Monthly Archives: April 2012

Firebirds Soaring edt. by Sharyn November

Yet another anthology from me–I know, I know! It’s strange for me to be reading so many short stories lately, but they were in the line up! While I did enjoy Firebirds Soaring edt. by Sharyn November, I will say it paled in comparison to Zombies vs. Unicorns. There were a few gems in the bunch, but ZvU was pure megawatt success. November gathered some noteworthy names, and those were the stars that shined the brightest. I’ll be brief… Among my favorite tales were:

  • Dolly the Dog-Soldier, by Candas Jane Dorsey
  • Flatland, by Kara Dalkey
  • The Ghosts of Strangers, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
  • Power and Magic, by Marly Youmans
  • Little Red, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
  • Bonechewer’s Legacy, by Clare Bell

Jane Yolen, of course, is a fantasy favorite and so is Nina Kiriki Hoffman. I had never heard of Clare Bell before, but I so enjoyed the world Bonechewer’s Legacy was set in that I fully intend on reading her The Named series. The stories I chose had a bit of edge, a bit of attitude, and enough fantasy/futurism to be interesting. I do think this book is worth reading, but these particular stories could’ve evolved into stand-alone novels for sure.

Read it and see what you think…

3.5 magic eggs out of 5

A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff

I finished reading A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff last week, and I’m going to be blunt about it.

No. No. Bad.

Bad book.

It wasn’t boring by any means–there was enough drama spread amongst the group of friends–but it just wasn’t made…. dramatic enough. AFA follows an upper-class group of Jewish college kids from the 1990’s into the post-September 11th world. The problem was, I never cared about any of them. There was no point to the story at all. In fact, their petty lives and “first world” problems completely annoyed me. They were all so pretentious and awful–Sadie, Dave, Lil, Emily, Tal, Beth–and whomever else. Not to mention their AWFUL choice in mates that we had to hear about for 10+ years. My god. Never have I ever read a book where I actively disliked the main characters. Seriously.

Think Muffy, Buffy, Chip, Kip. Polo shirts and croquet mallets. Pinkies out on tea cups and white fluffy dogs.

Gag me with a stick.

And there were so many of them. Sheesh. It was pretty hard to keep track of them all for the first few chapters. Rakoff could have really halved the character list and been better off for it. The people were absolutely insufferable from start to finish. Lil married Tuck in the first chapter. He is such a complete asshole that I was inwardly screaming WTF are you doing with this loser-face?! Not to mention her friends knew what a bad person he was (and all the sneaky things he was up to) and never bothered to tell her! It really irritated me. Then–towards the end of the book–the random blunt loss of a character took me off guard. Ok…. Well I guess we didn’t really need them! I wasn’t saddened by the loss, but I was irritated by how the information was presented.

Plus, the whole book was told in third person–which nine times out of ten is a mistake. There was hardly any dialogue breaking up the long, LONG paragraphs about their poor-little-rich-kid lives. Give me a break. They’re all going to private schools and getting Master’s degrees on trust funds–do you really expect me to feel sorry that you got knocked up by a moron? OR that you married someone you LITERALLY just met. Unbelievable.

I cry Tiffany diamonds for you, I really do. Little bourgeois twerps.

(By the way, bourgeois is one of my least favorite words of all time. You sound pretentious and pompous just saying it.)

Maybe my slow, Southern upbringing just didn’t prepare me for this story–but in this case I’m gladly an outsider. Simply put, A Forunate Age was just unfortunate.

1 bagel with fucking lox out of 5

Quote of the Day: Ernest Hemingway


Zombies vs Unicorns edt. by Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier

Since the dawn of time there have been intense (and often violent) rivalries between opposing factions. Vampires vs Werewolves. Bloods vs Crips. KKK vs Black Panthers. Humans vs…. Well, everything really…  But never before has there been a rivalry as blood thirsty and cutthroat as ZOMBIES VS UNICORNS. Holly Black (Team Unicorn) and Justine Larbalestier (Team Zombie) have compiled an anthology of stories about zombies and unicorns to end all anthologies. No, they’ve really outdone themselves. They got the likes of Garth Nix, Scott Westerfield, and Meg Cabot to contribute–just to name a few. There’s seriously not a dud in the bunch. 

I LOVED this book. I really do like anthologies. They give you brief snippets of an author’s work and it’s a great way to discover new talent without the time commitment that a whole book demands. That being said, however, usually there are a few that just plain suck. There are no two ways around it. The editors draw you in with a few big names on the cover, and the rest are just lifeless page-fillers. Not so with Zombies vs Unicorns. I absolutely loved/appreciated all the stories compiled and gained a new respect for all the writers involved. I also really liked the commentary between Black and Larbalestier–although I wish Holly had stood up for Team Unicorn a bit more! I know the whole thing is a running joke between the two of them, but she totally let Justine run all over her!

The variety of the stories was also great. We saw killer unicorns, zombies in love, unicorns with suicidal tendencies, gay zombies… Need I go on? These are not your typical Lisa Frank unicorns or your 28 Days Later zombies. You will experience something brand new and freaking awesome with this collection. I would especially recommend:

  • The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund
  • Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare
  • The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey

Love love loved it.

2.5 rotting body parts + 2.5 unicorn farts = one 5 star anthology

Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman

It goes without saying that Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors of all time. I read all of her work that I can get my hands on–some of you may remember my recent review of The Dovekeepers, which is Hoffman’s latest (and some argue, greatest) novel. Skylight Confessions has absolutely nothing in common with the sweeping epic that is The Dovekeepers, however it most certainly hearkens back to Hoffman’s younger voice. While not quite as developed as some of her other stories (and nowhere near as prosaic and powerful as Practical Magic) it was an enjoyable tale nonetheless.

“Real love, after all, was worth the price you paid, however briefly it might last.”

Skylight Confessions told a story spanning several different lives and several generations. It starts with the love story of John Moody and Arlyn Singer–the destinies of whom both change forever when John takes a wrong turn one night and falls in love (or something like it) with the wrong girl. The book follows the life and death of many of the characters, including John and Arlyn’s children(one heroin-addicted, one perfect), the man Arlyn loves, the neighbor John falls in love with, and the strange woman who follows a ghost to the Moody’s glass house. Some pretty intense stuff, that’s for sure. Look out for heavy doses of symbolism, portrayed by a string of pearls Arlyn’s lover gives her, stones that seem to be everywhere, flight/feathers/wings, and ashes wherever a haunted presence is known. This book delves into a very fucked up family situation–with a lot of tragedy–but still manages not to come across as preachy or unduly emotional.

While this is nowhere even close to being Hoffman’s best novel–or even my favorite–it is still quite poignant. I like how she explores the intricacies of the human experience in her books, and always does a great job illustrating the tiny things/events/times that thread us all together. Life is not always so simple, so black and white. While Skylight Confessions wouldn’t be the first book of hers that I’d think to recommend, it’s a must read for any die-hard Hoffman fan.

3 family secrets out of 5

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington is an interesting work of contemporary fiction. The story centers around our protagonist, 15 year old Alice Bliss. Her normal teenage world is turned upside-down when her beloved father joins the army and is sent on tour in Iraq. The Bliss women, now left at home on their own, must struggle to find a way to fill the hole that Matt has left behind. Tensions rise between family members, especially when a knock at the door informs them that Matt is now MIA and his chances of being found alive are slim. When an 18 month deployment stretches into forever, how do you learn to cope with suffocating absence?

It’s strange to think that right now we are living within a piece of American history. The Iraq War. Much debated, much reviled, we are in the middle pages of a not-too-distant textbook. The reality of the situation is that Alice’s world is shared by many. Personally, I can rattle off a couple dozen friends who have enlisted in the military within the last few years. Rather than college, the Air Force or the Marines is now an acceptable after-high school career. We all know someone who is being missed. And that’s what struck me with Alice Bliss. 

I appreciated this book for what it was. It’s a pretty accurate portrayal of how just “being” is difficult when a loved one is in harm’s way. The day to day routine, just “going on” becomes a struggle. It also demonstrated how one family member can be the glue that holds everyone together, as Matt was. Once he left, his wife and two daughters floated away from each other only to orbit around him and his memory. His absence was so central and profound to the story that it became a character of its own. It made my heart ache for his family members, just as it has ached for real friends of mine.

Alice Bliss is a great story, especially since it is such a slice out of military family life. I feel that oftentimes the troops are celebrated for their strength and courage, but it’s the people they have left behind who must possess a certain strength of character in order to keep going. When you love someone in the military, you are living in two worlds–your world and the (very dangerous and scary) world you have imagined your loved one in.

That takes a courage all of it’s own.

3.5 purple hearts of 5

My Framing Hanley Weekend *swoon*

I had a great weekend, my darlings. I was lucky enough to meet Kenneth Nixon, the lead singer of one of my favorite bands –Framing Hanley–at their show in St. Pete.  He was very sweet and signed a drumstick for me after letting me smooch him. Here are some of the highlights… 🙂

The Alchemy of Forever by Avery Williams

The Alchemy of Forever by Avery Williams has one of the freshest concepts I’ve seen for a YA novel in a LONG time. It doesn’t take place in a post-apocalyptic world, there are no werewolves, there are no vampires, there is no race to save the earth. Refreshing, right?

I mean, don’t get it twisted, I love a good vampire/werewolf love triangle just as much as the next girl. But it’s been done. Trend? Check. Let’s move on and think of other things, authors. No need to continue riding the coattails of the Twilight/Harry Potter/Hunger Games Empire. Let’s spice things up, shall we?

Serephina Ames was transformed into an “Incarnate” several hundred years ago by her first love, Cyrus. He was the alchemist’s son and had found the formula to eternal life. Nothing can be simple in love–especially immortality. To become an Incarnate, you must sever your soul from your own body and take a host. Except rather than living with a dual consciousness, you effectively killed that person–while their body remained behind for you to use. The body remains viable for about 10 years, and then you must find another or face final death.

For over half a millinea, Serephina stayed at Cyrus’ side, switching bodies to fit to his “type” and taking on hundreds of new identities. They made others like themselves and lived in an immortal coven. Until, one day–after years of discontent with stealing human lives–she escapes from Cyrus and goes to meet her final death.

Things don’t go quite as planned, however, when Serephina’s failing host form tries to resuscitate 16 year old Kailey Morgan (a car accident victim) and inadvertently takes over her body.  With Kailey’s body comes a new sense of freedom, a life away from Cyrus’ rule and a new set of friends, family, and a new love interest. An escape.

But how long with Seraphina’s peaceful stolen life last?

The Alchemy of Forever is a short book and I flew through it in a couple of days. I enjoyed it, and the story flowed pretty evenly. Williams’ writing style is a bit simplistic, even for the YA audience. This is not going to be a book-to-movie empire, but it was interesting all the same. It really makes you think about how you would live your life if you had the capability to change bodies. Would you feel guilty for the death of the original human or would you feel exultation in your new form? Would you choose someone beautiful every time or would you switch it up? Neat concept, for sure.

That being said, I didn’t really understand how Seraphina/Kailey could feel a love connection with Noah so fast, when really she didn’t even know him at all. She also makes some really obvious dumb-girl-in-a-movie mistakes that make you want to yell out loud at the book. But whatever, with no conflict there would be no story, I suppose. It would be really hard to assimilate into a stranger’s life without making it obvious that you had no idea what was going on.

But imagine the freedom of being able to be anyone. 

You could reinvent yourself so many times and learn so many skills with that long lifespan. Each incarnation could be a better version of you, if you strove for goodness.

Williams ended the book with a clear set up for a sequel, and I will definitely follow up on Seraphina’s story. But for now I’m left with something to think about…

3 incarnations of 5

Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara

Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay by Adair Lara was my poolside read of choice over the weekend. Sheesh. Holy long title, Batman. My roommate –whom I have been BFFs with for almost 10 years and lived with for 3–got me this book as a gift after I graduated college. She said she saw it and immediately knew she had to buy it for me. Hahah, very funny. She just knows me too well, I guess!

Although there really is no nudity or drunkenness between Lara’s pages (a fact that I was greatly disappointed about, I might add…) she has built a solid resource for those brave souls willing to display their dirty laundry for all to see. I like that fact that people other than celebrities are getting to share their life stories because–really–do we need to learn ANYTHING else about the Kardashian’s antics? Or Snooki’s? (A big resounding EFF NO is the answer I’m looking for here, people…) These are true stories, as true as a memory can be, that is. Philandering husbands, failing parents, pregnant teenagers, upsetting accidents–anything goes because THIS IS YOUR LIFE.

You just run the risk of everyone you’ve ever cared about hating your guts, that’s all. 

I did enjoy reading this book, and Lara’s writing style presented the facts in a much less boring way than I was anticipating. Most writing guides are so full of the technical stuff that it’s impossible to enjoy them after the first half. I am glad I read this book and am interested in reading her memoir of raising her hellion daughter (since she mentioned it so much,which I will admit became slightly annoying). I love gossip just as much as the next person, which is pretty much what a memoir boils down to. Dramatic, secretive, personal events that were turning points in your life. Now who doesn’t want to nose into someone else’s business, really?

For anyone aspiring to write their own memoir (and totally out their family in the process), this book is for you.

4 naked writers out of 5