Coffee Break: ARC Reactor

It’s no secret that I’m an unapologetic nerd.  I love to read, I love school, I hang out in libraries and bookstores, I am an avid member of many fandoms, I like the Stars (Trek, Wars, Gate, Battle, etc.), and super heroes.  You name it, I can check off the nerd box.  Luckily, my interests mesh well together.  I like being able to recognize the threads that connect the things I love.  So, when I say I consider myself an “ARC Reactor” it makes me laugh like a dork at my own joke.  Keep reading, and you’ll laugh, too – either at me for being hilarious, or with me at my extreme level of clever.  Either way, mission: accomplished.

You see, though I super-duper ❤ Batman, deep down I’m really a Marvel girl.  And Iron Man is one of my favorite Marvel super heroes, mostly because, as far as I’m concerned, Iron Man is just a brighter, flashier version of Batman.  (Those of you who are hurling tomatoes at me via your computer screens right now, just keep in mind that you’re not actually squishing me with them, and you should take it easy on your electronics.)  Hear me out.  Bruce Wayne = bazillionaire.  Tony Stark = bazillionaire.  Bruce Wayne engineers his suit.  Tony Stark engineers his suit.  Bruce Wayne is a second-generation operator of his family’s business; Tony Stark, same.  So, you see what I mean.  That said, there’s one thing that Iron Man has that Batman doesn’t (besides the bromance with Captain America) – the ARC reactor.

The ARC reactor is what keeps Tony Stark alive.  Without going into too much detail and boring you (crazy) non-comic book fans, here’s a brief explanation (inhales giant breath): Stark had shrapnel in his chest that was traveling toward his heart and would have killed him but Stark modifies one of his father’s inventions called the ARC reactor and shoves it into his chest cavity to suck the shrapnel back away from his heart and keep it from exploding.  (Whew!)  The ARC reactor also supplies the power for the Iron Man suits.  So, essentially, for Tony Stark, ARC reactor = life.

Iron Man

One of the many hats I wear is my book blogger beanie.  I love books, I  love reading books, and I love writing about books.  (Psst, sources say that’s the main reason this blog exists.)  If I could make a living reading and writing about books, this world would be an awesome place.  Alas, that’s not the case.  BUT, that doesn’t mean I can’t try to make that wish come true.  You see…

A few months before publishers release finished, gorgeous copies of books they hope will become best sellers, they release what are called Advance Readers Copies (or ARCs).  Getting an ARC is rare, because publishers only print a small number of them, and only distribute them to people they think will do them justice, like book bloggers with a large following, some librarians, and individuals they know can promote sales.  So for book bloggers like myself, getting an ARC of a popular author’s upcoming release is like finding a Golden Ticket.

The book community is an enthusiastic and opinionated one.  Also, they possess a level of devotion to their favorite authors that’s slightly creepy.  So the last two or three months before an author’s newest book is released is like pure torture for any fan.  They are desperate for any scrap of information about the new book.  This is where book bloggers with ARCs have the power.  (Right now, in my head, I see Prince Adam hoisting aloft the Power Sword and yelling “I have the POWER” while morphing into He-Man.  Yep, total nerd.)

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It’s true.  If you’re a book blogger with an ARC of the next big thing, readers will flock to your blog to read your review.  And what does every book blogger want?  READERS!  And what gets the readers?  ARCs!  So, what does ever book blogger want to do?  React to ARCs!  (You see where I’m going with this.)  So, essentially, for book bloggers, ARCs = life.

I was fortunate enough to attend the American Library Association Annual conference at the end of June, where I was able to acquire several of these coveted ARCs.  (You can read my post about that experience here.)  And every now and then, I win one through a Goodreads giveaway, as I did Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco, which I recently reviewed here.  But I currently have a nice little pile of ARCs by authors I love, that I am honored to be able to review.  Thus making me a – wait for it – ARC reactor.  Bahahahahahahaha!

Monday will feature a mini-review July wrap-up post, and Tuesday, as always, an awesome Top 10 Tuesday post!

Peace out!

Top 10 Fictional Librarians

In my heart, I’ve always been a librarian of one sort or another.  When I was a child, I grouped my nonfiction books together by subject (I was BISAC before BISAC was cool).  I made spine labels by author’s last names for my fiction books.  My books were shelved alphabetically, according to author.  Yes it’s true – I’m a total nerd.  And I own it.

Also, I grew up to be a librarian.  So I’m walking, talking, sometimes-both-at-the-same-time living proof that dreams can come true.  (Note the subtle difference between can and do – unfortunately it’s not always the case, but I’m a firm believer in doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals, so here I am.)

Librarians are near and dear to my heart.  Being a librarian is a noble calling.  And so, in their honor…  Here are my choices for my TOP 10 FAVORITE FICTIONAL LIBRARIANS.

Evie Carnahan O’Connell (The Mummy)

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I love Evie so much, I can’t even.  She is seriously awesome.  She’s English, but loves all things Egyptian, so literally packs up and moves to Egypt so she can work in the library at the Cairo museum.  She’s a brilliant scholar, and actually reads the books in the library, so she knows things others don’t.  She’s brave and clever, and doesn’t let anyone get in her way.  She literally saves the world.

Barbara Gordon (Batman)

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Commissioner Gordon’s daughter is a force to be reckoned with.  Not only is she a smart and savvy librarian, she’s also Batgirl.  Shhhh!  She is educated and career-oriented, and is an effective crime-fighter.  I mean, Batman doesn’t even have to spend most of his time saving her from the bad guys (Daphne, I’m looking at you right now…)  She’s very focused on employing the best means to an end, even if that means heads gotta’ roll to get things done.

Flynn Carson (The Librarian)

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Oh, my <3.  There aren’t even words to describe how I feel about THE Librarian (Flynn Carson is THE Librarian, not those young, whippersnapper upstarts.  Though, to be fair, I do like them, too.  I’m just being clear about the hierarchy within the Library, as far as I’m concerned.)  Flynn is the best superhero ever, because he isn’t a superhero, not even a little bit.  He’s a bumbling, adorable, trip-over-his-own-feet-and-fall-into-unicorn-glitter dork who is absolutely brilliant, and when he’s home by himself in his Underoos pretends he’s Indiana Jones.

Rupert Giles (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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Giles is just… awesome.  Sunnydale is literally the high school from (on?) hell, and this guy guards the gates.  Officialy Buffy’s “Watcher” (see: babysitter who is tasked with keeping her from doing all manner of idiotic things), Giles is a mentor, protector, and friend.  I appreciate his sass (which is master-level to stack up against teenagers), his smarts, which are unparalleled because he actually reads the books in the library, and his insistence on the strict observance of tea time (being British, after all…)

Twilight Sparkle (My Little Pony)

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LIVES in a library inside a tree, whaaat?  Twilight Sparkle is an unabashed, unapologetic book nerd who (at least initially) prefers books to ponies.  She curates a collection of rare and magical books, familiarizing herself with their content.  And it’s a good thing, too, because she gets everypony out of all sorts of road apples with her smarts ALL THE TIME.  Let me just say one more time: lives in a library.  Like, gets to sleep there, too.  #jealous

Zoe Heriot (Doctor Who)

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Two words: space librarian.  SPACE LIBRARIAN!  I feel like a mic drop is called for, but I’m not done writing this post, so…  We’ll just have to go with there’s no way to top that.  So, Zoe is the librarian on a space station that the Doctor visits.  (Because of course even people traveling to different planets need to get their Patterson fix too.)  And as if her job isn’t cool enough to sustain her for the rest of her life she needs more adventure and stows away on the TARDIS.  Seriously, Zoe Heriot is my spirit animal.

Jocasta Nu (Star Wars: The Clone Wars)

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away were the Jedi Archives, the galaxy’s greatest repository of knowledge, and Jocasta is the curator of that collection.  I can just see her shushing Obi-Wan when he starts waxing eloquent about something or another.  Hella wise Jedi Master Librarian. #goals  Think about it: this is who Master Yoda comes to when he needs to Google something.  Yeah, just let that thought settle.

Lucien (The Sandman)

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The chief librarian of The Dreaming, Lucien lives in an abandoned castle in Transylvania guarding its ancient library.  And he has a pet werewolf named Rover.  Wholly devoted to his task no matter what, Lucien curates a collection of books that contain all the Dreams ever dreamed, including even the ones which have never been written.  And even though he looks like a “typical” librarian – nerdy, thin and wispy with glasses – he can hold his own in a fight.

Bunny Watson (Desk Set)

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The age-old battle of Librarian vs. Computer.  Bunny Watson does what every self-respecting librarian has threatened to do at least a dozen times in their career – sets the computer to self-destruct.  And then proves to everyone around her that people are better than machines.  And she isn’t sorry at all, not one little bit.  This smart and sassy New Yorker isn’t letting technology replace her or make her obsolete.  Take note, fellow librarians.

Belle (Once Upon A Time)

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Tale as old as time: girl falls for boy because of his library…  In the classic (see: Disney) version of the Beauty and the Beast tale, Belle is a bookwork and loses herself in the Beast’s library to help her forget that she’s a captive who is stuck in a mad castle with a horrible creature and talking furniture.  That library, though…  It almost makes it worth it.  Here, though, in Storybrooke, Belle has it a little better – she’s the Lone Ranger in the town’s library which is in an awesome clocktower.  And where does she go every time another curse comes to town (the purple one, the green one, the red one…)?  The library, of course.  Because books are magic, and have the power to neutralize bad juju.

So, there you have it!  YAY, librarians!  Who is/are your favorite fictional word curators?  Chat with me in the comments!

And stand by, for on Thursday, you’re going to learn just how huge a nerd I am.  (Hint: Hulk-sized.)

11:39 – still officially Tuesday!

Bloglovin’

Blog is such a weird word.  Blog.  Blog.  When I say it in my head, it sounds like blawg.  Kind of like Caaawrl! (That’s a The Walking Dead reference for those of you out there who are completely uncool.)  But, I do like to blog, and I do like to read *some* blogs.  It’s a great way to connect with others, to gain new ideas, and to learn things.  I particularly like book blogs, and blogs about writing, and I hope others like reading my blog, as well.

That said, I’ve joined Bloglovin’, which is kind of like the International Space Station for bloggers.  Blog authors from all over the world register their blogs there, and anyone search for and access them.  Thousands of blogs all in one place.  (Makes mental note not to spend all day reading blogs.)

Anyway, if you use Bloglovin’ and want to follow me over there, as well, it’s pretty easy.  Just click the link!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

And just so you know, this is definitely not the promised awesome Top 10 Tuesday post for today- you still have that to look forward to!

First the Ripper, Now Dracula

Call me crazy, but I love books based on old, murdery mysteries.  I don’t like to read about bloodbaths, but give me a good, old-fashioned mystery based on history, and I’m all in. A lot of this has to do with my interest in history; more than I’d like to admit, this has to do with my dark sense of curiosity.

Kerri Maniscalco is an author after my own heart.  She has chosen to tackle some of the most iconic historic mysteries possible, and has given them new life (haha) and a new spin.  I am a firm fan.

I read Stalking Jack the Ripper (the first book in this series) shortly after it was released, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story-telling from debut author Kerri Maniscalco. Having done very little research on either the book or the author before reading, I was excited when I got to the end of the book, and it was clear there was going to be a sequel. History buff that I am, I was as ecstatic as only a nerd can be to discover the next installment of the Wadsworth/Cresswell adventures would take them to Romania and settle them within the Dracula mythology. I had high expectations for Hunting Prince Dracula. I was not disappointed.

If anything, from the first book to this, Maniscalco’s writing has gotten better (as is natural), and her story-telling voice has grown stronger. Where there were a few times in Ripper I felt the leaps in logic were a little long-strided, I didn’t feel that way at all with Dracula. The plot is very thoroughly laid out and described, and doesn’t miss any steps. Though the mystery reveal is well-hidden until the end of the book, the reader isn’t kept in the dark at all when it comes to necessary clues and information. As far as the story itself, I found it to be very satisfying.  (And darned if she didn’t get me again with the twist!)

One of the things I really like about these books is the relationship between Audrey Rose Wadsworth (though I still cringe at that name – I mean it’s really, really terrible) and Thomas Cresswell. There is a mutual admiration and respect between the two of them that isn’t based on attraction, and that’s a rare find in YA fiction these days. Yes, it’s evident that the two of them have feelings for one another, but that is not the basis for their relationship. Cresswell appreciates Wadsworth for who she is; he isn’t intimidated by her intellect, he allows her to take risks, and doesn’t feel threatened by her independence. And Wadsworth understands Cresswell’s want to protect her and doesn’t deride him for it (though she does throw in a perfectly understandable eye-roll every now and then).

Something else unique about these books is the profession Wadsworth and Cresswell are working their way into. Maniscalco has chosen something out of the ordinary – forensics – for her characters to study, which is something that sets them apart from others of their social cohort. It’s not strictly “ladylike” for a high-born girl like Audrey Rose to be elbows-deep in someone’s gizzard, but does that stop her?  Definitely not.  And good thing, because their knowledge of all things dead also gives Wadsworth and Cresswell a slight advantage when it comes to investigating the crimes that take place in the book. Their unconventional training gives them an unconventional perspective on things, and their partnership gives them strength.

I really liked how this book isn’t an over-the-top “vampire book”. Rather, it acknowledges the history of the setting, and allows that history to color the mystery, but doesn’t for a second try to convince readers that Dracula is behind the murders. I believe that would have brought into question the credibility of the characters. The characters solve a real mystery, instead of chasing ghosts and goblins. And, also, readers (mostly) aren’t stupid, so better not to waste time trying to convince them of the existence of vampires.

Overall, this is a fun book, compulsively readable and clever. I am definitely looking forward to the next installment of the Adventures of Wadsworth and Cresswell – in America! (And I’m having a dickens of a time trying to figure out who the big bad will be this time.  It would be too much of a time gap for them to be after H H Holmes, and too late for Billy the Kid…)

Little, Brown and Company/Jimmy Patterson Books provided me with an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tomorrow, on Top 10 Tuesday, tune in for a list of the Top 10 Fictional Librarians!  Because, well, who’s cooler than librarians?

Top 10 Literary Villains

I ❤ a well-written bad guy.  I especially ❤ a well-written bad guy who is bad because reasons.  Villians, or antagonists, make great stories.  They’re the thing against which our heroes sharpen their swords, who represent the other side of the story.  A really great villain will blur the lines between good and evil, will encourage thought and discussion, and will (every now and then) make you hope the good guys don’t win.

There are lists and lists of villains I could do, because there are so many great ones, but here is a general, extending-the-hand-of-friendship-to-villains-of-all-genres-and-age-groups list of some of my favorite villains.

  1. Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne) blog nemo It is easy to call Nemo a villain.  After all, he’s a murderer.  He uses his genius and ingenuity to build a murder machine in the form of the Nautilus.  However, Nemo doesn’t kill for fun; rather, he sees his sinking of war ships as his duty to oppressed peoples.  Nemo has an intense hatred of oppression, specifically in the form of colonization.  I am fascinated by Captain Nemo.  He is undoubtedly a tortured soul with a dark and terrifying backstory.  But he still designed and built a submarine, explored the ocean depths, and, if Verne can be believed, discovered Atlantis!  He’s brave, doesn’t ask anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself, and also shows surprising compassion at times.  He’s a mystery surrounded by an enigma, which my contrary heart loves.
  2. Mrs. Danvers (Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier) blog danvers Oh, evil housekeepers are the worst.  Danvers is haunting Manderley in human form.  She is described in skeletal, cadaverous terms, and acts as if she was spawned from a hell portal.  She is a constant threatening presence throughout the novel, a lingering reminder of a dark secret.  I find her to be slightly terrifying, because she is purposefully manipulative and cruel, and sincerely hopes to cause harm, both emotionally and physically.  When she literally burns down the world, one gets the impression she is neither frightened of the flames, nor sorry for anything she has done.  So, an unrepentant, psychotic evil housekeeper.
  3. Severus Snape (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling) blog snape Voldemort, who?  There’s no way Voldemort should get all the credit for being the big bad of the HP series.  Snape is way worse.  (My feelings for Snape are clouded by my love for Alan Rickman, who will ever be Snape to me, but) I still maintain that Snape is THE biggest threat Harry and Co. face throughout the series.  They only have to deal with Voldemort a couple of times; they have to deal with Snape every day.  This loathsome dude does everything he possibly can to make life hell for Harry and his friends, and isn’t a bit sorry for it.  He puts them in danger, he gets them in trouble, he lies to them, he keeps secrets from them, and rather than take an active role in helping destroy evil, he lingers in the shadows making things harder for them.  “But, but reeedemmmption!” you cry.  “Poppycock,” say I.  (Not even at the end, when reasons…)
  4. The White Witch (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis) blog white witch This character terrified me as a child.  She is a tyrant who has set herself up as ruler against the wishes of everyone else.  I think one of the things that makes her so evil is she uses family to hurt family.  I mean, she preys upon Edmund’s weaknesses and turns him against his siblings.  She threatens adorable woodland creatures; she turns living things to stone, effectively ending their lives.  Her entire agenda is to start a war so she can destroy all who oppose her.  Oh, yeah, and she murders Aslan.  Can’t get much more evil than that.  Except if you take away Christmas.  Oh, wait…
  5. Irene Adler (“A Scandal in Bohemia” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) blog adler I almost didn’t put her on this list.  But even if she’s not a villain in the classical sense of the word, she is a brilliant criminal.  After all, by Sherlock Holmes’ own admission, she was the only one ever to best him.  She is brilliant and crafty, and on top of those, beautiful, which make her a triple-threat.  She lacks a conscience, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to survive.  As an actress, she has the tools necessary to carry off sophisticated crimes.  She also has the ability to capture Holmes’ admiration, which makes her a thief of the most cunning sort.
  6. The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum) blog wwow Those poor Winkies!  The WWotW is another oppressor, someone who took, rather than earned.  She’s described as being hideous, showing that sometimes the appearance reflects the heart.  She is cold, she is calculating, and she isn’t above enslaving entire countries to get what she wants.  AND only terrible people threaten little doggies.
  7. Long John Silver (Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson) blog silver So, this mutinous, murdering pirate is a very colorful and complex character, which makes him great.  He takes young Jim Hawkins under his wing and protects and mentors him, which makes it that much worse of a betrayal when readers find out he’s the scallywag leading the mutiny.  He’s opportunistic and manipulative, and switches sides with the wind.  One thing I appreciate about Silver is he’s married to a woman of African descent, who he entrusts with his business endeavors while he’s gone at sea, trusting her to build his fortune.  Argh for progressive pirates!
  8. Sauron (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien) blog sauron It takes a really bad bad guy to never be seen, and still have everyone be afraid of you.  Sauron exists as a shadow over the whole of Middle Earth, a constant, terrifying threat, even though few are around who even remember who he is, or what he did.  But he has an insatiable want for power that transcends generations, and he is willing to destroy the world, and all who stand in his way to achieve his goal of owning the Ring of power.  He is a source of true evil who begets more evil.  (And he’s way more scary in the book than just a blazing eyeball.)
  9. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Thunderball by Sir Ian Fleming) blog spectre Evil genius.  Number 1.  Head of SPECTRE.  And all-around bad dude.  Blofeld heads up the world’s biggest, most covert criminal organization, and instigates all sorts of nefarious plots.  With his eyes set on world domination, the only thing standing in his way is British Secret Service agent James Bond.  Blofeld has to be a substantial villain to stand against Bond, and holds his own as Bond’s archenemy.  He will do anything to win; he alters his appearance twice, he moves across the globe, he uses expendable henchmen.  He murders Bond’s wife.  I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that Blofeld dies a slow and painful death.
  10. The Firemen (Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury) blog firemen Though this isn’t one particular character, I firmly believe they should be on the list.  The Firemen pose the greatest threat possible to  humankind, because they propose to destroy knowledge.  Everyone knows the saying knowledge is power.  Therefore, without knowledge, people are limited in what they can do, say, learn, understand, be.  At that point, they lose freedom and autonomy, and must rely on those with power to simply survive.  And that is a truly terrifying thought.

There are SO MANY other villains out there – who are some of your favorites (or unfavotires, as it were)?

(Truly) Heartless

When it comes to books, I’m a generally positive person.  I recognize that different people like different types of books, and know that not every book is going to be for me.  I accept this as a given.  However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed when a book I anticipate is going to be wonderful falls completely flat for me.  Such was the case with Marissa Meyer’s Heartless.  Now, I am a big fan of Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which includes loose, twisted retellings of several fairy tales.  There were great plots, she made interesting choices, and populated the books with great characters, including strong females.  I was looking for more of the same with Heartless.  I was sorely disappointed.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere.  A talented baker, she wants top open a shop and create delectable pastries.  But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be queen. 

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets the handsome and mysterious Jest.  For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction.  At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny.  But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Just the last sentence of this is enough to make me want to read this book.  I expected a fantastical tale about the Red Queen, complete with many murdery cries of “Off with their heads!”.  This was not that tale.

Let’s talk about “Cath”.  (Ugh. Unless you are the Simon Snow devotee, this name is not OK.)  This is one of the most useless, spineless main characters I have ever encountered in a book.  She has a dream to be a baker and run her own shop, which is contrary to everyone else’s plans for her to become queen.  Guess what happens.  (If you guessed that she runs away, defies everyone who wants to make her into something she’s not, and opens the best bakery in all of Wonderland, you’d be 100% wrong.)  It only took me about 27 seconds to realize that Cath lacks agency and will, and I spent the entire book being frustrated at her victim attitude.  She doesn’t make things happen, she lets things happen to her.  And then she sits and whines about it.  Then, when things get crazy, blood starts flying, and Cath figures out her terrible decisions are the cause, she blames someone else, which just infuriated me.  And I’m supposed to believe that this girl who spent 7/8 of the book being weak and whiny suddenly turns into the cold, cruel, imperious Red Queen?  Sorry, not buying it.

There were a couple of things I did like about this book.  Cheshire was a wonderfully written character, and by far one of my favorites.  I like how he embodies arrogance and feigns a complete lack of care for anything going on around him, but says the most profound things at just the right times.  I also really liked Jest and his pure heart.  He is loving and optimistic, and true.  The “world” of Wonderland was well-done, and just mad enough to be fun, but not too nonsensical where it feels like Meyer is trying too hard.  In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of Wonderland.  More mad tea parties, more checkerboard cake, more Jabberwock, just more.

There were also some great lines in here.  Meyer has a beautiful way with words, and if I couldn’t really appreciate the story, I can at least appreciate her wordsmithy.  She has a very lyrical way of writing, which is a must for any Wonderland story, I think.  One of my favorite phrases turns out to be a prophecy, and a bit of a foreshadow.

Murderer, martyr, monarch, mad.

Overall, ironically, I think what this book is missing is heart.  It didn’t make me feel anything other than annoyance for Cath, and I didn’t care enough about Jest or anyone else to be really invested in what happened.  I had high hopes for this one, but it really let me down.  I almost want there to be another installment, because I think now that Cath is the Red Queen, I might like her better, and would care about the continuing story of her being stabby and evil, but, then again, maybe not.

If you’re interested in fairy tale retellings, here are some of my favorites:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – this reimagines the Cinderella story with a cyborg and a moon colony.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge – a lovely retelling of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty is an assassin trained from birth to kill the Beast.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson – a Southern gothic-set version of the Bluebeard fairy tale with a mystery, and romance, and a lot of suspense.

Tune in tomorrow for Top 10 Tuesday!

Coffee Break: The Case for YA Literature

I have a confession to make: I read a lot of YA (young adult, for those of you who are wondering) literature.  Ok, ok, maybe it’s not a confession, since if you all are paying attention, you know that already.  But it’s true, and I’m not ashamed of it.

I actually have an extremely eclectic reading taste – I’m game for almost anything, save terrifying, bloody horror books, and Amish fiction.  This is because I ❤ books, I appreciate authors and want to support their heroic work, and I like to learn things about all the things (except stabby, murdery psychopaths and sweet, sweet Amish love).

I have always been a #reader, but over the years have read for different purposes.  As a child, I read because I enjoyed it; as a student, I read because I had to; as an adult I still read because I have to, but not because it’s required – rather, it’s a compulsion.  It’s not for a grade, but for the soul.  Because I’m old now, and can do what I want (*insert sarcastic laughter here), I read what I want.  My time is limited, and I don’t see the point in torturing myself by wasting precious hours reading something I don’t enjoy.  I enjoy YA literature.

“But, why?” you ask.  “YA lit is for, you know, teenagers.”  I respectfully disagree.  Saying that is like saying teenagers shouldn’t read contemporary fiction, or nonfiction because those genres aren’t written to target a teen audience.  YA literature is a unique creature unto itself, in that it can be about anything.  YA literature is not tied to genre limitations; is is not stifled by literary conventions.  YA authors aren’t afraid to put it all out there and write about cyborg Cinderellas or about children hunting other children to amuse evil adults; they aren’t afraid to take risks.  They aren’t afraid of what their audience may think – they know kids are up for anything.

So why is YA literature thought of as being less than

Currently, YA literature is experiencing an explosion in popularity.  YA books are ending up on best seller lists; they are taking up huge amounts of space in bookstores; they are being turned into blockbuster films.  Are there really that many teens reading books?  NO.  While there are a lot of teens who read, the explanation for what can only be called the YA Phenomenon is this: adults are reading YA books.  Why?  BECAUSE YA BOOKS TALK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS that adult books don’t.  Here’s an example: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, published by HarperCollins this past February, is about an inner-city girl who witnesses her childhood best friend shot and killed by a police officer while unarmed, and the implications and fallout of that situation.  It places the reader squarely within the story, and provides a perspective most readers may never get.  No AF (adult fiction) books are talking about this topic – something that is very timely and relevant.  Yet Thomas is brave enough to do so, and to an audience that is open-minded enough to consider that other perspective.  Another example is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  This book follows Junior as he moves from the reservation to the suburbs where he navigates the minefield that is trying to make friends while battling social stereotypes.  This book highlights specific identity issues facing indigenous peoples, and resonates with many who feel marginalized.  *Looks around – AF?  Anything on this?  No?

The examples I used here are two contemporary novels, set in reality.  Many YA authors choose to tackle these issues, as well, only in a fantasy context.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is a good bellwether for this: she highlights society and class, as well as identity, but sets the story in a post-apocolyptic world.  YA books deal with questions of drug culture, suicide, death, violence, identity, sex, acceptance, family, relationships, mental health, etc., ad infinitum.  You name it, there’s a YA book that talks about it.  YA is valuable because people can relate to the books, no matter how old the reader is.

YA books also provide:

Escapism – Most people don’t want to sit down, crack open a book, and read about depressing things.  They want to, at least for a little while, bail on their real life.  Settings in YA books are often fantastical and foreign, and allow readers to step away from their lives and experience something that speaks to their imagination, rather than their reason.

Excitement – Let’s get real here for a minute.  There are some AF books that are boring AF (see what I did there?).  YA books, no matter the genre, are always moving.  Because teens are always moving.  There is drama; there is action – and most of the time, the two are happening at the same time.

Strong Characters – In case you haven’t met one for a while, and need to be reminded, let me point out: teens are opinionated.  They are learning, they are developing their own thoughts and world views, and they want to see the same thing in their book hero(ine)s.  Many YA books are written in 1st person point of view, so the reader hears the character’s voice specifically.  The voices are strong and sure, and inspire that same confidence.  Additionally, there are many, many strong female characters in YA lit, who represent some of the most individual voices in literature of any genre.

Hope – For all the “issues” found in YA literature, rarely do things end on a negative note.  This is because the authors realize they are writing for the next generation, who have a lot to look forward to.  Soul-crushing situations are resolved, hurts are mended, and the bad guy is rightfully punished.  Teens are creative and they’re smart, and they have a habit of looking forward, rather than backward; YA authors do a wonderful job of giving them something bright to move toward.

It crushes my soul when I hear critics (and by critics, I mean other readers) bash YA literature as “shallow” or “dumbed down” derivatives of AF.  Because this is not the case.  YA literature is just as sophisticated and important as every other genre of book out there, because it does its job: it speaks to its audience.  And it’s audience listens, and loves it.

Just one last thought: if it wasn’t for YA authors, we wouldn’t have Harry Potter; we wouldn’t have Katniss Everdeen; we wouldn’t have Anne Shirley; we wouldn’t have Bilbo Baggins.  Some of the most iconic and beloved literary characters ever created are products of YA literature.

So next time someone scoffs at you because you choose to spend your time reading a YA book now and again (or always), don’t be ashamed to stand up for those authors who choose to create iconic characters and memorable settings, and who choose to face the hard issues head-on and try to make sense of them.

(All those gorgeous covers, though…)