Monday, February 29, 2016

Waiting for Callback

Waiting for Callback I got to interview mother-daughter writing team Perdita and Honor Cargill about their debut, WAITING FOR CALLBACK, for the Swanky Seventeens (MG and YA authors debuting in 2017). The interview was a lot of fun and their book sounded like the perfect fun read: a teen who lands an acting agent and thinks her career is about to start, only to find that life "waiting for callback" is a lot more complicated than she expects.

When I got a copy of the book a couple weeks later, I was thrilled. And the book was just as fun and light-hearted as I had hoped. Elektra (and yes, she's aware that her name is horrible) is smart, spunky, but not as composed as she might like. Her attitude keeps some of the discouraging things that happen to her from being overwhelming, as she navigates first love, friendship, ambition and failure. I read the book in a couple of sittings and left with a fuzzy glow.

Funny, clean, romantic and (at times) poignant, this is a wonderful escapist read.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How to Hang a Witch

How to Hang a Witch (How to Hang a Witch, #1) Adriana Mather's debut YA, How to Hang a Witch, has a fantastic premise: Samantha Mather, a direct descendant of Cottom Mather, moves to Salem, MA, only to find herself the hated target of the popular (and strangely sinister) Descendants, a clique composed of the progeny of those who died in the witch trials. The fact that the author herself is a direct descendant of Cotton Mather only makes the premise more intriguing.

Happily, the book delivered: this is a fast-paced, sometimes dark exploration of the ways prejudices not only blind us, but can lead us into potentially dangerous mob mentalities (see, the witch hunts). The tension mounts consistently as Sam struggles to find her place in a hostile school and begins to piece together clues of a strange curse linking her to the descendants--and to those long-ago witch trials.

Readers will appreciate both the haunting setting and the more human relationships between Sam and her dad, her new neighbors, and the prickly girls of the Descendants.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Dark Days Club

The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen, #1) I've been a fan of regencies since I was a teenager and devouring my mom's extensive collection of Georgette Heyer (it was not until later that I discovered Austen, whom I also adore). When you add magic to the mix, it becomes a sort of perfect genre elixir for me.

Alison Goodman's Dark Days Club was a delightful read: the heroine, Helen, is smart, but her character is still drawn within lines that would be normal for a girl of her era. She's unusually well-educated, but she is no modern miss. When the story opens, Helen is preparing for her presentation to the queen (and it's clear here that Goodman has done her research: the details of the presentation were fascinating). Her biggest concern is what to say if someone broaches the forbidden topic of her mother, who died in a tragic accident years ago--to the family's great relief, as she was considered a traitor and a private scandal.

Enter Lord Carlston, a social black sheep who claims some family connection and seems to know something about her mother--and about her. When Helen asks for his help to find a missing housemaid, she gets more than she bargains for: an introduction to a secret society battling demons all across Europe and a chance--if she dares take it--for a life so much bigger than the one society has allotted for her.

I loved Lady Helen: she's smart, she's stubborn, she's strong, but she's not perfect. Her struggles to decide the course of her life were very real. Goodman captures the Regency era particularly well--her research is impeccable (as far as I can tell!) and though some readers might find the level of detail slows the story down, I loved it. If you're a fan of Heyer and a bit of dark magic, this might just be the perfect blend.

Sweet Unrest

Sweet Unrest Sweet Unrest was a wonderfully detailed Southern gothic story. Lucy Aimes' entire life is uprooted when her father takes over a job managing/curating a large southern plantation. Lucy gets conscripted to take pictures of the estates, but she can't escape unsettling dreams of drowning, or the handsome boy that no one else seems to see. As the story progresses, her dreams of the past and her experience of the present start to dovetail, both haunted by the same ancient evil that still lingers in the estate. Maxwell does a wonderful job fleshing out Lucy's world--the details of 19th century New Orleans and voodoo magic were fascinating and the climax was appropriately heart-pounding and creepy. I enjoyed Lucy's bittersweet romance, but selfishly wanted more of it.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Six of Crows

23437156 There's a lot I could say about this book, but I'll settle for just saying that it was just as good as I had hoped. A heist story, in the Grisha-verse, with a variety of damaged characters. The pacing was non-stop, but it wasn't just about plot: the characters all have their own unique backstory and baggage that they bring to the story, complicating the heist arc in interesting ways.

I was a little scared to read this because I admire Bardugo's books (Her Grisha series were one of my comps when I queried and when my book went on submission)--and yes, reading it did make me question everything about my own writing. But only when my brain wasn't actively engaged in the story, which was most of the time, so it's all good.

Really though, a fun, dynamic story. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Beyond the Red

Beyond the Red Sci-fi tends to be hit or miss for me--I adore Connie Willis and Lois Bujold, but other sci-fi series sometimes leave me cold. Luckily, that was not the case for Ava Jae's debut Beyond the Red--partly because the book, while technically sci-fi, has the feel of an epic fantasy. Part of that is the politics, which remain mostly on-planet. Kora is an alien queen, struggling with the growing riots of her people, who want to see her displaced in favor of her twin brother. But Kora knows that letting him take the throne would mean ruin for her people. A twist of events puts Eos, a half-human, half-Sepharon, in her path--and rather than having him killed (as her brother encourages her to do, since half-breeds are an abomination), Kora takes him on as a slave-body guard. Their growing friendship and attraction only complicates their situation--Kora has to marry well to ensure her throne's stability, and Eos risks his life if anyone suspects his feelings for Kora.

I thought the relationship was well-drawn and I rooted for both Kora and Eos. But what really fascinated me was the world-building here--the desert planet with its ruthless, terrible beauty, the fragile peace between humans and Sepharons, the treachery and dangerous political navigation Kora has to undertake to survive.

Ava Jae is a young writer (she graduates college this spring!) and definitely one to watch.