Sunday, July 29, 2012

Be Bold: Scarlet

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Walker, 2012

As soon as I finished reading this book, my immediate thought was "I need there to be a sequel in my hands NOW! Stat! Ready go!" This is very much a case of almost wishing I had waited until the series was further along so that would be the case. Almost, but not quite because that would have meant missing out on this amazing book at the moment.

In her debut novel Scarlet, A.C. Gaughen puts a twist on a classic tale many of us are familiar with: Robin Hood. In this telling, Robin and his Merry Men are still teenagers, including Little John, Much, and Will Scarlet. Except this time around, it's just Scarlet - she only pretends to be a boy to the people of Notingham (only a few, including Robin's band, know she's a she) because she is someone with a past she doesn't talk about, a thief who is not to be messed with, and a master with knives that you really don't want to be on the wrong side of.

It's nearly tax time in town and the sheriff shows no mercy in continuing to demand everything of the people in his jurisdiction. Not only does the group have the challenge of getting the people food and money, but the thief-snatcher Gisbourne has been brought in from London to try and catch Robin and the band. Hard as it may be to believe, while this is bad news for Robin, it's actually much worse for Scarlet.

If retellings and twists on classics and fairy tales is the new trend, then please count me in! Gaughen does a fantastic job of giving a fresh face to a story that's literally hundreds of years old. I truly felt for these characters, delighting in seeing them up to the antics that are traditional to the tale but there are also plenty of fresh twists and turns. The relationships and friendships among this group felt incredibly real and relatable, even though the story takes place hundreds of years ago. My only criticism is the use of "dialect" by the narrator, Scarlet herself, because it didn't feel like a full commitment. Mostly, she seemed to substitute "were" for "was," like "I were going to keep waiting, but night was falling" - that sort of thing. As the story went on, it became very clear to me why Gaughen made this choice and I like that reasoning, but I'd like to see it as a full, true dialect in the future.

Given the cliffhanger ending this book has, there better be a sequel, though there's not one currently listed on Goodreads at the time of this post being written. If you like stories that put a new spin on the tales we all heard in childhood, then don't pass up Scarlet.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

A.C. Gaughen's Website
A.C. Gaughen on Twitter

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday Words: 100 Posts and Counting...And a Giveaway!

Well readers, here it is! My 100th post here on The Fuma Files. If someone had told me a year ago that I'd have my own book blog, making YouTube videos about books, going to author events, and getting to meet so many other people who are just as into books as I am outside of library school, I'm not sure if I would believe them.

What started out as a fleeting idea in October has been a tremendous amount of fun and pride to me. I've learned so much, especially about the world of YA. I've gotten to meet fantastic authors and becoming a part of the book blogger community has been a joy. And of course, there's you, dear readers. While I don't have that many subscribers (only 17 at the time I'm writing this post), your comments and feedback have been outstanding and I hope you stay with me.

And now that part that I'm sure all of you are waiting for, my first ever GIVEAWAY! First off I want to mention that this wouldn't even be possible without Laci from Blog-O-Rama/LovePassionBooks - she generously offered up two of the three books you can choose from.

How to enter (open to US residents only): Leave a comment below telling me which of the following books you can't wait to have join your personal library and why. Your options are:

You can only pick one, so choose wisely - if you win, the book you picked is the one you'll get! I shall announce the winner (sorry, only one this time!) during next week's edition of Wednesday Words. Make sure you leave a way for me to get in touch with you in your comment (Twitter handle, spelled out email address, etc.) so I can notify you if you win. The winner will have 48 hours to respond otherwise I'll pick someone else.

Pretty easy, right? So let the fun begin!

So thank you all again for helping The Fuma Files reach a milestone today. Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Fame Game: Awkward

Awkward by Marni Bates
K Teen Books, 2012

Nobody I know particularly likes being embarrassed, especially during their high school years, but sometimes those situations are unavoidable and some people seem to have to deal with them a lot more than others. In her debut novel Awkward, Marni Bates captures all those feelings and begs the question, what would happen if one of your most horrifying moments was posted on the Internet for the whole world to see, and then that video went viral?

That's the situation Mackenzie finds herself in. After accidentally knocking over a football player with her book-filled backpack, she jumps on him to give him CPR because she thinks she killed him. Not only is that not the case, but someone records the whole thing and the video becomes a YouTube sensation. Now Mackenzie, the girl who wants nothing more than to be invisible, is the center of attention.

All in all, I found Awkward to be cute. It's a summer, read it in a day sort of novel. In many ways I could identify with Mackenzie and I found a lot of aspects about her and the way she reacts to things very realistic. At the same time, though, the numerous pop culture references have me wondering if this novel will be terribly relatable for very long. I enjoyed them now because I'm familiar with them, but whereas his novel shares a similar premise to the Robin Benway book Audrey, Wait!, I feel that the latter book has a slight advantage in that Audrey makes references to classic rock which has already proven can stand the test of time.

If you are in the mood for a fun, light, Saturday afternoon read, then Awkward is the book for you. I'm glad to have come across it on my library's shelf and I really enjoyed that it was what it was and didn't try to over reach, but at the same time, I'm also fine with returning it to their shelves.

Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading!

Marni Bates' Website
Marni Bates on Twitter

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wednesday Words: Why Can't We Be Friends?

As much as I strongly believe that books and stories can be tools of unification, it wasn't until I went to library school, began writing my own books, and started this blog that I realized how much division seems to come along with them.

There's ebooks versus print. Traditional publishing versus self publishing. Writers fighting an uphill battle to find agents. Agents trying to sell to publishers. Published authors versus sales statistics. Authors versus bloggers. Even bloggers versus other bloggers.

To put it kindly, there's an awful lot of tension in the room.

I know that it's not like we can all just call a truce and these divisions vanish with all of us waking up tomorrow being the best of friends. That's just unrealistic. What I am proposing is that we all take a minute to think back to those words many of our parents and teachers no doubt worked to instill in us as youngsters: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

Easier said than done, I know, but hear me out. I'm not saying this means all publishing is suddenly created equal or that agents are suddenly required to take on writers 'just because' or that there can be no such thing as negative reviews. I think we all must keep in mind that there's a person at the other end of all of this.

Aspiring writers pour everything they have into their books, and then they do it all again in their query letters. There's no way agents can give personalized rejection responses to every query, but to send a query takes a special kind of bravery in the first place, so is a form rejection really so much to ask? Believe me when I say that the form rejection is infinitely preferred to the 'no response after two months means no.'

Authors versus sales is something I know less about. All I can say here is that remember the long journey it took to get your book published and now here it is! You've accomplished what so many others are still dreaming of. Keep at it and your numbers will come.

And then authors and bloggers - come on, guys, really? We undeniably need each other and to say anything else is a lie. We all need to have thick skin, here. Authors send their books out into the world with the understanding that not everyone will love it. Bloggers send their thoughts to the Internet knowing that their opinions can impact potential readers. Most things in this industry are highly subjective and matters of opinion, and even if you didn't like a book, you can say so nicely to try to spare feelings.

And now I'm rambling here, but I think you can see what I mean. I still believe in the good side of publishing, that with hard work and a lot of luck, great literature is happening all around us. So play nice, people. We're all on the same side, here.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Something Wicked?: Chime

Chime by Franny Billingsley
Dial, 2011

This review was a challenge for me because I wasn't actually sure if I'd get around to writing it. Every once in a while, there comes a book where everyone else is raving about how amazing it is, but when I sit down with it, I feel like I'm missing something. That's almost how I felt with Chime by Franny Billingsley in the beginning, but I'm glad that I stuck it out and read it to the end. I must admit that it took me a while to get there, though.

Briony lives in late 1800s/early 1900s England in the tiny town of Swampsea, located not far from a swamp. Even though she's only 17, Briony still lives with her share of secrets, the two biggest being that she is a witch and that she is responsible for the accident that left her twin sister, Rose, unstable. The arrival of Mr. Clayborne, an engineer who wants to drain the swamp, angers the local spirits who live in the murky waters, so they send the swamp cough and infect the local children. When Rose falls ill, Briony knows she must do whatever it takes to save her sister, even if it means revealing her secrets and denying her feelings for Eldric, Mr. Clayborne's son.

The premise sounded like this book would be something absolutely right up my alley. I love England, I love history, I love fantasy, and it even has a dash of romance to it. The plot and the characters weren't what I found myself struggling with - it was Briony's narrative style. I loved getting to know this story from her point of view, but it took me well into halfway through the book to get used to her way of telling it. She switches back and forth between first and third person, oftentimes when telling a story about something that happened to her, she refers to herself as "Briony" and "she" which could throw me off from time to time. The first half of the novel also has a bit of a slower pace to it because Briony is so dedicated to hating herself for the things she blames herself for. I understand why Billingsley wanted to stress Briony's mindset, but I really appreciated it when the plot got moving along and the action picked up drastically in the second half of the novel.

Overall, I the story was alright. I feel that stand alone fantasy stories are hard to come by these days, and Chime is a decent one. However, I must stress that this is a book that requires its readers to be patient because they will have to wait for the story to unfold. If you're willing to wait for it, there's an intricate and fresh take on fantasy within these pages.

Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading!

Franny Billingsley's Website
Franny Billingsley on Twitter

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Where's Your Bookmark? (7)

My third and final video on Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for the YouTube Book Club. Since I've done the video series on this novel and talked about it from start to finish, I've decided not to do a written review of this book.

Hope you've liked these videos and if you like your apocalypse with a side of quirky, then Good Omens is the book for you!

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wednesday Words: Books as Physical Objects

Earlier today I heard from a friend who I haven't seen in months. She wanted to let me know since I am and always have been a notorious lover of books that a local bookstore is selling leather bound copies of classic novels at a really reasonable price in case I was interested. She herself is planning on getting at least two of her favorites mostly because she likes those stories, but also because they will look really pretty on her mantle above the fireplace in her home.

And so it got me to thinking about the good old ebook versus physical book debate. Now I've said before that it's very much a matter of personal preference. I own a Nook and love it, especially for when I travel or get the urge to buy something in the middle of the night. But that's just me, and that's not all the time. I also have a set of floor to ceiling bookshelves in my room that are nearly full with fiction, non fiction, reference, hardcovers and paperbacks of all sorts.

So this post is about why I appreciate the book as a physical object. Of course the value lies in the words on the pages, but many of these books, simply put, are beautiful. Carefully designed, a variety of colors and sizes, some old, some new. And behind each object is a story. I can tell you when and where I got almost all of these books on the shelves, what the occasion was, if I met the author, what that person was like, how I responded to the the journey contained between the front cover and the back. These are artifacts about my life and each one says a little bit about me, who I am and where I'm going.

I can't say the same for my ebooks.

And so, not just as a librarian but as a lover of these things which so many people are adement will be extinct in a few years' time, I say take care of your books. The books that have been passed on from my parents to me are treasures in my eyes, and I take care of these objects on my shelves because I can't wait to share them with the next generation some day as well. And I'll let them marvel at my Nook, too - maybe they'll have the same reaction to that as I did to my father's record player or my mother's 8-track tapes.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bravo!: Take a Bow

Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, 2012

*ARC supplied by Laci at Blog-O-Rama - thank you!*

Finding an author whose work you simply love and feel a connection to over and over again, book after book is the closest thing I know to winning the lottery. It's a rare thing to find, but when it does, man does it feel amazing!

I first was introduced to the brilliant mind of Elizabeth Eulberg when I read Prom and Prejudice last spring, a fantastic modern retelling of one of my favorite books of all time, the Jane Austen classic. I then immediately read The Lonely Hearts Club and the good times kept on coming. But with Take a Bow, would Eulberg hold three for three in my mind? You bet she did.

Emme, Sophie, Carter, and Ethan are all students at an incredibly competitive performing arts high school in New York City, and the four of them couldn't be more different about why they're there or what they want out of it. Sophie has a Plan - she is going to be a star and there is nothing and no one who can stand in her way. Carter is a former child star and acting is all he's ever known, but he's anxious to explore what else is out there. Ethan is a brilliant musician and composer, loyal to his friends but less-so to his on-and-off girlfriend. Emme is a music composition student too, writing songs for best friend Sophie to sing that absolutely shine and also playing in a student rock band with Ethan, but she's never been one for the spotlight. Of course no one's senior year of high school is ever completely smooth sailing, and this is no exception.

I can't say enough good things about this book! Though I did not go to a performing arts school, the situations that the characters were facing were still incredibly relatable to me. None of them are perfect (a few are actually very far from being so), but I still found myself nodding, thinking "yup, we had one of those at my school, too." The focus on friendships and trying to navigate how they work especially when your world is changing was sweet and clearly thought out. Plus, I must admit that as a former bando and member of the drama club in my teenage days, I have a soft spot for novels and authors who speak to the fact that music and the arts have a special way of touching the soul and that they do matter, especially in today's educational system that is so driven by other factors. Not all lessons are learned in the classroom and don't be surprised when the students are actually the teachers.

While I would have liked just a smidge more of the secondary characters (I loved the other two boys that completed Emme and Ethan's band - hilarious!), Take a Bow still gets a standing ovation from me. As with all of Eulberg's novels, I feel like her characters and mine (in my incredibly unpublished novel, but maybe someday...) would hang out and all get along really well. I cannot wait to see what Eulberg comes up with next.

Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading!

Elizabeth Eulberg's Website
Elizabeth Eulberg on Twitter

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wednesday Words: The Power of the Written Word

I don't know if there is any better day in America or as an American to talk about the incredible power of words. After all, it was on this day in 1776 that the language of the Declaration of Independence was approved and the first members of the Continental Congress signed it, a document which so eloquently and strongly declared to King George III and the world what the people of this country wanted and why they so strongly felt that we no longer truly belonged to the king's realm but instead must forge our own path as a new nation.

From the very first sentence, the feeling is conveyed that this is not a decision that we the people have come to lightly, but with much reflection and thought. Check out the language:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Simply put, this isn't some temper-tantrum, but a decision, a choice that comes with reasons which will be explained because we realize that we owe them at least that much. Would people today ever be so civil with such an idea? Personally, I'm not so sure. As well known as the first sentence of the Declaration is, though, it is the second sentence, the preamble that so many of us are challenged to memorize as students and with very good reason: it is the basis on which our country was raised, a profound statement on human rights, and an idea which many of us still work towards today:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

And then so followed in the document our reasons for claiming our independence and the reason behind today's celebrations. Never doubt that words don't have power - the Founding Fathers knew that words could change the world, one person at a time.

Happy Independence Day, America!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What Comes Next: The Catastrophic History of You and Me

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg
Dial Books, 2012

There are a whole lot of novels out there that take on the question of what happens to us after we die. I remember reading Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven while I was in high school, and while I really enjoyed it, I also had trouble connecting to it because the protagonist was an 80 year old man who had lived a long and full life. It wasn't exactly a comfort when I thought of the much younger people I knew who passed away.

So when I got my hands on a copy of this book, I was excited and appropriately nervous given the very delicate topic it was about to handle. Actually, I've been anxious to read it ever since I read my first blurb on it a few months ago, and I'm happy to say I was not disappointed.

Just a few weeks before her 16th birthday, Brie is on a date with her boyfriend when she hears the four words no one ever wants to hear: "I don't love you." The declaration breaks her heart, literally, and she dies right then and there. Now she is in the world beyond of the Dead & Gone, working through the five stages of grief before she can truly move on to heaven and the afterlife. Accompanied by Patrick, her life-after-death guide to this strange place she now finds herself in, Brie continues to watch the family and friends she left behind, learn the truth behind her boyfriend's betrayal, and try to (figuratively) mend her broken heart so she can get on with forever.

This is one of the strongest debut novels I have read recently. The voice is fresh. The situation is handled in a way that felt very realistic. Brie's pain and the pain her family and friends are all navigating was incredibly spot-on. I also loved the little touches throughout the book that, as the story went on, subtly added up to something much bigger in the plot that I hadn't seen coming (like how every chapter is named after a song, mostly from the 80s). Even though she has died and Brie is now eternally barely-not-16, she still shows a lot of growth as she comes to accept the person she was, truths about the people she loved, and make peace with all that has happened.

My only criticism is that towards the end, there may have been just a twist too many, making my emotions and thought process go "huh? Really?" but that's nothing compared to the many positives of this story. I'm also very sad that this is the only Jess Rothenberg novel out there right now because I'm incredibly anxious to read more from this talented and thoughtful new voice in YA.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Jess Rothenberg's Website
Jess Rothenberg on Twitter