Book Review: Piratica

Piratica
(Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas)
By My Queen Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Hardcover, 288 pages
2003, Dutton Children’s Books
ISBN: 0525473246

Art has been banished to the Angels Academy for the last six years of her life, learning deportment and other ladylike qualities that bore her to death. A fall down the stairs and a knock to the head suddenly causes her to remember her childhood, which was spent at her mother’s side on a pirate ship. Art quickly escapes the academy, finds her mother’s old crew and revives their spirits by basically forcing them back into a life of piracy as she lives in the spirit of her legendary mother, Piratica.

-screams- TANITH! Er, ok, so, I’ve read a ton of middle-grade this month and, sadly, none of it has impressed me. It was time for a change and I knew just what would do the trick – Tanith Lee! I’ve been sitting on this Piratica series for FAR too long and I don’t know why. I love how atmospheric her Claidi series is and my semi-recent re-read of The Unicorn Trilogy made me recall the special place her middle-grade/teen (I feel like all these series fall somewhere in between) books have in my crusty little heart.

From the first page, I was giddy at the thought of diving into another of Tanith’s worlds and Art’s didn’t disappoint. Tanith has created a semi-Victorian (Regency? I don’t know time periods, sorry!) world in the year of Seventeen-Twelvety (how awesome is that?!) which somewhat resembles the actual year of 1802. This world primarily differs from our own in how the countries are laid out and there’s a handy map in the front that I actually referenced for once. But because this is Tanith and I am a flappy-handed fangirl for everything she’s written (ugh except Greyglass  -tosses if off a cliff-) I felt there was something subtle about her world that differed from an actual historic period. I can’t explain this further and likely I am crazy.

Art is fantastic. She’s bold and witty and smart and super talented at being a pirate, despite not having been one for the past six years. She could potentially suffer from special snowflake syndrome, but she doesn’t because she has to work to win over her crew and she doesn’t have the shining, sapphire eyes and porcelain doll-like features of your usual heroine. And oh, the sun doesn’t shine out of her ass. Anyway! She’s a great lead, but her crew is small enough that most of them actually (I think I’m saying this word too much in this review, but I’m too lazy to change it) feel different and developed, where they could easily have fallen to the wayside (portside?)

There’s a lot to the plot that I can’t talk about or I’ll spoil the fun, but from the moment Art rediscovers her crew and takes on her new life as a pirate, I had this underlying sense of something more. I knew something else was up and it was a nice feeling, knowing that the plot had another element that wasn’t being revealed, even though the plot was acting like everything had been revealed.

Look, I have a hard time analyzing Tanith’s work because I am super biased. But I can say, if you’re looking for a witty, semi-middle-grade-semi-teen pirate adventure with swashbuckling, a fantastically charming ragtag group of pirates, talented parrot and dog companions, a strong female lead and totally hawt boi, but no love triangles and no breaths being held unbeknownst to the holder, then Piratica may be just what you’re looking for! I can’t wait to read the other two books (even though the third was never published in hardcover and therefore doesn’t match the first two.)

Sadly, Tanith doesn’t really have a website, but her Wikipedia page does a decent job of at least listing out all her work.

Judging A Book By Its Cover: Furthermore

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

Furthermore didn’t capture my interest, but it did capture my eye. It was published in 2016 by Dutton Children’s Books, ISBN: 9781101994764. The cover design is done by Theresa Evangelista and the illustrations by Iacopo Bruno (ugh, his illustrations are fucking gorgeous and I want a copy of every book he’s had a hand it).

Book Review: A Sliver of Stardust

A Sliver of Stardust
By Marissa Burt

My Edition:
Paperback, 376 pages
2015, Harper
ISBN: 9780062291561

Wren Matthews is desperately trying to win the Science Trivia Olympiad, if only the large white falcon swooping around the room would disappear. The falcon does disappear, after dropping off a packet of sparkling papers containing nursery rhymes and an invitation to a place she’d never heard of. Joining her sort-of friend and rival in science, Simon, Wren embarks on a journey into a magical world that’s been right under her nose her whole life. Using nursery rhymes and stardust, Wren and Simon learn to weave the magic of the Fiddlers, but they may be in over their heads when an ancient evil threatens to resurface.

Not gonna lie, I was lured in by the cover of this book (and you can check out my Judging post for more detail). Naturally, the fact that it is also a middle-grade fantasy novel appealed to me as well. Sadly, it didn’t impress me, though I don’t think it’s a bad book.

What I enjoyed most was the way Burt wove familiar nursery rhymes into the story, using them to hint at things to come in each chapter and making them essential in the way Fiddler’s weave their spells. Fiddlers, those with the ability to use magic, use stardust and rhymes to perform all their spells. Some of the rhymes are twists on ones I remember from my childhood and others are crafted to suit specific needs like healing or creating light. Actually, all the rhymes used could be derived from others that I’m just no familiar with. Either way, I liked this part.

I also enjoyed Wren’s insecurities and emotional response to using magic. She takes everything in stride as she finds out about her new life and skills, but once immersed in the world of the Fiddlers she struggles to learn simple spells that Simon appears to master. Paired with strange dreams and little moments of shock about how her life has changed, this made Wren feel more solid than the other characters. One thing I can’t stand in any book is when someone from a non-magical world finds out they’re actually magical, or that magic exists, just says “oh, ok” and instantly adapts to their new surroundings. Simon fell into this category and I thought Wren was headed that way at first, so I’m glad she had a little more depth than that.

Otherwise, the story didn’t grab me and I didn’t feel immersed in the world of the Fiddlers. Many of the adult characters were paper thin (wokka wokka) and when Wren wasn’t having prophetic dreams most of her time was spent doing chores for Fiddlers or in Fiddler magic classes. Even though I don’t constantly read “magic school” type books, I am tired of that plotline.

Rhymes aside, the plot and characters weren’t strong enough to hold my interest and despite the action-packed ending, I won’t be reading the next book in the series.

Here is Burt’s website.

Book Review: Furthermore

Furthermore
By Tahereh Mafi

My Edition:
Hardcover, 401 pages
2016, Dutton Children’s Books
IBSN: 9781101994764

Alice of Ferenwood was born without color. In a world where color is riotous and magic is currency, twelve-year-old Alice often feels like she doesn’t belong. When her father goes missing, Alice loses what might have been her only friend. But when a childhood bully comes to Alice for help and lures her in with the promise of being able to save her father, Alice leaves behind all she knows for a land even more strange and magical than her home.

When Mum sent me a picture of this book and asked if I wanted it, I immediately said yes. I knew it was middle grade and strange and the cover was beautiful so I figured I’d love it. It seemed like it would be a take on Alice in Wonderland, especially considering the main character is named Alice. While this book was just as whimsical as Alice, the silly tone and oddball world building lost me so completely that I couldn’t enjoy the story.

I don’t have much to say about this book because it’s hard to describe and most of the time I had no idea what was happening. If you’ve seen Disney’s animated Alice (a movie I still enjoy to this day), Furthermore is very similar in that up is down and left is right and right is wrong and people eat flowers. Alice’s hair and skin are devoid of almost all color and the world she lives in has something called “rainlight” and townspeople use magic that has somehow been compressed into objects that look like buttons as currency. Alice loves to eat flowers and her mother eats hard to find berries to cure her depression and everyone is a vegetarian. I know it sounds like I’m just naming random things from the book, but that’s sort of what reading it felt like.

The land is magic and somehow gives magic to its people, who are born with different gifts. Alice believes her gift is dancing to the music of the land. She’s been practicing and hopes to win the Surrender, the annual ceremony where all children who turn twelve present their gifts and are then given different tasks that will benefit their society in some way. Alice hopes to win the Surrender and earn a great adventure so she can finally leave town and hopefully find her missing father.

I did actually enjoy the idea of the Surrender and it was one of the few parts of the story that made sense. Alice doesn’t win however, but her old rival Oliver presents her with a chance to leave Ferenwood for Furthermore, a strange land that Alice thought was a myth, and search for her father.

Futhermore is even more wild and nonsensical than Ferenwood and their magic flows more freely. It’s a dangerous place as almost all inhabitants are cannibals – they like to eat visitors with magic in order to gain their magic. I have no idea if they actually physically murder and devour people or just do something to gain their magic that also kills them, but if they are truly cannibals that lends a much darker tone to the story that would be out of place with its general silliness.

Furthermore seemed odd for the sake of being odd. Maybe it was because I was somewhat tuned out and thoroughly confused, but I didn’t understand the point of much of what took place in this alternate world. Alice and Oliver were constantly making blunders that endangered their lives because Alice wasn’t open-minded enough to accept the strangeness of Furthermore and Oliver couldn’t be bothered to explain the rules of the world to Alice because the plot needed him to remain aloof.

My favorite part in the whole book was a deliciously described filet mignon, that, of course, the kids don’t eat because they’re vegetarians and Alice doesn’t even know what filet is. Maybe most twelve-year-olds don’t, but I really wanted to eat that dinner.

The takeaway from this book is to embrace your differences and be proud of your skills and keep an open mind in order to better understand others. While that’s a nice message and an important one for young readers, it was really hammered home at the end and it frustrated me that it was the only clear point in the whole book. Maybe if I’d been younger when I read it I might have enjoyed it more. Perhaps, like Alice was at the start of the story, I was too close-minded to enjoy the strangeness of this book. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t an enjoyable read for me.

Stay tuned for a Judging post though – it is a well-designed book and I’m crazy about the cover art.

Visit Mafi’s lovely website here.

Judging A Book By Its Cover: Gnomes Pop-Up

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

I recently found this gem on Instagram and was excited to add another pop-up book to my collection. It’s designed by John Strejan with paper engineering by Tor Lokvig and handwriting by Diane Kosowski. Published in 1979 by Harry N. Abrams Inc, adapted from Rien Poortvliet & Wil Huugen’s Gnomes, ISBN: 0810909669. You can check out my Judging Post on the full-length Gnomes book here.

Lilu photobombing

Book Review: Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising
By Bryony Pearce

My Edition:
Hardcover, 333 pages
2017, Sky Pony Press
ISBN: 9781510707344

Toby grew up on his father’s ship, The Phoenix, scouring the seas for any bits of their previous society that they can salvage while avoiding the government, who is after several crew members, including Toby’s father. Now they’re questing for near-mythical solar panels that would eliminate their need for fuel. Before they can set follow the coordinates Toby’s father has found, rival pirates from The Banshee attack and jeopardize The Phoenix’s shot at the panels.

A middle-grade book about pirates in a post-apocalyptic setting? Sign me up! When I initially requested this book I thought it would give me Shipbreaker vibes. Unfortunately, I was disappointed on all counts and wish I’d just re-read Shipbreaker.

My biggest issue with this book was my inability to picture most of what was going on. The bulk of the story takes place on the ship and the trash-filled sea and I couldn’t clearly picture either. From what I gather, a series of natural disasters destroyed the society as we know it and knocked out much of our technology. The sun disappeared for a few years, but now it’s back. The ocean has some sort of deadly levels of salt or acid or something and it’s full of trash and old vehicles and all sorts of stuff that pirates could salvage. None of this information gave me a clear picture and it felt like disaster overkill.

The Phoenix is mostly wood, I think, but maybe also had some metal parts and the bridge is made of glass (not sure why that’d be beneficial, but what do I know?) It has two different types of engines, one for traditional fuel and another for combustibles, and it also has paddles. There is a diagram of the ship at the beginning of the book but when it came to trying to imagine the characters navigating the ship, I simply couldn’t do it and just imaged the deck of a basic, ye olde pirate ship.

Pair my confusion with the fact that next to nothing happens for the first 50% of the book and I was ready to call it quits. I primarily kept going because I requested the book and the writing isn’t bad, it just didn’t capture my attention and I think perhaps the book was taking on too much at once. Even with the low level of action at the start of the book, the characters didn’t feel well developed either.

The crew of The Phoenix is forgettable. The captain is kind but firm and dedicated to his ragtag crew of semi-criminals. Various crew members are mentioned throughout the book – some more than others, and they seem to either like Toby or dislike him. There’s a pair of bully brothers, who I think are much too old to be tormenting and threatening the fourteen-ish-year-old son of the captain. Toby feels much younger than his age and is more caring and trusting than I think a child who grew up with a hard life at sea, amidst a ship full of wanted men and women, should be.

There’s even a mechanical parrot who goes by the clichéd name of Polly. She was apparently created by the captain before the world completely fell apart and though I think she’s supposed to add a steampunk feel to the novel, she felt magical instead. She has a metal skeleton and many of her abilities are explained with her “biomass” something-or-other and she has real feathers and looks real, but she needs to vacuum up pellets (of unknown substance) for power. She can store and download information like a computer and her personality is “cares for Toby.”

No one on the rival ship really matters except its captain, Nell, and her daughter and second in command, Ayla. Nell is mean, bent on vengeance and not very violent considering she’s so ruthless and her crew is supposed to frighten the pants off everyone else. Ayla is pretty, smart, good with a sword and doesn’t require her head shaved and a skull tattoo like every other crew member (male or female) likely because she’s the captain’s daughter and Toby’s potential love interest. Despite her purported awesomeness, I didn’t understand why she was chosen as second in command as a fifteen-year-old and I didn’t peg Captain Nell as one for nepotism.

The plot picks up somewhat at the end, but based on the opinion I’d formed of Toby I didn’t find his role in a rescue mission believable. His relationship with Ayla is an awkward back and forth of trust issues and unwarranted care for each other and I kept forgetting they were teens because they behaved more like ten-year-olds. The stakes felt low because I had no connection with any of the characters and there was some info-dumping that could have fleshed out the characters some, but I was too tired to care at that point.

I think Pearce was trying to cram too much into one book and as a result, the world-building, characters and plot all fell flat for me. This book is clearly a setup for the next in the series, but I won’t be continuing.

I received this book for free from Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
Here’s Pearce’s website.

Book Review: Bats of the Republic

Bats of the Republic
By Zachary Dodson

My Edition:
Hardcover, 445 pages
2015, Doubleday
ISBN: 9780385539838

Zeke Thomas lives in the heavily controlled Republic of Texas, moving through the life phases of the system that was in part created by his own grandfather. Writing is forbidden and his every conversation could be recorded and monitored by the government – for posterity of course, because they don’t want to lose any of their history like they did after The Collapse. Every surviving document has been carbon copied and when Zeke’s grandfather passed away, he finds himself in possession of a sealed letter, an uncarbon’d document, and this could put him in serious trouble with the government. Zeke’s storyline parallels that of his ancestor some 300 years prior, Zadock Thomas, who is on a mission to Texas to deliver a mysterious letter.

Once upon a time I came across this book in Barnes & Noble, added it to my Amazon wishlist and promptly forgot about it. I think I spotted this book shortly after its release and it wasn’t until my friend Mel read it (and raved about it) recently that I was reminded of its existence. Holy crap, I’m so glad I read this book.

First off, I love any book that’s as thoroughly and well designed as this book (and you can see my Judging post here) – Dorst’s S anyone? There are illustrations, conversation transcripts, scanned pages from books, handwritten letters and even a real sealed letter at the back of the book! The dust jacket is sort of double-sided with a fantastic alternate author photo too. The color scheme of brown, beige and a sort of bright mint green worked fabulously and I was pleased to find they included a ribbon bookmark. Full marks for design, 10 out of 10, I 100% love the way this book looks! I wish more books were as well thought out as this glorious looking book.

After beautiful title pages we’re given some quotes, the third of which made me laugh out loud (the obnoxious “HAH!” kind):

“I’m not happy.” favorite saying of my grandfather’s

This quote is followed up at the end with another quote that made me chuckle:

“Who are you?” favorite saying of my grandson, probably

The character tree (yes, I know I’m still talking about design elements, but I promise I’ll get to the plot and stuff too) in the front is not only beautiful but helpful. Normally, I give these things a cursory glance when I start a book and then forget they exist (much like maps…which I did to the map in this book), but with Bats I found myself glancing at it periodically. First, it was to remind myself of who was who, but later I started connecting some dots and using it to further highlight parallels I was noticing between the two storylines.

Ok, so, there’s a lot going on in this book. Not quite as much as there was in S, but I’m willing to bet there are tons of details and connections I missed and I think the overall message sailed right over my head. What a fun book this was to read though! I mean, referencing S –again– I missed like, everything in that book and still loved it and I think I’ve talked in the past about how I’m not a very “deep” reader.

Zeke isn’t a very compelling character; he’s addicted to laudanum, he seems unable to make important decisions even when it comes to saving his own life or those of his loved ones and he’s generally listless and unhappy. But the world he lives in was intriguing so I saw him as more of a vehicle to show me the Big Brother-esque world he inhabits and thus he was somewhat less annoying. He lives in a world where his every move could be recorded and flagged and where a person’s lineage (or bloodline) matters.

Similarly, Zadock, Zeke’s distant relative, wasn’t particularly engaging either, but I was interested in his journey as well as the book (within a book, yes!) written about his lady love, Elswyth. Zadock was actually more frustrating than Zeke because at the end of the book I just kept asking him, “What the hell are you doing?” Perhaps Dodson intended the characters around Zeke and Zadock to be more compelling and likeable?

As I mentioned before, the letter that drives the plot of the book is included in a sealed envelope at the back of the book, with “DO NOT OPEN” boldly scrawled across it. Naturally, I wanted to immediately tear into the envelope and knowing that letter was in the book ate me alive the whole time. I’m pretty sure Dodson knew what kind of torture this would put his readers through. There’s even one part where I thought I was supposed to open the letter and I frantically made Sweetbeeps scour the internet to see if he could find out whether I should open it then or at the end. I waited and I suggest you too.

That being said, the letter and the ending left me going “Wait, what!?” I stayed up past midnight (on a work night, ugh) to finish this book and perhaps that was a bad idea. I was overtired and the resolution of the story totally confused the hell out of me. I don’t think the payoff was really worth the buildup. Again, however, I’m not a deep reader and was likely missing something or many somethings.

This book is a blend of post-apocalyptic dystopia, alternate history and found documents and despite my feelings on the ending, it was a great trip through Dodson’s world. I highly recommend this book, especially if you love layered stories and well-designed books!

Dodson is a book designer and the founder of featherproof books.

Get To Know Me

I have quite a few new followers since I started this blog almost three years ago. I figured I’d give a little info about myself and fill out this random survey I found in the depths of Tumblr.

First off, my name is Camille (or Millie or Milliebot), I work in finance, I’m getting close to 30, and when I’m not reading or adding to my book hoard, I can usually be found on the couch with one of my two cats (Lilu and Artemis) and my husband (commonly referred to as Sweetbeeps.) I have a hard time focusing on movies and TV (though I was very recently sucked in by both John Wick movies) but I have a weakness for cooking competitions, especially Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped, The Great British Baking Show and more recently, Cooks Vs. Cons.

I also enjoy arts and crafts, have been known to doodle (especially during meetings) and I write creatively (and if you couldn’t already tell, an addiction to asides via parentheses.) I have a slight purse addiction and a slightly larger necklace/pendant addiction. I’m a mild neat-freak and a firm believer that you look with your eyes, not with your hands. 😀

I like video games (Skyrim has been my obsession for a while now) though I’m terrible at them and don’t play often and if I could afford to eat sushi, or at least avocado maki, every day, I would. I’d like to travel outside the U.S. more (oh yeah, I live in New England) but I have been to France and Aruba.

I started this blog as a way to share my thoughts on the books I was reading and connect with other readers and I still think I’m finding my voice. I’d like to develop a review style that feels less formal, as well as add more unique features to my blog, like my Judging A Book By Its Cover posts.

That’s sort of me, in a nutshell. On to the survey:

What/who got you into reading?

I’m not really sure – I know it started when I was young. I assume much of my passion for reading comes from being read bedtime stories by my Mum and Nana. I do recall trying to steal library books from the school library in earlier grades – don’t worry, my Nana made me return the books. I’ve been book hoarding for so long now that I’m not even sure when that started. When I try to think back, it seems like I’ve always been drowning in books, though I know that’s not the case and I assume my hoarding truly picked up in late high school once I had a job.

Your first favorite book?

Harold and the Purple Crayon? Ollie Forgot? Or maybe, judging by how beat up my copy is, Goodnight Moon – though I don’t have concrete memories of being read this, apparently Mum read it to me often. One of the earliest books I remember wanting to re-read was Blood and Chocolate and it’s a book I still love to revisit.

Your current favorite book?

I could never pick just one book! But I often reread Pride and Prejudice and The Hobbit. Warbreaker, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and The City of Dreaming Books as well as almost anything by Tanith Lee are up there too. But I could go on for ages about my favorites.

Least favorite book of all time?

That’s an awfully big title to award a book – I will say I failed to finish Little Women in high school and at the time, truly detested all the characters. Since then I’ve read quite a few terrible YA books and I’m really not sure who would take the crown, though Lumiere comes to mind.

What book/s can you not live without?

All my books! Seriously, don’t friggen take away any of my books! I would certainly not be the same person without books.

Any authors that you hate?

I kind of hate Helen Fielding for what she did to the characters of Bridget Jones’s Diary with her sequel (though I still love the original). I also heartily dislike Sarah J. Maas even though I’ve only read one of her books – it’s unlikely I’ll give her a second chance. But I don’t think I truly “hate” any author.

What popular book do you just hate?

See prior comment about Sarah J. Maas. 😀 I also disliked Uprooted and I seem to be very much in the minority on that one. A lot of YA books just don’t grab me the way they do for others, and generally leave me downright frustrated. I haven’t completely given up on the genre but it’s just not for me. Again, hate is too strong a word.

How many books to you read in a month?

Anywhere between about 6-12 depending on what’s going on in my life. It’s a vain attempt at keeping up with the amount of books I buy a year and my insurmountable TBR pile.

How many books to you read in a year?

In the past couple years, upwards of 110. But my TBR list literally consists of several hundred books (and those are just the ones I own!)

What do you do to get through a reading slump?

Buy a new book! Honestly, I don’t get slumpy too often, but if I do, I tend to just take a day off from reading and binge some crap on Netflix. That or I re-read a favorite.

Favorite genre?

Again, I can’t pick just one! My tops are sci-fi, fantasy and middle-grade (is that really a genre though? I feel like it’s more of a recommended reading age or something…I don’t know. Anyone else have thoughts on middle-grade and YA and NA being genres or some other type of cateogry?)

Least favorite genre?

Romance

How many bookshelves do you own?

Nine! And they’re not nearly enough.

How many books do you own?

Around 1,800.

Biggest book haul?

I was on vacation a few years ago and my friend took me to five bookstores (or maybe more, I can’t even remember.) I bought somewhere around 45 books (mostly used) and ended up mailing most of them home because even though I could actually fit most in my bags, they would have been too heavy for me to carry through the airport.

How many books do you get/buy in a year?

Not sure – I’m currently trying to track that this year and differentiate between what books I buy versus receive as gifts or trades. I have a feeling the number is higher than the number of books I read in a year though. –insert heavy sigh here–

Favorite series?

Like with many questions on this list, I don’t think I can pick just one answer. But I especially love the Claidi Journals, The Abhorsen Trilogy, Artemis Fowl, Enola Holmes, The Deverry Series (despite still only being about halfway through with that) and Lady Trent’s Memoirs. I’m sure I’ve left out a zillion other favorites, but I can’t sit here all day!

Least favorite series?

Nothing immediately comes to mind – at least not a completed series. If I don’t enjoy the first book or two of a series, I don’t waste my time reading the rest. I read half of the Twilight books…does that count?

Longest series you own?

Probably my Deverry series by Katharine Kerr, weighing in at 15 books. I think Sweetbeeps has a series that’s longer, but at the time I read it there were only 13 books.

Pick the 23rd book on your bookshelf, open it to page 86 and find the 13th line. Type it out.

I happen to be nearest to my largest bookshelf and I just went along the top row and landed on The Absence of Nectar (which I’ve read multiple times, though not in quite some time) by Kathy Hepinstall.

“Boone,” I shouted, “get the tweezers!”

Do you read:

Classics? I do, though I haven’t read many. Sadly, many don’t interest me and my focus has mainly been on Jane Austen. But I do have some Dickens I’d like to get to, as well as a handful of classics on my Nook that I might give a shot someday. I am currently reading (and enjoying!) Gone With The Wind. Is that a classic yet?

Fanfiction? Not nearly as often as I did back in high school, but I’ve been known to browse for Skryim, Doctor Who, Sherlock and Once Upon A Time fics in recent years.

Smut? Typically only when I’m reading fanfiction! Every now and then I’ll pick up a “steamy” romance but usually the cheesiness leaves me groaning and I find them hard to get through.

Poetry? Not usually, no. I do own a book of haikus by Wang Wei that I enjoy, but that’s about it.

Any other readers in your family or circle of friends?

In more recent years, yes! My mum is often too busy to ready though she enjoys it. Sweetbeeps is a fairly frequent reader (though better at starting books than finishing them) and I’ve managed to get a couple of my close friends into hoarding recently. I’ve got a good handful of people I know that read and sometimes we even read the same stuff.

Does your family support your reading habits?

Yes, though they don’t fully support my buying habits – at this point I hope they’ve realized there’s no stopping my hoarding.

Favorite book turned movie?

Sadly, I’m too much of a critic to enjoy most movies based on books. But I do think Howl’s Moving Castle, Memoirs of a Geisha and Austenland are great movies, even where they differ from their sources.

Least favorite book turned movie?

One of the recent ones that comes to mind is The Martian. I think the movie really sucked all the tension and drama out of the story. I also despise The Hobbit movies and actually dozed off a little during the first one. Ok, so I didn’t watch the other two and you can rag on me for hating them without having seen them, but why would I support movies that are (unnecessary) sequels to one I didn’t enjoy?!

Do you like e-books?

Not particularly. I mainly read them when I receive them for review or, more rarely, if there’s a book I really want that’s on crazy sale for $1.99 or something. I appreciate their convenience, but the reading experience is lost for me when a book goes digital and I often have a hard time focusing on the story, even with authors that I love.

Paperback or Hardback?

I love them both! When I’m looking to own a nice edition, I make sure to buy the hardback. In fact, if I had more money to spend on books, I’d buy more hardbacks as they’re also sturdier. It’s really budget that has me buying paperbacks more often than not. Paperbacks are typically more portable too.

Do you use a library?

I do! The real reason I don’t visit my library as often as I’d like is because I borrow too many books and I need to focus on the books I already own. But I’ve been visiting mine more regularly in the past year and I hope to go there more just to read or write – it’s a lovely little place.

Do you want to be an author or are you content to just be a reader?

I would love to be published someday! I write here and there, but I don’t work at it as often as I should yet.

Book/s that made you cry?

There have been many over the years, including the work of the great George R.R. Martin. But memorable a pair of books that got my waterworks going are The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and its companion, The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy. Both made me cry, but I was basically ugly sobbing at the end of Queenie. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend – and please, read Harold first, to maximize the pain and heartbreak of Queenie’s story. 😀

Book/s that made you scared?

I don’t read many books from the horror or thriller categories, but one book that shot my anxiety through the roof and had me almost jumping out of my skin was Into the Darkest Corner. I think my reaction was a mix of the excellent writing and the fact that it was one of the first thrillers I’d actually read.

Won any writing competitions?

I have actually, in high school. I think it was my sophomore year (or maybe freshman…) and I submitted a short story and won first place and a bit of a cash prize too! I hope that wasn’t my peak. 😄

A book/writing related job that you would love to do?

I bet there are many I would like, if given the chance to try them out! I might make a fair agent or editor. If I’d kept up with graphic design, book design would be fun as well.

Do you have book buying bans for yourself?

I tried once and after a month of not buying books, I went nutso the second the ban was up and bought way too many. I’ve been doing better at budgeting and setting spending goals instead (eg: spending less than a certain amount each month). Especially this year I’ve been working on being more discerning in regards to the books I’m buying and how badly I want to read them. But I’ll always buy books and it’s not something I ever want to stop doing!

What do you use for a bookmark, if any?

I typically use bookjigs for hardcover books (they’re metal clips that you can slide on the cover of the book and have a lovely picture and a ribbon to use as your actual page marker) and magnetic bookmarks for my softcover ones. I have several of each style and find they work best because there’s really no risk of them falling out and losing my place.

Congrats if you’ve made it to the end! Thanks for sticking around!

Judging A Book By Its Cover: More Middle Grade

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

This week I’m showing off two fabulous middle-grade books (that I’ve yet to read) who have a similar feel to their cover art. A Sliver of Stardust has cover design by Michelle Taormina, cover art by Jakob Eirich and lettering by David Coulson. Published by Harper in 2015, ISBN: 9780062291561.

A Pocket Full of Murder features cover design by Sonia Chaghatzbanian and cover illustration by Tom Lintern. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2015 ISBN: 9781481437721.

Book Review: Arabella of Mars

Arabella of Mars
By David D. Levine

Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 350 pages
2016, Tor
ISBN: 9780765382818

Arabella Ashby was born and raised on Mars on her father’s plantation. For seventeen years, she and her brother Michael were tutored by their Martian nanny, Khema, and Arabella often participated in hunting games that her mother considered unladylike. After one such game, Arabella takes a blow to the head that requires stitches and it’s the last straw for her mother. Arabella and her two young sisters are shipped back to Earth in the care of her mother to grow up as true English ladies should. Once there, Arabella is miserable and struggles to bend to the rules society places on ladies of her stature, as well as the heavier gravity. However, the death of her father and a threat against Michael’s life forces Arabella into action and she soon finds herself disguised as a boy and enlisted as a crew member aboard a Martian airship, racing against the clock to get home and save her brother.

This book checks a lot of boxes for me, so I assumed I was going to enjoy it (spoiler: I did!) We’ve got Regency England (check), steampunk (check), space travel (check) and one tough chick that can’t stand to be forced into societal and gender roles (check).

I can’t recall having read a book set in the 1800s where space travel is not only possible, but done via wooden ships much like the ones they use to sail across the ocean. This was a fun, fresh setting for me and what was especially unique is that the air in space is breathable! Yeah, this requires maybe more suspension of belief than usual, but I jumped right on board. Imagining being able to ride what’s essentially a cross between a zeppelin and a pirate ship straight into the sky, then beyond into space and floating around in zero gravity with air that’s breathable made me want to be a part of the book!

Arabella is possibly your clichéd tough girl with a heart of gold and determination of steel, but I liked her. I’ve always liked the whole girl-dresses-up-as-boy-to-gain-access-to-something-she-never-could-as-a-girl element and Arabella fit right into that role. She does struggle at her new job aboard a ship and has to navigate testosterone flooded waters and initiation into the manly world of interplanetary travel.  I do think hiding her ladyness was explained away with the ease of one sentence and then not really addressed again. I would have liked to see her struggle a bit more with keeping her identity a secret, but it wasn’t essential to the plot, so whatever.

The only other stand-out character is the incredibly lifelike (and possibly sentient?!) automaton navigator, Aadim. He doesn’t play a big part, but I was interested in how he worked and his silent influence on other characters. In fact, I wanted more automata! Give me all the robots, please.

I did struggle with imagining some of what took place on the ship when it came to daily routine and ship maintenance. I’m not at all familiar with nautical terms and adding no gravity into the mix left me constantly wondering why everyone didn’t just bounce away from the ship and never come back. I also wondered how their…uh…business…stayed in the head (toilet) when everything else seemed to float around the ship. Again, this is not essential and probably I shouldn’t have spent so much time wondering this. Anyway, some of the action scenes played out murkily in my head.

I don’t want to shout about this book from the rooftops, but it was excellent. I’m hoping this will be a series – I actually thought it already was one with multiple books in it and I’m not sure what series I confused it with. If you’re looking for a Regency romp through space, pick up this book (and then we can talk about the logistics of Regency era bathroom use in zero gravity together!)

Here’s David’s hotrod lookin’ website.