Audiobook Review - Mirrormask (read by Stephanie Leonidas)

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Dare You To Move by Switchfoot.

Sometimes my taste border alongside the weird and wonderful. I see things in a strange way, and through a different lens. It may explain why I like such things as The Nightmare Before Christmas and might explain why I have a propensity for Neil Gaiman. Sewing buttons on eyes? A boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard? There is something slightly shudder-inducing and yet compelling about them. They are... different, and that would explain why I am drawn to them. One of his lesser known creations is a novella of sorts called Mirrormask, and the best way I can describe it is Alice in Wonderland on acid.

I knew it first as a small, independent movie coming out (which did not come to my small college town by the way. Still bitter about that one). Pair up Neil Gaiman with the Jim Hensen Company and color me intrigued. It is strange, in some ways unnerving, but also good. It is about a girl named Helena who is a part of a circus and wants to run away to real life. Things only get more interesting from there.

But the best part of this whole deal is that the book (novella really. The entire book is only one disk on audio and barely over an hour from start to finish) is read by the girl who played Helena in the movie. She is a really good reader. I like the book because it offers insights not offered in the movie. Because honestly, it is kinda trippy. No matter how many times you watch it. Okay, really trippy (remember - Alice in Wonderland on acid). The sphinxes with rainbow wings who eat books are rather creepy and intimidating (not to mention odd), but the library is one heck of a cool scene. As well as the advice for rejecting books. :) This story is not for everyone, and honestly teeters on the verge of my weird limit, but it is makes me see things in a different way, and I like seeing in a different way.

If you listen carefully, you can hear how great a writer Neil Gaiman is. He can weave words in a powerful way, telling so much in so little. Listening to him on audiobook is one way to hear him, really hear him, savoring each inflection, the cadence and rhythm of every word. It really kind of a wonderful thing. If you want a more lighthearted and less weird example of him, The Graveyard Book is also excellent, and read by Mr. Gaiman himself, British accent and all. But I am rather fond of this little audiobook.

Audiobook Review - Rabbit Ears Treasury (narrated by an all-star cast)

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): The Old Ways by Loreena McKennitt.

This series is truly a gem. I don't know how else to describe it. It is fun, creative, mesmerizing, enchanting, and beautiful. It is fairly unknown and for the life of me I cannot imagine why. The "Rabbit Ears Treasury" is a series of world tales and fairy tales, both familiar and unknown, telling everything from Anasazi to East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and read by narrators you would more than recognize. Anyone from Morgan Freeman to Meryl Streep, from Jodie Foster to Denzel Washington, Robin Williams, Cher, Emma Thompson, and Ben Kingsley. Just to name a few.

They are about a half an hour in length each, with is perfect for story time, or "quiet time" as it was known in my house when I was a small one. Also, something I did not expect but wholly enjoyed was the music intro and outro. Almost always it is a song by itself and creates a remarkable atmosphere and anticipation where you are anxious and excited for the story to arrive. Each story comes with an original score that is never overbearing and adds perfectly to the powerhouses of highly dedicated and experienced actors they've found to bring the words to life.

I love these also because these are world tales and cover the gammut of stories both familiar and less so, and offers a marvelous opportunity to your mind, or another's, to a new world, and some beautiful ones at that.

A simply marvelous and incredible collection. Really, this is a series you really do not want to miss.

Audiobook Review - Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, narrated by Full Cast Audio

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Do No Wrong by Thirteen Senses.

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

I am going to leave most of the "review" part out of this one, because I plan on covering it in greater detail in a future review. We're here for the audiobook version, and I must say, it is an absolute delight to listen to. Sometimes I have been hesitant about a "full cast" reading of any particular work, mostly because there is a greater change of an actor/actress going overboard, or sounding not how I might have imagined. The more actors, the more likely chance I may not like one of them. Not so here. I *loved* Matt's narrator. He got ever inflection, every nuance of his character just right and was a joy to listen to him flesh out his character and literally bring him to life and have him jump off the page. The other characters, including his friend Tobias, Captain Walken, and the headstrong Miss Kate de Vries were all fantastic. I can't name a single character/actor who grated on me (except for one, but her character was kind of written that way to begin with). The music and sound effects (minimally used) are put to subtle and effective use. Nothing overbearing, and just enough to suck you in. This is literally a high seas adventure full of action, fleshed-out characters, great dialogue, and an utterly fantastical setting. This would be one of my higher recommendations if you are wanting to start into the foray of audiobooks, or just want something really good for your plate next. Also, quite kid-friendly (except for a few moments of swearing). A very enjoyable listen.

Feature Fun Friday - It Gets Better - Authors/Illustrators

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Riverside Aby by Karen Tweed and Timo Alakotila.

This video is incredible. Everything about it makes me so happy and proud to be an writer (can't use 'author' yet), a writer for young people especially. Just listen to it. It is true. To all my readers out there - it DOES get better. So much better. Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Audiobook Review - House of the Scorpion (read by Robert Ramirez)

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Road to Manhood by Michiru Oshima [Fullmetal Alchemist soundtrack].


His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium -- a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt's first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster -- except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón's power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect.

This was one of the first audiobooks I really enjoyed. Robert Ramirez's voice is smooth and has an excellent pacing, but what I really loved was how well he portrayed each of the characters. True, as with many male actors, he has a bit of difficulty in portraying the female characters, but this only really showed in Maria, and considering she is a young girl through most of the book, that is something I am willing to forgive. The rest of the characters are top notch, especially Matt (the main character), Celia, Tam Lin, and the evil El Patrón. And personally, I thought it was incredible how he was able to switch from a Scottish to Hispanic accent so easily. That was one of my favorite parts of this reading.

There is another, newer version out with Raul Esperanza as the narrator. I have not heard this one, but just so you are aware, there are two. The one with Robert Ramirez is from 2003, I think.

It's 12 disks long, but worth every minute. This was possibly the first audiobook that made me realize they were really fun to listen to.

(On a fun side note, I met* Mr. Ramirez one summer while watching a Shakespeare play he was in. I saw his name in the program, thought it had to be a coincidence. Nope, it wasn't).

**"meeting" as in, I saw him on stage. :)

Audiobook Review Kickoff!

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Claras Vals (Clara's Waltz) by Väsen.

As you may know, it is National Audiobook Month (if you didn't, happy day!), and this fills me with squee, because while I am *extremely* picky about the audiobooks I listen to, I am definitely a fan. So I am going to bring to you some of my favorite audiobooks, in case you are ever in need or feel a desire to venture into the foray of audiobook world (hopefully I will also find a way to embed samples you as well so you can decide if you like them for yourselves). And... I think that was all one giant sentence *glances up*. Nope, it was two. I'm okay. :)

Get ready for some fun!

Feature Fun Friday - Books To Look For in 2011 - A List

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Iron by Woodkid (it's a pretty awesome song).

Yes, it is indeed Monday. I promise I don't have the days mixed up (usually). We are just playing catch up, because out-of-state flights are not conducive to blogging when you haz no internets on your phone or other spiffy type devices. So, here is Feature Fun Friday today! Tada! *confetti*

This is a simple but cool idea of books that are being released this year. There are some I've completely forgotten about, so I'm super stoked to use this as a reference. Have a great day, everyone!

Fanmade: Nymphadora by HitoFanart

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): We Will Become Silhouettes by The Postal Service.

I think I will so be starting a string of features of Harry Potter fan creations leading up to the release of the final movie. This was a part of my childhood. And this started a generation of readers.

Chagrin by HiroFanart

Monday's Muse, 35th edition.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Blue Rose by Lizz Wright.

The idea of Monday's Muse is to introduce you to unknown, forgotten, or overlooked fiction that has been lost from regular radar. I am WriterGirl. I am in the business of saving lives, one book at a time.

What I do is go to amazon, narrow it down to a YA field and type in a random word, any word that comes to mind. I then take a sampling of some I have never heard of before, or only vaguely heard of (and hopefully you as well). No infringement is intended for any description I take for the books. It's purely for promotional reasons. I will try and cover as many genres as possible that are fitting for the random word. Simple but it really uncovers some incredible gems. I will be doing this every other Monday. If there are any words you want to prompt me with, go ahead and fire away.

Today's random word:

Summer Storm by Kristina Dunker (Author), Margot Bettauer Dembo (Translator).

A sunny summer's day at the lake turns awry when Annie's cousin Gina disappears. Just a short while ago, the two of them had been sunbathing by the water's edge with Annie's friends Steffi, Roger, and Jonas, but now Annie and the others are scurrying about in the pouring rain looking for Gina.

Finally, the police are alerted and the nervous tension mounts. Although they have been close friends for many years, rather than being supportive they start blaming and accusing each other. Gradually, disturbing stories begin to surface, things Annie had no idea about, and finally Steffi says out loud what everyone has been thinking all along: is it possible that Roger, who seems so reserved, has done something to Gina? At first Annie refuses to believe it, but all the evidence points to him as the culprit. And although Roger is shocked that of all people his closest friends should suspect him of such an awful thing, he does nothing to clarify the situation.

Meanwhile, as Annie has discovered that there are a few skeletons in the closet of her supposedly happy family, she feels that she must speak to Roger on his own...

Black Storm Comin' by Diane Lee Wilson.

On a wagon train headed to California, Colton is left to care for his family after his father accidentally shoots him and then runs off in horror. His mixed race family (Pa was white; Ma is black) is harassed, ignored, and finally abandoned by their fellow travelers, but Colton still manages to lead his mother and siblings to the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas before Ma's illness stops them. Ma entrusts Colton with her sister's freedom papers and begs him to deliver them to Sacramento, their ultimate destination. To meet her request, Colton joins the Pony Express--a job that brings further hardship and danger as Colton braves the coming winter to carry the mail on its final leg into California. Set in 1860, with the pending Civil War as its backdrop, Wilson's novelsubtly exposes the dangers of being mixed race in a volatile society. Wilson masterfully creates a multidimensional character in Colton, who possesses both youthful impetuousness and the wisdom of a man who has seen too much sadness for his young years. Societal barriers, played out larger than life in Colton's heart and mind, are the ultimate strength of this story. Readers will absorb greater lessons as they become engrossed in the excitement, beauty, and terror of Colton's journey to California and manhood. Frances Bradburn, Booklist.

Storm Boy by Owen Paul Lewis.

An adaptation from traditional oral sources of the Haida and Tlingit peoples of the northwest coast of North America, this adventure story concerns a chief's young son who is thrown from a canoe and finds himself on the shore of a strange village. Welcomed as a "son of a chief from above," the boy joins the welcome celebration, learns the dances of his hosts, and teaches his rescuers the dances of his own people. When he returns to his native village, he is greeted with joy because he was believed drowned. Because the narrative style is direct and concrete and the book design is so effective (the type is large and readable; the paintings fill double-page spreads), the tale is worth reading aloud. The artwork is powerful and arresting: large geometric shapes and strong details in red, white, and black reflect the ceremonial art of the Haida and Tlingit. Extensive notes are provided. Janice Del Negro, Booklist.

Mistress of the Storm by M. Welsh.

Verity Gallant is a lonely little girl who doesn't quite fit in. But when a mysterious stranger hands her an ancient book, everything changes. Suddenly it's up to her to solve the riddle of an ancient pledge and protect her family from the evil Mistress of the Storm. What hope does she have against a witch so powerful she can control the wind and create storms at will? Luckily, Verity does not have to face her enemy alone. As events begin to spiral out of control, she finds two loyal and steadfast friends to stand by her side.

The Storm is coming. And it will change Verity's life forever.

Against the Storm by Gaye Hicyilmaz.

Hicyilmaz paints a vivid and disturbing picture of poverty in this insightful novel set in Turkey. From the very beginning, young Mehmet regrets his parents' decision to leave their drought-plagued village in search of a better life. As he feared, his family fares worse in the capital city of Ankara, where jobs are scarce and the streets are filled with beggars and swindlers. Soon the family finds itself in debt to a rich, scheming uncle and everyone, including Mehmet, must take whatever jobs they can in order to survive. With the help of a homeless runaway, Mehmet learns some tricks of survival; a friendship with a woman named Zekiye Hanim also proves beneficial. While the spirits of people around him are broken by hardship and tragedy, Mehmet ultimately escapes the crippling effects of despair. Like Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Arnow's The Dollmaker , this novel explores feelings of uprootedness while tracing the experiences of a migrant family. If readers become downcast by the author's bleak rendering of social corruption, disease and injustice, most will find relief in the protagonist's ability to discover salvation for himself as well as for a needy friend. Publisher's Weekly.

Feature Fun Friday - Rampant Teaser Video

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Footloose by Kenny Loggins.

This is both cute and funny. A "insiders" look at Diana Peterfreund's killer unicorn novels - Rampant, and Ascendant. :) Have a great weekend, everyone!

Review - The Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): The Forest of the Deer God by Joe Hisaishi [Princess Mononoke soundtrack].

My reviews are a bit different than most. As an undercover superhero (ordinary girl extraordinaire), my purpose is to try and uncover hidden gems lost from the familiar radar. Because of this, I have set up some guidelines for myself (just like the pirate code). :)

I will focus on YA and Children's literature (with very rare exceptions).
I will not review any book that is one of the top 25,000 bestselling books (based on Amazon ranks).
I will try and aim for books 100,000 or larger.
I will review recent books or books of great merit (preferably both).

The Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
Published: Janurary 20, 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Pages: 304
Current Amazon Rank: #88,502

Author's Website: Here
Want it? Find it here.

The First Line:

Because he had once been human, the King Under Stone sometimes found himself plagued by human emotions.

My Take:

This story took me a bit by surprise. I knew of the story of the 12 Dancing Princesses since I was young (and often balked when my friends had never heard the story before). Since then it has become quite popularized in many versions, such as Entwined by Heather Dixon, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler, and several other renditions. Each has a special place in my heart because of their unique take on this fun fairy tale, but this one struck a few of my favorite spots.

One thing it did - it touched on politics in a real way. A pet peeve of mine in fantasy is that the "kingdom" acts in isolation. Now, this doesn't necessarily have to be an issue, except when the main characters are meant to deal with this every day, aka princesses and royalty. That was not the case here. It wasn't even a politic story, but you could feel outside pressures, and it gave it an extra level of authenticity. In fact, she touched on many difficult subjects in a smooth and beautiful manner and I really enjoyed that aspect.

The characters were also great. The problem with having 12 princesses is that the cast can easily get a bit muddled. And while I cannot say she gave distinct personalities to all of the sisters, she did an excellent job and I can name most of the cast, including side characters, back to you. I wish more of the sisters (namely Poppy and Lily) had gotten more of the limelight, but I suppose that is just a further testament of how in so little space, she managed to make them come alive. The one exception, however, was one particularly religious sister that felt so wooden and two-dimensional that it bothered me every time she came on screen. Her character really could have been explored in much greater and more realistic depth. But let me tell you - I LOVED that Galen, our resident soldier, hero, gardener, and partial narrator knitted. Yes, I kid you not. He knits, and it is awesome. It was so unique and gave him such a wonderful flair, and it was not tacked on but was completely believable and a real part of the story. I loved it (and she has knitting patterns in the back of the book. How much cooler can you get?!) And for sticking so close to the fairy tale, she had a very believable and creepy villain indeed.

I would definitely recommend this one, especially if you are looking for a fun, clean, and plain well-written fairy tale retelling.

The Final Word: Nice pacing, good characters and unique elements all add up to one fine close retelling of the now-popular fairy tale. Clean, exciting, fun.

Not Alone. #YAsaves

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Whole Wide World by Mindy Gledhill.

I think this post is more for me than anyone else. In fact, I know it is. Over the weekend, I missed an internet explosion. The Wall Street Journal printed an article that I still don't have words for, and launched a firestorm in response. The best thing that came out of it by far was the hashtag #YAsaves, meaning saves lives, not destroys them. The biggest and most common thing I saw was that YA showed them that they were not alone. Many were also sent to the WSJ's twitter account. I hope they listen. Here are just a few I saw and kept, because I needed them to remind me, because these should not be forgotten.

This is why I write YA.


When readers don't "get" your story, or, take courage writers

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): The Reluctant Warrior by The Immediate.

If I am not posting (like I haven't been), then you can tell I am deep in the throws of writing right now and I absolutely love it, but I don't want to leave you hanging either. And I do have some great stuff to post, just as soon as I can get my head out of my book.

I was having a conversation on twitter not too long ago (yesterday, in fact) that went from Malcolm Reynolds to sci-fi to authorship vs. readership that was rather interesting, and it got me thinking again of something I've believed for a long time - writers only write 50% of their book.

When I read a book, I know there are just some things that will immediately turn me off to a book. It has nothing to do with their novel, their characters or their ability to tell a story. If they have it in it, I almost immediately dislike it. One of them is "love at first sight." It grates me to no end because it is in conflict with how I believe love is developed. That is a part of me personally as a reader.

Another example is dragons. Fantastic, amazing creatures, freaking awesome in fantasy, and well-loved for a reason, but if you have one in there, it will be a hard sell for me. Tack on defeating a dragon to win the day/save the girl, or a dragon with telepathic abilities and a "special bond" to main character and seriously, good luck. There are exceptions of course. Jane Yolen's Heartblood series where dragons are used as pit fighting creatures immediately comes to mind, as does the brilliant movie How To Train Your Dragon (I can't say enough good things about that movie). So see? There are also always exceptions, so authors, take heart.

But even better, this also works in the reverse as well. You give me a fantasy based on a different culture ("different" meaning non-medieval Western Europe) and you almost immediately have me sold, every time. I will almost always give any book with those parameters a chance. Double goes if you use non-western fantasy elements/creatures (no trolls, ogres, fairies, elves, mermaids, werewolves, and the like. Give me some Ijiraq, Tengu, and Bunyip people!).

Because the fact of the matter is, when you write a story, you only bring 50% of the work to the table. I learned this a long time ago, and I keep relearning it with greater clarity. Now stop! you may say. I wrote every stinking word of that manuscript! Of course I brought 100%! I brought 110%, baby! Well… yes, it's true. But (and this is a really big but) - you are not there to tell the story to your readers. They bring the other 50% with them - all of their prejudices, knowledge, and entire life experiences. They bring that to the table and you have absolutely no control over that.

The amazing and exuberant Shannon Hale said something along these lines way back in 2008 with far greater clarity and grace than I.

I've always believed that as an author, I do 50% of the work of storytelling, and the reader does the other 50%. There's no way I can control the story you tell yourself from my book. Your own experiences, preferences, prejudices, mood at the moment, current events in your life, needs and wants influence how you read my every word. I wish I could write a story that would appeal to everyone, but that is so impossible.

Here is Samuel Johnson's take on it, and he says it so succinctly - "A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it."

They will see your story and your world in a way you never imagined. And that is okay. Because they are part creator in this story too. It is a collaborative effort because it all happens within the mind. Why do you think reading is such an intimate and personal experience? Why do you think readers will follow an author they love into story after story they create? It is because they are equal partners, invested in this world you created together, and I can think of no greater honor than a reader allowing an author entrance into such a personal and private part of their lives. They open themselves up to you and let this world you've created in, side by side, together.

So when a reader doesn't "get" your story, don't worry. They are bringing their own part to the story as well. But when you do make that connection, it is something wonderful, and one of the greatest honors we can have.