The Boy Who Steals Houses Book Blitz!

And now for something completely different! I am participating in the Book Blitz for the newest novel from one of my favorite bloggers and authors, C.G. Drews, aka Paper Fury. This is being put on by a group called the Aussie YA Bloggers, and I am so chuffed to be a part of it! Read on! And there’s a giveaway too!

But why, do you ask? Linda, you don’t even know Paper Fury. Why do you want to support an author halfway around the world? Well, man, let me tell you. I don’t know when I first began to follow C.G., but it was a few years ago. It started on Book Twitter (RIP Book Twitter, for the most part – this was Twitter before the 2016 election and other things crept in to spoil it). I followed her there, and she was just so NICE. And FUNNY. She was also kind of creepy how all her posts put into words how I felt. Then I found out she was writing a book. She shared so much! And I loved her blog, which sounded just like her tweets. Amazing.

Then three years ago I joined Bookstagram (yay, Bookstagram!), and followed her there. And so many chats! She answered all my DMs! I was in for a ride. I got to celebrate her first book with her, and I even created a swap photo for it (one of those where you sort of emulate someone else’s style as an homage). I mean, it wasn’t even close, but. Her pics are gorgeous!

Her books are not available in the US (what? I mean, come on!) but I was able to order her first book, A Thousand Perfect Notes, from Book Depository. And let me tell you – I cried! In public! Gah. But it was totally worth it. It was everything I was hoping for. Soft romance, awkward girl, damaged boy, lovely just lovely. I mean, I don’t usually read romance, and I hardly read any contemporary. But this was amazing.

Fast forward to The Boy Who Steals Houses! This is a genderbent Goldilocks retelling, and let me tell you, I am here for this! I don’t have a copy yet, but that lovely blogger group set this up, so I can participate in all the flailing anyway. Read on for more info. And go, follow Paper Fury on all the platforms you can find. Her content is STELLAR and she is a 100% awesome human bean.

The Boys Who Steals Houses is about…

Can two broken boys find their perfect home?

Sam is only fifteen but he and his autistic older brother, Avery, have been abandoned by every relative he’s ever known. Now Sam’s trying to build a new life for them. He survives by breaking into empty houses when their owners are away, until one day he’s caught out when a family returns home. To his amazement this large, chaotic family takes him under their wing – each teenager assuming Sam is a friend of another sibling. Sam finds himself inextricably caught up in their life, and falling for the beautiful Moxie.

But Sam has a secret, and his past is about to catch up with him.

About The Author

C.G. Drews lives in Australia with her dog, a piano, and the goal of reading every book in existence. Consequently, her brain has overflowed with words and she spends her days writing novel after novel. She blogs at Paper Fury, never sleeps and believes in cake for breakfast.

She believes in lots of cake. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @PaperFury and add this book on GoodReads!

You can buy The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drews on the following sites:
Australia and New Zealand:
Angus and Robinson, Booktopia, Amazon Australia, Fishpond
International:
Amazon US, Waterstones, Book Depository, Wordery

And if you see a copy in the wild, on a library or bookstore shelf, post it and tag her on social media, because she lives in a tiny town and hardly gets to see her book on shelves at all.

And now, for the international giveaway! Win a SIGNED and ANNOTATED copy of The Boy Who Steals Houses plus an official art print inspired by the book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drews
Paper, 347p, ISBN 9781408349922
Orchard Books, 2019

Book Review: Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed

Today I am participating in the blog tour for Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed by Obert Skye, which is  the second book in a series. Now, don’t be discouraged. The first book is so good, that you will be so happy that the second book is already out!

This is the Wizard for Hire series. In the first book, Ozzy grows up alone in the cloaked house in the woods. His parents were kidnapped from their house when he was seven. He is determined to find them some day, and then he sees an ad for a Wizard for Hire in a local newspaper. This is how he meets Rin.

There is also Sigi, who Ozzy meets out on the beach, who happens to be Rin’s daughter. And Clark, a sentient mechanical bird that Ozzy’s parents built, that keeps him company. And provides a lot of comic relief! The themes in this series, of loss, of grief, of realizing your potential, can be pretty heavy at times, so having Clark there is just as much a comfort for us as it is for Ozzy, it seems. We all come to like Clark so much, even though he has an affinity for mailboxes and spoons, that when he is threatened, it really makes you suck in your breath!

But on with the story. I don’t want to spoil you so I’m not going to recap the plot of the first book. I am, however, going to tell you to go get it right this minute, if you like anything to do with magic, and are game for a rollicking, irreverent Middle Grade. This is Harry Potter meets Discworld, in the best way. It is not perfect, but it has enough ah-ha moments, and laugh out loud funniness, and edge of your seat danger, that it will keep you turning pages long into the night.

In book two, we go on a wild ride from the cloaked house in Oregon to New York City. I loved the characters, and how they grew in this book, especially Ozzy. As I mentioned, the themes in this book touch on grief and loss, but here we get much more of Ozzy reaching for his own potential. He is suddenly declared to be Rin’s Apprentice, and finds out he has to undertake five tasks. But he doesn’t know what they are. And Rin ain’t talking. Or, well, he is, but sometimes it is hard to understand what he’s talking about.

Meanwhile, they are all being pursued by Ray, and his henchman, Jon. You won’t feel sorry for Jon for long. I really can’t say much more without spoiling it, so trust me, these are villains you will love to hate. I highly recommend this for anyone who has read Harry Potter, whether adult or child, and is looking for more of that idea of being an outsider who finds his crew, and there is every bit of a hint of magic here too. But is it really magic? I think we are about to find out.

Even though this book is a contemporary (like Harry Potter), it will feed your need for magic, and fantasy, and Rin lets us know more and more about Quarfelt, his wizard home. And there is plenty of homage to Harry Potter, so I think Skye is perfectly aware of similarities. Like the Cinco-Wizard Competition (or Cin-Wiz-Com) – the five tasks Ozzy needs to complete.

“Is that anything like the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter?”

“No, this one has five things. And it’s just for you.”

Don’t ever expect a straight answer from Rin. But sometimes, he can be very wise indeed.

I will definitely be looking for book three in this series. Book two released last week, so I have a bit of a wait. But that’s okay. I’m willing to binge all three. And Obert Skye also wrote the Leven Thumps series, and I have book one of that sitting here waiting for me.

 

Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed by Obert Skye
Hardcover, 416p, ISBN 9781629725291, $17.99

I received an advance copy of this book from Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: A Monster Like Me

In A Monster Like Me, Wendy S. Swore has written a heart-tugging contemporary story that includes magic and some things that are all too real. Readers may start out thinking this is just a lovely imaginative story about monsters, but as you read, you find that the monsters are all around us. Sometimes, they are at the grocery store. Sometimes, they sit in the desk next to us. Sometimes, there are people who may seem like monsters, but they are just having a hard day themselves.

Parts of this book were difficult for me to read, because, spoiler alert, I was bullied as a child. I mean, I kind of think we all were, in some form or another. What I like here is that Swore has shown that Sophie has both a coping mechanism, and a deniability mechanism at the same time. She thinks that she is really cursed. But this stops her from accepting herself, and that stops her from standing up to the bullies. Until they start bullying someone else. It is sometimes easier to help someone else than to help oneself. And Sophie shows that in spades.

I loved the chapter introductions that showed pages from her own Big Book of Monsters, that told about each of the monsters, and maybe gave us a hint of what was going to appear in that chapter. This showcased her great imagination. It is true, some people more resemble trolls or goblins than humans. But that doesn’t mean we can treat them as any less than human.

The writing puts us right inside the head of a child, when anything seems possible, and the motives of adults aren’t always understood. Like Sophie, we all feel a little put upon sometimes, though she has a greater burden to bear than most. What perhaps makes this ring so true is the fact that the author had a hemagioma when she was a child. Writing from the point of authenticity is always going to be a win.

Quick recap

Sophie has a hemangioma, or blood tumor, that covers half of her face. It is full of blood vessels, and when she is upset, she can feel her heartbeat through it. Most of the time she covers it with her hair, or hides behind her big book, but that doesn’t always work. She and her mom have just moved to a new town, and this means a new school. Sophie dreads picture day more than anything, but almost as bad is being paraded out in front of the class as ‘the new girl.’ Her lunch money is stolen, and she despairs of ever having a friend. She is bent on looking for the cure for the curse that she is convinced was put upon her by an evil witch. She meets  a ‘good witch’ in the neighborhood, and finally makes a friend. But that is almost shattered when her new friend’s mom says they can’t play together. On top of all that, there’s this guy hanging around her mom, and he just won’t go away. It is all a lot for a ten year old to handle.

There is so much packed into this story, it really is a lot to digest. This would make a great group read, as it offers a lot of opportunity for discussion. And there may be some children who are disturbed by parts of this, such as the bullying, or when Sophie fights with her mom, or thinks her mom won’t love her. So it is important to open up a dialogue about the issues raised here.

 

TW: verbal abuse, bullying

 

This book launches today from Shadow Mountain Publishing! I received an advance copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

A Monster Like Me by Wendy S. Swore
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN 9781629725550, $16.99

The Reading Life: Year-long Challenges: Readalongs

I enjoyed some wonderful readalongs in 2018. I found it helps to keep me on track, and it is more rewarding than reading a book by myself, especially if it is a complex or very long book. I haven’t been making it to book club much over the past two years, and the books they’ve chosen do not appeal to me very often. With readalongs, I can join or not join. And this way I get to read some books I might have always wanted to read. Don’t get me wrong – I have joined readalongs for books that are not typically in my stack, too. I’m not against reading outside my zone. That is one thing that I really enjoyed about my IRL book club. But the meetings weren’t working for me.

So this year, I have committed to three multi-month readalongs, one of which I am co-hosting! Imagine that. I am very excited about it. It is no mean feat to keep the momentum and enthusiasm up on something over the course of a year. So we shall see how it goes.

The Austen Readalong

The first one is called #ArdentlyAustenBookclub and is being hosted by @paperbackbones and @alchemyandink. We are reading one Jane Austen novel each month. This should be fun, because it will include a watchalong. I have only ever read Pride & Prejudice! I know. I am not sure how this happened. But this will give me a chance to read and discuss all of her novels at a reasonable pace. So I am very much looking forward to that. This only goes through July, of course, because then we run out of novels. I don’t own many of her novels, but I do have lots of books about her, that I have read. So this will give me a chance to look at those again too. I will also be watching some of the adaptations. I have never watched a Jane Austen adaptation. After this challenge, I will be able to hold up my head as an English major, I think.

A Year with Agatha Christie

I am also doing two Agatha Christie readalongs. I know. I just really love Agatha. And I haven’t read her in years. So when one popped up that looked good, I decided to try that. And then an online friend said she wanted to try reading some other Agatha, so she and I are reading the Miss Marple books. I read a lot of those when I was younger, but it has been years. So I’m really looking forward to diving back into Agatha again.

The first one is called #AYearwithChristie2019 and that one is a mix of the novels. I have already read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, his first appearance, and that was very good. Then I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and now I get why it is mentioned in every breath with Agatha. I am looking forward to seeing how the characterization progresses throughout the books. The second is with my co-host, Alicia at @aliciaandherbooks and we are calling it #AYearwithMissMarple. We started with The Murder at the Vicarage, which was surprisingly funny! We are holding discussions on our accounts on the last day of every month. I’ll be hosting it later this week for The Body in the Library. Several people have already joined in! This is my first time co-hosting a readalong so I am excited to see how it goes. It was also very interesting with these first few to see the contrast between the two characters.

Classics

And finally, I’m going to be reading some classics. I read some good ones last year so I want to keep going. There is a challenge I found that looks good.  It is very loose, and has some good titles in it. But I’m going to swap out some of them for others I would rather read. I won’t reread Frankenstein again, but I do want to read The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin (which is one unread book sitting on my shelf! I remember starting it years ago but I never finished it). Another title that I particularly wanted to read this year is Moby Dick. Wish me luck! I am happy to say that I found someone to read it with me, because that is too much book to read not to talk about it.

The person who posted the starter list is Sarah @she.gets.lit.erary and she has agreed to read Moby Dick with me in March! So we’ll be doing a little readalong of that. I don’t know if we will be using a hashtag yet, other than the #getclassicallylit tag that she had already posted, but at this point I will just be happy if I can get through the book. We have set up a chat group, so if you want to join, you can send a DM to Sarah. I think the chats will be weekly checkins.

Of course, all of these are voluntary. I am not so mean to myself that I am going to worry if I fall short. But I think these are all different enough that I won’t get bored. And I am motivated enough to keep going. Would you like to see a progress report, maybe halfway through the year?

Some of you may not be familiar with some of the terms I’m using, so I’m going to drop these here.
Readalong – when a group of people decide to all read the same book at the same time. Usually capped by a discussion. Sort of like an online book club. Usually done with a series or a single author.

Reading challenges – usually defined as a set amount of time to read books that match certain prompts. Sometimes a readalong includes challenge prompts. People may use whatever books they like to match the prompts. Usually no discussion is scheduled.

Hashtags – this is a way for someone to find a group or challenge or topic on Instagram. If it for a discussion, like a readalong, sometimes the discussions are being held in private group chats, so you have to let the organizer know you want to take part so they can add you to the chat. Other times, you can simply follow the hashtag and chat with folks who use it. Or sometimes they have the discussion on the organizer’s posts, so you can just go there and take part. It varies and I’ve seen the discussions done a number of ways, but the hashtags are key. Use them to find or define anything!

Readathons – a set timeframe in which to read books. Sometimes the readathons involve prompts to help you decide what to read. Popular ones are Bout of Books (a week-long readathon), #24in28, #TBRKnockdown and many more.

 

Let me know what your plans are for this year! I know there are a lot of other challenges that are aimed at helping you read books you already owned. One I did before was Beat the Backlist. She is doing that again this year. That one is great if you want to engage across platforms and chat a lot. I will also be doing some readathons to help me along, because my GoodReads Reading Goal this year is 100 books. I am sure I can do it but I love the readathons. Did you set a Reading Goal on GoodReads? If so, what are you doing to keep yourself on track?

The Reading Life: Year-long Challenges: The Unread Shelf

I have been paying very close attention to my reading life lately. Perhaps more so than in past years. Most of the time I would just request books from the library, and then read them as they came in (or not, you know. Sometimes those piles come in all at once!). But this year, I am doing some challenges that will cover areas that I have been meaning to get to.

The first one is something on Instagram called The Unread Shelf Project. Imagine! Reading the books you already own! Waving your arm across an entire bookcase of books that you have actually read! What a concept. It has been a long time since I could do that. I’ve tried a couple “Read Your Own Books” challenges before, but I fell flat with them after only a month or two. I know that #BeattheBacklist is going on again this year, but I like Instagram so much that it made sense to find one there.

It is run by a lady named Whitney, and she is just so pleasant and non-judgy and kind. I know she did this last year but for some reason I didn’t join in. But this year, I was on top of it. Her first task was to Count. Your. Unread. Books. Because you have to know where you are starting from.

Friends. I counted 500 books. And those were just the books I could see. That doesn’t count the books in boxes or the books that were in the bookshelf behind the Christmas tree or books behind other books on the shelf. Yes, I have subscribed to the notion It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books. But honestly, things are getting a little out of control. Last year, I ended up buying a lot of books from shops on Instagram. A good many of them were vintage books or subjects that were hard to find, and a lot of them were titles I thought would be helpful for my research for my book. Well. That only goes so far.

Now none of those new books have homes. They were in piles and stacks all over. And what I need to do is to look at the books on the shelves and decide what I want to keep and what I don’t. Because I’ve acquired two new short bookcases in the past two years, and they are both full too. Yikes. So I’ll be taking a long hard look at the old bookshelves, and digging into the boxes and bags in the basement, and choosing which books I want to read, and those that I don’t want to read will have to leave.

So already this project has helped me. But she also has little mini-challenges and each month there is a basic challenge. For January it was a No Buy No Borrow month. But this was hard because I had already requested books for readalongs and other challenges. I needed a little more of a heads up on this. So I did borrow, and I did buy an eagerly awaited title that released at the end of the month (King of Scars, natch). But I didn’t make any random trips to Half Price Books. So there’s that.

I’m looking forward to enjoying the books I have, and finding new homes for the books that I no longer want, or maybe never wanted in the first place. I am not going to beat myself up about it, because working in publishing for twenty years means you are bound to acquire some books. Now, like Whitney says, I just want to be more intentional about the library I am building. And to feel comfortable surrounded by the books I love, instead of feeling frustrated about having stacks all over the floor.

 

As part of the mini-challenges Whitney did little weekly challenges too. The first one was just read a book you already own. For my choice I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which is the first Flavia de Luce mystery. I got it at a bookswap last November (so maybe it wins a prize for being read closest to acquisition date!), when we had a MN Bookstagrammer meetup. I also got three other books but we won’t talk about those yet. The person who brought this had raved about the series, and I have since joined the fanclub (I mean, not literally, but yes, I will continue with the series). It has a very sweet and clever protagonist who gets into all kinds of scrapes.

The February monthly challenge is to read a book gifted to you. I am choosing the last book I was given, Upstream by Mary Oliver, which I got for Christmas of 2017 from my Book Aunt. I started it but didn’t get very far, and with the recent passing of Oliver I feel like it is a good time to read it. I remember that what I read was lovely. I don’t know if Whitney is doing the weekly challenges again this month, but I am ready to make some headway, so give me whatever you’ve got!

All in all, I can see where this is going to be a good exercise. I want to treat my books better, read more widely (I’ve really been deep in YA fantasy the past couple years), and try to sort out my book organization. Looking forward to what this challenge brings! If you are on Instagram, you can follow Whitney at @theundreadshelf and you can join the challenge at #theundreadbookshelf2019.

Book Review: Potions Masters #2: The Transparency Tonic

 

I am pleased as punch to be included in the blog tour for the release of The Transparency Tonic by Frank L. Cole. This second installment of a Middle Grade series roars right out of the gate, and keeps it up with almost non-stop action. In between, we get that familiar junior high angst of wanting to please your friends, our hero questioning his own talents, and an ending that will surprise you.

Gordy and his mom are Elixirists – well, his mom Wanda is. He is just a Dram, an elixirist in training. But he is one of the best Ciphers she’s ever seen, and he can do this thing called Blind Batching that blows everyone away – sometimes literally. What’s a Cipher? What’s a Dram? What is Blind Batching? Well, glad you asked, because I am pleased to introduce you to a new world – of magic, of secrets, of carefully concocted potions. If you have read the first book in the series, The Eternity Elixir, then you know what I mean. Rest assured you are in for a treat. If you haven’t read the first book yet, go and do that as soon as you can. I’ll wait.

Let me help you out a bit – in the first book, Gordy is just a fledgling elixirist, not even a Dram. He isn’t sure what he can do, and he makes the mistake of thinking he has things under control. There is a re-animated mummy, a wickedly nasty elixirist out to get something that Gordy’s Aunt Priss found in the desert and shipped to his house, and a whole lot of people getting Blotched (that’s bamboozled to you and me, where you are under the power of another person and don’t remember what you are doing), including Gordy’s dad. The world building is detailed and interesting. The potion brewing is well done and includes all kinds of ingredients and considerations. You know you are doing some serious brewing when you are working with catfish eyes, a mill worm cut in half, pickled cobra hoods and scorpion stingers.

It all comes down to Gordy’s Grandpa, who he thought was dead, the powerful elixirist Mezzarix. This man doesn’t take banishment lightly. We are introduced to the potion Community, the B.R.E.W. (Board of Ruling Elixirists Worldwide) headquarters, and a host of potions that do all kinds of things. There is also, thankfully, a seven-page glossary that helps sort out all this new information. The world-building in the first book is very complete, and there is plenty of action once things get under way.

In the second book, The Transparency Tonic, we already know all that. So it is open the door and you’re in it. Keep your wits about you, and don’t pretend that you know what anyone’s motivation is. There are dangers around every corner, and Gordy has to decide who he can trust. The stakes are higher and the action is faster.

Lucky for Gordy, he has two best friends, Max and Adilene, who will help him on his journey. When Gordy and his friends start eighth grade, things start to change. But who is this new girl, Sasha? Why does she want Gordy to come to a party at her house? Things get especially touchy when Gordy picks Max as his lab partner. Adilene had really had her heart set on it. Then she meets an odd girl named Cadence, and finds she may be able to do things on her own.

Meanwhile, Sasha’s mom, the new head of B.R.E.W., is cracking down. All is well until she cracks down on Wanda. And remember Gordy’s Grandpa? Well, he is not one to be put aside. What he can do with a single human hair… Well. It’s not going to be good. Let’s just say there are new villains galore.

There is a whole lot going on in this second installment. The predicament of the kids rings true, and so does the situation with Wanda. We meet again with Wanda’s co-workers Bolter and Zelda, and we are introduced to various other factions of the potions Community, which opens up a whole world that Gordy can now take part in. I am not going into any more detail as I don’t want to spoil the best bits. But if you love Middle Grade, you will love this. Five stars on GoodReads! Highly recommend for fans of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and books that include magic and action.

Potion Masters: The Transparency Tonic (Potion Masters #2) by Frank L. Cole
Hardcover, 384 pages, ISBN 9781629724881

Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir (Potion Masters #1) by Frank L. Cole
Hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 9781629723587

Thanks to Callie at Shadow Mountain Publishing for including me in this launch blog tour! The Transparency Tonic released on Jan 16, so go look for it now! Frank Cole will be touring the western United States, so check the website for dates and places to see if he is coming near you!

Best of 2018

What a great reading year 2018 was! Even though I had an eye infection that prevented me from reading much for over a month, and I went on several trips where almost no reading was done, I am still determined to make my goal.

But man. It was strong in what I did read. And I think that was because I was more picky. I know what I like. And I am not much into romance, or just drama for drama’s sake. So the big YA series like Throne of Glass or A Court of Whatever are not really for me. (Before you gasp, I tried Throne of Glass, and I got three or four books in, and nah, I’ll just continue on with what I like, tyvm.)

My first book of the year continues to be one of my favorites – The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert! I loved this darkly macabre fairytale! Set in contemporary New York City, it quickly scuttles over to a dark and sinister fairytale place. I am chuffed to find that they will be publishing the actual Tales of the Hinterland (a book integral to the plot), as well as a second in the series! Very excited for those.

I can’t really pick my top three. I had so many five star reads! But here are a few more that I really loved:

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Give me Vikings and a really strong female protagonist! And the world building! Oh, this was a great ride.

Tales of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin

Read this with a group starting right after her untimely demise. We read the whole series, and I’m so glad I did! It was wonderful, each book individually, but also, wow, the series as a whole! Highly recommend.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Oh my gosh, why did I wait so long? This was a feast for the senses, as well as a really cool story. I loved it, and it made me very keen to do everything in black and white (with a touch of red, of course!)!

The Illuminae Series by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman

I did a group reread of the series leading up to the release of Obsidio, and oh man, it just gets better.  This series was so fun and heartbreaking and intense! I don’t generally read scifi but I will die on this hill.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Another one that I can’t believe I waited so long for! Here is to backlists, people. This was fantastic! And THEN, AND THEN… I got to meet him at a Con this summer! Oh my gosh. And hearing him read his work was just amazing. I’m going to have to devour the rest of this series soon because he is working on something new!

The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien

Look. I understand. You think that Lord of the Rings is boring, or too dense, or too long. But hey. IT IS ONLY BRILLIANT. And this book is kind of a prequel. So it deserves some love. Reading it during Middle Earth March gave me a lot of background for the many references made in Lord of the Rings, so on my current reread of the series, I am getting even more out of it than before. Which is saying something.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

This was a seriously fun romp through Europe, combining historical fiction with YA in a way that was clever and entertaining. I loved this as a summer read, and I am looking forward to reading the second one. I will say, though, that it had moments of gripping tension and dealt with serious issues. But the cast! This ensemble cast was amazing.

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Ahhhh! I LOVED LEAH!! This was a snarkfest masquerading as a contemporary. I didn’t get to meet Becky (even though she came here, because airport duty), but my friend Lupe shot a video of her saying hi to me and then she got me a signed book! Oh my gosh, my heart. This was a bookish highlight of the year for me. I also read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda this year and yes, of course I loved that too. Becky is my newest auto-buy author.

A few Middle Grade – so many good ones!

The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler

This was astounding in its imaginative scope. Slightly scary. Amazing high stakes. I put this in my Halloween Reads but it deserves a spot here as well. Get thee to the backlist, folks!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Another one that I hadn’t read for whatever reason. But then I also watched the movie. Oh my gosh. This is for kids? Give me a break. The book, dear reader, was better.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

I got to meet Victoria!! She was amazing! I had not read this when I met her, and I am sad that I didn’t get a copy signed, but this series in one that I will be looking forward to each new book. I still haven’t read Vicious or Vengeful, either. More Victoria for me!

Laini Taylor

Oh, just go read all of it. I had several Laini books on my list this year. I got to MEET her! I finally finished the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, based on her advice to finish that before reading Muse of Nightmares. So I did. And I read The Night of Cake and Puppets (great break in the middle of the DoSaB trilogy if things are getting too intense for you), and I read Strange the Dreamer. Now I need to read Muse and her short story collection, Lips Touch. I am here for all things Laini.

 

So as you can tell, it was really an amazing Book Year. I met some very wonderful authors, and I just can’t thank them enough for their graciousness and really, they were so nice! I did a lot of readalongs, which helped with some things (like two Shakespeare plays and some classics such as Jane Eyre and The Picture of Dorian Grey!). I met a ton of great folks over on Bookstagram, and I mean, I’m having such a good time on there that I am probably slacking on this blog because of it. But if you have read this far, thanks so much and I really do hope to post more on here in the coming year.

Some plans for 2019:

I am going to be participating in #theunreadshelfproject2019 for the coming year. Monthly challenges, intentional library building, and a great host in Whitney! The first task she asked for was that we should count our unread books. Oh my. But I’m going to start that as soon as I make my goal. I know it is in the hundreds. But I also know that there are many books in the house that I do not want to keep. So I’m hoping to sort that out better this year.

I’m also going to be taking part in a couple of long-term readalongs. One is for Jane Austen, under the hashtag #ArdentlyAustenBookClub – we’ll be reading one of her books every month until July. This is great, because I’ve only read one! And I’ve always meant to read more. I will also be reading an Agatha Christie book every month. I’m doing two of these – who knew that she was so popular, right? One is #AYearwithChristie2019 with @thewrittenwordandtea and the other is with a friend, where we are going to read all the Miss Marple books. I don’t think there is much overlap, so by the end of the year, I’ll be very much caught up on my Agatha! And my Jane! And my undread books! Oh, this is going to be great.

If we are not already connected on Bookstragram, come find me at @lindabookmania. I’m posting there daily, and I love to chat!

 

Halloween Reads 2018

Need a good book that will send chills up your spine? I have a great selection this year! If you are not familiar with my Halloween Reads posts, I have been doing this since 2010 (first on Examiner.com, where I was the Minneapolis Books Examiner, and now on my own blog. Look for links at the end to these past posts for more recs!). I love it when the weather turns chilly and gloomy, leaves blowing across the grass, and a slight mist in the air. Join me! I’ll wait while you get your hot beverage of choice, a pumpkin latte? A hot cider? Good old hot chocolate? Mulled wine? Here we go!

Quick recap: these are not horror. I don’t have the nerves for that. I try to find a couple different genres, but really, I just post whatever I find that appeals to me!

Let’s start with a classic!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I read this as part of a readalong on Instragram, and that was just the encouragement I needed. This was much creepier than I had anticipated. I got the witty banter that I expected, especially from Henry. But his monologues got a little long. It was Dorian that I liked. Until… oh boy. Dorian, you poor misled sap. It is a period piece, just remember that, with a fascinating premise, that becomes all consuming. The basic plot sails along, with poor Dorian growing more and more degenerate by the chapter, and his picture becoming, well, hideous. You almost feel sorry for poor Dorian. It’s not his fault he’s beautiful. I never saw the ending coming, and I look forward  to reading more of Oscar Wilde.

Classic Retelling

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
Frankenstein? Yes, please. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of the classic monster story, so it is no surprise that there are retellings. I was able to see the author on a panel a short time ago, and after reading this book, I was not surprised to find that the schedule to publish it was rushed. It felt like it could have used a little more care. But editing aside, I do like the idea of telling this story from the point of view of a character that is often overlooked (overlooked? In fact, I had forgotten she existed!). This was an imaginative take on the story, and actually had a lot of insight into how women were treated at the time, especially in terms of their own personal license, inheritance, and how they could expect to live. Be careful what you wish for, Elizabeth! It was very intense, and was satisfying in the end. I’m sure it would appeal to folks who love the classic, and maybe bring some others in who haven’t read the original. And that’s always a good thing.

 

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning
This is a different kind of retelling! What if Sherlock were actually possessed by demons? What is Lestrade were a vampire? And so on… all delivered with dry witty humor, nonstop. Dr. Watson takes it upon himself to help poor Warlock, who is clearly in over his head, and could use a little aid. Well. A lot of aid. This is a solid, fun, innovative retelling. Whether or not you are familiar with one of literature’s greatest detectives, you will enjoy this slight off-kilter look at how a demon gets a roommate, and attempts to become worthy of his reputation. If you are a Sherlock fan, you will find it uproariously funny. Those little quirks of our detective are magnified and played out like the best classic comedy. The stories follow a similar trajectory as the originals, but you won’t see the punchline coming until it hits you square between the eyes. Denning has captured the essence of the period, as well as the characters, in this spoof. There are more in the series, too, and I’ll be on the hunt for those. Bwahahaha!

 

Middle Grade

The Middle Grade authors are killing it this year (no pun intended… well, okay, maybe a little pun). This is a selection of a few that I have come across.

The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler
Not necessarily scary (for adults), but very tense! Dreams and Nightmares, what more could you ask for? This was a crazy thrill-ride of imagination. Around every corner, there was a different scenario, with different rules, that threatened our three siblings and the folks that were trying to help them. But we never lost sight of the true aim – to change their mom back from a bird. With her memory intact. This is no small order, and the perils that had to be overcome to get there are immense. The rules are different in Dreamland, and more so in the Wicked Places. There are any number of ways to get snuffed. “Dead in Dreamland, dead in the real world.” You will root for Nell, you will scream at her – “Don’t do it!” and you will follow her around every twist and turn. This overlooked title deserves more attention. It is Gaiman-esque, in the best possible way, with threats that dreams are made of, and of course, as in all the best stories, some truths scattered throughout.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I put this off for a long time, because I started to watch the movie once and it didn’t grab me. I then got a lovely edition illustrated by Chris Riddell, and I read the book. This is a children’s book? Oh my. There are some seriously scary moments in here, particularly if a child has an attachment issue. I would only recommend this for children who are very secure with their parents! That said, it is in the best vein of Gaiman. Button eyes, secret doors, and all kinds of mayhem await a child who is simply bored. I went back and watched the movie, and I think it is even creepier than the book. I was startled by the absolutely lack of attention that the real parents pay to Coraline. Not really an endearing portrait of them. But maybe that’s the point. This is a eerie, deliciously dark story that is among Gaiman’s best.

The Collectors by Jacqueline West
There are some really scary moments in this adventure story of a secret society that collects not only wishes, but the beings that feed on them. What if any wish could come true? Can a wish be dangerous? What if you could collect wishes? I am a great fan of Jacqueline West, and highly recommend her Books of Elsewhere series for additional shivers. Again, she hits it out of the park here with her darling main character, Van, and his propensity for noticing things. Like a girl stealing pennies out of a fountain, and the silver squirrel she is talking to. Van has a hearing disability, and I love that this did not hinder him, mostly. He may be who he is “because” of his disability, and not in spite of it. He finds himself in peril because he is simply a kid who wants everything to be all right. But when you play with wishes, anything can happen.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
I devoured this in one evening! I don’t do that often, even with Middle Grade. This is Schwab’s first MG novel, and she hit all the right notes. It is a wonderful, creative, fantastical story where all the pieces slot into place, the setting (Edinburgh) is perfect, characters are involved in real relationships, and the mystery has you guessing until the very last pages. With parents who are ghost hunters, how can Cassie help it that she is also someone who can visit beyond the Veil? An old legend, cemeteries, and the rules of interacting with the realm of the Veil make this a perfect spooky read. I love Cassie, and her friend Jacob, the sweet sod, and this has me clamoring for the next one in the series. I can’t wait to see where Cassie and Jacob go next!

 

I hope you like this selection! If you are looking for more Halloween Reads, I’ve got several other posts with round-ups of spooky reads. Check it out here and here and here. Or you can start with last year’s post and just work backward. All the links are contained in that one. Let me know if you have a favorite spooky read that I haven’t covered yet!

Independent Bookstore Day Preview

Hey all you bookfreaks! Have you got plans on April 28? I certainly hope not, because you are going to need to spend your day visiting a local indie bookstore or three. It is Independent Bookstore Day!

This movement was started a few years ago to celebrate and lift up indies. Well, I think it has wildly outstretched anyone’s imagination. This year, the Ambassador for Independent Bookstore Day is Celeste Ng, the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. According to the official website, over 500 stores will participate in 48 states this year.

Stores have the opportunity to purchase exclusive Independent Bookstore Day (IBD) merchandise. Last year, this included things like an edition of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman with an exclusive cover, a perfect bound short story by Rainbow Rowell, adult coloring books, and several other goodies. This year’s items include a darling little onesie for bebe, plushies, a $6 book of short stories, tea towels with fun quotes on them, and an amazing giclee print of the Literary Universe, which highlights some of the best scifi in the galaxy.

Last year, I went around with my friend Laura, which was fantastic. We had a blast. We visited 12 stores, and ate lunch at a wonderful African restaurant, and ran into friends, and just generally had a great time. Sure, we were exhausted by the end, but it was worth it. I think Laura came home with 12 books, and I hauled home 14. You can see the whole haul on my Instagram account.

We scoped out our tour very carefully, and tried to be strategic about it. One thing we wanted to do was visit Milkweed Books in downtown Minneapolis (the only bookstore left downtown) to talk with Peter Geye, who was there as a guest bookseller. Many of the stores will have guest booksellers, who are usually published authors, there to help you make your choice, or to make recommendations for you. Laura and I visited stores we hadn’t been to before, and got to check out one of the newest stores, our last stop, Addendum Books, which specializes in YA fiction.

In the Twin Cities, where we live, there are many indies, and several that specialize in different things. There are so many, in fact, that the local independent bookseller association, MiBA, organized a passport activity. You got your passport stamped at each store you visited. This unlocked a coupon that was already printed on the passport. If you got a certain number of stamps, you were entered in a drawing. If you got more than 10 stamps, you were entered in the Grand Prize drawing. Well guess what. I won the grand prize! I got the most giant box of books you could imagine. I was simply floored. There were 28 books from stores and publishers, along with some other goodies like pins, notebooks, a tote and more.

Once again, there will be a passport, and it is being handled by Rain Taxi. There are more prizes, and coupons, and fun at each stop. Visiting just five stores will enter you in a drawing. And don’t forget to check each place for the special IBD merchandise that is offered. Much of this is only available on this day. The selection at stores will vary, because each store orders their own merch. There are also giveaways that are exclusives to the day, such as stencils, tattoos, storybooks, posters and more.

Recently I talked to a few stores that gave me a rundown of their plans. Put these on your docket:

Magers & Quinn Booksellers:
Local Poet Lynette Reini-Grandell will be Guest Bookseller for poetry and English lit from 11am to 2pm. From 3:30 to 5pm, local 8th graders will be Guest Booksellers, giving their favorite recommendations in the children’s section. At 7pm, you’re in for an evening treat, with a reading of juvenilia. Volunteers offer to read off their best from all those old notebooks! This is an open mic event. If you’re interested in reading, you can sign up in advance or just drop in!

Subtext Books:
They will start off with coffee and donuts in the morning, guest booksellers in the afternoon, and live music from Brian Barnes in the evening, plus lots of exclusive merch and freebies.

Moon Palace Books:
They will have specials in the store and café, and round the day out with a giant poetry reading put on by Poetry Asylum (known as the Great Twin Cities Poetry Read), which will feature more than 30 poets. Start off with a free cup of coffee from 9 to 11am, 2-for-1 tap beer, cider or house wine from 3 to 6pm, and special deals from 6pm to close when you bring in receipts from other indies! Check the website for deets.

Red Balloon Bookshop:
Storytime and face painting in the morning, and a John Green hunt (like Where’s Waldo) in the afternoon! Two scavenger hunts will each last an hour, and the winner of each will get a signed copy of Turtles All the Way Down! Plus more prizes, merch and scratch-off cards.

There are other special deals going on, like a free audio book (the #1 Indie Next Pick, Tangerine by Christine Mangan), free ebooks, and many other treats that booksellers have been planning for months.

If you don’t live in an area that has independent bookstores, I honestly feel for you. But there must be something you can do, right? Possibly visit a neighboring town! It’s the perfect excuse for some bookstore tourism. In fact, this year there is an initiative which will encourage just that. A map has been created (by none other than Kevin Cannon, our favorite bookstore artist, who created previous maps, posters and individual store drawings), called the Midwest Bookstore Map. Visit bookstores on the map, and post about it, tag @Midwestbooks and the bookstore, and you could win monthly drawings or a grand prize (drawn next year on Independent Bookstore Day). That’s a whole year of possibilities! But then, a bookstore is always full of possibilities.

Hope you can get yourself out and enjoy some time with a local indie this weekend. Or put it on your calendar next year – it is always the last Saturday in April!

Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Have I got something for you. There has been a lot of buzz in the past couple years about fairytale retellings, sure. But Melissa Albert takes it a step further yet. This is a newtelling (new-telling? New Telling?) – a wholly new world, The Hinterland, which we learn about from the character searching for the book within the book.

People. The booklove in this book! This is literally a bookfreak’s dream come true.

But I digress.

What is so arresting about this book is its immediacy. It is almost magical realism in its here-and-now-ness. We are in modern day New York City. Our MC has current problems. Her cell phone is dead. Her stepdad is a jerk. Her stepsister is a bitch (who makes her feel like “an awkward breadstick”). Okay. We’ve all been there. In bits and pieces, we get more of the story, more of her story – the midnight runs, the near misses. Her mother. The weird stuff that seems to explode around them. Why?

And her name… wait for it… is Alice.

I love it. Everything about this story felt so right on.

And while we are in modern New York City, yet… there is something, just a hair’s breath away, just over a slight border, one you cannot see, just waiting. The Hinterland. And that, my friends, is where Alice must go to find her mom. Whether the Hinterland is a place or a people, we aren’t sure.

There is unexpected help, there is unexpected danger. All around. It is endemic to the fairytale. Wait. The stories. Danger is endemic to the plurality of stories that exist in this other land.

I’m doing a bad job of explaining it, because it’s just that good. But you can get a synopsis from anywhere. What I’d like to tell you about is the beauty of the way this was put together, the intricacy of it, and the wild success of it. Albert has come up with a whole new realm, and folks, she’s going to take us there. I was excited reading this, excited like the first time-reading-Harry Potter excited. Because everything felt imaginative and whole.

As good as the storytelling is, the writing is even better. One of the things that I loved so much right away about Harry Potter was the wordplay. Albert scores hit after hit on that. Albert sings when she is putting us in Alice’s memories: the way a book is evocative of the place you first read it. The way that smells are colors and sounds are food. Waylan Jennings is whisky and a suit is an exhausted brown. This is what makes a story stick.

Things like this, one of the best list paragraphs I’ve read in a long time:

“Everyone is supposed to be a combination of nature and nurture, their true selves shaped by years of friends and fights and parents and dreams and things you did too young and things you overheard that you shouldn’t have and secrets you kept or couldn’t and regrets and victories and quiet prides, all the packed-together detritus that becomes what you call your life.

But every time we left a place, I felt the things that happened there being wiped clean, til all that was left was Ella, our fights and our talks and our winding roads.” – p130

Alice is worth our time, too. She climbs into bed with The Blind Assassin, “because if you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with.” She doesn’t like her stepdad because, among other things, he doesn’t read the right books. She tamps down an anger she doesn’t understand with “hippie shit” her mother teaches her, and once called, she is laser-focused on her goal.

And Alice has a friend. Finch wears an expression like armor, one that seals him off from the world and protects him from… what, exactly? He is a superfan, one of the few who has read the book Alice’s grandmother wrote, and who has a deep appreciation for story. (And he wants to go home at one point, “because that’s where my first editions are.” Don’t we love this sweet little cinnamon roll?) I was really getting a soft spot for Finch.

Let’s not forget Ella. Ella in all this is more than just the crazy mom who married up, the waitress who can beguile a rich guy. The daughter of the woman who wrote the tales of the Hinterland down. Ella has guts. Ella is bad-ass her damn self. But we don’t get much of her story.

The three of them do a kind of dance with The Hinterland, each for their own reasons. And along the way, we get bits and pieces of the stories of the Hinterland. Oh, by the way, we’re getting those in full, too. It has just been announced that Albert will be releasing two more books – one will be the actual Tales of the Hinterland (squeeee!) (presumably the book that Althea, Ella’s mother, wrote in the first place) and the other will be set in the same world, a follow-up to this one. So we have Hinterland for the next two years!

So yes, Leigh Bardugo wrote original, imaginative fairytales set in her fantasy world (The Language of Thorns was my top pick for 2017). And Lev Grossman gave us a doorway into a hidden world through an alleyway. But this is like Ravka meets Brakebills. Except that school is the least of our worries. And the world feels as real as your own backyard. So it’s not a retelling – it’s new. We get it first.

Go on, get this one. But a note here: the author posted that some bookstores had put the book out early, and asked people to hold off on buying it until Jan 30. Please, booksellers, don’t skirt a Strict on Sale date. And readers, if you know a book is out early, wait to buy it. I know, it’s hard. But it could make that small difference for where – or whether – a book lands on the New York Times bestseller list, among other things. And this one is sure to land there, somewhere. Help it land higher by buying it during release week. On-sale date is January 30. Set an alert.

Because I forgot to mention, in case you can’t tell from my Bookstagram photo above, that this book is gorgeous in and of itself! I have heard the final copy does not disappoint – gold foil, embossing, just everything. The ARC is easily one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I can’t wait to get my final copy!

Oh, and five stars on GoodReads! I don’t usually give stars, but I think that I will start doing that for all my reviews on GoodReads this year. Just as an experiment. I wrestle with anything less than five stars. But maybe it will help people decide what to read, and help authors I love. Come find me there!

Happy New Year!

 

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