Thursday, November 29, 2012

Meg-A-Rae Episode 16: A Very Special Super Spy Episode

On this week's episode of Meg-A-Rae, Meg and I discuss espionage and even try our hand at the trade! Meg, of course, talks about Ian Fleming's Bond series, plus a couple of books about the Bond movies (I'm keeping the one with Daniel Craig on the cover!). I discuss the awesome Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter, a story about an all-girl spy school.

Be sure to check out our next installment: A Very VERY Special Victorian Christmas Episode!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Meg-A-Rae Episode 15: A Very VERY Special Thanksgiving Episode - Books We're Thankful For

In honor of one of our favorite holidays (and our favorite food: pie), Meg and I have compiled a list of the books we're thankful for. They are many and varied. Once you've checked out our video, see the blog post below for all of the books I talked about and see Meg's blog for her favorites!

First, I'm thankful for Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra series. She is my second favorite fantasy author and this is my second favorite fantasy series EVER. She's created a fully realized world and a heroine that you want to stand up and cheer for! Though it's an adult book, it's a great teen crossover read, too. She's also written a very cool YA book, the first in a new series, called Silence.

Which leads me to my #1 all time favorite fantasy author and series of all time: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is the master of his craft and, in my opinion, the father of all fantasy. He is magic, and I can't wait to see the new Hobbit movies. Thus, I'm also thankful for Peter Jackson.

I'm thankful for adult author Sarah Addison Allen for her beautifully written magical realism books.

I'm extremely thankful to any author who DOESN'T kill the loveable dog, horse, owl, or other sweet beastie just for something silly like plot progression or character growth. I'm looking at you J.K.

I'm thankful for Ally Carter and her super-fun Gallagher Girls novels. The series is about a secret school for girls who learn to be spies. To find out what I really think, check out my review of book 4: Only the Good Spy Young.

I'm thankful for Sarah Rees Brennan and Gina Damico for ruining my life with their amazing books. These books are full of humor, snark, and heartbreak. They are mustache-twirling authors who like to cause their reader's pain - and I loved every second of it! These books hurt so good!

I'm incredibly thankful for Jasper Fforde and his amazeballs Thursday Next series and for entering the YA genre with The Last Dragonslayer. I finished that book in two days and it was SPECTACULAR! No one writes like Mr. Fforde! His books are incredibly clever, witty, magical, and fantastical! I heart every well-chosen word!

Finally, I'm thankful for Gail Carriger - she's one of my all-time favorite authors, a Master of Steampunk and creator of the amazing adult series The Parasol Protectorate. I'm beyond excited that she's starting the new Finishing School series for YA and that Etiquette and Espionage, the first book in the series, comes out this February! I need it in my hands NOW!

Hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving and may you eat your weight in pumpkin pie!

Book Review: Unspoken

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy #1)
By Sarah Rees Brennan

“A leather jacket,” Kami said as he shrugged into it. “Aren’t you trying a little too hard to play into certain bad boy clich├ęs?”
“Nah”, said Jared. “You’re thinking of black leather. Black leather’s for bad boys. It’s all in the color. You wouldn’t think I was a bad boy if I was wearing a pink leather jacket.”
“That’s true,” Kami said. “What I would think of you, I do not know. So what does brown leather mean, then?”
“I’m going for manly,” Jared said. “Maybe a little rugged.”
“It’s bits of dead cow; don’t ask it to perform miracles.”
Kami is a teenager living in a small English village called Sorry-in-the-Vale (the English really know how to name their villages...just sayin'). The village is a little quirky, as most small towns are, but Kami is sure it has any number of secrets, and as an enterprising young journalist she's determined to sniff them all out. Kami knows about secrets: she's had a special friend since she was a baby, one who is only a voice in Kami's head. When she was little, everyone thought he was just her imaginary friend. As she got older, she learned to keep his continued existence to herself. But she was closer to the voice than anyone else in the world, and she wouldn't give him up for all the psychologists in the world.

When the Lynburns come back to the village, the secrets begin to come to light. Kami finds herself in the middle of the greatest secret of all - one from which she may not live to tell.

Unspoken is an AMAZING novel! It starts out full of witty banter and quick dialogue. The characters are fun and lovable. Kami's BFF is one of the most gorgeous girls in school who pretty much hates everyone, but loves naps. Along the way, Kami befriends Holly, a girl who's popular with the boys, but not so much with the girls. Jared and Ash are the Lynburn cousins coming home to Sorry-in-the-Vale for the first time. Though they are strikingly similar in looks, Jared is clearly the bad boy to Ash's angel. As the book goes on, it fully embraces the gothic mystery and the tone turns from light and upbeat to dark and mysterious. And in the midst of all this, Kami's mysterious voice turns out to belong to a real boy, and this awakens all kinds of pain and confusion for the two of them.
This book has it all and I loved every moment of it. I turned the last page stricken that it was going to take way too long until the next book was published - I want it in my hands NOW! I can't recommend this book highly enough. Seriously, I just want to hug it and carry it around with me everywhere!

If you'd like a little taste of the book's awesomeness, check out Sarah Rees Brennan's book trailer:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: Cast in Shadow

Cast in Shadow (Chronicles of Elantra #1)
By Michelle Sagara

A story where words are not only mightier than the sword, but they are also capable of blowing up a building.

At the onset of puberty, Elianne discovers words like tattoos forming on her arms and legs. Then all hell breaks loose - children are being murdered and found with these same marks in the fief of Nightshade - her home - a rough, lawless, wrong-side-of-the-river place. Seven years after she escaped from Nightshade and found a home in the grand city of Elantra, Elianne, now called Kaylin Neya, finds that history is repeating itself.

This fantasy story, the first in the Chronicles of Elantra series, takes place in a beautifully described world with strange races and many problems. Kaylin is a Hawk, one of the three branches of service in the Halls of Law, in which she is part of the police force for the city. She is sent back into the heart of Nightshade to investigate the resurgence of these murders with former friend and current enemy, Severn. With the help of a Dragon lord and the Lord of Nightshade (a Barrani, an immortal, elf-like race, who are as arrogant and cold as they are beautiful), Kaylin must learn about the ancient language that makes up the marks on her body and the powers they give her in order to fight the evil that's searching for her.

While much of this story is made up of the fantastic, at its heart is the trauma of Kaylin's youth and how she struggles to overcome it. She is forced to face the past before she can move on to the present concerns. This story envelops the reader in its fantasy world, but what I found most compelling is Sagara's depiction of words and names and the power they can hold. In this place that power is tangible; it can both save a life and bring down walls (both figuratively and literally).

This book is generally considered an adult title, but it has excellent YA cross-over potential. Kaylin is probably about 20 in this story. Her abilities and training make her more capable than her age would suggest, yet her past and attitude tend to make her act younger than her age. This book would be accessible and appropriate for teens who have a love for fantasy. I highly recommend it!

Book Review: Scorch

Scorch (Croak #2)
By Gina Damico

"Hi, I'm Driggs."
"Damn, boy. You're even cuter up close." Cordy looked him up and down hungrily. "Got any dead brothers in here?"
Lex made a face. "Cordy, ew."
"Doesn't hurt to ask!" She peered at Driggs. "Now tell me, what are your intentions with my sister?"
Driggs became flustered. "Um, I don't know. To love her...and, uh...honor...protect..."
Lex went red. "Driggs, shut up."
"Awkward." Cordy beamed. "Love it."
"We have to go," Driggs said in an unnecessarily loud voice.

A couple of months ago, I reviewed the first book in this awesome series, Croak. After fighting Miss Michelle for the sequel (she got to read it first), I finally got my chance at it! Before I review the book, though, I'd like to send a little note to the author:

Dear Ms. Damico,

What are you trying to do to me? You break my heart into little tiny pieces in Croak, tape it up so I think I'm ok, and then you STOMP on it in Scorch! You know, there's only so much damage you can do to my poor heart before it's too mangled to repair. You're doing this on purpose, aren't you? You're a very mean woman.

When's the next book coming out?

Sincerely, a devoted reader (to my own detriment),

I'm going to attempt to write this review as spoiler free as possible. Scorch picks up a few months after Croak left off, and Lex is finally back in the town of Croak. The surprise baddy is now on the run and most everyone blames Lex, particularly the nasty Norwood and his hellish wife, Heloise. These two are right up there on the hate-scale as Professor Umbridge of the Harry Potter books, and I hated that character more than I hated Voldemort. She tries to get back to normal, but the Sadistic-Spouses make that impossible. Lex and her friends end up on the run from both the town and the surprise baddy. Things go from bad to worse until Gina Damico ripped my heart out again. Some puzzles are solved, but the ending leaves you dying for more (See what I did there? It's a story about grim reapers, and it leaves you dying for more?). Apparently I'm a glutton for punishment, because despite the repeated cardio-vascular annihilation, I love this story and I love these characters - I guess that's why it hurts so good! Seriously though, this book is awesome, and you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you don't read it.

Ha! Another book where it's completely appropriate to use this GIF!

UPDATE: I'm excited to say that Ms. Damico responded to my Tweet about this blog entry and she says the following:

Thank you! And in response to your letter: Mwahaha! *twirls mustache, swishes cape*
I knew it. I knew she was an evil mastermind. She also said that the next book is scheduled to be released in Fall 2013! Thanks for the info, Gina!

Meg-A-Rae Episode 14: A Very Special Comedy Episode

What do you do when you have wax lips? Make a comedy episode! Bad puns & book reviews make up this week's installment of Meg-A-Rae! Meg discusses the hilarity of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and I discuss the mirth created from Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson!

Join us for our next installment: A Very VERY Special Thank Turkey Day Episode!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (Necromancer #1)
By Lish McBride

“So, you're telling me the zoo commissioned you to make a zombie panda in order to avoid a potential international incident.” 
Before I start this review, I'd like to comment on two things. First, I adore the title of this book. It is both amazing and nostalgic, and may manage to replace Phoebe's "Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza" that I always think of when I hear the song. I heart it. Lots. Also loving the title of the sequel: Necromancing the Stone. I loved that movie! Dear Lish: you rock book titles! You are my hero of book titling!

Second, I was shocked by the vast quantity and variety of results when I did an image search for "zombie panda." Internet, you are cray-cray.

Hold Me Closer is the story of Sam, a college drop-out, who is currently working at a fast-food joint. Like Cassel in White Cat, Sam has never really felt like he fit in anywhere. It turns out that there's a good reason for that. Sam is a Necromancer, but his powers have been stifled.

Everything changes when he accidentally damages a creepy dude's car. Said creepy dude, Douglas, realizes what Sam is, and demands to make Sam his apprentice. And by demand, I mean sending a brute to beat him up. When that didn't work, he then beheads Sam's friend, reanimates the head, and leaves it on Sam's doorstep. When that still doesn't work, he just kidnaps Sam. So yeah, that works.

Douglas likes power, a lot, and he thinks Sam is a fairly weak Necromancer, so he's not a threat. That keeps Sam alive - as long as he's useful - but good ol' Doug is still pretty sure he's going to kill Sam eventually and he (Doug) is ok with that.

This is a fantastic book! Mucho love to this series (also a Rosie nominee!). If you couldn't tell, I love me some snark, and Sam and his friends are full of the stuff. There's a lot of action, a bit of torture, magic politics, and some zombies, but it doesn't come across as overly-dark. Even when things are at their worst for Sam and his friends, the book is chock full of fun! Well, I think it's fun. I wonder what that says about me... Anyway, I highly recommend it to fans of paranormal, snark, and urban fantasy, and frankly, anyone who's a fan of awesome.

Books on Film: Movie Trailer - City of Bones

I love it when books are turned into movies - especially the ones with fantasy elements. It's so cool to see the fantastic rendered on film!

The Mortal Instrument series (and it's spinoff) was written by Cassandra Clare. The first book, City of Bones, will be coming to theaters this August! First things first: check out this description from Goodreads:

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder -- much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing -- not even a smear of blood -- to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . .

Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare's ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.

And now, the movie trailer!

'The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones': Trailer 1
(Sorry I couldn't embed the video - insert sad face - but this link will take you to the MTV page with the exclusive trailer!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: White Cat

White Cat (Curse Workers #1)
By Holly Black
“Pet the cat dude," says Sam. "She brought you a present. She wants you to tell her how badass she is."

"You are a tiny tiny killing machine." Daneca coos.

"What's she doing?" I ask.

"Purring!" says Daneca. She sounds delighted. "Good kitty. Who's an amazing killing machine? That's right. You are! You are a brutal brutal tiny lion! Yes, you are.”

In Cassel's world, some people can do magic and some people can't, but everyone knows it exists. But the majority of the non-magic users fear people who do magic, so magic is outlawed. Therefore, the magic users tend to band together in organized magic groups, and since magic is outlawed, these groups participate in organized crime. In other words, a magic mafia.

That's right - a magic mafia!

So Cassel's family are all magic practitioners and are connected to a major crime family. Cassel, though, (if I may steal a term from Harry Potter) is a squib - the only non-magic person in a magic family of con artists. His mother is in prison, his brother is interning at a law firm trying to get her out, and his other brother is an enforcer for the mafia don's heir apparent. Cassel's grandfather does the dirtiest work of all - his touch can bring death.

In this world, all magic is used through the power of touch; everyone wears gloves to keep from getting "cursed." But for every magic touch the magic wielder uses, he or she get's a whiplash-type effect. So if you are a memory worker, you lose your own memories. If you can kill someone with a touch, a part of your body dies (Cassel's grandfather is missing many fingers). So magic wielding isn't all fun and games, but Cassel still feels like the black sheep in the family because he doesn't have a gift.

To make matters worse, he killed his best friend.

The story follows Cassel as he tries to make a normal life for himself, but is finding that hard to do with his last memory of his best friend, his confusion about why he killed her, and other major family issues. And considering the fact that his best friend is the Don's only child and Cassel's family is keeping the secret that Cassel killed her, the issues are vast and troublesome. The story has a lot of twists and turns, but it is an engaging urban fantasy mystery. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes an edgier read with a supernatural twist!

I first mentioned this book in our Meg-A-Rae Very Special Magical Episode. Check it out!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Reviewer: Perks of Being a Wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky
Guest Reviewer: Alicia Scully

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.” 

In honor of the upcoming movie, please enjoy Alicia's review of Perks:

Told through letters to an anonymous reader, Charlie describes his life and his experiences. Opens with the start of his freshman year in high school and proceeds to the following summer. Many stereotypical high school events and experiences—including classes, dances, and football games—all seen through the observational perspective of Charlie. His English teacher plays a vital role and mentors him during the book—the book list that Charlie reads is full of similar characters and situations that he is facing. Lots of identity issues are addressed as well as touchy topics like sex, abuse, and substance use. The text is filled with Charlie’s easily identifiable voice, and he calls to the reader as he discovers his place and his function in his various social systems. Has a strong parental presence—a comfortable difference between other adolescent literature. An intense and wonderful read.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Teen Programming - Creative Writing

In today's Teen Home School Group, we did a fun little creative writing activity inspired by an In Our Write Minds blog post on Writing Warm-Ups. The idea is that each person receives a sheet of paper with a five-word phrase on it:

Five Word Phrase Prompts (you can make your own, too!):
  • Once upon a time there . . .
  • The mystery began when the . . .
  • In a kingdom far away . . .
  • Once, long ago, a tiny . . .
  • Last week, while digging in . . .
  • Today was far from normal! 
Then each teen would write another five-word phrase, then pass it on to the next teen, who would write a five-word phrase and so on and so on. There were ten of us (including myself), and we passed the papers around so that each paper would go around the circle twice, and the person who started the paper would also finish it (so they would write on their paper three times, while only writing twice on everyone elses). This, oddly enough, took up the full hour of our program, leaving just enough time to read the completed stories at the end. Here is one example:
Once, long ago, a tiny light appeared in the sky. Only one person saw it. She was Majesty, a princess. She loved to dance to rock music in pajamas while eating purple pancakes. She was a weird person, she said and then she said, "I love to eat pickles and I love to read." The light saw Majesty and decided to visit her. It shot from the sky and bolted down to greet her. It gave her a present; it was a donkey who could slow down time! He made it 1975 and then 2050 in New York City. He polished his favorite shoes. He wore them out that night. The light and Majesty traveled to forever and were happy there. The End.
All the stories were equally wackadoodle, but I can't help but be pleased that mine had a touch of the timey wimey! My Whovian reading of this makes the Light the Doctor, the Donkey the TARDIS, and the Princess the Companion.

I'd like to travel to forever with the Doctor.

This was a really fun program and extremely easy to do. I grabbed some printer paper, some clip boards, and a pile of pens, and off we went! Easy peasy, lemon squeezey!