Friday, October 29, 2010

Julie Berry: An Interview

Secondhand Charm is your second book to be published by Bloomsbury. I find that each published book seems to have a behind-the-scenes scenes saga behind it. Are there any interesting or memorable stories about the creation of Secondhand Charm?

I’m afraid the process was sadly pedestrian. It looked like me gazing bleary-eyed at my laptop, scribbling in a single-subject notebook, and foraging for snacks. As for the initial inspiration, that was just lots of me driving back and forth to work in my minivan, musing. How about this? How about that? Charms. Good luck charms. Love charms. They’re kinda neat. Wonder if I could create a story that involved charms …

I often find that fantasy authors like to base the worlds in their novels off of time periods and countries that correspond to history. Were the details of your fantasy world based off of any particular time-period or country? The story seemed very 1800’s to me.

I used the 1780s as my target time period. I made sure that all the details of my world, and all the words used, existed in that decade. That window of time just appealed to me – the dress customs, travel, weaponry, cultural norms. They feel right at home. Perhaps I was a teenager there in a past life. (I’d better make it clear that I’m joking …)

In the book Evie discovers that she has a magical connection to a sea serpent, and that she really likes the ocean. Was Evie’s story inspired by particular love of the sea on your part or were there other sources for inspiration for the project?

I didn’t grow up near the ocean, and I’m not someone who spends loads of time at the sea. I sunburn just by thinking about sitting outside, I worry about my kids drowning, and I’m terrified of things in the water that can eat me. I think I’m more in love with the idea of the sea, with the creative landscape of it. Imaginatively, the sea is a place I love to be, from my childhood dreams of swimming with dolphins, to a later fascination with marine biology. I’d happily watch Discovery Channel programming about oceanic life for days on end if I had the time. Such power, such vastness, such a different world where things can navigate in three dimensions instead of two. The ocean with all her moods captivates me.

I must ask. Will there a sequel in the works for Secondhand Charm? If not, what project do you plan to work on next?

I confess, I never envisioned a sequel to Evie’s story. Other advance readers have asked me that question too, so it has me wondering. After finishing the story, I’ll ask you -- do you think there’s room for one?

Well without trying to be too spoilery I thought that where the villains ended up at the end of the book could lead to Evie having to face them again, and hence my curiosity about the sequel.

What is your favorite and least favorite part in the creation of a book?
Least favorite part: lack of sleep, and how my house disintegrates around me. It’s bad. Favorite part: the writing. And the revising. Right now I’m savoring the responses bloggers and reviewers have shared.

I wonder how many writers are a bit crazy like I am. As I write, I’m torn between loving what’s appearing on the page, and feeling certain it’s worthless drivel. Finally I throw up my hands in despair, proofread, and hand it over to my editor to let her deal with it. So every time I hear that someone has read Secondhand Charm and loved it, I’m thrilled, of course, but also a little bit astonished.

I noticed that you have started a series called The Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys. Can you tell us a little bit about this series? Are they middle grade novels or graphic novels?

Yes, and yes! Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys is a collaboration with my sister, Sally Faye Gardner, the illustrator. It’s the story of Cody Mack, fifth grader and expert troublemaker, whose parents and principal send him to a boarding school of last resort to try to fix his bad behavior: Splurch Academy, where eminent behaviorist Dr. Archibald Farley promises to reform Cody for good. Dr. Farley turns out to be a mad scientist vampire, and the faculty, a pack of shape-shifting kid-eating fiends. No one ever escapes alive. (This feels a lot like junior high to me.) Cody and his friends have to stay alert and crafty to save their skins from Farley’s sinister schemes, the first of which involves plungering boy brains out through ear canals and swapping them with the brains of trained rats. Good wholesome entertainment for reluctant readers everywhere. ;)

The series, which currently has four titles in the works, is a mix of early middle grade chapter book and graphic novel. It feels very “comic book,” but there’s lots of novel for kids to read as well. I know that many current series have played with different ways of integrating text, illustrations, and comic panels, but I think the recipe we’ve concocted with Splurch Academy is unique, and lots of fun. It’s a love note to my four disruptive sons, whom I holler at more than I should. I hope it’ll raise my stock value in their eyes. Series titles so far: THE RAT BRAIN FIASCO, CURSE OF THE BIZARRO BEETLE, THE COLOSSAL FOSSIL FREAKOUT, and THE TROUBLE WITH SQUIDS.

We’ll, end with one last random question. What is your favorite thing about fall?
Sweaters! And apple crisp. I make a mean apple crisp, and an even meaner apple pie, when I can find the time. But now that I’ve hit my metabolism-squelching mid-thirties, sweaters may be the only innocent fall pleasure left to me.

Thanks for the inverview. It was fun! Secondhand Charm has been out in the stores for several weeks now. I hope some of you readers will take a chance to pick it up this fall season.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Airman by Eoin Colfer

So, ever since reading Leviathan I’ve been really interested in the Steampunk genre. Aided by this booklist on Gail Carriger’s website, I’ve been exploring this genre more. Airman by Eoin Colfer takes place during the later half of the 1800’s and focuses a lot on man’s quest for flight. This books is told in a narrative style that draws you into the story, and makes you wonder exactly how much of this story is true or false. I found the style charming because it made the setting and world of the characters feel more real. The plot centers around a young boy Connor, who lives on the Saltee Islands, barren wastes of rock off the coast of Ireland, whose only source of income are its numerous diamond mines.

The Islands have recently crowned a new king, a man of science and progress, who is determined to make the lives of his subjects improved through the discoveries of science. Connor’s father is the king’s friend and the commander of his defensive wall. So, Connor spends much of his youth roaming the castle with Princess Isabella, and his teenage years being tutored in the arts of science and self-defense by the eccentric French airman Victor Vigny. Connor and his tutor are obsessed with creating a machine that will allow men to fly, but in the midst of their planning and preparations Connor discovers a plot against the king.

As the only witness to an assassination he is thrown into infamous Saltee prison, and left to believe that even his family thinks that he committed the crime himself. As Connor adjusts to the harsh realities in prison he must use the skills that Victor taught him to both say alive, and to escape. Covering his prison walls with sketches and diagrams of flying machines Connor is determined to fly away from his prison cell.

I think one of the strengths of this book is the setting. It seems so real and the Saltee Islands and its inhabitants have a character all their own. I really enjoyed reading about this little Island and one comes away from reading the book feeling like it was a real place. I also admired Connor’s character. He was really brilliant, but he still was likable because he had to struggle so hard to survive. His time in prison is dark, and a little bit violent, but the author manages to make prison bearable for him in a realistic way, and show how his character grows. Connor manages to use his wits to not only survive prison, but do so with some of his morals intact. I like the fact that though he was threatened with violence that he found a way to win over his enemies without killing them and even making them into friends. This makes his character all the more likable and admirable. This will really appeal to boy audiences, as it has clever flying machines, sword fights, and the thrill of a great adventure story. Overall, this book was a satisfying and enjoyable read.

Eoin Colfer's Website

Friday, October 8, 2010

Boneshaker by Cheri Priest

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Briar Wilkes has left her past behind the huge walls that were constructed to protect the old city of Seattle. When people ask her about her husband and how he caused the blight she keeps her mouth shut. She hasn’t even told her fifteen-year-old son the truth of everything that happened all those years ago when her husband’s huge drill opened a vein of poisonous gas deep under the earth. There is nothing left behind those huge walls that were built in order to keep the gas, and the creatures it created contained.

There is one problem with this plan. Her son wants to prove his father’s innocence, and so he sneaks under the walls and into the city. Only then does Briar discover that some of the old settlers are still living inside the city walls, underground, hiding from the rotters— gas eaten corpses that hardly resemble humans any more. So Briar makes a decision to go in after her son, and get him out before they both end up dead or worse.

So, I picked up this book because I read about it on Scott Westerfeld’s blog, and because I’m becoming more and more interested in the steampunk genre. It really is so much fun, and my husband is right when half of the fun is the alternate history aspect of the genre. This story takes place way out west when Washington is still a territory and the Civil War is going on. This story feels like a cozy old western with wicked villain and super cool guns, only it’s infested with zombies. So, I really enjoyed this story, although it was a little violent and the author seemed to like to describe people dying in detail. I skipped paragraphs that described how people died so I can’t tell you how bad it was.

The setting is also unique as the people who live inside the walls have to pump clean air into sealed off buildings, and underground so they can live. The author plays with historical timeline a bit so that Seattle has its old landmarks, and feels like an extra creepy ghost town. I also thought it was interesting that the author put a whole group of Asians in the underground city, and showed how they kept the city supplied with air, and some of the story dealt with the prejudice against them during that historical period. It was really refreshing to read a book that had so many different types of people and characters. It really made the world feel more authentic, and almost every single character was unique and memorable in some way.

There is a moderate amount of swearing; it wasn’t overwhelming, but there are curse words scattered throughout the novel. I really didn’t like one of the main characters as much after the ending, and so that sort of ruined some of the novel’s appeal for me. Still it was an enjoyable read.

Visit Cheri Priest's websitefor more information on the book and its sequels.

Steampunk Challenge

Several weeks ago I put a challenge icon up in my sidebar. I slighly late in posting about it, but it is still October right? So, it is all good in my book! The steampunk reading challenge is hosted by the Bookeeper.

The main purpose of the challenge is to spend October 2010-October 2011 discovering more about the steampunk novels that exist out there. I find this quite funny as I had already decided to make the month of October an unoffical steampunk month for myself. Earlier in the year I read Airman by Eoin Colfer and Boneshaker by Cheri Priest. Both of those reviews will be posted this month and tomorrow I will be running to my nearest bookstore to purchase Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld. I am SO EXCITED to read this book. I can't wait until it is in my hot little hands. So happy it is a three day weekend.

Other novels/authors I'm interested in trying out:

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Airborn series by Kenneth Opal

It also may be interesting to read the classics:
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Twenty thousand leagues under the sea by Jules Verne.

So, we will see where the year takes me. Steampunk here I come!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry

The Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry

The end of school looms before Evie and her friend Priscilla, who have both fought for the highest grades and honors in school. They both feel too young to start families, and Evie has long held the dream of attending the university to become physician like her parents. The villagers consider Evie lucky because of her unusually good health and skill in helping others during childbirth and illness.
Then shortly before the traditional feast of St. Bronwyn a herald appears to announce that the king himself will be visiting their celebration. Soon the town is abuzz with repairs and preparations. One town member even manages to invite a troop of gypsies from which Evie buys a few good luck charms. Perhaps that is why her skill is called upon when one of the king’s men falls ill with a fever. Evie is able to heal him, and either as a result of her new gypsy charms or the good deed, the king offers her and Priscilla chance to study at the university in Chalcedon.
As Evie sets out for the capital with her friend Priscilla and her old neighbor Aiden, who is returning to finish his apprenticeship to a stonemason, she discovers that not even a lucky charm can protect her from unsafe travelling conditions. After several mishaps she ends up sailing to Chalcedon on a ship, and finds that she has an almost magical attraction to the sea. She soon discovers that this feeling is more than newfound awe, and discovers that she has an ancestry that she never knew about before, an ancestry, which includes her having a powerful sea serpent as her companion.
Last year Julie Berry’s debut novel Amaranth Enchantment came out, and this year she publishes her next novel Secondhand Charm, a story about a girl who stumbles upon her magical powers unexpectedly. The discovery of her powers helps her to make friends in high places, and soon she discovers that someone is plotting against the king. Evie must come up with a plan to stop the plotters from succeeding, and save the king.
I really enjoyed this little fantasy novel. It was a quick read with a strong action plot, though the author sneaks in Aiden, who was very crush worthy, as a romantic lead. I really liked the sea serpent twist in the story, and thought it was interesting to see Evie getting used to her new serpent friend. One of my biggest complaints was that I wished the story had lasted longer! I would have loved more details about her sea serpent. The only other thing was that I found it odd that Evie took the big reveal about her ancestry at the end pretty easily. I would have thought that she would be more upset about finding out the truth about her mother.
Overall, this story drew me in from the first page with the line, “And what were fish eyes between friends?” and kept me interested until the very last page. The ending is satisfying and yet leaves the possibility open for a sequel. Since I wanted to read more about the world and Evie’s sea serpent powers I would very much love to see one.

Visit Julie Berry's website