The end of the world or at least the end of an era (also a request for feedback)

For the past two years I have been using Maple the Palm Pre as my cell phone–quite happily I might add. At first it was necessity because the Pre line of phones were the only ones that I knew would work with my computer that were also available from my cell phone service provider.

Over time, it was going to become a conscious choices as I liked my Pre phone and had no desperate need to get an iphone. At least, I didn’t until a week ago. You see, my phone line has been discontinued and is no longer supported which leaves me little choice but to cut my losses and move on with my next phone upgrade. After years of avoiding them, it seems that an iPhone is in my future.

So, now that my choice of phone is up in the air I’m thinking about all of the things that I was taking at face value here on the blog.

In other words: I want to re-organize some things but I want YOUR feedback, dear readers, since you’re the ones who use that part of the blog.

First my Review Index is in need of reorganizing. The plan is to either organize it by the author’s last name OR by the first letter of the title. The question, then, becomes which is preferable.

Similarly, I’m planning on adding tags to my blog posts (after four years of blogging). Now, here’s the thing: Retroactively tagging all of my posts is huge undertaking so I want to be sure that someone (besides me) will think it’s helpful and I want to know what tags you, as a reader, think would help you. Title, author, publication year? Key themes? Category (book review, graphic novel, etc). Other things?

Hopefully, you can tell me and I can get these reorganization plans rolling.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorBlack hand-prints are appearing on doors all over the world, burned there as if by magic by strange soldiers with winged shadows.

In a dark shop that exists outside the realm of conventional doors, a Devil’s supply of teeth is growing dangerously low.

And on the streets of Prague an art student named Karou is about to learn the real cost of a wish and all of the secrets of her murky past–more, perhaps, than she wants to know in Daughter of Smoke and Bone (2011) by Laini Taylor.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first book in a trilogy (which is lucky since the book actually ends with “to be continued”). It also has a pretty website with information about the book, the characters and the world.

Broken into four parts, this book has an interesting structure. Each section begins with a short phrase that almost tells readers what to expect even if what follows is never exactly what was expected. For instance, the book begins with “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love, it did not end well.” Yet the story still entices and much remains to be revealed before the novel is over.

The world Taylor creates in Daughter of Smoke and Bone is stunning in both its scope and its execution. In addition to evoking Karou’s mystical life in Prague complete with a church that serves goulash on coffin tables, Taylor weaves an intricate story of angels and devils replete with history, myths and one very bloody war.

Taylor artfully tells at least three stories in this one book as the focus shifts between angels and devils, Karou’s present, and the near past. Though names and details come very fast in the beginning the density of the story eventually lessens as events resolve themselves into one clear, related narrative. At least until the shocking conclusion that leaves things up in the air in a very literal sense until the next book is available.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a delightfully original addition to the ever-growing world of literature about angels (and devils) and a fine example of what the landscape of a fantasy should look like. A must read for fans of urban fantasy and high fantasy alike.

Possible Pairings: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Beautiful and the Cursed by Paige Morgan, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Exclusive Bonus Content: I read this book back to back with another fantasy. Usually that’s not a problem for me except that this other fantasy was The Girl of Fire and Thorns which, you will agree, has a very similar title. So now I have to really think before saying either title lest I conflate the two.

Naming my iPod: An Update

Last month I issued a request for a new name for my iPod after I decided its current name had negative energy or, possibly, was cursed. Several admirable suggestions were posted including Elroy, Magnus and Hilda.

That said, I knew I had specific criteria that had to be met. Since my iPod is pink a female name seemed like the obvious choice. Being a book blogger it also seemed right to have the name have some bookish connection. I was trying to decide if I could really name an iPod Hilda when Bad Pants made an obvious observation:

Based on our last blog-comment conversation, I would suggest Nick or Nora based entirely on the book and the iPod’s ability to create an “infinite playlist.”

And with that comment, a decision was made.

Ultimately I didn’t name my iPod Nick or Norah but Bad Pants made me think about Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and a fun fact about the book. Cohn and Levithan came up with the names from Nick and Norah Charles–the famous detective couple from The Thin Man movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

I LOVE those movies. Nick and Norah are the personification of glamour and smarts as they solve crimes in fancy clothes with an assortment of cocktails along the way.

William Powell is brilliant and charming while Myrna Loy, aside from being incredibly beautiful, is a perfect foil for Powell in every possible way. Really, I cannot overstate the joy these movies bring me when I watch them. I strongly urge you all to get the DVD from your library or check your local TCM listings for when one of the movies will next air.

Thinking about all of that, I knew that my new iPod had to be called Myrna–no other name would do.

So far Myrna and I are getting along quite nicely. I anticipate a long, lively friendship even if we do not end up solving any murders or drinking any cocktails (although there will surely be some fancy clothes).

The Girl of Fire and Thorns: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae CarsonSixteen-year-old Elisa barely feels like a princess, much less the latest bearer of a Godstone–a sacred and powerful stone in her navel that marks Elisa as one chosen for a specific and probably dangerous act of Service. Her graceful, clever sister would make a much better bearer, she is certainly the better princess.

Why is it, then, that Elisa is the one being whisked off in a secret wedding to a neighboring king?

Caught up in the intricacies of noble life, secretly married to a man she barely knows, Elisa soon finds herself at the center of a revolution that will change her world forever in The Girl of Fire and Thorns (2011) by Rae Carson.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is Carson’s first novel. It is also the first in a trilogy.

Carson has created a rich, vibrant world with a complex history and an even better realized faith system. With its desert climate and Spanish influences, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is an original fantasy with a climate, culture and background not often seen in traditional fantasies.

Elisa is a fiery and astute heroine who, throughout the course of the book, learns that it takes more than outward appearances to create a strong leader as Elisa moves from a privileged princess to fierce fighter.*

While the story starts in the vein of palace intrigue and court politics, the focus soon changes almost abruptly to a more action-packed journey through a harsh desert landscape as Elisa helps turn a rag tag group of refugees into revolutionaries. Then, again somewhat abruptly, the last third of the book shifts again to court politics. Aside from the sharp changes in focus, Carson rains down twists and turns galore.**

While Elisa is not always the cleverest with clues, especially later in the novel, she is a fun heroine who is grounded and very authentic throughout her journey. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is an original fantasy that will appeal to anyone looking for a pure fantasy in a unique, well-realized world.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Nemesis by Anna Banks, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner, Fable by Adrienne Young

*I didn’t love the correlation between Elisa losing wait and gaining confidence. Her journey was great and realistic but it bugged me that she only really came into herself when she slimmed down though I might be reading too much into the whole thing. Either way, that issue does little to detract from Elisa’s numerous positive qualities as a heroine.

**This includes the treatment of some secondary characters. While some got a very cursory treatment–to the point that I wondered about their presence in the story–others were very well-developed to the point that one can only hope they will play a more prominent role in later books.

After Obsession: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

After Obsession by Carrie Jones & Steven E. WedelAs soon as Alan arrives in town, he knows something isn’t right even if he can’t quite place what. He knows from his dreams with his spirit animal that it involves a dark force. And a girl with bright red hair.

Aimee’s friends call her Red because of her hair. She notices Alan right away, even with her boyfriend, it’s hard not to when he’s so tall and good looking. And he’s also the guy she’s been seeing in her creepy vision-dreams for the past few weeks.

Their connection is immediate, but Alan and Aimee have a lot to do before they can think about anything as simple as a relationship. Courtney–Alan’s cousin and Aimee’s best friend–has been acting strangely. Like, something else is controlling her strange.

There are four stages to any possession: Invitation. Infestation. Obsession. You can probably guess what comes after. Aimee and Alan have to save Courtney before that, and together they might just manage it. They kind of have to, because after obsession there is no turning back. For anyone in After Obsession (2011) by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel.

After Obsession was written in collaboration with alternation chapters where Jones wrote Aimee’s narration while Wedel wrote Alan’s.

Aside from a catchy title, After Obsession has a clever premise that is straightforward and wastes no time getting to the crux of the story. Aimee and Alan are clever narrators with their chemistry and unique abilities.

Jones and Wedel play fast and loose with supernatural elements here generally to good effect. Aimee has visions and can heal people (which no one at all seems to find odd). Alan is half Navajo and has a spirit guide and is a spirit warrior (and also apparently completely embraces a culture he knows little about outside of Internet research because his father was Navajo even though he never met his father and doesn’t even know his father’s name for certain).

If you can get past those issues, After Obsession is a fun, breezy read with suspense, excitement and romance.

After Obsession is currently a standalone novel, which is fine except for the end of the book when things start happening really fast and a lot of plot threads are not fully explained or resolved. With so much left up in the air After Obsession felt more like a first installment than a complete novel albeit an entertaining read either way.

Possible Pairings: Swoon by Nina Malkin, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, The Game of Triumphs by Laura Powell, Misfit by Jon Skovron, Between by Jessica Warman

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2011

Summertime and the Reading is Easy: A Book List

School might be starting and summer might be fading but with these books you can hold out to that summery feeling any time of year.

  • Clarity by Kim Harrington: Everyone in town knows Clarity Fern’s family is uniquely “gifted” and that Clare is a psychic. But when a tourist turns up murdered, no one expects Clare to be key to the investigation anymore than they expect her older brother to be a suspect.
  • Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson: Clio has the perfect summer planned. Too bad no one told her father. Instead of a perfect summer romance Clio ends up with . . . well she isn’t sure yet except that it involves her being on a boat with her father, an incredibly annoying assistant and her father’s new flame. Oh and maybe treasure.
  • A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley: Charlie Duskin lives and breathes music. Rose Butler is mad about science and she wants out of her nowhere town so much that it hurts. Charlie and Rose have nothing in common but by the end of the summer they might help each other get everything they’ve been longing for.
  • Sea Change by Aimee Friedman: Many are drawn to Selkie Island. Few know why. All Miranda Merchant knows is that the island, and the boy she meets there, are different. Miranda will have to sort through the facts, and the myths, to find the truth and maybe even her own happy ending.
  • The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti: Quinn has grown up in the shadow of bad relationships. Quinn already knew that her father wasn’t perfect. Charming, witty, fun Barry can also be selfish, irresponsible and vindictive. When she realizes that Barry has amassed trophies from every one of his ex-girlfriends, Quinn knows she has to take action.

This is only half of the list. For the other half, head over to The Book Bandit’s Blog.

Author Interview: Gabrielle Zevin on All These Things I’ve Done

Gabrielle Zevin is the author of several books including Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac as well as the screenplay for Conversations With Other Women. Her latest book, All These Things I’ve Done came out earlier this week (September 6, 2011). In addition to being a catchy, clever twist on dystopian futures and organized crime, All These Things I’ve Done was one of my favorite reads this summer. I’m delighted that Gabrielle was able to fit an interview into her schedule to answer some questions about this latest novel.

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

Gabrielle Zevin (GZ): I was an avid reader who became a writer because it turned out I had an aptitude for both lying and solitude. In terms of my career… I think I got to this point through willful self-delusion and lots of caffeine. Seriously though, there’s much discussion about the end of conventional publishers in the wake of e-books. I can honestly say that I probably wouldn’t be a writer if there hadn’t been conventional publishers when I was starting. I learned my craft by working with professionals at the top level who knew more than me about everything from content to design to promotion. Some writers, by the way, have no gift for self-promotion, but they still write beautiful and worthy books. In fact,  it could be said that the kind of introspection it takes to write a really original novel can be in direct opposition to the ability to self-promote. My point is, I’m lucky that I came up when I did. I’ve had a lot of support. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to publish a book.

MP: All These Things I’ve Done is your third young adult novel. You have also written two novels that were marketed to adults as well as the screenplay for Conversations With Other Women. What is it like writing for these different audiences/formats? Does your writing process change in these different areas?

GZ: I suspect I would have quit writing a long time ago if I hadn’t been able to move around among genres, kinds of characters, styles of writing. There’s nothing as creatively freeing as trying something you haven’t done before. In terms of process? It is just as difficult and painful to write a young adult novel, a screenplay, or a “serious” work of literary fiction. (I’ve never read anything as absurd as that piece in Slate.)

MP: What was the inspiration for All These Things I’ve Done?

GZ: I’ve always loved organized crime stories — despite the fact that the women characters are usually wive or hookers — and I wanted to tell one where the girl tries to rise to the power.

MP: All These Things I’ve Done is the first book in a series. Do you have a set arc for Anya’s story or know how many books will be in the series?

GZ: I absolutely have a set arc. Anya is going to grow up and go through so much and travel to so many places, I’m kind of dying for readers to get to the next book. (The one thing I want readers to know is that sometimes when a boy looks too good to be true, it’s because he is. And, for the record, most of us don’t end up marrying the boy we loved in high school.)

There’s going to be four books. I know that some places say three, but I’ve always planned for four.

MP: The book is set in 2083 and a lot of things are scarce (like paper) and some are illegal (most notably chocolate and coffee). Did you always know chocolate would play such a big part in the story? What is your favorite kind of chocolate or coffee?

GZ: I chose chocolate very early on. I’d watched the documentary Food Inc., and after seeing it,  I’d gotten kind of obsessed with the business of food — i.e., the extent to which large corporations play a role in what we consume. Chocolate appealed to me because, as it turns out, cacao is a fascinating  crop. It’s extremely difficult to grow, and really only thrives in a handful of places around the world. The Mayans believed cacao had healing properties and even used it as currency. The DSM doesn’t go so far as to classify it as a drug, but they do note that it is one of the few foods that people experience withdrawal-like symptoms from. I also found it interesting the way chocolate is packaged with a cacao percentage on the label, not unlike the way alcohol is packaged with a proof number.

The weird thing is, I’m not the biggest chocolate person. I’ve grown an appreciation for it from all the research I did for the book, but I don’t crave it and I could live without it. (If it was a society that banned bread, I’d be a lot more upset!) I once read an interview with Ralph Fiennes (who plays Voldemort) in which they asked him if he was a big Harry Potter Fan. He replied that he wasn’t, but that the man who played Voldemort probably shouldn’t be. I guess it’s like that for me and chocolate. I do love coffee however — I’m an espresso girl. Don’t know how to write a book without it.

MP: How did you approach writing a story about such distinct future? Did your vision for Anya’s New York start with a specific place or aspect?

GZ: My approach was to not write the future like it was the future. Because if you are a person living in the future, you’re not thinking how amazing and odd everything is, and you’re not going to explain the world as if the reader is living in the past. I absolutely didn’t put anything in the book that didn’t come plausibly through Anya’s point of view. Anya is not a history teacher or a political scientist, and her knowledge of how the world works is pretty shallow in a way, especially in the first book.

I’ve lived in New York City most of my life, but this is the first novel I’ve set there. So writing the world was easy, or as easy as these things ever are. I just imagined what would happen if the economy never picked up, if we stopped funding the arts and the parks, and if everything got a little worse each year, instead of a little better. I think it might have started with a docent at Metropolitan telling me that I should give more than the suggested ticket price, because the museum needed it. Despite how bad the economy was/is, I really had never thought than institution like the Metropolitan Museum of Art would ever be in jeopardy. But you start looking into it and things are bad everywhere, and especially for the things that are considered non-essentials like, you know, culture.

MP: One of the things that I really enjoyed about All These Things I’ve Done is that it is set in New York City—albeit a New York of the future where a lot of things are different. How did you decide what details to include in Anya’s version of the city? Are you particularly fond of any details? (I was especially struck by Little Egypt and Liberty Island.)

GZ: As I mentioned, I only included details that were absolutely relevant to Anya’s point-of-view. Anya really won’t tell you anything that doesn’t concern her. Beyond that, I guess I probably chose the places I thought I’d miss the most if they weren’t there any longer. Little Egypt definitely came from that museum trip. Liberty Children’s began from a news story I read about the cost of maintaining the Statue of Liberty.

In terms of favorites? The New York Public Library (referred to as The Lion’s Den) makes a very brief appear in the book, but it ends up being extremely important in the series.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

GZ: I’m finished with the sequel, which right now is called All the Kingdoms of the World. I’m writing a screenplay, an adaptation of a book (not by me). And I’m seriously flirting with writing a middle grade novel.

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

GZ: Be ruthless with yourself. Be kind to other writers. Remember that books do occasionally have  goals besides making you “like” them. (In fact, I’d argue that the books you truly hate can be better writing teachers than the ones you love.) Finally, invest in a good chair.

You can also read my review of All These Things I’ve Done

All These Things I’ve Done: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle ZevinAnya Balanchine lives in a world where chocolate is illegal, water is scarce and New York City is a ghost of what it once was. Central Park is no longer a park. The Metropolitan Museum is a night club.

Anya’s life has been touched by tragedy, if not hardship, as the daughter of an infamous (and dead) crime boss. With her parents gone, it falls to Anya to take care of her siblings and protect them from the family business.

But when the family business is illegal chocolate, it’s hard to stay on the sidelines–especially when the new boy at school that you might like happens to be the son of the new assistant district attorney. Suddenly all of the decisions Anya has been avoiding need to be made and this time it might not be possible to keep everyone safe.

In a world where so much has changed and family means everything, falling in love could be deadly in All These Things I’ve Done (2011) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Find it on Bookshop.

All These Things I’ve Done is the dynamic start to Zevin’s Birthright series–happily so since this book leaves readers who are looking for dystopians, noir stories, and even heist stories like White Cat or Heist Society wanting a lot more.

Although the story is  little gory and gritty at times (and maybe even a little bleak thinking about a world where the Met is a nightclub and paper is a thing of the past) Zevin still manages to imbue Anya’s narrative with hope. Throughout all of her travails, Anya manages to persevere. Even at her most ruthless and pragmatic Anya remains a completely sympathetic heroine. Zevin also cleverly reverses typical tropes casting Anya as the hero while her boyfriend stands in as the “damsel in distress” of this story.

The writing here is beautiful and frank, immediately evoking the strange new world Anya calls home complete with details specific to New York and a remarkably well-realized landscape. All These Things I’ve Done presents a taut story filled with tension and suspense that starts off what promises to be a remarkable series.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

You can also read my exclusive interview with Gabrielle Zevin!

*A copy of this book was acquired for review from the publisher*

Blog Book Giveaway: All These Things I’ve Done[CLOSED]

I’m really excited to have the opportunity to host a giveaway for one of my new favorite books this week.

All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin is the first book in an exciting new series and was one of my favorite reads last month. (You can check out my review and my interview with Gabrielle Zevin later this week on the blog.)

You can view the rather nifty trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ym0meJp1wIU

Thanks to the publisher I also get to host a giveaway for ONE copy of All These Things I’ve Done

**THIS GIVEAWAY IS OPEN TO THE US AND CANADA**

TO ENTER: Leave a comment below (with a valid email in the email form field) telling me your favorite type of chocolate or coffee drink.

This giveaway will run until September 16, 2011 when a winner will be selected via random number generator with the help of Maple the Palm Pre Plus.

IMPORTANT THINGS: I am hosting this giveaway but the book will not be mailed by me. If I do not hear from the winner by September 17, 2011 I will pick a new winner.

Wisdom’s Kiss: A Review

Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert MurdockPrincess Wisdom, known as Dizzy, does not much care for the staid and boring life of a princess. Tips does care much for the life a miller’s son with his brutish brothers in their small bucolic town. Fortitude, more often Trudy, could be perfectly content if only her foresight would let her.

When these three souls venture out to seek their fortunes their lives entwine in unexpected ways that could save the kingdom. Or bring it to ruins. With the help of a singular cat, Dizzy’s cunning grandmother, and just a tiny bit of magic everyone might get everything they never knew they always wanted in Wisdom’s Kiss (2011) by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

Wisdom’s Kiss is an epistolary novel or sorts. Chapters alternate between play scenes, encyclopedia entries, excerpts from memoirs, diary entries and even letters (with cross-outs, misspellings and all).

Writing a novel in letters is a tricky thing. It offers the option to include many different writing styles as well as a variety of viewpoints. Sometimes it can also create a distance between the readers and the characters as the book  never, really, lets readers see the inner emotions of the characters. Such is the case here.

While Trudy and Ben were delightful characters with engaging storylines, it was very difficult to connect with Dizzy or Tips who are largely selfish and impulsive throughout the novel. Given the direction of the plot it was particularly frustrating to watch these two take the leading roles in the story. Other aspects of the book also seemed to enter the narrative far too late while also being abrupt–at which point Trudy really became the saving grace of the whole plot.

Wisdom’s Kiss is still a clever story with many fun twists on fairy tale characters (including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and a certain boot-wearing feline) that will appeal to fans of fractured fairytales and retellings alike.

Possible Pairings: Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock*, The Game of Triumphs by Laura Powell, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patrica C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

*Wisdom’s Kiss is a companion/follow-up to Princess Ben. Dizzy’s grandmother in Wisdom’s Kiss is the protagonist of Princess Ben which is about Ben’s own youth.