Friday, February 22, 2013

Thou Shalt Not Complain About Being Dead

There is a great legend of the guardian angel who traveled across time and space for the human girl he loved, slaying those who would threaten her with a gleaming sword made of heavenly light.

This is not that story.

Jerome Hancock is Heidi Devine's guardian angel. Sort of. He's more of an angel trainee, in heaven's soul-rehabilitation program for wayward teens. And he's just about to get kicked out for having too many absences and for violating too many of the Ten Commandments for the Dead.

Heidi, meanwhile, is a high school junior who dreams of being an artist, but has been drafted onto her basketball team because she's taller than many a grown man. For as long as she can remember, she's heard a voice in her head - one that sings Lynyrd Skynyrd, offers up bad advice, and yet is company during those hours she feels most alone.

When the unthinkable happens, these two lost souls must figure out where they went wrong and whether they can make things right before Heidi's time is up and her soul is lost forever.

This was a nice departure from the norm. Or at least my norm as of late.

When I hear a YA book will be about angels, I often expect that a book will be overly preachy about morals, heaven and hell, sex equals sin, man's (more often girl's) automatic tendency towards sex/sin, and the angel(s) being either holier than thou or threatened of "falling" because of love. Devine Intervention was nothing like that.

Here we have Jerome, a teen delinquent with an arrow through his forehead (wonder how he died?) who has been given guardian angel duty for a chance to redeem himself and graduate to heaven. Being a guardian angel, of course, comes with a whole bunch of rules. Too bad Jerome lost the manual a long time ago. About 17 years ago, actually, as his charge, Heidi, can attest to.

Heidi's lived all of her life with Jerome's voice inside her head. Of course, she doesn't know he's her guardian angel, so she's pretty sure she's insane. As if she didn't have enough wrong with her otherwise. Tall, gangly, misunderstood, shy, and prone to public displays of humiliation, it's almost a relief when the accident happens and she sees her body being taken away by the ambulance.


Now Jerome's eternal butt is really on the line unless he can figure out what went wrong, why Heidi isn't a typical dead guy, and how to fix things before Heidi vanishes for good. Heidi, meanwhile is confronted with a new perspective on life, death, and what is really important.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Tour That Left Me Breathless

Breathless Reads Tour
Last week I was privy to attend another YA tour hosted by one of the area's popular Barnes and Nobles. This one featured four very talented ladies promoting their latest (or first) publications. Now, this tour was split up between the coasts, so I got to see the West Coast leg of the tour, which featured Andrea Cremer, Jessica Khoury, Marie Lu, and Brenna Yovanoff.

The last time I attended an event at this store (with Laini Taylor), it was hosted upstairs in the children's department and it was woefully cramped. This time, thankfully, they moved the event down in front, which allowed for a little more space but was still a bit on the small side. B&N just doesn't have much open space in their stores, but I guess they manage alright.

The evening started out with the four authors making their way out of the shadows, but they were also accompanied by a tag-along, and familiar face... If you'll recall from the You Are Next recap, there was a certain red-haired blogger present in the front row. Well, apparently Sara, The Novel Novice didn't find the front row close enough, because for this event she was our lovely and talented moderator!

And if you'll also remember from that other tour, there was a certain hilarious reading exercise... Well, Sara totally ripped off I mean, made tribute to the YAN crew by having the four ladies on the spot follow suit. Of course, it's a whole different matter if you're not prepared - in fact, none of the authors even remembered to bring their own books! Luckily, the event directors were on the ball and speedily supplied the materials. Unfortunately, the authors didn't quite get the same speed in their reading, but that didn't stifle the hilarity as page after page revealed some pretty steamy stuff. I swear, there was nothing else in Andrea's book!

After the speed reads were over, Sara put forth some questions which were answered down the line, including that day's breakfasts, literary crushes, and what other YA book would their protagonist(s) thrive in. And yes, Twilight was a valid answer for one of them, but only because she's immortal and would greatly enjoy the company of other immortals.

And finally we got down to the awkward staring - I mean the audience questions! All four authors gave advice to blossoming writers, emphasizing that the publication of their work shouldn't be the goal, but rather to write the best story that they can (and publication will surely follow). I got a question of my own answered by Andrea, namely which of her series to read first, Nightshade Saga or Rift/Rise. Essentially, if you're in the mood for a paranormal/urban fantasy teen romance, shoot for Nightshade. If you're more in the mood for historical/high fantasy, you're probably going to like Rift & Rise at the moment. Neither should spoil the other. Great to know (especially since the Nightshade saga is getting another installment later this year!).

All in all, a very fun and informative (though not spoilery) evening with five awesome ladies. Though this particular tour has come to a close, if you do get the chance to attend a signing with any of these authors, you're sure to have some fun.

Breathless Reads Poster

Facebook: Breathless Reads ~ Andrea Cremer ~ Jessica Khoury ~ Marie Lu ~ Brenna Yovanoff ~
Elizabeth Richards ~ Morgan Rhodes/Michelle Rowen ~ Jessica Spotswood ~ Beth Revis ~ Fiona Paul

Blogs/Websites: Andrea Cremer ~ Jessica Khoury ~ Marie Lu ~ Brenna Yovanoff ~
Elizabeth Richards ~ Morgan Rhodes/Michelle Rowen ~ Jessica Spotswood ~ Beth Revis ~ Fiona Paul

Goodreads: Nightshade ~ Wolfsbane ~ Bloodrose ~ Rift ~ Rise ~ Origin ~ Legend ~ Prodigy ~
The Replacement ~ The Space Between ~ Paper Valentine
Black City ~ Falling Kingdoms ~ Born Wicked ~
Across the Universe ~ A Million Suns ~ Shades of Earth ~ Venom

Amazon: Nightshade ~ Wolfsbane ~ Bloodrose ~ Rift ~ Rise ~ Origin ~ Legend ~ Prodigy ~
The Replacement ~ The Space Between ~ Paper Valentine
Black City ~ Falling Kingdoms ~ Born Wicked ~
Across the Universe ~ A Million Suns ~ Shades of Earth ~ Venom

Powell's: Nightshade ~ Wolfsbane ~ Bloodrose ~ Rift ~ Rise ~ Origin ~ Legend ~ Prodigy ~
The Replacement ~ The Space Between ~ Paper Valentine
Black City ~ Falling Kingdoms ~ Born Wicked ~
Across the Universe ~ A Million Suns ~ Shades of Earth ~ Venom

Jan's Paperbacks: Nightshade ~ Wolfsbane ~ Bloodrose ~ Rift ~ Rise ~ Origin ~ Legend ~ Prodigy ~
The Replacement ~ The Space Between ~ Paper Valentine
Black City ~ Falling Kingdoms ~ Born Wicked ~
Across the Universe ~ A Million Suns ~ Shades of Earth ~ Venom

Monday, February 18, 2013

Flick and Swish - A Wand Review

For those of you who don't know, I am a Potterfan. I own two copies of each of the books (one hardcover and one paperback), I have two shelves dedicated to HP-related nick-knacks and swag, and I've attended a convention half-way across the country.

So it should come as little surprise to most of you that I own a wand. I've owned a wand since my senior year of high school when I received an Alivan's wand for my birthday. As I'm not really one for cosplay, it's mostly been a shelf-sitter, though I did take it with me to Chicago for the Terminus convention in 2008. Still, on my trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter I had every intention of buying a new wand, one that was 'official', but after a horrendous experience on the Hogwarts ride I declined supporting the park further.

Fast-forward to last year and the release of Pottermore. My favorite section thus-far has been the extensive wand-lore section, detailing each wand wood Ollivander uses and why. The site assigned my wand as Laurel, which fits me pretty spot-on:
It is said that a laurel wand cannot perform a dishonourable act, although in the quest for glory (a not uncommon goal for those best suited to these wands), I have known laurel wands perform powerful and sometimes lethal magic. Laurel wands are sometimes called fickle, but this is unfair. The laurel wand seems unable to tolerate laziness in a possessor, and it is in such conditions that it is most easily and willingly won away. Otherwise, it will cleave happily to its first match forever, and indeed has the unusual and engaging attribute of issuing a spontaneous lightning strike if another witch or wizard attempts to steal it. [Pottermore]
And so I've been doing my best to save money to one day purchase an accurate wand, either from Pottermore or some other artisan. In fact, there are quite a few wandmakers (and artisans of other spiffy HP crafts) on deviantART, and I've taken to following a few both there and on Facebook.

One of the artisans, Rumble and Roar Wandmakers [Facebook, dA], held a contest a couple weeks ago and I was lucky enough to win one of his basic in-stock wands. Between the available wands [Oak, Poplar, Cherry or Walnut] I decided that Oak was the best fit:
A wand for good times and bad, this is a friend as loyal as the wizard who deserves it. Wands of English oak demand partners of strength, courage and fidelity. Less well-known is the propensity for owners of English oak wands to have powerful intuition, and, often, an affinity with the magic of the natural world, with the creatures and plants that are necessary to wizardkind for both magic and pleasure. The oak tree is called King of the Forest from the winter solstice up until the summer solstice, and its wood should only be collected during that time. It is said that Merlin’s wand was of English oak (though his grave has never been found, so this cannot be proven). [Pottermore]
And upon its arrival late last week, I became the proud owner of two wands:

Rumble and Roar Oak1
Oak, 12 1/2 inches, sturdy and balanced
Alivan's Cherry & Maple1
Cherry & Maple, 13 1/2 inches, surprisingly swishy

The Rumble and Roar wand is on the left, the Alivan's is on the right. As you can see, each is very distinct and has its own endearing characteristics.

Rumble and Roar Oak2The RaR Oak wand is hefty—not too heavy, not too light. The handle stretches nearly half-way up the wand, giving it a good balance in the hand. The longer handle does make it look a bit stubby, but as I tend to rest my index finger just below the double rings, I'm pleased with the increased area providing me a stronger and more confident grip.

The visible wood grain is simply gorgeous. There's no mistaking this for a resin or clay wand by a cursory glance. The feel of the wood is unmistakable as well. It's sanded down and coated, yes, but there's still the rough natural feel of wood and the grain throughout the handle and shaft. What's more, this is one solid piece of wood. It's been coated in different finishes, but you can tell that the grain not only continues from top to bottom, but is seamless as well.

Finally, though it's not easy to tell with a picture, the wand is not perfectly finished. In a 360 degree rotation, there are inconsistencies: the top section of the handle, just before transitioning to the shaft, is not the same width all the way around; the wand proper doesn't taper off uniformly toward the tip; and in the right light you can see a noticeable ridge near the top of the wand. But in my eye, this only serves to highlight the wand's uniqueness, its character, its handmade charm. It simply seems more authentic to the technically inept wizards of olde that a wand wouldn't be completely smooth, evenly tapered, or without a crook, bow or notch here and there.

Alivan's Cherry & Maple2The Alivan's Cherry and Maple wand, on the other hand, is practically flawless. It's been sanded down so finely that I can only find one teensy rough patch at the tip. Most of the wood grain (though I don't know if those trees have as distinct patterns as oak) has either been sanded away or coated over, such that the couple distinctions on the handle look more like flaws or damage than part of the wood itself.

The wand is extremely light, probably half-that of the oak despite its increased length. This could be because the wand is thinner overall, and for more of the length (having a shorter handle), or because cherry and maple are simply not as dense (again, I don't really know woods). The significantly shorter handle does give it a more traditional appearance, but it is slightly too small to fit my hand throwing off the weight ratio slightly. It feels more like a toy than a tool.

Finally, there's the fact that it is made up of two separate woods. While this does give a very striking and pleasing appearance, there is the fear of a separation. I admit that I have tested the connection a bit and found a little give when twisting. Granted, I'd never try or want to try to actually break the wand, but it does seem more likely than if it were one solid piece. On my cross-country trek, I had this wand wrapped up in more padding than I did my laptop.

Now if nothing else, Alivan's has blown everybody else out of the water with their packaging and branding.
Your Alivans wand comes complete with two piece blue Collectors Box, Velvet Wand Satchel with satin lining (embroidered with gold Alivans crest)...and a numbered Certificate of Authenticity which (on the back side) details the magical properties of your chosen hardwood. [Alivan's]
Comparison Wands

So where does that leave me? Well, I have two wands each with their own pros and cons. The Rumble and Roar wand looks authentic and feels sturdy enough for conventions and travel, but does have a rougher texture and is a bit asymmetrical. The Alivan's wand looks much more polished and display-worthy, but is a bit light and seemingly fragile for my liking. For the time-being I'll be holding on to both, though if I find a Laurel wand at LeakyCon this summer, I might consider parting with one...

Regardless of my preferences, though, both companies offer customization and other products (brooms, pipes, WB licensed merch, sonic screwdrivers...), as well as excellent customer service and even the occasional contest for a free wand. So if you're in the market for a wand of your own be sure to check out these Master Wandmakers before you make a decision.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

You Should Be Next!

You Are Next Tour
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending another of Powell's outstanding author events. You Are Next features four YA authors who, apart from having recently published supernatural-ish books and similar quirky personalities, I'm not sure why they were grouped together, but regardless made a wildly entertaining night of laughs, photos, and fun.

Though the crowd was very underwhelming (maybe 15 of us attended), it was probably to our advantage as many of the night's activities were made that much more intimate. It was like we were sharing in our own group of private jokes. Of course, this is not advocating for leaving all your friends at home, but if you arrive and don't see a huge crowd, don't you dare chicken out! You won't want to miss these guys.

Now, the event features four authors...
You Are Next Authors
...but unfortunately Cat Patrick caught a bad stomach bug for the Portland stop...
You Are Next Authors minus Cat the remaining three improvised!

Yes, that's right, Cat was represented by a Bratz Doll bust, pictured on the right, and sat beside her latest book, Revived, on the table top. "Cat" was backed by her clever compatriots, Sean Beaudoin (The Infects), Kevin Emerson (The Lost Code), and Martha Brockenbrough (Devine Intervention) who offered a very welcome change of pace as author events go, despite being a (wo)man down on the night.

The evening started out with trivia. Aided by his daughter's microphone, Sean walked through the audience and had them pull a slip of paper out of his hat, which he read (using the mic of course) and asked which author this factoid was about. A correct answer earned a small prize, like a Thor Pez dispenser or one of Kevin's band's (The Board of Education) CDs. For example, did you know Martha wrote questions for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit? Now you do!

Next up was a bit of information about the authors and their books. Of course, to make it interesting they were strongly encouraged to use a shout-out word from the audience in their response. The word of the night was "Moist". So if they were to describe their book in only 6 words... Boy and girl explore MOIST city (Kevin). There were standard questions, and not-so-standard questions, both informative and funny. And most importantly, everything was spoiler-free!

But next came the funniest part of the evening, the speed-reading section! Each author had their book in-hand, and a 1-minute time limit. Sean (or Kevin) would shout out page numbers, and the author-in-turn would have to flip to that page and read the best sentence (or first they could find) on the page. The object was to get as many as they could within the time limit. As if that wasn't hilarious enough, part two of the challenge was audience-driven. All three authors were to flip to pages that we shouted out and read as quickly as possible. Then they traded books in-between. One page-race was too much for Kevin (I believe, though it might have been Sean) who ripped the acknowledgements page from his book.
You Are Next Audience
We then took a much needed pause from clutching our sides by participating in an audience Q&A. Though the crowd was small, there were no awkward silences (if there were, they were quickly broken by a joke), and we got some good questions in there.

And lastly, before the signing, we were all asked to pose for the authors! First was zombies, then came fish-people, and lastly angels, to go along with each of the books. Unfortunately I'm out-of-frame in this one, but you might recognize local blogger the Novel Novice there in the front row!

So there you have it, the You Are Next Tour features some off-the-wall activities, quirky authors, and a whole lot of FUN. Be sure to catch it in your area if you can!

You Are Next Upcoming