Month: August 2015

Books to Read During the Game of Thrones Hiatus

Game of Thrones is over for another year, and we will have the long winter to get through before it returns. By now, the show has deviated considerably from the books (it would make a really good, expensive fanfiction) but it’s insanely addictive and entertaining.

In the meantime, since we won’t be getting Winds of Winter any time soon (I won’t believe any hearsay until there’s a publication date!), there are other fantasy series we can wile away the time with.

nameofthewind Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The story of the most-notorious magician the world will ever see, who is also… an inn-keeper. But hear his story and be whisked into the breathtaking life of an orphan of a traveling troupe, who stumbles into a world shadowed by an ancient menace, and becomes the greatest wizard willing to combat it. This series is just as vivid and engaging as A Song of Ice and Fire. It will stick to your very marrow and stay there. Fair warning—Rothfuss is just as bad as George RR Martin for estimating when the final book will come out.

Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Okay, so this is a lot more comedic than A Song of Ice and Fire, since Sir Terry Pratchett wrote it to make fun of the tropes in high fantasy. But still, there is a rich world full of adventure, charming characters such as the failed wizard Rincewood, a walking suitcase, and Death himself makes several appearances.

wheeloftime The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
Everyone thinks the fate of this author could be George RR Martin’s fate too. Began by Robert Jordan, aka James Oliver Rigney Jr, this series was completed post-mortem by Brian Sanderson. Still, if you love high fantasy and want to read one of the classic fantasy series, this is it. A war comes to a peaceful faraway village and the savage attack forces three young heroes to meet their destiny which began in the time known as The Breaking of the World. The series spans 14 books, so you’ll have plenty to tide you over until Game of Thrones returns.

mistborn Mistborn series by Brian Sanderson
Speaking of Brian Sanderson, he’s written plenty of fantasy of his own. Mistborn takes place in a world where evil is rampant—ash falls from the sky and mist controls the night. No flowers blossom, nothing thrives. The world lives in fear under the Lord Ruler for thousands of years. But Kelsier, a troublemaker and skilled thief, unexpectedly challenges the chaos and tyranny with a group of the underworld’s elite.

Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore
A lot of fantasy series don’t pay enough attention to the women characters. This is something that George RR Martin has awesomely subverted. Graceling is about a world where everyone is born with a special talent, their Grace. Katsa’s is killing. She works as the king’s thug, killing those she’s ordered to, but starts to investigate the true meaning of her Grace.

fellowship The Lord of the Rings series by JRR Tolkien
I shouldn’t even have to list this one. But if you’ve read A Song of Ice and Fire and not Tolkien’s masterpiece that really pioneered the modern genre of fantasy, you are missing out. Pro-tip—there’s an especially great audiobook recording on YouTube that breathes life into the books if you’re having trouble.

There are so many high fantasy novels out there, so I know I haven’t even scratched the surface. But these will hopefully keep us busy until we get to see what happens next for the battle for the Iron Throne. Let us know if you have any more suggestions for the hiatus!

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Summer Blogger Promo Tour Wrap-Up

SBPT15 MEME

Wow, the summer’s just flown by!

I hope you’ve enjoyed following along with the Summer Blogger Promo Tour posts that have been popping up here on the site for the past few Sundays. I think the tour was a great opportunity to learn more about other book bloggers, and it really opened up my eyes to how cool and diverse the book blogosphere really is.

Here’s a recap of the guest posts that have shown up here on BiblioSmiles:

July 5th – Naomi from The Perks of Being a Bookworm wrote “Harry Potter Captured the Hearts of Many,” and shared what JK Rowling’s series meant to her.

July 12th – I interviewed Erin from The Hardcover Lover here about her experience teaching and seeing teen books in the classroom.

July 19th – Zoey from Uncreatively Zoey visited to share her thoughts on “Book Blogging With Anxiety.”

July 26th – Alice from Wonderland Novels chose to contribute a personal favorite of mine – an Anatomy of a Bookshelf post!

August 2nd – Jessica and Amber of The Book Bratz (the hosts of this tour!) answered some questions about book blogging with a best friend.

August 9th – Nori from ReadWriteLove28 wrote “Nori’s Bookish Pet Peeves.” This image-centric post hit home for me, and I found myself saying, “That’s totally true!” more than once.

August 16th – Lauren of The Tattoed Biblio also shared her bookshelf in an Anatomy of a Bookshelf post. Love that her dog was included!

August 23rd – Sarena and Sasha of The Writing Duo (they’re twins!) took part in a book scavenger hunt!

Did you have a favorite guest post? I’d love to hear what you thought you of tour!

Thanks again to Jessica and Amber of The Book Bratz for making the first blogger tour on BiblioSmiles a success!

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak

theinvaders The cover of Karolina Waclawiak’s The Invaders is misleading. The bright colors and sunny scenery conjure up visions of an idyllic beach getaway, a life where the hardest decision one has to make is what wine to order with dinner (or what hour to start drinking). But this is a gritty story, full of shiny facades that are dull up-close and the futility of covering deep wrinkles with makeup.

Little Neck Cove, Connecticut is a community obsessed with appearing young and effortless – a prim beauty queen of a beach town. The women of the town wear bright colors in bold patterns. Like mating birds pruning their feathers, they sport colorful prints and dramatic necklaces in the hopes of appearing youthful and desirable. The men are aging in their polos and boat shoes, working their New York City jobs and coming home to drink and drive around on their golf carts. They have dinner at the club. They enjoy their beaches. They crave exclusivity. At one point this was a community of swingers, of husbands and wives in their prime, of virility. But now everyone is aging, and everything is done for appearance’s sake.

The chapters of The Invaders are split between the perspectives of Cheryl and Teddy, and both of the characters’ voices shine through in their narration. Cheryl is a forty-something housewife who seems to be fading out of favor. She was considered a prize, once: an adventurous beauty that men fell for. The beach community of Little Neck Cove has never let her fully into their circle, though; they favored Cheryl’s husband’s first wife much more, even if she was a tragic drunk. Teddy is Cheryl’s do-nothing stepson, who doesn’t pay attention to much of anything except his drug supply. When Teddy is kicked out of school, he comes to stay for good in Little Neck Cove, threatening the already-precarious state of Cheryl’s marriage.

Cheryl and Teddy, both crippled in their own ways, become unlikely allies as the beach community starts to crumble. A violent attack on a nature trail has everyone concerned for their safety. A neighbor’s hysteric demand for privacy results in the building of a wall around the beach, shutting others off from the pleasure of the view. A hurricane brews off the coast, threatening to send Little Neck Cove underwater. As the town unravels, Cheryl and Teddy unravel with it, questioning their roles and the expectations placed upon them.

While I couldn’t connect with Cheryl or Teddy on the basis of their experiences, the feelings they suffer from are universal; the desire to fit in and the overwhelming, frantic feeling of being cast-out are written beautifully here. The characters are placed under an unforgiving lens. We as readers get to see every crack in the surface, every weakness, and every unflattering angle. Did I tire at moments of Cheryl’s paralyzing fears? Perhaps. But as the story spiraled to its conclusion, I only wanted to hold on and get swept up in it all.

I was given a copy of The Invaders courtesy of the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: The Familiar Vol. One: One Rainy Day In May

[Editor’s Note: Please welcome Bob Raymonda to BiblioSmiles! Bob is the founder and principal contributor of Breadcrumbs Magan incredibly cool website that I’m happy to have contributed to. Check it out, and consider submitting a piece of your own!]

familiar Last month I finished reading my first book that wasn’t a graphic novel or continuing comic in ages—The Familiar Vol. One: One Rainy Day In May by Mark Z. Danielewski. Though, to be fair, calling a Danielewski work a novel, and not equating it to its unconventional layout and use of various thematic graphics would be a disservice. This spiritual successor to his 2001 masterpiece House of Leaves contains much of the labyrinth-like presentation that made that book so great.

The sprawling 800+ page tome is the first of a proposed 27 volumes, and what the author himself calls his answer to the golden age of serialized television. It stars a cast of nine characters so diverse you’ll often wonder what business they have in the novel together in the first place. But by the time you’ve found yourself at the end of its titular one rainy day in May you’ll be anxiously awaiting the release of Vol. Two, which is out sometime in October.

The cast, anchored by a seizure prone and animal loving twelve-year-old named Xanther, is spread out both across the United States and the world. The novel is filled out by Xanther’s game-developing adoptive father Anwar, therapist-in-training mother Astair, ambitious gangbanger Luther, taxi-driving Shnorkh, aging and paranoid computer scientist Cas, unlikable detective Özgür, recovering addict JingJing, and existentialist assassin Isandòrno. Each character is defined by a drastically different writing style, font, and layout on the page in an attempt to further individualize their oft-disconnected narrative arcs.

Parts of the book were easier and more pleasurable to digest than others. Xanther’s obsessive-compulsive need to ask questions, to quantify the world around her, was a delight. The relationship she shared with her adoptive father Anwar, shown delightfully through both of their perspective chapters, was equally easy to read. Characters like JingJing though, told with a combination of broken Singaporean English and Russian, made parts of the novel more of a slog.

I’ll also admit, with a project as ambitious as this one, there are sections that fit more fluidly together than others. Cas’ obsession with the Orb, a mysterious artifact that seemed to be some sort of computer, was fun to read, but hard to place within the mythology of the world. The heart of it though, which appropriately rests on Xanther, Anwar, and Astair’s quest for a dog to help curb her epilepsy, is fully developed and well explored by the time the end credits roll.

There were other aspects of the novel that may seem impenetrable to readers unfamiliar with Danielewski’s work. The novel is bookended with entirely disconnected segments that act as bizarre commercials, bite sized YouTube videos to break up its main action. This, coupled with the lengthy middle section about Narcons, beings that comment upon the story but don’t necessarily take place within it, would probably raise an eyebrow or two. Devotees, though, will eat these sections up; confident in the author’s ability to make them matter eventually, even if they seem misplaced within the moment.

Overall I had a blast reading this book. The composition of its pages and narrative framework alone were a joy to read, not to mention the vastly different plotlines intersecting all on the same day across the world. To those new to Danielewski, I might suggest powering through House of Leaves first, but the television obsessed and those with a tendency toward graphic novels will surely find something to adore.

Bob Raymonda graduated with his undergrad in Creative Writing from SUNY Purchase. He’s spent his years since graduating working primarily within the online marketing industry, though he did have a stint interning for the magazine Poets & Writers. More recently, he is the founder and principal contributor of Breadcrumbs Mag, an online literary and arts blog that fosters creativity through shared inspiration across many mediums. You can find his work, and the work of others, there at: www.breadcrumbsmag.com.

Bookshelf Scavenger Hunt: Sarena & Sasha

(Editor’s Note: As part of the Summer Blogger Promo Tour, I’m so thrilled to introduce sisters Sarena and Sasha from The Writing Duo, who will be sharing her their bookshelf in a new and exciting way. Be sure to pop on over to their blog to say hello!)

We decided to shake up the normal “Anatomy of a Bookshelf” post style and do a scavenger hunt instead.  I gave Sarena and Sasha five kinds of books to find on their shelves.  Here are the books I challenged them to find:

1) A book you haven’t read yet.
2) A book you received as a gift.
3) A book with illustrations.
4) A book that was made into a movie.
5) A favorite cover!

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The smaller shelf is Sarena’s bookshelf, and as you can see, we’ve had to stack lots of the books/put them on top of the shelf to fit them all! From this shelf, we found:

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1) A book with illustrations: The School For Good and Evil by Soman Chainani! Sarena started this book and is really loving it. We can’t wait for the movie, either!

SASHA'S SHELF

The taller shelf is Sasha’s shelf. (We still share books from both of each other’s shelves.) From this shelf we found:

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2) A favourite cover: Cinder by Marissa Meyer. THIS BOOK IS GORGEOUS AND PROBABLY OUR FAVOURITE COVER EVER, just sayin’.

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3) A book we haven’t read yet: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen. Both of us have actually started it but haven’t gotten too far. We still want to finish it, though! It seems like a really fun, summer read.

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4) A book that was gifted to us: The Maze Runner & The Scorch Trials by James Dashner. Both of these were gifted to us for Christmas 2011. We loved The Mazer Runner and the movie!

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5) A book that was turned into a movie: Divergent by Veronica Roth. We both enjoyed Divergent and the movie, but it’s not one of our favorite dystopian series out there (oops?)

Thanks so much for the awesome scavenger hunt, Danielle!

SBPT15 MEME

Sarena and Sasha Nanua (The Writing Duo) are teenage twins living in Mississauga, Ontario. They love reading books in their spare time and enjoy science fiction and fantasy novels. They have been writing books since they were nine years old. The Gemstone is their first novel.

A Botched First Date: A Blog Tour Stop by Scott Wilbanks

(Editor’s Note: I’m so pleased to share that BiblioSmiles is a blog tour stop for Scott Wilbanks, the author of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. Gabriele was given a copy via NetGalley, and Scott Wilbanks is here to promote the book with a personal essay.)

9781492612469-PR I wonder how many writers can claim a botched first date as the inspiration for their debut novel? And if they could, how many would actually have the cheek to admit it? As Stephen King said, “Fiction is a lie, but good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” So here goes…

It had all begun so charmingly, really.

I’d lived in the Castro district of San Francisco for a good ten years up until that fateful moment, and can say with a good degree of certainty that our paths had never crossed until that peculiar weekend when I’d spied him at my regular neighborhood haunts five times.

The first of our encounters was so vivid that it even found its way into Lemoncholy‘s pages.

The cars crawled. A hummingbird inched forward like a slow-motion sequence in a National Geographic special, its wings undulating in the exquisite fashion of a Japanese fan dancer. A dog floated upward in the park across the street, a look of pure joy frozen on its face, eyes focused on a Frisbee hovering inches from eager jaws and spinning so slowly that you could read the word Wham-O on it. Then, whoosh… time repaired itself and Christian was walking all too quickly past the face with the secret smile.

Okay, so I just gave away two secrets right there. Christian—Annie’s best friend, a young man burdened with a debilitating stutter—is based on me. And, as the excerpt reveals, I do love my melodrama.

But getting back to those mysterious encounters. As the narrative indicates, I quickly dubbed the object of my fascination “the face,” and by the fifth encounter (at the gym), one that involved my tank top and a joke about “third cousins, twice removed” that earned me a laugh, I had his phone number.

We met for coffee—a calculated decision on my part—what with dinner showing too much commitment, and drinks at the local pub showing too little class.  In my opinion, coffee for a first date is the equivalent of the third bear’s porridge. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, it puts everybody at ease, and is j-u-s-t right.

Truth be told, I’d thought everything was going swimmingly, that is until my date made it clear that it wasn’t by rocking back in his chair to declare, “I think we are destined to be great friends.”

Great… friends.

Not the comment you’d expect when you’re picking colors for a picket fence.—I might have been jumping the gun a wee bit, but who hasn’t? I’d even come up with a name for the dog the two of us would surely be adopting. Sneeze.  I’d already decided that we’d name him Sneeze.

Thirty minutes and a cataclysmic decline into tragically boring conversation later, I found myself driving home—fenceless, dogless (sad face emoji)—and with my tail tucked firmly between my legs when it occurred to me that things are only inevitable when you accept them as such. By the time I’d pulled into my drive, I’d concocted a pair of characters in my head—Annabelle Aster, a modern day San Francisco eccentric with a penchant for Victorian clothes, and Elsbeth Grundy, a cantankerous, old schoolmarm living in turn-of-the-century wheat field —pen pals who write one another between contemporary San Francisco and Victorian Kansas, depositing their correspondences in a brass letterbox that stands in some common magical ground between the two.

I ran upstairs, whipped up a letter from Annie to Elsbeth in which she asked for advice regarding her love-struck friend—me—and promptly emailed it to my date. I know, right?

The following day, I received a call. Amidst the laughter in the background, I was slowly beginning to grasp that my email had made the rounds at my failed date’s office and was a bit of a hit. More were demanded.

“Sadly, I cannot,” I said.

“Why’s that?”

Wait for it now…  (This part is positively diabolical.)  “Elsbeth hasn’t written back,” I responded, as if nothing could be more obvious.

Within the hour, there was an email in my inbox with Elsbeth’s name in the subject line. And while he’d certainly gotten into the spirit of things, I must admit that Elsbeth’s grammar was shockingly poor for a schoolmarm.

These letters became a regular thing, and ultimately formed the core around which I built the plot of my book.

And what my date’s prognostication, you might ask? We did become the best of friends. After all, how could we not? He’d inspired Edmond, the character in Lemoncholy who coaxes Christian’s secret to the surface, curing him of his stutter.

Sadly, my friend passed away two years ago, though I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s rolling his eyes at this little piece of drollery from Heaven.

About the Book:

Annabelle Aster has discovered a curious thing behind her home in San Francisco–a letterbox perched atop a picket fence. The note inside is blunt—trespass is dealt with at the business end of a shotgun in these parts!—spurring some lively correspondence between the Bay Area orphan and her new neighbor, a feisty widow living in nineteenth-century Kansas.

The source of mischief is an antique door Annie installed at the rear of her house. The man who made the door—a famed Victorian illusionist—died under mysterious circumstances.

Annie and her new neighbor, with the help of friends and strangers alike, must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and somehow already did.

Scott Wilbanks graduated summa cum laude from The University of Oklahoma and went on to garner several national titles in the sport of gymnastics. Scott’s husband, Mike, is a New Zealander by birth, and the two split their time between the two countries while Scott is at work on his next standalone novel. Visit Scott’s website at scottbwilbanks.com.

Review: George by Alex Gino

[Editor’s Note: Please welcome Hannah to BiblioSmiles! I’m really glad that Hannah struck up a conversation with Gabriele at BookCon and decided to contribute to the blog! I hope you enjoy her review of George, which is set to release on August 25th from Scholastic Press.]

george This summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend both Book Expo America (BEA) and BookCon, two wonderfully nerdy book events that really just make me happy to be a reader. While there, I attended a panel discussing upcoming middle grade novels. Now I know I’m slightly above a middle grade reading level, but I truly love the stuff, so I couldn’t resist going to the panel.

Every book sounded amazing! One of them, presented by an almost tearful, gushing David Levithan, really got my attention. That book was Alex Gino’s George. Like so many books before it, and hopefully so many after, George sounded like one of those books Hermione Granger might even neglect her charms homework to read. I knew I absolutely had to get my hands on a copy, so I ran to grab myself an uncorrected proof before they ran out. And, I’m so happy I did.

George is about a little girl who just wants to be the person she knows she is. She was born into a boy’s body, but she doesn’t feel like a boy. However, because of her age and the negativity surrounding the LGBTQI+ community, she doesn’t know what she is supposed to do with this heavy knowledge. Transgender stories have become incredibly relevant stories in the news lately, but before George, I had yet to see it in many literary sources, and that wasn’t really fair.

George does everything she can to keep her secret, until one day she realizes that she really doesn’t want to anymore. She decides she’ll have to play Charlotte, the cunning and elegant spider from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and then everyone will know who she really is. But, she can’t do it alone. George enlists her best friend, Kelly, to help her on her quest to play Charlotte, and to be herself, and, as a reader, we get to join in and root for our girl as well.

George examines identity and acceptance in a way many children’s books do not. I wouldn’t say George is the best book I’ve ever read, but it certainly ranks high on my list. It’s perfect for anyone, whether they’re eight or seventy-eight, because it shows a perspective we rarely have the fortune, let alone the opportunity, to read. Alex Gino clearly spent a lot of care writing their characters, and it felt very special to share that with them. I’m looking forward to their future books, and I have high expectations to see more books like Gino’s in the near future.

Hannah Levine is a senior at The University of Michigan majoring in Creative Writing and Literature and minoring in Digital Studies. She grew up in Oakland County, Michigan and loved every second of it, although she would never pass up a trip to travel and see the world. Hannah is most proud of the moment she met J.K. Rowling and didn’t break into tears until after getting Rowling’s autograph. She is least proud of the time she walked past Mitch Albom at Campus Martius and was too nervous to say hi. You can check out more of Hannah’s random thoughts on Twitter at @hannah_levine or on her blog, Just Hannah dot Rose.