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Top reads for 2013 January 6, 2013

Posted by Diana McCabe in Authors, Book lists, Book picks, Fun stuff.
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Sorry for the lag between posts. Wish I could say I was out time traveling but it was something more mundane: work! However, I’m back. So here’s a look at my fave reads from last year and what I’m looking forward to reading in 2013. (This is part of a post I did for my friends at www.sookiestackhouse.com. You can read their faves here!) Did I miss any of your faves? Let me know in the comments section. Happy New Year!

MY FAVE 2012 BOOKS:

1. Poison Princess (Book No. 1 in Arcana Chronicles) by Kresley Cole (This is a YA book but it’s a combo of a dystopian world/Tarot card characters and a smoking hot attraction between the heroine and lead male character. Great read.)

2. Iced (Dani O’Malley series No. 1) by Karen Marie Moning (Ending is predictable but I just wanna know more about the Fever world!)

3. Deadlocked (Sookie book No. 12) By Charlaine Harris. (Coming off the disappointing Dead Reckoning, I liked this second-to-last book in the series.)

4. Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr (Promising start to a nifty series set in world of daimons vs. witches)

5. Days of Blood & Starlight (Book No. 2 of Daughter of Smoke and Bone) by Laini Taylor (Fantastic sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, whose opening line is “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”)

BOOKS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO READING IN 2013:

1. Dead Ever After (Last of the Sookie books) by Charlaine Harris

2. Frost Burned (Book No. 7 of the Mercy Thompson series) by Patricia Briggs

3. Dead Silence (Book No. 4 in the Body Finder series) by Kimberly Derting

4. Endless Knight (Book No. 2 in the Arcana Chronicles) by Kresley Cole (tentative title)

5. Burned (Dani O’Malley Book No. 2) By Karen Marie Moning

Melissa Marr’s ‘Carnival of Souls’ intriguing read but rushed October 14, 2012

Posted by Diana McCabe in Authors, Book picks.
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I’m a big fan of Melissa Marr’s books and so I couldn’t wait to read CARNIVAL OF SOULS, a tale that revolves around the mistrust and hatred between daimons and witches. It’s an intricate YA story — and it will hold your attention — but it’s not fully developed and Marr obviously has a sequel planned. Here’s the description from the book that’s posted online:

In a city of daimons, rigid class lines separate the powerful from the power-hungry. And at the heart of The City is the Carnival of Souls, where both murder and pleasure are offered up for sale. Once in a generation, the carnival hosts a deadly competition that allows every daimon a chance to join the ruling elite. Without the competition, Aya and Kaleb would both face bleak futures — if for different reasons. For each of them, fighting to the death is the only way to try to live.

All Mallory knows of The City is that her father — and every other witch there — fled it for a life in exile in the human world. Instead of a typical teenage life full of friends and maybe even a little romance, Mallory scans quiet streets for threats, hides herself away, and trains to be lethal. She knows it’s only a matter of time until a daimon finds her and her father, so she readies herself for the inevitable. While Mallory possesses little knowledge of The City, every inhabitant of The City knows of her. There are plans for Mallory, and soon she, too, will be drawn into the decadence and danger that is the Carnival of Souls.

Marr’s story focuses on Mallory,  the daughter of the daimon ruler Marchosias. But she doesn’t know she’s a daimon. She thinks she’s a human because her mother let a witch — Adam — raise her in the human/witch world. He teaches her how to fight. And to fear and hate daimons. (Why did her mother give her up? Most daimon babies don’t survive the rough city.)

But other daimons — from the daimon world — have been hired by Mallory’s biological father and his enemies to find her. Mallory’s daimon father says she was stolen from him and wants her back. In the daimon world — daughters are meant for one thing — making little daimons. One of the searchers is a lower caste daimon named Kaleb. He finds Mallory and befriends her in the human/witch world.

But there are other story lines going on in Marr’s richly created world of daimons and witches, and if you aren’t paying attention it is easy to get lost in the different characters. There is Aya — who lives in the daimon world and has decided that despite her high-class birth, she will fight in a deadly competition that will let her help rule the city if she wins. She’s the only female to have ever entered and she is pitted against her former betrothed — Belias. Belias can’t understand why Aya won’t marry him, why she feels she has to fight (she does have a good reason!)  or why she doesn’t want to “breed.” He truly loves her and wants to protect her. This in itself or Mallory’s story alone would have held my attention, too. But Marr packs in the plot lines.

On top of this story, we learn more of Kaleb — called a cur in the book — and his packmate Zevi. The two are tight and are like brothers. Zevi heals Kaleb after each battle. We also have the back story of Mallory’s foster Dad — Adam — and his all-powerful sibling Evelyn.

I loved the different characters Marrs creates in this story. And the two worlds are so different, especially the daimon world with all of its rigid class structures. You realize that they are going to be part of the sequel or sequels. But I found toward the end that everything was speeding together too fast in the story. The ending was cramped. Another zinger plot point is flung in near the end of the story and all of a sudden — BAM — you are on the last page with a gigantic thud.

I was a bit flabbergasted at the way Marr just ended the story. Without spoiling anything, you know where the next book will pick up. I know this is what authors do now — especially in YA. But it’s a total downer to be left standing out there — giant cliff hanger — with such an abrupt ending. Despite it all — I really liked this story and want to know more. I would just advise you to wait until the sequel is out before reading CARNIVAL because then you won’t have to wait to find out what happens next.

‘Love Struck’ an intriguing tale of selchie love and lore February 19, 2012

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Who would have thought seal love would be magical? Leave it to Melissa Marr to turn this bit of folklore into a short story of romance with a bit of a feminist twist.

I didn’t know much about selchies — or selkies — until I read LOVE STRUCK. I only knew that they were mythological creatures who live as seals but can take human form. For some reason, I always thought they were evil. And that they were women.

But in Marr’s short story, teenager Alana knows about the selchie legends and how the seal creatures can shed their “pelts” on shore to walk as human. In most legends, the female selchies are often trapped by human males as wives. But here, Alana meets not just one, but two selchie males who want her for a bride. (What’s cool for me? Marr writes in her introduction to FAERY TALES & NIGHTMARES  that the Alana/selchie story was influenced by Solana Beach here in San Diego County!)

And of course, these selchie males — Vic and Murrin — are gorgeous. But there’s always a catch to paranormal love and it has to do with that blasted selchie pelt and the history behind Vic and Murrin. I won’t spoil the Vic and Murrin angle. But here’s what you need to know about the pelts: As a human, if you touch it, you’re pretty much infatuated with that selchie and he or she is attracted to you. And if you hide the pelt, the selchie won’t be able to return to the sea unless he or she finds it. In previous folklore, the selchies always stuck on shore were women because human fishermen would trap them by hiding their pelts. But in this story, Marr turns the tables and Alana has her choice between Vic and Murrin. And both have different reasons for wanting her as a bride and different tactics for getting her attention.

As short stories go, this was an interesting tale. Marr gives her female characters backbone. They don’t just fall for the good-looking guy. They are independent. They want to know he is the real deal. And even if it is true love — they want to be their own person and follow their own dreams.

You can find this short story in a couple of places. It’s at the beginning of a book titled LOVE STRUCK, which also contains chapter 1 of WICKED LOVELY and also the first chapter of INK EXCHANGE. (If you haven’t read the WICKED LOVELY series CLICK HERE to read my review on it.) LOVE STRUCK is also coming out this week (Feb. 21) in FAERY TALES & NIGHTMARES, a collection of short stories tales of favorite characters from Marr’s  WICKED LOVELY novels and some new characters we haven’t met yet. (I plan to review the collection.) And, you can find it in LOVE IS HELL, an anthology.

If you read this short story, let me know what you think. I have one of those logic questions about the pelts and the ending. So leave me a note and I’ll ask you my question! Or — maybe Marr ended the story this way because she plans to explore the world of the selchies later? Would be an intriguing world to visit.

More on Marr:
‘Graveminder’ opens up gritty, new world of the dead
Q&A: Graveminder’s Melissa Marr on zombies, love and minding the dead

Q&A: Graveminder’s Melissa Marr on zombies, love and minding the dead June 13, 2011

Posted by Diana McCabe in Authors.
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“Sleep well, and stay where I put you.”

Melissa Marr

Those are the words that for decades, Rebekkah Barrow’s grandmother, Maylene, said after every funeral when she visited the graves of the dead in Claysville.  Rebekkah never knew why. But now that her grandmother has been  murdered, the duty to mind the dead falls to Rebekkah and the man she has run away from in Melissa Marr’s GRAVEMINDER.   (Read my book pick on GRAVEMINDER HERE.)

Marr, who wrote the wildly popular WICKED LOVELY series, explains in a Q&A with us her inspiration for GRAVEMINDER — her first novel for adults — and how she weaves together a story about the living, the dead and the intriguing curse that binds them together. She includes a lot of interesting detail here for fans, including how Mick Jagger and one of his songs helped to shape an important character and her thoughts on the world of the dead she has created. (For more on Melissa, her novels and other cool stuff, check out her website HERE. And I’ve included her YouTube book trailer — where she talks about the book — at the bottom of this Q&A.)

Q: How did you come up with the story for GRAVEMINDER? (Was there an “ah ha!” moment when the idea hit you or did it build in bits and pieces over time?)
A:  GRAVEMINDER began as a spark in 2007 when I was in Ireland.  I read a snippet of folklore on the regard for the dead.  It grew from there, influenced by my own lifelong interest in cemeteries and death lore.

Q: Just about all of your characters in GRAVEMINDER have a role or destiny to fulfill, but some have a choice. (Or maybe they don’t?) What inspired you to create your characters like this?
A:  I’m fascinated by volition.  The WICKED LOVELY series is a 5 book series on protagonists finding a way to wrest away choice in a world where they have none or have limited options.  The GRAVEMINDER world goes further in creating a protag (or several) where the choices are limited even further.  We are, all of us, limited by so many things beyond our control.  I think how we deal with limitations is defining and so I want to explore it in my books.

Q: Is your GRAVEMINDER lore based on any particular mythology or folklore? Are there/were there GRAVEMINDERS at one point?
A:  The lore at the center of this story is in many ways, global.  So many cultures have traditions for dealing with the dead.  The one tradition —  providing nourishment for the dead — that is probably the key to the story was one I read in a book called BLOODY IRISH.  However, that small bit was echoed in many cultures and countries too.

Q. Why don’t humans in GRAVEMINDER turn into zombies when bitten by the walking dead?
A:  Because these aren’t film zombies or viral zombies. =)  These are folklore based “Hungry Dead,” and in many ways they are more akin to ghosts than anything else.  They share traits with viral and film zombies (and other traits with Haitian zombies — which are also not spread by bite).  I’m a folklore geek, plain and simple, so my books evolve out of the lore I read.  The idea of viral zombies (which are what popular media define as zombies) is not what’s in the folklore.  It is different from “true” zombies (Haitian lore) and from ”Hungry Dead” (What my dead folk are) … all of which, I suspect, boils down to me saying I look to the “folklore first!”

Dante lost in the Inferno/Wikipedia

Q. In GRAVEMINDER, the living can walk among the dead, and the dead among the living. But they each see different things. What’s your world of the dead based on because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read?
A:  The world of the dead probably springs from an amalgamation of Dante and some versions of subjective afterlife.  Dante (who, arguably, is one of the earliest examples of supernatural literary/urban fantasy) had levels of hell reflecting the sins of the deceased.  Some traditions posit “subjective afterlife” in which what I experience and you experience would be completely dissimilar. Our personal definitions of happiness, torment, and boredom (heaven, hell, and purgatory in mainstream phrasing) are defining the reality we experience post-death.  I added to that the notion that we’d also define based on what we KNEW in our pre-death experiences so my land of the dead has a multiplicity of definitions and times co-existing in one space.

Q. Why don’t the Graveminder or Undertaker roles have to be carried on by blood family?
A:  First, because I believe that family is more than the people whose DNA we share.  My daughter is no less mine because she doesn’t share my blood/genes.  Secondly, very practically, if Graveminders and Undertakers are destined to love one another, we’d have a very unhealthy family tree if not for this clause in the town contract … and that’s just sucky.

Q. Rebekkah and Byron. Interesting ebb and flow. Will we ever know if they love each other for just love’s sake or have their roles destined them to no choice?
A:  Do we EVER know why two people are in love?  Do we even know if we’re defining the same emotions as “love”?  That leads to a huge snarl of philosophical questions.  Byron is a bit less difficult so he’s willing to accept it.  As the chick writing it all down.  I think I’m simply of the belief that there are unanswerable questions and talking about love brings some of them to the fore front.

Mick Jagger/Wikipedia

Q. I know you can’t answer this but who or what is Charles — Mr. D?! What can you tell us about how you created him? (He needs the Graveminder out in the real world but seems to ‘love’ them and want them to stay? Can’t tell. Can’t tell if he’s loved them all. Very intriguing.)
A:  Mr. D, Charles, is one of the most fun characters to write.  He’s directly a result of my stories’ love:  The song “Dancing with Mr. D” sparked his creation … which meant he was born with a bit of Mick Jagger’s delicious arrogance and charisma.  From there, he ended up with some of Milton’s Satan, The Doors’ Jim Morrison … So I guess he’s an embodiment of the sort of being that covers the allure of something dark, mysterious, and a bit frightening — sort of death itself.  As a note, I think he became both the Gothic Villain and the (later Gothic evolution) Byronic hero.

Q. Is there anyway for Rebekkah or Byron to see their loved ones who have died? (In another “kingdom?”) Or by cutting some sort of deal?
A:  When they die, they can — just like the rest of us (I hope).  While they are alive they can’t interact with their own dead.  It’s another of the limitations I thought necessary to the sort of contract Charles would draft.  If they can interact with their predecessors, it’s too “easy” for them … and Charles isn’t likely to agree to that.

Q. Is the town of Claysville based on anything from your childhood etc? Graveyards?
A:  Claysville is definitely influenced by my childhood home.  My own grandmother lived in a traditional two-story farmhouse, and my father and brother currently tend to the upkeep of the Parrish graveyard.  Growing up I developed a fondness for graveyards — some of my best dates in high school and college have been walking among graves.  My college had a vast graveyard on campus (attached to the monastery) and I used to walk there to clear my mind.  As an adult, I’ve kept that love of the quiet space they provide, and I visit them often as I travel.  I’m in no hurry to die, but I’m not afraid of it either. For health reasons in my 20’s it was something I spent some time thinking about, and then I married a Marine, which lead to other reasons for pondering it.  Hopefully, it’ll be a grand adventure when the time comes.

Q. OK — what’s next?
A:  I’m currently writing a sequel to GM.  That should be out in early 2013.  The series has gone into development, with Ken Olin for (hopefully!) a TV series.  One never knows if such things will make it the whole way through the process, but if passion is any clue, we’re in good hands.  Ken is truly amazing. He got the book, the world, and the characters instantly.  In the meantime, there’s a Graveminder short story (about Alicia) in THE NAKED CITY  (July 2011) anthology, and in 2012, I have a collection of my Wicked Lovely short stories (FAERY TALES & NIGHTMARES, Feb 2012) and the first in my new YA series, CARNIVAL OF SOULS (Fall 2012).

Book pick: ‘Graveminder’ opens up a gritty new world of the dead June 5, 2011

Posted by Diana McCabe in Reviews/summaries.
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Someone has to watch over the dead in Claysville. Feed them. Console them. Make sure they stay put.

And for decades, Rebekkah Barrow’s grandmother, Maylene, did just that. Maylene went to  every funeral in town and performed the same ritual that Rebekkah witnessed over and over. She would take three sips from a silver flask and say “Sleep well, and stay where I put you.”

But Rebekkah, an outsider who only lived in Claysville for a short time and  visited her grandmother as a young adult, never knew why. And now that her grandmother is dead — murdered — the duty to mind the dead falls to her in Melissa Marr’s latest book, GRAVEMINDER, a gritty, urban fantasy that makes you wonder if people really do have a choice about who they love and why.

Rebekkah Barrow is torn with indecision and guilt over her destined role in Claysville, a town where the native born never leave, but live quiet and happy lives until they turn at least 80 and then they are subject to the same health issues as anyone else. But the price for that so-called peace has been a pact with the underworld that dictates that a Graveminder — a Barrow woman — and the town’s Undertaker — a Montgomery man — work together to make sure the dead of Claysville are buried properly. And if they aren’t — to lead them to the other side, a place ruled by the mysterious Charles — also called Mr. D. If the dead aren’t properly minded, they will walk among the living and kill.

Helping Rebekkah is the Undertaker — Byron Montgomery, an old love who Rebekkah has run away from because — among other things — he used to date her sister. Neither Rebekkah nor Bryon learn of their roles in Claysville until the very last minute.  They must sift through old journals and records and visit the land of Dr. D to find clues to mind the dead.

They also learn that the Graveminder and Undertaker are historically tied and drawn to each other. He must protect her, and she depends on him to guide her from the land of the dead — which she finds immensely attractive. Is it the destiny of the Graveminder and Undertaker the reason Rebekkah and Bryon have always been attracted to each other? Or is it true love? Or does it even matter? With no time to figure out their feelings for each other, Rebekkah and Byron must work together to figure out who killed Maylene and to deal with the dead — who are now suddenly so restless.

This is an urban fantasy, who-done-it mystery with a dash of romance. The story is laced with folklore, and at first — because I was reading so quickly — I didn’t understand how the role of Graveminder or Undertaker is passed along, so read the first chapters carefully. The most interesting  parts of the story occur when Marr takes us into the world of Dr. D. How he and the rest of the dead are connected to the world of the living is fascinating, and she hasn’t revealed all that much in this first book — but there’s enough to make you wonder what she’ll do in the next installment.

Fans of Marr’s WICKED LOVELY series about humans and the fae understand that this author is great at building dark and mysterious worlds where each of her characters must make choices — no matter what their destiny. And she holds true to form in GRAVEMINDER.

Visit Melissa Marr’s website for excerpts from the novel and also some nifty Graveminders/Undertakers history (click the link to download the chart below in PDF format or you can download it from Melissa’s site.)

Image from Melissa Marr's website

Book pick: ‘Darkest Mercy’ fitting ending to ‘Wicked Lovely’ series March 20, 2011

Posted by Diana McCabe in Reviews/summaries.
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Fans of Melissa Marr’s WICKED LOVELY series have been waiting for DARKEST MERCY — the fifth and final novel in the saga about the world of the fae and battle between good and evil. Of course, it’s also about  finding out if you’re strong enough to leave the one you love for a greater purpose. Or is love that greater purpose? (DON’T MISS! Check out the interview we did on Last Bite Podcast with Melissa Marr. It should be available HERE later this week.)

DARKEST MERCY picks up where RADIANT SHADOWS left off. Aislinn is fending for herself as Summer Queen because Keenan is AWOL. While she needs Keenan to run the court,  she pines for her true love, Seth. But does Seth still want her? Seth, sworn brother of the Dark King and heir to the High Queen, is dealing with his new powers as a seer and exactly what that means. Donia — like Aislinn — is dealing the best she can with the Winter Court as she longs for Keenan — a love she thinks can never really be. And will Niall find a way to save Irial, who was stabbed with a poisonous knife by Bananach?

Such a lot of story lines to wind up but Marr cleverly handles the pace and plot by writing DARKEST MERCY from several points of view. I liked this approach because the reader gets a chance to really get inside a character’s head and see the story from his/her perspective. So we understand Niall’s anguish after he brings healer after healer to Irial with the same result. And his anger toward Seth, who he believes might have been able to foresee the action and have saved Irial. We feel Donia’s pain, when she realizes to make the Summer Court whole and strengthen her own. she can never have Keenan. We see Keenan’s struggles as he realizes he must make a choice between his Summer Queen and Donia.

The best part for me was watching Aislinn grow. Throughout this series, she’s been tough at times, but mostly she’s flopped about trying to figure out her new role while keeping her true love with her. That’s pretty tough to do with the sexy and worldly Keenan tempting you and evil fae trying to kill or unseat you. But when both her love interests seemingly abandon her, she’s had it. And she takes action She’s determined to get her court back in order and to sort out her love life — no matter what. Yes, at times I found both Keenan and Seth exasperating and wished she’d dump both of ’em (ditto for Donia), but in the end, Ash stays true to herself, as do the other characters.

The most interesting story though involved Leslie, Irial and Niall. I don’t want to spoil it for folks but it was a rather creative ending for this trio. And if you didn’t have a good idea about the depth of love Irial and Niall held for each other — it’s very clear here. You see a different side to Niall — and one that’s not so nice.

Sure, it’s no big surprise that in end, everyone has to work together to defeat War and Disorder. Marr doesn’t flinch though. The Death Man is in town and some favorite side characters die during the battle. It’s a bit bittersweet.  But the entire series has always juggled darkness and cruelty with the  light and sunshine of Marr’s worlds.

What’s interesting about Marr’s work is how her characters grow and make decisions we think they aren’t really capable of making. Some might complain that the ending is too neatly wrapped up for the main characters — Ash, Donia, Seth and Keenan — but many other questions linger for others such as Niall, Leslie and Irial.  (I particularly like how Keenan’s story ends. It’s rather ironic at first but just.) I have to say — I kind of want a bit more. I want to know how things look 100 years from now. But that’s not the author’s intent. The series is about change and growth and how one handles those changes and ensuing decisions. If you look at the entirety of this series, it’s a fitting ending to a story that has so many themes that lots of YA readers — and adults — can relate to in their own lives.

If you haven’t read any of the books in the series, save this one for the end. The books — in order:

WICKED LOVELY
INK EXCHANGE
FRAGILE ETERNITY
RADIANT SHADOWS
DARKEST MERCY

DON’T MISS!
Check out the interview we did on Last Bite Podcast with Melissa Marr. It should be available HERE later this week.

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