The Chalk Girl

There are two types of readers that will approach Carol O'Connell's newest book The Chalk Girl: those who know Kathy Mallory and those who are meeting her for the first time.

As a part of the former category, I was thrilled to discover novel number ten in O'Connell's Mallory series featuring the brilliant, beautiful, sociopath who is the law but doesn't quite object to bending it. The mystery presented in The Chalk Girl finds Mallory placed in desk duty after her unexplained absence but pulled into active service with a case of a serial killer stringing up victims from trees in Central Park. The only witness to the crimes is a young girl named Coco starving for human contact. Coco instantly latches on to the cold-hearted Mallory causing many - especially psychologist Charles Butler - to wonder if Mallory has a soft spot for a kindred spirit or if she's just using the girl's trusting nature as a means to solve her case.

Complexly layered with a storyline spanning past and present, O'Connell once again keeps the reader guessing throughout the entire story. Though I was a longtime Mallory fan when I picked this book up, the beauty of this series is that each entry can be enjoyed as a solid novel on its own. Granted, the back stories and character development of Mallory, her partner Riker, Charles Butler, and the rest of the well-drawn cast are painted over time throughout the series so that constant fans will have the benefit of closer ties to the key players, but that is not to say that newcomers to the books will enjoy this one any less.

Would you read them with a fox? (Top Ten Tuesday)

This week's edition of Top Ten Tuesday features a lovely topic of "Top Ten Books I Would Recommend to Readers That Don't Read (blank)".  The theme immediately brought to mind Green Eggs and Ham because I think many readers that typically don't read *insert your own blank here: audiobooks / young adult / fantasy* have the type of prejudice that Seuss's book related.  Just as Sam I Am's friend insisted on not liking Green Eggs and Ham until he tried them, I think many readers could be pleasantly surprised about enjoying a new genre or type of book that they just haven't tried.  (And while I'm on the topic, is the ham green too or is it normal colored ham just served with green eggs?  And if the ham is colored should the book really be called green eggs and green ham or would that just kill the whole rhyme scheme?)

As always, though, I digress. I debated for a while what I wanted my list to be about.  Should I extol the virtues of R.A. Salvatore and Jim Butcher to those who don't read fantasy?  Should I rave about my favorite female protagonists to those who generally avoid chick lit?  Or maybe I should explain why not all vampire books are written like Twilight?  All of those would have made intriguing posts, but I thought instead I would tackle a topic that has more readers opposed to it than any others I encounter: Indie Fiction.  I'm guessing at that very announcement, many people X'ed out of their browser. *sigh*  Independently published fiction has a crazy stigma attached to it that it's no good, and it's a prejudice that plenty of readers cling to which is why this list was so important to me.  As a book blogger, I take recommendations seriously.  There are plenty of books I read which I know are not for everyone.  And there are plenty of books I read (both by indie and traditionally published authors) that I feel could have used a bit more work before reaching press.  However, as I present this top ten list, these works all come with a Her Book Self seal of approval.  They're all stories I enjoyed and would happily read again and I hope some adventurous blog reader just might take a chance on one or more of them! (Titles below link to my reviews.)

Top Ten Works For Readers Who Don't Read
Independent Fiction

10. The Muse of Edouard Manet by M. Clifford
Read It If You Enjoy: Romance; Time travel; Books set in Chicago; Historical fiction; Famous artists
Popular Book I Would Compare It To: Outlander; Girl With the Pearl Earring
Why You Should Try It: It's a romantic story with a mix of time travel, adventure, and a really fascinating behind the scenes look at The Art Institute of Chicago

9. Revenge by Mark Young
Read It If You Enjoy: Crime novels, Action adventure; Police books; Books about Native American culture
Popular Book I Would Compare It To: One of the Jim Chee Mysteries by Tony Hillerman
Why You Should Try It: Revenge has an intricate plot with layers of suspense, great characters and highly detailed setting.

8. Progeny by R.T. Kaelin
Read It If You Enjoy: High fantasy; Detailed world building; Loveable characters
Popular Book I would Compare It To: Furies of Calderon; Warbreaker
Why You Should Try It: Epic in scope, Progeny is on par with many traditionally published high fantasy works.

7. Adelaide Einstein by April L. Hamilton
Read It If You Enjoy: Women's fiction; Humor; Encouraging stories about friendship and family
Popular Book I would Compare It To: Everyone is Beautiful; Fried Green Tomatoes
Why You Should Try It: This was one of the first works of independently published fiction I ever read and I know it predisposed me towards trying out more indie authors.

6. Foxy's Tale by Karen Fraunfelder Cantwell and L.B. Gschwandtner
Read It If You Enjoy: Young adult fiction; Mother/daughter stories; A touch of supernatural
Popular Book I would Compare It To: Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic books crossed with a PG version of Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries
Why You Should Try It: The writing is smooth and witty and the story is clever and unique.

5. Color Me Grey by J.C. Phelps
Read It If You Enjoy: Action and suspense with a touch of romance; Kick-butt heroines
Popular Book I would Compare It To: Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination; James Bond meets Bridget Jones
Why You Should Try It: Phelps's protagonist Alex Stanton is a strong sassy female holding her own in a man's world and her adventures are a great example of fun, escapist fiction. 

4. Hungry For You by A.M. Harte
Read It If You Enjoy: Short stories; Zombies; Off-beat horror mixed with humor and romance
Popular Book I would Compare It To: Married with Zombies
Why You Should Try It: This is a great collection of pieces varying in length but they're as delightful and creative as they are gruesome and hilarious. 

3. The Legend of Lady MacLaoch by Becky Banks
Read It If You Enjoy: Romance; Magical realism; Books set in Scotland
Popular Book I would Compare It To: Outlander; Highland Fling
Why You Should Try It: This book is a beautifully woven story with a gorgeous setting and an intricate plot of age old curses and star-crossed lovers.

2. Take the Monkeys and Run by Karen Cantwell
Read It If You Enjoy: Mysteries with a female protagonist; Humor; Family stories
Popular Book I would Compare It To: Something by Donna Andrews or Heather Webber
Why You Should Try It: Cantwell is downright hilarious and her mystery manages to pack in a heap of suspense and intrigue while still being full of laughs. 

1. The Book by M. Clifford
Read It If You Enjoy: Thought-provoking fiction; Dystopia; Books set in Chicago
Popular Book I would Compare It To: Fahrenheit 451; 1984
Why You Should Try It: The Book is a novel for anyone who's ever contemplated the long term ramifications of our society's increasing dependence on technology and, specifically, what the move to eReaders could mean for our great literary heritage. 

So there you have my list.  Are there any that you have read?  Are there any that you may take a chance on after reading this post?  Do you hold to the stereotype that indie fiction is somehow not as good as traditionally published work or do you read work by indie authors?  (If the latter, I'd love to hear your own recommendations!)  For previous Top Ten Tuesdays on Her Book Self, click here

I'd also like to send a shout-out to those indie authors who I have featured on Her Book Self but whose works did not make this list.  I really wanted to stick to ten in the hopes that more readers will get through this whole post, so please do not be offended if your work did not make my Top Ten.  There are plenty more I could include but I did want to keep this at least slightly brief!

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms follows the story of Yeine Darr, a girl from a rugged village summoned to the lush capital city of Sky by her grandfather. After her mother dies under somewhat mysterious circumstances, Yeine appears before her grandfather Dekarta, who is the ruler in Sky, and learns that she has been chosen along with two of her cousins as potential heirs.

Weaving her way through various political schemes to remove her as a successor and trying to determine what really happened to her mother are enough of a challenge for Yeine. Complicating matters even further are a host of enslaved Gods residing in Sky - including the endearing Child-God Sieh and the dangerously alluring Night Lord Nahadoth.

I downloaded this book for my Kindle after hearing some glowing reviews for it. It took me a while to really get pulled into the story, but I appreciated the unique voice and creative storytelling of author N.K. Jemisin combining fantasy, romance, and politics. Yeine was a very original heroine and in many ways she was my favorite part of the book. At times the pacing of the story was a bit slow, but once I reached the central action of the story I was hooked until the end. This was a promising debut work with great potential for future entries in the series.

The Wolves in the Walls

I've always known myself to be an eclectic reader, but one genre I love, which I don't spotlight very often on this blog, is books for young readers.  As the saying goes, "We all have to grow older, but we don't have to grow up," there are few things that make me feel more like a kid again than a really great picture book.  Knowing this, and knowing how much I enjoy the writing of Neil Gaiman, my husband gave me the book The Wolves in the Walls as a Christmas gift!

The story follows a young girl named Lucy who hears some strange sounds late at night and is convinced there are wolves in the walls of her house.  Her parents and brother wave away her worries with theories of mice or rats or bats and reiterate to her that, "If the wolves come out of the walls, it is all over."  Despite the unbelief of her family, Lucy is right about the wolves and they do make it out of the walls, displacing Lucy, her brother, and her parents from their home.  Though it does seem to be "all over", Lucy comes up with a plan to get their house back!

I really enjoyed the cute and funny but slightly scary story told in Neil Gaiman's signature fashion.  Equally enjoyable were the illustrations crafted by Dave McKean.  I was first exposed to McKean's work through the feature film MirrorMask and have been a fan of his unique style ever since.  Though the wolves may be a bit frightening for very young readers, I think this is an exceptionally charming tale for grade school audiences.  And of course, it can be equally appreciated by much older readers as well.
Are you an older reader that is still a fan of picture books?  Have any great titles to recommend?

Six Geese A-Slaying (Plus a bonus poem by lisa...)

Twas the week before Christmas and all through my blog
I gave up on posting to sleep like a log.
I fought seasonal colds and needed my rest
'Tween volunteer projects, nap-time seemed best.
Followers were quiet, comment fields lay bare,
And I hoped that a new review soon would be there.
With book piles aplenty, library holds galore,
I should have found many a book to adore.
But alas the days passed and I turned so few pages
To read through a novel was taking me ages!
"Come new year! Come Spring! Then I'll finish more books!"
Yet this bold declaration drew skeptical looks.
Without book consumption, of what would I post?
For what is a blog with a stricken mute host?
Her Book Self lay silent awaiting my time
And all I could manage was this silly rhyme
Explaining my absence with wishes for more
Posting and writing as in blog days of yore. 
Plus a bonus review of a holiday tale
I picked up for free at a library sale!
(For those who want Christmas over and done,
Pick this one up next year, it really was fun!)
Now on to reviewing a mystery delight,
Happy reading to all and to all a book light!

I know I'm overdue on posting this review, as the Christmas season is quickly fading to eggnog hangover memories and regretful bill paying of impulse induced gift purchases, but just before the holidays I finished a Christmas themed book that I really did enjoy.  Six Geese A-Slaying by Donna Andrews is the tenth in a series of (now fourteen) cozy mysteries featuring amateur sleuth Meg Langslow. This entry finds Meg reluctantly planning the town holiday parade - with a twelve days of Christmas theme - and amidst the chaos of drummers drumming, pipers piping, boy scouts camping, and reporters nagging, someone went and murdered Santa. 

I don't normally read series books out of order, but as I was in the mood for a cute and engaging book, I couldn't resist the holiday flair of this one.  I assume that the earlier books in the series provided more character development for Meg, her family, and the eccentric and varied cast of townspeople around her, but even without the background of their relationships, there was plenty of charm to entice me into loving the heroine and her team.  The mystery was well paced too with a good amount of red herrings and multiple motives to keep me guessing the murderer's identity throughout the story.  Six Geese A-Slaying was a really fun holiday mystery and I'm interested in checking out more from author Donna Andrews in the future. 

Wishing you all a slightly belated "Happy Holidays from Her Book Self" and here's to another fabulous year of great books and great blogs in 2012!

Farewell 2011, Welcome 2012

It's time for my yearly wrap up of books read in 2011!  Before I create my collage of covers, here are a few fun statistics:

Total Books: 74
Fiction/Nonfiction: 70 / 4
Re-reads: 4
Top Genres: Fantasy (26); Historical fiction (18); Mystery (8)