Between: A Review

Between by Jessica WarmanElizabeth Valchar has the perfect life. Pretty, popular and privileged–the world is hers for the taking. Even her eighteenth birthday party is ideal: a night on her father’s boat spent with her friends, her boyfriend, alcohol and maybe just a little pot.

Unfortunately when Liz wakes up the day after her party it’s obvious that her perfect life is over in every sense of the word.

Liz is dead. Left staring over the side of the boat at her own dead body and watching the horrible fallout as news of her death spreads to her family and friends, Liz has no clear memory of how she died. She doesn’t even remember much of her own life.

As Liz struggles to make sense of the person she used to be and what led to her drowning on her birthday, Liz realizes there are some things that are best left forgotten in Between (2011) by Jessica Warman.

Between is an uneasy blend of mystery and paranormal with the smallest dose of suspense thrown in. While the bones of the story are promising as Liz tries to decipher the events leading to her own murder, the execution was inelegant at best.

First and foremost, Liz is not a likable heroine. While she is at pains to tell readers she is a “good kid” Liz’s actions often speak louder. Even her transformation over the course of the book does little to make her an approachable narrator. Her sidekick throughout the  story remains similarly one dimensional.

While Between has some interesting aspects the writing felt repetitive as Liz explains things repeatedly at different intervals of the story in the exact same way. Other aspects of the story (particularly “Famous Richie” and why he is so famous) felt like gimmicks that added very little to the story. Combined with Liz’s often prickly narration these elements made it very hard to get into this book.

The mystery aspect was well handled but too drawn out. Warman also paints a painfully authentic picture of the havoc eating disorders can wreak but again this thread takes so long to develop that much of its potency is lost. The book was also littered with shockingly inadequate adults, adding another layer of frustration.

Fans of books about life after death, particularly The Lovely Bones, will likely find a new favorite read in Between. On the other hand, readers hoping for an eerie mystery would be better served with a different title.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, More Than This by Patrick Ness, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Raised by Wolves: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn BarnesWhen Brynn was four-years-old her life changed forever when a rogue werewolf killed her parents. Rescued by the Stone River Pack and Marked by the pack’s alpha, Callum, Brynn’s safety is a matter of pack law.

The only problem is Brynn is human. Even as a member of the pack, living with a bunch of werewolves is dangerous. Weres can smell fear. They are faster. They are stronger. Most of them are older and more experienced. One lapse in control could leave a human very dead.

Even if that human is a fifteen-year-old girl named Brynn who knows almost everything worth knowing about dealing with (and defending herself against) Weres. Even with the danger, Brynn feels more at home in this world dictated by dominance struggles, territorial rights, and pack justice than the human world she left behind.

When a newly-turned were appears in Callum’s territory Brynn’s insular life within the pack is thrown into chaos. Brynn is inexplicably drawn to the new Were. Even though she has never seen Chase before, she recognizes something in him, she knows him.

As Brynn and Chase are drawn to each other she realizes everything she thought she knew about the pack, and about Callum, might be wrong. Everything Brynn thought she knew about her past, and her life in the pack, might be wrong in Raised by Wolves (2010) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Raised by Wolves is a completely original take on werewolf lore. Barnes has created a well-realized back story for Brynn and the North American packs. All of the weres and their wolf behaviors are fully realized and add a clever, primal, spin to werewolves with a strong focus on life within the pack and the animal nature of the Weres.

Brynn is a heroine readers will want to root for as well as an excellent guide through the dangerous but tantalizing world of Weres. Although Chase is not as fully realized compared to Brynn he is a good addition to the story, especially combined with the other characters (minor and not) who are quirky, funny and extremely well-developed.

Barnes expertly navigates the murky waters of pack life for Brynn and the grey areas of working towards a greater good in this story. She also packs in enough action, excitement and humor to make Raised By Wolves an edge-of-your-seat adventure that will leave readers guessing until the last page.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares: A (Christmas in July) Review

Imagine this:

You’re in your favorite bookstore, scanning the shelves. You get to the section where a favorite author’s books reside, and there, nestled in comfortably between the incredibly familiar spines, sits a red notebook.

What do you do?

The choice, I think, is obvious:

You take down the red notebook and open it.

And then you do whatever it tells you to do.

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel CohnIt’s Christmas in New York City and Dash wants nothing to do with it. So great is his hatred of the holiday season that Dash has conspired to spend the entire holiday alone. And he will enjoy it. Oh how he will enjoy it.

Lily, on the other hand, is horrified to find her finely tuned Christmas plans thrown out the window when the rest of her family makes better plans. Left alone with a brother eager to get rid of her, well, writing a book filled with dares for the right boy to find suddenly starts to seem like a very good idea indeed.

When Dash finds said notebook he doesn’t know what to expect. But he does know it’s not an opportunity to be missed.

Dash and Lily don’t have much in common but somehow they connect on the papers bound in that red notebook. Will these two misfits make sense in person? Only time will tell if their fledgling relationship can survive Lily’s family, Dash’s friends, some comical disasters and, of course, the holiday season in New York City in Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (2010) by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is Cohn and Levithan’s third collaborative novel. Levithan wrote Dash’s chapters, Cohn wrote Lily’s. The plot was not planned ahead.

And maybe that’s part of why it works so well. Written in alternating chapters from both protagonists, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is a breezy, hilarious story firmly grounded both in New York City* and the holiday season.

I loved Lily and her zany Christmas-loving ways. I loved Dash’s curmudgeonly yet hopeful narration. I loved them together. And I totally want to see Collation** now.

Truly this book is magical. Not only did it have me laughing out loud on the bus, it put me in such a good mood that I wanted to tell the gentleman who asked WHY it had me laughing out loud on the bus. Such is the inherently festive nature of this delightful book.

*Locations mentioned include: The Strand, Max Brenner’s, Dyker Heights, FAO and more!

**Don’t get the reference? After reading it you will. And believe me, you will also want to see it.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Author Interview: Carolyn MacCullough on Once a Witch and Always a Witch

As some of you already know, I have much love for Carolyn MacCullough and her amazing books. After meeting her a while back I knew she was an author worth talking to when I started doing interviews. Having been excited for Always a Witch since January I also knew its pending release made for a great time to discuss it and its predecessor Once a Witch with Carolyn who was kind enough to take the time to talk to me for a bit about both books.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Carolyn MacCullough (CM): I always wanted to be a writer, but a few other things got in the way first.  I attempted to be an actress–which meant waiting tables while going to a few auditions here and there before I realized that stage fright was just going to do me in anyway!  But, I was always telling stories, imagining stories, writing down snippets of stories until one day I applied to the MFA program in Creative Writing at The New School.  And that’s what got me to take writing more seriously…

MP: Always a Witch is your second novel about Tamsin and her Talented family. What was your inspiration for these books?

CM: Running.  Or my desire to be a runner (which I’m sadly not cut out for).  My then boyfriend (and now my husband) taught Kung Fu and in an effort to appear more athletic (because when you’re newly in love you want to impress the person you’re in love with) I decided to take up running.  I ran through brownstone Brooklyn–a truly beautiful place to go running (if you have to go running at all) and everyday I would pass this little stone gargoyle.  He seemed to be grinning at me–I think he understand I was just a poseur of a runner.  And I always wanted to know what stories he would tell if he could only talk.  Then  I started thinking about a character who had the power to make stone statues talk.  Then I started thinking about this character’s sister who didn’t have any power at all, but who had the misfortune to be born into a family of characters who all had some power or other.  And then I went home and started typing.  And I stopped running after that.

MP: Speaking of inspiration, Tamsin is a really unique name. How did you pick it? 

CM: I love picking character names!  The names (along with the characters themselves) just come to me and I think “of course.  That’s who you are,” when I hear them.

MP: Before Once a Witch (and now Always a Witch) you wrote three YA novels (Falling Through Darkness, Stealing Henry, and Drawing the Ocean) that are not fantasies. What was it like writing in a new genre? What was your favorite part of writing a fantasy?

CM: I loved reading fantasies when I was a kid (and still do) so I’m not sure why it took me so long to start writing in this genre.  I spent my whole childhood looking/wishing/hoping for magic in some way to happen to me so my favorite part of writing a fantasy is that you get to bend the rules of the ordinary.

MP: New York City plays an important role in both books with several real locations appearing in the story including Jefferson Market Library, Grand Central Terminal and Madison Square Park. How did you decide what locations to include?

CM: They were mostly the locations that I spent time in/around and know pretty well.  I also think they’re iconic and deserve places in as many books as possible.

MP: Tamsin spends a good part of Always a Witch back in 1887. Did you need to do a lot of research to get details right? 

CM: Yes and that was hard.  I agonized over what to include/not include/too much/too little.

MP: If you could have a Talent like the Greenes what would it be? (I’m partial to Gabriel’s Talent for finding things.) 

CM: I love Gabriel’s Talent, too since it seems really useful especially when you’re running late and can’t find your keys.  But I think I would choose the Talent of being able to control time–to freeze it and/or rewind it.  I need do-overs in life.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more of Tamsin and her family?

CM: Sadly, no.  Not at the moment anyway.  I’m working on another YA paranormal set in an ocean village.  And yes, it’s a romance, too!

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

CM: Read.  Read, read, read everything you can.  It’s the best education out there.  And it’s free!

Thanks again to Carolyn for this great interview and remember Always a Witch will be released August 1st so watch for it! (While you’re waiting for the release date, why not read my review?)

Always a Witch: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCulloughThe Greene family has always been very talented–magically Talented, that is. Except for Tamsin. Instead of a Talent she had a cryptic prophecy from her grandmother declaring that Tamsin would one day be a beacon for her entire family.

At least, that’s what she thought for the first seventeen years of her life.

Now she knows the truth about her Talent and her family’s past. Unfortunately so does Alistair Knight and he’s gone back to Victorian era New York to share what he knows with his ancestors and possibly destroy the Greene family forever.

With Alistair Traveling to the past, time is running out and Tamsin realizes she has no choice but to follow.  Alone in 1895 New York Tamsin soon finds herself disguised as a lady’s maid in the Knight mansion. She still has a crucial role to play in her family’s struggle with the Knights even if she isn’t sure what that role is yet. All she knows for sure is that it will involve a terrible sacrifice and, in the end, she may not have any choice at all in Always a Witch (2011) by Carolyn MacCullough.

Always a Witch is the sequel to MacCullough’s delightful novel Once a Witch.

As some regular readers might already know, Carolyn MacCullough is one of my favorite authors of all time and also an author I was lucky enough to meet a while back which remains one of the high points of . . . my life. All sounds like tangential information unless you got to see a galley of Always a Witch.

On the covers of the advanced reader copies (and in the image attached to this post) part of my review of Once a Witch was quoted. There are a lot of reasons for any reader to love this book but for me a lot of that love is wrapped up in MacCullough being one of my favorite authors and also my excitement at being quoted on the galleys* and being so fond of these characters.

In other words, I’m delighted my words got to endorse this book, however briefly. (The quote didn’t make it to the final cover but I’ll always have the galleys.)

Once a Witch was a clever urban fantasy with an original take on magic as well as a fast-paced, funny and entertaining story. It was a delightful introduction to Tamsin and her world. Always a Witch is just as good as the first–maybe even better. Definitely good enough that I finished it in one day.

Family is still a central element of this book, as it should be when the family is as splendid as the Greenes, but there is a lot more to this story with the extended time travel and Tamsin’s choice looming throughout the narrative.

As a sequel there is always the risk of summarizing too little or explaining too much. MacCullough strikes a perfect balance of summary and new material here. The inimitable Gabriel also returns along with other favorite characters. Tamsin’s same fierce love for her family permeates these pages.

Always a Witch is a great fantasy with a well-realized look at old New York besides. Tamsin is one of my favorite heroines with her strength, resilience and general charm. Like Once a Witch before it, this book is a wonderful story about family and love and, yes, about magic too.

*I’ve had to sit on this information since December because the pub date was so far away. I also wasn’t sure if the cover was finalized yet–I first saw it on a galley when a colleague pointed it out–and it’s been absolute torture waiting to share this big news with you, dear readers. The news is slightly less big since the quote isn’t on the final cover but I decided to mention it anyway because the quote was such a big part of my experience with this book.

You can also read my exclusive interview with Carolyn MacCullough!

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, White Cat by Holly Black, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Pivot Point by Kasie West

Exclusive Bonus Content: Let’s take a moment to consider the titles together. See where I’m going here?

Brightly Woven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Brightly Woven by Alexandra BrackenThe day the rains finally come to Cliffton, Sydelle Mirabil doesn’t know her life is about to change. She has no idea foreign soldiers are preparing to invade her small village. She doesn’t know that her country is on the precipice of war. She certainly don’t know anything about wizards.

All of that changes with the rain.

Wayland North does know all of those things. When the town offers the young wizard a reward for bringing the much-needed rains he also knows exactly what he needs: the young weaver named Sydelle.

Sydelle has no choice but to accompany the wizard on his long journey to the capital. Much as she detests being tied to him she knows they have to get to the capital if the war is to be avoided. Plagued by foul weather, Sydelle’s temper and North’s black mood, the trip is not easy. Wayward wizards and dangerous secrets threaten to derail their journey long before they reach the capital.

As the pair make their way across the country Sydelle begins to understand there may be more to North than his vague statements and mercurial temperament. There might even be more to Sydelle herself. Like any good weaving, it is going to take Sydelle many layers to see the full picture in Brightly Woven (2010) by Alexandra Bracken.

Find the graphic novel adaptation on Bookshop.

Brightly Woven is Bracken’s first novel.

While the story could have used slightly more resolution in some areas, Bracken has created an appealing fantasy here. Sydelle’s narration is lyrical and Wayland North is one charming mess of a wizard. In a story where the two main characters are mostly crossing varied terrain, Bracken’s ability to build drama and maintain tension is impressive.

Without giving away too much, the weaving aspect of the story added a nice dimension to the story. The combination of textiles and magic makes the premise of the story unique. Sydelle’s focus on weaving also fleshed out her character and only helped to enhance the narrative.

Brightly Woven has everything readers hope to find in a traditional fantasy. Beautifully written, this novel evokes not only the physical landscape of Sydelle’s world but the culture as well. Sydelle and North are wonderfully rendered characters that are dimensional, funny and completely captivating. In other words Brightly Woven is absolutely a must read for fantasy lovers and Bracken herself is definitely an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Reader by Traci Chee, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, Warped by Maurissa Guibord, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

*This book was acquired at BEA 2011

Exclusive Bonus Content: Aside from being my favorite publisher at BEA, Egmont also has some really amazing covers, like this one here. I’m completely in love with it. I also am thrilled at how well it captures Sydelle and how many elements of the story are represented here.

Demonglass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

**This review (and the book itself) contains MAJOR spoilers for Hex Hall. You have been warned.**

Demonglass by Rachel HawkinsSophie Mercer’s first year at Hex Hall is almost over and in those months everything she thought she knew was turned upside down. Now Sophie knows the truth about herself (turns out she isn’t a dark witch but a demon), her crush (undercover agent of The Eye–a group determined to kill all Prodigium including witches, shifters, fairies, and definitely demons), and the dangerous nature of her powers (being a demon could lead to, well, killing people).

All of which just convinces Sophie that she needs to go to London for the Removal, a dangerous procedure that can strip Sophie of her powers–if it doesn’t kill her.

Traveling to London with her estranged father (and head of the Council in charge of all things magic including the Removal) Sophie finally realizes knowing the truth doesn’t mean she knows everything. Turns out there’s a lot more to her family and her powers than she thought.

As if Sophie’s plate isn’t full enough she also discovers other demons in London, learns more about her crush (the one that might want to kill her), and discovers there might be more to Hex Hall’s stoic caretaker Cal than she gave him credit for. With or without the Removal Sophie’s summer is sure to be exciting (but hopefully not deadly) in Demonglass (2011) by Rachel Hawkins.

Demonglass is the sequel to Hawkin’s first novel Hex Hall.

If Hex Hall was a funny, exciting, fantasy with strong heroine then Demonglass is all of that but more.

Readers will find the same breezy narration and action-packed story along with the characters they loved from Sophie’s first adventure. At the same time Hawkins does a wonderful job expanding Sophie’s world and building on the events of the first book to create a new and original plot here. Sophie’s relationship with her father is also handled in a realistic way helping to make him a well-realized character who adds a lot to the story. Speaking of great characters, as a fan of Cal from the very beginning, I am also happy to report that he features more prominently in this installment to great effect.*

Sophie continues to be a great heroine with her sharp blend of sarcastic humor, bravery and a basic authenticity about her. Really, my only regret about this book is that it ends with the most epic cliffhanger I’ve seen since Catching Fire. Luckily the final installment in Sophie’s trilogy is slated for a 2012 release.

*Cal is now officially a part of the very exclusive Literary Guys I Wish Were Real Club.

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

Moonglass: A Review

“I read once that water is a symbol for emotions. And for a while now I’ve thought maybe my mother drowned in both.”

Moonglass by Jessi KirbyTen years ago Anna watched her mother walk into the ocean without a second thought about anything–even her own daughter.

Now instead of starting her Junior year at home surrounded by familiar faces and memories, Anna is moving with her father to a new town and a new beach. Except, the beach cottage isn’t as fresh a start as Anna thought.

Sure, Anna does get a fresh start here with the cute lifeguards her father has declared off limits, runs along the beach, and even some new friends. But she is also surrounded by old ghosts and the weight of blame from her mother’s suicide still looms large between Anna and her father.

In a new town, with new people, Anna still hunts for sea glass on the beach–just like she did with her mother. The only differences is this time Anna might find a way to move on mixed in with those colorful pieces of sea-tumbled glass in Moonglass (2011) by Jessi Kirby.

Moonglass is Kirby’s first novel.

Anna is an excellent narrator. She loves the beach, she is athletic and above all she is ultimately real. Parts of the story felt almost too surreal but by the end of the story it all tied together in a way that worked for the characters and the plot. Kirby does an admirable job looking at loss and the often uncomfortable topic of guilt. All of the characters have a certain dignity about them and, by the end, they also have a bit of closure.

At 224 pages (hardcover), Moonglass is quite short compared to some books. The brevity allows Kirby to create a tight story that holds a reader’s attention even in a book that is much more about characters than plot in a lot of ways. Unfortunately it also does not leave time to expand certain areas including an almost abrupt (and definitely wide open) ending and backgrounds for some secondary characters.

Kirby’s writing is reminiscent of the evocative, subtle voice Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti use to such great effect. Her atmospheric writing brings the beach to life. Moonglass is a great, summery read with a lot of substance besides. Kirby is definitely an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Exclusive Bonus Content: This is more of a buyer beware. I got a copy of this book for review through Amazon and was enjoying it when, much to my dismay, I reached the halfway point and found half a page torn out. So, you know, don’t forget to make sure all of a the book is actually in the book before you start reading it!