Tag Archives: books

New Book Release!

We all of us have monsters inside our heads: the folklore of that inward country, the things that frighten us when we are alone in the darkness. People not just of England, but across the world, find themselves haunted by thoughts of the same unearthly beings: vampires, ghosts, fairies, and gods. And if enough people have thoughts of the same monster, the magic will be given power to manifest itself in the image of what is feared. And thus the monster will be given teeth to bite, and will ravage across the land until it is destroyed.

When the newly-crowned Queen Victoria announces an expedition to India, Miss Winnifred Sebastian-Veals volunteers by joining an elite all-female group: The Society of Queen’s Own Monster Hunters. To her dismay, the other members are rather middle-aged, and more interested in knitting needles than sorcerous spells, vile manuscripts, and iron-bound doorways to hell. But after the Queen’s airship is attacked by an evil djinn, she discovers there is more to the ladies–and herself–than she ever imagined.

Warning: contains horrible ghosts, mermaids, gigantic worms, ghouls, sea monsters, pirates, and incredibly silly Victorian fashions. Also several attractive men who may–or may not–be of possible Romantic Interest.

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Now for sale on Amazon.com. And starting tomorrow – this first volume will be FREE for one week!  Also, if you sign up for my author newsletter, I’ll send you another free book: An Intelligence of Zombies. It’s the prequel to this new series.

Also available on Amazon.com is the second book in this new Society of Queen’s Own Monster Hunters:

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Books 3 & 4 will be up for sale very soon!

Interesting fact: the dress on the covers is actually designed and created by me.

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Best Books of 2011

In 2011, I challenged myself to read 150 books.  I ended up reading 165; although there were a few of those which were too horrible to finish reading, and a few more that were either children’s books or manga (and thus very quick to read.)

You can check out all my reviews on Goodreads, but here are the 12 books that really stood out as amazing for me.  I really had to be tough to thin them down to 12 – it was a good year for books!

#12: Surviving the Extremes: A Doctor’s Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance by Kenneth Kamler.

Brilliant non-fiction book about what exactly happens inside our bodies when we survive (or don’t survive) extreme physical situations.  It’s just completely fascinating.

#11: In Royal Fashion: The Clothes of Princess Charlotte & Queen Victoria by Kay Staniland

Lovely and lush and interesting – a must-have for costumers like myself.

#10: Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier by Joseph Plumb Martin

Non-fiction memoir, written by an ordinary guy who was a soldier during the American Revolution.  Wonderful to see the war through the eyes of someone who wasn’t an officer or politician.  And I really liked *him* as a person, too – I’m hoping we’re actually related.  One of my family names is Plumb!

#9: Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson

This is one of those books that is shelved with the children’s pictures books, but is really for everyone.  It’s perfection.  Anyone who has ever loved an animal needs to read this!

#8: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

This deserves to become one of the great children’s classics, like Peter Pan or Harry Potter.  Utterly charming and quirky and old-fashioned.

#7: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

This is the first time one of Butcher’s books has made my best-of list, even though I’ve been reading him for ages.  Every book he writes keeps getting better (so unusual in a series author!) and with this one, he finally broke my heart.  In the best, most perfect way.

#6: The Jugger by Richard Stark

Stark writes teeny tiny little mysteries/thrillers, with a professional criminal as his hero.  They are very dark, very funny, and probably the best-written books I have ever read.  Each word Stark writes is perfect.  This is a series that I am reading very, very slowly, allowing myself only a book every couple of years, because they cannot be rushed.

#5: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

When he’s on top of his game, King can write about anything and anyone – even on subjects you have absolutely zero interest in – and make you love them.  He writes with such love for his worlds and his characters…and then he rips them apart and you with them.  Me, for instance – I don’t like the sixties, and I have an absolute antipathy for JFK.  I would never, ever have read this book if anyone other than King had written it.  But he did, and I did, and now it’s number five on my list of best books.

#4: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Quite simply, Morgenstern created one of the worlds I always wished I lived in.  And then she described it so lushly and overwhelmingly that I felt as though I did.

#3: Harry Potter Page to Screen by Bob McCabe

This is a must-own for any Harry Potter fan.  It’s HUGE.  And I wish it were four times as big.  Such a gorgeous book.

#2: At Home: a Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

I got so much enjoyment from this book.  It’s one of those books where you want to read every other section aloud to whoever happens to be in the room, just so you can share the fascination.  The hands-down best non-fiction book I read in 2011.

#1: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Don’t judge it by the cover – this is definitely not a horror book.  I was completely blown away by this book, by its heart, its truth, and its story. This is a very, very special book; one that everyone should read. It had me in tears, and I am not a girl who cries easily. This is absolutely my top pick from the 165 books I read in 2011.   It also has the most beautiful and haunting artwork that is completely integral to the story.

A Year in Books

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions.  I tend to celebrate my ‘new year feelings’ on July 4th anyway, which is when I get all introspective and moody on the previous year, and give myself either a thumbs up or down.

But, to celebrate the ‘official’ New Years, I’m making a not-really-resolution to read (and write) more good books.  (Hey, I was totally going to do that anyway!)  By my best count, I’ve read 110 books this year, and when I go through the list, I can single out 11 of those as being truly good books.  The sort of books that, months later, when I see their titles written down, they give me that tingle of happy memory.  Here they are (in no particular order of goodness):

Black Juice, by Margo Lanagan.  This is a collection of short stories, and while I don’t remember most of the stories in it, one does stand out as being one of the top five short stories I’ve read in my entire life: Singing My Sister Down.  I still get chills, thinking of it!

Tesla: Man out of Time, by Margaret Cheney. This non-fiction book about America’s true genius will completely change your view of history.

Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater. Wonderful and haunting.

Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks. The first of a fantasy trilogy, and the others are equally good.  Deep, shocking, and twisty!

Mimus, by Jeffrey Masson. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, this is character-driven fantasy at its very best.

Bess of Hardwick, by Mary Lovell. Non-fiction about an incredible Elizabethan woman.  And my ancestor!

In the Woods, by Tara French. Beautifully written study of character, masquerading as a mystery.

Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson. If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you already know the strong adoration I have for Sanderson’s writing.  He’s brilliant.

Common Sense, by Glenn Beck. Non-fiction about the trouble we’ve sunk America into and how to save ourselves.  This should be required reading for every American.

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. One of the absolute best accounts by an unreliable narrator I’ve ever seen.  Twisty, chilling, and mesmerizing.

Project X, by Jim Shepard. I can’t stop reading this book.  I’ve read it cover to cover three times, and every now and then I dip at random into it, just for the pleasure it gives me.  So true, and so perfect, this one has a forever place in my Top Five Books.

And that’s the 2009 Eleven Books I Loved.  When I was writing out this list, however, I was disappointed that several books I could have sworn I read in 2009 just missed making this list, having been read in late-ish 2008.  Since I can’t bear to leave their titles unspoken, I made a second list, of the Thirteen Books I Loved in 2008.  Again, in no particular order, I give you:

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. Grown-ups who don’t read “children’s books” are missing out.  This one is more eerie than Stephen King and more delightful.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. So. Bloody. Good.

Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. The man’s a master of words, and this is a true treasure.

Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson. This is the last book in a trilogy, and while I read all three with massive amounts of enjoyment, I chose the final book for my list, because this is where everything you think you know about his world and characters flips upside down, and you are left with your mouth hanging open in shock and your heart racing.

Time Traveler’s Wife, byAudrey Niffenegger. Brilliant story, brilliantly told.

Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan. Bears and girls and twisted fairy tales, oh my.

Traffic, by Tom Vanderbilt. If you drive a car, ride in a car, or walk near a car, you should read this non-fiction book.  It could very well save your life.  And it’s fascinating!

Passage, by Connie Willis. It sucks you in and won’t let you go.  Brain science and the Titanic, flawlessly mingled into a totally original work of fiction.

The Ghost Writer, by John Harwood. Okay, I will admit that the ending was flawed.  But the rest of the story more than made up for it.  Chilling and twisty.

Shadow Man, by Cody McFadyen.  Gory, riveting thriller.  Unlike some of those other guys (coughpattersoncough) McFadyen can write.  Lyrical and lovely even at its most disturbing, it doesn’t skimp on the thrills or plot.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Massive tome, massive but quiet story that lulls you with its delightful language and whimsy, only to creep up on you and half throttle you with nail-biting suspense in the last half.  Not to be missed.  There really is absolutely NOTHING else remotely like it in the literary world.

The Unthinkable – Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, by Amanda Ripley. Here’s another book that could be life-saving, and it makes for fascinating reading as well.

Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon. This is a undescribable and brilliant work of fiction.  Part coming of age, part fantasy, part mystery, part thriller, it brings me to tears every time I read it.  It’s one of those perfect works of fiction that touches you no matter how many times you’ve read it before.  I make a practice of reading it every few years.  Another Top Five Forever.

And there you have it, Alisa’s Year(s) in Books.  If you want to see the other books that didn’t make my lists, you can check me and my book reviews out on goodreads.com.

Book Snobbery

Someone I know asked how I liked this YA book she knew I’d been reading.  When I shrugged and said that the plot had sounded really good, but the book hadn’t lived up to my hopes for it, she said:  “I bet you wish someone would re-write it for adults.”

At the time I let it go, but the more I think about it, the more this sort of “adult book snobbery” is starting to offend me.  I see examples of it all the time, people who come into the library and ask for a specific book, but when I lead them to the Young Adult section, say “Oh, I didn’t know it was a kid’s book” and leave without it, automatically assuming (like the woman in the first example) that books written with children in mind are somehow below par.   And sometimes they are, of course; there are sub-standard books written for children every day and an unfortunate number of them are published.  But there are also plenty of sub-standard books written for adults. A good, well-written story cannot be predicted by which side of the library it’s shelved on.

Thankfully, but gradually, this perception is beginning to change.  Look at the success of Harry Potter; whole families (including grandparents) all reading and loving the same series of books.  Lest the adults who shy away from “children’s fiction” be embarrassed to be caught reading them, the publishers even came out with an “adult version” of Harry Potter – the same book, only with a less childish cover!  And now there’s the success of The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.  When he turned the manuscript in to his publishers, they didn’t know what to do with it; was it for children?  For adults?  Which side of the Great Divide was it to shelved on?  Finally, they came out with multiple versions of the exact same book, ones to be shelved with the adult books, and ones to be shelved with the children’s fiction.

One of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis states: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest,” and this is absolutely true.  No, I don’t wish that YA book I didn’t enjoy was ‘re-written for adults’.  I wish it had been written well, period.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written.  And if the book will be too difficult for grownups, then you write it for children.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

“Writing for children is bloody difficult; books for children are as complex as their adult counterparts, and they should therefore be accorded the same respect.”

– Mark Haddon

“You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults.  Only better.”

– Maxim Gorky

“There are good books which are only for adults, because their comprehension presupposes adult experiences, but there are no good books which are only for children.”

– W. H. Auden

Signed Books

I love getting the mail.

Today, I received my signed copy of Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris! This one’s especially cool, because not only did he sign it to me personally, but he also included a lovely message.

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I thought it was funny when Neil Gaiman’s signature looked like “Nei Gul”…well, I can’t begin to even make letters out of Sanderson’s scrawl. It is decorative, though. I have to wonder if it’s one he invented just for signing books, or if it’s the one he’s always used. Can you sign checks with a signature like that, for instance?

I also like how “guy” his writing is. 😆

Next on my quest for signed books, Scott Lynch (assuming he ever comes out of hiding – the guy’s P.O. Box is closed, and his website and livejournal haven’t been updated in over a year) and the most holy of holy signature grails, J.K. Rowling.

I also want signed books from Susanna Clarke, Robin Hobb, Stephen King (nearly as impossible as Rowling), Robert McCammon, and Cody McFadyen.

The Thump on my Front Porch

So right after I pressed the ‘publish’ button for that last entry, there was a lovely thump on my front porch.  I love such sounds, because it means the UPS guy is leaving me presents!  I opened the front door, and there’s a rather long, extremely thin package made out of a cardboard box that was collapsed, then re-taped back together in a custom-made shape.  It has my name on it.  Yay, me!

But I have no idea what it could be.  This is probably a sign that I do way too much online shopping.

Whoever wrapped it did an exceedingly painstaking job with the tape.  While I’m nearly slicing my hand open trying to get inside (it’s difficult to even figure out how the box opens, given the way it’s been re-made), I’m trying to remember what I recently ordered off ebay.  I can’t think of anything recent.  I can’t think of anything I’m expecting, from anyone, that could be this size and shape.  I’m very, very puzzled, but it’s feeling a bit like Christmas!

I succeed in getting one end open, and I pry it apart enough to look down inside.  I see something that looks like a book.  Which book could it possibly be?  The book refuses to slid out, and I have to cut more tape.  Finally it drops into my hand, and it’s….my signed copy of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust! I do a little jumping up and down dance, then take a peek inside the title page.  It’s signed in green ink, a name that looks something  like “Nei Gul”.  I guess this must have been one of those days when he signed something like a thousand copies and his hand was about to fall off!  Still, the book is awesome, it’s the illustrated edition, full of full color art – the two page spread showing the faerie market is gorgeously detailed.

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I have a literary crush on Neil Gaiman.  Besides the fact that his novels for both children and adults are exceptional, he’s such a nice guy.  He’s not too busy or big for his fans, and it shows on his blog.  One of these days I’m going to try his Thanksgiving cranberry jelly.

Here’s my list:

The feel of a tree frog, cupped in my hand.

A new piece of uncut fabric.

Ancient trees.

The smell of gunpowder.

A brand new pen.

Migrating geese, honking overhead.

Frozen cherries.

Anticipation.

Everything about a duckling.

Old things.

Thunder and lightning storms.

Roller coasters.

These apricot candies that are only sold in one shop located in VA (I live in WA). http://grandmaspantryva.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=GP&Product_Code=606

The look in my dog’s eyes.

Night.

The feeling of deep history you can only get in places like England.

An egg so freshly laid that it’s still warm and sticky.

French Fries.

Llamas’ faces.

Sitting surrounded by tall, wind-whispering grass.

Dreaming.

Fried chicken hearts.

Laughing so hard I can’t breathe for the pain.

Grasshoppers jumping away as I walk.

The smell of books and paper.

These are a few of my favorite things.