The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan: A (rapid fire) Review

The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan: A Novel of the Civil War by Jennifer Armstrong (1996)

The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan by Jennifer ArmstrongThis book has been in my house begging to be read since 2004. With seven years of build up maybe it’s not a surprise that this book did not leave me dazzled. Maybe that was the only possible outcome. The story is interesting but from the outset the book had a lot working against it including a plain cover (mine has a white background with black text and . . . nothing else) and some difficult pronunciation (“Mairhe” is pronounced “Moira” and is the Irish form of “Mary” all of which I thought was made clear in the novel but someone didn’t because there is a note at the start of the book explaining all of that–which makes the whole thing feel intimidating).

At 128 pages (hardcover) I hesitate to explain much of the plot but I will say this: Armstrong does a great job if you look at this as a slice-of-life novel. Although I liked Mairhe as a heroine the entire story hinged on a character being likable and I just didn’t like him very much. It happens. Her descriptions of the Civil War battles and Washington of the time are stunning and evocative in a way few writers ever manage. The writing here is lyrical and immediately brings to mind an Irish brogue which adds to the dream-like quality of the entire book.

If anyone can even find this book anymore (NYPL no longer has it) I’d recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction, who is interested in the Civil War, or wants a book about the immigrant experience as much of the plot hinges on what it means to be American (or Irish) in an era when America was still figuring out its identity as a country.

Magic Under Glass paperback, giveaway, etc.[CLOSED]

(Apologies for the lame post title. Titles are hard, you know?)

Last year I posted a review of Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore. (You can reread my review to hear about the book’s interesting cover history and why I loved it.)

Magic Under Glass was one of my favorite reads and also one of those books I really thought of as perfect. Everything just fit together, it was charming, it ended well–just perfect, you know?

So I want to take a minute to mention a couple fun things about Magic Under Glass.

  1. The paperback version of Magic Under Glass came out May 24 with its pretty newer cover (which has a lovely model who basically is exactly how I pictured Nimira).
  2. To celebrate this momentous occasion Jacklyn Dolamore herself is holding a giveaway for a paperback copy of Magic Under Glass with sketches of the characters AND hints about happenings in Magic Under Stone. (A runner up will get a UK copy of Magic Under Glass with a sketch of Erris and Nimira in the front.)
  3. Cooler still: If she gets 20 entries ARCs of Between the Sea and Sky will also enter the mix.
  4. Even cooler (for me anyway, maybe for you too): You enter the giveaway by reviewing Magic Under Glass (or creating some show of love for Magic Under Glass–go to the link below for details!).

You can get all the deets about her cool giveaway here: http://jaclyndolamore.blogspot.com/2011/05/m-is-for-may-and-magic-under-glass.html

I am obviously entering and if you have read Magic Under Glass and have something say about it, you should too!

Building Hype: A Question for Book Bloggers AND my readers

This week I pushed the limits of how many books one person can acquire in a matter of days (thirty-four for anyone who’s counting). A lot of these books are ARCs that are not, in fact, published yet and will not be for a while.

As a book blogger I tend to wear many hats. One of those hats is basically a book cheerleader–if I like a book I want to build it up so that YOU, dear readers, will also read it and hopefully like it.

So the question becomes: How early is too early to start building hype?

If you are a book blogger what is your guideline for when to post a book review (how far in advance of the release date)?

If you are one of my readers, how early do you want to hear about a book?

Klickitat (courtesy of LizB) suggest no more than two months ahead of pub date. I think this is a good rule of thumb. Do YOU agree?

Share your thoughts so I can plan out how to read my newly acquired titles!

 

BEA 2011: Basically Extremely Awesome

If you live in New York and you pay attention to the publishing industry now is the time when you start hearing a lot about Book Expo America (BEA for short) on blogs and twitter and what not. This year, on May 24 in fact, it was also something my good friend The Book Bandit and I decided to attempt.

You have to register (and pay, of course) to attend BEA but we decided it was worth it because it’s something we’d both been wanting to investigate. As book bloggers it also seemed like a great way to get books and network and generally see what’s what. If we managed to get 5 arcs the list price of those books would cover the cost of admission. What was there to lose?

With our day passes in hand we arrived at the Javits Center a little after 8 with time to scout and prep before the exhibit floor opened. If you haven’t seen it before let me just take a moment to say the Javits Center is ENORMOUS and the exhibit floor was a maze. Even being there for a full eight hours we had a hard time navigating certain areas. (I don’t think it was just us.)

The day did not start auspiciously when we encountered a mob at the Bloomsbury booth where we were trapped in the unenviable position smack in the middle of the ARCs they had for attendees and the attendees who were grabbing said ARCs. But after surviving that mob we figured we were game for anything.

The day wasn’t perfect. We grossly miscalculated with bags and discovered the magical bag check area too late to spare our sore shoulders, some publishers were missed entirely in the labrythn of the exhibit floor, some exhibitors acted like we were trying to steal when asking if they had X book. I don’t even want to think about how crowded the food court was.

BUT for two first-time attendees, I think we did pretty well and we met some really wonderful people. (I want to underscore how unfailingly nice ALL of the people I saw at the Scholastic, Disney Hyperion, and Houghton Mifflin booths were. Aside from being polite and smiling they answered all of my questions and were generally awesome. They all definitely set the gold standard for the day.)

We also met some amazing authors at the author signings. I’d like to think I shared a moment with Ally Carter, Kevin Henkes, and Marla Frazee when I saw them. Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Alexandra Bracken, Sarah Dessen, Melissa de la Cruz, Leigh Fallon and L. A. Weatherly were all charming. And I know I shared a moment with Lev Grossman but that moment was mainly him thinking I was a blathering idiot so we won’t dwell on that.

And, of course, books were gotten including Uncommon Criminals (which I am reading now and already love), Brightly Woven (so excited Bracken was there because this has been on my radar since the Cybils!), Kevin Henkes’ new novel, several debut author arcs and tons of other things that you WILL hear more about in due time, AND The Scorpio Races–Maggie Stiefvater’s forthcoming start to a new series (I’m honestly not even sure I’m supposed to tell you about that because it was so very cloak and dagger when I got the arc–it was intense). All told we more than covered the admission price with around thirty books (weighted some were worth even more since they were also signed and hardcover instead of ARCs).

Bizarrely the most harrowing experience wound up getting home. With no taxis in sight we wound up packed in a van driven by a gypsy cab driver with five other attendees as he wound his way through Manhattan to drop us all off. I won’t say more because, frankly, words will never do that van ride justice.

In the end it was a day that was at times intense and overwhelming but it was a lot of fun and I’m still so very glad The Book Bandit was able to experience it with me. Having one day at BEA under out belts we’re already planning for next year.

(Future plans include organizing more according to publisher booths instead of searching for specific authors/titles, carrying fewer totes and business cards–some are good but the amount I had was ridiculous–remembering the magical bag check, capitalizing on the autographing area, paying attention to the floor plan, and most importantly NOT eating in the food court at a peak time. Who knows? Next year we might even brave a ticketed signing!)

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally CarterCammie Morgan is used to blending in and even feeling like she disappears. She goes to a school where that kind of thing is considered cool.

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a private boarding school for geniuses looking to realize their full potential. As spies.

Of course the students are free to pursue any career that befits their exceptional educations. But when that education includes advanced encryption, learning fourteen languages and advanced martial arts . . . well let’s just say it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what it means.

At the start of her sophomore year at the Gallagher Academy Cammie learns that Gallagher Girls might know how to tap phones, surveil, and hack computers but when it comes to being a normal teenager their educations are sorely lacking. Turns out sometimes, even for a genius, being a girl spy really is more about being a girl than a spy in I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (2006) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You is the first book in Carter’s Gallagher Girls series.

This book is a fun blend of girl power action, humor, cool spy tech and just a fun story. Cammie and her friends are exceptionally fun to read about. Carter hits the perfect blend between fun and serious as well as realistic and old fashioned made up details (two words: Napitime patches).

Though not quite as sleek as her later novel Heist Society, this book does have a frank, honest style fitting for a book filled with characters keeping secrets. The middle of the story was a bit frustrating, but maybe ultimately authentic, as Cammie struggles to determine her priorities and her own place as a Gallagher Girl.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You isn’t quite a fantasy (in the same way that James Bond movies are not quite fantasy but kind of are) but Carter’s world building is fantastic. Cammie’s evocative narration will draw readers right into the dangerous, exciting world of the Gallagher Girls in this story that is equal parts Bildungsroman, adventure and fun.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller, Divergent by Veronica Roth, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have): A (rapid fire) review

Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski (2011)

Find it on Bookshop.

Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah MlynowskiWhen April decides she really doesn’t want to move to Cleveland with her Dad or go to Paris with her mom, she has limited options for where to live out the remainder of her junior year. At least until circumstances align to let April stay at her BFF Vi’s house. Without any parents. Or supervision. On their own. What starts out as a fun adventure turns into a lot of disasters of varying sizes as she and Vi do a lot of things that would not fly with parents around. Too bad those things also wind up being things they probably shouldn’t have done.

This was a kind of strange book. I liked it, the writing was funny and April was okay as far as heroines go. I was engaged enough to want to see what happened. But the novel also felt a bit like a train wreck. That is NOT to say the book was bad but more like April’s life was a disaster and I couldn’t look away. (I spent most of the book wanting to shake her and tell her to get a grip.) For various reasons April and her story were hard for me to connect with–I wanted to but I just couldn’t get there. (April’s relationship with her boyfriend was especially problematic for me on so many levels that I can’t address because of spoilers.) So even though the book is fun and will appeal to lots of teens it was a bit of an anomaly for me.

The title speaks to character transformation but the ending was almost too abrupt to really appreciate how much April (and her friends) grew over the course of the story.  Ten Things We Did has an original plot and a clever structure. But it didn’t come together as well as I would have liked.

Mostly Good Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Mostly Good Girls by Leila SalesViolet Tunis has a plan for her junior year at the prestigious Westfield School. This year isn’t just going to be different, it’s going to be perfect.

This year she is going ace her PSATs, get straight A-minuses (or better) in all of her classes, and improve the school’s literary magazine to the point where it doesn’t completely embarrass her. She’s going to pass her driving test, get famous, and do many awesome projects with her best friend Katie. She will also make Scott Walsh fall in love with her.

Unfortunately for Violet, things don’t go according to plan. At all.

Instead of having a perfect junior year, Violet has the exact same problems she always has struggling to keep up with Westfield’s high academic standards (and competition) and failing miserably at sounding like a sane person when talking to boys.

On top of that, the literary magazine is a disaster and her editorial board is possibly filled with illiterates. Her driving teacher is mentally unstable. And her best friend Katie might be losing her mind.

Everything always comes so easily to Katie. She makes being pretty and smart and successful look effortless. So why is she suddenly making all of the wrong decisions? And if even Katie is falling apart, what hope does Violet have? More importantly, if Violet doesn’t have Katie by her side, does any of it matter?

All Violet knows for sure is it’s going to take a lot more than her Junior Year To-Do List to get things under control in Mostly Good Girls (2011) by Leila Sales.

Find it on Bookshop.

Mostly Good Girls has a lot going for it. Violet is a quirky narrator with a voice that is almost as distinct as her sense of humor. Interestingly, this book is also the first one I have ever read where the teenagers talk exactly like I did as a teenager.*

Violet and Katie and their friend Hilary are all well-developed and come alive on the page. They are all so real, so unique, and so exactly like I was a teenager. It was refreshing to be able to see my own experiences reflected in this crazy, hysterical book.

My love for Violet, Sales’ beautiful writing, and the book’s wonderful setting is almost enough to make me love this book unconditionally. But I also wanted more from it.

The beginning of the novel is, simply put, genius–filled with witty snapshot-like chapters about Violet’s life at Westfield. Snapshots that, I might add, could have been from my own high school. The actual plot, the plot you’ll see on the book jacket, doesn’t come up until about halfway in. At that point, for me, the story lost some of its verve.**

While the book remains authentic and charming I probably would have been just as happy with more snapshots about Westfield and less about Katie’s crisis. That might be me.*** The ending offers some semblance of closure although a lot about Violet’s life does remain up in the air.

Mostly Good Girls is an exceptional debut from a masterful author. Leila Sales is definitely going places and Mostly Good Girls is definitely a must read for anyone looking for an antidote to the vanilla, artificial high school experiences so often seen in books and movies.

*I have never before, and probably never will again, read a book where a teen character says, “Indeed.”

**Part of that might have to do with my never having the “Violet and Katie” kind of best friend experience. Who knows?

***Or maybe it’s just that at that point the plot diverged to something different from my high school experience and what I really loved here was that the book was so very similar to my high school experience.

Possible Pairing: Nothing by Annie Barrows, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Easy A (movie)

Exclusive Bonus Content: The design for this book is really worth mentioning. Cara E. Petrus did a great job on the jacket which features a fabulous plaid print and a striking pair of legs with shoes that are lovely (if I could wear heels I would need to hunt them down for myself!). Does the cover relate to the plot? Maybe not. Is it still awesome? YES! I also loved the layout of the text with memorable chapter titles and a typewriter-esque font.

The Clockwork Three: A Review

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. KirbyWhen Giuseppe finds the green violin, he doesn’t think it will help him escape. He doesn’t think anything can help him get away from his ruthless padrone and back to his home and his siblings in Italy–certainly not a violin, even if it is so much finer than the one he usually plays on street corners every day.

Frederick doesn’t need to escape anything, but he must become self-sufficient–of that he is certain. Being apprenticed to Master Branch is fine for now. But the sooner Frederick can complete his clockwork man, the sooner he can become a journeyman. The sooner that happens the sooner he can have his own shop–his past at the workhouse left far behind.

Hannah has already given up so much she scarcely knows what to want. Since her father’s stroke she has had to leave school and take work as a maid. Her family is just scraping by on her meager salary. When Hannah hears talk of a secret treasure, she starts to wonder–could it be the way back to her old life? If she can find it can she really solve all of her family’s problems?

Giuseppe, Frederick and Hannah don’t know each other. Under normal circumstances they might never have met. But soon the magic of the green violin and other strange happenings bring these three children into each others lives. Together they might solve all of their problems and make their dreams come true–if they can learn to trust each other and themselves along the way in The Clockwork Three (2010) by Matthew J. Kirby.

The Clockwork Three is Kirby’s first novel.

This book is an interesting blend of realism and fantasy, adventure and steampunk. Kirby weaves the elements together seamlessly creating a city so real it is easy to forget that the backdrop of this story is fictional.

The story takes a sudden turn near the middle of the story as some of those fantasy and steampunk elements manifest. They work and they add to the story, but part of the semi-realistic charm of the story is lost in favor of more fantastical elements. Perhaps because this turn appears so late in the story some aspects of the plots resolution felt rushed or abrupt although still satisfying after a fashion.

Kirby’s writing is particularly excellent at the beginning of the story as he subtly brings the children together in chance encounters until all of their stories overlap. The writing is atmospheric and often quite charming.

Possible Pairings: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Clockwork by Phillip Pullman, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Graveminder: A Review

Graveminder by Melissa MarrClaysville is a small town that keeps itself to itself. Very few people leave and those that do always find their way back.

Byron Montgomery thought he could leave Claysville behind but nowhere else is quite the same. Nowhere else is home. So he comes back to work with his father, the local undertaker.

Rebekkah Barrow only lived in Claysville for a few years but it’s the closest thing she has to a home. When her grandmother Maylene is killed, Bek knows it’s time to go home. Even if nothing about Claysville should feel like home without Maylene.

Seeing each other for the first time in years Rebekkah and Byron learn together that Claysville isn’t a normal small town, Byron’s father is more than the local undertaker, and Maylene may have had her reasons for attending every town funeral–reasons that had nothing to do with being eccentric and everything to do with keeping Claysville safe.

Maylene told Rebekkah everything she needs to know. Byron is ready to follow in his father’s footsteps. Together will they be able to put everything right in Claysville before it’s too late in Graveminder (2011) by Melissa Marr.

This is Melissa Marr’s first novel that is not young adult. She is also the author of the Wicked Lovely series.

I should preface my thoughts by saying I haven’t read any of Marr’s other books. I am also not a fan of zombies (I’m on Team Unicorn).

Graveminder has all the makings of a really great story: a generations old curse, a small town, lots of secrets. The idea is clever and intriguing. The characters are varied and interesting. But all of that never gels together to make a cohesive book.

First and foremost, the story is too slow to get to the point. Marr throws readers right into the action with a promising prologue. Only to leave readers hanging until page 100 (of the Advanced Reader’s Copy I read) to receive any kind of explanation about what is going on in Claysville and what role the Barrow and Montgomery families play in it. There is a fine balance between informing a reader and keeping a character in the dark until a key moment. Graveminder did not achieve that balance.

The other, bigger, problem with Graveminder is that Rebekkah is the protagonist of the story (the narrative viewpoint shifts between different characters with the bulk belonging to Byron and Rebekkah). She is important and vital and she is in many ways a hero in the plot. But she never feels real. Instead she comes across as one dimensional as if some important piece is missing. Byron is slightly better as a character (to be fair he is not bogged down with grief the way Rebekkah is at the beginning) but his unfailing devotion to Bek never feels quite realistic between her constantly pushing him away and his even more constant devotion.

Graveminder is an interesting addition to the world of American Gothics. Marr offers a unique premise and an original take on death, among other things. Unfortunately it just isn’t quite as fantastic as I was hoping it would be.

Possible Pairings: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Zombies Vs. Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

Author Interview: Sarah Beth Durst on Enchanted Ivy

Sarah Beth Durst author photoI’m very excited, dear readers, to bring you an interview with Sarah Beth Durst. I met Sarah at the NYC Teen Author Festival signing at Books of Wonder back in March. Later, she very graciously agreed to take some time to answer a few questions for me about her writing and her latest book Enchanted Ivy.

Sarah Beth Durst is the author of several fantasy novels besides Enchanted Ivy including Into the Wild and Ice.

Miss Print (MP): Before we start discussing Enchanted Ivy, which is a really clever book, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I have always wanted to be a writer.  Actually, when I was five years old, my career goal was to be Wonder Woman.  I would have also accepted Princess of the Unicorns.  But those job openings are hard to find.  In all seriousness, though, I believe that being a writer is the closest you can get in this world to being a wizard.  Your goal is to cast a spell that transports someone away from their own life, at least for a little while, and I’ve always been drawn to that kind if magic.

MP: What was the inspiration for Enchanted Ivy?

SBD: Junior and senior year of high school, I was utterly obsessed with the college application process.  At its heart, Enchanted Ivy is an allegory for that experience.  I wrote it for anyone who needs an escape from or has gone through that kind of stress.

The story itself was born from a superstition about the main gate at Princeton University…  If you walk out the gate, you won’t graduate.  I started thinking: What if there’s another reason that you shouldn’t walk out that gate?  What if walking through that gate transports you to another Princeton, one that will kill you if you stay too long?

MP: Enchanted Ivy features two Princetons—one that might be more familiar to readers and one that’s a bit more magical. You also attended Princeton yourself. Did any of your own experiences go into this story? Did you discover any magical bookshelves while you were studying in the library?

SBD: I never talked to a gargoyle while I was at Princeton (or, at least, they never talked back!), but I did always think it was a magical place.  You enter the campus by driving through this arch of elm trees that feels like going through a portal into another world.  Once you get there, you discover massive trees, bizarre gargoyles, spooky library stacks…  I used to always check for skeletons when I went into some of the lesser-used areas of that library.

MP: What was it like writing about a real place where you spent so much time?

SBD: It’s different seeing a place through a character’s eyes.  Lily’s experiences and view of Princeton are very different from mine, and it’s changed how I see the place.  When I walk around campus now, I reminisce about both real events and fictional ones.  :)

MP: The Princeton gargoyles play a big role in the story as well as being a real feature of Princeton’s campus. What was your favorite real Princeton element to write into the story? Was there anything you wanted to include but couldn’t?

SBD: I visited the campus twice while I was writing Enchanted Ivy: once during the outlining stage for inspiration and once after the first draft for the details.  I’m fascinated by the intersection of reality and fantasy, so I wanted to include as many real details as possible.

MP: What led you to the fantasy genre? What’s your favorite part of writing fantasies?

SBD: I was the kind of kid who always checked the closet for an entrance to Narnia and who always wished for my own pet dragon.  So the fantasy genre was a natural fit for me.  :)

I’m drawn to the optimism of the genre, and I love how the themes can be so empowering — seemingly powerless person conquers massive evil, ordinary people can do extraordinary things, love conquers all, etc.  Plus I just love writing about dragons and unicorns and girls who kick butt.

MP: What can you tell us about your next book?

SBD: My next book is called DRINK, SLAY, LOVE. It’s about a sixteen-year-old vampire girl who develops a conscience after she’s stabbed through the heart by a were-unicorn’s horn.  It comes out in September 2011 from Simon & Schuster, and I’m really, really excited about it!

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

SBD: Don’t give up!  Some days the words will flow, and some days they won’t.  The key to being a writer is to write on both kinds of days.  In other words, don’t wait for inspiration to find you before you sit down to write.  It’s far more likely to find you if you’re already sitting there writing!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks again to Sarah for taking the time out of her schedule to answer all of my questions.

If you want to know more about Enchanted Ivy be sure to check out my review.