New Year

Hello, friends. Happy New Year!

Firstly, I’d like to, as always, make some reading goals for the year. I don’t even remember if I did it on the blog last year, and if I did, I’m pretty sure I failed them. So, for this year:

1) Read at least 25 books. This one makes me kind of sad because there was a time, a few years ago, that I was reading about 50 a year and I miss having books be that much of my life, but life changes and people change and hey, 25 is still way more than the average person. :P
2) Keep track of every single book I read. Goodreads just doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t track my rereads, for one thing (or if it does I don’t know how), and I plain don’t keep up with it even for new reads. I am going to get a paper planner for work within the next week and I think I will devote a couple of pages in the back to a list, Anastasia Krupnik style.
3) Write on this blog at least three more times during non-Readathon times. I don’t mind that this is a fairly quiet blog, but I do miss writing and thinking about books. I’m not going to prescribe what types of posts they should be, and I don’t promise that they will be long or insightful. I might write them right before or after the Readathon when I remember that the blog exists. But I will write SOMETHING.

Secondly, a link which I was just going to send to Mia but then I thought that I was planning on writing this blog post anyway so why not make it a public sharing (like a public flogging but way nicer): Autostraddle’s list of the top ten queer feminist books of 2013. Disclaimer that I haven’t read any of the books on the list, but I was happy to see books by/about trans women and WOC and seems to have a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction. I thought Mia and our readers might find it useful!

Lastly, an apology: I’m so sorry to the lovely blogs who have followed us over the past couple of years. Mia doesn’t get emails for this blog, so she doesn’t even know when a new blog follows us. And I have not been keeping up with blogging or even reading blogs (curse the demise of Google Reader! I know there are other clients, but I was loyal and therefore distraught when it died) and so any of the blogs who have followed us didn’t get a follow in return. I didn’t even look at your blog and, for that, I am sorry. I will better this year.

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The Secret Daughter of the Tsar Giveaway Winner!

It’s that time, folks–time to announce the winner of the giveaway for a signed copy of Jennifer Laam’s The Secret Daughter of the Tsar. Can’t you just feel the excitement coursing through the air? Or maybe that’s Febreze.

ANYWAY, drumroll please!

Close enough.

And the winner is:

tsarwinner

Alex! Congratulations, Alex! We’ll be in touch for your address so that The Secret Daughter of the Tsar can find its way to you.

Thanks to everybody who entered–even if you didn’t win, I recommend checking it out if you’re even the slightest bit interested in mystery, history, or…*checks rhyming dictionary* blistery?

Well, maybe not that last one, but the first two, definitely.

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The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, by Jennifer Laam (Plus Giveaway)

The Secret Daughter of the Tsar

by Jennifer Laam

“A compelling alternate history of the Romanov family in which a secret fifth daughter—smuggled out of Russia before the revolution—continues the royal lineage to dramatic consequences.

In her riveting debut novel, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica is an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles when she meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her. Lena, a servant in the imperial Russian court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandra.  After conceiving four daughters, the Empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanov’s treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie. Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer’s interest in her stems from his longstanding obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy. Then as Veronica’s passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, the reader learns just how these three vastly different women are connected. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is thrilling from its first intense moments until its final, unexpected conclusion.” (via Goodreads)

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The Secret Daughter of the Tsar isn’t my typical reading fare–it’s not fantasy, sci-fi, or YA, which I’ll admit have made up most of my library lately. But then, I’m also hard-pressed to figure out exactly which category it falls into. Parts are historical, parts are contemporary; there’s some mystery and some thriller in there too, and also some romance. Plus, it’s technically an alternate-history novel, so you could also call it speculative fiction. I can’t help but be interested in books that fall between the borders of genre, so this one tickled my brain a while after I finished it.

There are three main timelines following three characters: Veronica, Charlotte, and Lena. Their stories are clearly delineated, although it’s not until the end that their threads become obviously interwoven. I found Veronica’s and Lena’s stories most compelling. Veronica is a wonderful contemporary protagonist; she’s smart but full of self-doubt, but she also doesn’t hesitate to communicate her wants in a relationship or ask for space if she needs it. Despite her doubts, she’s got strength, and it’s wonderful to read about an interesting, nuanced Chicana heroine! There are also some funny moments that–hand to heart–made me cackle aloud:

Except she had no clue how to signal what she wanted. A hand on his knee? A sly wink? She wanted to feel sexy and wild. If only she had something sexy and wild to say. “Where’s your bathroom?” she asked.

Lena’s story is also engaging. She’s a genuine, brave woman, and I enjoyed her relationships with the empress and her mother-in-law, as well as her chemistry with Paul, the Black American guard at the palace. There’s so much warmth and well-meaning in her friendship with Alexandra that I didn’t want anything bad to happen to either of them (poor hopes for a Romanov storyline, I kn0w).

I found the beginning of the book slightly uneven, but in the thick of things, the pacing is good, and the plot skips along. The stories switch back and forth at tense moments that made me want to keep reading long past the end of my lunch break (and the beginning of my bedtime–I ended up having to set it aside because it was too exciting for pre-sleep reading! Got my adrenaline all pumping and stuff.)

While I enjoyed Charlotte’s storyline too, anything involving Nazis makes me kind of anxious, so I was basically reading with my eyes half-covered. I didn’t quite get as strong a sense of the danger that Veronica experiences later in her storyline; the drama was there, but the threat didn’t feel as immediate or as possible as it did for Charlotte. Veronica’s villains are a little exaggerated, although I got notes of nuance that kept them from being complete Snidely Whiplashes. I also didn’t feel Veronica’s chemistry with Michael as strongly as I did Lena’s chemistry with Paul, but I appreciated Michael for the role he played, and I did feel things come together a little more at the end. (Which is not to say that their smooching scenes weren’t well-written. Get it, Veronica!)

I’ve seen that some other reviewers had a different experience than I did, but I absolutely did not see the ending coming until it was practically on top of me. I’ll keep this review spoiler-free, but suffice to say that I was surprised–not in a bad way, but just in an oh, DUH sort of way that actually made me happy that I didn’t figure things out earlier.

Overall: It’s a tightly-written, interesting story with great female characters and relationships, and I’d absolutely read a sequel. There’s so much more to hear about Veronica!

Full Disclosure: The author is a friend and former coworker of mine. Nevertheless, I paid for my copy of the book with my own money, and I told her in advance that I’d be objective in my review.

Now, here’s the GIVEAWAY part: leave a comment (with a valid email address attached–US entrants only, please!) by 11:59 pm on Monday, November 25th, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar. The winner will be randomly selected and announced on November 26th. Good luck!

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The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora

by Scott Lynch

“The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a ghost that walks through walls. Half the city believes him to be a legendary champion of the poor. The other half believe him to be a foolish myth. Nobody has it quite right.
Slightly built, unlucky in love, and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. He certainly didn’t invite the rumors that swirl around his exploits, which are actually confidence games of the most intricate sort. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else, pray tell, would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny of it. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards.

Locke and company are con artists in an age where con artistry, as we understand it, is a new and unknown style of crime. The less attention anyone pays to them, the better! But a deadly mystery has begun to haunt the ancient city of Camorr, and a clandestine war is threatening to tear the city’s underworld, the only home the Gentlemen Bastards have ever known, to bloody shreds. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends will find both their loyalty and their ingenuity tested to the breaking point as they struggle to stay alive…” (via Goodreads)

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Good Things: Who doesn’t love a con story? Generally speaking, audiences love the dramatic irony of being in on the con, seeing how the marks get taken in, getting the behind-the-scenes action. And, of course, there’s often an added twist or extra tension that comes from a part of the con being withheld from the audience as well as the marks, and The Lies of Locke Lamora is no exception. Honestly, though, it’s not just the con story that makes this book amazing, although it’s definitely a part. I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels in my day, and the world-building in this book is honestly up there in the top ten–Camorr is Venice-flavored but has history all its own, and information about the city and the world around it is doled out with such a careful hand that there’s nary an egregious infodump to be found. Likewise, the plotting and pacing of the story is so engaging that I couldn’t read it before bedtime because a) it was too compelling and I’d be up until 2am, and b) the events were too exciting and my adrenaline would get all fired up. (I’m a delicate flower, I know.)

The characters, too, are wonderfully built and well-rounded, and as the story flashes back and forth between present-day and Locke’s youth, their motivations and personalities are revealed in an excellent show-don’t-tell kind of way. I really enjoyed the main characters’ relationships with each other–Locke, Jean, Calo, Galdo, Bug–and their fondness for each other was obvious.

Bad Things: My main complaint with The Lies of Locke Lamora is the female characters. First off, there should be more of them! I know they’re the Gentlemen Bastards, but come on. There are a few main-ish characters who are also women, but their stories aren’t as rich or complex as those of the male main characters, and we spend way less time with them. I’ve been told that this is rectified in the series’ second book, Red Seas Under Red Skiesbut here it’s a bit of a disappointment. To put a finer point on it, one character gets refrigeratored in what was the biggest letdown for me–I kept hoping that it was a trick or that something more interesting would come about, but nope, it’s a pretty straightforward refrigeration.

While I said above that the pacing and plotting are well-done, there is a point near the climax of the book that does get a bit “let-me-explain-to-you-how-this-all-went-down,” and it’s possible that it really only stood out to me because the rest of the story had so little infodumping going on. The resolution was a little rushed but still quite satisfying.

For trigger notes, it’s worth mentioning that this is a fairly violent novel. There’s a lot of death, torture, and pain inflicted, although most of it didn’t feel overdone to me, but that’s a very personal thing that you’d have to measure for yourself.

Overall: Basically, this book is compelling as shit and I was never once bored with what it chose to let me in on. To use an old cliche, it’s an edge-of-your-seater, and I’m glad that Saladin Ahmed recommended it on Twitter. I’ll most definitely be reading the rest of the series, with my fingers crossed that the women get better, and if Scott Lynch is as devious with his plotting with the sequels as he was with The Lies of Locke Lamora, they’ll be a hell of a read.

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Belated Read-a-Thon End of Event Meme!

Whoa, everybody. Whoa. Jessica and I bugged out for about the last five hours, but now that the Read-a-Thon is over (womp-womp), we’re here to fill out the end of event meme! Mia first!

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Definitely hour 20 or so, which was right before Jessica and I crashed out. Soooo sleeeeepyyyyy, plus Jessica’s cat Nousha was cuddling with me, and I really wanted to follow her lead and just curl up for a nap.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Well, for us Anastasia Krupnik was a sure-fire winner–really, any MG or YA book that you have fond memories of from childhood would be a great light read that sucks you in and keeps you entertained.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? I thought everything went really smoothly this year, other than the hiccups with Canadians who weren’t able to participate as much due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I thought the spread of mini-challenges was pretty good, and we got some really positive, thoughtful cheerleaders.
  5. How many books did you read? I finished two, read most of a third, and started a fourth.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? I finished Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin; I read most of Look For Me By Moonlight by Mary Downing Hahn; and I got a few stories into Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Anastasia Krupnik was a real delight, especially since I’d never read it before. A Wizard of Earthsea was also wonderfully written and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? Well, I WAS enjoying Look For Me By Moonlight when I thought it was just a cheesy/hilarious vampire-boyfriend story, but then it turned into a sexual abuse allegory, which, while a perfectly legitimate critique of the genre, wasn’t at all funny and was in fact pretty depressing. I’m still trying to figure out the target audience for that book.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? n/a
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I will definitely participate in April’s Read-a-thon, unless something prevents me from doing so! Jessica and I might like to run another mini-challenge next time, since this one is always so fun.

Jessica next, second, and last!

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I’d say hour 10, maybe? I had a headache.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Yeah, I’ll go with Mia. Anastatia Krupnik was short and super fun – perfect for the Read-a-Thon. I’m also fond of romance novels and mystery novels. Things with quick pacing are easier to keep reading for hours.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Wellll, I always say this, but I wish we could vary the start time.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Everything seemed to go smoothly!
  5. How many books did you read? I finished two books and read from three more.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? I read the entirety of Anastasia Krupnik, finished The Bridegroom Wore Plaid, started Across the Universe, read a little from American Pastoral, and started A is for Alibi.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? I loooooved Anastatia Krupnik as a kid and it was really, really fun to revisit her and her parents.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? American Pastoral. I’m reading it for a book club and, while the writing itself is decent, I am not fond of the pace or the narrator or ugh. I just don’t like it much at all.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? n/a
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Definitely! Mia and I have such fun running the mad libs challenge and I think we’ll probably do it as long as you let us. :)

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Read-a-Thon Mini Challenge Hour 13

Hey, other readers! Mia checking in. It’s nearing dinnertime around our part of the world, and Jessica and I are still going pretty strong. We’ve done a few mini-challenges on Twitter and in comment sections, but I thought I’d take a minute to fill out Lisa’s mini-challenge for this hour! My choices are as follows, with the unintentional theme of name-titles.

Best YA Book of Your Reading Year: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. This book nearly did me in. MY HEART. Rainbow Rowell is an amazing writer and made a topic which isn’t usually too compelling to me–teenage love–un-put-down-able.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Best Fantasy Book of Your Reading Year: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I mean, this is kind of a duh, but it’s SO GOOD. It’s so good that I must shout about it. SO GOOD.

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Best Children’s Book of Your Reading Year: Anastasia Krupnik, by Lois Lowry. I just read this for the first time for the Read-a-Thon, and oh my goodness gracious. Anastasia is wonderful, her parents are wonderful. I am rendered incoherent by my enjoyment of this book.

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(This cover illustration looks nothing like Anastasia Krupnik, but that’s beside the point.)

Jessica: I’m going to be a little less cool than Mia and not find covers, BUT here goes.

Best Book of Your Reading Year: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – I know Mia picked it, too, but this book is SO GOOD. I took over a year to read it and by the time I finished, it felt like a friend. I miss it. :(

Best YA Book of Your Reading Year: Goose Girl by Shannon Hale – Hale is one of my favorite authors and I had never read her debut. It was lovely. Enough said!

Best Romance Book of Your Reading Year: The Bridegroom Wore Plaid by Grace Burrowes – I’m not actually done with this one, but I love the romance between the two leads. They have very real reasons for not being able to be together and they are friends before lovers, which is a trope I love and need more of! I think I know how the conflicts will resolve and it involves a mustache-twirling Evil Dude, which is a shame because these two leads deserve a little more nuance than that. Still, I’m really enjoying this one!

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Read-a-Thon Mini Challenge Hour 7: Mad Libs!

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Hey, everybody! Welcome to the Hour 7 Mini-Challenge! We–Mia and Jessica–had so much fun hosting this challenge last year so we had to do it again! We’re a quarter of the way through the ‘Thon (whoo!) and just starting to lose some steam (boo!). How about some Read-a-Thon style mad libs to keep your brain awake?

Here’s what you’re gonna do:
1) pick a paragraph (not too long) from the book you’re reading
2) remove some/most of the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and either
3a) get a friend (in person, over the phone, over the internet–whatever!) to fill in the words for you mad-libs style or
3b) fill them in yourself from the spoiler-texted word list below
4) post your hilarious paragraph on your blog and link us to it or leave it in a comment here!

Easy, right? Here’s an example. Mia started with this paragraph from Anastasia Krupnik:

Washburn Cummings, in all honesty, did not even know that Anastasia existed. But everyone at the J. Henry Bosler Elementary School knew about Washburn Cummings. On the day that he came to school wearing a tee shirt with an obscene saying printed across the front, and was sent home by the principal to change.

She asked me for two famous people, a location, a garment, a noun, a job, and a verb. After plugging everything in, we got:

Tim Curry, in all honesty, did not even know that Stephen Curry existed. But everyone in Guadalajara knew about Tim Curry. On the day that he came to Guadalajara wearing a muumuu with a fingernail printed across the front, and was sent home by the cat handler to warble.

It made us both giggle like mad, and we hope it’ll do the same for you!

Here’s a list of some fall/Halloween themed words if you don’t want to or can’t bother someone (feel free to adapt as necessary, e.g. making nouns plural or changing verb tense):

Adjectives

bookish
orange
new
black
nocturnal
brisk
ominous
eldritch

Adverbs

eruditely
tearfully
awkwardly
violently
thankfully
deadly
coldly
darkly

Nouns

Read-a-Thon
boil
love potion
sob
warlock
spleen
hex
midnight

Verbs

read
curdle
elucidate
crunch
gyrate
splat
quiver
cast

We’ll run the challenge until hour 10 and the winner will receive a book of their choice (worth up to $10) from the Book Depository. Go ahead and get libbing!

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