January 28, 2013

Fog (Fog, Snow, and Fire, #1) by Caroline B. Cooney

Fog (Fog, Snow, and Fire, #1)Fog by Caroline B. Cooney

My rating: ★★★★☆

When it comes to 80's and 90's YA horror, I have a weakness. I simply can't stop reading it, regardless of its quality. I've read every Fear Street novel I can get my hands on, I'm slowly chipping away at the Point Horror line, and I'm still buying every non-series books that fits the bill. And I'm not going to lie, most of it kind of sucks. Sure it was fun when I was younger, a little creepy, a little suspenseful, and sometimes even kind of scary; but reading those books as an adult is a rather disappointing experience... and yet I still can't seem to get enough. They're lame, but they're fun lame.

So I went into Fog thinking the experience would be similar; it'd be fun to read, but ultimately as troperiffic and nonsensical as the average Fear Street book.

Which meant that Fog was a pleasant surprise, indeed.

I've discussed before the reasons behind my dislike of the Fear Street plotlines. They all rely on the same stock characters, the worldbuilding is chaotic and lacking almost any internal consistency, almost all of the female characters are boring, and all but two or three of the love interests are abusive creeps being mistaken for “bad boys”. Fog dodges each and every one of those pitfalls, and the tropes it does include are well-handled and effective.

On the subject of characters, Cooney wrote a delightfully creepy version of a Cloudcuckoolander with Anya; right from the start of the book, Anya's the immediate sign that Cooney knows how to write eerie and intends to deliver, unlike so many other so-called horror writers. Even better, Christina is a properly flawed female protagonist; with Christina, there's no Mary Sue nonsense when it comes to her ability to resist the Shevvingtons. Rather, she's a determined young woman who, most importantly, admits she's frightened. And that shouldn't be as rare a quality as it is, but to see a character who is specifically written as brave through willpower--not inherently and unwaveringly (not to mention unbelievably) brave just because Girls Need Role Models--is wonderfully refreshing. It's great to see a character who struggles with not only the antagonists, but with her own character flaws.

On the subject of the aforementioned creepiness, it shows up with Anya and it sticks around. I'm actually impressed by this, as it's so rare; rather than simply describing something grotesque or outright threatening to the reader--or worse yet, merely assuring us that Christina's surroundings are unsettling and expecting us to take her word for it--Cooney builds a genuinely creepy setting by taking advantage of the inherent danger the oceans pose to humans with well-written imagery, delivering via Anya downright disturbing and frightfully insane comments that heighten the eerie effect of the imagery into a distinct sense of foreboding, and adding an element of “maybe magic, maybe mundane” instead of diving headfirst into the supernatural. I have never seen a YA horror novel bother to craft its setting and tone this well.

Having said that, I hope I haven't oversold this; a lot of why I enjoyed it came from the fact that its quality was a genuine surprise. There were a few points that were probably a little sillier than necessary or pushed the limits of my suspension of disbelief, but my sheer surprise at finding talented writing and interesting characters far outweighed any of the complaints I might have otherwise voiced. In the end, I didn't read this because I had a morbid curiosity to find out what nonsensical ass-pull would resolve the plotline, as happens so often when I read Fear Street. No, for once this was enjoyment--the book was suspenseful, creepy, and interesting. When I can finally get my hands on copies of the sequels--my local library seems to be in the process of disposing of everything that isn't Twilight, Harry Potter, or Hunger Games, so there isn't a copy of Snow or Fire in the entire state database--I'm definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the Losing Christina / Fog, Snow, and Fire series. In the meantime, I own a few other Cooney books, and I'm certainly considering them with much more interest than I had before.

A copy of this book was provided free via Netgalley for the purpose of review.

January 25, 2013

Friday Finds [2013 #2]

Friday Finds is a weekly meme from Should Be Reading that showcases the books that bloggers have found during a particular week, either online, in bookstores, in libraries, or wherever!

My finds this week were:


Matthew has loved Ariel from the moment he found her in the tunnels, her bee’s wings falling away. They live in Safe, an underground refuge for those fleeing the city Above—like Whisper, who speaks to ghosts, and Jack Flash, who can shoot lightning from his fingers.

But one terrifying night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows, and only Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends escape Above. As Matthew unravels the mystery of Safe’s history and the shadows’ attack, he realizes he must find a way to remake his home—not just for himself, but for Ariel, who needs him more than ever before.

Pretty Crooked (Pretty Crooked #1)

Willa’s secret plan seems all too simple: take from the rich kids at Valley Prep and give to the poor ones.

Yet Willa’s turn as Robin Hood at her ultra-exclusive high school is anything but. Bilking her “friends”-known to everyone as the Glitterati-without them suspecting a thing, is far from easy. Learning how to pick pockets and break into lockers is as difficult as she’d thought it’d be. Delivering care packages to the scholarship girls, who are ostracized just for being from the “wrong” side of town, is way more fun than she’d expected.

The complication Willa didn’t expect, though, is Aidan Murphy, Valley Prep’s most notorious (and gorgeous) ace-degenerate. His mere existence is distracting Willa from what matters most to her-evening the social playing field between the have and have-nots. There’s no time for crushes and flirting with boys, especially conceited and obnoxious trust-funders like Aidan.

But when the cops start investigating the string of burglaries at Valley Prep and the Glitterati begin to seek revenge, could he wind up being the person that Willa trusts most?

Endgame (Voluntary Eradicators, #1)

Volera Magray is a Player: she engages with the tourists who come to play the VR games for which her district is so famous. She makes her living being pitted against other Players in terrifyingly real virtual reality games, fought for the gratification of a hedonistic audience.

Fighting is all she knows.

By day, she is a normal denizen of the oppressive Regency, but by night, she is wracked by terrible nightmares that hint at a past she can no longer remember. She suspects she might have killed someone—and she's afraid that she might do it again.

At the same time, the games she's playing are growing steadily more violent. Someone is hacking into the system and creating bootlegged games. Dangerous games. Deadly games. Games that tell a story of profound corruption and massive-scale government conspiracies, warping the lines between fact and fiction.

The only clue she has comes in the form of an exceedingly frustrating and potentially dangerous man named Catan Vareth. But, like everything else in her world, his help will cost her...

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke.

Rump has never known his full name—his mother died before she could tell him. So all his life he's been teased and bullied for his half-a-name. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. For Rump discovers he can spin straw into gold. Magical gold.

His best friend Red Riding Hood warns him that magic is dangerous—and she's right! That gold is worth its weight in trouble. And with each thread he spins, Rump weaves himself deeper into a curse.

There's only one way to break the spell: Rump must go on a quest to find his true name, along the way defending himself against pixies, trolls, poison apples, and one beautiful but vile-mannered queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—Rump just might triumph in the end.

The Flight of the Phoenix (Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist, #1)

Nathaniel Fludd’s life has taken a turn for the worst. With his parents lost at sea, he lands on the doorstep of a distant cousin—the world’s last remaining beastologist. Soon Nate is whisked off on his first expedition, to Arabia, where the world’s only phoenix prepares to lay its new egg. When disaster strikes, Nate quickly finds himself all alone.

Will he be able to see the phoenix safely hatched, keep his accidental pet gremlin out of trouble, and rescue his guardian from the Bedouin? If he fails, nothing will stand between the world’s mythical creatures and extinction.

Too bad Nate’s not the sort of boy who enjoys adventure . . .yet.

The Monster's Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyes

An all original anthology from some of today's hottest supernatural writers, featuring stories of monsters from the monster's point of view.

In most stories we get the perspective of the hero, the ordinary, the everyman, but we are all the hero of our own tale, and so it must be true for legions of monsters, from Lucifer to Mordred, from child-thieving fairies to Frankenstein's monster and the Wicked Witch of the West. From our point of view, they may very well be horrible, terrifying monstrosities, but of course they won’t see themselves in the same light, and their point of view is what concerns us in these tales. Demons and goblins, dark gods and aliens, creatures of myth and legend, lurkers in darkness and beasts in human clothing…these are the subjects of The Monster’s Corner. With contributions by Lauren Groff, Chelsea Cain, Simon R. Green, Sharyn McCrumb, Kelley Armstrong, David Liss, Kevin J. Anderson, Jonathan Maberry, and many others.

Ice Drift

The year is 1868, and fourteen-year-old Alika and his younger brother, Sulu, are hunting for seals on an ice floe attached to their island in the Arctic. Suddenly the ice starts to shake, and they hear a loud crack--the terrible sound of the floe breaking free from land. The boys watch with horror as the dark expanse of water between the ice and the shore rapidly widens, and they start drifting south--away from their home, their family, and everything they've ever known.

Throughout their six-month-long journey down the Greenland Strait, the brothers face bitter cold, starvation, and most frightening of all, vicious polar bears. But they still remain hopeful that one day they'll be rescued.

This thrilling new adventure story from bestselling author Theodore Taylor is a moving testament to the bond between brothers--and to the strength of the human spirit.

Enemy Within (Enemy, #1)

An intergalactic cold war-and some heated passion- from an inventive new voice in futuristic romance.

After a stint in an alien prison, Captain Ari Rose wonders why she even bothered to survive. Stripped of her command and banished to her father's scientific expedition to finish a Ph.D. she doesn't want, Ari never planned to languish quietly behind a desk. She wasn't built for it, either. But when pirates commandeer her father's ship, Ari once again becomes a prisoner.

As far as pirate leader Cullin is concerned, Ari's past imprisonment puts her dead center in Cullin's sights. If she hasn't been brainwashed and returned as a spy, then he's convinced she must be part of a traitorous alliance endangering billions of lives. Cullin can't afford the desire she fires within him and he'll stop at nothing, including destroying her, to uncover the truth.

Happenstance Found (The Books of Umber, #1)

Twelve-year-old Happenstance awakens in a cave with no memory of who he is or how he came to be there. Soon a mysterious trio arrives to take him away: the explorer Umber, the shy archer Sophie, and Oates, whose strength and honesty are both brutal. Hap and his new acquaintances narrowly escape the cavernous underworld and make their way to Lord Umber's bustling jewel of a harbor city, Kurahaven.
Once there, Hap learns that Lord Umber is an extraordinary man -- he's a merchant, adventurer, inventor, royal adviser, and chronicler of all things monstrous and magical. But Umber's accomplishments can't answer the question closest to the boy's heart: Who is Happenstance?

Desperate to uncover clues in his new, baffling surroundings, Hap accompanies Umber on dangerous and unusual missions. But Hap soon learns that there are powerful enemies inside the kingdom, and a ruthless assassin is hot on his trail. Faced with many unknowns, Hap knows one thing is certain: There's a reason Umber has chosen him...if only he could determine it.

January 24, 2013

The GR Shelf Challenge: An Update

If you've been following the blog or know me from Goodreads, you may recall my efforts toward my self-imposed Goodreads shelf challenge, in which I endeavor to read the top book of one GR shelf every month.

As I've been doing so for the past few months, I've run into one little hitch: the GR shelves move around more than I expected.

Before I started I certainly knew the shelves moved around, but I did not realize they'd been quite as dynamic as they are. And their shifting has caused me a bit of confusion.

For example, my initial plan had my reading order as: To Read Shelf → Currently Reading Shelf → Fiction Shelf → Favorites Shelf

But thanks to the shifting that's occurred since October, I ended up reading To Read → Currently Reading → Favorites → Fiction without even realizing my mistake.

So with this post, I'm going to put down a firm order for the next bunch of shelves (the first column of GR shelves from this page, to be exact). Regardless of how the shelves shift over the next fear months/years, I'll be reading in the following order:

January 23, 2013

Meet Caroline (American Girls: Caroline #1) by Kathleen Ernst

Meet Caroline (American Girls: Caroline, #1)Meet Caroline by Kathleen Ernst

My rating: ★★★★☆

Introducing the newest protagonist in the American Girl lineup, Caroline Abbot, a witness to the War of 1812.

(Personally, I was hoping for an Asian American instead of another blue-eyed blonde, but I'll begrudgingly accept the war's 200th anniversary as an reasonable excuse.)

Caroline's father is a shipbuilder, and Caroline's dream is to become a ship captain and sail around the world. Her cousin Lydia has more traditional female goals: get married, live in a nice house, and have six daughters.

At almost nine, Caroline is, like all the other girls of the American Girl series, a little unbelievable for her age. She's smart, strong-willed, and brave, and she's about to face a war in which she will play a significant role for her local community.

In Meet Caroline, we are introduced to yet another blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl, which is somewhat disappointing when there are at least a few ethnicities American Girl hasn't covered yet. But there's a reason for it; 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the onset of the War of 1812, and Caroline Abbot is a firsthand witness to the fighting at the Canadian/American border.

When the war breaks out after months of tension and uncertainty, Caroline, her father, and her cousins Oliver and Lydia are sailing one of the great lakes on the ship Caroline's father built for Oliver when they are set upon by British soldiers. Unfortunately for them, Oliver's ship is sailing an American flag, and so it doesn't matter to the soldiers that Oliver is a Canadian citizen.

Though Caroline and Lydia are both escorted to their homes on opposite shores of the lake, Oliver and Caroline's father are taken prisoner along with their ship.

And here arises a wonderful aspect of history. In the absence of Caroline's father, Caroline's mother is left to manage his shipbuilding business. Her workers clearly doubt she can do it, but she proves them wrong with a little initial help from Caroline. It's great to see a independently capable female character appear in an American Girl book as a mother—normally the mothers are relegated to exclusively maternal roles, with the daughters being chastised for their independence. So Caroline's mother is a quite refreshing character.

Caroline herself is a pleasant surprise. From the cover of the book, she looks like a very feminine child, with a pretty face, pretty blonde curls, and pretty pink dress. Wonderfully, though, Caroline doesn't seem to have any trouble at all balancing her femininity with her less dainty traits. She sails in her skirts and maintains a close relationship with her father; she stitches and cooks but dreams of becoming a sea-captain; she patiently learns to perform the household chores expected of a wife, but she spends enough time at her father's shipbuilding business to help her mother there when the time comes.

In other words, Caroline is commendable as an American Girl in that she balances society's expectations for her with her hopes for herself.

Meanwhile, she's also brave and intuitive. When confronted with the dangerous situation at the climax of the book, it's her quick thinking and self-sacrifice that saves the day.

From what I've seen of her so far, I think I'm going to quite like reading the rest of Caroline's series. She might even find herself among my favorite American Girls, which I could never have expected when I first glanced at the cover of Meet Caroline.

What we have here, folks, is an instance of “never judge a book by its cover”.

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January 22, 2013

Abe Lincoln's Dream by Lane Smith

Abe Lincoln's DreamAbe Lincoln's Dream by Lane Smith

My rating: ★★★★☆

A copy of this book was provided free from Roaring Brook Press for the purpose of review.

Many have heard the urban legend that Abraham Lincoln dreamed of a weeping crowd come to mourn their assassinated President, who turned out to be Lincoln himself. Far fewer have heard about the dream Lincoln had the night before his assassination, in which Lincoln rode a “singular, indescribable vessel” that was “moving with great rapidity” toward “a dark and indefinite shore”. But nearly everyone has heard the rumor that the sixteenth President haunts the White House's “Lincoln bedroom”.

In Abe Lincoln's Dream, a young African American girl discovers the ghost of Abraham Lincoln when she wanders away from her tour group. She befriends him and assuages the fears of the long-dead President, who is finally able to ride toward the “dark and indefinite shore” with a smile.

All in all, Abe Lincoln's Dream is a cute picture book made more touching if you're familiar with Abraham Lincoln, his struggle with depression and the overwhelming stress of being a wartime president, and his aforementioned “indescribable vessel” dream. And perhaps just as importantly in a picture book, the pictures themselves are charming and attractive, being both vaguely old-fashioned and reminiscent of American paper currency.

January 21, 2013

Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas by Eva Saulitis

Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing OrcasInto Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas by Eva Saulitis

My rating: ★★★★★

A copy of this book was provided free via Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

It's been quite a while since a book has had as great an emotional effect on me as Eva Saulitis's Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas. By the end of the book, I was very close to tearing up; it's quite a touching story, and the reality of it resonates with me.

Into Great Silence is the story of Eva Saulitis, Prince William Sound, and the Chugach transient orcas. It's also a story of environmental catastrophe, impending extinction, and the tragic loss of life born of human carelessness.

Reading about Saulitis's experiences studying orcas in the Prince William Sound, I envy her. She describes her summers at the Sound amazingly; it's so easy to envision living there. From the frigid waterfall showers to the camping and hiking, from the long hours spent searching for and studying the orcas to the relationships with her research assistants. I can't help wishing that I could spend a summer that way—and this coming from a woman with a fear of open water!

But it's clear that I couldn't spend a summer like Saulitis's first summers in the Sound even if I had the initiative: the Sound is not the same place as it was then.

I was born several years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill that so fundamentally changed the Prince William Sound and its ecosystem. By the time I come into existence, the Prince William Sound is a different place from the beginning of the book with a different balance, a balance that may or may not be unsustainable for some of its residents. Namely, the Chugach transients.

As Saulitis familiarizes her readers with these elusive orcas, I couldn't help forming an attachment to them. I'm always a sucker when it comes to emotional connections with animals; I form them easily, whether warranted or not, and all it takes is an image or an anecdote to do it. So as Saulitis explains her emotions at the loss of these whales, it's all too easy to feel what she feels. It's all too easy to share in her mourning when she finally goes to visit the bones of Eyak, and there's no avoiding the mourning that must come with the realization that in a few more years, there may not be such a thing as a living Chugach transient.

Above all else, though, it hurts to think that a single careless oil spill may have been the proverbial straw to break the delicate balance of the Sound, and that its new state of balance may not include a niche for the orcas I fell in love with over the course of Into Great Silence.

So I'm very pleased to have read this book; this is the first real glimpse I've had into the world of orcas, and it's a bittersweet environmental lesson.

If you're interested in reading more about the Chugach transients, Eva Saulitis contributed to a National Geographic article on the subject. Read it here--and note the photograph of Eyak's bones.

January 18, 2013

Friday Finds [2013 #1]

Friday Finds is a weekly meme from Should Be Reading that showcases the books that bloggers have found during a particular week, either online, in bookstores, in libraries, or wherever!

My finds this week were:

Viper Moon (Earth Witches, #1)

Cassandra Archer is the Huntress. She has faithfully served the Earth Mother for years, rescuing kidnapped children from monsters-both human and supernatural-dwelling in the ruins of the Barrows District. But when two children are kidnapped under similar circumstances, all clues point to a cataclysmic event on the next dark moon. Now Cass must race against the clock and prevent a sacrifice that could destroy the entire town...


When the sun goes down, New York's true elite all head to one place: Bathory Academy, where the young ladies of the finest vampire families are trained in shapeshifting and luring their prey.

Bathory's reigning queen, Lilith Todd, is the daughter of a powerful vampire businessman, and she knows exactly what she wants from life. She wants to look beautiful for eternity and party till the sun comes up with her gorgeous boyfriend, Jules. And she doesn't want any New Blood upstarts standing in her way.

Enter Cally Monture, an unexpected threat from a trash zip code. When their first meeting leads to tragic results, Lilith is hungry for revenge.

The Way of the Wizard

Power. We all want it, they've got it - witches, warlocks, sorcerers, necromancers, those who peer beneath the veil of mundane reality and put their hands on the levers that move the universe. They see the future in a sheet of glass, summon fantastic beasts, and transform lead into gold... or you into a frog. From Gandalf to Harry Potter to the Last Airbender, wizardry has never been more exciting and popular. Enter a world where anything is possible, where imagination becomes reality. Experience the thrill of power, the way of the wizard. Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams (The Living Dead) brings you thirty-two of the most spellbinding tales ever written, by some of today's most magical talents, including Neil Gaiman, Simon R. Green, and George R. R. Martin.

The Many Faces of Van Helsing

Twenty-two masters of horror and fantasy give Van Helsing, the vampire hunter from Bram Stoker's Dracula, his due as they reimagine the adventures of the greatest foe of the most evil vampire in literary history.

The Better Part of Darkness (Charlie Madigan, #1)

Atlanta: it's the promised city for the off-worlders, foreigners from the alternate dimensions of heaven-like Elysia and hell-like Charbydon. Some bring good works and miracles. And some bring unimaginable evil....

Charlie Madigan is a divorced mother of one, and a kick-ass cop trained to take down the toughest human and off-world criminals. She's recently returned from the dead after a brutal attack, an unexplained revival that has left her plagued by ruthless nightmares and random outbursts of strength that make doing her job for Atlanta P.D.'s Integration Task Force even harder. Since the Revelation, the criminal element in Underground Atlanta has grown, leaving Charlie and her partner Hank to keep the chaos to a dull roar. But now an insidious new danger is descending on her city with terrifying speed, threatening innocent lives: a deadly, off-world narcotic known as ash. Charlie is determined to uncover the source of ash before it targets another victim -- but can she protect those she loves from a force more powerful than heaven and hell combined?

Kindling the Moon (Arcadia Bell, #1)

Meet Arcadia Bell: bartender, renegade magician, fugitive from the law. . . .

Being the spawn of two infamous occultists (and alleged murderers) isn’t easy, but freewheeling magician Arcadia “Cady” Bell knows how to make the best of a crummy situation. After hiding out for seven years, she’s carved an incognito niche for herself slinging drinks at the demon-friendly Tambuku Tiki Lounge.

But she receives an ultimatum when unexpected surveillance footage of her notorious parents surfaces: either prove their innocence or surrender herself. Unfortunately, the only witness to the crimes was an elusive Æthyric demon, and Cady has no idea how to find it. She teams up with Lon Butler, an enigmatic demonologist with a special talent for sexual spells and an arcane library of priceless stolen grimoires. Their research soon escalates into a storm of conflict involving missing police evidence, the decadent Hellfire Club, a ruthless bounty hunter, and a powerful occult society that operates way outside the law. If Cady can’t clear her family name soon, she’ll be forced to sacrifice her own life . . . and no amount of running will save her this time.

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces... Dante’s Inferno .

Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust…before the world is irrevocably altered.

Grave Witch (Alex Craft, #1)

Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say.

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she’s on good terms with Death himself—who happens to look fantastic in a pair of jeans—nothing has prepared her for her latest case. Alex is investigating a high profile murder when she’s attacked by the ‘shade’ she’s raising, which should be impossible. To top off her day, someone makes a serious attempt on her life, but Death saves her. Guess he likes having her around...

To solve this case Alex will have to team up with tough homicide detective Falin Andrews. Falin seems to be hiding something—though it’s certainly not his dislike of Alex—but Alex knows she needs his help to navigate the tangled webs of mortal and paranormal politics, and to track down a killer wielding a magic so malevolent, it may cost Alex her life...and her soul.

Firelight (Darkest London, #1)

Once the flames are ignited...

Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family's fortune decimated and forced her to wed London's most nefarious nobleman.

They will burn for eternity...

Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it's selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can't help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn't felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

Curse of the Full Moon: A Werewolf Anthology

The beast stalks the night!

The change comes on with startling speed. Moonlight transforms the kindly stranger into something else--something wild, vicious and beyond the reach of reason. The curse has taken hold. From dark urban alleys and fog-shrouded heaths to unsettling futurescapes and fantastic realms, the battle against the beast within creates heroes or horrors. Only the light of the full moon reveals which it is that you face: your savior or your doom. Curse of the Full Moon presents a remarkable collection of works that examine the legend of the werewolf from a wide variety of insightful and inventive perspectives. With stories from world-renowned voices in horror and fantasy such as Peter S. Beagle, Ramsey Campbell, Jonathan Carroll, Nancy A. Collins, Charles de Lint, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Barb Hendee, Joe R. Lansdale, Tanith Lee, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, and many more.

Black Wings (Black Wings, #1)

As an Agent of Death, Madeline Black is responsible for escorting the souls of the dearly departed to the afterlife. It's a 24/7 job with a lousy benefits package.

Maddy's position may come with magical powers and an impressive wingspan, but it doesn't pay the bills. And then there are her infuriating boss, tenant woes, and a cranky, popcorn-loving gargoyle to contend with.

Things start looking up, though, when tall, dark, and handsome Gabriel Angeloscuro agrees to rent the empty apartment in Maddy's building. It's probably just a coincidence that as soon as he moves in demons appear on the front lawn. But when an unholy monster is unleashed upon the streets of Chicago, Maddy discovers powers she never knew she possessed. Powers linked to a family legacy of tarnished halos.

Powers that place her directly between the light of Heaven and the fires of Hell...

Back to Work: Why We Need a Smart Government for a Strong Economy

President Bill Clinton gives us his views on the challenges facing the United States today and why government matters—presenting his ideas on restoring economic growth, job creation, financial responsibility, resolving the mortgage crisis, and pursuing a strategy to get us "back in the future business.” He explains how we got into the current economic crisis, and offers specific recommendations on how we can put people back to work, increase bank lending and corporate investment, double our exports, restore our manufacturing base, and create new businesses. He supports President Obama’s emphasis on green technology, saying that changing the way we produce and consume energy is the strategy most likely to spark a fast-growing economy while enhancing our national security.

Clinton also stresses that we need a strong private sector and a smart government working together to restore prosperity and progress, demonstrating that whenever we’ve given in to the temptation to blame government for all our problems, we’ve lost our ability to produce sustained economic growth and shared prosperity.

Clinton writes, “There is simply no evidence that we can succeed in the twenty-first century with an antigovernment strategy,” based on “a philosophy grounded in ‘you’re on your own’ rather than ‘we’re all in this together.’ ” He believes that conflict between government and the private sector has proved to be good politics but has produced bad policies, giving us a weak economy with not enough jobs, growing income inequality and poverty, and a decline in our competitive position. In the real world, cooperation works much better than conflict, and “Americans need victories in real life.”

A Brush of Darkness (Abby Sinclair, #1)

The man of her dreams might be the cause of her nightmares.

Six months ago, Abby Sinclair was struggling to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Now, she has an enchanted iPod, a miniature unicorn living in her underwear drawer, and a magical marketplace to manage. But despite her growing knowledge of the OtherWorld, Abby isn’t at all prepared for Brystion, the dark, mysterious, and sexy-as- sin incubus searching for his sister, convinced Abby has the key to the succubus’s whereabouts. Abby has enough problems without having this seductive shape-shifter literally invade her dreams to get information. But when her Faery boss and some of her friends vanish, as well, Abby and Brystion must form an uneasy alliance. As she is sucked deeper and deeper into this perilous world of faeries, angels, and daemons, Abby realizes her life is in as much danger as her heart—and there’s no one she can trust to save her.

100 Wicked Little Witch Stories

The witches who populate these 100 delightfully scary stories include practitioners of white witchcraft & devotees of black magic. Most are female, some are male. A few are thoroughly unclassifiable. They can be born witches or made witches, & may mix simple love potions or volatile concoctions that threaten all we hold dear. Some resent not receiving the treatment they feel they deserve from lesser mortals; yet other witches don't even realize that they wield any special influence at all. The many writers who take on this ever-fascinating character (so fundamentally human unlike her more paranormal, ghostly brethren) include Martin Mundt ("Hunger Gulag"), Juleen Brantingham ("Burning in the Light"), Joe R. Landsdale ("By the Hair of the Head"), Simon McCaffery ("Blood Mary"), Terry Campbell ("Retrocurses"), Lawrence Shimel ("Coming Out of the Broom Closet") & a coven of others.

Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York

New York is not a city for growing and manufacturing food. It’s a money and real estate city, with less naked earth and industry than high-rise glass and concrete. Yet in this intimate, visceral, and beautifully written book, Robin Shulman introduces the people of New York City - both past and present - who do grow vegetables, butcher meat, fish local waters, cut and refine sugar, keep bees for honey, brew beer, and make wine. In the most heavily built urban environment in the country, she shows an organic city full of intrepid and eccentric people who want to make things grow. What’s more, Shulman artfully places today’s urban food production in the context of hundreds of years of history, and traces how we got to where we are.

In these pages meet Willie Morgan, a Harlem man who first grew his own vegetables in a vacant lot as a front for his gambling racket. And David Selig, a beekeeper in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn who found his bees making a mysteriously red honey. Get to know Yolene Joseph, who fishes crabs out of the waters off Coney Island to make curried stews for her family. Meet the creators of the sickly sweet Manischewitz wine, whose brand grew out of Prohibition; and Jacob Ruppert, who owned a beer empire on the Upper East Side, as well as the New York Yankees.

Eat the City is about how the ability of cities to feed people has changed over time. Yet it is also, in a sense, the story of the things we long for in cities today: closer human connections, a tangible link to more basic processes, a way to shape more rounded lives, a sense of something pure.

Of course, hundreds of years ago, most food and drink consumed by New Yorkers was grown and produced within what are now the five boroughs. Yet people rarely realize that long after New York became a dense urban agglomeration, innovators, traditionalists, migrants and immigrants continued to insist on producing their own food. This book shows the perils and benefits—and the ironies and humor—when city people involve themselves in making what they eat.

Food, of course, is about hunger. We eat what we miss and what we want to become, the foods of our childhoods and the symbols of the lives we hope to lead. With wit and insight, Eat the City shows how in places like New York, people have always found ways to use their collective hunger to build their own kind of city.

The Book of Wonders

Magic, Djinn, Ogres, and Sorcerers. Thirteen-year-old Zardi loves to hear stories about fantastical beings, long banned from the kingdom of Arribitha. But anyone caught whispering of their powers will feel the rage of the sultan—a terrifying usurper who, even with his eyes closed, can see all.

When her own beloved sister is captured by the evil ruler, Zardi knows that she must go to any lengths to rescue her. Along with her best friend, Ridhan—a silver-haired, violet-eyed boy of mysterious origins—and an unlikely crew of sailors led by the infamous Captain Sinbad, Zardi ventures forth into strange and wondrous territory with a seemingly impossible mission: to bring magic back to Arribitha and defeat the sultan once and for all.

The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine

The Princess TestThe Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

In the interest of perfect honesty, I will confess that I have never read Hans Christian Anderson's The Princess and the Pea. In fact, prior to reading the wikipedia summary (which I did just before sitting down to write this review), all I knew of the story was that there was a princess who for some reason or other had a pea under her mattress.

Speaking from personal experience, I advise anyone who is planning to read The Princess Test to familiarize themselves with at least a summary of Anderson's tale. (Here is the summary I read.) I imagine that if I had read The Princess and the Pea before The Princess Test, I would probably have enjoyed it more than I did.

As such, The Princess Test bored me. It was quirky, which I normally like, but the quirk seemed muffled somehow, like it simply was rather than was something. It wasn't funny. It wasn't quite annoying. It was just there. From the absurd world and its ironic occurrences to the vaguely sarcastic quips of its inhabitants and their own odd character tics, I didn't feel connected or invested at all. Everything that happened was ridiculous, and every character accepted their lot without question or complaint. If the quirks were muffled, the overall tone was restrained.

Perhaps I could have enjoyed it better if I could have enjoyed it from a metaphysical standpoint. As I had only the vaguest familiarity with the original The Princess and the Pea, however, most of what Levine was saying passed me by. Yes, obviously the idea of a princess test is ignorant, but what's your point? I had to wonder. If I'd read The Princess and the Pea first, I wouldn't have wondered.

So maybe I ruined my own enjoyment of this. Who knows? Either way, I think I'll be adding Hans Christian Anderson's The Princess and the Pea to my to-read list. That line in the Wikipedia summary--"In the morning the guest tells her hosts—in a speech colored with double entendres—that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed"--certainly makes it sound like something I'd much rather read.

January 17, 2013

And the Winner Is... by Jenny Miglis

And the Winner Is...And the Winner Is... by Jenny Miglis

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

And the Winner Is... by Jenny Miglis is a picture book adaptation of the Spongebob Squarepants episode, Big Pink Loser, which you may remember is the episode that introduced one of the especially memetic lines of the franchise ("NO, THIS IS PATRICK!").

...and this oft-referenced and hilarious line does not appear in the book. As a matter of fact, that entire scene is cut.

As far as I'm concerned, this deletion sums up the book's quality. Spongebob Squarepants became popular because of its absurd humor. And while it's lost much of its original humor over the years, shifting instead to gross-out humor that more easily holds the attention of its target audience, And the Winner Is... drops the humor entirely in favor of teaching children a moral.

I will admit I don't understand that. Kids like Spongebob because it's funny. Therefore, a child would agree to read a Spongebob book on the grounds that it, too, should amuse them. Yet this book rehashes an episode's plot, removing all the humor and leaving the moral behind. But if the humor is what held the child's attention so well, and the moral is present alongside the humor in the episode, why are the jokes gone? Why retell a story with its best bits removed?

In other words, I was disappointed by this. However, I've opted for two stars instead of one on the assumption that it can help parents teach their children to read by taking advantage of Spongebob's popularity.

January 16, 2013

Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water by Peter H. Gleick

Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled WaterBottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water by Peter H. Gleick

My rating: ★★★★☆

A copy of this book was provided for free via Netgalley for the purpose of review.

A few years back, I picked up a used copy of Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It by Elizabeth Royte from the for-sale shelf at a local library. I still have this book buried somewhere in the teetering piles that are threatening to take over my bedroom... and I have yet to read it. That's what happens to books I buy: they end up in my ever-growing “to read” piles, and eventually “to read” has to be qualified as “to read someday”. Having my own copy of a book seems to invite procrastination, as if I assume that I'll have the rest of my life to read the books I personally own, so why should I read the now?

But bottled water is an intriguing subject to me, hence why I bought the book in the first place--and hence why I ended up reading Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.

And I was right; the phenomenon that is bottled water is genuinely fascinating. Having been born in the early nineties, I can't recall a time when bottled water wasn't present in my life. By the time I was born, the industry was coming into its own, and my parents bought into it easily. They didn't trust the well water at their recently purchased suburban home (as opposed to the city apartment they'd left behind), and they still don't. So for all of my childhood, tap water was for baths, showers, sinks, and toilets, hose water was for washing cars and playing in sprinklers, and bottled water was for drinking. I can say, however, that during my childhood, our parks and schools still had clean, functioning water fountains that we had no qualms about using. (Not that it lasted long.)

As I can't remember a time before bottled water, Bottled and Sold was eye-opening for me. The propaganda campaigns it recounted from the birth of the industry amazed me, because I know first-hand how much those very ads subconsciously shaped my view of water itself. The lamenting of the degradation of the public water system struck a cord, as I recall the slow decay of the water fountains in our local parks, which worked wonderfully when I was a young child but haven't worked at all in the past decade. All of the legal loopholes and downright absent law enforcement was astounding—and distressing, seriously exacerbating my tentative disdain for bottled water (having been exposed in an environmental science class to some of Nestle's bottled water related shenanigans).

Above all else, however, the notion that city tap water was just as safe or perhaps ever safer to drink than bottled water was something of a culture shock.

I am part of a generation that drinks much more soda than water, and that water always bottled instead of tap. I am part of a generation without well-maintained public water fountains. I live in a semi-rural area where I know nothing of the quality of my own tap water and my house's well. Bottled and Sold was just the book I needed to read.

With the wealth of information provided in Bottled and Sold, the only flaw I can point out is that the focus leaned toward city tap water, which doesn't address my house's water supply. But the absolute best thing I can say for Bottled and Sold is that I'm thoroughly convinced I need to dig deeper into the subject of water. I want to read my copy of Bottlemania, as soon as I can find it. I want to learn more about my house's own water supply. I want to learn more about the safety, origin, and cost of the bottled water brand my mother drinks every day. I want to learn more about how to promote tap water and the notion of water as a human right, not a privatized commodity.

And I think that's what Gleick was going for with Bottled and Sold: if people's interest can be piqued, perhaps we really can bring about his optimistic vision of the “Third Age of Water” he proposes.

January 14, 2013

Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow

Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of TomorrowCatastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow by

My rating: ★★★★☆

A copy of this book was provided to me free via Netgalley for the purpose of review.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I had just celebrated my twelfth birthday the day before. As I've lived my entire life in Maryland, I am and was then no stranger to hurricanes. With my memory of Isabel fresh, I heard the news of Katrina's approach with some passing interest. But the storm wasn't going to reach my house, so it seemed an absolute world away; Louisiana, New Orleans, and the entire Mississippi River / Gulf of Mexico region was utterly foreign to me and so of little consequence.

Then the footage of the flooding, the destruction, the suffering. The people packed into the Superdome. The pleas for information on missing relatives, friends, and animal companions. (That last I will admit broke my heart the most, given my intense love--and in this case, pity--for "domesticated" animals.) It was a natural disaster the likes of which I'd only seen once, that being in 2004 with the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Between those two events, I formed my concept of the term "natural disaster".

Catastrophe in the Making, however, seeks to challenge that concept in a fascinatingly insightful way. Katrina, it posits, was no “natural disaster”, fitting a strict definition of neither “natural" nor “disaster”.

As Freudenburg, Gramling, Laska, and Erikson define it, Katrina was not a natural disaster so much as it was a tragedy of unintentional human design. “Disaster”, they explain, comes from dis and astro, a combination which would be translated as “bad star”--as in, simple bad luck with an astrological spin. But the idea that Katrina was merely a storm born under a bad star, so to speak, is the exact opposite of the message Catastrophe in the Making offers. So instead the term “tragedy” is offered, and it's certainly a better fit with its Aristotelian implications of one's own hubris begetting suffering.

I must say that I love that definition, and was very much intrigued by the related message that built over the course of Catastrophe in the Making. As the book goes through the human history of New Orleans, from its period of native habitation through the Louisiana Purchase and on to the current day, it explains the growth and so-called growth of city. And as this history unfolds, even a reader entirely unfamiliar with the region—that is, a reader like myself—gets a glimpse into one of the prime manifestations of perhaps the greatest mistake the U.S.A. has made: our tendency to think ourselves somehow above or separate from the rest of nature, compounded with our ability to so thoroughly mistake needless environmental destruction for “progress”.

Catastrophe in the Making is a wonderfully insightful look at New Orleans and Katrina from an environmentalist perspective, and I recommend it to anyone interested in reading on the subject of environmentalism, Hurricane Katrina, or “green” government reform and city planning.

January 11, 2013

The Berenstain Bears and the Papa's Day Surprise by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears and the Papa's Day SurpriseThe Berenstain Bears and the Papa's Day Surprise by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

My rating: ★★★☆☆

And now for something completely different: a Berenstain Bears book without a terrible moral!

Papa Bear is a product of... a less emotionally enlightened upbringing, let's call it. He's clearly one of the many men who suffer from the belief that there's something inherently unmasculine about having any feelings whatsoever. So while he thinks mother's day is a great idea, his ingrained sexism leads him to insist that the idea of a day dedicated to celebrating fathers' familial contributions is ridiculous and purely commercial.

Of course, he ends up succumbing to his human (er, bear?) nature and, you know, having those little things we like to call "feelings" and winds up disappointed that his family so easily complied with his anti-Father's Day spiel. So when Brother and Sister Bear, along with their neighbors, put together a Father's Day celebrating at a local restaurant and surprise Papa Bear, he's thrilled.

It's a cute little story, and I always love to see Berenstain Bears books in which one of the parents learns a lesson.

January 10, 2013

Kindness Counts by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Kindness Counts (The Berenstain Bears)Kindness Counts by Jan Berenstain and Mike Berenstain

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Kindness Counts is an installment in the Berenstain Bear's Living Lights line. And the Living Lights line is a mindbogglingly nonsensical and oftentimes offensive bundle of shit.

Stan Berenstain was a Jew. His wife, Jan, was an Episcopalian (Christian). Hence the reason religion was not part of the Berenstain Bears for many, many years.

Right up until Stan died. At that point, his son Mike took his place as partner to his mother... and promptly shoehorned a "Christian" moral into every goddamned thing ever. Makes me wonder how his Jewish father would react.

The Living Lights line, then, is the center of this explosion of Christianity into the series. There is so much wrong with this, I hardly know where to start.

If you want to read your children Christian-themed books, go for it. If Mike Berenstain wants to write Christian-themed books, he should go for it, too. What he should not be doing is redefining a decades-old and much beloved series, shoehorning religion into a setting where it has never been and does not belong, and thus excluding vast percentages of the population. Did he stop to think about the Jewish fans of the Berenstain Bears? The Pagan fans? The athiest, antitheist, or agnostic fans? The Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist fans? The [insert other religion, spirituality, or philosophy here] fans? I'm thinking he didn't, or else he just didn't care.

If you want to teach Christianity as a religion, go for it. The Living Lights series endeavors to teach aspects of Christianity to children, and that's totally cool. If that's your deal, go for it. The Living Lights series has The Berenstsain Bears: God Loves You!, The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School, The Berenstain Bears Say Their PrayersThe Berenstain Bears Discover God's Creation, The Berenstain Bears Show God's Love, Berenstain Bears Storybook Bible, and The Berenstain Bears: Here's the Church, Here's the Steeple, among others, to suit all your at-home worship needs.

If you want to teach people lessons about kindness, friendship, hard work and perseverance, community involvement, and the like, go for it...

But don't tell put those lessons under the heading "Christian".
Those are not "Christian" morals. The lesson of not being an asshole has nothing whatsoever to do with the Abrahamic god, the Hindu gods, the Greek gods, or any other god, spirit, or entity that humanity has ever worshiped. To imply that kindness and community are somehow "Christian" in nature is to imply that non-Christians lack these morals or traits, and that can be described as nothing other than offensive.

For decades, the Berenstain Bears didn't have a problem with this. Sure, I disagreed with quite a number of their morals, finding them laughably stereotypical, condescending, and/or overly simplified. But they were morals that encompass their audience as a heterogeneous culture, not a homogeneous creed. They didn't seek to exclude anyone or to address any one group specifically. And they certainly didn't subtly imply that one group is somehow morally superior to everyone else that has ever existed.

The Living Lights series, or at least the half that isn't directly dealing with the Abrahamic god or Christian worship, is downright rude. So here's an FYI: "Kindness Counts" for all people, not just the people who worship your particular deity or read your particular religious text.

January 9, 2013

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: ★★★★★

I have heard many, many wonderful things about Game of Thrones. I've seen glowing reviews about and oblique references to its sheer awesomeness. I've seen people badgering their friends to read the series and/or watch the HBO adaptation. I've seen a surprising abundance of men talking about how women are somehow automatically made hotter by merely enjoying the series. Some of these references are vaguely amusing, but quite condescending in their reliance on stereotypes. Others are hysterical, but only if you have at least a passing familiarity with the plot and characters. They all, however, were convincing in their prevalence: apparently, I needed to read this Game of Thrones thing.

So I did.

In a rare instance of media living up to its hype, I quite enjoyed Game of Thrones. So much so that I watched the first season of the HBO show immediately after finishing. That was great, too.

The only problem, of course, is mustering up the time and initiative to start the next book. I mean, holy crap. I want to read it. I want to devour it. But when I read, I tend to read in one sitting. With A Song of Ice and Fire, that is definitely out of the question. I read Order of the Phoenix in one sitting, but that was on release day when I was having heart palpitations out of sheer, unbridled excitement.

A Song of Ice and Fire is different. It's interesting. It's amusing. It's downright awesome if you can invest some emotion in the storyline. But it's the kind of thing that has to be read in multiple sittings, and reading in multiple sittings is usually something I only do when I'm bored with the book I'm reading.

So now I've had A Clash of Kings sitting on my desk for a few weeks, and I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I keep looking at it, thinking, “I'd love to read that. Wonder what happens to ______?”

Next thought? “Meh, no time for a billion page book right now. Maybe later.”

I mean, damn. I've already accidentally stumbled across enough spoilers to know that this shit is going to be great. I know I want to have read at least the third book by the time the third season of Game of Thrones starts up. I know that once I start reading, I'll enjoy it even if the going's slow. But at the moment, picking up the book is a battle with procrastination.

Lamenting aside, I'm very happy to have finally read Game of Thrones. I don't read as much fantasy as I'd like, mostly because it's hard for me to find series I actually enjoy, but A Song of Ice and Fire embodies everything I love in fantasy. It's an intriguing world with intriguing characters. The history, geography, mythology, and religion are developed enough to support the plot without overtaking it. The plot isn't focused on any one thing, running multiple entertaining story-lines simultaneously. The characters are familiar in their resemblance to archetypes, but divergent enough to stand on their own as actual people. Their relationships, backgrounds, and personalities are interesting. They don't fall into black-and-white morality. They don't pick firm sides. They have motives beyond “support the protagonist” or “oppose the protagonist”. Some of them are—wait for it—strong female characters and action girls. And they are all as terribly flawed as real people.

On the other hand, it's definitely not a story for some people. This is a harsh medieval-esque world. There's sexism. There's racism and cultural discrimination. There's prejudice against illegitimate children, the mentally ill or disabled, and the physically deformed or disabled. There's crude humor and heavy snarking. There's war, cruelty, execution, murder, and brutal torture. There's incest and violent insanity. There's arranged political marriage, rape, and prostitution. There's teen sex and pregnancy. There's a lot here to offend people who aren't on board with reading about some of the more vulgar aspects of a culture, fantasy or otherwise. But if you're like me... well, I love that. The society here is as flawed as its people, and it's both fascinating and horrifying in turns.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading on with this series (as soon as I can convince myself to pick up the next massive book), as well as the adaptation. And by the time I'm finished, I hope to have a new favorite.

January 8, 2013

Belle: The Mysterious Message by Kitty Richards

Belle: The Mysterious Message (Disney Princess Chapter Books)Belle: The Mysterious Message by Kitty Richards

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Movie tie-in material isn't exactly known for being high-quality stuff. When it comes to tie-in books, then, there are two avenues that are most often followed:

A) The uncreative novelization that adds nothing to the story and pales in comparison to the film experience. OR

B) The tie-in book, usually for children's movies, that specifically contradicts the movie's plot, characterization, or lesson.

Disney favors the latter.

In the case of Belle: The Mysterious Message, Kitty Richards has written a midquel to Disney's 1991 movie, Beauty and the Beast. As my fellow '90's children may remember, this movie in fact already has a film midquel in the form of 1997's Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (as well the three/four shorts in 1998/2003's Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World.) As for why Disney insists on adding scenes to the original picture instead of moving forward with the characters, I haven't the slightest idea.

But it certainly creates a load of continuity problems. That's the problem with a midquel: if you use the main characters of the source material, you're adding character development that was never present in the original. And that's a big problem in a movie like Beauty and the Beast, where the entire story revolves around the main characters growing closer. If you have important “learning to understand each other” scenes in the spin-off midquels, suddenly the movie itself fundamentally changes.

In the case of Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, this is striking. Tim Curry's character, the organ and former court composer, Forte, is an antagonist to both Belle and the Beast with the goal of keeping them from falling in love. Obviously, this determination to keep them apart and the resulting danger does a lot to bring the couple together... and that makes absolutely no sense in Beauty and the Beast continuity. There's simply no room for this character development in the original film.

Belle: The Mysterious Message isn't nearly as jarring, but it's there nonetheless. For half of the book, as a matter of fact, it seemed as if the problem would have been avoided by focusing on Belle and her mission, and ignoring the Beast completely. Unfortunately, the second half dashed that hope; but more on that later.

This short mystery takes place sometime after the Beauty and the Beast library scene and sometime before Belle leaves the castle. In the story, Belle and Chip discover a dusty old book hidden beneath one of the library's bookshelves. Belle starts reading the fairy tale within to her enchanted friends... only for everyone to face disappointment when they realize the last chapter of the book is missing.

As it turns out, the Beast ripped out the last chapter as a child; his tutor then decided to hide the pages, leaving clues for how the young prince could get the pages back. Unfortunately for Belle, the tutor left before the Beast ever found the book under the shelf and the first clue it contained.

So Belle and her friends start to follow the tutor's clues in hopes of finding the end to their story. Unfortunately for the original movie's continuity, they're forced to bring the Beast in on the plan, and Belle and the Beast have several scenes bringing them together as friends, completely in disregard of the movie's relationship dynamics.

Still, for all its discontinuity-making flaws, Belle: The Mysterious Message is a nice, short mystery for any young Disney princess fan. Perhaps a little boring for an adult reader, but a child should find it enjoyable enough.

January 4, 2013

The Coming of Hoole (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #10) by Kathryn Lasky

The Coming of Hoole (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #10)The Coming of Hoole by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

There's not much to say about The Coming of Hoole. It continues the legends that started unraveling in The First Collier, but it shifts the focus from Grank to Hoole. I like the inclusion of the polar bears (at this point, I like the inclusion of any non-owl creatures that get treated with basic respect), and I don't dislike the characters of Hoole or Theo, though Theo seems fairly extraneous.

The mythology is still garbled (I've given up on "What the hell are hagsfiends?" and moved on to "What the hell are halfhags?", which is even more confusing.), but there's a small victory in that the term Ga' is finally explained upon its hundredth use. Apparently, Ga' means "great spirit; a spirit that somehow contains not just all that is noble, but all that is humble as well".

All in all, I have to give this another two star rating. Parts of the story definitely deserved a three, but a lot of it was positively wince-worthy. At this point, I'm just looking forward to this series being over.

January 3, 2013

The First Collier (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #9) by Kathryn Lasky

The First Collier (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #9)The First Collier by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Say goodbye to Soren, the Guardians, the Band, the Chaw of Chaw, the wolves of the Beyond, Coryn, and even the Pure Ones. Because for some reason or other, we're blasting thousands of years into the past to deal with mythology that was never mentioned in the series until The Hatchling (but mostly The Outcast). And don't worry your pretty little heads, because this mythology will directly contradict what's been said before and will confuse the hell out of you.

Actually, you know what? Worry.

January 2, 2013

The Outcast (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #8) by Kathryn Lasky

The Outcast (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #8)The Outcast by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

The Outcast is the continuation of Nyroc's change-of-heart story. He's betrayed his mother and the Pure Ones and reinvented himself as Coryn. But he's also come to realize that there's no place for him in the owl kingdom, so he sets out for the volcano wasteland called the Beyond the Beyond. I will admit that every time "Beyond the Beyond" was mentioned, I would think of the Mysterious Beyond from Land Before Time and the "Beyond the Mysterious Beyond" song from the seventh movie. (Enjoy. Or, for diehard fans of the first movie, mourn.)

Anyway, the story leaves the owl world for the first time, bringing us in contact with our first creatures who escape blatant discrimination: the wolves. The wolves for some reason have Scottish-style clans and one of them is led by a Caligula who maims his children. (Did you think "acceptable racism", child enslavement, and cannibalism were inappropriate in a RL 4 book? Try some violent domestic abuse on for size!)

(With the wolves of the Beyond, of course, comes the spin-off series. But more on that in my review of the entire Ga'Hoole series.)

Unfortunately, this story also marks the major plot shift of the series. Suddenly the Guardians of Ga'Hoole take a back seat to the Ember of Hoole, and a whole new mythology shows up. Speaking from the perspective someone halfway through of To Be a King looking back on The Outcast, this shouldn't have been part of the Ga'Hoole series. Or, more accurately, The Hatchling should have started a second Ga'Hoole series instead of tacking onto the original six books. Because in all honesty, the series is fundamentally changed by The Hatchling and The Outcast. The protagonist changes from Soren to Coryn. The genre changes from adventure to fantasy. Things that were perfectly non-magical and explained mundanely in the first six books are suddenly magical and fantastic in the later books. Focus shifts from dealing with the Pure Ones to reliving myths (myths that are invented in these books rather than explained prior and feel "fake" as a result).

So what should have happened? Well, the first six books should have been the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series. Then The Hatchling and The Outcast should have been the Ember of Hoole series or maybe the Coryn of the Eclipse series, or whatever better title the publishers could have come up with. The First Collier, The Coming of Hoole, and To Be a King should have been the Legends of Ga'Hoole series (by which I have heard it called by fans). As I haven't read the last four books, I can't say how they should have rolled out, but it shouldn't have been with all these fundamentally different stories mashed under one heading. I mean, really. If you're going to have a mid-series three-book flashback trilogy, you're writing a universe, not a series.

Anyway, on to the mid-series three-book flashback trilogy. Brace yourselves, mythology Retcons are coming.

January 1, 2013

2013 Bookish Resolutions

Read at least fifty books I actually own. I own over a thousand books and haven't read most of them. They've long since overflown my shelves, and though I'm slowly gathering enough boxes to store them properly, I'm not reading them nearly as fast as I need to be. In 2013, I want to make a dent in my unread stacks.

Pinpoint the most effective (and affordable) way to pass along my old books to new owners. Along with all those unread books, I have a few stacks of books I've read that I no longer want to keep. Some of them, I've already tried taking to the used bookstore, but the used bookstore in my town is... well, to be as nice as possible, they're ridiculously overpriced. As a result, they have far more inventory than is reasonable to the point that their stock is just lying around in bags on the floor. I've never seen anything so ludicrous; because of this overstock, they're accepting less than they used to (but not enough of a reduction in intake, obviously) and I'm stuck without a place to bring my books. In 2013, I'd like to experiment with taking books to the local thrift store and library, as well as trying out some book exchange services or clubs. I would really like to pick one by next January.

Complete at least the lowest level of every challenge on my 2013 Reading Challenges page. Amusingly enough, this is the first year I've signed up for reading challenges, and so I'm going to be testing the waters, so to speak. I don't know how much I can handle in a year, and I'm going to try to meet my lofty goals in 2013; if I don't, at least I'll know what not to do next year!

Finish three fanfiction stories to put up on Archive of Our Own this fall. I have a bunch of half-written plots lying around on jumpdrives, and I'm going to do my damnedest to make 2013 the year that they finally see completion. ('Course, I said this for 2012, too, and that obviously didn't work out...)

Finish a manuscript, even if it's so terrible I never want to see it again. When it comes to me and writing, I have a process. That is, I get 30,000 words into something, decide I hate it, and drop the project. Obviously, it's not the most productive way to do things, so a 2013 goal of mine is going to be to conquer my Inner Editor, to borrow some NaNo terminology.

Write a cumulative minimum of 350,000 words. Last year I wrote just shy of 270,000 words ranging from book reviews to blog posts to private journal entries to fanfiction to (Camp) NaNoWriMo attempts. Since I'm going to be blogging much more in 2013, I'm raising my goal by 100,000.

Focus on reading more new releases and more popular books. Compared to most people, I read a lot.  But the books I tend to read are older and none too popular, so when events like the Goodreads Choice Awards come around, the polls are filled with books I haven't read (or heard of!). I want to change that in 2013 and try to find some balance between the new and the old as well as the popular and the obscure.

Try to get ahead of schedule with Amara's Eden by utilizing the schedule post feature. At the moment, I'm only a few days ahead of schedule. If at all possible, I'd really like to stay a few weeks ahead of schedule at least, so I can always be sure I'm prepared for power/Internet outages, writing/reading slumps, overwork or lack of time, or just simple forgetfulness.

Be more social on Goodreads and in the blogosphere. I don't know if it shows or not, but I've never been particularly comfortable in social settings. Socializing and making friends isn't the easiest thing in the world for me.

Stop requesting books from the library that I won't be able to read within the check-out period. I have a library problem. Whenever I log onto my account at the library's website, I inevitably request something. A lot of somethings, usually. I can fill up my twenty-five hold slots within a few minutes, and when they arrive at the local branch so I can pick them up... they end up sitting in my bedroom for the full three-week, three-renewal check-out period before finally being returned, unread. In 2013, I hope to learn to the art of only requesting what I'll actually get around to reading.

Find my reviewing voice, and get a handle on this whole blogging thing. I haven't been reviewing long, so I often feel a little unsure of myself. I haven't found a distinct voice to write with, I haven't yet developed a knack for picking books I'll enjoy over books I'll find mediocre, and I find myself having much more to talk about in negative reviews than in favorable ones. In 2013, I want to develop my blog, my reviewing skills, and my writing voice.

Top 10 Books I Resolve to Read in 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

The Hatchling (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #7) by Kathryn Lasky

The Hatchling (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #7)The Hatchling by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★★☆

As of The Hatchling, the Ga'Hoole story shifts focus. Soren and his friends step down from their main character positions for the next two books, and Soren's nephew Nyroc takes over.

Nyroc is the second egg of Kludd and Nyra (the other broke before hatching), born during an eclipse and so destined to be either Nyra Junior or the super special awesome second coming of Jesus Hoole. As he's the new protagonist, I'm sure we can all tell which he's going to be.

Beyond the predictability, however, this is the best book of the series thus far. There's no nursemaid snake in this one, so the series' biggest reminder of its inherent racism is gone. Better yet, Nyroc actually makes friends with other species, which is (sadly enough) mind-blowing in this universe. And unlike Soren and his friends, Nyroc's anti-prejudice standing is actually genuine. His mother's a hateful bitch, and so he, unlike the other owls, learns that racism isn't only reprehensible when it's directed toward owls. It's reprehensible period. And it's great to have a character who finally reflects that.

The Hatching is the only book so far in the series that I truly enjoyed. Sure, it has some stupid bits and a lot of predictability, but changing the protagonist is the single best thing that's happened for the series so far. I really hope Lasky can keep this up.