Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review: And Then Everything Unraveled by Jennifer Sturman

Publication date: July 1, 2009 (Scholastic)

Tags: middle grade, YA, mystery, disappearance, conspiracy

Rating: 4 out of 5


Delia knows that her mother, the unflappable, always together, perfectly organized T.K. Truesdale, would not disappear off the face of the earth without previous notice. Which is why she’s suspicious when news comes of her mother’s death on an Antarctic environmental protection expedition and Delia is shipped off to NYC to live with her two aunts.

In between making friends, dealing with a newfound crush, and trying to fit in at her prestigious private high school, Delia investigates her mother’s supposed death on the side and discovers what she already believed: her mother is not dead. There is a reason she is hiding out, but the more Delia finds out, the more sinister everything sounds, and the more danger that she and everyone she cares about might be in.


Wow! How do I even begin to describe AND THEN EVERYTHING UNRAVELED, which defies categorization? It’s a mystery-suspense story wrapped around a typical girl-coming-of-age tale, and as a result it is so much more.

Delia is a darling, an unassuming high school girl with a lot of bad luck but an equal amount of smarts on her hand. In straightforward, attention-grabbing prose she tells us how the transition from California to NYC is, how living with her crazy aunts after her by-the-book mom is, and how important it is to her that she get to the bottom of this mystery with her mom. The plot is definitely the best thing about this book, for the hint of a mysterious and dangerous conspiracy in an otherwise normal YA novel is unusual, and thus delightful.

Besides for Delia, most of the other characters are interesting as well. Her aunts Charley and Patty are complete opposites of one another, and yet neither of them feel clichéd or unrealistic in their differences. Jennifer Sturman has the crazy-awesome ability to make even the most minor of characters have personality. The only character that falls slightly short in my opinion would be Quinn, Delia’s love interest, who’s gallant and noble and infuriating but still a little fuzzy in my head.

However, since the ending of this book clearly promises a sequel or two, I am confident that I will only fall more and more in love with Delia’s world. AND THEN EVERYTHING UNRAVELED is a stellar start to what promises to be an exciting, heartwarming, AND nail-biting series. Can it really get better than that?

Similar Authors
Meg Cabot
Kelley Armstrong (Darkest Powers series)

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5
Want more? Yes, please. :)

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - It's...unusual! Not what come to mind first when I think back on the story (which I can't stop doing, it was that good). It looks more than a bit girlish, which is unfortunate, but that might actually encourage certain readers to pick it up, which would be fantastic.

Thank you, Sheila Marie, for giving me the honor of reviewing this great book!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Review: Back Creek by Leslie Goetsch

Tags: coming-of-age, family, backwaters, rural setting

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

"Quiet Power"


18-year-old Grace Barnett has led a quiet, unassuming, mediator life on the Virginian peninsula of Back Creek. That is, until she witnesses the suicide of Tommy White on the Creek, and her five-years-absent older sister Lillian shows up at Tommy’s funeral, pregnant—the same day that their mother leaves them with no promises to return. With a pregnant, self-centered sister and a withdrawn alcoholic father, Grace knows that she must stay strong and keep what’s left of their family together.

Her only respite is snatched moments drinking beer with Cal, the young man with Vietnam War ghosts who lives in a boat across the Creek. As Grace grows closer to Cal and their family slowly begins to heal, she realizes that she is stronger than she thinks, and that only she is able to piece together the long shattered bits of her family and possibly emerge victorious, a changed and better person.


BACK CREEK is, in short, a pure slice of heaven. If Sarah Dessen were to write a languorous and luxurious coming-of-age novel set in unpredictable estuary waters, the result would be something like this. Goetsch’s language rings with an assuredness that belies the ten years she spent writing BACK CREEK. That, combined with a memorable cast of characters and a subtly right mixture of everything necessary to a good novel—family secrets, a splash of romance, terror, and self-triumph—makes BACK CREEK one of the most moving books I have read this year.

The protagonist, Grace, acts and thinks with a maturity far beyond her age; the deliberate, drama-less, yet innocent way in which she responds to her predicament draws us in and makes us empathize with her. I use the term “drama-less” because, while her family situation is certainly not good, Grace deals with the issues presented to her in a purposeful manner devoid of nauseating amounts of self-pity typical in many young adult coming-of-age novels. Grace’s mental and emotional strength, and her determination to remain optimistic and try to keep her family together, make me respect her highly.

The setting of Back Creek is one in which I would love to live in another life. Leslie Goetsch skillfully places us in the midst of the deliberate politeness and quirkiness of a backwaters town, and there we want to remain. No aspect is overdone: you’re at peace and yet you’re intrigued there.

All in all, BACK CREEK is an understated book that deserves to be more publicized, to be read more. Do consider checking out Leslie Goetsch’s fantastic novel when you want a comfortable yet heartwarming read.

Similar Authors
Sarah Dessen

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 4/5
Want more? Yes, definitely.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Thank you, Harrison and Leslie, for allowing me to review this fantastic book!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review: The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

Book Two of the Darkest Powers series

Tags: YA, paranormal, supernatural, action, werewolves, witches, necromancy

Rating: 4 out of 5


At the end of the first book in this series, THE SUMMONING, 15-year-old budding necromancer Chloe Saunders finds herself the prisoner of the well-meaning but dangerous Edison Group, a group of scientists and doctors who strive to make the lives of supernaturals like Chloe and her friends from Lyle House better via genetic modification. Unfortunately, if their experiments on the teens do not work out, then the supernatural is terminated.

Understanding that they are all in danger of being killed, Chloe and her Lyle House friends Tori, Simon, and Derek stage a great escape and head out to find the only man who might be able to help them. Alas, if only it were as easy as outrunning the heavily armed Edison Group! Several of the teens find their powers growing uncontrollably; Derek in particular must experience a painful transition as he grows into his werewolf identity.

Will the Lyle House kids find a way to take down the Edison Group before their own powers destroy them?


If THE SUMMONING was exposition, then THE AWAKENING is one hundred percent nonstop action! In this book, anything seems able to happen—enemies, mysterious powers, and scary situations ram the readers from all sides and every page. Additionally, Armstrong’s writing is straightforwardly simple, which adds to the feeling of constant danger.

It’s incredibly difficult to write an action-mystery novel without falling into character clichés, but thankfully, Chloe, Tori, Simon, and Derek all have distinct voices and behaviors. Their conversations are perhaps my favorite part about the book, because I had some issues with other parts. For example, most of the adults seemed to blend into one another seamlessly, without definition or personalities that stuck with me.

I was also disappointed with the whole “Chloe as damsel-in-distress” plot, which is a little too reminiscent of Bella’s helplessness in Twilight. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times that Chloe’s cuteness, innocence, or helplessness was mentioned, but it was way more than I cared for. Tori, while portrayed as spoiled and irritating, may be right with her assessment of Chloe: she simply stands there and looks innocent, and people leap to rescue her.

On the other hand, I’m excited to see the buildups of more relationships, particular Chloe and Derek’s. The uncertainty of their status, of their feelings for one another, will keep readers coming back for more. And while the plot lacks intricacy and complexity, the DARKEST POWERS series will certainly appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer and James Patterson.

Similar Authors
Stephenie Meyer
James Patterson
Cassandra Clare

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5
Want More? I need to know how it ends!

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Giving Up the V WINNER!

The winner of Serena Robar's latest book, Giving Up the V, is... Jenna from A Read in the Life! Congrats, Jenna! Send me your mailing address so that I can forward it to Serena as soon as possible.

Everyone else, thanks for participating, and don't forget that I have two other giveaways going on! Information can be found in the static post at the top of the page.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Discussion: Race & Ethnicity in YA

A couple weeks ago, susan pointed me to an interesting blog post by author Mitali Perkins (Secret Keeper) on race, caste, and class in The Hunger Games. And in light of Asian and Pacific Islander Awareness Month last month, author Jon Yang and I have also been exchanging emails about race and ethnicity in YA lit in general. I think it's an interesting topic to discuss because we are right now on the, shall I say, brink of revolution: YA lit is exploding, and books featuring GLBTQ main characters are becoming more and more prominent at the same time that the gay marriage issue is being fought about in politics.

At the same time, I think there's one group of characters that has not yet been adequately introduced in YA lit: that is, minority main characters whose race or ethnicity is a PART of their identity, but does not direct the whole course of the novel. We've come a long way since a hundred or even thirty years ago, but I think there's still a huge preference for white main characters and not enough minority main characters in YA lit.

As an Asian American, I'm almost ashamed to say that whenever I read a book, 99% of the time I picture the character as being white. Even characters who are introduced as being of a different race, I perceive in my head as white. Simon in Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers series is half-Asian, but I didn't fully realize that until the second book, and even so I still have trouble picturing him as half-Asian. According to Mitali's blog-reader survey, characters in The Hunger Games are described with varying shades of skin, hair, and eye color, and yet I perceived them all to be of pretty much the same type anyway.

I wonder whether or not this is a problem, and when in the course of my life I got "programmed" to assume that all characters are white unless otherwise directly stated for us--and even if their physical attributes are described to make them clearly another race, why I still can't picture them unless their story specifically deals with their struggle to overcome the stereotypes associated with their race. Jon Yang and I both want to see more YA books in the future that feature minority characters whose race or ethnicity does not drive the conflict in the story, and yet is present enough to make us aware of the fact that characters should not automatically be presumed to be white. Characters like me.

I don't like the term "color-blind" because a person's race and all of the physical differences that add up to it ARE an undeniable part of a person's being. I have no problem describing myself as an Asian American of Taiwanese descent; I am proud of my race, and even when someone makes an intentional or unintentional comment about my race, I'm hurt, but I still stay true to myself. Being of a different race or ethnicity (or any other characteristic) than others is bound to bring differences: there are certain stereotypes associated with my race whose veracity I will not deny. (Yes, most Asians feel that education is very important. Yes, many of us believe strongly in filial piety.) But I'd like to see more minority characters tackling challenges in fiction that have usually been assumed to be "linked" to white characters. That is, how many fantasy/adventure/quest novels have minority main characters? How many minority main characters can deal with high school drama and not come home to focus on perpetually disappointed parents who drag them off to Chinese church groups where they contemplate how their race or ethnicity fits into their lives?

In other words: can we picture minority characters in bestselling YA fiction? Can Katsa in Graceling be Asian? Can Jessica Darling in Megan McCafferty's books be Latino? Can Janie from Wake and Fade be black?

Will that work? Or will there be something missing, something incomplete about these characters' stories if we do not also talk about how they perceive and are perceived by society?

I'm not sure if I covered everything I wanted to say, or if I even said what I've said here well, but now I'm turning it over to you. My friends, what are your thoughts about the presence of race and ethnicity in YA lit? How do you think its current state is, and how do you think it will change in the future? When you read books, how do you perceive the characters? Are you aware of characters' race while reading? If you write, how do you consider diversity when creating your characters? Is lack of diversity still an issue in YA?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review: Darkwood by M. E. Breen

Tags: middle grade, YA, dark fantasy, animals

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


In 12-year-old Annie’s world, it goes from daylight to pitch-black night in a matter of seconds, and everyone is wary of the kinderstalk, creatures who steal children in the darkness. But when Annie’s uncle tries to sell her to the Dropmen, who need small children to mine ringstone, the event sets Annie off on a journey across the country, where she will meet with the king and try to convince everyone that something sinister is happening in her little corner of the nation. Along the way, Annie will meet a few new friends, find out some astonishing secrets, and learn the truth about herself, her heritage, and her destiny.


If you’re a middle schooler with a penchant for the dark side, you might be able to enjoy this book. Otherwise, you might just think it’s a veritable mess of secrets and plot points.

The novel’s concept admittedly hooked me; I was curious to see what the author would do with a world where day and night were sharply defined. And for the first couple of chapters, I was definitely intrigued: Annie was a resilient protagonist (even if she doesn’t act like a regular 12-year-old at all), and I was just beginning to explore this different world with Annie.

However, then Annie begins her quest, and things just seemed to simultaneously speed up and drag. Things are introduced to us in a blinding flash, popping up and then disappearing before they are ever fully explained. At the same time, nothing seems to happen; Annie doesn’t learn about herself and her past until the very end, which meant that for the rest of the book, she was simply caught up in a lot of confusing and sudden events.

Fans of darker fairy tales (such as the movie The Brothers Grimm) might enjoy DARKWOOD and its animalistic element. The ending does promise more books where Annie’s story and purpose will hopefully be better explained. In the meantime, however, DARKWOOD was difficult for me to get through, which led to a marked lack of enjoyment on my part.

Similar Authors
Christine & Ethan Rose (Rowan of the Wood)
Holly Black
R. J. Anderson (Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter)

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Plot: 2/5
Want More? No

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Thank you, Anna at Bloomsbury, for allowing me to review this book!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review: The Stolen One by Suzanne Crowley

Publication date: June 30, 2009 (HarperCollins Publishers)

Tags: middle grade, YA, historical fiction, magic, Tudor England, mystery, court life

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

"Hint of Magic and Outspokenness Dazzles Tudor Book"


It is sixteenth-century England. Henry and his tyrannical ways have been disposed of, and a new queen, Elizabeth, sits on the throne. Meanwhile, in the countryside, a redheaded teenage girl named Kat Bab dreams of life beyond her simple country lifestyle. When her adoptive mother, Grace, dies, Kat considers it her opportunity to go to London and discover the identities of her biological parents.

Along with her half-deaf sister, Anna, Kat enters the queen’s court and soon becomes Elizabeth’s favorite. Jealous rumors arise, whispers that say that Kat is actually Elizabeth’s daughter. Kat, on the other hand, thinks that she was born for life in the court. Surrounded by riches and attractive men vying for her attention, however, Kat can’t help but occasionally think of the young farmer boy at home who is perhaps still waiting for her.

Will Kat learn the truth about her history, and how will she define her own future?


I haven’t read such a delightful historical fiction read since probably Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy. The sixteenth-century England that Suzanne Crowley writes is colorful, alluring (like how Kat is often described by others), and not at all stilted. It’s easy to get lost in either the rowdy, rudimentary backcountry or the deceptive yet attractive London court.
I enjoyed how the chapters with Kat’s first-person narration were divided by snippets of Grace’s old diary entries. This added even more mystery and urgency to Kat’s quest, as we readers begin to piece together what Kat herself does not yet know.

Above all, Kat’s character really made THE STOLEN ONE come alive for me. She works for me as the protagonist because of the subtle yet completely justified way she changes from countryside to courtside. She is not afraid to speak her mind, which makes for interesting conversations between headstrong or ambitious characters. I found her attractive yet normal, aspiring yet innocent.

I couldn’t get as much into the romance(s) of the story, however, partially because most of the tête-à-têtes occurred almost randomly and inexplicably. It’s okay when the main character attracts attention because of her allure; when the attraction seems ambitious and is left unexplained, however, I get worried. I also have mixed feelings about the ending of this book. Perhaps, after reading so much about Kat speaking her mind and not simply going along with what everyone expects of her, I was disappointed in her decision.

Even so, THE STOLEN ONE is a strong book with a marvelous protagonist. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a splash of magic and romance should read this book: it’s made for you.

Similar Authors
Libba Bray (the Gemma Doyle trilogy)
Cindy Pon (Silver Phoenix)
Eva Ibbotson

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - I'm occasionally slightly discomforted by the girl's steady stare, but I'm more in love with these gorgeous Greenwillow covers: the color, the saturation, oh!

I know that The Stolen One is not officially supposed to be out until June 30, but look what I found in my local Borders today!

Yay! Congrats, Suzanne!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Author Interview: Aimee Friedman!

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to come in contact with the ever-kind Aimee Friedman, who, together with her fabulous publicist at Scholastic, Sheila Marie, allowed me to interview Sea Change (you can see my review here). I was struck with Sea Change's cute summer romance by the beach, with a dash of the mystical, and decided to ask Aimee a few questions about Sea Change and herself. Welcome to Steph Su Reads, Aimee!

1. What inspirations or research did you draw from for the setting of Selkie Island in Sea Change?

I actually took a trip down to Savannah, and then from Savannah to Tybee Island, one of the Sea Islands that lie off the coast of the southern states. It was wonderful to soak in the languorous charms of Savannah, the rich history and mystery and hanging Spanish oak. And Tybee Island was a vibrant beach community, and it was there that I stumbled into a marine discovery center. This was how my idea of (the fictitious) Selkie Island began to gel. I also read a lot on mermaid lore and mythology, which is the most fun kind of research.
2. What fictional characters or real-life people influenced the love interest, Leo?

Leo had always existed very clearly in my mind as a sort of classic romantic hero: the boy from the wrong side of the tracks (or in this case, the island) with a heart of gold. Leo was also inspired a bit by someone I met on Tybee Island, a local, this handsome, mysterious blonde guy had lived his whole life on the water. We only spoke briefly, but I wondered, “what if…?” What if he had a secret about his identity? It was fun to use that as a jumping off point.

3. You have unlimited funds to take a three-week-long vacation to anywhere in the world. Where would you go?

Wow! I like this fantasy a LOT. One of my favorite cities in the world is Paris, so I’d probably start there, and spend a week visiting museums, walking across bridges, sipping coffee, and feeling romantic (for more on this fantasy, see my book, French Kiss!). From there, I’d go to the South of France—Provence, and the Riviera, for some sunshine and beach time. And then I’d finish up in Italy, for unlimited gelato. And of course I’d be doing my favorite vacation activities the whole time: reading and writing and daydreaming.

4. Miranda is an interesting character with unusual experiences: family secrets, webbed toes, discovering her grandmother's trunk, and more. Can you share with us a "Miranda-like" experience that you've had?

Miranda, among all my characters in my books, is perhaps the one most different from me (unlike, say, the character of Katie in The Year My Sister Got Lucky, who is a very close facsimile of who I was as a teen). Like Miranda, I went to the Bronx High School of Science, but I was not good at science. I found it too rigid. I preferred—I still do —stories and make-believe. Miranda is very rational, very logical, not easily ruffled. My friends will all tell you that I tend to be dramatic, emotional, and very easily ruffled! But what I share with Miranda is a deep curiosity about my family and my past, and, definitely when I was a teenager, the feeling—that I think everyone can relate to—that I was somehow different from everyone else, somehow on the outside. Everyone has something that makes them feel “freakish” in some way, whether it’s webbed toes or secrets or just ordinary insecurities. Part of growing up is learning to accept, and embrace, those quirks!

5. If you were the protagonist of a YA novel, who would write your story and why?

I would love for Meg Cabot to write the story of my teenage life; she’d make it wise and sharp and funny.

6. What would your ideal personal library look like?

This is seriously something I have given a LOT of thought to! Floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves, and one of those ladders on wheels that lets you roll from one end of the room to the other, plucking books as you go. Plush carpets, a fireplace, tall windows, and big, squishy chairs to sink into, curl up, and read, read, read. Heaven.

7. What is a type of book that you haven't written yet and would like to?

I would like to write a novel about my grandmother’s life. It’s something that’s very dear to my heart, and I want to take the time to think about it and make sure it rings true before I start working on it. I’d also love to try my hand at historical fiction, which would be a cool challenge.

8. Anything else you'd like to add?

For a look at all my books, and to drop me a line anytime, please visit my website: www.aimeefriedmanbooks.com


Thanks so much, Aimee, for that fun interview! I highly recommend you pick up Sea Change for a summer read - it's perfect for a lazy day by the beach. See you all around!

Weekly Giveaway Roundup

Individual Books You Can Win:
The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (Reviewer X), June 23
3 copies of Airhead by Meg Cabot (susan), June 25
Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender (Fantastic Book Review), June 27
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (The Shady Glade), June 22
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen (Harmony Book Reviews), June 27
Tricks by Ellen Hopkins (Donna), July 5
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Debbie), July 7

Multiple Books, Swag, and More
Books and Swag (Cute Little Cindy), June 29
Dead Is... series by Marlene Perez (I Heart Monster), June 30
Spring Cleaning Contest (Cupcake Witch), June 30
Paperback Contest (Amy), July 27

And don't forget the giveaways I have going on on my blog!
  • Win a copy of Giving Up the V by Serena Robar! Ends June 24, US & Canada only
  • Be one of two (2) winners for Worst Nightmares by Shane Briant - Ends June 30, US & Canada only
  • Help me pick out my Series Summer reading list and enter to win all six (6) books in Meg Cabot's Mediator series!!! This giveaway is part of the YA Book Carnival, hosted by the awesome Lauren of Shooting Stars Mag. Go to her post for more info and giveaways to enter. This giveaway ends July 5 and is INTERNATIONAL.
If you have any giveaways that you'd like me to include in my sidebar or in these roundup posts, just leave a comment with the link. Good luck!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

YA Book Carnival GIVEAWAY: Series Summer Celebration!

Lauren of Shooting Stars Mag had this fantastic idea to host a YA Book Carnival! Check out her post for more detail. This whole week of June 21-27, you can enter contests featuring YA lit-related prizes. So why WOULDN'T you check it out?

I am celebrating YA Book Carnival and the start of my self-determined Series Summer 2009 with a giveaway of ALL SIX (6) of the books in Meg Cabot's Mediator series. If you haven't read this series yet, I'm not sure where you've been. It tells the story of Susannah Simon, who gets into a whole lot of trouble because she can see ghosts... and there's one hot ghost in particular that she can't seem to see enough of. This is great fun serial paranormal reading the way only Meg Cabot can do it, and I highly recommend you check it out.

To enter this giveaway, I need your help. What is Series Summer 2009, you ask? With my TBR shelves threatening to take over my entire room, I've decided to enlist your help in helping me choose what to read every season. For Summer 2009 I will be reading books in series. They may be the first book in the series, the last (which I haven't gotten around to yet), old, new... everything goes, as long as they are part of the series!

Enter by telling me which books from the lists below you think I should read. Nudge or recommend as many books as you want; you can give up to one point per book, but you can also give half- and quarter-points to other books you think I should read but not as immediately as the full-point books.

Series Summer 2009 Books:

3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows / Ann Brashares
Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty / Jody Gehrman
Cycler / Lauren McLaughlin
Flowers in the Attic (Dollangangers, Book 1) / V. C. Andrews
Friend Me: Books 1-3 of the Mates, Dates... Series / Cathy Hopkins
Homecoming / Cynthia Voigt
Kitty Kitty / Michele Jaffe
The President’s Daughter / Ellen Emerson White
Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time / Lisa Yee
The Treasure Map of Boys (Ruby Oliver, Book 3) / E. Lockhart
Under the Rose (Secret Society Girl, Book 2) / Diana Peterfreund

Kiss Me Kill Me / Lauren Henderson
Kissed by an Angel / Elizabeth Chandler
Nobody’s Princess / Esther Friesner

The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters / James Dashner
The Blue Sword / Robin McKinley
Dealing with Dragons / Patricia Wrede
Dragonsong / Anne McCaffrey
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn / Alison Goodman
The Faerie Path / Frewin Jones
Fire / Kristin Cashore
Flora Segunda / Ysabeau Wilce
Foundling (Monster Blood Tattoo, Book 1) / D. M. Cornish
The Grand Tour / Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars / Frank Beddor
The Hunter’s Moon (Chronicles of Faerie, Book 1) / O. R. Melling
Into the Wild / Sarah Beth Durst
Ironside / Holly Black
Lament / Maggie Stiefvater
The Perilous Gard / Elizabeth Pope
Poison Study (Study, Book 1) / Maria Snyder
River Secrets / Shannon Hale
Ruler of the Realm (Faerie Wars, Book 3) / Herbie Brennan
Skulduggery Pleasant / Derek Landry
The Thief / Megan Whalen Turner
Wings / Aprilynne Pike

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eighth Grade Bites / Heather Brewer
Dead is the New Black / Marlene Perez
Dead Until Dark (Sookie Sackhouse, Book 1) / Charlaine Harris
Evernight / Claudia Gray
In the Serpent’s Coils / Tiffany Trent
Marked (House of Night, Book 1) / P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast
Night World No. 1 / L. J. Smith
The Society of S / Susan Hubbard
Strange Angels / Lili St. Crow
Succubus Blues / Richelle Mead
Vampire Academy / Richelle Mead
The Vampire Diaries / L. J. Smith
You Are So Undead to Me / Stacey Jay

The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) / Philip Pullman
The Devouring / Simon Holt
Dreamhunter / Elizabeth Knox
Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (Underland Chronicles, Book 2) / Suzanne Collins
Maximum Ride / James Patterson
Skin Hunger / Kathleen Duey

(I know there are a TON of books but any nudges you've got to spare would be exceedingly grateful! You can see why I'm nearly being devoured by my TBR books...)

You get one (1) entry for leaving your name and email address, but you get ten (10) entries for voting on which books I should read this summer. (So you should vote. Clearly. Duh.) For extra entries:

+1 if you follow me (and let me know)
+1 if you spread the word about this giveaway and tell me
+1 if you put me on your blogroll

Giveaway ends on Sunday, July 5, 2009. This is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway--because I seriously need help determining my Series Summer reading list. And even if you don't want to enter the giveaway, you should still contribute some votes for books you think I should read! Thanks, and let the voting begin!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Review: Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

Publication date: July 7, 2009

Tags: middle grade, YA, magic, theatre

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


For all her life, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith—her friends call her Bertie—has lived in the Theatre, a magical and entrancing place filled with every character ever written in a play, who are all controlled by The Book. Bertie is content there, but her happiness is about to come to an end when the Theater Manager threatens to throw her out of the Theatre for being so destructive. She has only one chance to stay: she must make an invaluable contribution to the Theatre.

But kind of invaluable contribution can she, an ordinary girl, make to the majestic Theatre? More than she thinks. As Bertie begins to understand the extent of her writing powers, Ariel, a dazzlingly persuasive spirit from the play The Tempest, sets out to gain his freedom by wrecking the The Book and the Theatre. Bertie will have to set aside her self-doubts if she intends to save the Theatre and unravel the mystery of her past.


At first I thought, wow, Bertie is really immature for a 17-year-old. Then I thought, her four constant fairy companions are annoying. And then, before I knew what had happened, I was sucked into Bertie’s romantic, enthralling, sexy, and fun world and never wanted to leave. Lisa Mantchev displays enormous range with her writing: she manages to capture the ridiculousness of some characters’ behaviors (such as the fairies’ bickering and childlike desires) as well as paint beautiful, romantic passages to give Ariel that dangerously desirable edge. As a result, readers of all age can engage with this story.

Bertie is no ordinary protagonist. She may get into heaps of trouble, but her heart is pure, and that’s why she has so many friends who willingly help her accomplish her goals. She’s not afraid to speak her mind or flash her fists if necessary, and yet she still manages to look at the world with wonder and a bit of vulnerability. If you don’t want to BE Bertie in a book, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Who doesn’t want to be a kick-butt female character?

As mentioned earlier, Lisa Mantchev uses such descriptive language for Ariel that you can’t help but fall in love with him, despite his questionable ethics. It’s not difficult to understand the attraction between him and Bertie, even if the romance is the tiniest bit rushed at the end.

Outstanding characterization doesn’t just stop at the main characters, however. For such tiny creatures, each one of the fairies manages to have his or her own personality, a feat that has me smiling wide. Lisa Mantchev turns Shakespeare on his head and gives important heroic action to often overlooked characters.

Not just Shakespeare fans will appreciate the new theatrical world that sets the stage for EYES LIKE STARS. And at the end of the book you’ll have no choice but to stand up and chant, “Sequel, sequel, sequel!”

Similar Authors
Francesca Lia Block
Aimee Friedman
Holly Black

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4.5 out of 5 - Bee-yoo-ti-ful! I'm always a sucker for hand-drawn covers that work, and even though I didn't picture Bertie like that, I'm still impressed. The cover author for this book also did the cover art for the UK version of The Hunger Games, so he's definitely someone to watch out for!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A book you should all read

Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert (MTV Books, July 21, 2009). I just finished it a couple nights ago in a few teary, overwhelming, inspirational hours. Wow. What words can I say to accurately describe this book and its power to you all? I'm still struggling to write the review, to write something that can do it justice. This should be required reading for every urban teenager,or  anyone who's ever felt lost or betrayed or alone. Publication is still a couple of weeks away, but I just wanted to say this right now, before all the hubbub over the actual release date and the Traveling to Teens tour occurs. You should definitely check this book out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review: Beastly by Alex Flinn

Tags: YA, retelling, NYC, transformation, love

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Kyle Kingsbury is the most popular, most beautiful, and most well-liked guy at Tuttle, his fancy private NYC high school, and he knows it. So why should he even bother to give that weird girl in his English class the time of day, when he can get the hottest girl in the school? However, his cruel treatment of others results in a witch casting a spell over him, making him ugly so that his anchorman father puts him away in a five-story Brooklyn brownstone, shut away from the world.

Kyle—who renames himself “Adrian”—has only one chance to break this spell: he must fall in love with a girl within two years, and have her love him back. But Adrian believes this is impossible. Who is going to love him when no one can even bear to look at him?


The thing with retellings of famous stories isn’t the suspense: it’s how the author does to liven an oft-told tale. Alex Flinn does a respectable job of retelling the beloved “Beauty and the Beast.” I was most impressed by Kyle/Adrian’s transformation from spoiled rich brat to a caring and kind individual. The process and subtleties of his maturing were done well.

But it is not just Adrian’s growth that makes him so likable. Even at the beginning, when he irked me with his superior attitude and gag-inducing way of approaching life (“I am beautiful and thus I deserve everything I want and get”), he was still vulnerable and hurt, with that horrible father of his. I would’ve liked more insight into what made Kyle/Adrian the person he was—clearly his parents had something to do with it—but overall he was a great protagonist.

Unfortunately the book began to fall apart for me when Lindy, the “Belle” of the story, was introduced. While I loved hearing Adrian’s worried thoughts about the impression he makes on her, I was less than impressed with Lindy’s character. She is a bookworm with a difficult family life, and that was fine, but I got no sense of chemistry between Lindy and Adrian. In fact, the more I learned about Lindy, the more annoyed I was with her character: this nerdy girl who initially seemed so resourceful and strong-willed dissolved into a pathetic, hot-boy-crushing damsel-in-distress at the end.

Lindy aside, I really enjoyed BEASTLY, with its approachable writing style and likable “Beast” protagonist. It’s definitely refreshing to look at this old fairy tale from the Beast’s point of view. While I can think of a number of better “Beauty and the Beast” retellings that are out there, BEASTLY’s simple writing and straightforward characters will appeal to middle schoolers and early high schoolers who enjoy fairy tale retellings with a dash of romance and a strong male protagonist.

Similar Authors
Jane Yolen (Briar Rose)
Shannon Hale
Robin McKinley
Gail Carson Levine (The Wish)

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Waiting on Wednesday (18)

Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
(a DJ Schwenk book)

After five months of sheer absolute craziness I was going back to being plain old background D.J. In photographs of course I’m always in the background . . .

But it turns out other folks have big plans for D.J. Like her coach. College scouts. All the town hoops fans. A certain Red Bend High School junior who’s keen for romance and karaoke. Not to mention Brian Nelson, who she should not be thinking about! Who she is done with, thank you very much. But who keeps showing up anyway . . .

If you couldn't tell already, I'm kind of in love with DJ Schwenk, in a non-romantic way. More as in, if I were a farmgirl living in the Midwest, DJ is who I'd want to be. So that's why I'm thrilled that--yay!--DJ's coming back! And we'll be able to read more about her and her family and the farm and Brian Nelson and football and more. Sweet. I can't wait!

Front and Center will be released by Houghton Mifflin in hardcover on October 19, 2009.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I Guest Blogged.

If you haven't been visiting Heather Zundel's blog these past two weeks, where have you been? Since she's currently in Thailand, the lucky girl, Heather has asked numerous YA bloggers to contribute guest posts to keep her blog alive. If you want to read about how I am too easily influenced and adopt the affectations of writers I love *smiles*, go here. Thanks! :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Review: Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker

Tags: YA, summer, music, love

Rating: 4 out of 5


Priscilla Quinn Parker—who prefers to go by “Quinn,” thank you very much—isn’t sure that her summer before her freshman year of college is going the way she imagined it. She’s living with her older cousin Penny in Austin, Texas, and has an internship at Amalgam Records, her favorite indie label—but her internship is only one day a week, and Penny is a complete sorority girl. Things start to look up, however, when Quinn finds her ideal indie boyfriend in Sebastian a local Austin DJ. He’s beautiful, musically knowledgeable, and just like her. Therefore he’s perfect. Right?

Then there’s Russ, Penny’s annoying frat-boy wannabe-cowboy friend and neighbor. For one, Russ is always calling Quinn “Priscilla,” which she hates. For another, he’s always trying to get her to listen to country music, then calling her a snob when she says she hates country. Russ is clearly not her ideal guy…but Quinn finds herself unable to get him or his favorite country songs out of her head, especially after he calls her out on her close-mindedness.

Maybe Quinn will learn to open up her ears, mind, and heart, in order to find a love and a life that’s real.


It’s been so long since I’ve read a straightforward, fun, romantic, somewhat predictable, but ultimately heartfelt summer tale, and so LOVESTRUCK SUMMER far exceeded my expectations. Instead of flat characters, you get interesting, three-dimensional people whom you want to be friends with. It was of course easy to predict how this book was going to end, but I was surprised by how endearing Russ was, and what great banter existed between him and Quinn.

Most poignant was Quinn’s development from a self-centered, naïve snob into a more open-minded individual. I’m still having trouble understanding how Melissa Walker managed to, in just a little over two hundred (small) pages, make Quinn—who was even likable in her initial state—actually mature into a young woman we love and respect. Such gorgeously smooth character development rarely exists in a book that intends to be a light beach read, and I was greatly appreciative of how much I was able to understand, accept, and love the flawed Quinn and her equally entertaining and realistic friends.

LOVESTRUCK SUMMER is, first and foremost, a pleasure read, something that will make the bubbles rise in your stomach as the sun warms your face in the summertime. However, don’t miss out on the endearing characters and the complexity of Quinn’s maturation. I know that I will be reading this again whenever I need a book that makes me smile, swoon, and feel hopeful about the human nature.

Similar Authors
Jennifer Echols (The Boys Next Door)
Meg Cabot

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 1 out of 5 - Someone please lend me a hammer so I can bash my head in. Are we gearing this book towards teenagers or five-year-old girls who like to watch--what's that show called? "Strawberry Shortcake"? Yeah, teens, or them? Grr. I'm not happy.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Author Interview: Zoe Marriott

About a month ago, I read and reviewed the fantastic YA fantasy Daughter of the Flames (you can see my review here) and knew that I just had to contact the marvelous woman behind this book, Zoe Marriott (also the author of The Swan Kingdom). I wanted to find out, among other things, the thought process that went behind her books, and Zoe was kind enough to answer my questions. Please welcome... Zoe Marriott!!!

1. Hello, Zoe! I'm so glad you agreed to answer my questions. You knew you wanted to be a writer at a young age. Can you tell us how that came about, and what you did in the teen years to reach your writing dream?

It all led from a love of reading. When I was little I had a mad scary imagination that wasn't helped by my sister telling me that wolves lived under my bed and would come out at night to get me. I was terrified of being in my bedroom on my own, even with the light on. My mum hit on the idea of giving me something interesting to read, which would take my mind of my fear. She picked 'The Magic Faraway Tree' by Enid Blyton, and, even though I wasn't that great a reader at that age, I just never looked back. I loved books and stories so much that it seemed natural to start making my own.

At first I would copy pictures from Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter and make up my own stories to fit them, then I moved onto doing my own drawings and stories. Finally I just concentrated on the stories. I was helped by the fact that my father worked for an office supply firm as an engineer. He would makes deals with people in the supply section and bring me home boxes of paper and coloured pens, then as I got older I had a little blue typewriter on which I taught myself to touch-type, then an electric typewriter, and finally a 'StarWriter' which was a word processing machine. By the time the word processor had to go back to the company I had a job and was able to get a computer.

As a teenager I spent a lot of time on research! I figured that I had to know how publishing worked if I wanted to be published (I honestly don't know how I managed to be that sensible as a young person - I think I must have used all my common sense up by the time I was twenty). I borrowed all the books from the library that had titles like: 'How to Write a Novel and Get Published' or 'Publishing for Dummies' or 'The Writer's and Artist's Yearbook'. They gave me a basic knowledge of how you actually manage to find a publisher, how to write submission letters, how to format and submit manuscripts, and generally how to behave. This meant that although I got my fair share of rejections, I never made some of the silly mistakes that you'll often hear about novice writers making. Research is the key, people! Most of us aren't geniuses that can get published when we're thirteen, so spend your teenage years honing your craft and learning how the business works, if you want to get published.

2. Your books are always set in fascinating, otherworldly locales. What has influenced the settings of your books?

Well, I suppose different things for each one. The Swan Kingdom was mostly influenced by my love of the British countryside. Although Britain is a tiny country really, we have everything: lonely white beaches and clear seas, spectacular cliffscapes, rolling green hills, craggy black mountains, moorlands, forests. I've done my best to travel over as much of England, Scotland and Wales as I can and I really love my country, so when I wrote The Swan Kingdom I tried to pick out all the special things that make me feel that sense of love in my heart and put those into the Kingdom and Midland. I wanted the reader to get that sense of love, of the land being something sacred and beautiful to be protected, and the sense of having a history that stretches back for thousands of years.

With Daughter of the Flames, I wanted to go somewhere completely different - but somewhere that also had cultural richness and diversity. There was a series of documentaries on the BBC at the time about the different landscapes of Africa, and I felt like I wanted to make a fantasy version of that. I kind of got carried away with it, especially in the rainforest part. I had to cut out a lot of description later on, and then, after the book was finished, I saw another documentary about the Ganges region of India and realised that although my original inspiration had been from Africa, the country I had written was in many ways similar to India instead. I wish I had realised it at the time - it would have made research a lot easier.

My current book is set in a fantasy world that has a lot in common with Japan or China, and again I'm having to restrain myself with my world building, or else you'd get pages and pages of nothing but the heroine wandering around admiring the scenery (fun for me to write, but not for you to read).

The main thing about fantasy books is that no matter how fantastic the settings are, you have to feel that they're real, and deep, and alive. That's something I both struggle with and enjoy.

3. Can you describe your writing habits for us? Is there a particular routine you follow when writing?

I try to follow a routine but honestly, it hasn't worked yet! The creative part of the human brain is tricky. It's not like plumbing, where if you follow the steps and tighten the washers it always ends up the same. It feels sometimes like you're dealing with a beautiful but part-wild animal, and you're always either trying to coax it out to play or hanging on for deal life while it drags you around.

The main constant for me is my notebook. I have around thirty notebooks safely stowed in the secretaire in my study, and when I begin a new story I go and look at them all and choose the one that seems to fit. Then I write the working title and date on the front page and it becomes my constant companion for the duration of writing the book. I mean, seriously. It probably never gets more than a foot away from me. At the moment I am using a Paperblanks large notebook which has a vaguely Oriental pattern of blue flowers on the front. It has maps glued onto the inside of the covers, and long strips of paper on which I've written down all the events of the story in order so I can tick them off as I go. There's a little pocket in the back where all my scraps of paper with random bits of dialogue or description from when the ideas first started coming are scribbled. It has the typed synopsis that I wrote for my publisher in there too. It's filled with all the writing I do during the day while I'm sitting on the bus or having lunch at work, and it also has torn out pictures from magazines, sketches, and colour-coded graphs that show character or plot development or the seasons of the year as the story progresses (those last ones are from when I'm really blocked and desperate).

About four times a week I sit down with the notebook and my laptop and type up all the work I've done, revising and re-writing as I go. Sometimes whole scenes go in virtually unchanged, but most of the time what's in the notebook bears little resemblance to what ends up saved in the file.

When I finally type THE END for the story, I try to give myself a break for at least a couple of weeks, so I can get some distance from the book. However, this is hard, because as soon as I finish that first draft I am dying to go back and start fixing all the messes and problems which I just know are sitting in there, taunting me and pulling faces.

When I've gone as long as I can bear, I print the whole thing out (this is the first time I've seen any of it in print) and then the notebook goes in the drawer and the file with the manuscript in it becomes my constant companion instead. I read it every spare minute that I can, trying to plough through it as quickly as I can so that I get all the first impressions of things that seem wonky. I write all over it in red pen, marking everything from spelling mistakes to whole chapters that need to be removed. I am ruthless. By the time I'm finished, there's not a single page that doesn't have red scribbling all over it. This usually takes me about a week. Once it's done I sit down and transfer everything I've marked back into the computer file. Again, this takes about a week. As soon as I've finished this I send it to my agent, because otherwise I'd go back and start fiddling again and it wouldn't do anymore good at that point.

However, none of the above takes into account the periods when I'm so stumped that I don't write a single word for weeks at a time!

4. I was particularly impressed by the way the fight scenes in Daughter of the Flames played out so vividly in my head. How much research went into writing those scenes? Are you a visual writing, meaning you see your story played out like a movie in your head?

There's two answers to that. The first is that I did no research at all. The second is that I have been doing research all my life, because I am a huge fan of books and films about martial arts of all types. It's one of my major interests. I could probably make and string an English longbow, and fletch the arrows, if I had to. If you were defending a castle in a siege, you would so want me on your team. So while I didn't sit down and do specific research for the fight scenes, I had a lot of knowledge to draw on while writing Daughter of the Flames.

I don't think of myself as a visual writer so much as a sensual writer (no sniggering!) because I tend to write using all my senses if I can. The visual is a big part of that, but it tends to be other elements that really 'make' a scene for me. For instance, in the final fight of Daughter of the Flames (trying really hard not to give out spoilers, here) you might have noticed how the wind almost became a part of the fight as well, moving clouds across the sun that changed the light, blowing their hair into their faces and whistling through the rips in their clothes. The wind brought the senses of touch and sound into play in a different way. The very first time we see Zira as an adult, when she is sparring with her teacher Deo, her sight is taken from her, and she is forced to use all her senses to defend herself.

5. I did notice, and that was one of my favorite parts about the book. :) What are your favorite reading spots?

The number one would have to be the bath. I have, on many occasions, stayed in the bath until I was about five minutes from becoming a sponge, because I just had to read one page more, and then another, and another... But I also read while walking my dog (no, really - and I've never fallen over yet, either), on the bus, and just lying around. Reading is for all occasions and all places.

6. Love interests. They're an essential part of good books. What do you think about when writing love interests? Anyone in mind? What about a story's love interest is attractive to you? Are they dream partners or realistically lovable?

Wow, that's a biggie. Erm...while writing them I suppose I just think about why this person, in particular, is the perfect match for the heroine. I try to make the hero's personality like a puzzle piece that fits into the heroine's - not that they're opposites or that they're the same, but just that they fit. Gabriel and Alex fit because they are quite similar; although he's more talkative and playful, at the heart of it they're both people who take life seriously. Sorin and Zira fit because they balance each other out: he's more reckless where she's cautious, he's able to make her laugh when she's wanting to bang her head on the wall. Everyone else looks up to her, but he wants to take care of her - and vice versa. In my current book, my heroine is a person who is constantly in hiding, even from herself. Her hero works because he is the one person who isn't fooled, and sees her clearly - and loves her anyway. So, just like in real life, a dream partner is different for everyone. I suppose a common thing for all my heroes, both the ones I write myself and the ones I like in other people's work, is kindness. I think compassion is the most vital and under-rated virtue, so it's hard for me to fall in love unless that is present.

7. Favorite foods?

Ooh, a good one! I'm a major foodie. I love everything. I love pasta and pizza, I love Chinese and Indian, I love Middle Eastern. I love fish and chips. I love desserts, especially ones I make myself (I am a baking Goddess). The one thing I haven't had, but would love to try, is proper Japanese sashimi. The stuff available here tends to be cooked or smoked fish, but the Japanese just make sure their fish is completely fresh and eat it raw. My first editor said to me once that reading my books always made him hungry - I think you can probably see why! There are only two things that I will not eat: bananas and peppers (red, green, yellow, I don't care). They both make me ill. Other than that, I'm a food slut.

8. What are some books you've read recently that you would recommend to us?

Let's see...I'm doing a lot of re-reading at the moment, so 'The Curse of Chalion' by Lois McMaster Bujold and 'Hexwood' by Diana Wynne Jones. Completely different books, completely different authors, but both fantasy and both brilliant. I've just read 'Graceling' (hasn't everyone?) and loved that, although I wanted more fighting (there can never be enough fighting for me). I'm not reading as much as normal at the moment, because I'm writing and there isn't really time for both, but when I've finished this book I will dive into my Unread Pile and not emerge for ages.

9. What's next in store for you?

The book I'm working on now is another fairytale re-telling. This time I picked Cinderella because it's so well known that I knew I would be able to twist it and mess with it and turn it upside down and people would still know the original shape. The basic idea is to give Cinderella a strong motive for everything that happens: revenge. She's like the Count of Monte Cristo, hiding in the ashes and then rising from them transformed to take vengeance on those who wronged her. It's set in a world a little bit like Japan, just because I wanted a society that had a very formal structure and many intricate rituals, and because, let's face it, Japan is fascinating and cool and I've been wanting to set something here for years. It's not in any way historically accurate, though. The magic kind of messes everything up...

After this I'm going to do a sequel to Daughter of the Flames - an indirect one, where Sorin and Zira may make guest appearances. It will revisit the kingdom of Ruan about five years after the first book finishes. Some of the Sedorne Lords have holed up in the mountains and have gone back to their raiding ways, and the story will focus on the struggle to get them out and make the country safe, which is led by a group of mixed Ruan and Sedorne fighters, loyal to the Crown. There will be lots of battles and heroic fighting and my very first love triangle...

10. And finally, if you could ask yourself one interview question, what would it be and how would you answer?

Question: 'Would you like £100,000?' Answer: 'Yes, please.'

Any publishers or movie producers reading this, take note!


Thank you so much, Zoe, for that fascinating look into your life and writing style! I highly recommend you pick up her books for a good time. Looking forward to what you write in the future! :)

Reminder: Donate to the Color Online Summer Book Drive!

By now, I'm sure most of you have heard about the summer book drive that the remarkable woman we know in the blogosphere as susan is holding to expand the nonprofit community library, Alternatives for Girls, that she runs. Maybe some of you have even donated. I strongly encourage you to go to her post and read about her worthy cause (they also contain pictures and a link to their wish list), and then to use the following contact information below to donate books that you might no longer need, but would completely make the day of another child or teen. I myself plan to send a big box o' books her way towards the end of the month. You should too!

Please send your donations to:


Contact email: cora_litgroup@yahoo.com

Thank you, fellow book lovers! <3

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review + GIVEAWAY: Worst Nightmares by Shane Briant

Tags: horror, thriller, murder, serial killer

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Dermot Nolan is living a writer’s nightmare. The Booker Prize-winning author has not had an idea for a new novel in over a year, and his financial backers and even his loved ones are beginning to get on his case about it. Then what could possibly be his godsend arrives: a crudely handwritten manuscript stuffed in his mailbox. The author, an Arthur K. Arnold, claims that it is his diary, and that all of the murders, done by a man known as the “Dream Healer,” described in the manuscript have actually occurred.

At first, Dermot dismisses the graphic writing as a sick man’s fiction. But even when research causes him to doubt his original conviction—could these murders actually have taken place?—Dermot still goes ahead and publishes the manuscript under his name. The novel is a hit, and Dermot becomes a wealthy celebrity—but when new evidence hints that these murders had indeed taken place, suspicion closes upon Dermot as a possible serial killer. Can he find out who is behind this framing before his own worst nightmares are lived out?


I don’t read much horror-thriller, but I did enjoy WORST NIGHTMARES—if “enjoy” is the word to describe a novel that’s so vivid, so gruesome, and so well thought-out that I found myself shuddering while reading. The chapters often alternate between Dermot’s third-person point of view and the point of view of the Dream Healer, so that you’re never settled: you’re either in the mind of a merciless, albeit creative, serial killer, or else you’re witness to Dermot’s mental breakdown and self-doubts.

There are not that many characters in WORST NIGHTMARES, but those who are present are quite well-drawn for a thriller novel. Of course, its genre practically demands that more attention be paid to the plot than to the characters, but even so, Dermot and his wife Neela’s reactions to an unusual and volatile situation are believable and justified. All of the decisions they make—both bad and good—are the result of a very real, very human thought process.

The one major thing I found lacking in this novel was its predictability. Maybe it was just me, but I had my hunch as to who the mastermind behind the killings was about a third of the way through, and, in some of the slower moments, the desire to verify the accuracy of my hunch (I was right) was what kept me going. I’m not a fan of predictability, but if that doesn’t bother you much, and if you allow your mind to shut off just enough to overlook a few other minor flaws—questionable relationship dynamics, occasionally slow pacing, and loose ends—then the issues I had with this book won’t bother you all that much.

All in all, WORST NIGHTMARES is a good read in a genre that’s become increasingly tough to stand out in. It’s not a book I’d have picked up on my own, but fans of horror and thriller novels need to read this Shane Briant standout in order to truly understand it.

Similar Authors
Stephen King
Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs)
Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code)

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Thank you, Imran and Vanguard Press, for sending me this book for review!


Interested? Sound like your type of book? Want something to make your toes curl in the middle of the night? The fantastic Imran from Meryl Moss Media Relations has kindly provided me with two copies of WORST NIGHTMARES--and they can be yours!

To enter, leave a comment below with the name of your favorite horror or thriller read (if you don't like those genres, explain why).

Extra entries:
+1 for following me (and letting me know below)
+1 for linking to me somewhere

Sorry, US and Canada only (these are BIG books!). This contest will end on Tuesday, June 30.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Tags: YA, tragedy, rape

Rating: 5 out of 5


Parker Fadley used to be perfect: cheerleading captain, honor roll, most popular boyfriend. Now, however, in her senior year of high school, she has none of those, and it’s all by her choice. She’s constantly getting in trouble, and has to meet with her guidance counselor once a week to discuss her “issues.”

What happened to make Parker act this way? As Parker pushes away her old friends and struggles with her feelings for the new boy, Jake, she also grapples with her guilt over a terrible event that happened the year before.


CRACKED UP TO BE is pretty much perfect. It’s a short but dense read that will keep you impatiently engrossed in Parker’s convoluted world, unable to tear yourself away until you find out what happened to make Parker deteriorate so much.

Of course, it is Parker who carries the novel, Parker who makes me love this book. One of the most difficult things for a writer to do is to create characters who are not necessarily likable but still make readers empathize with them. Parker and all her friends are such characters. They are the most popular people at their high school—something I, along with most of us, have never experienced—but even so they are bitchy, emotional, hurt, in love, in lust, manipulative—in short, relatable, complex, and one hundred percent real.

The novel is set up in a way that we don’t find out about what’s been eating at Parker until the very end, and the setup is wonderfully appropriate, for it allows us to focus on the character development while being intrigued by the backstory. I said that this book is pretty much perfect, and not just in the foundations, like the characters and the plot. Courtney Summers is also a writing master: she writes in an unassuming, straightforward prose that doesn’t beat around the bush. That’s the way Parker talks also; she gets straight to the point in wonderfully sarcastic lines.

All in all…does this review even need a conclusion? Are you confused about how I feel about this novel? Run out and buy it right now! It's only $9.95! It'll be the best ten dollars you've spent in a long time.

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - I even like the cover. Not that I think the model is actually Parker--rather, I love the bright steadiness of the colors. It's an image that fools you as to what's really inside, kind of like how a lot of teenagers put on a cheery front to hide inner turmoil.


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