Dust Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dust Girl by Sarah ZettelOnce upon a time Callie thought she was a normal girl.

Sure, she had dust in her lungs and lived with her mama in a rundown hotel in the rundown town of Slow Run, Kansas but that wasn’t as strange as you might think in the middle of America’s Dust Bowl. Certainly Callie had her secrets, same as her mama, but those were normal, human girl secrets. Because, once upon a time, Callie really thought she was a normal, human girl.

That ended on April 14, 1935 when her mama disappeared and Callie found out she wasn’t human at all.

Left alone for the first time in her life, with strange creatures tracking her, Callie will have to leave behind everything she knew to find the unbelievable truth of who she is in Dust Girl (2012) by Sarah Zettel.

Dust Girl is the first book in Zettel’s American Fairy trilogy. The second book, Golden Girl, is due out in summer 2013. This is Zettel’s first book for a young adult audience.

Zettel’s writing is filled with evocative descriptions of deadly dust storms and sprawling landscapes that bring 1935 Kansas to life. References to the music and nuances of the era create an atmospheric read. Written in the first person, Callie’s voice is reminiscent of tall tales and wide spaces. Dust Girl is brimming with magic and mystery but throughout the story it is the heroine, Callie, who really makes this novel stand out.

Dust Girl is a subtle, contemplative read where Callie’s journey throughout the novel is just as satisfying as the dramatic conclusion. While there is clearly more to Callie’s story, Dust Girl ends nicely with enough closure to make the wait for book two bearable.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst,  A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Just Being Audrey: A Picture Book Review

Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo, illustrated by Julia Denos

Just Being AudreyAs the title suggests, this picture book is about Audrey Hepburn–her early life, her aspirations to become a ballerina, her success in Hollywood and her later-life work with UNICEF.

I love Audrey, who doesn’t? Cardillo’s text was an interesting insight into the background of an actress who many still remember as the epitome of style and elegance. The text offered an interesting but slightly unbalanced look at Audrey’s life from her childhood to her old age. (A timeline at the back details key events that were not mentioned in the narrative.) However there are very few transitions with each page spread seeming to have little connection to the pages that come before or after. The overall effect was a very choppy story albeit one filled with interesting tidbits.

Denos’  illustrations are gorgeous with beautiful details and color. The pictures all have a lovely sense of movement as Audrey “glides” through the pages.

There is certainly enough here to pique a child’s interest about Audrey Hepburn but fans looking for more thorough information will have to find a different book.

This would be a fun addition to a “non-fiction” or “biography” themed storytime with it’s large, bright pictures and relatively short text.

Dark Triumph: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFeversNantes, Brittany, 1489: Trained by the convent of St. Mortain in the arts of death and seduction, Lady Sybella is no stranger to killing or spying. Even before learning she was a daughter of death and coming to the convent, Sybella had done much of both to stay alive.

Over the years Sybella learned to harden her heart until even she begins to believe she has none. She dreams of revenge and justice, the day she will become a divine instrument of vengeance when she can kill the traitorous Count d’Albret.

But instead of her desired mission of vengeance, Sybella finds herself acting as a spy in d’Albret’s household, a dangerous mission for anyone but even more so given Sybella’s past. Her formidable array of weapons and skills may not be enough to escape this living nightmare. Not alive anyway.

Mortain has already rejected Sybella twice, though, so death is hardly an option either.

Sybella is trapped until new orders arrive from the convent.

A prisoner is locked in d’Albret’s dungeon. The prisoner is of extreme importance to the young Duchess of Brittany as she struggles to hold onto her kingdom and keep d’Albret and his ilk at bay.

Sybella is only meant to initiate the prisoner’s departure. Instead, she is swept into the escape as a reluctant nurse and travel companion. This one change thrusts Sybella into an entirely surprising direction–one where her life may not have to end in order for vengeance to be served. Stranger still, Sybella may learn there is more to live for than the promise of revenge, or even justice, in Dark Triumph (2013) by Robin LaFevers.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dark Triumph is the second book in LaFever’s His Fair Assassin trilogy, preceded by Grave Mercy (with the conclusion, Mortal Heart, due out in 2014). (She is the author of several middle grade novels including my beloved Nathaniel Fludd books as R. L. LaFevers.)

There is a very satisfying overlap between the plots of Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph. It’s also becoming clear that the books are building together to an epic finish. That said, I really think Dark Triumph could work as a standalone. It doesn’t have to. And it’s certainly better to start at book one. But if you really wanted to, Sybella’s story stands on its own quite nicely.

I didn’t realize how much I loved this improbable series about assassin nuns until I finished Dark Triumph. As great as Ismae’s story and voice were, Sybella’s is better. Dark Triumph is a grittier read with sharper edges but also more satisfying outcome. As LaFevers points out in her author’s note, the story takes many more historical liberties. Happily, the atmosphere and language remain.

I also enjoyed the expanded view of Mortain. Sometimes I have problems with books that deal with some kind of “faith” because they veer into the territory of conventional religious dogma. LaFevers artfully shifts the theology of His Fair Assassin into a different direction. Reading about Mortain never feels like reading about a god or even religion. He really feels like a father. And I appreciated that nuance.

Sybella is an angry, broken narrator who is at pains to convince everyone that she has no heart–especially herself. Dark Triumph is the story of her own healing as much as it is a stunning historical fantasy filled with action and intrigue. I can’t talk about some other aspects without spoiling both books, but the way Dark Triumph comes together with Grave Mercy is impressive. I also adore these heroines and their male leads. These books, right here, these are what true partnerships look like.

Dark Triumph is a surprising, original read sure to appeal to anyone who likes historical fiction, journey-based fantasies, or a damsel who rescues herself (and maybe the prince while she’s at it).

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhatena, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Planesrunner: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Planesrunner by Ian McDonaldPlanesrunner by Ian McDonald (2011)

I liked a lot of things about the basic premise of this story. It seemed to have a lot of potential–a book about many worlds and a device to navigate them? Cool! A thoughtful main character who likes to cook and play video games? Rad. De facto diversity? Awesome! Even with some fairly obvious hints to Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and the TV shows Sliders and Stargate, Planesrunner sounded like a good time.

Unfortunately this one never quite hit the mark. MacDonald seemed to have an idea of what a teen narrator should do and think and seemed to be checking marks off as Everett does all of these strange things in the narrative with random sound effects and a really annoying habit of providing a nickname for literally every character Everett meets.

I tend to be wary of adult authors trying to transition into YA writing because more often than not something gets lost on the way as if the author is so used to writing older characters that they are unsure how to transition. I really felt that here. Everett’s behaviors and decisions were very erratic–either too mature or too immature for his given age.

Uneven pacing and odd writing choices made for an uneasy read. The plot picked up significantly in the second half but problems remained as the story continued to feel like two books slapped together. What I mean is there is a very clear direction in the first half of the story and then priorities and focus shift very suddenly in the second half. (Speaking of the second half, McDonald also includes Pallari in the latter part of the novel which is really interesting but requires a lot of glancing at the dictionary in the back.)

I can see this book appealing to fans of pure science fiction as the plot here hits all the marks. Fans of A Confusion of Princes may also see some appeal here. That said, Planesrunner isn’t the smoothest read and it isn’t always easy to connect with Everett though I’m sure readers who finish the story will be rewarded and likely look forward to continuing with the series.

In which I have fun with nail decals

A couple of weeks ago I won a blog giveaway hosted by Andi of Andi’s ABCs. (I really enjoy Andi’s blog because it has my favorite things–books and accessories–and she’s great to talk to on Twitter too. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and call her a Twitter friend! So you should check out her blog.)

Anyway she was giving away a box of Sally Hansen Salon Effects

I think of them as decals but Sally Hansen calls them nail polish strips.

The print there is called “Tri-bal it On” and that image is via Target. But they’re also available at Duane Reade, Amazon and I’d imagine most places that sell nail polish.

Here’s the cool thing about them: these aren’t fake nails. They’re pieces of nail polish that you peel and stick/burnish onto your nail. While it’s a bit daunting at first the whole process is actually quite simple. When Andi did her own manicure she used the decal as an accent nail with black nail polish.

I was really excited when I got the decals in the mail and I had planned on doing a silver manicure with an accent nail. (My nails are tiny–especially my pinkies–so I didn’t really think the decals would fit all of my nails anyway but it turns out a pack includes 16 strips in tons of sizes so it wasn’t a problem.)

But then I applied one nail and it was really easy! And then I showed my mom and she thought they were the coolest thing ever. So she told me I should do a full manicure. So I did.

And I took pictures to show you, dear readers. (At which point I discovered photographing your own hand is kind of weird but that’s a whole different post.)

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So far the manicure is holding up great (I used a clear top coat just in case and no chips almost a week after application). The edges of the polish near my cuticles are coming up on some nails but I’m not sure if that’s typical wear or me messing up the application somehow. I’ve been getting tons of compliments and really enjoy the overall look–it may even have been faster than a typical manicure.

The really fun thing is since there are 16 strips in the pack I still have six decals left to play with as accent nails.

Author Interview: Rachel Hartman on Seraphina

Rachel Hartman author photoRachel Hartman is the author Seraphina, a clever and original story about dragons, mystery, music and a ton of other things besides. Seraphina has also gotten a fair bit of critical acclaim including being selected as the winner of the 2013 Morris Award and the 2012 Cybils. Rachel Hartman is on the blog today to answer some questions about her wonderful debut novel.

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

Rachel Harman (RH): You might say I took the scenic route. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but it took me until about age thirty to decide that writing should be my career. Then it was another ten years before the book was published. I know that sounds appallingly slow, but I have no regrets. I’m a deliberator and a contemplator; I absorb and synthesize things as I go. The time is never wasted.

MP: What was the inspiration for Seraphina?

RH: The book had many inspirations. The very first idea I had for it, however, came to me when my parents got divorced. I was an adult, with a life and spouse of my own, and yet I found myself shocked and hurt and grieving, no less than if I were a kid. I had a lot of processing to do, and in the course of all that a question kept coming to me: what if you married someone with a terrible secret, and you didn’t learn what it was until your spouse was dead? That’s Claude Dombegh’s dilemma in a nutshell when Seraphina’s mother dies in childbirth; he’s got all these questions that can never be answered. Early drafts focused more intently on Seraphina’s relationship with her father; that’s still in the book, but is much more in the background now.

MP: Seraphina is rich with details of the history of Goredd and its relation with the neighboring dragons including complex political matters and a whole draconian language (not to mention unique dragon sensibilities). With so many details to explain and expand Seraphina’s world, where did you start? What was it like creating all of the corresponding languages and histories for the backdrop of this story?

RH: Goredd has been with me since the seventh grade, in fact. My English teacher asked us to write a narrative poem, and I – always the overachiever on creative writing assignments – came up with this long, silly poem called “The First Adventure of Sir Amy.” Sir Amy was a little girl knight who saved the king from an evil witch. Her country was called Goredd because that rhymed with Fred, the name of her horse. There was also a dragon who played cello (which rhymed with jello), which was the origin of dragons in Goredd.

All through high school, I set various stories in Goredd. When I was in my twenties I wrote and illustrated a minicomic called “Amy Unbounded” about Amy from the poem, now only a knight in her imagination. That solidified the world for me, and is a wonderful visual reference to have.

Making up histories is fun and easy; they’re just stories, after all (I almost majored in history in college, until I realized I was really only interested in it as narrative). I cheat egregiously at languages, though. I’m not Tolkien; I’m not writing up whole lexicons. I just want languages to evoke a particular flavour. If they’re doing that, I’m satisfied.

MP: The dragons in Seraphina are quite unique with their ability to take on human form. What inspired your interpretation of dragons in this story? Do you have a favorite detail about your dragons?

RH: This dates back to my comic book days. I had always intended there to be dragons in Goredd; they were there in the poem, so it was a given for me. However, when it came time to draw dragons in the comic, I discovered that dragons are difficult to draw. I could have practiced and gotten better,  of course, but I just wasn’t that interested. Instead, I hit upon a brilliant idea: what if dragons could take human form? Then I could draw humans! So what began as laziness (if I’m being honest) turned out to be an enormous wellspring of ideas. Because if dragons could take human form, the implications of that were rather staggering. Anyone could be a dragon. How were the Goreddis (and the dragons) going to cope? They would surely need some rules.

Readers often marvel at how alien my dragons are, but I don’t quite agree with that. They’re very familiar to me, even if they’re looking at the world from an unaccustomed angle. I love how they let me ask obvious but not-quite-answerable questions. For example: what are emotions for? That’s not a question most people usually bother asking; feeling comes as naturally as breathing and that’s just how it is. I know from raising a child, however, that emotions are not something we’re born knowing what to do with. We have to be taught not to hit when we’re angry, socialized into appropriate behaviours. What if you were only just experiencing emotions for the first time as an adult? My emotions sometimes bowl me over, and I have forty years of practice dealing with them. How are dragons going to respond, process, interpret their inner lives? How do they stay true to themselves under such unaccustomed pressures? What does that tell us more emotional types about the nature of our own emotions? What part of me is dragon, when I look underneath the emotional detritus? I could ask questions all day; I love this stuff.

MP: Seraphina’s musical talents and her love of music are continuing threads throughout the story. Did you always know music would be such a big part of Seraphina’s character? Is her love of music inspired by your own experiences?

RH: I played cello from fourth grade through college. I found performing, especially with a good orchestra, to be one of the most transcendent experiences of my early life. It’s something I’ve always wanted to convey in writing, what it’s like to be in music in exactly that way. Where does it begin and where does it end? My mind to your ears. No other art is as visceral and immediate, and it’s such a challenge to write about! But then, I really like a challenge.

MP: One of my favorite things about Seraphina is the strong ensemble cast with so many well-developed and entertaining characters. Did you have any character that was a favorite to write about? Was any character harder to write?

RH: It’s hard to say if any were difficult. Over nine years, I rewrote the entire book three times with an entirely new plot. The characters were the same people, but run through different mazes. The result is that I got to know them all very, very well. I don’t really remember if I struggled with any of them; by the last go-round, I felt like a director who’s been privileged to work with the same actors for many years. I knew everybody’s capabilities.

I don’t like to pick favourites, but Orma is a constant delight to write. He comes to me very naturally; we’re a lot alike, as counterintuitive as that may sound.

[MP: Orma is a constant delight to read as well!]

MP: Much of this novel focuses on solving a murder and unraveling a conspiracy at court as Seraphina investigates. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

RH: I confess that plot is probably the part of writing that comes least naturally to me. I’m so wrapped up in setting, characters, and what-if questions that I just don’t have a lot of room left in my tiny brain. Here’s where a good editor is invaluable. For this final iteration of the book, I started out by sending my editor plot outlines. He sent them back with every plot hole and logic fail pointed out in excrutiating detail. I answered his questions and fixed things until he found the outline sufficiently airtight. Then I wrote the book and there were still holes and infodumps and red herrings that were way too red. We tossed the book back and forth many times, smoothing all that stuff out. I am so, so grateful for his eagle eye.

With the sequel, he approved my plot outline right away, so I believe I may have learned something from all that earlier process. The old dog has room for a few new tricks after all.

MP: Seraphina is the first book in a series. Do you have a set arc for Seraphina’s story or know how many books will be in the series?

RH: The second book will wrap up Seraphina’s story, I believe. After that I hope to write more books set in the same world, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.

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

RH: I am just awful about spoilers. I say things that I think aren’t spoilers, but then my husband informs me they are. Of course, he’s got deductive skills like Sherlock Holmes, so maybe I needn’t worry too much in general. I think it’s safe to say there will be more Abdo, and that we’ll be meeting a lot of new characters. That’s been fun, and challenging. I was used to having the same cast over and over, so it has taken some time and effort to get to know everyone. I think it’s been worth it, though.

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

RH: Love writing, because sometimes the work will have to be its own reward. Also, don’t panic if it takes a long time. The world likes to tell us we’re washed-up if we’re not brilliant before we’re thirty. That’s nonsense. There’s lots of time.

Thanks again to Rachel Hartman for a great interview! You can also read my review of Seraphina here on the blog and visit Rachel Hartman’s website for more info about her and her books.

The Archived: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Stories about winding halls, and invisible doors, and places where the dead are kept like books on shelves. Each time you finish a story, you make me tell it back to you, as if you’re afraid I will forget.

“I never do.”

The Archived by Victoria SchwabMackenzie Bishop became a Keeper for the Archive when she was twelve years old. Trained and groomed by her grandfather, Mackenzie knew exactly what being a Keeper would mean. It means danger as she hunts for escaped Histories–records of the dead bound in something very close to flesh and bone–that need to be returned to the Archive. She knows being a Keeper means lying to everyone she knows.

It isn’t easy work. But it gives Mac a solid link to Da and his years of training and stories. It gives Mac the illusion of being close to her younger brother who died a year ago.

Still grieving and lost, Mac’s family moves to a decrepit building trying to start again. As she tiptoes around her mother’s crazy new schemes and her father’s avoidance, Mac soon discovers that a building as old as the Coronado is filled with secrets and lies of its own. Learning more about the building Mac discovers disturbing alterations to Histories within the Archive. Someone wants to hide something about the Coronado. And perhaps about the Archive too. If Mac can’t solve the mystery that remains the entire Archive could collapse in The Archived (2013) by Victoria Schwab.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Archived is Schwab’s second novel. It is also the first in a series although it stands very nicely on its own. The sequel, The Unbound, is due out in 2014.

The Archived sounds like it should be a grim book. There are dead people. There are sad characters. It should be depressing. Instead, The Archived is an eerie, original read that is simultaneously exciting and contemplative. Mac is a strong, resilient heroine who is flawed and as utterly authentic as the world she inhabits. And what a world. Filled with librarians and keys and secrets The Archived is a unique book filled with all of my favorite things right down to a beautiful cover and book design.

Lyrical memories of Mac’s past are interspersed between action-packed chapters with Mac’s work as a Keeper for the Archive. Schwab skillfully combines a compelling premise with themes of loss and family to create a nuanced mystery sure to dazzle readers.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Havenfall by Sara Holland, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Linktastic!: Literary Edition

Dear readers, I have a problem. Everything I see on Twitter is interesting. And I keep favoriting tweets with links for future reference. And then I never get back to them and never get to share them with anyone.

That stops with this Linktastic! post. I’m trying to use themes in these posts–a goal that will eventually become too lofty I am sure–so think of today’s as bookish or literary in nature:

  • Stephanie Perkins is getting ready to wrap up her loosely-connected trilogy of companion books with the forthcoming Isla and the Happily Ever After. With the release of the new book there will also be new covers for the other novels in the series Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. While I adored the original covers and am crushed we won’t get to see Isla on the cover, I really like the new ones too! I think they’ll have wider appeal and I really like the overall design. I’m finding more every time I look at the covers (perhaps including some clues about what to expect in Isla) and just generally think they’re a lot of fun. You can see the covers at Shelf Life.
  • Continuing the romance theme: Flavorwire has an article by Emily Temple about the 10 Greatest Dystopian Love Stories in Literature. NOTE there is a fairly ENORMOUS SPOILER in the blurb for Never Let Me Go so skip that part if you haven’t read it. Actually, a lot of the summaries are spoiler-filled so just remember that I warned you. Of the ten I’ve read Never Let Me Go, 1984, The Hunger Games, Watchmen and I watched the mini-series of The Stand when I was really young and don’t actually remember anything but the religious undertones. I think some of the choices are interesting as a lot of these books have much more going on that . . . you know . . . being romantic. I’m not even sure 1984 qualifies but I did read it a while ago.
  • I’ve recently discovered I’m highly invested/interested in comic books even though I essentially never read them. I can and will debate the merits of comics as a reading format or the superiority of Batman over Superman but don’t ask me about recent plot developments. Case in point: Did you know Bruce Wayne had a son?! Did you know his son was Robin?! Did you know DC is planning to kill him off according to CBC News?!?!!??!!?
  • After some research and a loaner from Nicole, my mom recently got a Kindle Paperwhite to solve some of her vision problems while reading (in that she couldn’t). We’re really pleased with it. As the resident librarian I’m especially pleased at how easy it is to get books onto the Kindle as I can completely circumvent the Overdrive App (if you don’t know what that is, just be grateful). After seeing this article from librarian Dan Messer about why he hates the Nook I’m feeling even better about that decision.

Time Between Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“What I just did could change everything, or it could change nothing. But I have to try. I’ve got nothing to lose. If my plan doesn’t work, my life will remain the same: Safe. Comfortable. Perfectly average.

“But that wasn’t the life I originally chose.”

Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland StoneAnna Greene and Bennett Cooper never should have met. In fact, it should have been impossible for them to meet since Anna lives a comfortable-yet-too-small life in suburban Chicago–in 1995–and Bennett is a music loving teen living in San Francisco. In 2012.

Bennett is a time traveler who has come to 1995 Chicago for reasons of his own.

He doesn’t plan to meet Anna, let alone get close to her. Not when he could be pulled back to his own time at any moment.

With time literally against them, Anna and Bennett may have to rewrite history itself to stay together in Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone.

Time Between Us is Stone’s first novel. Time After Time, a companion novel continuing Anna and Bennett’s story (this time told in Bennett’s voice) is due out in October 2013.

If this premise sounds like The Time Traveler’s Wife, that’s because it is very similar. Except 400 pages shorter and without all the angst and random violence.

Despite the obvious similarities Time Between Us is a tighter, more light-hearted read. Anna and Bennett have problems, they even face danger, but the tone throughout is one of optimism and defiance instead of inevitability or defeat.

The opening–jumping between several time periods to get to the start of the story–is strong full of promise and just enough foreshadowing to draw readers in.

Unfortunately despite the potential and my own excitement about this title, I just did not connect with it. Readers looking for a sweeping romance and references to 1990s culture and technology will find a lot to enjoy here. Anna and Bennett are adorable together and their story is a good one. Romance-wise it doesn’t get more gripping than two lovers separated not by distance but by time itself.

That said, it takes a very long time for Stone to get to the crux of the story with Bennett revealing his secret to Anna. Instead readers spend a lot of time watching the protagonists circle each other and hint at things. While this technique did create tension in the narrative, it was frustrating to have to wait so long for what is promised right from the jacket copy and the first pages.

If, like me, you want more fantasy/science fiction and less romance, Time Between Us may not be the best fit.* I also could not shake the feeling that, given the opening of the novel, Anna was a passive heroine.**

Time Between Us is the book I wanted to read when I tried The Time Traveler’s Wife. Time Between Us is, in fact, the perfect book for readers who like the idea of time travel but don’t worry too much about the actual mechanics of it.***

*For a more fantasy/science fiction-y time travel romance I’d recommend Hourglass by Myra McEntire which has a faster pace and much more explanation as to the time travel. It also gets bonus points for having the female lead do most of the traveling through time. Even while I was reading Time Between Us and enjoying it well enough, I couldn’t help but wonder if the difference between liking it and loving it would have been making Anna the time traveler instead of Bennett.

**Like, fine she needs to try and get her great love to work out and get back the life she really did choose. But how bad was this safe life she had as of 2011? She’s okay with just waiting to see what happens and potentially obliterating the life she has had until that point?

***Bennett’s rules to deal with causality and the implications of his travel seemed very malleable to me. And I also like more explanations as to the why and how when time travel comes into play.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, The Statistical Probability of True Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith,Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

YA Isn’t a Genre: Another Manifesto of Sorts

I recently came across this article on Twitter (I think it was originally posted by Terra Elan McVoy but I can’t be totally sure) from The New Statesman called: “Ghost Stories”: The ubiquitous anti-feminism of young adult romances by Tara Isabella Burton.

Burton worked her way through college by ghost writing what she calls “YA romances” and she references Tanya Gold’s article from November discussing the anti-feminist elements of Twilight. If you’ve read Twilight or watched the movies or have followed news about it, then this is old news. Twilight has been called everything from abstinence porn in Bitch Magazine to anti-feminist. I actually don’t have any problems with Twilight or the people who love it. But I can see how some might. It happens. It’s called freedom of expression.

(Burton also mentions Twilight leading to its fan-fiction-turned-bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey and the poorly defined world of “New Adult” which should be about emerging adults AKA twentysomething characters but has somehow become a landing board for YA masquerading as erotica but that’s another story and one handled better by other bloggers besides. Don’t even get me started on Fifty Shades of Grey. Just don’t.)

Burton’s article is interesting and Burton raises some very valid points including the fact that books in what I’m going to call the “Twilight vein” can suggest and maybe even elevate questionable behaviors. Burton notes: “that romantic desirability is the proof of, and the reward for, individual worth.” In other words, the hypothetical “Mary Sue” of Burton’s YA romances is cast as a love interest and all of her identity and value comes from whatever romantic relationship she pursues.

That’s really bad.

What I found deeply troubling about the article is that it is incredibly one-sided. Burton claims she is writing with an insider’s perspective but by “insider” she seems to mean “another author making sweeping generalizations about YA based on a very small percentage of YA titles.” Burton never qualifies that she is speaking to a very narrow part of the world of Young Adult literature and to an even narrower part of what gets grouped under the umbrella of YA Romance. Instead of qualifying her claims Burton makes sweeping generalizations about YA Romance and its anti-feminist tendencies.

And yes, the problems are very true for some books. But the article ignores all of the books where these problems do not exist. And it kills me because the general public still doesn’t really know how large the YA world is and read articles like this and thing that’s all there is.

Here’s the thing, actually two things:

First: Young Adult isn’t a genre in the traditional sense. Marketing-wise, of course it is. But really YA is about audience and character age and format. Grouping all YA books together is like grouping together books about World War II or books set in Europe. Sure, all of those books fit together in one sense. But there are also tons of ways that they are unique.

Second: YA Romance doesn’t start and stop with Twilight. It doesn’t even stop with mass market romances like the ones Burton probably wrote. When you mention Twilight there are two other obvious blockbuster comparisons: The Hunger Games and, more recently, Beautiful Creatures. I’m not going to re-hash The Hunger Games because it isn’t strictly speaking a romance and because everyone already knows everything about it. So let’s look at Beautiful Creatures where Lena is the female lead and also in the power position. She pushes Ethan away, she saves Ethan, she is powerful, she makes sacrifices. She is mysterious and quirky and well-read and dimensional. And, oh wait, she’s a heroine in a YA Romance. Go figure.

I’m probably not saying anything new here and given who reads this blog I’m also  probably preaching to the choir but I’m just so tired or people pretending YA can wok as a universal label or genre indicator akin to “fantasy” or “legal thriller” when the terminology was never (I think) meant to work on that level.

I find it equally frustrating to see all of this talk of romances as if Stephenie Meyer and E. L. James (and maybe Nicholas Sparks) are the only authors out there. Adult novels have a very specific meaning when they classify a book as a “romance” and it serves those readers well. Some YA publishing houses have a similar focus but it doesn’t work the same way. Furthermore, no genre–for any age–should have be treated so dismissively and criticized out of hand.

Every book–even the ones that are troubling, even the ones that aren’t literary–every single book matters. They start conversations. They lead readers to other books. They matter.

I just felt like that had to be said even though in retrospect it might be familiar territory. I’ll finish by pointing you to my favorite manifesto (that I wrote) on Reading Without Remorse.

I’ll also point you to my book club where we can talk about YA books in broader terms and have some good, old fashioned fun with books.

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