A Spark Unseen: A Review

A Spark Unseen by Sharon CameronWhen Katharine Tullman took charge of her uncle’s estate two years ago, she knew there would be difficulties. She knew there were people who might want Uncle Tully and his brilliant mind; people who might do anything to secure his genius for their own purposes.

She just didn’t know she would be dealing with these circumstances on her own.

Nearly two years have past since Lane Moreau left Katharine behind at Stranwyne, promising he would return to her when he could. Katharine has been able, if not happy, to wait until Lane disappears. When she wakes in the night to witness a kidnapping attempt on her uncle, Katharine knows it is time to leave her beloved home.

She travels to Paris hoping to find answers and security for herself and those she holds dear. If she is very lucky, she hopes she will also find Lane.

Unfortunately nothing in Paris is as Katharine expects. Soon enough she caught up in a web of deceit and the political machinations of two governments. Everyone wants something from Katharine or her uncle. But only Katharine can decide whom she can trust in A Spark Unseen (2013) by Sharon Cameron.

A Spark Unseen is the followup to Cameron’s debut novel The Dark Unwinding. This story picks up two years after the events of The Dark Unwinding in 1854. After the opening chapters the majority of the novel is set in Paris, France.

Unfortunately, this book suffers for the location change. Stranwyne is so vivid and evocative that it became a character in The Dark Unwinding. By comparison, the Parisian atmosphere in this novel feels dry and unexciting and much of the beauty was lost with the French backdrop. While Katharine is still a delightful heroine even her charms seem diminished as the focus shifts in this book to a convoluted arms race centered around Uncle Tully and his inventions.

Cameron maintains a sense of urgency and page-turning tension throughout the story that will keep readers engrossed. However there is so much plot and so much action that it left very little room for the characters that readers came to love in the first book (or new characters for that matter). So many details had to be packed into such a small space that the entire novel felt rushed and much more plot driven.

A Spark Unseen ties up the story of Katharine and Lane (and Stranwyne) decently enough–fans of The Dark Unwinding will likely want to pick up this sequel to see what happens next. Either way A Spark Unseen remains a very different reading experience from its predecessor, not to mention losing much of the whimsy found in The Dark Unwinding.

Possible Pairings: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Linktastic! Banned Books Week Edition

It’s Banned Book Week!

Ideally I’ll get a banned book review up before the week is out, but if I don’t I wanted to at least get some links out there while they’ll be timely!

Then, as is my way, here are some other random links:

Hero: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hero by Alethea KontisSaturday Woodcutter is tired of being the lone ordinary child among her magically gifted siblings. Even with an enchanted sword to call her own, Saturday fears she is never destined to have a great adventure like her sister Sunday or travel the world like her sister Thursday. The idea of Saturday ever being the stuff of songs and ballads like her older brother Jack is downright laughable.

Then Saturday accidentally creates an ocean outside of the Woodcutter family home and sets sail on a pirate ship.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s first adventure is cut short when a witch kidnaps her. Saturday is whisked to the Top of the World and embroiled in the witch’s evil plans. Even with her magic sword and sensible thinking, Saturday isn’t certain she has what it takes to stop the witch and save herself–let alone anyone else. But she is certain that she has to try in Hero (2013) by Alethea Kontis.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hero is a sequel/companion to Kontis’ earlier novel Enchanted. (Enchanted was Sunday Woodcutter’s adventure. And while the same characters feature and references are made to the events of Enchanted in Hero, you could probably read this one without reading the first book and still enjoy it.)

Hero is full of the wit and nods to familiar tales that readers of Enchanted will expect. This time around Kontis also creates a tighter narrative with smoother plotting and more surprising twists (including a very surprising one at the end!). Peregrine is an excellent foil for Saturday. The two together are as memorable as they are formidable. Their unlikely pairing also provides ample opportunities for gender bending as traditional roles are flipped or just thrown out the window.

Saturday is a great heroine. She is tough, surly and she hates all things romantic. (Don’t even get her started on magic and all the trouble it causes.) She is also massively tall and often rude and obnoxious to strangers (or relatives . . . or friends). Which is to say that Saturday is an incredibly human protagonist. She makes quite a few mistakes throughout the story and she carries more than her share of guilt over said mistakes. But at the same time she is proactive and selfless in a way that heroines don’t always get to be when a fairy tale atmosphere comes into play.

Hero is another excellent installment in the Woodcutter Sisters story and a mandatory read for anyone looking for an antidote to the typical princess story. With a central arc that resolves nicely Hero still promises even more adventure and mayhem to come for the kingdom of Arilland and the Woodcutter family.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Chris Hale, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones,Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

I was also a stop on Alethea Kontis’ blog tour for Hero so be sure to check out my interview with her.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Sequels

Top Ten Tuesdays img by Miss Print

I love sequels. A lot of the time middle books are my favorite in a trilogy. So here are ten of my favorites:

  1. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: I could have done with more Blue and Gansey but I really loved the character dynamics at place here.
  2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: My favorite of the trilogy–Peeta, district stuff, killer twist. And did I mention Finnick?
  3. The Elite by Kiera Cass: Catching Fire with less murder and mayhem.
  4. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers: I really enjoyed the first book but I really LOVED this one.
  5. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: You can talk to me about Anna and Etienne all you want. This book still surpasses them in every way.
  6. Uncommon Criminals and Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter: Okay, you got me, I just love this series.
  7. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: I had problems with both Graceling and Fire but I unequivocally liked this one.
  8. Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin: This is one of my favorite serieses by a favorite author. Go ahead, act surprised it’s on this list.
  9. The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson: I genuinely loved this more than the first. I was so excited when it came out that when I heard it was released early at a Barnes and Noble by my house I ran there. In my pajamas.
  10. Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli: Truly a perfect book.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

(Image made by me.)

Author Interview: Alethea Kontis on Hero

Alethea Kontis author photoOne of my favorite books I read this year was Enchanted by Alethea Kontis. The book came out while I was still working in a bookstore and, though I didn’t get to read it as soon as I’d have liked, I was quite taken with the cover and the premise. So much so that I hand sold the book to anyone who would stand still. Then I read it and loved it. Then I found that Alethea was absolutely delightful on Twitter. THEN I found out the book was the first in a series AND I got to meet Alethea at BEA 2013 where she was signing arcs. Needless to say it was all very exciting and I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Hero (the second book in the Woodcutter Sisters series). For more info about the blog tour and to see the other stops check out: http://prismbooktours.blogspot.no/2013/09/hero-by-alethea-kontis-on-fairy-tale.html

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

Alethea Kontis (AK): I can pinpoint the birth of my writing career to when I was eight years old. That year my grandmother gave me a doorstop copy of Unexpurgated Tales of Grimm & Andersen, I got my first real, paid, TV acting job, and Romancing the Stone was the blockbuster movie that summer. I was already writing poetry, but suddenly I wanted to be Joan Wilder more than anything in the world.

I was a good student–I’ve always liked learning things–but my parents frowned on the idea of my being an English major. So I got a degree in Chemistry real quick, left college not long after my 20th birthday, and went to work in a bookstore. I haven’t left the publishing industry since. I’ve been a bookseller, a librarian, an editor, a copyeditor, a reviewer, a columnist, an interviewer, a small press publisher, and a book buyer for a major wholesaler. Oh — and an author. I can’t just do one thing. I HAVE TO LEARN IT ALL.

MP: Hero is the second book in a series. It’s preceded by Enchanted. What was the inspiration for this series? When you started, did you know the story of the Woodcutter family would encompass four books?

AK: The plan is for the Woodcutter Sisters Series to encompass 7 books — one about each sister. That’s always been my original plan. The publisher’s plan was for Enchanted to be a solo book. But I pulled out all the stops doing my own publicity and the book got some pretty rave reviews, and dontcha know it, they asked me to write two more books! This seems to be how publishing goes nowadays — everyone plays it close to the vest. Mama Woodcutter would be proud.

The inspiration for the series was the original novelette “Sunday” which I wrote for a fairy tale contest in my writers group. As the idea got bigger and bigger in my head, I had to promise myself that I would write the novel in order to edit out key points for the short story. AND I DID!

MP: What was the inspiration for Hero specifically?

AK: I was reading by the age of three and was quite the avid reader by age five. One of my favorite books was Petronella, a feminist retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ “Master Maid,” written by Jay Williams and illustrated by Friso Henstra. I always envisioned Saturday as a Petronella-type character: a girl who was meant to be a boy, but was just as tough and clever. Saturday’s story is definitely a nod to my heroes Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce.

MP: Obviously these books nod to a lot of fairy tales throughout. Were any books or stories especially helpful in your writing?

AK: One of my favorite books in my personal library is an Annotated Mother Goose, and I recently purchased the Annotated Brothers Grimm. I have many versions of the Grimms’ tales, of course, and Andersen’s. I’ve also been reading back through the Lang fairy books, taking obsessive notes on place names, character names, food, animals, and objects. I’m sure the inside of my head looks like one of those serial killer rooms on TV…man, I wish I could collage a room like that without getting locked in a padded cell.

MP: Working off the last question, both Enchanted and Hero have some great settings in the story. Did any actual locations help to inspire Arilland? Or the Wood? Or even the Top of the World?

AK: I’m so glad you asked! In one of my favorite books (The Princess Bride), the author (William Goldman) says that the story takes place “before Europe, but after Paris.” That’s my setting for the Woodcutters–a Once Upon a Time land where I can recognize the French influence in certain words and character names without ever naming “France” as a country. I want to be able to pull in all sorts of cultures and folk/fairy/magic tale influences while still obfuscating with author handwavium.

MP: One thing readers learn fairly early is that the Woodcutter sisters are all very unique. Was one sister more similar to you than others? Did you have a favorite sister to write about?

I was born on a Sunday, and like Sunday, I’ve always hated that nursery rhyme about the days of the week. But Sunday makes her own adventure, as I have made mine. Despite that, of course, there is quite a bit of all of me in each of the sisters. It’s as if they all live in my head at the same time…like in Tanya Huff’s The Last Wizard. My favorite sister is always the one I’m writing at the time.

Personally, I CAN’T WAIT to write Monday’s story…but that might be because it’s the awesome culmination of the series. It also scares me the most, because I’m definitely not ready for my time in this fairy tale world to be over. Not in the slightest.

MP: In the Woodcutter family, each child received a special name day gift. If you had a fairy godmother, what would you hope to receive as your name day gift? Is there anything you’d really want to avoid receiving?

AK: Everything happens for a reason and all gifts are useful, so I’d definitely never turn anything away–especially if it was something intrinsically liked to who I was destined to be. I’d certainly love Sunday’s neverending journal. I have a bazillion notebooks. I would save SO MUCH space and money.

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

AK: Right now I’m working on BELOVED (Friday’s story), which will release in the fall of 2014. I’m also working with a friend at a small press to release a collection of my non-fairy tale short stories called WILD AND WONDERFUL, DARK AND DREAMING.

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

AK: NEVER STOP. Never stop writing, never stop learning, and never stop putting yourself out there. Opportunity is out there, but it’s a lot of hard work finding it. And then you have to find the next one. And the next one. It’s tough. Really tough. But you can do it!

Thanks again to Alethea Kontis for a great interview.

You can see more about Alethea and her books on her website.

You can also read my reviews of Enchanted and Hero here on the blog!

Vicious: A Review

“The world resists, when you break its rules.”

Vicious by V. E. SchwabVictor and Eli have been competing with each other since the moment they met. Victor could easily surpass Eli, of course. But he recognizes the same reckless ambition in Eli and, Victor thinks, the same broken pieces that Victor can’t quite fix in himself. In a world where so many things are boring Eli, at least, is interesting.

Eli proves to be especially interesting in their senior year of college when their shared thesis research about adrenaline and near-death experiences reveals that under the right circumstances it may be possible to develop ExtraOrdinary abilities.

Their fates tangle even further when experiments with that research go horribly wrong.

Ten years later Victor and Eli find themselves on opposite sides of a battle for power. While Victor breaks out of prison determined to exact revenge on the friend who betrayed him, Eli is on a mission of his own to eliminate every ExtraOrdinary person that he can.

Victor and Eli both know a final meeting is inevitable. They both know only one is likely to survive. But even as they move inexorably closer to that final confrontation, it’s unclear who will emerge the hero. And who will forever be remembered as the villain in Vicious (2013) by V. E. Schwab.*

Find it on Bookshop.

Vicious is an intricately plotted story of revenge and the not-quite redemption of Victor Vale. With chapters labeled “ten years ago” and “last night” (among other times) readers are brought closer and closer to Victor and Eli’s dramatic showdown. Flashbacks interspersed with the present story explain the rivalry between the two men while also providing valuable insight into their characters.

Schwab expertly navigates the murky area between right and wrong as readers (and perhaps the characters themselves) are left wondering who, if anyone, is the actual hero of the story.  With a plot exploring the idea that opposing a self-proclaimed hero–even for very good, very right reasons–might make someone a villain by default, Vicious is still populated with a number of surprisingly likable characters.

Vicious pushes the boundaries of conventional superhero tropes to take this story in a new and original direction. Readers looking for the next great anti-hero or fans who always cheer a little louder for the bad guy will definitely want to give Vicious a try.

*V. E. Schwab is the alter ego of YA author Victoria Schwab. This book is marketed for adult readers. It would be great for older teen readers but younger readers should be prepared for more mature language and some violence.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Proxy by Alex London, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

The Dream Thieves: A Review

The Dream Thieves by Maggie StiefvaterEverything changed for Blue, Gansey, Ronan and Adam before they ever found Cabeswater. Things changed for Noah long before that.

Now that the ley lines have awakened even more changes are coming to the small town of Henrietta. There will certainly be more moments of wonder; maybe even things coming close to magic. But darker things are also being drawn to the power of the lines.

Ronan always knew that his family was different. He always knew that his dreams were different. Ronan always knew that, in some fundamental ways, he was different.

It wasn’t, after all, everyone who had a pet raven named Chainsaw. Nor was it everyone who acquired such a pet from his own dreams.

As Gansey’s search for Glendower and Cabeswater continues it soon becomes clear that Ronan’s dreams are at the center of their latest puzzle. But with so many people searching and grasping for pieces of Cabeswater, it’s unclear how much will have to be lost before the next piece of the puzzle will be found in The Dream Thieves (2013) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Dream Thieves is the second book in Stiefvater’s Raven Boys quartet. This book picks up closely after the conclusion of book one, The Raven Boys. While both books are delightful on their own, it’s unlikely readers new to the series will be able to catch up without reading the first installment.

This book focuses much more on Ronan even as Stiefvater continues to delve into the mysteries surrounding Glendower and Gansey’s search. Blue and Gansey have their moments, of course, but it was a pleasant surprise to have the book focus so much on Ronan. (Even more of a surprise to realize how very likable he is as a character.)

Stiefvater’s writing is top-notch as this series continues. The focus on Ronan’s dreams and a new secondary character takes the story in a new direction while Stiefvater’s beautiful prose and familiar characters continue to deliver everything readers will remember with fondness from The Raven Boys.

The Dream Thieves is a perfect blend of skillful storytelling and suspense as tension builds until the final confrontations in the story. Being the second book in a series of four, there are (of course) several questions left by the end of the story including a very surprising ending. That said, Stiefvater delivers everything fans will hope for and expect from her in this novel along with a story that is certain to resonate with readers.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Two Strikes: In Which I Outline a New Reading Strategy

I think I’m a book hoarder, dear readers.

While that isn’t inherently a problem, it does sometimes overwhelm me. With so many amazing new books always being published and so many classics I haven’t read yet and so many other books that fall somewhere in between it gets overwhelming.

Right now, according to goodreads, my to read list includes 239 books–a surprising number of which are already in my house. (True story: I think my “to be read” bookcase is currently larger than my “books I’ve read” shelving.)

Anyway, I like order and I like to be realistic about what I will and won’t get to. So I’m initiating a couple of reading strategies:

  1. Every book gets 50 pages. If I don’t like it enough or care enough to continue after that, I don’t have to.
  2. Skimming is okay. Sometimes you just want to finish a book to know what happens: no more, no less. And that’s okay by me.
  3. Not all books are for everyone. And it’s okay to know that and admit a premise just isn’t appealing.

And here’s the big one, the one for which this post is titled:

I’m instituting a two strike policy. I will try two books by any author I want to read. If neither of those books impress me (three if two of them are from the same series), I’m going to give up trying books by that author. While I’d love to read everything, life is just too short and it isn’t fair to me, or the author really, to keep trying to read books when something about the writing doesn’t click.

So those are my reading plans moving forward.

What about you? Do you have any reading strategies to get through your dangerously high TBR piles?

Cloaked in Red: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande VeldeSome fairy tales are just problematic. Rumpelstiltskin’s motivations are fuzzy at best. Does Rapunzel’s mother really need lettuce that badly?

Then you have Little Red Riding Hood. How oblivious can one child be? Why was she left unsupervised in the woods? Why a red hood at all?

Many questions. Not so many answers.

Plenty of opportunities for new retellings in Cloaked in Red (2010) by Vivian Vande Velde.

Find it on Bookshop.

This collection runs in the same vein as Vande Velde’s earlier collection The Rumpelstiltskin Problem. An author’s note starts the volume in which Vande Velde outlines the numerous problems with the original Little Red Riding Hood.

In the eight stories in this collection Vande Velde offers a different slant on the story. “Little Red Riding Hood’s Family” offers a very clever, whimsical explanation of why Little Red would not be concerned to find her grandmother looking like a wolf. “Granny and the Wolf” delves deeper into the relationship between Granny and the woodcutter (not to mention the wolf). “Deems the Woodcutter” is a delightful story about a myopic woodcutter who misguidedly helps quite a few familiar fairy tale characters while out gathering wood.

While this collection ignores some of the darker undertones of the Perrault* version of the story–and only nods to the Grimm version in “Why Willy and His Borther Won’t Ever Amount to Anything” without mentioning Perrault at all–the collection is solid with a range of stories to appeal to readers of every age and persuasion.

With a snappy tone and amusing starts to every story along the lines of “Once upon a time, before department stores and designer labels . . .” Cloaked in Red is filled with stories that are approachable and fun. This would be a great collection to pair with picture book versions of Little Red Riding Hood, to read aloud, or even to use as a primer on short story writing.

*The moral from the Perrault story is as follows: “Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.” It’s safe to say the moral is hinting at a bit more than actual wolves.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

You can find some different version of Little Red Riding Hood (including both Perrault’s and Grimm’s) here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0333.html

Top Ten Tuesday: My fall TBR Pile

Top Ten Tuesdays img by Miss Print

I always have piles of books and I’m hoping to get through a lot in the next couple of months because there are many subway rides in my future. That said, I posted a “No More Tears” reading list earlier this month too so between that list and this one, I’m hoping to stay on track!

  1. A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron (currently reading)
  2. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
  3. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
  4. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
  5. The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
  6. The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable
  7. The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee
  8. Golden Girl by Sarah Zettel
  9. Timepiece and Infinityglass by Myra McEntire
  10. Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan
  11. In the Days of Blood and Chocolate by Gabrielle Zevin

These are books from my other September list (which has some overlap here):

  1. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
  2. Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts
  3. The After Girls by Leah Konen
  4. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
  5. Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young

So that’s my immediate future reading list. Anything here that should be bumped to the top? (I’m not even going to tell you how little of a dent this makes in my to read piles.)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

(Image made by me.)