Eleven for 2011

2011 was a big year for me and the blog–lots of changes and lots of new milestones. I started posting author interviews, I was quoted on a real live book, the blog turned four. I even started tagging my posts! Since I really enjoyed sharing my top books from 2010 (and since it seemed like a fitting way to close out the year on the blog) I give you my eleven favorite books from 2011:

  1. The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta: This was one of my most anticipated books for 2011. Aside from being by Melina Marchetta–it’s a companion to one of my all-time favorite books Saving Francesca. Given its spot on this list, you can probably guess that it lived up to my high expectations.
  2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Maggie Stiefvater is one of the most personable authors I’ve ever encountered at a signing. When I got a copy of this book at BEA all I really knew was that everyone was excited about it and there were horses. But it’s so much more that than. A truly charming fantasy that fans of Diana Wynne Jones would do well to pick up.
  3. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell: Judy Blundell’s books are magic with their blend of noir, historical detail and New York City atmosphere. In addition to having one of my favorite covers, it also has my favorite last line of 2011.
  4. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld: If you read this blog regularly, you probably know my love for steampunk already. I loved Westerfeld’s books before this series but this wonderful conclusion to the Leviathan trilogy clinched it’s spot as my favorite of his series. Definitely my most-loved sequel this year.
  5. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter: After The Piper’s Son, this book might have been my most anticipated 2011 release. It also played a huge role in getting me and Nicole over to Book Expo America for the first time. Sleek and smart, this book reminded me why Carter’s Heist Society books are my favorite ongoing series.
  6. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: (I didn’t want to put one author on this list twice but I should say that The Last Little Blue Envelope also garnered an honorable mention for being a sequel I loved more than the original book.) Eerie, suspenseful, funny and witty this book really showed Maureen Johnson at the top of her game. Also, it had Stephen–best character EVER.
  7. Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough: This book was a big part of my year as I was quoted on the galley copies (very exciting!). I love all of MacCullough’s books but this one combined a lot of most beloved elements with magic, time travel, history and New York City all in one slim volume full of fun.
  8. All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin: A clever take on fantasy in a dystopian setting complete with illegal chocolate. The whole book felt so real and evocative with characters that stay with you–I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.
  9. Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel: Zombies, steampunk, action, and romance! What more do you need for a fun, clever read?
  10. So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti: I feel like my summer was closely tied to this book as Nicole and I kept running into Ms. Colasanti at numerous signings and events promoting this book. Set in my own neighborhood, this romantic story was as much fun to read for the settings as it was for the characters and the story.
  11. Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg: Who doesn’t love Pride and Prejudice? This delightful retelling stays true to the original while adding fun twists to make it modern and unique. In addition to being my first Eulberg book, seeing Ms. Eulberg read from this one confirmed that I really, really want Elizabeth Eulberg to be my BFF.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan: Somehow it wouldn’t feel right to publish this post without mentioning this book as it was another highly anticipated book. (Not to mention that I finally got to see SRB at a signing!)
  • Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: This will probably be the last book I read in 2011 and is part of my other favorite steampunk series (besides Leviathan). I haven’t reviewed it yet but it’s awesome so far!

I limited myself to books I read in 2011 that were published in 2011–but there were a lot of other great ones. There were actually a lot just from 2011 but I committed to eleven books so eleven books is all you get, dear readers.

Here’s to another year of great things for all of us and, of course, great books too in 2012!

Under the Never Sky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Under the Never Sky by Veronica RossiAria has lived most of her life in the Realms, a virtual environment designed to offer every comfort and luxury with just a thought. No pain, no fear. Just fun. Why waste time in the real world when the Realms are so much better than real?

All of that changes when her mother goes missing. Soon after, Aria’s world changes forever. Exiled from her comfortable home, Aria is thrown into the wilderness with little hope of survival–the outside world is called the Death Shop for a reason.

When Peregrine, an Outsider, finds Aria wandering in the desert he knows she will be nothing but trouble and he certainly already has his share. But somehow Aria is also his only hope of atoning for the horrible mistakes he’s made.

Aria is less than thrilled to be working with a Savage. Perry has little use for a pampered Mole. But if either of them ever want to get home this unlikely pair will have to work together–an alliance that will change everything in Under the Never Sky (2012) by Veronica Rossi.

Under the Never Sky is Rossi’s first novel. It is also the first in a trilogy.

This book is an unexpected blend of science fiction and fantasy complete with a Dystopian setting.* These elements do not always blend well, particularly in the beginning when the main characters are separated. Told in chapters alternating between Aria and Perry’s points of view, the story picks up when the characters meet and the disparate elements (and storylines) have a chance to gel.

Perry and Aria similarly come into their own as the novel progresses as they move from less-interesting, naive characters to more fully developed protagonists. The romantic aspect of the story also moves along a natural progression and is quite fun to follow.

Rossi creates an interesting world with some unique elements but little explanation in the way of world building or history.** A lot of ideas or events are referenced but little to no explanation is given. Similarly characters are mentioned, repeatedly, over the course of the story only to have literally no role in the story.*** That said, what is presented in Under the Never Sky is an original premise that will appeal to readers or pure fantasy and straight science fiction alike.

*I say unexpected because the jacket copy makes no mention of the “Realms” aspect of the world making the story read more like straight fantasy when really there are a lot of science fiction elements as well.

**Being a trilogy perhaps this information will eventually come together in bits and pieces throughout the series.

***Will they turn up in book two or three? Time will tell.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Roar by Cora Carmack, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Unison Spark by Andy Marino, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Extras by Scott Westerfeld, Lotus and Thorn by Sara Wilson Etienne

You can quote me on that: In which I am quoted on a book

A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley was one of my favorite books from 2010.

It’s also a special part of 2011 for me as I’m quoted in the paperback edition. More specifically, my original review of the book (found here and on my NYPL blog) is quoted on the “praise for” page of the new paperback edition.

More information about the edition (and my quote) can be found on my website if you want all the details.

Here’s a picture of the full page:


And a close-up of my quote:

Suffice to say, I’m very excited!

Tour de Christmas 2011: In which I share photos (and videos!) of NYC Holiday displays

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year. Today, Christmas Eve, is arguably one of my favorite days of the entire year including other holidays and my own birthday (Christmas day is probably my favorite). One of the best things about the holiday season is spreading good cheer and giving gifts.

In the spirit of giving, I have some fun things to share in this blog post.

Earlier this month my friend Nicole (AKA The Book Bandit) and I took a day to look at what I deemed all of the noteworthy holiday trees and window displays to be had in Manhattan. There were multiple modes of transportation, maps, and itineraries involved but the end result was a really fun slice of holiday cheer in something I’m calling the Tour de Christmas. I fully expect to make the Tour de Christmas an annual part of my holiday activity.

And, now, I also plan on sharing some of the fun with you, dear readers.

To begin the Tour we first had to get to 81st Street.

American Museum of Natural History: Origami Tree

After a trip through the maze-like lower level and first floor of the museum, Nicole and I found the giant canoe that shares space with the museum’s origami tree during the holiday season. The tree is filled with origami animals every year (previously it had just been cranes but this year there was a whole assortment of animals and even key pieces from museum exhibits).

Even the base of the tree had some fun origami art:

An important part of the Tour de Christmas is documenting the sights as well as posing with them.

After leaving the Museum of Natural History we moved crosstown through Central Park to

The Metropolitan Museum: Angel Tree

The Met’s tree is enormous and has point of place in the museum’s Renaissance Wing for the entire holiday. The tree is well-known for its beautiful 18th Century angel ornaments as well as the creche that surrounds the base of the tree.

Because the tree is in a section of the museum that is always kept dark to preserve the historic items on display (and perhaps because much of the Met’s gift shop items around this time of year document the tree), photography is not allowed. I, however, may or may not have very carefully ignored that rule to take a very quick shot of the tree with my iPhone.

Upon leaving the Met this year’s Tour was a straight shot down Fifth Avenue.

FAO Schwarz: Fifth Avenue at 58th Street

FAO is fun most times of year but they did have a special Lionel Train display set up for Christmas:

Conveniently located directly across the street from FAO is Bergdorf Goodman.

Bergdorf Goodman: Fifth Avenue at 58th Street

While I have never stepped inside Bergdorf, I make it a point to check out their holiday windows annually. Every year the store has a different theme and creates stunning, artistic windows in the spirit of that theme. This year’s theme was Carnival of the Animals. I took about a million pictures of theses windows because they were all so fantastic but here are some of my favorites:

This one (above) was made entirely of paper and features a Boston Terrier in the lower left.

I really loved both of their “all white” windows this year.

This one (above) has lots of metal items. It felt very steampunk to me with the flapper-esque mannequin and coppery tones.

One of Bergdorf’s last window’s didn’t relate directly to the others (sometimes with smaller or sides street windows the store does something slightly different). I’d be hardpressed to pick any one as my favorite but I really enjoyed this tall lady and her giraffe:

Originally Bergdorf was the last stop until Rockefeller Center at 50th Street. But then something caught our eyes across the street.

Tiffany & Co: Fifth Avenue at 57th Street

Although the actual windows were tiny, Tiffany went all out with a carousel theme in their windows that even extended to the exterior of the store. Inside each carousel-like marquis was a window display (several of which were animated) bordered with mirrors.

If you are so inclined, you can also watch my recording of the Tiffany windows to see what they look like animated. (This adventure was my first ever experiment with making and editing videos so you’ve been warned!)

After Tiffany’s it was a quick trip down Fifth Avenue, past the Cartier building wrapped up in its famous bow, to get to our next stop.

Rockefeller Center: Fifth Avenue at 50th Street

We took about a million pictures of New York’s most famous tree because it was really exciting to be there aside from being quite good looking this year. But really it just takes one to see the magic of the place:

And, because I can, one more view of the plaza facing away from the tree which proved to be an excellent spot to pose for photos. (We had to wait about ten minutes for our turn.)

Having photographed the Rockefeller Center Tree from every possible angel numerous times, we were ready for to cross the street.

Saks Fifth Avenue: Fifth Avenue at 49th Street

Except for this one, sad, photo the Saks windows were actually moving too fast to photograph with any degree of quality. I did, however, make a video of all of the Saks Christmas windows to document their frenetic animation.

After that it was time to head farther down to the next stop on the Tour de Christmas.

Lord & Taylor: Fifth Avenue at 38th Street

Fun Fact: Lord & Taylor is the only store in New York City (at least the only one that does holiday windows–maybe the only one period) that has moveable windows. Instead of having to crawl inside the displays to install the sets and figures, Lord & Taylor window designers can lower the windows into the basement of the store to install the windows. For this reason, and perhaps because the designers are awesome, Lord & Taylor always has really beautiful, well-realized windows. This year was no exception.

Each of the windows looked at what Christmas was made of (as seen by children whose drawings framed each animated window display):

By this point I was finally getting the hang of my video camera. So you are welcome to view my video of the Lord & Taylor Christmas windows.

Lord & Taylor was the penultimate stop on the inaugural Tour de Christmas. For anyone who has ever seen Miracle on 34th Street, the Tour’s last stop will probably not be a surprise.

Macy’s: Herald Square

Macy’s windows are sometimes wonderful and sometimes just bizarre. This year, happily, they were delightful. The windows were bright and sparkly (not to mention a little bit steampunk!) and told a clever story of the journey ornaments take.

As you can probably imagine, I also made a video of these windows for your viewing pleasure.

With all of the trees documented, and all of the windows viewed, there was nothing left to do but call it a day and declare my first ever Tour de Christmas a success.

I hope this post finds  everyone in good health and high spirits whether you celebrate Christmas or a different holiday entirely (or perhaps even several at once). Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you, dear readers.

If you would like to see all of my photos from the Tour de Christmas 2011, you can find them on my website.

For your convenience here, again, are the video links:

Tiffany’s 2011 Holiday Windows

Saks’ 2011 Holiday Windows

Lord & Taylor’s 2011 Holiday Windows

Macy’s 2011 Holiday Windows

Dash and Lily Day: A Book Adventure

I had big plans for the holiday season this year. Part of those plans included planning and hosting my first ever Cookie Swap (which went really well–it was the first Sunday in December and we’re finally out of cookies!). Another part included something that quickly came to be known as Dash and Lily Day.

This year my friend The Book Bandit and I read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. We both really loved the characters and the story. Even more fun, the book takes place at Christmas right here in New York City.

One of the cool things about living in New York is that a lot of books are set here. This year, The Book Bandit (Nicole) and I decided to make the most of that. Earlier this month we picked a Sunday to recreate some of the more memorable moments from Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares if not in perfect accuracy at least in perfect alignment with the spirit of the book.

Being a book-centric blog, I thought it would be fun to share the itinerary for the day for any curious readers or any New Yorkers who might want to do something similar:

With festive clothes and cameras in tow, we began where the book started–The Strand in Union Square.

The Strand

While we did not find any girls wearing Majorette boots or surly boys checking up on their favorite book, we did spot the book that inspired our adventure.

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares book

After The Strand we started to modify the itinerary on the fly.

First stop: the Holiday Market at Union Square to admire all the festive things for sale (because you know Lily would be all over that).

Photo taken by The Book Bandit (Nicole)

Initially after browsing Union Square, we planned on stopping at Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man.

We did get close enough to take pictures in front of it.

(That’s Nicole on the left and me on the right.)

But we couldn’t even get near an actual table.

So we did what any intrepid traveler would. We went up to Times Square to catch a movie. Not just any movie, of course, but Hugo in 3D.

Photo taken by The Book Bandit (Nicole)

While the movie was much longer than either of us expected (causing a 3D-induced headache for me), it was a lot of fun. I sorely missed the voice over narrative structure of the book as well as some of the more memorable illustrations from Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret but overall the movie was a lot of fun. One of the coolest things was seeing the silent films that play such an important role in the story being played out as actual films instead of as still shots. Definitely a must-see for fans of the book and film enthusiasts.

I’m still sorely disappointed that the Pixar movie about office supplies in Dash and Lily is not a real movie, but Hugo more than made up for it.

Our next stop was the Build-a-Bear store to . . . build bears. (Dash has Lily make a puppet in the book so this seemed like the obvious, and more affordable, alternative.)

At first it was difficult to make the right choices, but as often happens, the right bears found us.

Nicole made a blue bear and named her Lily (for obvious reasons) while I made a brown bear and named her Clarice (because Nicole and I decided it really was the most festive name choice–you know, because of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)


(Lily and Clarice: BBF–Bestie Bears Forever)

Conveniently located right next to Build-a-Bear, Nicole and I found Little Miss Matched–a delightful store that sells socks in sets of three. Because they are designed to be worn without matching. What could be better? Honestly, very little. We enjoyed picking out socks and admiring some of the sillier hats (I actually bought that pink one–it’s super comfy).

We had bigger plans after building bears and buying socks. A ceremonial trip to FAO Schwarz uptown. A pilgrimage to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn to admire the Christmas lights.

Unfortunately in addition to being a long, activity-filled day, Dash and Lily Day was also one of the coldest days of the winter season (which is really saying something since it’s only been serious winter weather for about a week all told). Defeated by fatigue and the increasingly cold night air, we packed it in with our bears and our socks before finishing Dash and Lily Day with a nice diner dinner.

But fear not, I more than made up for the lack of Christmas-decoration-viewing with my Festivity-packed itinerary for the Tour de Christmas. But that, dear readers, is a story for another blog post. Soon.

Dark Souls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dark Souls by Paula MorrisAfter the accident last summer, nothing has been the same for sixteen-year-old Miranda. Her best friend, really her only friend, is gone. Her brother can’t stand small spaces or driving anymore. And Miranda, well, she can see ghosts.

When the chance to take a family vacation in York, England arrives, Miranda’s parents jump at the chance. A little family time can only help everyone. Almost everyone.

York is one of the most haunted cities in the world. How can Miranda deal with seeing ghosts when she is surrounded by them, her family doesn’t know about it, and she barely understands this new ability herself?

Then Miranda meets Nick, an intense Goth boy who might be able to answer all of her ghost-related questions. With Nick to show her the ropes and the painfully beautiful ghost in the attic across the way, maybe seeing ghosts won’t be so bad after all.

Or maybe things are as bad as Miranda thought. If no one intervenes, something bad is going to happen and Miranda seems to the only one who can stop it–no matter how much she wishes she wasn’t in Dark Souls (2011) by Paula Morris.

I was of two minds about this book.

On the one hand, Dark Souls read more like a middle grade novel than a young adult title. Without age cues written into the story I would have pegged Miranda at fourteen and her brother at sixteen (rather than their stated ages of sixteen and eighteen, respectively). Some aspects of the story also felt predictable or obvious–I realized details before Miranda did even though she really should have been on board and know what was going on herself. Again, this would have been easier to let slide in a middle grade novel where the readers/characters are significantly younger than me rather than just a bit younger.

On the other hand, Dark Souls is a nice traditional ghost story. No all-consuming romance, almost no love interest at all. It’s refreshing when so many paranormal books have romance tagged onto the end of that descriptor nowadays. Morris gets back to basics with some dubious ghosts, a mysterious friend, and a plot that needs to be unraveled. And it is those basics that make Dark Souls work as much as it does. This book is a good one for readers who want to be left spooked rather than swooning.

Possible Pairings: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, Bliss by Lauren Myracle, Clockwork by Philip Pullman, Lily’s Ghosts by Laura Ruby

Ho-Ho-Holiday Swap: In which I present my . . . presents

I haven’t been that great with non-review posts (or tweets to be honest) BUT I have been fully entrenched in some good old fashioned Holiday Cheer. One relatively new tradition for me has been participating in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap each year.

I am happy to say I have on good authority that my gifts were well-received and I am also happy to say here that I’m simply delighted by the gifts I received as part of this year’s swap from Christi the Teen Librarian.

I’m trying to get back into taking pictures again so I submit for your enjoyment some photos of my swap gifts.  (Now might also be a good time to mention I still love getting mail, even as an adult, so I was very excited to not just see a box for me but a BIG box when this package arrived.) Inside the box I found a festive Santa gift bag:

Inside the bag I found many festively wrapped gifts:

And inside all of those wrapped packages I found . . .

  • An Eeyore Christmas Card (Eeyore and Tigger are my favorites from Winnie the Pooh!)
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas book and tree kit (I have a mini collection of mini books)
  • A glittery jingle bell Christmas tree (which was immediately put into a place of honor among our other Christmas decorations–it fits right in)
  • Not one but two fabulous pairs of seasonal socks (I only wear socks with fun designs now and I was looking to fill a void for Christmas themed socks so I was really excited about these)
  • A beautiful initial bookmark (it doesn’t show up super well in the photo but trust me, it’s really cool)
  • And, of course I got books. Because it’s a book blogger holiday swap and that’s how we roll. Now I have a shiny arc of How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr and an even shinier copy of Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins (which I am SO excited to read because I loved Anna and the French Kiss).

Thanks again for all of the lovely gifts Christi!

I end this post that everyone receives equally lovely gifts from their friends and family (and secret santas!) this holiday season.

Legend: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Legend by Marie LuJune and Day are part of the same nation: The Republic of America. They’re in the same city: Los Angeles, California. Their lives could not be more different.

Born into an elite family, June lives in a wealthy sector with her brother Metias and every luxury the Republic has to offer. A prodigy who passed her Trial with more than flying colors, June is training to join the Republic military and take her rightful position among the country’s leaders in their continuing war against the Patriots.

Day is not elite, or wealthy, and he’s definitely not a prodigy. Born in the Lake Sector slums, Day’s family thinks he’s dead. It’s safer that way. Better he have no connections to anyone when he is the most wanted criminal in the Republic.

No one knows what Day looks like or where to find him. His odds of avoiding capture and continuing to be a thorn in the Republic’s side are quite good. Until Day takes a desperate risk for his family–one that leads to Day becoming the prime suspect in the murder of a Republic soldier.

Not just any soldier, though. With her brother dead, June is highly motivated to catch his killer both to prove herself to her military superiors and to earn Metias some much-deserved justice. She is willing to do anything to achieve her goal.

From different worlds, pitted against each other, June and Day are obvious enemies. When sinister secrets about the Republic come to light, Day and June are also their own best allies in their search for the truth in Legend (2011) by Marie Lu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Legend is Lu’s debut novel.

There are a lot of books that have been called “the next Hunger Games” or otherwise compared to Suzanne Collins’ bestselling, amazing trilogy. A lot of them are quite good. Legend was one of those books. It has also been receiving steady hype since this summer. As with many books that get a lot of buzz, I expected to enjoy Legend.

I did not expect to be completely engrossed and impressed. But I was.

Legend is the first book that I’ve thought was completely on par with The Hunger Games without any reservations.

Written in chapters that alternate between Day and June’s narrations* the story is filled with action and tension. Lu masterfully creates two unique characters with their own narrative voices that add depth to an already exciting story. In an over-saturated genre, Legend keeps readers guessing to the very end not just about what will happen to June and Day but about some of the key tenets of the world she has created.

Legend is the first book in a series that promises adventure and suspense as well as a variety of diverse, layered characters. Lu, and her debut novel, are sure to find a place in the hearts of many readers looking for a worthy follow-up to The Hunger Games.

*The book is packaged with DAY or JUNE written across the top of each chapter. Day’s chapters are printed in a bold, gold colored sans serif font while June’s are the more traditional black serif. Some people were unimpressed by the packaging, my mom couldn’t even tell some text was gold. I quite liked the touch and thought it was very clever and well done.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, White Cat by Holly Black, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Proxy by Alex London, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Divergent by Veronica Roth, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

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

Author Interview: Lia Habel on Dearly, Departed

Lia Habel is the debut author of one of my favorite 2011 debuts. Dearly, Departed is a zombie steampunk romance with lots of action and adventure. It’s a lot of fun and has a really clever spin on quote a few things. Lia Habel is on the blog today to answer some questions about her exciting debut.

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

Lia Habel (LH): I really stumbled into publishing. I still feel like I have no right to be in it, at all – like I have no skill, very little talent, and a sort of “buh?” look on my face 80% of the time. (In fact, I think I come across as a little standoffish at events, but it’s only because I’m actually terrified!) I wrote the first draft of Dearly, Departed for fun, to amuse my friends and distract myself from a dark time in my life, and I can’t believe it’s gotten me this far.

Even as a child, I loved to write to entertain myself, and I was always skilled when it came to academic writing – English was my best subject, and the written word was always my area of strength. But for some reason, I never thought of translating my skill into publishing or writing. My inherent shyness might have something to do with it.

But, long story short – after writing Dearly, Departed as a joke (and I wrote the first draft in about 45 days, give or take), I was encouraged to see how far I could take it. I ended up with an agent a short time later, and a publishing deal a year after that.

MP: What was the inspiration for Dearly, Departed?

LH: I tend to think in terms of positive and negative inspiration for Dearly, Departed. On the positive side of things, I wanted to create a story that was more than a romance, a story that featured interesting teen characters, strong female characters, and a lot of action. On the negative side, I think I was actively rebelling against some of the trends that I’d seen as a reader – the brooding hero who’s so hot that the heroine is within his thrall within two pages of meeting him, the dull heroine who serves as an avatar for the reader, etc. And yet, most of all, I was just having fun. I threw in everything but the kitchen sink for that precise reason – I was writing for fun, no one was judging me, and I had no idea the whole thing would be published.

Furthermore, I just love monsters. Love ’em. I can’t imagine writing a story that doesn’t involve monsters of some sort – and I’m actually working on a few now. But I’m glad I started with the zombies, and was able to effectively convey my own feelings about that particular type of monster to readers.

MP: Dearly, Departed is the first book in a series.  Do you have a set arc for Nora and Bram’s story or know how many books will be in the series?

LH: I don’t know how many will be in the series – I’d like at least five or six. I don’t have an idea of the overall story arc – I prefer to wander when I create – but I do have a rough idea of where I want everyone to end up. It’s just a matter of getting them there!

MP: Dearly, Departed is narrated by five different characters all with their own parts of the larger story. How did you keep track of the different story threads and tie them all together? How did you decide which characters rated a narrator role?

LH: Instinctively. I hate to answer the question that way, but that’s how it worked! I knew I wanted to shift perspective, because I find staying in one character’s head extremely boring (and yet, I’m doing just that with a few side projects now, so go figure). Furthermore, the decision was based heavily on location usage, because I had all these different places to go and I needed “representatives” from each. So we got Nora/Bram at base, Pam in the city, Victor in the desert and a touch of Wolfe because I wanted to convey the experience of the “bad” guy.

That tradition is continuing into book two, where we have six narrators – Bram/Nora again, Pam again, Vespertine and Michael, and a new zombie girl.

MP: I’ve been describing this book as a “steampunk zombie romance” to people who want a quick summary. But steampunk is a many-splendored thing with lots of different varieties. How do you define steampunk? What does it mean to you?

LH: Exactly – I’ve often felt like I shouldn’t call myself steampunk, because I’m not “pure” steampunk. Then I started hanging out with more steampunks in real life, and realized I’d been thinking quite foolishly. Steampunk’s an incredibly diverse concept, and many people spin it their own way. And everyone else is okay with that!

To me, steampunk is any interesting intersection of Victorian aesthetics, mores, or history with technology. This is a pretty broad and workable definition, I think – it encompasses the steampunky aspects of actual Victorian history, reimagined-past narratives, Victorian-future narratives…there’s room for everybody.

MP: This book is set in 2195 in a world where the USA and most northern countries are uninhabitable and society has migrated south, in addition to adopting Victorian mores and ideals. How did you approach writing a story about such unique future? Did you start with a specific scene or place? Was a lot of research involved?

LH: It came to me on the fly. I decided that in order to get to where I needed to be, I needed complete social upheaval, on a global scale – so I basically decided to throw every disaster I’d ever read about at the planet, and figure out things from there. If any research was involved in the creation of the basic global situation, it was simply reading newspapers and watching bad History Channel documentaries!

I did a lot more research when it came to scientific aspects of the world – technology, prions, etc. Then I used a combination of actual scientific articles, science websites, emailing pathologists (which was awesome), and quizzing knowledgeable friends.

Yet, there are still holes in my knowledge – and some amusing ones, really. For instance, in book one I vaguely noted that Allister’s nature preserve was in “northern Nicaragua.” I literally pulled that out of thin air. In doing some mapping for book two, I found this empty area in northern Nicaragua that I couldn’t Google Map my way through. “What is this dead zone getting in the way of my chase scene?” I fumed.

It was a nature preserve. Right where I said it’d be. I swear I did not know that when I wrote book one.

MP: You mention your love of zombies and zombie movies in the acknowledgements of Dearly, Departed as well as on your website. Do you have a favorite zombie movie? Did any film play a role in shaping your vision of the zombies in your novel?

LH: Oh gosh, I have far too many. Fido, Zombieland, Day of the Dead, Dance of the Dead (the MOH episode)…I could go on. I love any zombie film where the zombies are treated either compassionately or as people of emotion and interest, not just enemies to be blown apart. I don’t think any particular film made it into the book in a large way, but there are tons of references sprinkled throughout – again, I started out writing the book for fun, and I think a lot of both tongue-in-cheek and overt references made it through editing. For instance, many street names are taken from pivotal zombie figures – George Street, Halperin Street. This trend is continuing in book two, and the other day I realized that in theory, these films did exist at one point in my universe, so if any copies have existed, maybe someone will come up with a wild conspiracy theory…

MP: Since your novel features zombies I am obligated to ask your opinion on the key debate of our time: Zombies vs. Unicorns. Thoughts?

LH: Hmm. I’m immediately reminded of the fact that my one zombie girl died a virgin, so I’m wondering how that interaction would go down. In truth, I think she’d squee and want to make the unicorn her pet, not eat it. The unicorn might have other ideas. (And with all the mythology and religious weight behind the idea of dying a virgin, who’s to say that a zombie virgin doesn’t ping a unicorn’s radar as, like, Das Uber Virgin? Why would the unicorn fight that?)

…I can’t believe I’m considering these concepts.

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

LH: I’m working on the sequel now, Dearly, Beloved, and a few other unsolicited books. They involve monsters, that’s all I’m saying!

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

LH: Seriously – write what you love. Don’t stress over the industry, marketing, writing to trend, all the things I see everyone fretting about on their blogs every day in my feed – just write what you want to see, and don’t worry about everything else. At some point these concerns will become paramount, but before that you need to create – in fact, that’s your main job. I always cringe when I hear some important agent or editor saying things like, “Oh, nobody wants dystopian anymore, that’s SO over.” I can’t help but imagine an aspiring writer somewhere sighing and shelving their dystopian manuscript, convinced that it won’t sell – and that book was the most brilliant dystopian work since Brave New World.

Thanks again to Lia Habel for a great interview! You can also read my review of Dearly, Departed here on the blog and visit Lia’s website for more info about her and her other books.

Dearly, Departed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dearly, Departed by Lia HabelThe year is 2195. After being ravaged by war and harsh climate changes, humanity seems to have found some level of equilibrium in New Victoria. Desperate for a Golden Age to look back on at its founding, an ideal to strive for, New Victoria looked backward to the seemingly idealistic ways of Victorian society. And it is ideal, truly.

At least it is for most people. Nora Dearly should be happy with her position of mild importance in New Victorian society as daughter of prominent military doctor Victor Dearly. But she is more interested in politics and military history than she is in negotiating high society or being a proper lady. It all seems so pointless with her father dead and her finances in ruins thanks to an irresponsible aunt.

With so many problems, Nora gives the stranger with blind eyes outside her home little thought. That would prove to be a mistake.

Captain Bram Griswold never wanted to frighten Nora. He certainly didn’t want to kidnap her. He just wanted to ensure her safety. Unfortunately it is difficult to appear non-threatening when you are a corpse. Like the rest of Company Z, Bram is still in control of his faculties even if he is infected with the Lazarus virus. He can walk, he can talk, he can reason. He is even relatively intact compared to some of his friends.

One day, as it always does, the virus will win. Bram will lose control and instead of working with the humans, he will want nothing more than to eat them.

Until that day, Bram will do what he has to do. He will keep Nora Dearly safe. He will fight the deranged zombies that are beyond help. He will ignore the feelings he is starting to develop for Nora because no good can ever come from that.  As he keeps telling himself over and over.

But then Nora starts to trust him. And everything Bram thought he knew about the Lazarus virus and New Victoria is thrown into doubt. With the whole world changing maybe a human girl and zombie boy really can be together–for a little while at least in Dearly, Departed (2011) by Lia Habel.

Dearly, Departed is Habel’s first novel. It is also the first book in the uniquely named “Gone with the Respiration” series.

Steampunk has been gaining lots of steam recently as a relatively new addition to the wide and wonderful world of Young Adult books. Like many other successful steampunk books, Habel puts her own singular spin on a newly imagined Victorian society with not only a post-apocalyptic world of the future but also a zombie apocalypse. Oh and a completely impossible, incredibly star-crossed romance.

Basically, the appeal of this book can be captured in three words: Zombie Steampunk Romance.

As those words suggest, Dearly, Departed has a lot going on but it all works. Habel blends inter-connected story lines while managing to create a coherent, layered story with multiple unique narrators in a sleek, exciting story full of action and pathos.

Dearly, Departed stands out as a clever, funny spin on both zombie and steampunk conventions with a top-notch heroine and a zombie hero with a heart of gold.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Soulless Gail Carriger, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my exclusive interview with Lia Habel!

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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Dearly, Departed