Friday, December 5, 2014

Review: Doll Bones, by Holly Black

Release date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Format: Hardover, 247 pages

Goodreads description
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing... and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity...



The following review is based on a copy I got at the Holly Black signing at ALA Las Vegas last summer.


Why did I wait so long to read this book? A) it's middle grade, which isn't my go-to category B) It's about dolls. Dolls are CREEPY, never mind that I used to play with them. But it's a Holly Black book, so I knew I would read it sooner or later (I've loved her books for the past 10 years).

I'm so glad I decided to read Doll Bones now, and that I had the chance to have it signed last summer. It was, to an extent, like a trip down memory lane. The way Zach, Poppy and Alice played is so similar to the way I grew up playing with my friends. The stories they made up in their heads and somehow 'saw' happening around them... that's just how we played. And I'd forgotten about the rush I used to get from it, and what a wonderful feeling it is. How plastic figures or shells or folded-paper ships can become real to you. I would have SO gone on a quest like them! Actually, we sometimes did. We packed our stuff and went into the forest on the basis of a made-up story (to find a treasure or build a fort or look for fairies). So reading about their experience was magical for me on several different levels.

I really like the way Holly Black constructed this story, the episodes the kids had to go through, how the dynamics between them started to shift, how family life wasn't easy for any of them for various reasons. That grounded the story. The quest each kid was on meshed with their real life problems as well as something else, something maybe-supernatural, something outside of them. I liked the uncertainty - were they just making it all up like they did when they were playing, or was there really something else going on? Was the doll sinister and ill-intentioned, or did she just want to find rest?

I could say 'this is a book about growing up' but that isn't really true. It's a story about beginning to grow up. About being afraid to begin growing up, and changing, and a part of you dying. It's about dreams and quests and how adults often no longer have them - only bitterness. And about not wanting to become that way. It's about the stories we make up and tell about ourselves. That's why they go on a quest - to prove to themselves that they are interesting enough people to have quests, and that they finish them and don't quit halfway through.

Also, can I just say that I loved the inclusion of the library as a place they took shelter in when they were questing? I loved reading about the kids browsing, playing in the stacks, riding those book-wagons down the aisle and fawning over review copies of books they'd been waiting for for months. Also, the sailing episode. That was fantastic.

Overall, Doll Bones was a very refreshing read for me. There was a bit (okay, in some cases a lot) of creepy, which I always like. The characters were all complex and memorable and the relationships between them were interesting, also in the way they changed over time. The adventure plot and its pacing was great and I liked how it was at the same time a magical thing but still something that could happen in the real world, with real world problems (like creepy strangers on the bus or uncrossable rivers or lack of money) getting in the way. More and more, the magic/story/play world and the real world began to merge or at least co-exist, until something jarring happened and the gap became more noticeable again.

I think I have (or maybe had) this prejudice against middle grade books that they tend to be a bit heavy-handed because authors/adults think that kids won't understand what is being hinted at otherwise, and I find that patronizing. Kids are smart and often very good at reading other people. I'm happy to say that this was taken into account here. The writing is nuanced and there are no blatant 'lessons to be learned from this story' parts in Doll Bones. So, if anyone else has MG reads of this kind to recommend, feel free to mention them in the comments.

I don't really know what else to say without being spoilery and taking away from the experience of the story. All I know is that this is one I'm going to re-read every once in a while, to remind myself of things that are important and easily forgotten.

Have any of you read Doll Bones? What was your experience with it? Did you ever play these sorts of games as a kid? And can recommend other (maybe creepy?) MG reads to me?

So... I have survived NaNoWriMo and I'm back!

Hi there... as I suspected in my post about a month ago, I've been pretty much MIA.

The good part? I'm excited to be blogging again. In fact, once I finish this post I am hitting 'publish' on a review I just finished writing a moment ago. I owe a lot of reviews... *buries head in shame*

The better part? I pulled through NaNo with 52,669 words, which with what I've written before and since currently sets my story at 69k! I'm not finished by a pretty long shot (probably another 30k) and I'll have to cut and revise the hell out of it, but I love the world and the characters and it just feels good to be writing and creating.

I kind of wish I had written more (in 2011, I had 66k) but well...


I got Assassin's Creed: Black Flag in late October and by the end of November, I had also played like 60 hours of that... in addition to writing and working and some reading (but not blogging). Oops? Seriously though, that game sucked me in for like 5 hours straight sometimes (or until 3am) and I didn't even realize the passing of time. I could sail around the Caribbean with Edward Kenway and James Kidd to plunder ships and assassinate templars for forever.

Anyway. During that time, I also had to look for a new apartment for my sister and me, which I am very VERY glad to say we found! It's like a miracle, only took us about two weeks - must be a record in this city! Zurich is notorious about not having enough apartments and charging ridiculous prices. I used to go to viewings ten mins early and still have to wait halfway down the staircase for my turn to quickly do a 30 seconds walk through the place and, if I was lucky, grab an application sheet if there were any left at this point.

We really like the place we're renting at the moment but the building is going to be torn down and rebuilt at the end of February (that's why the rent was so cheap), so we had to get out. The new place has a better kitchen and bigger bathroom though, so that's great, even though the neighborhood isn't as pretty. But it will be my first time living in a place and not having a contract that says 'only until this specified month about 1-2 years from now'. If I move again, it'll be my own choice rather than other circumstances forcing me out of my home.
Now I only have to box up my 400 or so books...

So, that's what's been going on in my life. I really hope I can blog some more before the end of the year, but I'm also flying to Belgium and then getting in a friend's friend's car for a road trip under the Channel (in a car beneath the sea. I am not at all scared, no no) and then up to Derby, England for the final show of a great band (adventure!), plus I have no Christmas presents yet. And we're probably moving between Christmas and Silvester. So, lots of organizing to do. But at least life is happening. Plus, I can buy more book shelves after the move because once more, my blog name is very very accurate...

How has NaNoWriMo gone for those of you who participated? And are there any bookloving frequent-movers with advice on how to best pack up those precious books?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I wish would get their own book

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every week they post a new topic that the participants come up with a top ten list for.


This is such a cool idea for a post! There are so many interesting side characters I'd like to know more about!

As always, my top ten are in no particular order.


Abby from Katie McGarry's Crash Into You
She's tough, I like her, and she definitely has a story to tell. I actually thought the fourth book in the series would be hers but so far it doesn't seem to be happening.


Gavriel from Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
I'd love to know more about his past before he met Tana! We do get some of his backstory but I'd like to hear it from his own point of view.


Sturmhond from the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
One of my favorite characters there! I'd love to hear more about his days as a pirate or when he served in the army. Or really just a glimpse into his mind.


Durzo Blint from the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
He is such a prominent character but a big enigma for a large part of the series. I'd like him to get his own novel. Or a prequel trilogy. I know there's a novella that looks into his life, but it's short and I haven't read it yet.


Noah from the Mara Dyer Trilogy by Michelle Hodkin
He's such a great character! I think I could listen to what goes on in his head for hours. And well, it's implied that his life before he met Mara was already eventful. So there'd be no shortness of story to tell.

 
Walter C. Dornez from the Hellsing manga series by Hirano Kouta
That guy is so badass. I always loved his fighting scenes! I really wish the author would continue the Hellsing: The Dawn series about Walter and Alucard's adventures when he was younger, during WWII. So much sass.


Fear from Kelsey Sutton's Some Quiet Place
He was great. I know he features prominently in the novel but I'd like to know what it all looks like from where he's standing.


Morpheus from A.G. Howard's Splintered series
He's one of my favorite characters. You never know what he's playing at. His head would be a... madly interesting place.


Ivy from the Hollows series by Rachel Harrison
I'm sort of cheating here because I think the graphic novel adaption of the series (which I haven't read) is from Ivy's perspective. She's awesome. And I've read a short story from her POV but I'd like to see more. Maybe also of her past with Kisten and growing up under the eyes of Piscary.


Zero from the Vampire Knight manga series by Matsuri Hino
I admit it. I was a Kaname person for quite a while, but at some point I did a 180. And when I re-watched the anime and re-read part of the manga... oh Zero, my heart aches for you. Such a great character, so much undeserved pain. Seems to be a thing with side characters.


Despite thinking the topic is awesome, this was actually harder than I thought it would be. So many great characters have already gotten their own book / spin off series / novella! (Adrian from Vampire Academy, Space and Mencheres from the Night Huntress series, Mae from The Demon's Lexicon, Tod from the Soul Screamers series, Warner from Shatter Me...) Or else it's the mystery that makes them so interesting and so I am hesitant about wanting to read about it all.
What do you think of my picks, and how did you fare with your own?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Book Trailer Reveal: Hellhole, by Gina Damico

Hey guys :)

Today I've got something special for you, namely the book trailer for Gina Damico's upcoming novel Hellhole. I love her Croak trilogy - it's about reapers, but these books are also among the funniest things I've ever read! So much quirky, sarcastic humor. Plus, I love the book trailer for Croak (it's what first brought the series to my attention), so  I jumped at the chance to help reveal the trailer for Gina's newest book, which will be out in January.


But before we get to the video, here's some more info on the book and author

Release date: January 6, 2015
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover / ebook, 368 pages

Description
Geeky, squeaky-clean Max Kilgore only has one dirty habit: digging for fossils. One day, to his horror, his shovel strikes not upon a dinosaur bone, but a pit to hell—and out of it comes a devil. Specifically, the kind of devil who eats a lot of junk food, watches a lot of reality television, plays a lot of video games, and refuses to leave Max’s basement. But evil is still evil, no matter what form it takes. And Max has to find a way to comply with the demands of the big red menace, lest he lay waste to everyone and everything Max cares about.

With the help of Lore, a former goth girl who knows a thing or two about the dark side, Max goes in search of a new abode for his unwanted guest. Finding a place where he can reside in luciferian luxury isn’t easy, but Max has strong motivation: his mother, whose terminal illness the devil promises to cure if Max gives him what he wants. Lore has her doubts about making a deal with the devil, but Max will stop at nothing to save his mom. And pretty soon, he’s doing things the good kid he once was would never dream of doing. Clearly, hanging around with a devil is a bad influence. But how can Max get rid of the guy without incurring the wrath of hell?



ABOUT GINA DAMICO
I grew up under four feet of snow in Syracuse, New York. I received a degree in theater and sociology from Boston College, and I have since worked as a tour guide, transcriptionist, theater house manager, scenic artist, movie extra, office troll, retail monkey, yarn hawker and breadmonger. I am the author of the grim-reapers-gone-wild books of the Croak trilogy (Croak, Scorch, and Rogue), published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and the upcoming Hellhole (January 2015). I live in Western Massachusetts with my husband, two cats, one dog, and while I have never visited hell in person, I have spent countless waking hours at the Albany Regional Bus Terminal, which is pretty darn close.



Alright, and now without further ado...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Get to Know Me: Words Words Words

Hey there, and welcome to another personal post where I talk about stuff that I do outside of blogging. Today is all about what I will be doing for the rest of November. I think the word 'November' is already a clue for many of you - I'm doing NaNoWriMo again. That's why I've been absent for the past half week - I've been preparing, and I wanted to start NaNo with 15k words already written on my project. I only managed 14,300-something because I spontaneously went to a Halloween event on Friday, but I caught up yesterday. It was a great first day - I wrote over 3,000 words even though I only started around 6pm.


I did my first NaNo in 2011 with a reduced goal of 30k instead of 50k. I thought I was writing a short story to warm up. Ahem. Yeah, turned out it was the first book in what I guess will at some point be a trilogy. I wrote 66k in November, and another 40k until the end of January, when I finished the novel plus a novella set in the same world. For all of that November, I felt like I was floating. Writing made me so ridiculously happy and I felt like I was part of something big and wonderful.

I was busy in 2012 though and never really got around to revising that novel. I know that there are a lot of things that need fixing. So when I wanted to write the sequel in NaNo 2012, it didn't work out. I wasn't fully committed and didn't have the time, so NaNo 2012 was a fail. Last year I was super busy with my MA thesis, so I didn't even try.

This year though. This year I am so motivated! I felt listless these past few months but lately I suddenly have so much energy and I feel stoked about writing and my project :D I feel like this year, I can do it again. I have a brand new story with me, with characters that I love and that surprise me. I'm so excited to go on this journey with them and figure out what happens! My goal is for this novel to be between 70 to 85k, and I'd like it to be a standalone. I don't know if I can wrap everything up that quickly though because that would mean I've got almost 25% written already and I feel like I'm nowhere yet. But we'll see. This time around, I'm not planning on abandoning the story once the fun part (the draft writing) is over. If in any way possible, I want it to have a beautiful cover and see the light of day.

Is anyone else doing NaNoWriMo this year or has attempted it in the past? What is your experience? Does it work for you? Is it too much pressure? Let me know in the comments :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine to spotlight upcoming book releases that we're excited about.


This week's pick
Release date: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages

Goodreads description
From V.E. Schwab, the critically acclaimed author of Vicious, comes a new universe of daring adventure, thrilling power, and parallel Londons, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic.

Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne—a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London...but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see—a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, who first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—and that is proving trickier than they hoped.

Victoria Schwab doing a parallel universe story with different versions of London? Count me in! I can't wait to see the different versions of London and meet Kell and Delilah. I love reading about girl thieves with a taste for adventure. What do you think of the description?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Books/Movies To Read Or Watch To Get In The Halloween Spirit

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every week they post a new topic that the participants come up with a top ten list for.


This week's topics is about stories that get us in the Halloween spirit

I loooove Halloween, even though we don't celebrate it here! I've always loved spooky and creepy things (I read my first vampire book when I was 8 and my favorite stories were about ghosts and witches), so here are 5 books and 5 movies to get you in the spooky mood :)

Books


Nevermore, by Kelly Creagh
It's Poe-inspired and incredibly eerie! Also, Varen is one of my favorite book boyfriends.

Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake
Murdering ghost. Ghost-hunting teenager. With a knife. And plenty of snark.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, by April Genevieve Tucholke
Modern-day gothic including a small town, an old manor, haunted mines, and a boy who is not what he seems.

The Shining, by Stephen King
I don't think this one needs any introduction. But the book scared me even more than the movie. I think the nest of wasps and those hedge animals in the  labyrinth were some of the creepiest parts.

Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig
Great mixture of gross and psychological horror. Miriam Black is one tough cookie.

I've highlighted many of these before but I just can't help myself when it comes to a great creepy or eerie story...


Movies

The Nightmare Before Christmas (duh)
This one is a classic. And you can watch it on both Halloween and Christmas! The music is so beautiful and I just love Tim Burton's style. I also wanted to include Corpse Bride on this list but since Sleepy Hollow is another Burton movie, I thought that'd be a bit overkill.



The Lost Boys
Sleep all day. Party all night. It's good to be a vampire! It has music by Bauhaus. It's funny. It has young Kiefer Sutherland. It has the Frog Brothers who steal holy water from a baptism to fight off evil vamps (as seen above). This movie may be two years older than me but it's pretty awesome.


photo found here
American Horror Story
I've seen Murderhouse, Asylum, what's out for Freak Show so far and the first few episodes of Coven. So far, I like Murderhouse and Asylum best. And I was definitely plenty freaked out during both of them! Mostly though I just think the actors and the storytelling are amazing. I also love how each season is completely independent from the others but since you've got part of the same cast, you automatically draw comparisons between the different characters an actor has played.

Donnie Darko
This one's a classic. It's not just eerie, it actually features Halloween. And the idea of costumes. And time travel. Sleepwalking. The end of the world. I really need to watch it again.



Sleepy Hollow
Great mixture of creepy and funny. I just love seeing Johnny Depp faint in this one and bumble his way through Ichabod Crane's investigations XD When I read the novella this is actually based on, I was really disappointed. The movie is so much better.


So what do you guys think of my picks? Have you seen/read any of them? I'm also curious about your picks so that I can discover more creepy reads and movies :) Anything that makes me feel like this on Halloween would be great:

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stacking the Shelves: Cranes and Painted Faces at the Japanese Circus

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews to showcase all the books we got in the past week. Those can be bought, won, gifted, for review, borrowed, print or ebooks... no matter, just share what you got :)


This week was all ebooks for me... I'm still waiting for at least one hardcover that I ordered to arrive. My weeks was generally rather uneventful, but the weather was mostly nice, with a clear autumn sky. It's gotten cold though and I'm glad the heating's finally been turned on in our building. I also had a pretty fruitful writing session yesterday - my hope is to get my current WIP up to 15k words before the start of NaNoWriMo and it's looking good. Anyhow, here's what I got:


For review

Owl and the Japanese Circus, by Kristi Charish

Thanks so much Kristi for setting me up with it! In short, this book is about an archeology student turned antiques thief who has a vampire problem and makes a business deal with a dragon in Vegas to get rid of it. Obviously, this sounds awesome to me and I'm very excited to read it!


Bought as ebooks


Painted Faces, by L.H. Cosway - currently free on Amazon
Crane, by Stacey Rourke
Get Bent, by C.M. Stunich
Rae of Hope, by W.J. May

Painted Faces is set in Dublin and it's about a young woman who begins to fall for her neighbor, who is a cabaret performer - in drag. She's intrigued. So am I.
Crane is a re-writing of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, featuring a female descendant of Ichabod Crane, the Horseman, and Rip Van Winkle.
Get Bent is the second book in the Hard Rock Roots series. I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with book 1, but after the way it ended I knew that I'd get to the second one eventually.
Rae of Hope sounds like a typical YA paranormal. Girl with dark family history comes to boarding school, must receive powers on 16th birthday. But it's been recommended to me and I'm still a sucker for those boarding school stories. Also, it was free on Amazon when I got it.

That's it for this week :) Have you read any of these? And what's new on your shelves this week?