Cover Shot! The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

Supervillains.  I love them.  Especially when they are, deep in their heart, good guys.  Look at this guy.  Does he look like a devious doer of evil?  Nope!  I can hardly wait to get my hands on The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz, to see just how bad Alex really is.  Or isn’t.  In stores October 2012

 

The Cloak Society: An elite organization of supervillains graced with extraordinary powers. Ten years ago they were defeated by the Rangers of Justice and vanished without a trace. But the villains of Cloak have been biding their time, waiting for the perfect moment to resurface. And twelve-year-old Alex Knight wants to be one of them.

Alex is already a junior member, and his entire universe is Cloak’s underground headquarters, hidden beneath an abandoned drive-in theater in Sterling City, Texas. While other kids his age are studying math and history, Alex is mastering his telekinetic powers and learning how to break into bank vaults. His only dream is to follow in his parents’ footsteps as one of the most feared supervillains in the world. Cloak is everything he believes in.

But on the day of his debut mission, Alex does the unthinkable: he saves the life of a young Ranger named Kirbie. Even worse . . . she becomes his friend. And the more time he spends with her, the more Alex wonders about the world outside of Cloak—and what, exactly, he’s been fighting for.

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Cover Shot! Story’s End by Marissa Burt

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

I loved Storybound by Marissa Burt.  It is one of the best books I’ve read this year, so I am all aflutter with anticipation to get my hands on Story’s End, the next book in the series. I love the cover for this one!

In stores 2013.

No synopsis yet

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Cover Shot! Somebody Like You by Candis Terry

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

After spending the last few days surrounded by herds of cute puppies and dogs, this cover holds a weird kind of appeal for me.  I feel the slightest bit sorry for the obviously pampered pooch, while betting that she probably has a more fashionable wardrobe than I currently possess.  In stores June 19

Welcome Back to the Sugar Shack
Straitlaced . . .
Chicago prosecutor Kelly Silverthorne has a perfect record in the courtroom and a big fat zero in the bedroom. When she loses her first case ever, she returns home to Deer Lick, Montana, to regain her confidence and shake off the "Sister Serious" moniker she’s been stuck with since childhood. Only a few hours into her repentance, karma thrusts her face-to-face with yet another of her major fiascos—a one-night stand with the hottest cop in the county.
Rebel with a Cause . . .
Deputy James Harley has always played with fire. When smart and sexy Kelly pops back into his life, he doesn’t mind going for a full burn. And that might be exactly what happens when his past threatens to catch up with his future.
A Match Made in . . .
Heaven only knows what Kelly’s dearly departed mom has planned from the other side—especially since she’s already meddled in Kelly’s siblings’ love lives. But even heaven knows that when love comes

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Review: Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

 

 

   Title: Inside Out & Back Again

   Author: Thanhha Lai

   Publisher: Harper Collins

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next. 

Review:

I love books about different cultures or ways of life, and Inside Out & Back Again delivers up an emotionally enthralling account of a young Vietnamese girl’s flight from her home country to the US.  As I read Ha’s adventures, recounted in simple yet moving free verse, I wondered what it would be like to have everything familiar ripped away.  Before the fall of Saigon, life for Ha was happy and content, despite the growing hardships caused by the war.  Her father has been missing in action since she was an infant, but her family still holds out hope that he will return home one day.  She loves her family, she is doing well in school, and she is eager for her papaya tree to finally yield fruit.  Her three brothers are happy, as well, and they are excellent students with bright futures ahead of them.  Everything changes with the fall of Saigon.

Ha’s mother is trying valiantly to raise four children by herself, but life has gotten more difficult.  It’s harder to make ends meet, and the price of everything keeps climbing.  As the communists threaten Saigon, she has a family meeting and asks everyone what they should do.  Should they flee, and try to built a new life in a country without Ho Chi Min and the war?  Ha and her brother Thoi don’t want to go.  How can they leave Ha’s papaya tree and Thoi’s chicken?  The pain of leaving their most prized possessions was a bitter pill to swallow for a new life with no guarantees.  I don’t think I could have done it.  Photographs, clothing, memories; all were left behind in Vietnam.

I loved Ha and found her easy to relate to.  She has been thrust into a new life that she doesn’t want, and one that doesn’t seem to want her.  Her new neighbors in Alabama aren’t very neighborly, she can’t understand the confusing language she is immersed in, and her classmates mock and bully her.  Her teacher doesn’t understand her and doesn’t try to make her feel welcome.  Instead, Ha, a bright, curious girl, is left feeling stupid and ignorant.  As she begins to pick up the language, she wishes she did not understand the names she is called or the jokes that her peers make about her.  She is angry, justifiably, but there is no outlet for her rage.  Ha is the one who must make concessions to fit in with a group of kids who can only see how she is different from them. 

This is a quick read that follows one year in Ha’s life.  Starting in Vietnam on New Year’s, Inside Out & Back Again chronicles her flight from Saigon, life in a refuge camp, and her eventual home in Alabama.  I could not put the book down and I read it in one sitting.  Highly recommended.

Grade:  A

Available in Print and Digital

Review copy provided by library

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Review: Storybound by Marissa Burt

 

Title: Storybound

Author: Marissa Burt

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 978-0062020529

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When Una Fairchild stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, she thinks nothing of opening the cover and diving in. But instead of paging through a regular novel, Una suddenly finds herself Written In to the land of Story—a world filled with Heroes and Villains and fairy-tale characters.

But not everything in Story is as magical as it seems. Una must figure out why she has been Written In—and fast—before anyone else discovers her secret. Together with her new friend Peter and a talking cat named Sam, Una digs deep into Story’s shadowy past. She quickly realizes that she is tied to the world in ways she never could have imagined—and it might be up to her to save it.

Review:

I am having a fantastic winning streak of wonderful Middle-Grade novels so far in 2012.  Storybound turned out to be another winner.  The premise is fantastic, and I could not put the book down.  I was literally glued to my reading chair for an entire afternoon as I frantically turned pages, eager to see what kind of trouble Una would find herself in.

Like Harry Potter, Una has never known her parents.  She has been shuffled through the foster care system, and she currently lives with Ms. McDonough, an odd woman who speaks to her cats far more frequently than she speaks to Una.  Una is fine with that, because she finally has some time to herself after being fostered in big families where she never felt that she belonged.  She feels invisible, both at her foster home and at school.  One day when Una is reading in the library in the basement at school, she finds a mysterious book.  A book about her.  Before she even has a chance to catch her breath, she finds herself sucked into the book, trapped as a character in the story.  Now she must  find her way back out again, all without getting killed.  Whoa!

In the land of Story, Una finds must become a student at the school where the children of Story learn how to be characters in books.  All of the citizens of Story have roles in books, and they all have to behave in a manner consistent with the character they are playing.  I loved the concept of this world.  Una’s ally, Peter, is learning to be a Hero.  He takes his studies very seriously, and when Una is magically zapped into one of his practical exams, he is not very happy when she screws it up for him.  With Peter’s help, Una learns that she was Written In.  Peter is shocked, because no one has been Written In since the Tale Keepers overthrew the evil Muses and took control of Story.

I am going to gush about how much I adored Una.  She is resourceful, clever, and loyal, and she is my favorite kind of protagonist.  She meets setback after setback, but each one makes her more determined to figure out what is going on.  Something is stinky in the land of Story, and Una won’t rest until she discovers what it is.  There is something wrong with the Tale Keepers, and she doesn’t believe that the Muses were evil.  With the help of Peter and Sam, a talking cat, she  searches for the truth, even when it puts her in mortal danger.  And Una is in a lot of danger.  She doesn’t belong in Story, and she needs to get back home before someone figures out that she has been Written In.  Another thing that I love is convincing character development – Storybound has it in spades.  The Una at the end of the book is a much more mature and likeable girl than the Una at the beginning.

My only gripe about Storybound is the cliffhanger ending.  I hate those!  Aside from that complaint, this is a fantastic book with wonderful characters, creative world-building, and non-stop suspense.  Fans of Harry Potter will enjoy Storybound, as well as anyone who loves a rousing fantasy yarn.  I am counting down the days until the sequel, Story’s End, hits store shelves, though 2013 seems like a long time away!

Grade: Waffling between an A- and a B+ (Either way, I LOVED this book)

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Interview with Madeline Miller, Author of The Song of Achilles

Madeline Miller is the author of The Song of Achilles, a retelling of the Iliad.  I love Greek mythology, so I was delighted when Madeline dropped by the virtual offices to tell us more about her book.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Madeline Miller] Teacher, writer, director, reader, in any order. Flusterable yet determined, a hang-on-I-need-to-think-about-it type. Adventure lover.

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about The Song of Achilles?

[Madeline Miller] The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the myths around the Greek hero Achilles, narrated by his closest friend and lover, Patroclus. The story begins with the two meeting as boys and continues up through the events of Homer’s Iliad and beyond.

[Manga Maniac Café] What drew you to Patroclus and made you want to tell his story?

[Madeline Miller] What initially got me interested in Patroclus wasn’t the man himself—he’s actually a very minor character in the Iliad—but Achilles’ intense and shocking reaction to his death. The great hero, when he hears that Patroclus has been killed, is plunged into utter, grief-stricken despair. I was very moved by that, and also intrigued. Why does Patroclus mean so much to Achilles?

The more I learned about him, the more interested I was. He is a fascinating person, from his disastrous childhood, to his devotion to Achilles, to his characterization as “always gentle.” I became determined to give him the chance to speak for himself.

[Manga Maniac Café] Did you feel any apprehension when you started to tackle this project?

[Madeline Miller] I should have! But at the time I was too entranced with the story. I felt almost like a scribe, sitting down to take Patroclus’ dictation. Little did I know that it would be ten years of writing and re-writing before I would be finished.

[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Song of Achilles?

[Madeline Miller] Finding Patroclus’ voice. From the beginning Patroclus’ personality and perspective were very clear to me—they were the bedrock of my story. But figuring out his diction and speech patterns was very challenging. I actually wrote a full draft of the story and ended up throwing it out and rewriting it from scratch, because I wasn’t happy with how I had him speaking. Finally, after lots of blundering around, I found something that felt right.

[Manga Maniac Café] Why do you think Homer’s works have endured over the centuries?

[Madeline Miller] Homer is timeless because his work is built on the universal truths of human experience. Take away the trappings of divinity and royalty and his characters emerge as utterly real—just like us in their flaws, follies and virtues. And, of course, they are also great stories, full of adventure and action.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Madeline Miller] Though I do sometimes jot down a sentence or two on paper, I need my computer for serious writing. My longhand isn’t fast enough to keep up with my thoughts, but my typing is!

I have never been one of those people who can listen to music while I write. I need total quiet to be able to hear my own thoughts.

No internet. If my browser is open, it’s so easy to fall down the internet rabbit-hole rather than work. I do best when I just turn off the house’s wifi for a while.

[Manga Maniac Café] Other than The Iliad and The Odyssey, can you share some books that turned you on to reading?

[Madeline Miller] I absolutely loved and read to pieces this old series of books by Walter R. Brooks called “Freddy the Pig.” I cannot recommend it highly enough—they are amazing.

Reading “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in eighth grade was a revelation. I am sure that most of it went right over my head, but what I did understand completely wrecked me.

One of my favorite books of all time is “Watership Down.” The Iliad and Odyssey and Aeneid with Rabbits.

In high school, discovering Lorrie Moore’s books was a life-changing experience for me as a reader and writer both. Ditto, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”

My senior year of high school, I picked up “Moby-Dick,” expecting it to be terrible and boring, and was shocked to find it not only totally engaging but hilarious as well. That will teach me to judge a book by its ponderous reputation! I just had a similar experience a year ago when I started reading “Middlemarch.” Why hadn’t anyone told me George Eliot was so funny?

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Madeline Miller] I like to be active—taking walks or hikes, exercising, even just puttering around the house. Visiting with friends, playing games, traveling. And, of course, reading!

[Manga Maniac Café] Thanks!


You can learn more about  Madeline by visiting the following websites:

Website: www.madelinemiller.com

Twitter: @MillerMadeline

Facebook: Madeline Miller

Facebook: The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles is available in print and digital format.  You can order a copy from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below:

Review: Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler

 

Title: Princess of the Wild Swans

Author: Diane Zahler

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0062004925

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Princess Meriel’s brothers have been cursed. A terrible enchantment–cast by their conniving new stepmother–has transformed the handsome princes into swans. They now swim forlornly on a beautiful heart-shaped lake that lies just beyond the castle walls.

Meriel will do whatever it takes to rescue her beloved brothers. But she must act quickly. If Heart Lake freezes, her brothers will be forced to fly south or perish.

With help from her newfound friends Riona and Liam–a pretty half-witch and her clever brother–Meriel vows to finish a seemingly impossible task. If she completes it, her brothers may be saved.

But if she fails . . . all will be lost.

Review:

I read and enjoyed The Thirteenth Princess, so I was curious to see if I would like Princess of the Wild Swans as well.  The fairy tale that this book is based on has never been a favorite, and I wondered how I would feel about Diane Zahler’s reimagined version.  I liked it!  A lot!  The characters, once again, are what made the story, as well as the urgency of Meriel’s task.  If she doesn’t find a way to save her brothers soon, winter will set in and they will have to fly to a warmer climate.  Since it is autumn, that doesn’t leave her much time to come up with a solution!  To make matters worse, there isn’t anyone for her to confide in, because everyone seems to have succumbed to the evil Lady Orianna’s enchantments.

Diane Zahler’s princess protagonists make these stories for me.  They are kind and concerned, and though they might be slightly spoiled, when the chips are down and danger beckons, they will do anything to save the people they love.  Though she is frightened and confused, Meriel quickly finds the determination to save her brothers.  She knows that something terrible has happened to them – they all just disappeared, after all – and she is going to figure out where they all went.  With her father bewitched by her new, beautiful stepmother, she has no adult to turn to.  After chance encounter with Riona, her brother Cullan’s girlfriend, Meriel discovers some equally determined allies.  Both Riona and her brother, Liam, will do anything to help Meriel.  They know that the new queen is evil, and they fear what will happen to the kingdom if she triumphs in her evil deeds.

Just when Meriel is ready to give up, the townsfolk provide assistance to keep her moving doggedly forward.  Hers is a terrible task, one that she isn’t prepared to tackle, but with help from her friends and her subjects, she finds the resolution and the courage to get the job done.  Meriel matures and gains confidence in her ability to save her family, and as she discovers an impressive inner strength, she makes things happen.  She knows that if she fails, her brothers will remain swans forever, and that is all of the motivation she needs to find a way around every obstacle that springs up in her path.  Her brothers, and even her father, may have treated her like a helpless child, but Meriel will show them all that she is more than capable of taking care of herself, and them as well!  Even though each road block was more overwhelming than the last, and Meriel was overcome with self-doubt, she continued to do everything possible to save her brothers.

Diane Zahler’s writing is reminiscent of Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley, two of my favorite fantasy authors, so it’s no surprise that I am enjoying her books as well.  I just purchased A True Princess ($5.99 for my Kindle – WIN!).  She has, in fact, been moved to my auto-buy list.  I can hardly wait to see what other adventures she has in store for her very relatable and likeable characters.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by the author

 

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Review: Winterling by Sarah Prineas

 

Title: Winterling

Author: Sarah Prineas

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0061921032

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

“We live here, my girl, because it is close to the Way, and echoes of its magic are felt in our world. The Way is a path leading to another place, where the people are governed by different rules. Magic runs through them and their land.”

With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and invites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land.

Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the MÓr rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter.

Sarah Prineas captivates in this fantasy-adventure about a girl who must find within herself the power to set right a terrible evil.

Review:

When I saw the coal black horse with glaring red eyes on the cover of Winterling, I immediately wanted to know more about it.  It’s a Middle Grade fantasy, and as I have been having quite a bit of good luck finding satisfying stories with these books lately, I couldn’t wait to start reading it.  Once I picked it up, I could not put it down again.  This is an exciting, magical read with a strong and feisty heroine who is moved by her heart to do the right thing.  My favorite kind of character.

Fer feels that she doesn’t fit in her world.  She hates school and the hurtful taunts of her classmates, and worse, once she climbs aboard the bus and is taken to the city, she starts to feel ill and muddle-headed.  Her grandmother, Grand-Jane, doesn’t seem to understand how wrong Fer feels when she’s surrounded by the city and her schoolmates, and she keeps insisting she go to school.  She has no sympathy when Fer gets into trouble for fighting, and Grand-Jane expects Fer to stay out of mischief.  Miserable, the girl forces herself to suffer through one endless day after another.

One day on her way home from school one day, she witnesses three wolves attacking a dog.  Upset that they are ganging up on the smaller animal, Fer bravely scoops up a fallen branch and wades into the middle of the fight, fearlessly chasing the wolves away.  When she checks the dog for injuries, she discovers, much to her surprise, that the dog isn’t a dog at all; he is really a strange boy named Rook.  Rook tells Fer about the Way, a magical portal to his world, and suddenly, Fer’s life will never be the same again.

This book had me hooked when Fer, despite her fear, bravely defended Rook against the wolves.  She is a girl who doesn’t know how to back down.  There is no challenge too frightening for her to turn away from, and she constantly puts herself at risk to save those around her.  I loved her bravery, and more than that, I loved her selflessness.  Fer never wanted anything in return, and she readily gave of herself, in a land that had long since lost the ability to be kind or generous.

Once Fer is swept up into the adventure of a lifetime, she learns the truth about her parents and the magical land she belongs in.  As she tries to discover the fate of her parents, she is challenged at every turn by the beautiful Lady and the hold she has over her subjects.  Breathtakingly beautiful and frighteningly powerful, her iron will keeps her subjects in line.  Enchanted by her glamor, Fer’s own magic slowly begins to uncoil within her, causing just enough doubt to break the Lady’s magical hold on her.

With Rook’s reluctant help, Fer searches for a way to fix both Rook’s world and her own.  With the Way opened, the weather in both realms is spiraling out of control, causing devastation and destruction.  Spring has gone into hiding, and nobody knows why.  Only the Lady’s bloody Hunts bring back the warm weather, but Fer isn’t fooled.  She knows that something is wrong, and that the Lady is leaving a terrible stain on the land. 

I was enchanted by Fer, an unhappy, sullen girl who, like the land she comes to love, slowly begins to bloom.  There is a strong and caring magic within her, and even though she tries to deny it, it begins to grow, compelling her to use it for the good of those around her.  Her kindness transforms those around her, even the angry and tricky Rook, a boy bond by a thrice sworn promise to do things he abhors.  Both characters change and mature during their adventures, and that made this book a delight.  As they learn to care for others, I learned to care for them. 

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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