Tag Archives: Penguin

Cover Lust: Coralie Bickford-Smith

22 Feb

By Sammy Bina


I thought I’d do something a little out-of-the-ordinary today. Bear with me — it will hopefully be as awesome as the vlog I’d planned to do, but had no ideas for.

Moving on, how many of you have heard of Penguin (as in the major publishing house)?

Okay, good. That looks like most of you.

How many of you have seen the Penguin Classics series that grace the shelves of your local bookstore?

Looking good. Still got your attention? Excellent. Now for the kicker:

How many of you have seen the covers for the Penguin Hardback Classics?

If you haven’t, then I’d like to direct you to the website of London-based designer, Coralie Bickford-Smith. She’s the genius behind these gorgeous covers, as well as numerous other Penguin series. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, feast your eyes:

You’re already imagining them on your bookshelf, aren’t you? That was my first reaction when I saw them, too. They’re beyond gorgeous, and really hearken back to the days of old, cloth-bound books. The fact that these ones are all classics adds to the experience. Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m curled up with one of these on a chilly evening, a cup of cocoa in hand, I feel like I’ve been transported back in time. There’s something magical about a great book and a stunning cover. Coralie Bickford-Smith certainly helps with that. (I guess Jane Austin and Charles Dickens help, too.)

We all know the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but I’m fairly certain many of us disregard the rule. I know I do. If I’m in Barnes & Noble and I see a gorgeous cover, I’m going to pick it up. Even if it isn’t something I’d usually read, there’s a good chance I’ll buy it. Certainly something so gorgeous on the outside has to be brilliant inside, right? (Take Beth Revis’ ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. Stunning cover, awesome story.) Coralie Bickford-Smith’s covers are enticing. They make you want to pick up the book. Maybe even read it! In this day and age, where people are so worried about the book-pocalypse, it’s great to see people still turning out incredible looking books that encourage people to read. I’ll admit, I’m horribly under-read in the classics for someone who majored in creative writing, but these books have been remedying that problem at lightening speed. They’re a little hard to come by in the U.S., but Amazon sells them, and the almighty Book Depository has them in stock as well (and free shipping, too!). Stores like Urban Outfitters also carry them randomly.

So whether you just want your bookshelf to look sexy, or actually need a reason to pick up that book your high school English teacher suggested, now’s your chance. And you’ve got Coralie Bickford-Smith to thank for that.


Sammy Bina is finishing up her last semester of college as a creative writing major. She’s currently revising her YA dystopian, SILENCE, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English Literary Agency. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.


Book Recommendation: Anna and the French Kiss

30 Dec

For the past month, all I’ve been hearing about is ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, so when I found myself at Barnes & Noble with some Christmas money to blow, I knew which book I’d be taking home. Our very own Mandy Hubbard had mentioned how much she enjoyed it, along with just about every YA reader out there. Trusting their expert opinions, I happily grabbed my copy off the shelf, marched to the checkout line, and promptly forgot to read it over the Christmas holiday. Luckily, I had a flight that would require some entertainment, and wound up reading the entire book in one sitting yesterday.

YOU GUYS. If you don’t already own a copy of this book, go out today and buy it. Check it out from your local library. I don’t care how you get a hold of it, just do it. You won’t regret it.

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?

First of all, be prepared to laugh. No one warned me, so I’m telling you now. This book is hilarious. Anna is full of observations and commentary about her life and the people in it, and nearly all of them brought a smile to my face. Some of the conversations she has, and the things she does to avoid embarrassing herself, are just adorable. Stuck in a new city, in a new country where she can’t speak French, she’s constantly taking note of the way people act and speak. At one point she even writes out, phonetically, how to order a movie ticket. Little things like that are what really make this book shine. Not to mention that fact that it just makes you feel good. By the time you turn the last page, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible not to.

Anna and St. Clair really make the story. Anna’s voice is fantastic, sarcastic, funny, charming, and exactly how your best friend sounds. You feel like you’ve known her your entire life. St. Clair is that guy you fantasize about, that you wish weren’t fictional. He has flaws, makes mistakes, but you can’t help but fall in love with him along with Anna, and every other girl who attends SOAP. Their friends are all people you can recognize from your own life, and like just about everyone on the planet, they have to deal with moving away from home, family drama, and the ups and downs that come with being a teenager. The high school drama is there, but never in a dose they can’t handle. Anna is forced to deal with stereotypes Americans have of foreigners, and vice versa. The situations these characters are put in are real, and the author does an incredible job of making you believe in everything that’s going on, and making you care. That’s the most important thing —  you really care about these characters. Even past the last page. (I would know, I’ve been thinking about this book nonstop since I finished it.)

I’ve read a lot of YA in my time, and I think this is one of the most convincing love stories I’ve ever come across. I believed every bit of it. Nothing seemed forced or unrealistic. Sure, there was some drama – its protagonists are teenagers – but it was never too much or over-the-top. It walked that fine line very well, and I actually found myself wanting to give the characters advice on numerous occasions. I think it’s rare when you care that much about a fictional character, and I applaud Stephanie Perkins for that. The girl has a gift.

Though my knowledge of Paris is similar to Anna’s at the very beginning of the book (Amelie and Moulin Rouge), I grew to know it along with her. As a reader, you’re gradually taught some of the idiosyncrasies of Paris and its people, how some things are pronounced, and even run across a few important landmarks. It’s like going to Paris, but not. Now that I’ve got this mental picture stuck in my head, I’m even more determined to see the real thing.

Part of the reason I really loved this book was because Anna’s journey is one many readers can connect with. She has to learn to navigate a new city, make new friends, adjust to a new culture, learn another language, and numerous other challenges. When she managed to overcome those problems, I wanted to cheer for her! I clapped when she finally braved the city on her own, and I felt her pain when she realized things at home weren’t as great as she remembered. Living abroad changes you. It’s unavoidable. I liked that Stephanie Perkins included that detail in her story because it made Anna’s situation even more realistic. And lord knows there are probably plenty of us who have been in love with our best friend at one time or another. If you have, this book will ring especially true for you. And if you haven’t, well, you’ll learn how frustrating it is! The emotional roller coaster is spot-on.

Everything about this story is totally charming, from the title to the very last sentence. I’m happy to report there are two companion novels that will follow, but in the meantime, if you buy one book this year, buy this one. I promise you won’t regret it.


Sammy Bina is in her last year of college, majoring in Creative Writing. Currently an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, she is taking a break from querying to work on a new project, a YA dystopian. You can find her on twitter, or check out her blog.

Book Recommendation: The Goose Girl

12 Dec

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

“She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days.”

I am a huge fan of fairytales; and an even bigger fan of fairytale retellings. And though I know I’m late to the party with Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl (which was originally published in 2003), I’m only sad that it took me so long to finally pick up this book. I absolutely adored this book; I loved every page of it! And I’ve already picked up the other books in The Books of Bayern series.

Based on the German fairytale of the same name, the story follows a young princess who is sent off by her mother to be married to a prince in another land, with her talking horse Falada and a waiting-maid accompanying her. The waiting-maid steals the identity of the Princess when they arrive in the new kingdom, and the real Princess is forced to become a Goose girl.

For those who aren’t familiar with the fairytale and don’t want the rest of the story spoiled, I’ll stop there. I actually started reading this book without knowing the actual fairytale it was based off of, and so I read it not knowing exactly how it would play out (which, of course, made certain key elements shocking and exciting). But even if you do know the fairytale, you’ll still be wonderfully surprised.

Want to know more about Shannon Hale’s retelling? Here’s a summary from Goodreads:

She was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue, a word she could not taste.

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt’s guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani’s journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her. Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.

From the Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original, and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can lead the people she has made her own.


Hale’s prose is wonderfully lyrical, which is hinted at in the summary from Goodreads above. Reading The Goose Girl, I couldn’t help but notice just how beautiful the words flowed together; and how smooth her dialogue and prose were. This is Hale’s greatest display of her craft – the easy way in which it seems she has placed perfectly-chosen words for the page. She is brilliant at it.

But that isn’t the only thing Hale does remarkably well. The story in The Goose Girl is also well-crafted, and thoroughly captivating. I didn’t want to put this book down – and every time I did, I couldn’t help but think of the world and the characters Hale had created. The world building in the first of the Books of Bayern series is fully realized. Full of lushly detailed settings, wonderfully different cultures, and a touch of magic, Shannon Hale has created a world that has quickly become one of my favourites.

Princess Ani is one of the most likeable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The meek young woman you meet at the beginning of the story (though a Crown Princess by title) doesn’t have the strength of one. But once a goose girl, Ani grows by leaps and bounds into a strong heroine. And it isn’t only Ani who is compelling – Geric is loveable, Selia is incredibly devious, and even Falada, Ani’s horse, will find a way to your heart.

And the magic! Absolutely wonderful; it is woven into the story perfectly. Hale has crafted a world of magical speech; of people-speaking, animal-speaking, and nature-speaking. And though she doesn’t posses the persuasive gift of people-speaking that her mother the Queen does, Ani’s own gifts will truly shine through in their own right.

If you love fantastic adventures in Medieval worlds with a strong heroine, you’ll love this book. Full of deception, intrigue, treason, and redemption (and a little bit of romance), this book was a wonderful read in so many ways. So pick it up; it’s definitely found its way to my favourites shelf, and I’m sure it’ll find it’s way onto yours.


Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Book Recommendation: Prophecy of the Sisters

17 Aug

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

“Perhaps because it seems so appropriate, I don’t notice the rain.”

Right from the first page, I fell in love with Lia Milthorpe’s voice. I think that – and Michelle Zink’s gorgeously lyrical prose – was my favourite thing about Prophecy of the Sisters.

Set in the late nineteenth century, the story has a very Gothic feel to it; there are some elements of horror and a hint of romance. And there are some incredibly creepy scenes; the atmosphere and setting that Zink creates is very eerie and spooky. The Victorian period, a time of great propriety, is a wonderful backdrop to the dark and sinister prophecy that places Lia and her twin sister Alice on opposing sides. For me, things are just that much more ominous involving two young women from this period; though they are expected by society to be innocent and virtuous, they are forced to be anything but.

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

An ancient prophecy divides two sisters.

One good. One evil.

Only one will prevail…

Sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe and her twin sister Alice have just become orphans, and, as Lia discovers, they have also become enemies. The twins are part of an ancient prophecy that has turned generations of sisters against each other. To escape from a dark fate and to remain in the arms of her beloved boyfriend James, Lia must end the prophecy before her sister does. Only then will she understand the mysterious circumstances of her parents’ deaths, the true meaning of the strange mark branded on her wrist, and the lengths to which her sister will go to defeat her.

Debut novelist Michelle Zink takes readers on an unforgettable journey where one sister’s fateful decision could have an impact of Biblical proportions. Prophecy of the Sisters is the first of three books.


The story and plot is wonderfully mysterious right from the beginning with the dark and vivid funeral scene . After her father mysteriously dies, Amalia discovers a mysterious mark on her wrist; one that, with each passing day, becomes clearer and much more prominent. As Lia begins to uncover the ancient secrets and mysteries surrounding her, she finds herself at the center of a centuries-old prophecy pitting her against her twin sister, Alice. Forced to battle their own destinies, which are so clearly laid out for them, Alice and Lia are also forced to fight against each other  for the future they want. For one sister, the prophecy is a curse; a burden that weighs heavily on her life, as well as the lives of those she loves. For the other sister, it is a calling; and a birthright.

The middle slows down quite a bit, but it is the beauty of Zink’s prose that will keep you enthralled. I found myself figuring certain things out before Lia did, but I was so engrossed in the story and in her character that it didn’t really bother me that much. There is very little action, but there is so much suspense and tension in this book that you won’t be bored. I for one could not put this book down; I would find myself catching my breath in horror, and could not stop turning the pages. The end becomes a whirlwind that will leave you breathless; and the extent that Alice falls into her role as the “evil” sister will horrify you.

One thing I wish there could’ve been more of is Alice. Her character is so wonderfully ambiguous; in fact, there are moments where you feel that she isn’t wholly bad, and others where you’re convinced that she is truly evil. She is a character that confuses me, but her role as both sister and antagonist make for a very interesting and conflicting individual; and it makes for an even more interesting relationship between her and her twin. Her loyalty leans more to one side than the other, and it seems that she might grow into an even more sinister character as time goes on. Being the first book of a trilogy, though, I’m sure that we’ll be seeing more of Alice in the next two books. Her character is just so wonderfully obscure that I could not help but be intrigued by her. Zink, with the two sisters, has created an extraordinarily mature relationship in its complexity.

The romance (or lack thereof) actually suited the book. It is never heavy-handed (like a lot of YA these days); instead, you get to see Lia get so wrapped up in the prophecy that she begins to neglect James, the one she loves. In Prophecy of the Sisters, Lia already has a relationship with James. So while the romance can add a bit of lightness to a very moody and dark story, the romance also serves another purpose. In Lia’s quest to discover the meaning of the prophecy, you see her move further away from James, and from the comfort that had once been their relationship. You see the cost of hiding secrets from another person, and how it affects not only one’s self, but those closest to them. And I thought that was brilliant on Zink’s part.

If you enjoyed Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty (and the rest of the Gemma Doyle trilogy), then you’ll love Prophecy of the Sisters. While there are a lot of elements that are similar, they are definitely very different stories. Zink’s debut novel is a wonderful fantasy intertwined with mythology that is dark, twisted, and hauntingly beautiful. It will leave you feeling shocked – and wanting more. And while the prose, plot, and setting is much stronger than the characters, there is no doubt that they are still well-written and wonderfully flawed. I immediately went out and bought the sequel, Guardian of the Gate, which came out earlier this month. And you can be sure that it will be the next book I read. So pick it up; you will fall in love.


Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.