Friday, October 28, 2011

Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation


Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation by Tom Siddell

I've been fascinated for a while now with the fusion of text and graphics that comprise graphic novels. The problem I find is that most comics and graphic novels are geared toward a male audience. While it's great that there are books for the numerous guys who are reluctant readers, I wish there were more graphic novels that appealed to women—especially women who are strong, smart, and dress in actual clothes. So I was ecstatic when I found Gunnerkrigg Court, a captivating series of graphic novels for teen girls.

In the first volume, Orientation, Antimony Carver arrives at the gloomy Gunnerkrigg Court, a British boarding school that looks more like a factory than a school. Sounds normal enough, but that illusion fades within the first few pages as strange things start to happen.

Soon enough Antimony discovers that her parents—her mother recently deceased and her father missing—are intricately tied to this school and the mysteries that surround it. Events at Gunnerkrigg may even hold the key to understanding what happened to her parents.

Antimony's world is a dark one populated with robots, demons, and forest gods, but it also one in which she and her pre-teen classmates can still have fun. This isn't a humorous book by any means, but there is a quirkiness to the situations and scenes that give it a certain kind of depth I've only found in graphic novels. The best comparison I can make is to Emily the Strange, another graphic novel series* I absolutely adore. As with Emily the Strange, there's something youthful but dark about the illustrations that I find fascinating.

While some of the chapters in this volume feel a bit episodic—which makes sense considering the series started out as a web comic—enough of the the overarching plot threads are woven throughout that it all fits together well.

This volume ends much like the Harry Potter books: at the end of the school year but with enough mystery to propel readers immediately into the next book.

Now all I have to do is track down the rest of the series since my library only carries the first. (Why do they do that‽) This is definitely a series I'd recommend, though it might be a bit tougher to find a copy.** 

* There is a series of books for teens featuring Emily the Strange that are mainly text-based but with graphic elements. The original graphic novels are much darker, though just as compelling, and fit more into the traditional comic style. 

** Hint: All of the books in this series is available online through Indiebound, even if your local indie doesn't carry them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Anna Dressed in Blood


Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

It's a love-hate relationship for me. I love reading spooky tales, but I hate how scared I get after reading them. I've been known to scare myself witless after reading ghost stories. Oh, I'm fine while reading; it's afterward when I have to turn out the lights and every noise or shadow shifts into its true nightmaric form that I huddle shivering under the covers.

No, I'm not a 12-year-old girl. I'm a grown woman who's been doing this with scary books since she was 12. You'd think I'd have outgrown it by now, or at least given up reading the scarier ones. You'd be wrong.

So what is it about Anna that had me eagerly anticipating a frightful night hiding under the blankets? Here's the basic premise: a teen ghost hunter kills the dead who kill the living. The ghost of a murdered girl tears apart anyone who enter her house. Then the kicker: The ghost spares the life of the ghost hunter, even while killing others around him. Mystery? Yup. Intrigue? Oh, yeah.

To say that the story is creepy would be putting it mildly, but that's not what makes this book so fascinating. From the horrifying first encounter with Anna, the story progresses from mystery to secrecy, and, yes, even to romance. Anna is a fully fleshed-out character (badum-ching!) who becomes increasingly complex as the story progresses. I have to say, she was my favorite part of the book.

I honestly didn't get as scared as I thought I would, but that's a good thing because I stayed up much too late finishing it. One straight shot through the whole book. It really was that good.

The rating was docked half a star because I might have over-hyped it in my mind a bit, leading to a tiny bit of disappointment, but not enough to ruin how much I enjoyed it overall. (I'm probably hyping it a bit too much here, too. Oops.) I'm hoping that the sequel (Yes!) will deliver that last half star to make this an incredible series. 

For an author's debut, this is very well done. I'm definitely keeping an eye on Kendare Blake. There are delicious frights to be had in future books, if Anna Dressed in Blood is any indication.

Note: For those who are sensitive to language and violence, this has both. While it's aimed at YA readers, I'd suggest it's better suited on the older end of that spectrum.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Drumroll please . . .

All of the entries for Prize C were excellent, but we can only have one winner, which is . . .

Danielle LaPaglia!

Guest judge Lauren MacLeod chose her entry for its creative interpretation of the prompt.

Thanks to everyone who entered. And hey, why not enter this week's contest while you're here? A signed copy of Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee is up for grabs.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Baby, you're a star

And so we reach the end of our fabulous giveaways—at least this round. (You never know when we'll be tossing out more free stuff and other goodies.)

What, we ask, could possibly be better than a signed copy of Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee? Throw in bookmarks, pins, and stickers, and even an preview sampler for Holly Black's Black Heart and Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Prince and you've got one amazing prize.

For this contest, we're keeping things simple. All you have to do is follow us here, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Share the contest with your friends to get even more chances to win.

The Rules: Leave a comment below with links to where you shared the contest. Plus we'll add in all the names of followers to the blog, FB page, and Twitter feed. Each person can have up to 5 entries. The contest runs from now until Friday, October 28 at 11:59 pm EST, after which will do some randomizer magic and BEHOLD! A grand prize winner.

Now go forth and spread the word. Your chance at a free book depends upon it.

Dead on the Delta

Dead on the Delta by Stacey Jay

One of the best things to come from the recent glut of paranormal and dystopian novels is the trend of taking history or the present world and shifting it, ever so slightly, so that one small change affects nearly everything down the line.

While, yes, there have been plenty of books in the past that did something similar, I'm seeing it more frequently and in fascinating ways. Take, for instance, Dead on the Delta. What if a disaster at a chemical plant in Louisiana tainted the bayou, causing the little fairies so small that no one can see to mutate into insect-sized blood-sucking pixies of death. And then there are the invisible people. How could I not buy a book with that kind of premise?

Things get even more interesting as the author builds this world around Annabelle Lee, a drunken med-school dropout who is one of the few people immune to fairy venom. While everyone else is holed up inside iron-clad towns and armored cars—iron keeps the fairies away, and a single bite makes a normal person either insane or dead—she gets to go out into the swamp and do all the dirty work. Yay for Annabelle? Not quite.

It's a good story and very entertaining. I'm eagerly anticipating the second book, Blood on the Bayou, which is due out in March 2012. But while the story captivates, it's the richness and thought the author put into this world that amazed me.

The disaster that sparked the mutation happened before the arrival of Katrina. Almost glanced over as back story are details of Annabelle working exhausting hours to recover and identify the bodies left in the hurricane's wake. Again, she is one of the few who can withstand the fairies, and so she must do the worst jobs because there is no one else.

I can't do justice in describing the details the author incorporates, often in passing as though it were natural that killer fairies had taken over much of the Southern US. I will just suggest that you read it yourself if you want to better understand what I mean.

Dead on the Delta gets 4 stars from me because it didn't quite feel as extraordinary as a 5-star book should, but there plenty of things to make this highly recommendable. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rakes and Radishes


Rakes and Radishes by Susanna Ives

When I started into this book, I was expecting a fun, light read like Jane Austen's Emma. Oh no. I got Wuthering Heights. While Wuthering Heights is a great book, its moody and near-violent overtone doesn't lend itself well to the label of "romance." Indeed, it could be considered the antithesis of romance, with the anger and revenge of the lovers destroying their lives and those around them.

That's why I was somewhat surprised with the dark turn of the novel about a third of the way in. The flap copy doesn't really give an indication of what this story is. By the time I realized where things were going, it was too late for me to stop. I was already hurting for the main characters, and I had to know that things would turn out okay.

It's not a bad book at all; my problem is that I was emotionally unprepared for what I got. Let's just say that I stayed up until 4 am to finish the book because I honestly felt sick to my stomach with what was happening, enough that I couldn't fathom sleeping until I got to a good resolution. 

In the end, things worked out, which saved the wall from having my Kindle chucked at it. It also saved the book and the author from landing on my I-hate-this-book-so-much-because-it-sucked-all-the-happiness-out-of-me list. Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure is the only book to occupy that space so far. I'm really hoping to leave it that way.

To sum up: it's a good book, but it's also a dark and emotional read. Know that before going in, and you'll likely appreciate the story. Just don't expect a light romance novel 'cause you aren't gonna get it.

Thanks to NetGalley and Carina Press for a review copy of the book.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pretty, Pretty . . . uh, Paranormals?

Ever just sort of said to yourself, "Hmmm, I need more paranormal book swag. Like maybe a bracelet, some temporary tats, bookmarks, signed book cards, random Flair, and a funky key, plus the book it goes with?*" Yes? Then boy howdy, are WE about to become close friends!

*Black Magic Sanction, by Kim Harrison

Allow us to remind all and sundry we must insist contestants for Prize C (that's this one, for anyone not clear on that) be at least sixteen (16) years of age, as Prize C includes an item of more mature content.  We have complete faith you younglings can get yourselves into enough trouble without our help.

And yes, if anyone ever told you books weren't dangerous, they lied.

Now! Onto the contest. Rules stand pretty much the same. You have until 11:59 P.M. of  October the 14th to submit your very own, original interpretation of the related theme, at which point, the gorgeous-smiled-and-beautifully-bubbly Lauren McLeod (literary agent extraordinaire with The Strothman Agency) will ogle all the entries and use her keen personal tastes to determine the one most deserving of Prize C.

Okay gang, here's your theme:

Yup, that simple. What sort of creative hijinks can you get up with that?  Go on with your bad selves!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Winner Announced!

Because we here at Libri Ago: Book Lives are extremely blessed to have some wise and influential friends, and one of them--the luminous Authoress Anonymous--agreed to guest judge for us this week.

We shut Authoress into a tiny white room in which we'd painted each entry on the wall in black paint and told her she couldn't come out unless she'd chosen her favorite.  She was in there for twenty-seven years, or as we know time OUTSIDE the white room, two days.  Upon her exit, she gave us her decision.


Authoress had this to say about her choice:

I probably chose this one because I LOVE old things that are reused.  My favorite necklace (I'm wearing it right now) is my first initial --a key taken from an antique typewriter and set in a necklace.  So, yeah; this entry, in my opinion, really captures the spirit of something old "becoming" new.  


So, Renee, expect an email in your inbox, and a Steampunk prize pack in your mailbox soon! 

Congratulations from Amethyst and Michelle, too!

The Book that Shall Not Be Named

I argued with myself for a couple of days what to do about this book. I'd been reading it specifically for the purpose of reviewing it, as it isn't . . . uh, the reading level I tend to choose . . . but then, I'd been reading it to decide its qualities as a book for reluctant readers, not for devourers of books, as am I.

The writing was painfully over-explanatory and full of telling rather than showing. Okay, so not fantastic, but again--reluctant reader. Sometimes a reader needs to be lead slowly by the hand the whole way. Even if that makes the whole book feel like a bunch of people standing motionless on a stage, reading their stage directions right along with their lines so the audience knows what emotion to give the words. "Wooden" doesn't even begin to describe it. I kept reading, anyway.

And then, in a sort of burst, the heroine of the book sort of . . . morphed into the exact opposite of what any parent would hope his or her daughter become by way of fairness and morality. I won't go into it, or I'll get angry all over again.

But I'll say this: reluctant-reader-targeted writing I can deal with, even though I probably won't enjoy it. Encouraging readers to believe their lives are worthless unless they're in the top tier of popularity (despite having three very LOYAL friends), that cheating is a completely desirable means to attaining popularity (especially when it would gain them a place doing what they've wanted their whole life--or at least the last month when they suddenly became good at it), and disowning a parent for PARENTING and giving them very good advice, just because it's not what they want to hear?

No. Just no. No way, no how, ever, ever no.

That's when I stopped reading, even though I was less than half-way through the book. Even though I hadn't been reading it for myself in the first place.

And that's why I won't be giving out the name of this book. I don't want to promote it at all. If you're a parent, or another conscientious reader, you can comment, DM, or whatever me, and I'll give you the title so you can avoid it, or make sure it doesn't end up in hands you'd rather not have it, but I won't be putting it into black and white here.

That's my compromise.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Museum of Thieves

Lian Tanner's Museum of Thieves presents as a very good starter book for readers who have a new-found interestin  alternate universe sorts of books, and falls in with some very good company, such as Brandon Mull's new Beyonders series, and Du Prau's City of Ember (which, as is often the case, is better than the film based upong it, despite Soairse Ronan's great performance), and even to a lighter degree, Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series.

Living in a world where anything even remotely risky (dog germs, anyone?) is disallowed and removed, and children are--literally--chained to adults at all time to prevent accidents, Goldie ends up unfettered and recruited to become the fifth keeper at The Museum of Dunt. Only the phrase 'the museum' turns out to be interchangeable with 'building in which several actual realities exist, all of which are prone to shifting about and bulging at the seams when they get themselves in a snit".

A snit is exactly what the museum gets into when the ambitious Fugleman plots to  overthrow his sister, The Protectorate, for rule over the city of Jewel, and sends in his lackeys, The Blessed Guardians (who, incidently, are the tyrannical imperialists over all the chained children during regular business hours) to nail down all the rooms in the museum.

It's up to Goldie and the other Keepers (tall, smooth Sinew; grandmotherly gypsy-like Olga Cyavolga; hulking Herro Dan; and shape-shifting brizzlehound, Broo) to thwart the Fugleman and calm down the musuem enough that all of life's atrocities don't come spilling through the walls into Jewel, threatening life and limb of every being therein.  But can they do it without unleashing something just as bad, or worse?

I did happen to BUY this one, and at nine bucks for the paperback copy, I'm perfect content with that choice. I'll read the follow-up books, no doubt.