Tuesday, September 29, 2015

TTT: Top 10 Books You Should Read if You Like ___________ (Bookseller Expertise Coming in Handy Here)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted and created by The Broke and the Bookish. To participate, click here.
Image Source
I thought I'd combine two of my jobs on paper: mixing drinks and recommending books, and set up this list like book cocktails. So each number has a combo of popular books/series/authors/franchises, and then the resulting "mix" is what you should read. Got it?

Top 10 Books You Should Read if You Like These Popular Books/Authors

1. If you like Percy Jackson and MARVEL/DC Superheroes:

The Jack Blank Adventures by Matt Myklusch

An orphan hero, check
Killer robots, check
Ninjas, flying cars, supervillains, check
There's even time travel.
This fun series straddles YA and MG and will appeal to both kids and their parents

2. If you liked Matched and Divergent:

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien

Reviewed it here
In a dystopian future, young midwife Gaia Stone must choose between her duty and rescuing her parents. And making that choice will cause her to question everything she knows. This is one dystopian novel that won't remind you of The Hunger Games. And the heroine is a midwife.

3. If you liked Twilight and anything by Jane Austen

The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy (and By These Ten Bones) by Clare B. Dunkle

For the record, THK trilogy is, in principle, nothing like Twilight. So if you're not a Twilight fan (I'm not either), don't write this one off. It has a similar story feel, and there is a lot of Jane Austen inspiration. In the first book, a charismatic (but ugly) goblin king chooses orphaned Kate to be his bride. As can be expected, Kate has a lot to say about this. In the sequels, there are lots of elves.* And By These Ten Bones is a Scottish werewolf romance/thriller.

4. If you like The Scorpio Races and Code Name Verity

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

I just reviewed this on the blog, but I had to include it because it was so fresh and different (and I loved it). Basically, it's alternate history with motorcycle racing, a strong heroine, and a minor dash of fantasy.

5. If you like Naruto and Star Wars

The Young Samurai Series** by Chris Bradford

Okay, so it's samurai, not ninja (there are ninjas though). And there is zero magic, and no spaceships. But the basic story of a spunky boy--an outsider in a traditional, proud culture--who must become a warrior and navigate a hostile world, and deal with both friends and enemies . . . I basically just described Naruto and Star Wars.

6. If you like The Hunger Games and Les Miserables (the Musical***)

The Kestrel (Westmark #2) by Lloyd Alexander

This is actually the second book in the Westmark trilogy (and you should read them all). One of the best novels about war, the consequences, and how war affects kids. I suppose it is more comparable to Mockingjay - and it handles the same themes with more wisdom and heart.

7. If you like The Walking Dead and The Maze Runner

 Rot and Ruin (or the Joe Ledger series) by Jonathan Maberry 

Whether you are 15, 25, or older, I dare you not to root for Benny Imura and his friends in their fight to survive. Now, I'm not keen on zombies, but these books are about so much more. They are coming of age, friendship, heroism, Bushido, survival novels. And Tom Imura**** is in them. The Joe Ledger novels are pretty good too (action thrillers with a side of zombie).

8. If you like the Gemma Doyle trilogy and The Infernal Devices

The Iron Codex series by Caitlin Kittredge

Steampunk fantasy that is better than the cover would make it seem. Everyone in Aoife Grayson's family has gone mad on their 16th birthday (a fate she's trying to avoid, obviously). Monsters, machines, a touch of romance, eccentric characters, and more monsters= a recipe for fun.

9. If you like Artemis Fowl and Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

An eerie, wry book where ghosts are commonplace, and only young Psychic Investigators can deal with the epidemic of spirits. The characters are lovable, the ghosts are actually kind of creepy, and the book is a fast paced mystery/adventure. A great Halloween pick.

10. If you like Cruel Beauty and A Thousand Nights

Keturah and Lord Death by Marine Leavitt

A girl follows a stag into a forest, gets lost, and almost dies. But when Death shows up, he's a handsome and stern young lord, and Keturah isn't ready to die. Keturah strikes a bargain with Death, telling him a story to stall her end. If she can find her true love in twenty-four hours, she'll be free from Death, but things don't turn out exactly how she plans.

*ELVES! They have a strong rivalry with the goblins.
**One of my favorite series - ever. If you are into Japanese history, then you should check them out.
***The musical condensed most of the themes, and some of the characters, and made it much more sellable.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

ARC Review: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

A big thank you to Clarion Books and BEA 2015 for providing this ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

So, instead of blogging much this last week, I decided to catch up on some reading. Instead of tackling my current TBR pile, I picked up the Orbiting Jupiter ARC I've been holding onto since early summer. Gary Schmidt is one of my favorite MG/YA authors, and one of the only ones whose contemporary fiction made it onto my all-time favorites list. He is also a funny, nice guy who teaches at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. And I've had the pleasure of meeting him.

All of this means I saved his book because I was positive I would like it. And I did - it was beautiful and sharp, and heartbreaking. Seriously, my heart is still in pain,* and I finished it yesterday.

Orbiting Jupiter is set in rural Maine during a brutal winter (kind of like the last two ). 12 year-old Jack and his family take on foster kid Joseph. Joseph has just been released from incarceration (he tried to kill a teacher), and he has a three month old daughter (he's only 14). But Joseph isn't your average troubled teen. He's full of drive and fervor, intelligence, and he's hardworking. And he loves his absent daughter Jupiter, and the baby's mother, with intense loyalty.
Jack sees this other side of Joseph, and he takes to the other boy like a brother. Jack stands by Joseph's side even when the latter's presence brings him harm, and Joseph eventually opens up to the younger boy.  but events are already in motion that neither of them could foresee.
This could have been cheap melodrama or sensational, but in Schmidt's expert hands, Orbiting Jupiter is a restrained, gorgeous portrait of the true meaning of brotherly love and sacrifice. 

Saying anything more is spoiler territory, so I'll just give you 5 Reasons that you should read Orbiting Jupiter:

1. Gary Schmidt does his research. Schmidt has visited prisons, talked to incarcerated men and boys, and worked with troubled teens.** This experience comes out in all of his contemporary fiction (I highly recommend both The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now). He deals with realities that most people never contemplate, yet he never goes in for extra drama or sensation.

2. Joseph and Jack's relationship. Touching but not saccharine, I found the boy's relationship--how it grew and how they bonded into brothers, even in a short time--to be believable. Jack's determination to love Joseph and always "have his back," despite what adults and other kids said about him [Joseph], almost made me tear up on several occasions. And yet it was authentic-he thought and expressed himself in ways that made perfect sense for a 12 year-old boy.

3. Spare, beautiful writing. Schmidt doesn't waste words. His prose is as clean and sharp as the Maine winter he's describing. Likewise, the book is short but not too short. It is a perfectly formed little story that will linger with you.

4. A positive, but realistic, portrayal of foster parents (and parents in general). Joseph came from a troubled home: he won't talk about his mom, and his dad was abusive and possessive. His experiences with other authority figures, such as teachers, has been quite mixed. But the Hurd family is different. They work hard (on an organic farm) and love hard, and they stick by Joseph even when things are not easy, and get progressively worse. They don't force themselves on him as parents-they just project their love and empathy (mostly seen through Jack's eyes, as he is the narrator). This was refreshing, and very important to the story.
The reason this comes up is that I have read SO many books where negative foster parent situations shape the story. It's almost a literary cliche. And yes, there are many difficulties and problems when you take in a troubled kid, but I know it isn't always a train wreck.*** So this was refreshing.

5. Real world issues and characters that don't usually make the page. This ties a bit into #1, but Gary Schmidt excels at writing young boys (and young men). They are complicated, sometimes troubled, often misunderstood, and frequently irrational - but they are relatable, layered characters. And he uses these characters to tell stories and tackle issues in a quiet, thought-provoking way. And booksellers/moms/librarians take note: preteen and teen guys like his books, so I feel like they fill a special niche. Granted, Orbiting Jupiter deals with a bucketload of adult issues-seen through the eyes of a charming 12 year-old, but none of the things Jack has to tussle with are outside the realm of daily possibility (sadly) for 12 year-old boys!

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars. A beautifully written, heart-wrenching story about brotherly love and loyalty. Prepare to have your insides twisted.

*Still in pain here

**Hypable did a good interview with Gary here. He told them a bit about his book, and where he drew the inspiration. Also, I highly recommend going to see Gary Schmidt if you have the chance. He's full of touching and hilarious stories.

***I have experienced friends and family who either did foster care/adoption, or were in the system.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Top Ten Tolkien Tribute for Hobbit Day 2015 (Quotes, Feelings, Fanart, and More!)

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”
J. R. R. Tolkien - The Fellowship of the Ring
(All quotes and images are copyrighted to Tolkien's estate, unless credited otherwise)
Have you ever heard a beautiful melody or song, forgotten to note it down, and then tirelessly searched for the half-remembered piece? Maybe you find it, or maybe you find other lovely songs that distract you momentarily. But eventually, if you look hard enough, you stumble across that first piece you were looking for, and it's like losing something and finding something all at once. Because the searching was half of what you were chasing.

Maybe that doesn't make any sense, but it's as close as I can come to putting my feelings about The Lord of the Rings (and all of Tolkien's works), into words. Which is a strange place for a writer to be! But regardless, every time I pick up The Lord of the Rings, it's like coming home while catching an even worse case of wanderlust. But maybe I should clarify - it isn't just LOTR that does that to me - I feel the same way every time I come back from a trip to someplace exciting.

You see, I'm a wanderer by nature. I don't like to sit still, and as much as I love my home and my kitchen, I am endlessly fascinated by the thought of what might be outside my door. And Tolkien understood that feeling, and put it into words, better than I ever have:

“He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. 'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The Fellowship of the Ring - J. R. R. Tolkien
But a love for wandering isn't the only writer's legacy that Tolkien left us. In fact, some of the things that I love best about him are just the things that get him criticized in modern circles. He wrote about the pure and the good, the truly evil, the morally complicated, and he had a deep understanding of the importance of all of those things. In other words, he was quite old-fashioned. And frankly, anyone who says that he had little variation/representation of female characters is only partly right - they've obviously never read The Silmarillion.

So to celebrate Hobbit Day (Bilbo and Frodo's birthday) here are my 

Top Ten Favorite Things About Tolkien's Writing (with quotes and illustrations)

1. Middle Earth

I dare anyone to make it through his books and not be in love with Middle Earth. From Hobbiton to The Lonely Mountain, to Ancient Númenor, Middle Earth is the mythical place I "miss" the most. And I confess that New Zealand is on my top 5 places I must go, because of the movies.
“He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day's madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers - thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.” ― Peter S. BeagleThe Tolkien Reader

2. Elves

People who know me were probably surprised that this isn't the first one on the list.
©2012-2015 daLomacchi Brothers in Beleriand by daLomacchi on Deviantart.com
I want to be an elf. Specifically, one of Tolkien's elves. Wise, deadly, gracious, elegant, enigmatic - I think you get the point. A little bit of the Celtic fay folk, a little bit of every wise but dangerous counselor in fairy tales, and a dash of danger make Tolkien's elves THE BEST. Even when parts of The Silmarillion practically had me shouting at them in anger (I'm looking at you, sons of Fëanor!), it was only because I loved them so much.
'And it is also said,' answered Frodo: 'Go not to the Elves for counsel for they will answer both no and yes.'
'Is it indeed?' laughed Gildor. 'Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.” The Fellowship of the Ring

3.  Tolkien's Quiet Wisdom

I'll let him speak for himself here:

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” The Hobbit

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The Fellowship of the Ring

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” The Fellowship of the Ring

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” The Two Towers

“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” The Two Towers

“But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” The Return of the King

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.” The Children of Hurin

4. Tolkien's Love for Language and Words


See #3 for examples. But what else would you expect from a philologist? The man was in love with language. And I have yet to read anyone who topped him in the invented languages department. It's more like he rediscovered something forgotten.

And speaking of languages - his translation of Beowulf is splendid (naturally). And if we're talking poetry and language, look at The Fall of Arthur, or The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.

And the Tengwar - so gorgeous! Source


I personally think that Freeman is a fabulous Bilbo.

No tribute to Tolkien would be complete without mentioning the small, brave, and simple folk of the Shire. Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippen - they're wonderful characters, and they have more heart and courage than most. And they really do appreciate the good things in life. I'd like to be an elf, but deep down, I know I'm more of a hobbit. I suspect that goes for all of us!
"Good morning!" he said at last. "We don't want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water." By this he meant that the conversation was at an end."What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!" said Gandalf. "Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won't be good till I move off.” The Hobbit

6. All the Characters

From Tumblr.

I've mentioned elves and hobbits, but I haven't specifically mentioned Faramir, Eowyn, Boromir, Thranduil, Aragorn, Luthien, FINROD, Galadriel, Gandalf, Elrond, Elwing, and I could go on . . . Even the more evil characters (especially in the Silmarillion) are fascinating. And they're all epic. And epic = good.

7. The Aforementioned Values

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” 
Tolkien had an immense appreciation for all that was great and good in the world: Courage, Honor, Duty, Fidelity. Call me Captain America, but I think we could use some more of it all. And Tolkien's characters always made me want to be noble, big-hearted, and selfless. There's a lot to be said for doing your best, being your best, and seeking the best in others.

8. Tolkien's Love for Nature

Tolkien was a self-proclaimed "tree-advocate." And all you have to do is read a few chapters of his works to see his love for the natural world. Just contrast the Elves and Orcs, and you'll see something interesting: Orcs rely on war machines and contraptions, while Elves tend and revere the earth. I don't know if I was always a nature girl, or if I can blame Professor Tolkien for that too, but it really doesn't matter. Tolkien was a great advocate of stewardship - of treating Creation with respect instead of taking it for granted. And I don't know if he really gets enough credit for that.

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering. 

9. The Worldbuilding

He is the Master of Worldbuilding. See #1. In fact, I was actually thinking of Tolkien when I named this blog. He's the worldbuilder I aspire to be like.* Look at 1-8, and you'll see evidence of this. Middle Earth is so vivid and real that thousands of us are homesick for it.
“Home is behind, the world ahead,And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
We'll wander back and home to bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!”  

10. The Heart

I dare you to have dry eyes. One part that the movie did so well.
Again, I think this is pretty obvious from some of the other numbers on this list. But there is love for life, people, culture, history, lore, and all good things in Tolkien's writing. Don't believe me? Look at Sam Gamgee.
“Come, Mr. Frodo!' he cried. 'I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he'll go” The Return of the King

Honorable Mention: Tolkien's great appreciation for food. This shouldn't be undervalued, for sure.

So there you have it: My Top 10 Favorite Tolkien Things! Happy Hobbit Day! (Going to watch Return of the King now)

If you're a Tolkien fan, what's your favorite thing about him or his books? Feel free to gush away in the comments (I'll join you).

*In case you wondered, the Wordsmith I thought of [when naming my blog] was Shakespeare.

Monday, September 21, 2015

TBR Book Tag! (With gifs, because, why not?)

For once, I am getting to a tag really quickly. If the world goes out of orbit, or something explodes - I wasn't involved . . .

Bogdana the Booknerd tagged me for The TBR Book Tag. And honestly, it's probably the easiest tag yet (my to-read list is HUGE). So, thanks Bogdana, and be sure to check out her great book blog here! (All images and gifs belong to respective copyright holders. Book cover photos are from Goodreads.com)

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Shikamaru is my spirit animal (and I love this gif)
Uhhhh . . . I don't really keep track, it's too much effort. But Goodreads helps a lot! It tells me what I want to read, so I don't have to be bothered to remember ;P

2. Is your TBR mostly print or ebook?

Print. I have a few ebooks to read, but I usually ignore them unless I am stuck in an office waiting room, or standing in a super long line (both things I try to avoid, as a matter of principle)

3. How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

I stage a mini Hunger Games.
Actually, I just grab a handful, read the blurbs, and then decide on whatever looks the most interesting.

4. What book's been on your list the longest?

Probably Anna Karenina. I think it's been on there for about 11 years. I just haven't found the time.

5. A book that's on your TBR list just because of the cover?

I'd love to say that I never judge a book by it's cover, but we'd all know that's a lie. Usually I am a cover + blurb + subject person, but here is the last cover that caught my eye. I basically check out anything with samurai, ninja, or otherwise Asian inspired. This cover was an instant addition.

<---- Child of Vengeance by David Kirk

It's a novel inspired by historical samurai Musashi Miyamoto. Sold.

6. A book you recently added to the list?

The Girl with Ghost Eyes, by M. H. Boroson. I stumbled across it thirty seconds ago. Go read the description and pre-reviews - it sounds awesome.
Aaaaand, it isn't out until November.

7. A book [on your list] that you never really plan on reading?

Well, usually I only add books that I plan on reading. But I'm not so naive as to think I'll actually get to all of these books (a girl can dream). *Flicks through Goodreads looking for likely candidates . . .*
Probably The City of Ember. It's MG, and I've heard pretty mediocre things about it. And though I've been a lifelong dystopian fan, I'm starting to get sick of the genre (sad, isn't it?).

8. A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

I don't know about everyone . . . but The Host by Stephenie* Meyer has been on my TBR for 4 years,  and I have a bunch of friends who loved it (even if they despised/didn't read Twilight). I read Twilight, had a good laugh, and proceeded to forget about it. I'm not really interested in any more Meyer books, but because my friends love The Host so much, I feel like I should give it a shot, you know?

9. A book on your TBR that you're dying to read?

Still cracking up at the gif*

Winter by Marissa Meyer. I have loved every second of The Lunar Chronicles since I snatched an early copy of Cinder. I'm really excited to see how everything finally goes down.

10. An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited for?

Other than Winter, the book that I'm the most excited about is Anne Bishop's Marked in the Flesh (The Others #4). Every time I think about it, I'm in agony. I want the book to come out, but I don't want it to be March, I just want . . . the book to come out now.

11. A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?

Dune by Frank Herbert. It's another one that I've been planning on reading but never quite get around to. And everyone I know (that's read it), thinks I would really like it. It's not that I don't believe them, it's that I think "Okay, if I'll like this, why don't I save it and pick up something totally unknown." I love the unknown.

12. How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?

As of today, 505. And that isn't even counting the ones that I was too lazy to add.

So, have you read any of these books? What book has been on your TBR list the longest? Is there a book that you want to read (but you think you never will)?

*Did you know that she spelled her name Stephenie instead of Stephanie? I had no idea.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin (and Why You Should Read It)

My avalanche of 1-3 star reads finally stopped this last weekend, when I picked up Ryan Graudin's Wolf by Wolf. Thank you to Little Brown and Co. Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group for this ARC! (Wolf by Wolf will be available October 6th, 2015) Note: Cover and quote might not be final.
Love this cover.
“These were the names she whispered in the dark.
These were the pieces she brought back into place.
These were the wolves she rode to war.” 

I read The Walled City earlier this year, and really enjoyed it. Wolf by Wolf was better, with a tighter story and more developed main characters.  Like with TWC, Wolf by Wolf takes actual history for its inspiration. But this time, there's a fantasy twist. Here's a rundown for you:

Set in an alternate 1956, Wolf by Wolf imagines a world where the Axis powers reign triumphant, and their victorious alliance is celebrated each year by a cross-country motorcycle race. The 1955 victor was the only girl, Adele Wolfe, and she had a rare opportunity to dance with Hitler himself after winning the race. That up-close look at the elusive Führer is one that resistance groups would gladly die for. But it seems impossible. 
Yael, a young resistance member, just might be able to make the impossible happen. A Jewish girl who survived terrible experiments and escaped from concentration camp, Yael can skin-shift, altering her appearance to resemble any girl she has seen. If she can imitate Adele Wolfe, infiltrate the race, and win, Yael might get close enough for a second Operation Valkyrie. 
Yael has been trained to fight and survive, and she has spent the last year practicing both racing and imitating Adele Wolfe down to the tiniest detail, but there are two major problems: Luka, who has a bitter romantic history with Adele, and much more serious, Adele's twin brother Felix. Yael will have to fool them both, and defeat them along with all of the other competitors, if she wants to complete her mission.

Alternate history, what-ifs, human experiments, motorcycles, infiltration, how could this not sound amazing? But all that aside, this was a strong novel with an epic concept. And here are five reasons you should read it:

1. Yael. I loved Yael so much. A little Winter Soldier and all survivor, she was sympathetic, hardcore, and brave. She (understandably) had a hard time trusting others, but she wasn't afraid to love or feel for the people in her past. She wanted to think well of people, and she put her mission ahead of her own interests.

 Also, I loved her interactions with Adele's brother Felix. Felix was brave, adorable, and loyal and Yael really didn't know how to handle this. Humor, and some surprisingly touching moments, resulted from this. (But she's not Adele, so, ouch!)

2. The story. I really enjoyed the movie Valkyrie, and I find revolution/resistance novels tend to resonate with me. Wolf by Wolf was definitely character centered, with Yael's inner war against the Axis ideals, and what it took from her, taking more of the focus than the overall plot. Also, the fact that Yael was Jewish, while important to the story, wasn't shoved in your face. Likewise with a cast of mainly German and Japanese teens.

3. Alternate history. Though Graudin definitely had to bend and shape history to her story, she did a great job of projecting how the world might have looked if things were different. From the tensions between Germany and Japan, to the disinterest of the US, to the eventual fall of Britain, it felt like she put a lot of time and thought (and research) into this historical fantasy novel.

4. The skin-shifting. I guess this relates to #1. I loved how the story just went with this slightly outrageous premise. I mean, scheming Nazi scientists? But it just worked, and the shifting was worked into the greater themes and character development. Also, Yael's ability reminded me a bit of X-Men's Mystique. Yael had similar identity problems due to always wearing someone else's face. Also like Mystique, she tended to distance herself from her feelings and thoughts because of this.

5. Nothing was neat, tidy, or easy. Everything from the motorcycle race, to the ending, to Yael herself unraveled a bit. There was no quick fix. Especially when it came to playing Adele while dealing with Luka and Felix. Yael was always teetering toward failure, and I really wasn't sure (till the end) how things would pan out. That's a rare occurrence.

Minor Quibbles:

Yes, I loved this book so much, but I did have a few tiny issues. Like with TWC, the characters (other than Yael) were a bit thin for my liking. In particular, I would have liked to read more about the Japanese racers (there was some, but I wanted more).

 Luka was a James Dean meets Thor type, and I wasn't particularly interested in reading about him, but that's purely personal. However, I did like how Yael handled his interactions with "Adele." Talk about an interesting situation there.

Other than that, this was one of my favorite books this year, and I am so thrilled that she is writing a sequel! The fallout from the ending just begs another round, and Yael is a heroine I would gladly read a series about.

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars. An exciting alternate history with a strong heroine, lots of action, and a fascinating premise. Recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, Valkyrie, The Scorpio Races, The Maze Runner, Code Name Verity and X-Men.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Beautiful People September Edition: Meet Luc (well, officially)

So I am much tardier on this BP post than normal. Chaos reigns, my friends. But that's beside the point. 

Beautiful People is a monthly character development meme hosted by Skye at Further Up and Further In and Cait at Paper Fury. Click the links for their fabulous blogs and more info on how to participate.

I have been using BP posts to explore the main characters of my WIP, The Last Coffee Shop, which is a post-apocalyptic (parody-ish) adventure about a barista who gets kidnapped by a chronically dishonest bounty hunter (who is, in turn, chasing down the even more dishonest thief extraordinaire, Jupiter Jive).

Bounty Hunter Luc Phelen, a. k. a. The Wolf, a. k. a. too many aliases to count, is going to be the victim subject of this month's round of random questions. And bonus, if you read to the bottom, there's a picture I drew of him.

First, a little about Luc. He's around 29 years old (he has no idea when he was born, but he was born in ancient catacombs). He didn't escape the catacombs until his teens. Sometime later he took up bounty hunting, and he has devoted his life to taking down the one mark that can't be caught: the elusive Jupiter Jive. Traveling along with Graynard Peck (a tri-bearded Atelian*) who is the closest thing he has to a friend or family, Luc takes on a job at The Last Coffee Shop as cover, and things derail . . . 

So here we go . . .

1. They’re in a crisis: who would they really like to see right now?

Graynard. He's the only person that Luc trusts (even a little bit). Granted, Luc can always make the best out of a bad situation, so he would probably say that the only person he'd ever like to see is his own reflection . . . 

2. Are they easy to get along with?

When he wants to be, he's the most magnetic personality in the room. It depends on how much effort
he feels is necessary. He's chronically dishonest, after all.

3. Who was the last person they had a deep conversation with?

As of TLCS, Mads (my protagonist). In fact, she might be the only person he's had a deep conversation with in a long time. He doesn't tend to stick around long enough for deep conversations.

4. They’re in the middle of a huge crowd of people: how do they feel?

Elated. He loves the energy of large groups of people. And it's the best place to disappear. He likes when his targets end up in crowds: they'll always think they're safe, maybe drop their guard. And then Luc finds them.

5. Do they believe in luck or miracles?

Luc believes he makes his own luck. And he would define luck as "twisting every situation in your favor." Miracles, though, not at all. He's a definite skeptic.

6. Do they like and get along with their neighbors?

If neighbors means any colleague or associate Luc has ever had, then no. I pointed out above that he can make himself likable, but even that runs out when he's around people too long. Considering he easily cheats, lies to, and betrays anyone close to him, this probably makes sense!

7. If they could travel anywhere in the world, where would they go?

He's been just about everywhere, he's a wandering soul. He's also pretty jaded. If he could go anywhere, he'd go to the past. He was born in (my parallel world version) the Parisian catacombs, and he's infatuated with art. So he'd probably come to our present, when art museums and beautiful things were intact.

8. How do they feel about their body?

Mixed. He's tall, attractive, and fit, but there's a lean, hungry, darkness to him. He hasn't ever recovered from starvation, in a way. His childhood was a nightmare (though he doesn't see it like that), filled with violent people who saw a delicate, pretty, little boy as an easy target (something they quickly learned to regret, if they survived). Also, since he lived in a brothel in his earliest years, he has an interesting perspective on bodies and value. He views his as a tool, something to hone and sharpen and use to attain his goals. But he also covers about 90% of his skin at all times (partly because his numerous scars are major conversation starters - see the answer to #3).

9. What is the cruelest thing someone has ever said to them? How did they react?

That's a hard question. He's been told he's worthless, a waste of breath, heartless, a rotten piece of humanity (usually in some more colorful terms) since he was born. And honestly, he doesn't care. In a way, he's more shell than person, with feelings buried so deeply, and so muddled, that he often doesn't know himself. And since he's usually in a character, playing a part for a job, he tends to think and feel exactly what his persona should.

10. What’s the kindest thing someone has ever said to them? How did they react?

In his personas, various things. He's often told that he's beautiful (this cracks him up - beauty is such a lethal weapon). He's often told that he's friendly or kind (which he also laughs at, since both of these things are like shirts he puts on for an occasion). As Luc- as himself (the persona he rarely uses), I doubt he's ever heard a kind word. He hasn't sought them, either. After all, you can't trust words.

In the progress of the novel, he and Mads inadvertently rescue a couple teenagers from human traffickers (Luc has rescued a lot of children in his short lifetime). This gets him called "brave," which he doesn't think is true. However, it's possibly the only time where the real Luc emerges - he has a vengeful hatred for sex trafficking ingrained into him, and protecting children might be the only honest thing he ever does.

Wow, that was kind of dark. This made me consider that I am writing a novel about the heroine running around with the villain, lol (an anti-hero at the very least). But naturally, it's much more complicated than that :)

You're probably wondering where the parody part comes in . . . it's there, but Luc's story isn't the funny part. Oh, and that picture. My scanner isn't great for pictures, but this will have to do *sigh*.

He only looks harmless. His chin scar is bothering me, since it just came out like a random line - that scanner!!

*Atelians are large humanoid aliens, noted for their triple beards, wide faces, and skin that darkens with age. The women also have beards, but theirs rarely grow to the epic proportions that the men were known for.