Even and Odd: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Even and Odd by Sarah Beth DurstEven and Odd are sisters who share magic on alternating days. On her even days twelve-year-old Emma “Even” Berry tries to pack in as much magic use as she can while she prepares for her next exam from the Academy of Magic. With her level five exam looming, Even needs all the practice time she can get to make sure she stays on schedule with her plans to become a hero. As a hero Even will be able to accept quests and travel throughout the neighboring magical kingdom of Firoth helping people.

Eleven-year-old Olivia “Odd” Berry would be just as happy skipping her magic days altogether. Except for turning her sister into a skunk when she’s annoying, Odd rarely has control of her magic. Odd’s magic might improve with practice, but she’d much rather focus on spending time volunteering at the animal shelter in their sleepy town in Connecticut where the Berrys run a border shop helping visitors from Firoth navigate the mundane world.

When the hidden portal behind Fratelli’s Express Bagels suddenly closes, no one can access their magic. Worse, a lot of magical Firoth residents are stranded far from home and cut off from their families. Even is eagerto help investigate as hero practice and Odd is excited to get to know the unicorn Jeremy who also offers assistance if it means getting home before his parents ground him.

When they find themselves trapped on the wrong side of the border, both sisters will have to rely on all of their skills–magical and otherwise–to figure out who is stealing the border magic and how to fix it in Even and Odd (2021) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Even and Odd is filled with humor and timely commentary on the harms of closed borders. Narrated in close third person following Even, the story explores magic from both sides as Even embraces all things magical and Odd is readier to find magic in the mundane world (like new kittens!).

With help from Jeremy, a unicorn with a surprising fondness for soda, Even and Odd explore their birthland Firoth for the first time while trying to fix the border. The magic system here is logical and has several parallels to climate change as magical energy is treated as a limited resource–a fact that leads to dangerous consequences for the border and all of Firoth.

Whimsical magical elements and humor help temper these weightier topics as the sisters realize that sometimes being a hero has a lot less to do with proper training and a lot more to do with offering to help. Even and Odd is a fast-paced, magical adventure perfect for readers who like their fantasy with a bit of humor and a lot of sisterhood.

Possible Pairings: The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis, The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer, Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connelly, Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger, The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Author Interview (#2): Sarah Beth Durst on Drink, Slay, Love

Sarah Beth Durst author photoBack in May, I was lucky enough to interview Sarah Beth Durst about her book Enchanted Ivy. At the end of that interview she mentioned that her next project involved a vampire who was stabbed by a unicorn. I was, of course, intrigued.

Now that Drink, Slay, Love is officially out in the world, Sarah is back to talk with me once again about her unique take on vampires (and unicorns!). If you want more preliminary information about Sarah and her writing, you can also check out our earlier interview.

Miss Print (MP): In a fun post on your blog you talk a bit about the inspiration for Drink, Slay, Love coming from your love of both unicorns and vampires. What drew you to those two creatures? What is the appeal, for you, of vampires and unicorns?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I think my love of unicorns can be traced to elementary school.  In my school, unicorns were considered the crowning jewel of any girl’s sticker collection.  As to vampires…  I blame Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was pretty much the best show on television ever.

MP: There is a long history of tales about vampires or unicorns. How did you decide what aspects of vampire or unicorn lore to keep and what to reimagine for your story?

SBD: I liked how opposite the vampire and the unicorn are.  One, a sexy and bloodthirsty creature of the night.  And the other… much more apt to eat marshmallows and poop rainbows.  So I wanted to strengthen that dichotomy by going with the darker, more evil and less brooding version of the vampire.  And for the unicorn, I decided that their fluffy and happy reputation is mere propaganda spread by the unicorns themselves to disguise their true purpose as vampire hunters.

MP: Drink, Slay, Love is one of the catchiest titles I’ve heard for a book this year. How did you come up with the title? Did you find this title before or after the novel was written?

SBD: Drink, Slay, Love had many, many, many titles.  All the credit for the final title goes to my husband, who thought of it in this epiphany-like moment where I expected a cartoon lightbulb to appear over his head.

MP: I really enjoyed that the heroine of Drink, Slay, Love is named Pearl because it seems like such an unlikely name for a vampire. How did you know Pearl was the right name for your vampire protagonist?

SBD: I knew Pearl’s name before I even knew her story.  It just felt so wrong that I knew it was right.  The name “Pearl” implies such innocence and purity, and my Pearl is… well, evil.

MP: Being a vampire and a natural predator, Pearl isn’t always the most sympathetic heroine. What was it like writing about a character who starts the book as kind of scary and not nice?

SBD: I loved writing Pearl!  Seriously, this was the best writing experience I’ve ever had.  It’s so freeing to write a character that doesn’t suffer any fools.  She’s fierce, fearless, and funny, and I loved hanging out with her.

MP: One of the really fun things about this book is that it has a lot of strong, memorable secondary characters. So many, in fact, that it’s hard to pick an example but I really enjoyed Bethany and Jocelyn (and Matt and Zeke’s banter). This isn’t a fair question for a writer, but did you have a favorite character in the story? Was one more fun to write about than the others?

SBD: I love them all, of course.  *blows air-kisses at characters*  But I have to admit to having a soft spot for Antoinette, Pearl’s vampire cousin who is utterly evil and loves Molly Ringwald 80s movies.

MP: Given the plot of Drink, Slay, Love I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask your opinion on the two great debates of our time: Vampires vs. Werewolves and Zombies vs. Unicorns. Any thoughts?

SBD: Werewolves.  Much more cuddly.

And unicorns.  Much less gooey.

MP: What can you tell us about your next book? Do you have any plans to revisit Pearl and Evan (and Bethany and Matt and Zeke) in a future project?

SBD: I don’t have any immediate plans for a sequel to DRINK, SLAY, LOVE, though I do miss Pearl and Evan, so who knows what the future may bring…  My next book is a standalone YA fantasy called VESSEL.  It’s coming out in fall 2012 from Simon & Schuster, and I’m really excited about it!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks again to Sarah for taking the time out of her schedule to answer all of my questions.

If you want to know more about Drink, Slay, Love be sure to check out my review.

Drink, Slay, Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth DurstPearl is like a lot of sixteen-year-old girls. She likes to steal cars and drive too fast with her handsome, dangerous boyfriend Jadrien. She wears a lot of black. She is extremely flammable in direct sunlight.

Okay. Maybe Pearl isn’t exactly an average teenaged girl. But she is an average vampire. Completely ordinary and almost completely evil; Pearl is the perfect predator at the top of the food chain in her Connecticut town. And she is fine with that.

With the vampire king of New England coming soon for the annual fealty ceremony that marks the start of a vampire’s adulthood, it’s a good time to be a young vampire. Since her Family has been given the honor of hosting the king’s feast things are especially good for Pearl.

At least until the unicorn comes along and stabs her in the heart with his stupid sparkly horn.

But instead of dying a quick death, Pearl survives the attack. Not just that, she can now withstand sunlight. No one in her Family believes her about the unicorn (they are mythical creatures after all–even vampires know that), but even they can’t ignore her new resistance to daylight.

Within the king’s feast looming and no volunteers in sight, Pearl’s Family decides to take advantage of her newfound ability by enrolling her in high school. Securing the king’s feast should be easy with an entire high school of students to choose from, right?

Wrong, as it turns out.

Blending in among the human students is harder for a vampire than Pearl expected. Some students, like Bethany seem overly eager to befriend her. Others want to prove their dominance (unlikely). Then there’s Evan. The deliciously cute boy who Pearl can’t decide if she wants to bite or . . . not.

Torn between what her Family needs and what she actually wants, Pearl finds that after the unicorn incident nothing is black and white anymore. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for things to change and maybe, just maybe, Pearl is the one to bring about those changes in Drink, Slay, Love (2011) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Filled with twists and turns, Drink, Slay, Love is fun new spin on vampires (and, of course, unicorns too). Durst stays true to traditional vampire mythology (Pearl does not sparkle) while also adding her own unique spin to these familiar mythical monsters.

Viewing high school through Pearl’s eyes brings a level of humor to the story as she evaluates teachers as potential threats and brings her predator mentality to cafeteria politics. (Think Katniss Everdeen walking the halls of Sweet Valley High.) What results, in addition to a satisfying urban fantasy, is a dryly fun commentary on the ins and outs of high school.

Durst aptly demonstrates her range as readers follow Pearl’s journey from scary vampire to something else entirely. There are, in fact, enough drastic changes throughout the course of the story that the opening for a sequel is very wide indeed. Drink, Slay, Love is a clever, entertaining book complete with a winning heroine readers will want to cheer for–albeit from a safe distance.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde

You can also read my exclusive interview with Sarah Beth Durst about Drink, Slay, Love starting October 27, 2011

**This book was acquired for review through the publisher/author

The Unicorn’s Tale: A (Rapid Fire {Nathaniel Fludd}) Review

The Unicorn’s Tale by R. L. LaFevers, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (2011)

The Unicorn's Tale by R. L. LaFevers, illusrated by Kelly MurphyBook 4 in the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series

Since I have already reviewed book 1, book 2 and book 3 of the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series I decided that for book 4 I didn’t need to go in depth with background information. SPOILER: I loved all of the books. Much as it pains me to say this, we’re really at the point in the series where you have to read the previous books to keep up.

In addition to featuring one of my favorite mythical creatures (I’m on Team Unicorn) this book gets back to basics established in book one. Nathaniel and Aunt Phil stay together for the entire story, Cornelius the Dodo is back. And we learn more about Nate’s parents.

The mythological beast story was charming and worked well with the more ongoing story of Nathaniel’s missing parents. We are also treated to an excerpt from the Book of Beasts (instead of a glossary) filled with information on the various kinds of unicorns. As usual Murphy’s illustrations are gorgeous and add a fun dimension to the story.

I love this series and am kind of obsessed with it. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an old fashioned adventure-fantasy for the younger set.

Zombies Vs. Unicorns: A Review

Forget about pirates and ninjas. Vampires and Werewolves is so 2008. Don’t even talk to me about salty vs sweet or angels and demons.

There is something far more important to debate.

Even more important that Edward/Jacob, Will/Jem, Puck/Ash debates.*

No, seriously.

Which is better: the zombie or the unicorn?

This heated debate has raged for centuries** and now, at last, two authors have sought to settle the matter once and for all in Zombies vs. Unicorns (2010).

This anthology was edited by Holly Black (leading Team Unicorn) and Justine Larbalestier (leading Team Zombie). Each team is comprised of six young adult authors including most of the big names you’d expect to have an opinion on the matter.

As editors Black and Larbalestier also include an introduction to each story with a bit about the origins of the mythology and the inspiration or appeal of the story. Then the opposing editor (Larbalestier if it’s a Unicorn story or vice versa) will put in a few ribs about why the story (and the creature in general) is totally lame. The introductions are funny but after going through twelve of them they started to become ever so slightly grating.

The book design also includes a handy icon to identify each story as pro-zombie or pro-unicorn.

I’m not actually much of a short story reader but I picked this collection up because there was a lot of hype and a small chance it would be shortlisted for the Cybils which would mean I had to read it anyway (it wasn’t and actually that decision makes perfect sense–if you were wondering).

As with any collection, some of the stories in Zombies vs. Unicorns were quite good. Garth Nix’s opening story “The Highest Justice” sets up the story nicely with a creepy zombie and a severe unicorn. Stories by Meg Cabot, Diana Peterfreund, Naomi Novik, Cassandra Clare, and Libba Bray were all lots of fun.

Unfortunately this review isn’t about individual stories.*** It’s about the anthology as a whole.

Again this might be because I don’t read a lot of short stories, but a few stories in the whole reading process because a struggle. The fact that I am solidly on Team Unicorn also probably helped. Almost all of the zombie stories felt too long. They were too creepy, too icky and just too much for me in one concentrated book.****

Zombies vs. Unicorns is a breezy book sure to entertain anyone with an interest in zombies or unicorns. Some of it is fun. Some of it is, honestly, kind of gross. Some of the stories were excellent. Some of them were not. At the end of the day Zombies vs. Unicorns had its moments but the stories were too divergent (in terms of quality, style and content) to really feel like a cohesive collection.

*I’m actually the only one on Team Puck but that’s okay.

**Or, you know, since February 2007 when our intrepid editors began discussing the merits of each supernatural creature.

***And even if it was that only amounts to six stories I truly liked. Frankly fifty per cent is a great stat for a book.

****Proof: I had a dream last night that I couldn’t leave my house because the yard was infested with zombies that wanted to eat me. I might never read a zombie story ever again. To be fair Margo Lanagan’s unicorn story was also truly awful in terms of gore. If nothing else I learned that I should probably skip her books since the style of her story just didn’t work for me.

Possible Pairings: I was going to do pairings, honest. But truthfully there are too many to name. If you want something to read after loving this anthology I’d suggest going through and picking up some of the other works by writers whose stories you enjoyed.

Exclusive Bonus Content: The title of this book is never actually written in words. Instead a picture of a shambling zombie and a majestic zombie face off on the cover cut out from a black dust jacket. Underneath the book binding is printed with a painting by Josh Cochran (who also did the hand lettering in the book) that shows zombies and unicorns . . . tearing each other to shreds. The cover is reminiscent of The Garden of Earthly Delights a famous Renaissance era triptych (three-paneled painting) by Hieronymous Bosch. The endpapers feature enlarged drawings of the scenery from the cover in black and white instead of the color paintings on the exterior.