YA authors twice as hard since their “real” book would have to not only be about adults, but about men besides. I didn’t know it when I first started my Chick Lit Wednesday reviews, but I know now that this is exactly the reason I feature a book with  strong women every week. Because we need to dispel the ridiculous idea that books centered on women are somehow less important than books about anything else.

Tamora Pierce just recently wrote a blog post about why she writes about a lot of girl heroes. Maureen Johnson has done her part to expand the working definition of chick lit simply by working through why so many people call her books chick lit. My friend “Sarah” also pointed me to Tiger Beatdown’s essay from The Rejectionist on manfiction and why The Rejectionist no longer reads it.

I could talk until I’m blue in the face about the many virtues or chick lit, ya lit and genre fiction (all of my favorite things to read which, paradoxically, always seem to be seen as inferior by the big literary critics and prizes who only seem to give awards, in my narrow knowledge, to “serious” books about “serious” things*). Sometimes I feel like I already have talked myself blue in the face.

And I’m tired of it.

I’m thrilled that so many of the genres I love (steampunk, YA/chick lit if you want to call two really broad categories genres, etc.) are getting so much great press. But I’m sad that so many adults still feel a need to apologize for reading it and so much of that great press starts with an apology as if a person needs permission to read whatever she or he wants.

So I’m done.

I am now reading without remorse. I will choose books and recommend books without apology. I will review without explaining that the book has crossover age appeal. I will summarize without mentioning that chick lit involves more than women in romantic comedy situations. And I will never, ever try to justify or excuse or otherwise explain what I read. Nor will I ever expect explanations from anyone else.

And I want you, dear readers, to join me.

Who’s in?

While you’re at it, if you are ready to read without apology, maybe you should consider joining my new book club?

*This might be a good point to mention that aside from the links provided, no other research went into this post. Maybe a little known YA crossover chick lit steampunk title did win a huge, prestigious, serious book prize and I missed it, I don’t know. My main point is that there tends to be a very narrow definition of what makes a book valuable as literature versus as entertainment or plain old good reading and that definition does not yet encompass YA or chick lit.

Blog Third Birthday

As of this posting, missprint.wordpress.com is three years old. The last year has been a rocky one and, honestly, I think having this blog as a constant helped get me through it. I’m not even going to mention what this blog started as because it has grown to be so much more thanks to my wonderful dear readers.

Here’s to another great year!

I’ll leave you with some end of year statistics (cumulative):

Total Pages: 2 (I lost a page over the course of the year so I either was counting the home page or I totally forgot something)

Total Posts: 601 (+163)

Categories: 10 (up two from last year thanks to the addition of Linktastic! and Random Polls)

Book Lists (8), Book Reviews (2220), Chit Chat (176), Graphic Novel/Comic Book Reviews (6), Linktastic! (33), Non-Fiction Book Reviews (19), Picture Book Reviews (15), Quotes (125), Random Polls (6), Words of Wisdom (31)

Tags: 0 (I probably will never have tags–I tried them again but they still don’t do what I want them to do so I just don’t see the point)

Total Comments: 407 (have I mentioned how awesome my readers are?)

Widgets: 9

Total views: 41,791 (+ 23,107!) subtract 18684

Busiest day: 80 (May 13, 2008 ) 114 (May 18, 2009) 308 (June 2, 2010)

Total Spam Comments: 5,595

Passing Strange: A (disappointed) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Passing Strange by Daniel WatersKaren DeSonne is good at fooling people. She’s passed as the normal girl, the responsible daughter, and even the happy girl. That was before she killed herself.

That was before she came back.

Now, Karen is making the most of her second chance at life–or whatever it is when the dead start walking around.

Things go horribly wrong when her dead friends’ planned social protest turns into a shootout after the zombies are accused of murder. Karen makes it away, but many other zombies in Oakvale are forced into hiding when it becomes illegal to be dead and walking around.

Karen knows that zombies had nothing to do with this crime. And she knows where to go to clear their names. In order to get the proof and help her people, Karen is going to have to wear the ultimate disguise. She’ll have to pretend to like Pete Martinsburg–a known zombie killer. But Karen’s pretended to like people before. The hard part, the part that could land her in a whole world of trouble, will be pretending she’s alive. Karen’s fooled everyone close to her at least once, but will she be able to pull off the charade of a lifetime (or un-lifetime) in Passing Strange (2010) by Daniel Waters.

Passing Strange is the third installment in Daniel Water’s quirky series about the walking dead in Oakvale (preceeded by the first book Generation Dead and Kiss of Life). This book is a departure from the first two in the series and would be a good place to start the series without missing a lot . . . except that this one is so much less than the first (and even the second) book.

Waters has abandoned his usual alternating perspectives and instead spends most of the book narrating in Karen’s voice. Unfortunately that voice is vacuous and sadly under-developed, particularly when compared to the writing from the other books (or even the third person parts in Passing Strange). Karen has had a complete personality shift from earlier in the series with seemingly no reason except to titillate readers. A girl who had previously seemed strong and grounded, comes across as flighty and insipid.

The entire book was erratic and a shocking departure from its two tightly written and well-put-together predecessors. Sometimes Karen is talking in present tense, sometimes the past tense. Sometimes she addresses a mysterious “you” to no effect. To make matters worse story threads that were raised in the earlier books are largely abandoned and sloppily set aside.

This book is a must read for anyone who has been following the series and wants to know what’s happening with their favorite zombies and their traditionally biotic friends (unless that includes Tommy or Phoebe who are barely in this one) but it is also a vast disappointment after Waters’ clever, sharp debut.

Possible Pairings: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

Exclusive Bonus Content: I received a copy of the UK edition to review from PriceMinister which is why I’m showing the usual zombie (US) cover (that’s Karen on the cover again by the way) and what I consider the inferior flower (UK) cover. I made a big deal of the wraparound covers from the first two books. Even that aspect fell short here with the cover only utilizing the front of the book this time. Everything about this book makes me wonder what the hell happened to the series I started reading and what the hell Waters is doing. We can only hope for a dramatic improvement in the next book.

Linktastic! Fun and Games Edition

Some links for your enjoyment:

  • Jane Austen’s Fight Club has been making the social networking rounds for a while now and I finally sat down to watch it. It was quite entertaining. (Keep in mind this is from someone who has never read or seen the original Fight Club so I can only imagine how much more the rest of the world who hasn’t been hiding under that rock with me will enjoy it!)
  • Who else grew up playing Oregon Trail every single chance they could? I loved that game and wish they would make a new version to work with Mac OSX. It’s not real, but I would totally go see Oregon Trail: The Movie. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Nostalgic to play the game again? Look no further. Just be careful fording those rivers. (This is totally insane but if you view the top 10 I’m the Miss Print that’s currently listed there. Is it weird that I’m crazy proud of that?)
  • Maybe you’ve heard already, but The Old Spice Guy loves libraries.
  • Do you have a literary crush? PIEharn lists a lot of her favorite literary characters (who are badasses) and I have to say it includes many of my favorites. How can you not love Alan, Gen, or Howl? (I’m not even going to mention Mr. Darcy because the idea of anyone disliking him is just silly.)
  • So, Firefly is this really popular cult classic show by Joss Whedon. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Ever wonder what it would look like if it were made in the 1980s? Here is the answer in the form of an Eighties style opener. I’m actually more partial to the original opener and its steampunk-y look–the intro song is actually living on my iPod right now because I love it so much. (Anyone else wish Adam Baldwin had a better show than Chuck to work on? I mean, come on.) Here’s an extended version because I wanted to hear the song again.
  • I recently went all in with Twitter and decided to completely delete my Facebook account. The PRepguide takes that idea one step further (sort of) and makes a case for putting your twitter handle on your resume.
  • I will leave you with 10 children’s book characters who need a sassy gay friend.

Blog Teaser Giveaway: Clockwork Angel[CLOSED]

I was very fortunate to be able to attend Cassandra Clare’s book signing event in NYC on August fourth where I got a special little teaser for Clockwork Angel which will be out August 31. Now, as you can see from my review, I’ve already read Clockwork Angel (and loved it). So I’m going to give away this small teaser (five pages–like really small, you’ve been warned) to a US reader here on the blog.

To sweeten the pot I will also be giving away a teaser for the graphic novel of City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and Nicole Virella.

TO ENTER: Leave a comment below (with a valid email in the email line) telling me why you’re excited about Clockwork Angel.

Entries will be accepted until August 12 (Miss Print’s third birthday!)

The winner will be randomly selected and notified on August 12 as well.

Congratulations to Daisy the winner, as selected randomly by Maple the Palm Pre.

Hex Hall: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hex Hall by Rachel HawkinsSophie Mercer is a witch. But not with many perks. She has no broomstick to fly, no spell books, no talking cat (she’s allergic).

She can perform magic. But not particularly well. And not without a lot of unforeseen . . . complications.

Sophie and her (non-magical) mom have lived in nineteen states. They lasted the longest in Indiana (four years). They only made it two weeks in Montana. And most recently, well, that didn’t go too well either.

In fact it went so badly that Sophie’s been sentenced to Hecate Hall; a reform school for wayward witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

If Hex Hall wasn’t bad enough, Sophie also ends up rooming with the only vampire on campus, alienating a trio of students, and making a total fool of herself in front of a gorgeous warlock. All on the first day. At least her vampire roommate is nice.

Things at Hex Hall only get worse as Sophie learns more about her magically gifted father, develops a major crush, and makes even more enemies and social blunders. Oh, then there’s the matter of the weird attacks on students that look suspiciously like the work of a vampire. Sophie thought passing as a human was hard, but it living as a witch is going to be way harder in Hex Hall (2010) by Rachel Hawkins.

Hex Hall blends elements of concrete fantasy and campy fantasy in a way that is refreshingly unique. It also works really well. Sophie is a narrator grounded firmly, and perhaps unwillingly, in the magical world while also essentially being an average teenage girl (much like the girls shown on the cover–go figure!). Hawkins capitalizes on both aspects of Sophie’s character to create a heroine that is entertaining and very authentic.

Hawkins’ writing here is sharp, clever and vivacious. This is a book will have you laughing out loud and biting your nails in suspense–sometimes at the same time. Filled with action, humor, awesome characters, and a few twists Hex Hall offers readers a few surprises and a lot of fun.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Exclusive Bonus Content: This is neither here nor there but one of my favorite characters was a minor one named Cal. I hope we see more of him in this book’s sequel (Demonglass due out in 2011) because I really liked him and he just kind of jumped off the page for me. Go Cal!