Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Diviners, OR, why Libba Bray is awesome

Libba Bray is astonishing. With the exception of her Gemma Doyle trilogy, her other books have been standalones that span all genres. Going Bovine, the only book I know of that combines mad cow disease and Don Quixote, won the Printz Award several years ago. And now, she writes her latest novel The Diviners.

It's the era of Prohibition and flappers, Ziegfeld girls and speakeasys. After a faux pas at home in Ohio, bubbly, "everything's jake" Evie O'Neill has arrived in New York to stay with her uncle Will. Will curates the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. When a peculiar murder with apparent occult ties occurs, the police call upon Will to help solve the crime. And that's where the easy explanation ends.

Evie helps her uncle untangle the complicated threads of a story tying together religion, the occult, and a sacred covenant made years before. At the same time, we learn about other characters on the fringes of Evie's story: Memphis, a numbers runner; Jericho, Will's assistant at the museum; Theta, a Ziegfeld girl; and Sam, a petty thief. As Evie's story continues, it is clear that all these characters have ties with something bigger than themselves. The something is a looming thing of nightmares and evil

I can't even elaborate on this story anymore without serious spoilers, and I can't fully explain the "something." The ARC that I got at BookExpo is 578 pages, and this is the first in a four-part series that I can only assume covers the stories of the other characters in Evie's story. The film rights have already been snapped up by Paramount (wise move!) via Fake Empire and this promises to be an epic, Roaring-Twenties adventure with layers of darkness and occultism.

I stayed up way too late as I got deeper and deeper into this story. The world building and historical imagery are impeccable. After watching Ken Burns' documentary Prohibition earlier this year, I was totally onboard with the time period. At first I didn't like Evie's "pos-i-tute-ly" flapper slang, but as the story built into this maelstrom of intrigue and horror, it became so secondary that I just sat up turning page after page. The story reads like a movie, and I can't wait to see how it translates into film. It's one book-to-film that I'm not dreading!

I do wonder how this book will be received by teens. There's plenty of plot and lots of characters to keep the story going (and Evie is seventeen in the story), but I wonder how the (grisly!) murders and the time period will resonate. The connection I draw is that each time period has an expected "apocalypse" and this story is what apocalypse looked like in the Twenties. The fact that it is a time before a lot of modern technology makes it all the more scary. Beyond the family, there isn't a global community with whom to share common experiences. Local papers are the time period's Facebook status, if you will, and not knowing is a fear in and of itself.

The Diviners will be published in September by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers. Libba, thank you for being amazing and signing my ARC at BookExpo. Paramount and Fake Empire, thank you for seeing the amazing movie opportunity in this book.

Ex libris and everything's jake,


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Once I read a book and it was a gas...its title was Throne of Glass

I couldn't help referencing Blondie's "Heart of Glass" in the title of this post. Every time I've opened up the digital galley to read Throne of Glass, those catchy lines (the only ones I know) have skittered across my brain. "Da dada dada, and it was a gas...da dada dada, heart of glass."

Anyway, Throne of Glass was a gas-- an exciting fantasy with a beautiful and deadly heroine. Throw in a competition, a prince, and a unknown evil, and you've got a great escapist read.

Eighteen-year-old Celaena Sardothien was her country Adarlan's most notorious assassin, until she got caught. Forced into slavery in a salt mine, she refuses to be broken. She remains as cunning and deadly as ever. When the Crown Prince of Adarlan arrives at the mine, she is surprised, especially when he reveals his intention. Celaena is to compete against other villains and soldiers in a competition. If she wins, she will be named King's Champion and be freed after a period of servitude. If she loses, it is back to the mine and certain death.

Wanting her freedom, Celeana agrees-- grudgingly-- to the deal. She is transported to the Glass Castle where she will train and compete under an assumed name. Despite her unbreakable spirit and prickly demeanor, she has caught the Crown Prince's eye and the eye of her trainer, the Captain of the Royal Guard. As training begins, a series of murders alarms castle residents. It appears to be an otherworldly force, but that is impossible because magic has disappeared from the kingdom. Or has it? Can Celaena figure out the force behind the murders and win the competition?

I was skeptical about this story, to be honest. Pretty girl assassin? Handsome prince? I was concerned that Celaena was going to be too frothy and the prince was going to be a doofus. But aha! I was wrong! What I liked a lot about Celaena is that she has an edge to her. She may look awesome in a ballgown, but you best make sure she doesn't have a knife strapped to her thigh. And the prince, Dorian, is handsome but has character to back it up. Their dialogue is well-crafted and snarky. I loved it.

Celaena is not transformed overnight. I tip my hat to Sarah Maas, the author, for developing all of the characters in this book in measured steps. All the parts of this book unfold in a wonderful way, and it is clearly first in a series that shows promise.

The blurb on Netgalley calls Throne of Glass "the teen girl version of Game of Thrones." I have only read the first in that series, but I like to think that Arya Stark would grow up to be like Celaena Sardothien-- crafty and quick with a sword.

This is a debut novel by Sarah Maas, but she's been writing this epic online for years. Congratulations on getting this book in print, Sarah, and I look forward to the next in the series! Throne of Glass will be published on August 7, 2012 by Bloomsbury Children's Books, a division of Bloomsbury Publishing. The digital galley was provided through Netgalley.

Ex libris,


Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Trash" into treasure

Junk-Box Jewelry is a way to justify saving stuff. I love saving stuff. I have old watch faces, extra buttons, and more bits of yarn than I know what to do with. I took a wire working course in January, so I was looking forward to see Sarah Drew's take on DIY jewelry.

This book is marketed toward teens who are beginner or intermediate jewelry makers. I would lean more toward intermediate because some of these projects seem pretty involved. This is definitely a plan-before-you-make book. I love the idea of using "junk" to make new things, but these projects require jewelry wire, clasps, and tools. Bead stringing this isn't. Some projects are easier, but I think there are more intermediate projects than beginner in this book.

I like a lot of the projects Sarah Drew shows, especially the "Beach Finds" chapter with sea glass, shells, and bits of plastic. Next time I go to Cape Cod, my eyes will be scanning the sand!

The projects are well-illustrated and clearly explained, which is much appreciated. However, some of the "teen language" Drew uses feels a little forced. When describing lobster clasps: "No, they don't taste good dipped in butter..." On how to find supplies: "Tell your folks you want to organize or clean up and you'll earn serious brownie points." It sounds intentionally trendy. Luckily, as the book continues, this "omg totally awesome" tone wanes, or maybe I just got used to it. It doesn't affect the instructions, which is good.

Hats off to Drew for indicating that an adult's help might be needed when it comes to using a Dremel tool. I would suggest a similar note in the "Selling Your Work" section in the back. Etsy and eBay are great resources, but a bank account has to be connected to PayPal to purchase items or receive payment.

This is a good choice for intermediate-level teen crafters who want to branch out from using store-bought supplies. This book was received for review through Netgalley. It was published by Zest Books on June 27, 2012 and is available for purchase.

Ex libris,


Friday, July 6, 2012

Two non-paranormal books that I really enjoyed.

 I recently finished two books that I really enjoyed. Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill was historical fiction and Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn was a mystery. Nary a ghoul in sight. I was happy to read some realistic books for myself and also to recommend to others who may be worn out from paranormal books or dystopias. I like those genres as much as the next person, but it's nice to read something different for a change!

Sisters of Glass snagged me with its beautiful cover, and then really snagged me with its subject matter-- glassblowing. For a long time it was my career ambition to be a glassblower. I took workshops and even interned for a glassblower in college. To be fair, the book is not just about glassblowing. It's also a story about family, love, and duty. Maria is the younger daughter of a glassblower, who has stipulated that she marry a nobleman. She'd rather work in the furnaces of the glass shop or sketch. Her older sister Giovanna is miffed that she was passed over for the betrothal, and Maria finds herself falling for a man she can't have.

The novel is written in non-rhyming verse, and most of it is quite lyrical and pretty. The atmosphere of Murano, the Venetian island where glass is produced, feels sort of mystical. The story follows a traditional arc and it was refreshing to read one point of view instead of many. As I was reading, I was concerned that Stephanie Hemphill would lose readers with the glassmaking terminology she uses, but behold! A glossary at the end. I'd recommend this to historical fiction fans and any teen interested in glassblowing (although I might've been the only one, and that was-- gulp-- fifteen years ago). For a different, much more complicated story set in France, try Daphne du Maurier's The Glass-Blowers.

Now, for something completely different: Tokyo Heist. This one got me from the art angle too-- it's about a stolen van Gogh painting. Violet arrives in Seattle to spend time with her dad. His employers have recently commissioned him to paint a mural in their office building in Japan. Unfortunately, they have also recently been burglarized and a van Gogh has gone missing. Violet goes to Japan with her dad so he can work on the mural and Violet tries to solve the mystery surrounding the painting and the gangsters who want it. This is a fast-paced mystery with international flavor.

Violet reads a lot of manga and is a budding artist herself, so at the same time her own story is going on, she's writing a manga story called Kimono Girl. I really liked the parallel stories of Violet and Kimono Girl. I know pretty much nothing about manga other than it's Japanese, but I still found it accessible in this story. There are Japanese words sprinkled throughout that can be figured out from context, and they are used purposefully. I really enjoyed this one.

Sisters of Glass was published under Random House's Knopf imprint in March of 2012 and is available now. Tokyo Heist was published under Penguin's Viking imprint in mid-June of 2012 and is also available now.

Ex libris,