Friday, February 13, 2015

Courtney Alameda: What a Vampire Novel Can Teach You About Friendship (+ a Giveaway)

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Shutter Blog Tour

I'm so excited to invite one of my favorite people to my blog today. Courtney Alameda's debut novel, Shutter, was released earlier this month, and it's one of my favorites so far this year. Courtney is here to talk about Micheline and Van Helsing. Basically, why Dracula is a must-read. And check the bottom of the post for a giveaway of a hardcover copy of Shutter.

Author Courtney Alameda
ON FRIENDSHIP IN DARKNESS AND DRACULA’S GREATEST LEGACY
By: Courtney Alameda

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Abraham van Helsing: I was alone in my car, listening to an audiobook of Dracula as I drove to Los Angeles. Dusk fell over the Grapevine Pass just outside the city as Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker pledged friendship to one another:

“’You will give me your hand, will you not? And let us be friends for all our lives,’ [said Van Helsing.]

We shook hands, and he was so earnest and so kind that it made [Jonathan] quite choky.”

Thus began one of the greatest friendships in the literary canon, one that would take its participants from the safety of their homes to the snowy, inhospitable feet of the Carpathian Mountains to face an ancient evil. I had read Dracula before, but hadn’t remembered the depth of the affection and loyalty between the members of the coalition banded together against the vampire, which I can only describe as “fierce” or “unconquerable.”

When we think of Van Helsing in popular culture, we often picture a tough, uncompromising vampire hunter; the brutish, silent, armed-to-the-teeth Hugh Jackman type. Yet the real Van Helsing’s defining characteristics were his intelligence, his vast kindness, courage, and leadership abilities; and for me, those traits make him more badass than the stereotype, because he inspired absolute trust in the people who followed him. When faced with the most repugnant of tasks—desecrating the grave of a friend who has risen as a vampire—Van Helsing says: “I, too, have a duty to do, a duty to others, a duty to you, a duty to the dead; and by God, I shall do it! All I ask now is that you come with me . . .”

Not only does the hunting party rise to join him, but the reader does as well.

“Kindness” and “friendship” are not generally the first words that come to mind when we think about horror—yet we so often see the trials and travails faced by the genre’s protagonists binding them tightly together. Since Dracula has some of the finest examples of friendship growing stronger in spite of danger and death, I knew Shutter needed to follow suit.

When I sat down to write the novel, I knew I wanted the protagonists’ relationships to echo those found in Dracula: The four teens embody Van Helsing’s original hunting coalition, with Micheline as his descendant and de facto leader of the group. She is less scientifically-minded than her famous ancestor, but shares his deep dedication to protecting others—especially her friends. As Micheline’s best friend (and later love interest), Ryder came to symbolize both Jonathan and Mina Harker, who are Van Helsing’s closest friends in Dracula. But unlike the others, Ryder isn’t a direct descendant of one of the original members of Van Helsing’s hunting party—though it’s rumored he carries Harker blood in his veins. Jude, who’s described as being very “all-American,” represents the lone American in the original group, Quincey Morris. Who, I should add, delivers one of two killing blows to Dracula via bowie knife—thus Jude’s obsession with them. Last but not least, while Oliver might be named for Bram Stoker, he actually represents an amalgamation of Dr. John Seward and Arthur Holmwood (later Lord Godalming), being both the most refined member and the one with the scientific leanings.

Friendship has the ability to carry us through our hardest times and darkest straits, in fiction and in life. Over the course of the novel, the friendship Micheline, Ryder, Jude, and Oliver is tested, stretched, and strained . . . yet every time Micheline says come with me, the boys answer her call, even in the face of death. Or perhaps especially in the face of it, and I love them for their endless loyalty to one another, and I hope readers do, too.

But more than anything else, I hope that Shutter’s readers seek out the source material, step into the fray with Van Helsing’s original hunting company, and find some fine literary friends among them, too.



Cover of Shutter by Courtney Alameda
About Shutter:

Horror has a new name: introducing Courtney Alameda.

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She's aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera's technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn't exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she's faced before . . . or die trying.

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Bishop's Wife: Review

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The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
The Bishop's Wife
by: Mette Ivie Harrison

Linda Wallheim is the bishop's wife. A mother of five boys and the surrogate mother of her ward in Draper, Utah. She's used to late-night phone calls, visits, and responds to the call for help. When her friend, Carrie, disappears, leaving behind her young daughter and husband, Linda fears for the worst. Carrie's husband, Jared, is acting strangely, and Linda is determined to get to the bottom of where Carrie has gone.

I read this book on the plane ride back from BEA (Book Expo America) this year, and I was riveted.

This book is about a Mormon woman, but it's unlike any other book about a Mormon woman that I've ever read before. Long ago I gave up on LDS fiction, and part of me is convinced that it's impossible to write a compelling narrative about a person with intense, pure faith. At least, I haven't found it yet.

What sparkles in this novel is the fact that Linda is unabashedly questioning. This causes tension with her husband, children, and members of her ward. And it's so completely real that I found myself really wanting to be friends with Linda. Mette has moved us past the illusion of a perfect woman and a perfect family to a study on how to be "faithful" and questioning. Linda confronts questions about the LDS church that aren't comfortable. And they don't have easy answers. At times, Linda is judgmental and wrong. But, she's also kind and strong.

I'm not sure how other Mormons will react. It may be difficult to see the culture from an outsider's view. Mette is a practicing Mormon, but this narrative reads more like someone on the outside looking in. However, there will be some translating involved for readers not familiar with the vocabulary of Mormons. It's a difficult balance to work out how much explanation to give non-Mormons while also not bogging down the story with too much detail.

The book isn't perfect. It suffers at times from a cohesive narrative, and it's just not quite as tight in the plot as it could be.

However, on a more personal note, it resonated with me. It was a book that was at once entertaining and thought-provoking. It gave me a little glimmer that perhaps there are some other Mormon women out there like me.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Atlantia by Ally Condie: Review + Giveaway

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Atlantia
by: Ally Condie

Rio dreams of living in the Above, the unknown above her watery home of Atlantia. Her promise to her sister, Bay, to remain below when Bay decides to leave Atlantia and live Above. Because of the death of her mother, the powerful former minister, she is left alone and begins to search out the reasons she was left behind. Oh, also, she's a siren, which can be a dangerous prospect in Atlantia, which has a bit of a conflicted relationship with the humans that can control with their voice.

I was a big fan of Condie's first series, Matched, because I appreciated her poetic tone. I feel similarly about this book. The pacing in this book is not for everyone, but it worked for me.

The story and mythology that is woven into the characters and put into a more modern setting is beautiful. Sirens and underwater creatures can be tough to pull off. I liked the humanistic approach to these myths. The sirens aren't mermaids or supernatural. They are people with special abilities that can seem scary.

Here is one of my favorite quotes (from my uncorrected ARC):
I remember the day when we were five and I made Bay cry so hard she could barely breathe. I did it on purpose. I liked it when I was doing it—I felt hot and cruel and clever and powerful—but afterward, I broke down in remorse. My mother held me tight. She was crying, too. "You are a good girl, Rio," she said. She sounded relieved.

"I hurt Bay," I said. "And I wanted to."

"But you were sorry after," my mother said, "and you don't want to do it again."

I nodded. She was right.

"That is the difference," my mother said, almost as if she were no longer speaking to me. "That is the difference."
Here's where the novel breaks down a bit for me. There just isn't enough. Rio's penchant for mechanics is discarded partway through the novel, among other things. The construction and elements of the setting needed an extra push. With more development and more information to keep me invested in Atlantia, this would have been phenomenal.








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Friday, May 16, 2014

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan: Review

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Untold
By: Sarah Rees Brennan
Reviewed by: Kylie Comfoltey

Kami Glass and the beautiful Lynburn boys are back with a vengeance in this second installment of the Lynburn Legacy series by Sarah Rees Brennan. 

Having read and loved Unspoken last year, I had high expectations for book two. I love a book that makes me laugh out loud. I love a book with a strong, tangible atmosphere. And I love a book that makes me angry because I'm just so invested in the characters' lives I simply can't help but pine for happy endings.

As hoped, Untold met all of my expectations and more. I laughed out loud FAR too many times as is acceptable in a public setting. I became even more of an anglophile than I already was. And I was mad as all get-out at the cliffhanger ending. Because, the feels. Brennan is all about the feels.

Untold was quite a bit darker than Unspoken. Still plenty of humor, clever quips, and witty banter thrown about, but the plot and characters were more Half-Blood Prince than Sorcerer's Stone. More evil sorcerers, sinister acts, and an epic battle between good and evil take this story to a whole new level. Brennan boosts the magic, mystery, and Gothic atmosphere, and the once-sleepy town of Sorry-in-the-Vale turns darker and creepier by the page.

My one gripe is that there was more teen romance drama in Untold than was needed. I am looking forward to the growth the characters will experience in book three. Kami is such a fun heroine. I'd love to see more focus on her quirks and strengths than her angst. I wouldn't mind more focus on Rusty, either. Wink wink.

Absolutely nobody twists humor into Gothic romance like Brennan and I can't recommend this series enough. Be forewarned: Brennan is the cliffhanger queen. She'll leave you angst-ridden and full of curses. More magic and mystery await us this September, however, so get to pre-ordering Unmade and stock up on good chocolate. Only chocolate can carry us through this stretch.

    

Sexuality: Fairly mild.

Drugs/Alcohol: Mild.
Profanity: Mild.
Violence: Some violence for sure, but no gory descriptions.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith: Review

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The Geography of You and Me
by: Jennifer E. Smith

It's a sweltering summer day in New York City. The perfect setting for a stuck elevator and chance encounter that throw Lucy and Oliver into each other's paths. After their rescue from the elevator, they spend the evening in the magical place that is NYC during a blackout. But, the stars don't seem to align for the couple. They run in different circles, and circumstances leave them across the globe. But, for some reason, in spite of other relationships, stuttered communication, and geographical barriers, they can't seem to let that one night go.

I've become a huge fan of Smith's work since The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. And, I loved This is What Happy Looks Like. As soon as the semester ended, I took the opportunity to dive into this one. Of course, it helped that the book came in a very lovely box.


Honestly, who could resist?

This book has all the trademarks of the things I love about Smith's work:

  • Romances between two people that seem so unlikely but they are thrown together by fate.
  • Sweet dialogue
  • Characters with a past
  • A major theme that takes the book from pure fluff to a serious issue
But one of the things that I thought Smith really brought home with this book was the travel. Oh, the travel. If you like books with a wanderlust theme, you're going to die of happiness. As I read this on the train during my travels to and from work, I closed my eyes and imagined that the train was taking me to Paris instead of the office. And I had a burning desire to send someone a postcard. The descriptions of Lucy's and Oliver's "homes" were rich and tantalizing.

However, The Geography of You and Me was not without faults. I may be nitpicking here, but I really wanted a little more depth from this story. With This is What Happy Looks Like especially, I felt like I needed to read a book with a highlighter to mark all the passages that spoke to me. This book didn't quite reach that level. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't say it's my favorite of her novels.

Fans of Smith's other novels will be very satisfied with this newest title. I'd also recommend that fans of Sarah Dessen's work, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, and Just One Day by Gayle Forman pick this one up. It's a sweet, contemporary romance that I'd recommend for ages 12 and up.