Tag Archives: Scholastic

Book Recommendation: StarCrossed

24 Feb

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“I couldn’t think. My chest hurt from running, and I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place.”

Thieves are awesome. If you’ve read Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief (which you really should read), or loved Aladdin, or adored “Flynn Rider” from Disney’s Tangled (which you really should watch), or are charmed by the prince in The Prince of Persia games (which you really should play) or enjoyed books by Tamora Pierce (there are a few thieves in her worlds, like George Cooper from the Alanna series), then you probably know what I’m talking about.

I love thieves. Somehow, when they end up in a story (be it in a book, or a movie, or a video game), they end up stealing my heart (ahaha, sorry… I couldn’t help myself).

Elizabeth C. Bunce’s new YA novel, StarCrossed, doesn’t have a title that sounds like a story centered around a thief; it sounds more like a Romeo & Juliet type of story, with star-crossed lovers and tragic endings. But Bunce’s novel is full of courtly politics, intrigue, deception, rebellion, forbidden magic, and quite a bit of stealing and sneaking.

Want to know more? (Of course you want to know more!) Here’s the summary I swiped from Goodreads:

Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Gerse, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the city, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so. Accepted as a lady’s maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold–as well as plenty of jewels for the taking. But after the devious Lord Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes that her noble hosts aren’t as apolitical as she thought… that indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion.

~~~

See? Rebellion! Spys! Dead lovers! How can you not want to read that? But as exciting as that is, there is so much more to this novel.

First, the world-building is phenomenal. Set in a land full of political intrigue and danger, Digger’s world is rife with numerous gods, multiple moons, religious wars, a frighteningly powerful Inquisition, and castles with secret passageways. And the magic! It adds to the secrecy surrounding Digger and the others.

Unfortunately, the story begins with a few too many characters (some of whom never make another appearance, though I imagine they might play a larger role in the sequel) and a few too many coincidences that just don’t feel right. The way Digger is able to escape the city with a group of nobs (nobles), or the way she easily becomes a lady’s maid – even though the nobles around her know nothing about her – comes off a bit heavy handed. But if you can look past the awkwardly contrived beginning, the story really fills out into an epic adventure with compelling characters. I, for one, am incredibly glad I was able to look past it and just get swept up in the rest of the story.

Bunce is wonderfully talented at creating multi-dimensional characters- and Digger is a wonderful protagonist. Though truth be told, there were times where I felt her character fell flat in comparison to other characters, but midway through the novel, Digger really starts to shine.  What I really enjoyed was how unreliable a narrator she is – how she keeps things from even us, the reader. It makes for some great twists and delightful surprises. She is talented, resourceful, and wonderfully independent. Her curiosity gets the better of her, as does her greed – which makes her a wonderfully flawed character. Digger is definitely not perfect. And though at times I felt frustrated and a bit confused by her wavering loyalties, by the end I was completely endeared to her. And her lack of loyalty is justified – being a thief, she knows firsthand just how devious people can be.

Merista is another well-written character. The daughter of the wealthy noble family who has taken Digger in at Bryn Shaer has one of the most gratifying coming-of-age arcs. Beginning as a girl who doesn’t even seem comfortable around herself let alone around her estranged (but loving) parents, Merista blossoms into a strong women capable of taking things into her own hands. From a meek little girl she becomes a proud young woman.

I could probably go on about all of Bunce’s characters. One of my favourites appears halfway through the novel – but to avoid spoilers, I won’t start naming names! Suffice it to say, he’s a character worth the wait. And he brings out a side of Digger that makes her even more compelling.

The plot is intricate and full of twists and turns. And while the first half of the book doesn’t have much action (and instead focuses on building the tension and suspense, and developing the characters), the second half truly delivers all the action you could want. The buildup is definitely worth the wait.

The first in a trilogy, StarCrossed is a wonderful read. From the wonderfully detailed settings and lush descriptions, to the bright characters and suspenseful plot, it is definitely a must-read. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Liar’s Moon! Fans of Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner won’t be able to put this magical book down.

~~~

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 RIFT, a YA fantasy novel, and a Children’s non-fiction series. She also blogs about all things geeky at Something Geeky.

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Plain Kate / Erin Bow Blog Tour: Interview and Plain Kate Giveaway!

19 Sep

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

~~~

As you all probably know, I absolutely loved Erin Bow’s YA novel, Plain Kate (which again, I highly recommend!).

Today, we’re the third stop in Erin Bow’s blog tour – and we even have a copy of Plain Kate to giveaway, courtesy of Scholastic Canada.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Bow, and I must say, I am INCREDIBLY excited to share her answers with you! For those of you who don’t know her, Erin Bow is the author of two books of poetry and a memoir (published under her maiden name, Erin Noteboom) – and Plain Kate is her first novel. She also studied particle physics and worked briefly at CERN (European Centre for Nuclear Research), but left in order to pursue her passion for writing. And she’s  married to YA novelist James Bow.

For those who aren’t familiar with Plain Kate (or just need a refresher), here’s the description from Goodreads:

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.

If you want to know more about Plain Kate, check out my review for it here. And now, onto the interview!

~~~

Vanessa Hi Erin! Thanks so much for joining us. Plain Kate, your first novel, draws a lot from Russian folklore. Does it draw from any one in particular? What was it about Russian folklore that inspired you to write Plain Kate?

Erin Bow: Right before the beginning of PLAIN KATE came to me, I read this huge collection of Russian fairy tales.  I love fairy tales and I thought I knew them, but the Russian ones blew me away.   They’re full of white nights and strange transformations, villains that read as tragic heros, doomed heros that still stand tall.  When I read the Grimm fairy tales, they often seem familiar, as if you’ve heard them or part of them, as if you’ve been to that Kingdom.  The Russian tales aren’t like that.  They come from just over the edge of the map; they are wilder and darker.

There’s no one tale being retold in Plain Kate.  In fact the only thing explicitly Russian in the final draft is a rusalka — a sort of vampiric ghost — and the setting is more Eastern European than anything.  Still,  I hope I got some of that wildness and darkness, some of that sad triumph.

V: It took you six years to write Plain Kate. Did the story change drastically over time?

EB: Oh, yes. I remember having vague ideas about Linay going to see a king to have a wish granted, and Kate having to stop him with some heroic act of carving, such as making a statue of the King’s dead son. There was this bit of magic, you see, where if you could make the king cry he would grant you a wish, but he was rather mad and didn’t cry, and Linay needed Kate’s shadow to weave into his violin to make his music sad, but Kate’s carving trumped that by getting at the root of the king’s madness: grief.

Well.  It’s not a bad story, but you can see that I didn’t exactly have it flushed out.  And in the end, none of that turned out to be right: there was no King, and it was Linay that was mad.  This is often the way with me: I have only the vaguest notion of where I’m going, and I usually turn out to be wrong.

Even in this iteration of the story – the Roamers, the fog, the rusalka, the journey to Lov — I went through four different versions of the ending before settling on this one.  In fact I sold this book to Scholastic with a radically different ending.  Thank heavens my editor called me out on it.

V: You’ve said on your site that of all writing, you like poetry and children’s stories best; that, “they have in common mindfulness about the magic of language”. Why do you think most stories for adults lack that magic of language?

EB: As a reader, I like YA best, but I also do read a lot of literary fiction for adults.  I am often disappointed with it in a particular way.

If a piece of writing is magic, is a spell, then too much literary fiction is a spell that does nothing.  It gives us exquisite characters, wonderful prose — and then no story.  You get to the end of a book and think: that was beautiful, but what was the point of it?  The individual words have  this tremendous power but the spell as a whole just fizzles away.

In a YA book you can’t get away with that.  Young readers know all about potential and many secretly dread that growing up means fizzling away.   So they won’t put up with it in their books.  A YA novel will, therefore, never be a spell that does nothing.   The spell may not come off, it may blow up in the author’s face, but it won’t do nothing.

I also think young readers — along with poetry readers — are more willing to fall under the spell of a book than the average adult reader.  Think about it:  is there any book we love like the books we love as children?

V: What are some of your favourite children’s stories?

EB: For children — as opposed to tweens and teens — I love E.B. White’s stuff.  Trumpet of the Swan was my favourite book when I was eight or ten; it’s about a mute trumpeter swan named Louis (that went right over my head) whose father steals him an actual trumpet.  Now I like Charlotte’s Web better.  It’s got one of the great opening lines in fiction:  “What’s Pa going with that axe?”

I could name many more books, but E.B. WHite has a special place in my heart.  I loved him as a kid, and I still love him now.   He tells wonderful, deeply human and humane stories with his animal characters.   Yet he doesn’t write down to kids the way, say, C.S. Lewis sometimes did. As a kid, you just know it’s a magical, wonderful story.  As an adult you can read it aloud and marvel at the rhythmic beauty of the sentences.

V: Taggle was my favourite character in Plain Kate; he made me laugh, he made me cry, and he had a wonderful personality. How did his character come to be? Was he your favourite character to write?

EB: From the moment I wrote the first sentence, I knew PLAIN KATE contained a talking cat. I really don’t know where characters come from; they seem to be gifts from some great giver.

Taggle got away from me, though.  He was meant to be a sidekick, but he grabbed himself a character arc, and made a pretty good bid at being the hero.  There’s a scene in the middle where he tells Kate “I can’t cry,” and then cries, that made me cry too:  I could suddenly see all the possibilities for where he was heading.

And, yes, Taggle was my favourite character to write.  He’s so honest, and everything he does is so outsized.   He was break from writing the small, subtle reactions of dear Kate, the hidden ones of Linay.  And his body language was fun to do — I got to spend time watching cats and consider it part of my job.

V: Who was the most difficult character to write, and why?

EB: Kate herself was the hardest to write, because  when she feels things strongly — particularly if she’s angry or afraid — she shuts down.  The more she feels, the less she shows.  That’s tricky to portray on the page.   Just when your editor wants you to ramp things up, the character wants to harden herself away.  Then the editor writes “but what is she feeling?” in the margin, and you want to say, “she doesn’t know, and if she did she wouldn’t tell you.”  But you have to find a way to show it anyway.

V: What are you reading right now?

EB: I am reading NICKLE AND DIMED, a non-fiction book about living on near-minimum wage.  I want to read STARCROSSED or THE REPLACEMENT or MOCKINGJAY next!

V: Last question! What are you working on now? Can you share a bit?

EB: I’ve been telling everyone on the internet about SORROW’S KNOT, my work in progress that’s almost done.  Would you like to hear about THE TELEPORTATION OF GILBERT PEREZ instead?  I’m just getting started on it.  Here’s the first page.

On October 24, 1593, a young soldier named Gilbert Perez was found wandering dazed in the Plaza Mayor in Mexico City. On being told where he was, he insisted that he had just been on sentry duty in the governor’s palace in Manila ― and indeed he was uniform of the Philippine regiment — and offered the news that the governor had just been murdered.
He was arrested for desertion and on suspicion of witchcraft.
It’s in the history books.  Look it up.
***
About all that’s left of me — of the boy who staggered beside the ruins of the serpent wall  in the blinding sun, covered in blood, clutching his head – is the boots.  They just don’t make boots like they used to.  These days it’s all steel reinforced toes and orthopediac arch support.  Give me cross-bound leather any day.  And dye it red.
Blue jeans, now, blue jeans I’ll take.
And the name, Gil.  I’ve tried to hold onto that.

(It really is in the history books.  Look it up.)

V: I definitely will be looking that up in the history books! Thanks so much, Erin!

~~~

Giveaway Details:

Want to win a copy of Plain Kate? Here’s the scoop:

Contest is open to Canadian residents only (sorry all you non-Canucks!), and will be shipped directly from the publisher (much ❤ to Scholastic!).

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment with your thoughts on the interview.

For extra entries, you can do any (or all!) of the following:

+1 for following LTWF on Twitter (add your twitter name to your comment so I know you’re following)
+2 for commenting on my review of Plain Kate
+1 for following Erin Bow (@erinbowbooks) on Twitter (let us know if you do)
+1 for following Scholastic Canada (@scholasticCDA) on Twitter (let us know if you do)
+1 for being a fan of LTWF on Facebook
+2 for following this blog – (if you don’t, just subscribe to us with your email!)
+1 for sharing this contest on Twitter – (please provide the link of your tweet in the comments)
+2 for sharing this contest on your blog – just be sure to leave a link (so that we know who you are, and how you’re sharing it!)

There are 12 entries in total. Don’t forget to leave a comment with your thoughts on the interview, otherwise your extra entries won’t count. And don’t forget to add your email so that we can contact you!

The contest ends at noon EST on Saturday, October 2nd. The winner will be picked using random.org, and will be announced on Sunday, October 3rd.

~~~

Blog Tour details:

In case you’re interested in following the blog tour (which I suggest you do!), here is a list of all the stops (including past ones and those upcoming):

September 17th:
http://eoseventeen.blogspot.com/

September 18th:
http://www.blogger.com/www.yabookshelf.com

September 20th:
http://www.lil-library.blogspot.com/
http://www.lavenderlines.wordpress.com/

September 21st:
http://www.21pages.x10hosting.com/
http://www.bellasbookshelves.wordpress.com/

September 22nd:
http://www.todays-adventure.com/

September 23rd:
http://www.themoodyteenager.blogspot.com/

September 24th:
http://www.maybe-tomorrow.net/
http://www.shelfelf.wordpress.com/

~~~

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.

Book Recommendation: Plain Kate

7 Sep

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate.”

Katerina Svetlana is anything but plain. Though she is thin like a stick, she has two different coloured eyes – but that isn’t what is remarkable about her. What is remarkable is that Plain Kate is a skilled carver. And she is shadowless.

This is the type of story that will leave you with chills. It will make you smile, and even laugh; it will make you shiver in horror and shake with anger; and it will break your heart. And even after your heart has mended, this is the type of story that will stay with you.

And as if this cover isn’t gorgeous enough to pique your interest, here’s the wonderful description from Goodreads:

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.

~

Drawing on Russian folklore, the story immerses you in a world full of culture and depth and language. A world where magic is an exchange of gifts, and where witches are unable to tell lies; where suspicions run deep, and traditions clash. A world of gypsy-like people called Roamers, traveling caravans, and rusalkas. It is a wonderfully realized world that Erin Bow has created; and she has done it very well.

The story’s prose is deceivingly simple; and strangely lyrical. It is not overwritten; but you will find moments of beautiful poetry hidden there. Bow weaves her words with such skill that it will leave you hungry for more. Her imagery is vivid, her descriptions clear, and her storytelling absolutely brilliant.

But what is perhaps Bow’s greatest strength are her characters. They are complex (like everything else in the story), and Bow does not hold back. The characters are charming and likable and incredibly sympathetic: you’ll find yourself rooting for them. And they are all distinctly different. Strong and memorable, Plain Kate Carver herself is outdone by her cat Taggle (who steals the show). His character is wonderful; funny and playful, serious and sarcastic. He is as haughty and self-loving as a lord. But the amount of growth one little cat was able to achieve in so few pages is remarkable. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone who reads this book will fall in love with him.

But Kate is also a joy to read. Though many things happen to her, instead of because of her, she is still a strong character. With folklore and legend, often the hero has no choice. And so in keeping with the spirit of folklore, Kate is a character who has things happen to her; things that are often beyond her control. But she still holds on and fights as much as she can, even though she is not a strong warrior. She is not in possession of any dangerous magic, or otherworldly strength; she is simply skilled at carving. But it is the strength of her heart that really shines through in the end. She is a character who is truly worthy of finding happiness; and you will pray with all your might that she does eventually find it.

Bow’s villains are also beautifully portrayed. They are not wholly evil, and as such are incredibly sympathetic; you will find yourself pitying Linay, and many others who do wrong. For these are character who are driven to do bad things, though they themselves are not evil; it is through fear, or hurt, or anger, or pain that they choose to harm. In my opinion, Bow has created some of the best villains; they are complex and heartbreaking, and so well crafted.

Even Arthur A. Levine couldn’t help but say good things about Plain Kate. Here’s what he had to say in Publisher’s Weekly:

I’ve been sent a lot of fantasy, some of it quite good. But it’s very rare for a book to stand out for me the way Plain Kate did.”

Levine said Bow’s prose has the “lyrical strength and classic proportions” of master writers. “She is a truly original talent,” Levine said, evidenced by a “breathless e-mail” he got from an associate at the most recent London Book Fair who said Printz Award winner Meg Rosoff had read Plain Kate and couldn’t stop raving about it.

Plain Kate is dark, sorrowful, and haunting; it will pull on your heart-strings and tear at your chest. But it is also full of hope, and joy, and love; you will find yourself smiling in delight. There is death, there is blood; and there is life and laughter. She explores the complexities of relationships and the gray area between right and wrong. And Bow excels at portraying both the light and the dark with such depth that it will leaving you reeling even after you’ve turned the last page of the book. It is a bittersweet story of family and friendship and belonging. Plain Kate reads like an old tale: like folklore. And it is a wonder to behold.

I highly recommend this book; it is as chilling and complex as Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and is so full of heart. In fact, it’s become one of my favourite books ever. I cried so many times; honestly, I thought a piece of my heart broke. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. This story touched me, and I know it’s one I’m not likely to forget. If Kate doesn’t capture your heart, then Taggle surely will. Definitely put this on your list; you won’t regret it.

~~~

Book received from Publisher

~~~

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.

Book Recommendation: A Spoiler-Free Book Review of Mockingjay

5 Sep

By Sammy Bina & Vanessa Di Gregorio

~~~

As you probably all know, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on the last installment of the Hunger Games trilogy. And we must say, it was worth the wait! Perhaps we didn’t love it as we loved The Hunger Games (though the jury’s still out on that one, in Sammy’s case); but there’s no doubt about how good a read it is. Now, in order not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, we will be as vague as humanly possible.

So here’s our vague summary: Some stuff happens (some of it quite epic). Some people die. There’s a climax and a conclusion. And you will laugh, and you will cry. The end!

But in all seriousness, what is so brilliant about Mockingjay is the way it resolves many of the series’ conflicts; and there are a lot of conflicts. In this novel, we find the Capitol once again at odds with the Districts, find Katniss fighting with almost everyone, and we see Katniss, Gale, and Peeta all struggling with themselves and each other. The most notable aspect of this novel is how it leaves you thinking about the horror that is war; and its consequences. Katniss and her friends aren’t spared from this cruelty, and deaths (which there are many of) occur quickly and furiously. We would find ourselves stopping to try and absorb what was happening, as the pacing during the action-heavy scenes is rather quick. However, we found that it worked really well and was far more realistic than if Collins had stopped to dwell on each and every individual death. Because in war, you lose friends, and you lose them quickly. You don’t have time to stop and think because thinking is what could get you killed, and by using that same tactic in the book it was, we felt, far more brutal and painful.

However, the book (which is spilt up into three parts) lacks the same urgency that is felt in the previous two titles of the trilogy. The story begins slowly, with Katniss absorbing everything that has happened since (and there’s a lot). And as the bits and pieces fall into place, we’re faced with a relatively slower pace for the first half of the book. Considering how Catching Fire ended, we had assumed that this book would start off in medias res. But while it doesn’t start off with a furious pacing, it does certainly end off with one. And if the book had started off where Katniss just hit the ground running, it probably would have been a much less effective opening. So much transpired during the first two books, especially at the end of Catching Fire, so it seems fitting to give Katniss some time to think things through (and there is a lot to think about!).

Peeta was by far the greatest surprise for us. His character is wonderfully explored in ways not seen in the previous books. He changes from the sweet, optimistic son of a baker to a scarred and brooding shell of a man. In some ways, Peeta has endured even more than Katniss, and everything that he has experienced up until now has really brought out a new side in him that, at times, can be really hard to handle. Because the books are told from Katniss’s point of view, sometimes it can be challenging to really get into the heads of other characters, but we believe Peeta was really challenged and explored in this last enstallment, and really rounded out an already beloved character. We may even like him better after this book, if that was at all possible.

Another aspect of the series that is really explored is the idea of good versus evil; which side, if any, is the enemy. Up until this point in the trilogy, we were led to believe that the Capitol was the root of all evil, but what if that wasn’t the case? Corruption exists everywhere, not just within the confines of the Capitol, and the way Collins portrays both sides is wonderful; neither the Captiol nor the rebels are perfect. She also does an excellent job instilling doubt in both her characters as well as her readers. If the supposed “good guys” aren’t always so good, what does that say about the “bad guys?” It’s really left up to the reader to decide which side they ultimately believe in.

The story is shocking, thought-provoking, and original. What we would’ve loved, though, was being able to see what was happening, instead of being told. There are a lot of blackouts in this novel which, sadly, means that we are told of events after the fact. And while it’s understandable to use one or two, it happened enough that it began to take away from the urgency of the later half of the book. We felt like a lot of the tension was lost each time Katniss woke up and was told what had happened while she was unconscious. Some of it was pretty intense, and it would’ve been really nice to have seen Katniss in those situations, rather than knocked out and on the sidelines.

There is also a lot of explaining; perhaps a bit too much at times. The Hanging Tree song was explained at great length as Katniss remembers the significance of the song. It felt a bit too much; we certainly didn’t need to be told what it was about for over a page, and we’re sure younger readers would have understood it as well. But we certainly can’t say Collins doesn’t trust her readers to understand complex ideas or issues, because this trilogy is full of it; Mockingjay especially. Which is one of the reasons why this series is so good.

We did love that the romance wasn’t so blaringly obvious in this book; in fact, there wasn’t really much romance at all. With everything going on, Katniss didn’t have time to think about whether or not she’d rather be making out with Gale or Peeta. Everything about the romance was very toned down and simplified, and really worked to keep the tension surrounding the revolution very immediate. The little romance that is in the book doesn’t take away from the trilogy’s overall theme and message. Some readers will definitely be disappointed by the lack of romance, but we felt that it worked incredibly well with the overall story/series arc. It would’ve ruined the book if it had been included more.

And that ending! It is bittersweet and haunting, and includes an epilogue that actually works. Though the epilogue might not be necessary, it ends the trilogy with an absolutely wonderful visual; one of hope. After everything that has happened to Katniss, the ending was perfect.

All that being said, Mockingjay is a must-read; especially if you’ve read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Collins has written a wonderful story featuring a remarkably strong heroine who suffers through heartbreak, hunger, and the horrors of war. It is gripping, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful; and not at all what you will have predicted. If you haven’t picked up this book (or this trilogy, for that matter), you are missing out! So, we definitely recommend you read this.

Actually, we insist.

~~~

For our thoughts on Mockingjay with spoilers, check out the transcript from our live chat here.

~~~

Sammy Bina is a 5th year senior who just completed her Creative Writing degree. She is currently querying her adult dystopian romance, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, and is working on two new YA projects. She is an intern at the Elaine P. English Literary Agency in Washington DC. You can follow her on twitter or at her blog.


 

 

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.

Mockingjay Live Chat

30 Aug

ETA: The chat was awesome, guys. A big thanks to everyone who dropped by. We’re exhausted (hey, we fought an actual Hunger Games during the chat! You’ll have to check out the transcript to see who won), but incredibly happy to have had the opportunity to chat with you guys.

Okay guys, here’s the link to enter the chat tonight. You won’t see much if you click on it now, but you will be given the option to enter your email for a reminder, so that’s pretty cool!

Either way, remember to come back at 9pm EST for the chat! We can’t wait to speak with you all.

Click Here to enter the chat!

Book Recommendation: Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper

29 Aug

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

I love graphic novels; I always have. And I’ve been a long-time fan of Kazu Kibuishi (who is married to Amy Kim Ganter, whom I’ve also been a long-time fan of). So it made sense that I would one day pick up his middle grade graphic novel series, Amulet.

To be honest, I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick this up. The first time I saw the cover for Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper, I knew I wanted it . Actually, scratch that; the first time I heard about it, before it was published, I knew I wanted it. The only thing I really regret is waiting so long to pick this graphic novel up. You’ll be hooked after the first few pages, and Kibuishi’s art is absolutely lovely. The colours are vivid, the settings are breathtaking, and the creatures are wonderfully designed.

Though you can tell while reading that this graphic novel series is for children, chances are you’ll probably still enjoy it!

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

After a family tragedy, Emily, Navin, and their mother move to an old ancestral home to start a new life. On the family’s very first night in the mysterious house, a strange noise lures them into the basement, where Em and Navin’s mom is kidnapped by a humongous, tentacled creature and dragged down behind the basement door.

The kids give chase down a twisty spiral stairway and find themselves in a strange and magical world below. Most surprising of all, it seems that their great-grandfather, who was an inventor and puzzle maker, was there before them – and he’s left some unfinished business.

Now it’s up to Em and Navin to figure out how to set things right and save their mother’s life!

~~~

If you’ve ever read The Spiderwick series, you might find a few similarities; especially with the kids moving to an old, mysterious house that used to belong to an equally mysterious relative. And if you read a lot of fantasy like I do, then the story for Book 1 will be a bit familiar, playing on a lot of similar ideas and archetypes.  But similarities aside, Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper, is a wonderful read. Though older readers will find the story a bit predictable, I could not put this graphic novel down; and after finishing, immediately picked up Book 2. The plot is fast-paced and builds up steadily, with multiple series of adventures Em and Navin are forced to overcome in order to save their mother. There is tons of action; and Kibuishi is amazing when it comes to action packed scenes.

Like all good fantasies, The Stonekeeper introduces you to a world that has been wonderfully imagined; and gorgeously visualized. I found myself taking in all the wonderful details in Kibuishi’s artwork: the colours set the tone, as do the settings; and not once was I bored of the artwork. And his world is such a wonderful combination: it is fantasy, and steampunk, and sci-fi, all wrapped up into one fantastically realized world. I mean, robots and elves and monsters and giant mechs? How can you go wrong?

Em and Navin are well-written (and well-drawn) characters. They are complex and strong, in their own ways. They aren’t perfect, which makes them wonderfully realistic. Em seems like any other young girl you might meet, albeit a girl who is a natural born leader. She doesn’t want to live in the new house, says things that can be hurtful, and often is a wonderful contradiction (without being all over the place). Though she is brave, she is also at times frightened. Navin, though young, is a quick learner who is immensely curious. He is often much more optimistic than his older sister, but you can see the chips in his armor every now and then. Being the first book in the series, I know that they will only continue to grow into even more complex and enjoyable characters; and I look forward to seeing it.

Kibuishi has also changed the way one thinks of elves. His elves are not your usual elves, who are extremely tall and thin, with long blonde hair and gorgeous features. They do not live in the woods. His elves are ugly, frightening creatures. They are bad tempered, oppressive, and industrial; nature is not their home. In fact, his elves are so wonderfully not what you’d imagine; and are far more complex than just being the “bad” guys. One elf in particular, Trellis, is one of my favourite antagonists; he is a character who grows as the series progresses. And you will find him to be an incredibly complex and haunting character.

If that doesn’t sound exciting enough, note the influences Kazu Kibuishi lists in his interview with The National Post for Amulet:

“One of my biggest goals in life was to create a great fantasy graphic novel series in the vein of Bone by Jeff Smith and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki. It was one of those things I just wanted to do just to do it, like climbing a mountain. As I began writing the book, the focus began to shift more toward talking about family issues, like financial burdens and a person’s ties to their own ancestry. It was a place for me to discuss a lot of the stuff that was happening in my own family, and when I read it now, I can clearly see how close it is to my own life, minus the monsters and robots, of course…I’m influenced by so many films and filmmakers it would be hard to list them all! I can say, however, that Amulet was most inspired by films like E.T. and Star Wars, with dashes of Krystof Kieslowski’s Blue, John Carpenter films, the first two Alien films, and a whole lot of Hayao Miyazaki films.”

Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper is definitely a graphic novel I would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading comics, manga, or graphic novels. If you love MG and YA fiction and fantasy, then you’ll fall in love with the world Kibuishi has created, and the characters inhabiting it. It is a quick, fun, easy read that will leave you wanting more.  And if you’re still not convinced, check out the prologue for Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper here!

~~~

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.

Mockingjay Predictions

23 Aug

Eeee! MOCKINGJAY’s coming out tomorrow!!

We girls at Let The Words Flow are quite excited 😀 So much so, in fact, that we all decided to make predictions as to what’s going to happen in this final installment of Suzanne Collin’s epic trilogy.

Come chat with us as we count down the hours until MOCKINGJAY’s release. What do YOU think is going to happen?

One note: In case you haven’t heard, someone who got their hands on a copy has posted spoilers on the MOCKINGJAY Goodreads page. So please don’t visit it if you’d like to remain spoiler free! Also, if YOU have somehow already read the book, DO NOT put any spoilers in the comments. Kat will hunt you down with sharp, pointy things. 😀

Okay, on to the predictions…!

~*~

My prediction: Peeta is going to die in some ridiculous martyr-istic way to save Katniss (I only say “ridiculous” because Katniss will probably not want/need to be saved), and, in his last moments, encourage her to be with Gale. She will then be too shook up to actually be with Gale, and they’ll be really, really awkward for a while. Then book will end with them reuniting as friends but leave things open so there’s a possibility of them getting together romantically in the future…

And I will be angry…

Hm…there is also the possibility of this happening the other way ’round, with Gale dying. I know, I know. I’m a happy one, aren’t I? 😛

Oh, and Prim is going to play a much larger role. Maybe she’ll come up with an important plan or be sent on a mission or something. Either way, she’ll prove herself just as strong and resourceful as her sister 🙂

~Kat

~*~

I predict that Gale will become a leader in the coming revolution. He has those natural skills of understanding and predicting prey, right?
Peeta and Katniss will also get involved, and Katniss will have “romantic moments” with both of them, confusing her more but also giving both boys the feeling that they are her choice.

Then, in the final battle that crushes the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen will be killed, probably in some noble sacrificial gesture. The “Girl on Fire” who sparked a revolution will become a martyr to the cause of freedom she came to represent. Yes. I predict… Katniss… Will… Die.

RIP, Katniss Everdeen. “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Now, now… Here’s looking at you kid.” (Casablanca, 1942)

OR!!!… maybe both Peeta and Gale will die and she’ll end up with Cinna??? I LOVE Cinna. The trick he pulled with the wedding-dress-turned-mockingjay-costume was the bravest thing a guy has done in the books so far. I like Peeta and Gale, but I guess I’m really Team Cinna. 😉

~Julie

~*~

I don’t want to make any predictions, because I get too depressed and scared every time i think about all of the possible ways it could go down, and none of them are very happy. Someone’s gonna die–and it’s going to break me. I’m bracing for the worst possible scenario, and I may or may not have bought a box of tissues this weekend in anticipation of crying my eyes out.

In the end, I’m Team Katniss, and I’m all for her ending up with whoever makes her happy, whether that be Gale, Peeta, or Haymitch.

~Sarah

~*~

I’m predicting a whole lot of epic action, quite a bit of romance, and definitely a few deaths – particularly, the deaths of Gale and Haymitch. The fight against the Capitol will not go easy, and many lives will be lost. I think Katniss will be unsure of herself as a leader of the revolution, and Gale will be the one to help her – and will ultimately sacrifice himself to save her once the battle between the district’s and the Capitol begin. Katniss will then be faced with the choice to spare or destroy everyone from the Captiol – and will choose to spare them (remembering people like Cinna as proof of their ability to be good).

And I’m not predicting Gale will die because I’m Team Peeta – I just think that the loss of such a close childhood friend (who also happens to be quite the risk-taker and revolutionist) will be absolutely heart-breaking – especially with her feelings being so conflicted. Peeta may lose a limb, though.

~Vanessa

~*~

I think we’ll finally get quality Gale time! Even if it involves spending a lot of time helping to run a rebellion, like Han and Leia (now I’m thinking of Gale as a young, darker-haired Harrison Ford). This makes Peeta Luke so, eventually he’ll realize he really loves Katniss like a sister and all that kissing was just a bit misplaced and they’ll laugh it off and it’ll all be ok in spite of the way they were lusting after each other earlier.

Anyway–Peeta’s been trying to die for Katniss for two books and during whatever raid or battle they have to save him, I think he’s finally going to kick the bucket, tragically. He’s too good to live and I will be angry when it makes me cry like a little girl. But really, I think it’s up in the air. If all three members of the love triangle do survive there really has to be a massacre of the secondary characters, like Haymitch and Fennick. I wouldn’t mind if Effie died too.

~Jenn

~*~

Well, I’m totally Team Peeta, so any outcome that benefits him is one I would like.

However, with an epic trilogy like this one, obviously main characters are going to die. I LOVE Cinna, but I have a feeling he may already be dead. And I think Haymitch is going to redeem himself for some of his less noble actions and sacrifice himself for the rebellion. Gale’s probably going to die, too. Either that, or come ridiculously close. And realize Katniss is nothing more than a sister to him. Because that’s obviously how it should go!

But we have to remember this story is ultimately about Katniss. I don’t think she’ll die (though, like Gale, she may come close), but she may do quite a few reckless things in order to save those she loves. Who knows – maybe her sister and/or mother will really step up and help run the rebellion! I think that’s something I’d really like to see.

And while I fully support Peeta/Katniss, I think that, in the end, Katniss is going to end up alone. If both Peeta and Gale survive, she might not be able to choose. And if one of them dies, she may not be able to get over it enough to let the other fully into her heart. But she’s a strong woman, and I think, ultimately, whatever happens for her romantically will be best.

As long as she doesn’t end up with Gale, of course!

~Sammy

~*~

So? Agree with us? Think we’re absolutely bonkers? Let us know what YOUR predictions are!

Book Recommendation: Stolen

3 Jul

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

~~~

“You saw me before I saw you.”

Imagine being taken, and then finding yourself one day suddenly stuck in the middle of the Australian desert. No matter where you look, there is nothing; no people, no real landmarks, and no escape. How do you survive? Even if you run, where will you go? This is what Stolen deals with; a girl who is kidnapped and faced with the frighteningly alien landscape that is Australia’s outback. It alters the definition of what it means to be trapped.

When I first heard of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, I was instantly intrigued. I really have to thank my friend over at Scholastic for introducing this book to me. Its cover is so simple, and the back blurb doesn’t do this book justice; if I had seen it at a bookstore, I’m not sure I would’ve picked it up. But all she had to say were the words “Stockholm Syndrome” and “kidnap”, and I was interested. I don’t want to ruin too much, so I’ll avoid talking about things in too much detail.

Here’s the description from Goodreads about our Book of the Month pick for July:

Sixteen year old Gemma is kidnapped from Bangkok airport and taken to the Australian Outback. This wild and desolate landscape becomes almost a character in the book, so vividly is it described. Ty, her captor, is no stereotype. He is young, fit and completely gorgeous. This new life in the wilderness has been years in the planning. He loves only her, wants only her. Under the hot glare of the Australian sun, cut off from the world outside, can the force of his love make Gemma love him back? The story takes the form of a letter, written by Gemma to Ty, reflecting on those strange and disturbing months in the outback. Months when the lines between love and obsession, and love and dependency, blur until they don’t exist – almost.

~~

I know the reaction some people have had after reading the various blurbs about this story. Some think this book sounds anti-feminist and disgusting. But here’s the thing: Stockholm Syndrome exists. People who are kidnapped for long periods of time often develop it, and for whatever reason, they end up forming a bond with their captor. There are various reasons as to why this probably happens; but I for one have always been fascinated behind the psychology of it. Does Lucy Christopher glorify it? No. She explores this topic with such heartbreak and confusion and despair and wonder; with so much depth and maturity and seriousness that it will leave one feeling breathless.

Stolen’s prose is beautiful. Written as a letter to her captor, the story still bears all the tension as if this wasn’t something Gemma was looking back and reflecting upon. And yet, there is such surreal beauty that comes from the landscape that is the Australian outback. If anything is glorified, it is that; the beauty of the natural wilderness.

And something strange happens while you read; you find yourself feeling attachment to the landscape, and to Ty, the captor. Christopher is able to make us, the reader, feel all the conflicting emotions that Gemma herself feels. We know what he has done is wrong, and yet you’ll find yourself sympathizing with him, even if you don’t want to. It is the skill of her craft that will leave you feeling the effects of Stockholm Syndrome. And that is the beauty of her prose; it is lyrical and paints such a clear portrait of the red-brown sand that is the Australian wilderness; and it also conveys so much emotion, and creates these characters that are hauntingly sympathetic.

The characters really make Stolen so great; Gemma and Ty, and even the landscape, are brilliantly explored. Gemma is a real sixteen year old; she is frightened, and tense, and alone except for Ty. Her voice is so clear, and so compelling; by the end of the book, you feel as if you are in her head. Even though she is faced with such hopelessness, there is a will there; a fire that won’t burn out. Her defiance often leads to even more problems. She struggles with trying to accept what has happened, and refusing to allow it to continue. Ty is equally as great a character as Gemma. He is frightening yet calming, angry yet hostile, a stranger yet familiar. He is contradictory, and flawed, and delusional. And yet you can’t deny the intense love he holds for Gemma; the confusion that also eats away at him at times. He is older than Gemma, and yet so much a child. And, most brilliantly of all, he will confuse and sway you back and forth between love and hate.

Christopher’s description of the outback will stun you; I always felt as if I were under that beating sun, sweltering in the heat and whipped by the red sand that surrounds Gemma and Ty for miles on end. This landscape is the perfect backdrop for the exploration of what freedom really is; a theme that ties closely with the psychological problem of bonding with you captor. Love and relationships are also explored, with such gripping realism even set against a background that becomes surreal. And what a job Christopher does!

There is little action in this book; but really, the action and the suspense are in the interactions between these two characters. The psychological intensity will leave you reeling. And the ending was not what I expected; it will leave you speechless. I, for one, cried. And hopefully that, if anything, is proof of its merit.

I highly recommend this book. It is thoughtful and hauntingly beautiful. And chances are, it’ll be unlike any other YA book you’ve read in a long time.

~~~

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.