Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Matter of Magic by Patricia Wrede

Posted by Simcha 3:21 PM, under | 5 comments

If you came to me and asked 'what is the title of that book about a street thief who tries to steal from a wizard and gets caught?' I could come up with several different books that would match that description. That's why I might not have bothered reading A Matter of Magic, which follows this rather unoriginal storyline, if it hadn't been written by Patricia Wrede. But because it was, I was sure the book would contain some wonderfully unique twists, as in all the other books of hers that I've read.

A Matter of Magic is actually an omnibus of two of Wrede's books, Mairelon the Magician and The Magician's Ward, as well as a reprint of the book Magic & Malice which was published in 1998.

Mairelon the Magician Kim has been hired to break into the wagon of the traveling magician, Mairelon, in order to look for a particular blue bowl. But when Kim gets caught by the magician her life is forever changed. Offering to teach her how to become a magician, Mairelon takes Kim away from her life as a street urchin as well as from the dangerous rogues who are after her. But the danger follows Mairelon and Kim even after they leave town because Mairelon has something that several other people want quite badly, and will kill to get.

The second book in the omnibus follows the story of Mairelon and Kim after their adventures in Mairelon the Magician, as Kim learns to become a young lady of society. I'm going to refrain from telling you anything more about it because that would reveal too much of the plot of the first book.

I've been a fan of Wrede's books ever since I discovered her Enchanted Forest Series when I was fourteen. I also recently read her book, Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot which delighted me just as much as her other books. So when I heard about the publication of A Matter of Magic I immediately added it to my wishlist and waited impatiently until I finally got a hold of it. Unfortunately though, A Matter of Magic ended up being rather disappointing and not at all the kind of book I had come to expect from Wrede.

Part of what makes Wrede's books so charming and delightful are the wit and humor of her female protagonists. I loved Cecelia and Kate from Sorcery & Cecilia and Princess Cimorene from the Enchanted Forest remains one of my favorite book characters. In comparison, Kim was uninteresting and somewhat bland, lacking the verve and the mischievous likability of Wrede's other female protagonists.

On the other hand, I did enjoy the character of Mairelon who reminded me of Howl from Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle.

The story was OK, but didn't really rise above any of the other books with similar plots. It moved a bit slowly for my liking and the end was played out in an unoriginal and chaotic manner with all the characters gathered together as the mystery is revealed, along with everyone's roles in it.

The second book was a bit more interesting, this time taking place in Regency London. The plot was another one that I've read several times already, of an unsophisticated, low-class young woman being taught to become a lady, with some magic thrown in. But although I found it to be an improvement over Mairelon the Magician it still wasn't as good as Wrede's other books.

So would I recommend A Matter of Magic? Perhaps to someone new to fantasy who hasn't already read several similar books already. But I would probably also try to guide them towards Wrede's other books and suggest that they might want to try those instead. Those who are already fans of Patricia Wrede might want to read A Matter of Magic just because she wrote it, and to them I would just offer a warning that in my opinion it's not her best work.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Adult Fantasy vs. Young Adult

Posted by Simcha 2:48 AM, under | 5 comments

Last month Leanna Renee Hieber had announced on her blog that she has begun working on a new project, this one a Young Adult fantasy series. Shortly after reading this news I noticed that Jasper Fforde had a new YA fantasy book scheduled to be released soon, his first YA after nine adult fantasy books. And this past August, soon after the release of Stephen Deas's second book in his Memory of Flames series, he published a YA novel set in the same fantasy world.

This trend, of authors of adult fiction branching out to writing YA, led me to wonder what the real differences are between young adult and adult novels and how these authors approach writing a YA book differently then an adult one. I was also curious why they chose to do so.

And so I decided to satisfy my curiosity by asking Leanna, Stephen and Jasper these questions directly, and they each graciously took the time to answer my questions, which I really appreciate.


Leanna Renee Hieber:

My work has always bridged adult and YA fiction. Many publishers who loved my Strangely Beautiful series but ended up passing on it said that they weren't sure where to shelve my Victorian Gothic Fantasy series; in fantasy, romance, or YA. Strangely Beautiful has a YA feel to it in many ways, but in the end was chosen for adult fiction because of the age difference between the hero and the heroine. I believe that's the correct move, but the series does have a mature teen following.

My upcoming YA series, “Magic Most Foul”, a Victorian Paranormal / Fantasy intrigue set in 1880 New York, will release November 2011 from Sourcebooks in Trade Paperback. In writing YA, I’m following where my author voice, passions and purpose are leading me. Because I specialize in 19th Century Paranormal Fantasy and have no plans in leaving the Victorian Era anytime soon, I wanted to bring my ability to create an eerie, rich Victorian atmosphere directly to teens. Essentially, I want to be a “Gateway Drug” to 19th century classics. I want a YA reader to read Magic Most Foul, an epistolary novel (written in letters, diary entries, newspaper entries, etc), then pick up Dracula because it’s no longer foreign territory. I want them to look at my theme of a haunted painting and then go pick up Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Each of my books will have a tie to a particular 19th century classic, in hopes of fostering this sort of cross-over between my work and the work that has inspired me since I was a teen.

The only thing I approach differently between adult and YA is the age range of the characters, making sure my pacing is a bit faster, and making sure the language is accessible, but still with the full, rich flavour of the period. The worst thing YA authors can do is talk down to their readers. But the biggest difference between my adult and YA fiction is that it sits on two different shelves. Readers who like one will like the other, and my hope is that cross-over readers will abound!

I’d say the differences [between YA and adult novels] are the examples I listed above, as well as a certain ‘hard to pinpoint’ quality. Because of the success of YA fiction lately, publishers are publishing a lot of it and looking for that next “Twilight” – which is hard to simply manufacture. The next Harry Potter and Twilight will happen for a confluence of reasons once its out in the marketplace, so in many ways, editors are trying to predict the impossible when it comes to YA and what they’re looking for.

YA fiction is not separated out into “Fantasy” “Romance” “Mystery” “Sci-Fi” “Horror” like the shelves of adult fiction are, and so while it doesn’t mean there aren’t genre conventions, it means a huge range of styles and takes are thrown into the same mix and consideration. Much like Strangely Beautiful, it took a while for Magic Most Foul to find a home, not because publishers didn’t like it, but they weren’t quite sure where to put it, even under the wider umbrella of YA. Being a Victorian Gothic Fantasy Paranormal Romance Suspense author with a dash of Horror that will appeal to both adults and teens has its ups and its downs. *grin* I’m just thrilled for the opportunity to be on both adult and YA shelves, and hope to remain on both, all while maintaining my particular style and voice.

Stephen Deas:

I was asked if I'd write something for Gollancz's "Fierce Fiction" list. I had the time and after some discussion with my editor, I had a story in my back-catalogue that appealed to him. Best of all, there was an easy way to weave it into the adult series, although that weaving won't become apparent for several books yet.

Now the original Thief-Taker's Apprentice was never written as a YA story, and to be honest, I've not changed much. It happened to have a young protagonist, it happened to be written almost entirely from his point of view, and it happened to have a storyline that was concerned with charting the growth of a boy into a man, an apprentice into a master. All those things probably sound like bread and butter YA, but it was written for adults. And in the end, although a lot did change for various reasons, there were almost no changes that came about because the audience was supposed to be different. In fact, I don't think there's any reason why a book that's written for and marketed to a YA can't be both challenging and entertaining for an adult audience as well. Eddings is in the YA section of my local bookshop but is clearly enjoyed by adults as well. Harry Potter. Twilight. Etc.

So while certain things might appear in an adult story that would be inappropriate in a story marketed to a 12-year-old (movies and video games have their formal certification schemes), I don't see anything that goes the other way. A publisher might say something about pacing and the complexity of language and the size of the plot; still, while I wouldn't call any of The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire or The Adamantine Palace YA in a month of Sundays, I know for certain that they've all been hungrily devoured by plenty of young adults.

So I suppose the answer, in summary, is 'not much'

Jasper Fforde:

The question is slightly confused by The Last Dragonslayer having actually been written in 1997, as part of the seven books I wrote before being published. At the time I thought given the failure to find a publisher for my 'adult' books, I would have a crack at YA. TLDS was the result. It failed to find a publisher at the time, and languished on my hard drive until remembered by my agent, dusted off and shown to a publisher - who loved it.

What's different about writing for a young audience and how to make it appeal? I don't know. Keep it intelligent, don't talk down, cut out excessive description and subplots, have a young protagonist and make all the grown-ups really dumb and in need of rescuing.

I don't know yet if it HAS worked, to be honest - it's only been out a week.

(after receiving the above response from Jasper Fforde followed up by asking if he made any revisions to the original manuscript of The Last Dragonslayer in consideration of how YA reader's tastes have changed in the intervening years)

I rewrote it only to make it better, to be honest.

Perhaps I am a fool for doing so, but I tend not to see what everyone else is up to, nor precisely (or consciously) tailor my work to suit current trends. I am sorry to say that I tend to write books primarily for one person: me. And since I am not very complex and a kid at heart, my writing may appeal to those of a similar sense of uncomplicated fun.

The bottom line is that I think the fundamentals of a good story is unchanged in taste from then to now. You can add iPods and stuff, but I'm not sure it is necessary, or relevant. If you start worrying too much about target audiences and what people expect, then you run the risk of writing homogenized books with little or no originality.

Writers, musicians and artists should set trends, not follow them.

I write what amuses me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Things I Love as Much As Books... Hammocks

Posted by Simcha 3:42 PM, under | 2 comments

Things I Love as Much As Books
Hosted by Brizmus Blog Books


I'm a firm believer that it's just as important to have comfortable place to curl up and read as it is to have a good book. And my favorite spot for reading, or just relaxing, is a hammock.

I love hammocks and if I could I would replace all of our couches and chairs with them, or at least hang them all from the ceiling (and perhaps when we get a house of our own I just might try this).

I received my first hammock when I was twelve, from my uncle who own an army surplus store in California (and if you like military gear you should check it out. They have some really cool stuff). When I got back home I hung up the hammock in the attic and proceeded to spend hours there each day swinging idly in the air and reading my favorite books again and again ( which were mostly Gordan Korman books, at that time).

Later, when I moved to Atlanta for high school, I hung up my hammock between two trees in the large,forest-like backyard. It was wonderfully quiet back there and I would enjoy just lying in the swaying hammock and staring up at the leaves and the sky.

When I moved to Israel I treated myself to a new canvas hammock which I hung inside the house, on a convenient hook that was left in the ceiling. Guests were always fascinated by the hammock and were curious to try it. I would guarantee them that it would hold their weight and usually I was right (though occasionally I wasn't and the hammock would collapse, much to my embarrassment)

But after a while I had to move the hammock outside because my kids kept mistaking it for a swing and if they saw me in it they seemed to think I wanted to be pushed. Or that I wanted them on my lap so we could swing together. And so my hammock moments are few these days but I do occasionally sneak outside, when my kids aren't looking, and enjoy some time in in it. Until they find me again and insist on pushing me.

How about you? Do you have a favorite piece of furniture for reading and relaxing?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gratitude Giveaway

Posted by Simcha 5:34 PM, under | 15 comments

Thanksgiving is coming up next week and this is a perfect opportunity for us bloggers to show our appreciation to you, our readers. Kathy, at
I'm a Reader Not a Writer, has put together this wonderful follower giveaway in which each participating blog will be giving away a book-related prize.

For my giveaway I'm going to select two winners, each of whom can choose two books that they would like to receive from the list below:

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Just Plain Bad (Bad-Ass Fairies Anthology, Bk 2) edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

The Girl with the Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

The Shape-Changer's Wife by Sharon Shinn

The Sword Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe

Servant of a Dark God by John Brown

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

Gridlinked by Neal Asher

Into the Flame by Christina Dodd

Atlantis Rising by Alyssa Day
Sins of the Flesh by Caridad Piñeiro

And because man can not live on speculative fiction alone, I threw in a few non-genre books as well:

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

In the Name of Salome by Julia Alvarez

Gardens in the Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko

Step on a Crack by James Patterson

To enter, please fill out
this form
All entrants must be follows of this blog

The giveaway runs from Nov. 17th through Nov. 28th and is open internationally.

And be sure to stop by all the other participating blogs:
(I apologize for the gray colored text, which is a bit hard to read, but I can't figure out how to change it)

Audiobook Review: Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

Posted by Simcha 5:06 PM, under | 3 comments

Bertie has lived at the Théâtre Illuminata for as long as she can remember and knows very little about the mysterious circumstances which brought her there. But that doesn't stop her from speculating about her past and creating imaginative stories about her mother and the events that led her to be left at the theatre.

Bertie has enjoyed a happy childhood at the Théâtre Illuminata, running wild and causing mischief with the her fairy friends from
A Midsummer Night's Dream. There is also her friend Nate, a handsome pirate from The Little Mermaid, who Bertie has begun thinking about in more than just a friendly sort of way.

But when one of Bertie's pranks goes awry she is set to lose everyone and everything she has ever known. In order to stay at the theatre Bertie must prove that she is capable of behaving herself and contributing to the theatre in a significant way.

While most of the theatre players are aghast at the idea of Bertie's banishment the seductive spirit, Ariel, sees this as his opportunity to finally become free. He longs to be released from his servitude in the Tempest and to release all the other actors from their bonds to their respective plays. Ariel believes that Bertie is his key to freedom and he will not hesitate to use her in any way he can if it will help him achieve his goals.

I listened to the full cast audio production of
Eyes Like Stars which was wonderfully fun and entertaining. I felt like I was watching the story being performed in front of me. Cynthia Bishop does a fantastic job narrating and each of the other characters were also read very well.

While I really enjoyed listening to
Eyes Like Stars I'm having trouble determining if I would have enjoyed the story as much if I had read it. The main character, Bertie, is immature and self-absorbed and I can't say I really cared for her that much. Most of the disasters that take place in the book are caused by her thoughtless behavior and when it comes time to repair the damage, Bertie's main thoughts are about how she can best save herself. She even gets applauded for saving a certain situation even though she was the one that caused it in the first place, and for which she shows no remorse.

I was also disappointed in Bertie's complete lack of sympathy for Ariel's pain and was surprised that the book didn't show how any of the other players felt about their entrapment in the theatre. Ariel seems to be alone in his desire for escape and I think some depth could have been added to the story by exploring this idea a bit further.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for Bertie I did really liked several of the side characters, such as Bertie's fairy companions and Nate and I think I might have liked Ariel as well except that he was read in a strange wobbly kind of way that turned me off of him, through no fault of his own.

Eyes Like Stars had a younger feel to it than I had expected from the reviews that I read, and at times I felt like I was watching one of those teen Disney shows featuring an overly dramatic, perky teenage girl played by Hannah Montana or Demi Lovator. But again, this is just the impression that I have from listening to the book and I might have come away with a completely different feel for the book if I had read it.

The reviews that I read of
Eyes Like Stars also gave me the sense that this a book which is particularly enjoyed by those familiar with the theatre and theatre terminology.
It's been years since I studied Shakespeare or any other plays and I've never had much experience with the theatre and so I'm sure that I didn't have as much of an appreciation for the book as those who did get all of the theatre and literary references.

If you are looking for a fun audiobook to listen to than I would certainly recommend the
Eyes Like Stars full cast production, especially if you enjoy those Disney teen TV shows (I will admit here to watching the occasional episode of Wizards of Waverly Place). As for reading the book in paper form, I think Eyes Like Stars will mostly appeal to younger teens as well as to readers with a love for the theatre.

I'm including here a short video that I found, and thought was interesting, of the actual production of this audio book. You can hear what the audio book sounds like as well as hear the narrators talk a bit about what's involved in the creation of an audiobook.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Scifi & Fantasy Releases: Week of November 14

Posted by Simcha 1:54 AM, under | 6 comments

I don't think I remember there being any other week with so many new releases that I wanted to read. At the top of my list is Silent Land by Graham Joyce, which sounds spookier than the kind of books that I normally read but after reading the description I feel a strong need to find out what happens to the young couple. Next on my list is the fantasy anthology, Songs of Love and Death followed by The Greyfriar and Tyger, Tyger. I've heard some good things about The House of Discarded Dreams by Ekaterina Sedia, but it sounds a little too weird for me. I think I'll hold off on that one for now.

I won't be reading any of these books soon though, as I'm taking a bit of a break from genre reading to catch up with all the other books that have been piling up. But I'll talk more about this in a later post.

Hope you have a great reading week!


Night Star (The Immortals, Bk 5)
Alyson Noel
Genre: YA Paranormal
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: Nov 16

In this installment, Ever and Damen face down bitter rivals, jealous friends and their own worst fears—all in the hope of being together forever. Night Star is guaranteed to mesmerize fans and leave them breathlessly awaiting the sixth and final book!

Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love
Edited by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois
Genre: Fantasy Anthology
Publisher: Pocket
Release Date: Nov 16

A groundbreaking anthology of fantasy and romance from bestselling authors in both genres, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

-Jim Butcher, “Love Hurts” (a Harry Dresden story)
-Jo Beverly, “The Marrying Maid”
-Carrie Vaughn, “Rooftops”
-M.L.N. Hanover, “Hurt Me”
-Cecelia Holland, “Demon Lover”
-Melinda M. Snodgrass, “The Wayfarer’s Advice” (an Imperials story)
-Robin Hobb, “Blue Boots”
-Neil Gaiman, “The Thing About Cassandra”
-Marjorie M. Liu, “After the Blood”
-Jacqueline Carey, “You and You Alone” (a Kushiel story)
-Lisa Tuttle, “His Wolf”
-Linnea Sinclair, “Courting Trouble”
-Mary Jo Putney, “The Demon Dancer”
-Tanith Lee, “Under/Above the Water”
-Peter S. Beagle, “Kashkia”
-Yasmine Galenorn, “Man in the Mirror”
-Diana Gabaldon, “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” (an OUTLANDER spinoff)

Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep
Michael Merriam
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Scifi
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: Nov 15

A new world is emerging years after war destroyed society. In a Minnesota lake, the last surviving loons, direct descendants of the legendary First Pair, await the one who can help heal the earth. Each year a human sacrifice is brought to them to be endowed with special gifts, but they come at a terrible price.

Even as the rest of the world rebuilds, Grace Kriske’s life is shattered. Unable to walk, she feels utterly dependent on her family and trapped in a community that disapproves of her rebellious ways. Grace’s only solace is her lover, David Tvedt, a trader who wants to take her away with him if she’d let him.

Yet something else calls to Grace, the loons. They haunt her dreams, lurking in her mind as if part of her deepest primal self. But when Grace is chosen as the new sacrifice, she’s afraid. Will she risk everything to help the community that shuns her, or will she choose her own path?

Tyger Tyger
Kersten Hamilton
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: Nov 15

Teagan Wylltson's best friend, Abby, dreams that horrifying creatures--goblins, shape-shifters, and beings of unearthly beauty but terrible cruelty--are hunting Teagan. Abby is always coming up with crazy stuff, though, so Teagan isn't worried. Her life isn't in danger. In fact, it's perfect. She's on track for a college scholarship. She has a great job. She's focused on s ...more Teagan Wylltson's best friend, Abby, dreams that horrifying creatures--goblins, shape-shifters, and beings of unearthly beauty but terrible cruelty--are hunting Teagan. Abby is always coming up with crazy stuff, though, so Teagan isn't worried. Her life isn't in danger. In fact, it's perfect. She's on track for a college scholarship. She has a great job. She's focused on school, work, and her future. No boys, no heartaches, no problems.

Until Finn Mac Cumhaill arrives. Finn's a bit on the unearthly beautiful side himself. He has a killer accent and a knee-weakening smile. And either he's crazy or he's been haunting Abby's dreams, because he's talking about goblins, too . . . and about being The Mac Cumhaill, born to fight all goblin-kind. Finn knows a thing or two about fighting. Which is a very good thing, because this time, Abby's right.

The goblins are coming.

The Back Door of Midnight
Elizabeth Chandler
Genre: YA
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: Nov 16

Psychic...or psychotic?

Anna knows her family is crazy. But when she goes to visit her aunt and uncle for the summer and learns that her uncle’s charred body has been found, her life reaches a new level of insanity. Her erratic aunt’s “psychic” abilities are exaggerated by her grief, and have become borderline violent. Alone in an unfamiliar town, Anna struggles to pick up the pieces and establish any sense of normalcy. She desperately wants to trust Zack, the cute boy next door, but even he might know more about the incident than he is letting on.

But when Anna starts feeling an inexplicable pull to the site of her uncle’s murder, she begins to believe that her family’s supernatural gifts are real after all. Torn between loyalty and suspicion, Anna is certain of only one thing: she must discover who killed her uncle or she could be next....

The Greyfriar
Clay & Susan Griffith
Genre: Steampunk/Alternate History
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: Nov 18

In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. Millions of humans were killed outright. Millions more died of disease and famine due to the havoc that followed. Within two years, once great cities were shrouded by the grey empire of the vampire clans. Human refugees fled south to the tropics because vampires could not tolerate the constant heat there. They brought technology and a feverish drive to reestablish their shattered societies of steam and iron amid the mosques of Alexandria, the torrid quietude of Panama, or the green temples of Malaya.

It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming.

Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire. She is quick with her wit as well as with a sword or gun. She is eager for an adventure before she settles into a life of duty and political marriage to man she does not know. But her quest turns black when she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan. Her only protector is The Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.

The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire is the first book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternate history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, The Greyfriar brings epic political themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

The House of Discarded Dreams
Ekaterina Sedia
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Prime Books
Release Date: Nov 16

Trying to escape her embarrassing immigrant mother, Vimbai moves into a dilapidated house in the dunes... and discovers that one of her new roommates has a pocket universe instead of hair, there's a psychic energy baby living in the telephone wires, and her dead Zimbabwean grandmother is doing dishes in the kitchen. When the house gets lost at sea and creatures of African urban legends all but take it over, Vimbai turns to horseshoe crabs in the ocean to ask for their help in getting home to New Jersey.

The Silent Land
Graham Joyce
Genre: Literary Fantasy
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date: Nov 18

A young couple are caught in an avalanche during a ski-ing holiday in the French Alps. They struggle back to the village and find it deserted. As the days go by they wait for rescue, then try to leave. But each time they find themselves back in the village. And, increasingly, they are plagued by visions and dreams and the realization that perhaps no-one could have survived the avalanche.THE SILENT LAND is a brooding and tender look at love and whether it can survive the greatest challenge we will ever face.


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