A Dracu-lot of Covers (A Weekend to ReCOVER)

I have a nerdy Halloween joke for you all: 

Q: Where do vampires like to study science? 
A: In the Dracu-lab!  

Bad puns aside, the joke serves as a great intro to my spook-tacular edition of A Weekend to ReCOVER!  Bram Stoker's Dracula is my favorite vampire novel and I was really impressed with the number and variety of covers out there for this one. This goes to show not only is this a book that has stood the test of time since its original publication in 1897, but it's also a work that has weathered various reinventions of marketing for a very timeless tale.

Some seem to display scenes directly from the text while others dabble with more abstract images or typical vampire themes.  These are just a fraction of the many covers and if anyone wants to view more, check out the gallery at LibraryThing here

Do you have a favorite among the covers I've shown here?  Which edition of Stoker's classic would you be most likely to display on your shelf?
A Weekend to ReCOVER is an occasional feature hosted by Her Book Self comparing or discussing cover art, dust jackets, or anything else related to design and marketing of books.  Feel free to chime in with your comments below or create a post of your own (and be sure to leave a link if you do!).

And for those caught in the Halloween spirit, don't forget to enter the eBook giveaway for a copy of A.M. Harte's collection of zombie love stories, Hungry For You!

Author Interview - A.M. Harte (Plus a Zombie eBook Giveaway!)

Just five short days left before Halloween and today I get the pleasure of introducing all of you to A.M. Harte who wrote the delightfully funny yet creepy anthology of zombie love stories Hungry For You.  Along with answering all my questions about reading, writing, and surviving the zombie apocalypse Ms. Harte has generously offered to provide one lucky reader with an eBook version of Hungry For You!  Check out the details after the interview. (And if zombies aren't your thing, this could be a great chance to score an eBook for a friend as an All Hallows Read gift!)  Please join me in a warm Her Book Self welcome to A.M. Harte!

*applause, applause*

I have to start with perhaps the most obvious question about your book - why zombies?

I hate horror. I can’t watch scary films, I can’t read scary books, and despite being somewhat grown-up, I’m still convinced there are monsters under my bed.

But a key aspect of being a writer – and of life in general – is pushing past your comfort zone and trying new things. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a rut, either because you’re afraid of what’s outside or you’ve grown too comfortable. Yes, there could be a giant scary monster out there, but there could also be a double rainbow waiting to be discovered.

Fear is a great motivator because it shows you where your comfort zone lies. And tackling my fears by writing about zombies – the epitome of horror – was a challenge I couldn’t turn down.

On your blog you mentioned that the zombies in your work "evolve from faceless, insatiable voids mindlessly destroying the world and become people, individuals with whom [you] can relate." How did you develop this concept? Was it difficult for you to write from such a different angle as compared to traditional zombie lore?

I’ve very little experience with traditional zombie lore, so I can’t say which version of zombies I would find easier to write.

Traditional zombies cater to two very human fears: the fear of the unknown, and the fear of disease and death. Since I’m a scaredy-cat, it came naturally to write about zombies from a different angle to make them less frightening. So I gave my zombies human emotions and desires, making the stories less about disease and death, and more about the darker sides of love and relationships.

I think my lack of experience with traditional zombie lore was a boon – it made it easy to come to the subject from a different angle.

Which of the works in the collection is/are your favorite(s)?

It’s hard to say! I like each story for a different reason, so it’s difficult to compare.

The title piece, “Hungry For You”, is some of my best work and was the piece that most inspired the collection because of its tragic human/zombie love story. “Dead Man’s Rose” is another favourite: the creepy imagery and obsessive love really capture my imagination, and I put a lot of work into weaving subtle clues throughout the story.

I have a love/hate relationship with “The Perfect Song”. It’s about undying love and tea addiction, and sometimes I think the concept’s great, and other times I scoff at the faux-literary writing style.

And of the shorter pieces, it’s a toss up between “Alive”, which is about missing out on love and hits very close to home; and “Electricity”, because it lies somewhere between a very short story and a poem.

Have you always been a short story writer? Are there any pieces that you considered expanding to novel length?

I still struggle to think of myself a short story writer! I’ve always imagined myself to be a novelist – but I somehow ended up writing a short story collection instead. That’s life, I suppose, but I’m not going to complain. I’ve very much enjoyed the experience: writing short stories teaches you a lot about writing succinctly and writing well.

I don’t think I’d expand any of the shorts in Hungry For You into a novel, although if I had to pick one, it would probably be the title piece. I envisioned the short stories as just that – short – and so I’d be afraid of ruining them by trying to bulk them out into novels. Besides, I have thousands of other ideas waiting for their turn on the stage!

A friend once told me she didn't want me backing her up in the event of a zombie apocalypse because she didn't think I would be capable of destroying my own loved ones if they were turned into zombies. I was both flattered at her note of my compassion and insulted at her underestimating my ability to loot a Wal-Mart and wield a shotgun (beating Resident Evil 5 in co-op with my husband had to be good for something!) I responded that in the event of a zombie apocalypse I would most likely play the role of the mad scientist who captured zombies and attempted to cure them. I digress...there's a question in here somewhere - Do you imagine you would last long against hordes of undead? How would you picture yourself surviving?

I’ve never wielded a gun, I’m hopeless at video games and my pain threshold is embarrassingly low. Also, I run away screaming from all kinds of creepy crawlies. Chances of survival: not looking good. That said, I was on the varsity cross country team and have stayed relatively fit, so perhaps I’d be able to outrun the zombies whilst you covered my back with that shotgun of yours!

My zombie survival plan has always involved a boat with a built-in greenhouse and salt water purifier. I’m banking on the fact that zombies don’t float and can’t swim (even though one of the zombies in Hungry For You does both).

Along with your work as a writer you're one of the editors at 1889 Labs. Do you prefer editing to writing or vice versa? Can you explain the significance behind the press's unique name?

Ooh, tough one. Writing is my first love, but it’s a very tempestuous relationship with extreme highs and lows. Editing is the steady, comfortable relationship (assuming I get along with the author).

What I like about editing is that I see it as midwifery: assisting an author in the birth of their book, without the actual strain of giving birth. When I’m helping an author, I’m also learning more about the process and craft – all lessons that help me as a writer. But I think I’ll always be a writer first.

As for the press’s name, you’ll have to ask MCM, the company founder. He picked the name and has been fairly tight-lipped about its meaning. Personally I think it’s his year of birth....

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m serialising Above Ground, a post-apocalyptic science fantasy where humans live underground and the infected (werewolves, vampires, etc) roam the surface. It’s an action-packed novel following the adventures of Lilith Gray, a human girl who is unexpectedly trapped on the surface.

The Above Ground series ( http://amharte.com/abovegroundseries ) is my biggest project, actually. The main series will eventually become a trilogy, and I am tinkering away at accompanying side stories and novellas set in the same universe. For example, I recently published Belonging, an Above Ground short story which explores the origins of the human/infected divide.

Other than that... I’ve a lot of editing on my plate, and I’m still working on my master plan to try chocolate from every country in the world. I recently added Russia to the list!

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My main hub is http://amharte.com so that’s the best place to start. I’m also on twitter as @am_harte and on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/annamharte

I love to chat and am always excited to hear from readers – so don’t be afraid to get in touch. Especially if you come bearing chocolate.

And now for the giveaway! To enter, leave a comment below with an email address or way to contact you (blog, Librarything/Goodreads, Twitter) and answer the question, "How do you imagine yourself surviving - or not surviving - a zombie apocalypse?" You can also gain up to two bonus entries by leaving comments on my review of Hungry For You and today's post on Anna Harte's blog. (Be sure to check out Anna's blog - there's an additional bonus for commenting over there!)  Giveaway is open internationally and the winner will receive a code for a free download from Smashwords.com (to download the eBook in any format of your choosing). Winner will be drawn using Random.org on Monday, October 31st! Good Luck!

Halloween Books are like Pringles... (Top Ten Tuesday)

Paprika - Available in France!
You know that slogan for Pringles that says, "Once you pop, you can't stop"? Well, I'd like to amend it for Top Ten Tuesday and say "Once you Top, you can't stop" because not only can I not get enough of this super fun meme (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish) but I also can't stop at just ten books for today's topic!  The current theme is Top Ten Books To Read During Halloween and with ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and zombies overrunning my recently read list, I really can't pick just ten books to spotlight!

Her Book Self's Monster Mash of Halloween Reads

So we all have those books that we had to read in school, but every once in a while, the really cool lit teacher assigned one that was more spooky thriller than stuffy old book.
1. Dracula by Bram Stoker
This is still my go-to answer when people ask my favorite vampire novel.  There's a reason it's inspired so many spin-offs, retellings, adaptations, and updates. 
2. 3. Macbeth and Hamlet by William Shakespeare
I always love conversations with people that say they don't like fantasy but love William Shakespeare.  Let's see... Witches? Check.  Ghosts? Check.  Few people stop to think about The Bard as a source of spooky tales, but these two are not only my favorites of the tragedies but they also have a lot of the supernatural tied into their stories.
4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
This one will always be tied to memories of Halloween for me and, even though I have Disney to thank/blame for that (did anyone else adore that cartoon?), the original text is a really great story.
5. The Tell-Tale Heart (or just about anything) by Edgar Allan Poe
So I picked Tell-Tale Heart because it was the story that my sister and I used to scare ourselves senseless with but many, many of Poe's tales are excellent Halloween spooky stories!  

For The Younger Audience
Since I don't always talk about books for grade school or middle school readers on this blog, I want to point out a few faves for the kiddos.
6. Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe
I haven't read this book in ages but it was an all time favorite one from my youth! And the title - that beautiful portmanteau of Bunny-Dracula - still cracks me up!
7. What Eric Knew by James Howe
So I graduated from the Bunnicula series (Howliday Inn, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, etc.) to the Sebastian Barth mysteries and I think I worked my way through the entire James Howe repertoire at my local library.  These books were a great mix of supernatural and suspense!
8. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I almost didn't include this one because it seems like such an obvious choice for this list, but at the same time, it's a book I really enjoyed and can't bring myself to omit it simply because of its popularity.
9. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I really liked the movie, but I definitely loved the book!
10. Something Upstairs by Avi
This was another book that I count as a favorite from my youth.  This story of a boy who moves into a new house and is haunted by a murdered slave was a great blend of historical and suspenseful fiction and it secured my passion for both genres into adulthood.

More Vampires
For the people that don't like to accept Dracula as my favorite vampire novel, these are the very close runners-up.
11. Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
Yes, that GRRM.  Long before he was Dancing with dragons, Martin composed a story about vampires set during the era of steamboat life and the result is a delicious horror novel with all of the signature character development and plot intricacies that Song of Ice and Fire fans adore.
12. Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
I already sang the praises of this one in my Top Ten Book to Movie Translations. :)
13. Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth
Vampire action meets political thriller - the premise is unique and the execution is brilliant.

Previously taking second fiddle to vampires, werewolves and shapeshifters have started to take their own place in pop fiction and here's a pair of books that I loved them in.
14. Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
This second novel in the Dresden Files series showcased Butcher's ability to weave multiple plot lines into a cohesive entertaining story and this book dealt with werewolf mythology in ever manner possible.
15. Soulless (and the subsequent books in the Parasol Protectorate Series) by Gail Carriger
I could have included this one under vampires or ghosts as well, but of the supernaturals in Carriger's books, I know I'm not alone in preferring her werewolves most of all.

I feel like I should be able to think of more really great stories about ghosts and I'm sure in blog hopping I'll discover some titles that are eluding me right now, but the one I can mention easily eclipses all others right now.
16. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
I borrowed this book from my mom who must have decided it was okay for me to miss a few nights' sleep. Not only was I addicted to finishing this book, but it's also one that had me waking up and peeking sheepishly around my room at any little sound I heard in the middle of the night.

I should have Mary Shelley's Frankenstein on this list, but as my Top Ten Tuesdays are about books I've read and recommend, I can't put that one on here as it still lingers on my TBR list - with sincerest apologies to the Shelley fans out there.
17. It by Stephen King
I think there might be cause to shun me from the literary community if I wrote this list without a single King book (and no, I won't count #15 despite the relation).  I really need to read more SK, but this one is a worthy entry and is one of few reasons I don't laugh at people that are actually scared of clowns.
18. Still Life With Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Preston and Child's Pendergast series seems to keep popping up in my Top Ten Tuesday lists!  Plenty of works in this series could make there way into this top ten uh... mega list of Halloween reads, but Still Life in particular is another book that managed to scare me quite a bit when I read it.  It also taught me the valuable lesson - if you're going to read a book about a mysterious killer that strikes at victims randomly from corn fields, you may not want to read it on a solo driving trip through central Illinois in the summer. 

I suppose I have a hard time taking the undead too seriously when my two favorite zombie books are ones that really made me laugh.
19. Married With Zombies by Jesse Petersen
I won't rehash everything I said in my review but this book was a delightful surprise in bringing levity and laughter to the topic of a zombie apocalypse.
20. Hungry For You by A.M. Harte
And not only does this mash up of zombie love stories finish off my overly long list, but I'm also hosting an eBook giveaway of it along with my interview of author A.M. Harte tomorrow!  Check out my review from yesterday and stop by tomorrow to enter to win a copy!

I can't believe I did a double-duty Top Ten and actually hit twenty with this list, but I suppose the Pringles analogy should have served as a warning for those that didn't want a lengthy list!
Any books you think I missed?  Should I have included a category for witches too?  Which choices do you agree or disagree with? What Halloween book should I most definitely add to my TBR? (And if you don't like Halloween books, what are your thoughts on Paprika Pringles? I have a coworker from France that loves them, I was skeptical until I tried them and actually thought they were delicious!)
Thanks again to the fab bloggers at The Broke and The Bookish for always making this such a great meme to participate in and a special welcome to any readers visiting Her Book Self for the first time.  Again, be sure to stop by tomorrow for the Hungry For You giveaway!

Hungry For You

I rarely read short stories, and it's even more rare that I review collections of them, but Hungry For You by A.M. Harte was a worthwhile exception to this trend as it is unlike any collection - and really, unlike any book - I've ever encountered. And I mean that as an incredibly high compliment!

Hungry For You takes on the genre of zombies but rather than the typical approach to the zombie apocalypse with hordes of undead taking over the world (or classic literature), Harte uniquely examines zombies in a sympathetic light. In these stories, the undead are the heroes, the romantic leads, and the misunderstood protagonists of a wide variety of scenarios.

The entries in the collection range in scope of a few lines to several pages. Some are funny, some are disturbing but all are entertaining and well written. For those that appreciate the lighter side of zombie fiction and enjoy a chuckle with their chills, this is definitely a book to devour!
It's no coincidence that Her Book Self is trending towards monsters and mayhem this week.  With werewolves yesterday, zombies today and a vampire book later in the week, it's easy to guess that Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  In the spirit of celebrating, I'm also excited to present an interview with Hungry For You author A.M Harte on Wednesday of this week which will also feature a giveaway of this fun collection of zombie love stories.  If you like books that mix the morbid with the humorous, be sure to stop by later this week and enter the giveaway!


Calla Tor is an alpha Guardian, a werewolf of sorts, who unwittingly reveals her ability to shapeshift to a human hiker while saving his life. She never thought to see the young man, Shay Dorian again but when he shows up as a new student at her school and seems to ask a few too many trouble causing questions, Calla wonders if her act of heroism was a mistake. Her life had already been planned for her - she was to graduate high school and marry another alpha guardian Ren Larcohe - but Shay's inquisitive nature, and Calla's feelings for him, leave her questioning the life she's always known.

This is definitely a "peer-pressure read" for me as I picked it up from the library after reading several rave reviews of it from other bloggers, but it certainly lived up to the high expectations I had for it. I wasn't prepared to enjoy the love triangle, but I think Calla's relationship with Shay was portrayed well and Ren, who was a bit of a stereotype at first, became a more intricate character towards the end of the book. At the heart of the story though is Calla - smart, tough, and loyal - a heroine torn between her own desires and what's best for her family and friends. Despite her supernatural abilities she is an everyday teenager and her struggles come across as sympathetic rather than angsty.

Andrea Cremer has reinvented werewolves with her story of Guardians and Keepers, and the mythology and history that she writes into the world makes it easy for the reader to become enveloped in Calla's story. Nightshade is the first in a trilogy and with the cliffhanger that ends this book, readers will eagerly reach for the second.

I have to point out, also, how much this book reminded me of Matched by Ally Condie.  Granted Nightshade is more paranormal where as Matched was definitely sci-fi, but both books deal with a girl torn between the guy that society deems the right mate for her and another who represents hidden knowledge and a chance to question authority.  I know these aren't really new themes, but there were a lot of interesting similarities in how they were handled in both books.  I don't bring it up as a criticism because I enjoyed both books, but I was curious if other readers of these two works had noticed how alike they are.  

Random Nerdy Book Stuff

I was playing around with some data from my catalog over at LibraryThing, and one of their recently added record fields is "From Where" providing users a place to track their books sources.  For fun I thought I would compile the information for the books that I've read so far in 2011, and since I'm nerdy I put it all into a cute little pie chart:

Lest people get the wrong idea about my online habits, the Amazon field (comprising 27% of the books I've read this year) includes all the books I've read on my Kindle, the majority of which were downloaded for free.  Along with spotlighting my fondness for my public library (13%) and LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program (plus GoodReads giveaways =13%), this paints an interesting picture of my preference of Borders (10%) over Barnes & Noble (2%) or other bookstores (3%) when I was actually purchasing books. 

I suppose there's a good chance this post could be of little interest to anyone besides me, but it was an odd exercise in looking at from where I really do get the books I read.  Often people ask if I primarily read eBooks, and though I state that I still read plenty of paper books it's handy to look at how much (or how little) digital reading is a part of my book consumption.

Anyone else out there fascinated with random bookish data? 


I know young adult science fiction and dystopian works are hugely popular right now, but with all the praise and press I've heard for The Hunger Games, Delirium, Wither, and Matched, I've found another in the genre that seems to be running under the radar of popular titles.   Caragh M. O'Brien's novel Birthmarked was recommended to me by my librarian aunt and I'm incredibly glad that I jumped at her suggestion to read it (she hasn't steered me wrong yet).

Gaia Stone is a midwife who has learned all her skills from her mother - how to deliver a baby and how to calm and comfort a mother whose child will be taken from her, because in Gaia's village the first three babies born each month have a special fate. Three children a month are "Advanced" and pulled from their homes in the slums to be raised in the Enclave, destined to have better nutrition, education, and opportunities they would be denied outside the city walls.

Gaia has never questioned her life or her duty, but when her parents are taken to the Enclave and Gaia herself is interrogated about her mother's work, she begins to see beneath the surface of the life she has always known. Suddenly the strange tattoo, four small dots on the heel, that her mother has given to every baby she delivered gains a new significance and it is up to Gaia to unravel the mysteries around her when her own life is at stake.

Caragh M. O'Brien captivated me with Birthmarked. The dystopian world she created has just enough echoes of modern society to be realistic, but the future portrayed is a bleak and chilling one. I loved the way that science and genetics were blended into the story to create a tale that is as smart as its heroine. Gaia Stone manages to be intelligent and innocent, sweet but also strong. It is the dichotomy of her character that pulled me into the narrative and kept me hooked from start to end. Her relationship with Leon, the captain of the guard within the Enclave, was also handed beautifully. In a genre peppered with love at first sight or cliche triangles, their interactions of animosity turned mutual respect had layers of complexity that I really appreciated.

This is O'Brien's debut young adult novel and I eagerly anticipate more great work from her in the future. Birthmarked is the first in a planned trilogy with Prized to hit shelves November of 2011, and a third yet untitled book to follow in 2012.  I keep telling myself I'm going to stop starting new series books whose sequels are not yet released, but in this instance I'm glad to have read Birthmarked.  The mix of science and suspense, friendship and family, mystery and midwives made for a very excellent book.

Has anyone else read this one or planning to read it?  I'm curious to know if anyone wants to compare notes in how it stacks up against other YA dystopian stuff.  Maybe it's the science nerd in me, but this one spoke to me with an element of believability that I haven't found in many others.  I'm really interested to know if other readers agree or disagree!

Practically Perfect

Katie Fforde is one of my go-to authors for cozy love stories.  I picked up Practically Perfect at the library last week and - as expected - it was a quick, cute book to enjoy.

Interior Designer Anna is ready to dive into her latest project of fixing up a house in the Cotswolds and when she immediately strikes up a friendship with her neighbor Chloe, things are looking bright.  Of course, considering Anna's only staircase is a ladder and when she learns from handsome housing inspector Rob Hunter that everything must be built to comply with strict standards, she comes to think the house might be more than she bargained for.  Add in a rescued greyhound in need of a good home and the obnoxious mother of Anna's old flame living just down the street and all the elements are in place for an entertaining story.

This isn't a book with any grand surprises or overly inspired writing, but it is a cute and fun novel.  Even when the outcome is rather transparent, it's the journey of how everything comes together that makes it a sweet story.  I wouldn't say this was my favorite of Fforde's books, but as far as a cozy love story goes, it is Practically Perfect.
As I mentioned, I've been reading Katie Fforde's work for a number of years but it wasn't until recently that I learned she's a cousin-in-law to another favorite author of mine Jasper Fforde.  Now that's a family reunion I would love to be invited to!

My next major distraction

Many of you hoped, predicted, expected and wished for this to happen, but as I recently announced my presence on facebook, I suppose my next announcement comes as slightly less of a surprise:

HerBookSelf is now on Twitter!
This doesn't quite mean I have any idea what I'm doing yet, but as I navigate the fast paced world of hash tags (#), retweets (RT), mentions (@), and follows I hope to add a new layer to my blogging experience and connect with some of my favorite bloggers on a more regular basis.  I also want to extend a huge thank you to April over at Good Books and Good Wine.  I've long been a fan of April's blog and her post during BBAW was one of the main persuading factors to me joining Twitter.  The big surprise though came within just an hour or so of me signing up for Twitter and finding some favorite blogs to follow, when this note appeared:
April C
Hey all Lisa is way new to twitter, so why not give her a warm welcome and a high five for joining the land of twitter!!
And then I was inundated with notes of welcome, hellos, and a host of followers!  I replied, in Tweet, that I felt like the new kid at school who got invited to sit at the cool kids' table on the very first day!  And I also want to thank Lesa (from Baja Greenawalt's Cozy Book Nook) who noted that "Twitter looked like Greek at first" and offered to answer any questions I came up with; and another big thanks to Greg (the man of multiple blogs) who made a note on Her Book Self's facebook page regarding surprise that I was not yet on Twitter, which prompted me to check it out and join the fun!  I know I'm still learning the ropes, but I can't say enough how much I appreciate everyone being so friendly and encouraging.  And if any bloggers out there are still hesitant to join the Twitter pool, jump right in, the water's warm... just watch out for the whale!

The Throne of Fire

Carter and Sadie Kane are a typical young adult brother and sister - who just happen to be descendants of Egyptian pharaohs. Gifted magicians, the two have put out a call to other such talented teens and The Throne of Fire picks up shortly after The Red Pyramid with the Kane siblings providing training for their new recruits. Faced with a quest to wake the sun god Ra and prevent Apophis from destroying the world, Carter and Sadie must use their array of magic, brains and strength with powerful human magicians and a host of Egyptian gods joining the fight as both allies and foes.

Rick Riordan has mastered the art of modernizing the history and culture of ancient civilizations. Myths and magic are blended so naturally into the story that the novel is fully enjoyable while simultaneously providing the skills to sweep an Egyptian Gods & Goddesses Jeopardy category. The book is also told in alternating perspectives by both Carter and Sadie (who provide amusing chapter titles and humorous asides to each other throughout the narration). Along with creating two unique voices with which to frame the story, Riordan ensures that the adventures will appeal equally to male and female readers.

A good mix of laughter, action, and education, The Throne of Fire is an exciting continuation of The Kane Chronicles. Rumored to conclude in a yet untitled book three (possibly released spring of 2013), the worst part about this book will be waiting for what comes next!

"A Girl and her favorite novel"

Plenty of reviews to come later this week but for now I just had to share this quote:

The relationship of a girl and her favorite novel can be complex indeed.
― Andrea Cremer, Nightshade 

I think it's even more amusing in context, but I don't want to spell out the whole scene since I'm guessing the book may still be on some bloggers' TBR lists.  It was one of my favorite bits of dialog from the work and really sold me on liking Calla.  But I suppose I mentally cheer a bit when any book character turns out to be a bibliophile!

Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay tells the alternating story of modern day journalist Julia Jarmond and a young French girl Sarah Starzynski who lived in Paris in 1942.  Julia is researching the events surrounding the VĂ©lodrome d’Hiver, more commonly known as the Vel' d' Hiv, when Jewish citizens were rounded up by the French police to be sent to concentration camps.  Sarah belonged to one of the many families taken from their homes, but thinking she would only be gone a few hours, she secreted her younger brother in a hidden room before leaving her home. Clinging to the key with which she locked him in, Sarah's story unfolds between Julia's as the journalist finds a tie between her own family and the Jewish people that were pulled from their homes. 

I don't want to give away too much of this story so I will keep this review rather brief.  Though I liked it, I didn't love the book as much as I wanted to.  Perhaps I had some over hyped expectations from people that told me I would adore it, or perhaps I wasn't mentally prepared for a tear-jerker.  I found myself extremely ensconced in Sarah's story but less so in Julia's narrative.  Nevertheless, what I most appreciated in this book was the information about the Vel' d'Hiv and the atrocities committed by the French police.  Though I like to think I learned a lot in school about World War II, this was entirely new and shocking information for me to read.  For that reason alone, I do find myself recommending Sarah's Key to others. 

And it also leads me to ask, what fiction book(s) do you consider a must-read for educational content alone?  Even if you weren't thrilled with the story, is there a title that you consider important because of what you learned from it? 

Small Favor

Last year, I posted my review of White Night - book nine in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files - but I didn't realize until I was writing up my review for Small Favor that it's been almost a year between books in this series for me.  Maybe because I read another Butcher book earlier this year, it didn't seem like I had been away from Dresden for quite so long, but like any reunion with an old friend, once I started reading it felt like Harry and I had never been apart.  

An early winter in the Midwest is usually nothing to question, but when snows roll in mid-autumn, Harry Dresden - the only wizard listed in the Chicago phone book - knows to suspect something sinister. Mab, Queen of the Winter Fae, calls on Harry for one of the favors he owes her and though he'd like to pick and choose which assignments to accept from her, the last place he wants to be is on the Winter Queen's bad side. Add in unexplainable magical forces, a host of fallen angels, and a missing mobster and Small Favor is another excellent entry in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files.

Some fans argue that the inflation nature of the saga - baddies who keep getting bigger, stronger, and more numerous - has turned Harry Dresden into more of a superhero than an everyman protagonist, but I disagree. For one, Harry was never an everyman but his talents also never blossomed unrealistically. If anything, he's a hero who knows his limits and occasionally does manage to get his butt kicked a little. Second, along with increasing foes, Harry has stronger allies as the book series progresses. The supporting characters are often as endearing - and hilarious - as Harry himself and more often than not Harry is a team player rather than a lone ranger. Finally, despite his wizarding skills, Harry at heart is still a character to relate to. He is caring, smart, and funny and the series is as much about him growing as a person as it is about his magic.

I love that these books can thoroughly distract me from life. Filled with humor, action, adventure, and characters that I've come to genuinely care about, I know I can rely on Butcher when I find myself in that strange between book limbo phase when nothing I pick up to read strikes my fancy. Ten books strong the series refuses to run out of steam and I continue to look forward to the next entry.

I'm not catching flies, I'm reading a book! (Top Ten Tuesday)

I'm a compulsive book finisher.  I know, I know.  Life's too short to read bad books.  Why read something that you don't enjoy?  I can rationalize it from here to Main street, but when it comes down to sticking to a so-so book I usually do because of a nagging voice in my head that wonders if, by giving up on a book, I will miss the very best part!  What happens if the ending - the last ten, twenty, or fifty pages - holds the redeeming value of a less than stellar book?  How can I fairly rate a book I want to abandon if by chance the author's brilliance lies at the denouement?  I've tried to be persuaded out of my stubborn ways, but today's Top Ten Tuesday list features books that convince me that maybe a great ending can make a so-so book good because these are ten eleven great books whose endings made them awesome!

Top Ten Books with Jaw-Dropping Endings
In more or less random order - Underlined titles link to my reviews

(Bonus)11. Delirium by Lauren Oliver  
I'm going to start with this choice because I have a feeling it's going to be a popular one today.  The ending took this book from a decent young adult dystopia to a gripping and powerful novel.  Though I've stated before that I would love for the ending to stand and for this to remain as a solo novel, I admit that I'm captivated enough to want to devour Oliver's sequel Pandemonium.

10. The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
Fforde's wit is by far what sets him apart from most authors, but in this book he constructs a really great mystery that's also extremely funny.  The plot follows Detective Jack Spratt investigating the death of Humpty Dumpty (did he really "fall"?) and the ending is as unpredictable as it is hilarious and enjoyable. 

9. 1984 by George Orwell
It's tricky to do a top ten list about endings without revealing any of them.  Orwell's entire work is intelligent and thought-provoking but I'm sure many that have read this one concur that the ending has spawned Philosophy class curriculum for the ages.

8. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
This one is the first SAA book I read and it remains my favorite (though I will tip my hat in respect to those that argue Garden Spells to be superior).  The brilliance behind the ending of this book is that all the pieces are in place throughout the work for it to be entirely predictable and yet it still manages to be a beautiful surprise. 

7. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
From the setup of a fry cook who's friends with the ghost of Elvis there was plenty unique and bizarre about the first in Koontz's Odd series.  In talking with others who have read this book, I've found the ending to be quite polarizing - but I'm a reader that falls in the "loved it" side of things. 

6. The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
This book is the seventh in Preston and Child's Pendergast series and the conclusion of what they refer to as The Diogenes Trilogy.  What I loved is that this book ended with a kicker that I definitely did not see coming.  What I hated was that it offered a massive plot opportunity that was pretty much abandoned in subsequent books in the series.

5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The ending of this book is not quite a surprise since the narrator hints at it and then reveals it long before it happens.  What I love though is that it still manages to be awe-inducing when you read it.  There's a part of me that wanted not to trust the narrator and to cling to a hope that things would turn out a different way and the fact that even with the reveal the ending managed to be remarkably powerful makes it a definite choice for this list.

4. Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
With the exception of the first and sixth choices on my list, I'm trying to avoid series books  because cliffhangers at the end of book one or two of a series hardly shock me anymore.  However, what I love about the ending of Ptolemy's Gate - book three in Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy - is that he delivers a punch with a key character that wraps up the series perfectly.  There are times when I protest an author's handling of a series because it's not what I would have done, but this is a great example of an author delivering an ending that is a million times better than anything I could have conceived. 

3. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
The world needs more excellent stand alone fantasy novels and the world needs more writers like Sanderson.  This book was well-written, unique, and creative and the ending - which tied together multiple plot lines, characters, and climactic moments in one fell swoop - was absolutely brilliant.

2. Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
Many people know Harris as a writer from the book (and subsequent Johnny Depp movie) Chocolat and though I love her artistic and descriptive love stories, Gentleman and Players is one of the best mystery works I've read recently.  I really don't want to say too much about this book but if you consider yourself an armchair detective who loves a good mystery - go read this book!

1. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
This has to be my number one choice despite my reluctance to include "Book One"s here.  Even apart from the "what's next?" questions when any series begins I had to choose this book for it's emotionally charged finale.  Considering that upon rereading the book I was wondering if on the second time around certain characters would make different choices, I can't think of a better cap for this list!

So there you have my list of the week.  Which choices do you agree with?  Which do you dislike?  Have I given you any new titles to check out and/or avoid?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! 

For those that don't know or are new to the feature, Top Ten Tuesday is a blog meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  Check out their blog to link up with your own Top Ten Tuesday post and to find the schedule for future TTT lists as well.  (And for those who want a flashback to the Top Tens I've participated in you can see them all here.)

Series in September Wrap Up (2011)

October has arrived so it's time to wrap up this year's edition of Series in September.  (And here's a flashback to last year's wrap up post for anyone interested.)  This year I reviewed entries in The Alexis Stanton Chronicles, The Parasol Protectorate, Anne of Green Gables Series, The Goblin Wars, and Ally Condie's Matched Series.  I also had some meme-time with the Top Ten Sequels I'm Eager to Read and A Weekend to ReCOVER with Anne of Avonlea

Along with alerting me to how many series I am in the middle of reading, this September feature also makes me all the more aware of how much I enjoy sagas of great books!