Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review: Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs

Tags: middle grade, YA, mermaids


Lily is a mermaid princess, next in line for the Thalassinian throne, but she’s spending her high school career on land, at a terraped public high school, after she finds out that her mother was human. On the whole, Lily leads a good life, except for two things: her annoying motorbike-riding neighbor Quince, who never passes up an opportunity to irritate Lily, and the fact that the love of her life, the perfect Brody, who has no idea how she feels about him.

So when Quince offers to help Lily win Brody, Lily should’ve known better. Instead, the plan goes horribly awry, leading Lily and Quince on an adventure across land and water to right this romantic mess they’ve gotten themselves into before Quince is bound to Lily forever as her mermate.


FORGIVE MY FINS is a cute and entertaining mythical twist on the typical high school romantic comedy. While the plot is predictable, bumbling Lily’s voice is easy to slip into, and the nautical surprises will delight even the most jaded reader.

Lily is a fun protagonist, a little ditzy and immature at times, but nevertheless endearing. Tera Lynn Childs’ writing reminds me of Meg Cabot’s, with that effortlessly angsty yet relatable heroine. Secondary characters often run the risk of being “filler” characters, existing only for the sake of relaying information to the reader, or as someone for Lily to bounce her self-absorption off of, but Lily and Quince’s fiery relationship is still quite entertaining. Quince’s wide range of actions could’ve perhaps made more sense with his character, but for the most part readers will chuckle as they follow these two main characters’ antics and discoveries about one another.

The basic plotline is one that we’ve seen many times before, but the mermaid twist allays the plot’s tiredness and puts new energy into this old story. FORGIVE MY FINS gives us an almost Disney-esque mermaid kingdom feel, with fascinating sights, customs, and details (the culinary ones in particular made me smile). So while Lily goes through the sort of romantic drama that countless similar heroines have gone through before in previous YA books, the constant switching between land and underwater scenes is undeniably fascinating. It is almost worth reading this book just to see the extent of Tera Lynn Childs’ world-building, which, while elementary in its presentation, with many “As you see, Reader…” statements, is simply colorful and bubbly fun.

Overall, FORGIVE MY FINS is a predictable tale, but it still ends up being a success. Younger readers will find Lily and Quince’s interactions adorable (this book would’ve easily been one of my favorites had it existed back when I was in middle school), while readers with more experience will get a kick out of a foray into this as-yet-uncovered treasure trove of a new, magical world.

Similar Authors
Meg Cabot
Kimberly Pauley (Sucks to Be Me)

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2 out of 5 - Well, there's no real precedence for mermaid covers yet, I suppose. The sparkles and the font are cute, but I am rather disturbed by the lip color.

Katherine Tegen Books / June 1, 2010 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $16.99

ARC received as part of Traveling ARC Tours.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review: The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen

Tags: YA, sci-fi, thriller, biotechnology


Mason lives with his mother, and the only thing he knows of his father is a faceless figure reading from a children’s book on a DVD. His mother first played it for him when Mason was younger and had his face mauled by a dog, and since then it’s always been comforting for him.

When Mason plays the DVD in front of a group of comatose teens his mother is carrying for on her job, one of them, a beautiful girl, miraculously wakes up. She immediately warns Mason that they have to run away from TroDyn, the company based in town. Who is this mysterious girl with the horrifying scars all down the backs of her legs, and what does TroDyn want with her? As Mason aids the girl in evading TroDyn, he stumbles across a shocking experiment that might change the future of mankind…


I have not yet read S.A. Bodeen’s first book, THE COMPOUND, although I’ve heard it’s excellent in an almost creepy way. And after reading THE GARDENER, I’m willing to read anything she writes. THE GARDENER is a high-quality sci-fi thriller that will appeal to both male and female readers.

Mason is a readily understandable and likable protagonist. Scarred from a young age, this hulking football player nevertheless has something akin to a hero complex: he will go to great lengths to help others out, and once he starts helping he won’t stop until it’s finished. The uniqueness of his character makes his subsequent adventures with the girl and TroDyn follow almost naturally. He’s the perfect protagonist, with bits of both underdog and hunk in him.

THE GARDENER rides the line between sci-fi and dystopian. The futuristic aspects of this novel are well-researched and presented in a reasonably comprehensible manner: the book isn’t striving to educate us on biotechnology, but it also doesn’t plop us into the middle of a woefully underdeveloped world. We can figure out everyone’s motivations—with the exception of the story’s true villain, who pops up rather suddenly and with little preparation.

THE GARDENER isn’t perfect, with its caricaturesque villain and uneven pacing, but it is nevertheless a satisfying read that had me on the edge of my seat and flipping pages far into the night. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a unisex “softcore” sci-fi thriller.

Similar Authors
Scott Westerfeld

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - It is eerily appropriate for this book... but it actually scares me quite a bit if I look at it too long. You should read the book to find out how it's related to the story!

Feiwel & Friends / May 25, 2010 / Hardcover / 240pp. / $16.99

ARC gifted from Talya, also received from publisher for review. Thanks to both!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Post-BEA Holiday

So I didn't have anything scheduled to post today, and I need some time to compile my BEA post. So let's just call today a holiday: I slept 14 hours, after all, and still feel tired. lol. But I have some good BEA stories to tell you all, and I had a great time and loved meeting so many people. I'll post soon! Hope your Friday went well.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blog Tour Review + GIVEAWAY: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Tags: South, love, healing, mental illness, psychosis, racism


When 12-year-old Cecelia Rose Honeycutt arrives at her great-aunt’s house, she is a hurt, lost, and secretly grieving girl due to her mother’s psychosis and her father’s neglect. But in the magical world of Savannah, Georgia, CeeCee encounters an endless array of interesting and beloved people, including Aunt Tootie, her driven, independent, yet big-hearted great-aunt, to Oletta, Aunt Tootie’s longtime cook and companion. Savannah just might be the place where CeeCee can learn how to heal through love and be her age again.


All too often for me, adult fiction can be stagnant, apathetic, and distant. Even a young protagonist can actually be his/her future self, recalling a time long ago. However, SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT is adorable and uplifting as CeeCee’s narration transcends generations.

The best part about this book is CeeCee’s voice. It’s strong, age-appropriate but not too young for most readers to connect with. CeeCee does not constantly try to judge her own actions or interpret events in her past: instead, the novel unfolds as if we’re living in the moment with CeeCee herself. At times childishly cute and funny, at others sweet in her experienced-beyond-her-years-ness, CeeCee was a delight to get to know from the very first page.

The other characters are also wonderful and thoroughly developed. They’re not as easily distinguishable from one another as the characters from Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP, to which this book is often compared, but I definitely found myself wishing I had my very own Aunt Tootie and Oletta growing up.

My one major beef with this book was its apparent lack of tension and conflict. Compared to THE HELP, this book had very little going on. The driving conflict seemed to be CeeCee’s struggle to come to terms with her mother’s mental illness, but the storyline bounced back and forth between this and other potentially fiery issues so erratically that none of the conflicts in this book ended up feeling entirely convincing for me. SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT presented us with incidents and characters that never entirely lived up to their potential: a racist encounter that was prettily resolved, a crazy neighbor with a penchant for vengeance. I kept on waiting for something to happen, and being thwarted in my waiting.

Overall, however, I’m still very glad I had the chance to read SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT. Its subject matter, time and location setting, and genre all made it something I wouldn’t normally have read, but I would have missed out on CeeCee’s wonderful voice otherwise. SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT is, in a sense, a love letter for the South: join the endearing CeeCee on her journey of healing and self-discovery in a heartwarming world!

Similar Authors
Kathryn Stockett (The Help)
Jill S. Alexander (The Sweetheart of Prosper County)
Jacqueline Kelly (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate)

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - S'not bad. Not something that I would pick up in a store, but not bad. It has slight relevance to a certain part of the story.

Pamela Dorman Books / Jan. 12, 2010 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $25.95

Review copy received from publisher for blog tour.

If you're interested, please check out the other blog tour stops below for more reviews!

5/17 & 5/18 – Devourer of Books
5/19 & 5/20 – Diary of an Eccentric
5/23 – lit*chick
5/27 – Steph Su Reads
5/28 – Galleysmith

Giveaway Info:

Thanks to Inkwell Management and Penguin, I have THREE (3) copies of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt to give away! To enter, please fill out the form below, making sure to answer the question. This giveaway is open to US & Canada only and ends on Thursday, June 17, 2010. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (66)

Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner

For Claire Boucher, life is all about skating on the frozen cow pond and in the annual Maple Show right before the big pancake breakfast on her family's farm. But all that changes when Russian skating coach Andrei Grosheva offers Claire a scholarship to train with the elite in Lake Placid. Tossed into a world of mean girls on ice, where competition is everything, Claire realizes that her sweet dream come true has sharper edges than she could have imagined. Can she find the strength to stand up to the people who want to see her fail and the courage to decide which dream she wants to follow?

I absolutely adored The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z and so was waiting eagerly for this book, which I think had a different title when I first learned about it. And look: there's a girl who does sports! How cool! And I love the cover; I loved Gianna Z's cover, and this one looks as if it was done by the same artist. Just so much love all around, and I don't think this can disappoint me. Hooray for middle-grade novels written by sweet authors!

Sugar and Ice will be published in hardcover by Walker Books for Young Readers on December 7, 2010 (though I'm hoping I might be able to ask for one at BEA. Wish me luck!).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

Tags: YA, mental illness, Asperger's, music, friendship


All her life, music lover and sound design master Drea has been treated differently because of her many perpetual diagnoses: ADHD and Asperger’s are just two of them. It’s true that Drea doesn’t get some things about social interaction—why do people lie? Why don’t people just always say what they mean?—but she would really like the chance to have others know her without her labels.

When she and her single mother move in with her stingy grandmother, Drea makes two good friends who share her love of music. Justin may even be more than a friend. But Drea cannot fully figure out the exuberant Naomi, who may have some serious problems of her own.


HARMONIC FEEDBACK has a unique voice and memorable characters. The few issues I had with plot and pacing paled in comparison to Tara Kelly’s resonant writing, which made this a lovely read for me.

Drea may have many labels assigned her, but we’ll all be able to recognize a bit of ourselves in her slightly eccentric, no-nonsense social awkwardness. The greatest thing is that her mental illnesses do not define her: this is not a book about a main character’s struggle with mental illness, but rather a story whose main character just happens to have these labels placed on her. Drea is always struggling to let other people know her without her labels, and the development of her relationships with the people in her lives—both new friends and old family members—is done extraordinarily well.

I found the plot to be a bit slow and circular after a while (just how many times can Drea, Naomi, and Justin meet up in different combinations with similar conversations without our attention wandering?), and the ending was jarring in its suddenness, but these are fairly minor issues compared with the strength of Drea’s voice and Tara Kelly’s writing. If you’re looking for a sweet contemporary read with a different protagonist, give HARMONIC FEEDBACK a try and be swept into Drea’s mind for a few hours. It’ll be a memorable experience, both pleasant and eye-opening.

Similar Authors
Dia Reeves (Bleeding Violet)
Mark Haddon
Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World)
Stephanie Kuehnert (Ballads of Suburbia)

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - I think I like the ARC version a little more: it's less dark, more like a real photograph. But the rain and the girl flinging her arms out like that is so cool. I'm interested in seeing this on the finished book.

Henry Holt & Co. / May 25, 2010 / Hardcover / 288pp. / $16.99

ARC received from Around the World Tours.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Author Interview + GIVEAWAY: Julie Kagawa!

Thanks to Big Honcho Media, I had the opportunity to interview Julie Kagawa, debut author of the marvelous book The Iron King, which I shared my love for yesterday in a review. Read on to learn more about Julie, the book, and more, as well as for a giveaway!

1. The Iron King is packed full of intricate details about the faery world. What kinds of research went into the writing of this novel?

Mostly online research, but I did read a few 'fairy encyclopedias' and an awesome graphic novel called Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things by Ted Naifah. So deliciously creepy, I loved it. I avoided books like Holly Black's Tithe and Leslie Livingston's Wondrous Strange because I didn't want to unconsciously copy them. But once I finished Iron King, the first thing I did was to read Tithe, which was awesome.

2. I thought Tithe was awesome too! Can you tell us a little about your querying and selling process? How long did it take for you to perfect your query letter, and from there, to sign with an agent and then have your book sold?

Oh goodness, lol. That's a long story. Condensed version: I had been going to a yearly writer's workshop for almost ten years, and at the end of a week of classes, agents and editors would come in and you could pitch your book to them. This is how I met my agent, Laurie McLean. Back then, I'd written an adult fantasy, which Laurie liked enough to decide to represent me. (Thanks, Laurie!) However, that book never sold, and after a year of trying to sell it with no luck, Laurie told me to work on something else. So I did. I wrote The Iron King in a little under two months, and Harlequin Teen, who was just starting to cast its net for new submissions, bought it a few weeks later.

3. The love triangle in The Iron King is so well done! What are some of your favorite fictional love triangles?

Well, I haven't read The Hunger Games yet (I know, I know!), so I can't say Katniss/Gale/Peeta. And some of my favorite love triangle aren't from books. I'll just name them and see if anyone recognizes them:

Miaka/Tamahome/Hotohori; Clary/Jace/Simon; Buffy/Angel/Spike; Yuki/Zero/Kaname. I would say a certain human/vampire/werewolf, but that's not original at all. ;-)

4. I'm proud to say that I know 75% of those love triangles you mentioned. So who was your favorite character to write?

Grimalkin was easily the most fun, though he wasn't even supposed to be in the book as much as he was. His original part was to be Meghan's guide to the Seelie Court and that was all, but somehow Grim kind of strolled back in and took over. And stole all the best lines.

5. For me, The Iron King stands out from the pack because of its snappy, oftentimes hilariously snarky dialogue. What things/people/events in your life contributed to your memorable sense of humor, its genuineness still so rare in literature today?

Lol, thank you, though there have been many on the receiving end of my humor who have not been as appreciative. ;-) I'm not sure where it comes from, really. I do remember watching Buffy and being highly amused and impressed by the snarky comebacks the show was famous for. Also, I have a bit of a prankster streak (which is where Puck gets it, apparently), so I like jokes and making people laugh. (Okay, so mostly I laugh) I do love books with humor in them; if a story can make me laugh and cry it goes on my shelf of absolute favorites.

6. What is your dream vacation spot?

At the moment, it's Japan. I've wanted to visit for forever. But I also want to travel Europe, Scotland, Ireland, Greenland, Australia, Alaska, Greece, all over the world, really. Oy, so many places to see, so little time.

7. And now, moving on from faeries: would you rather go on a dinner date with a vampire or a werewolf? Which vampire/werewolf would it be with?

Oh, a vampire, definitely. Better table manners. And if I had to choose my date, it would be Kaname from Vampire Knight. Sorry, Ed, Damon, and Eric. My perfect vampire is Asian. :P

8. Ooh, Kaname. I highly approve. :) After the Iron Fey series, what are some things you'd like to write about?

Actually, my new series after Iron Fey is going to be about…vampires! And after that, who knows? Maybe dragons or demons or pink kangaroos. The sky's the limit, really. I'll just have to see. :)

Thanks for the interview!


Thank YOU, Julie! And I now have an incentive to blog about Vampire Knight in the future... watch out! The next book in the Iron Fey series, The Iron Daughter, is coming out in August from Harlequin Teen, but if you can't wait that long, there is a FREE Iron Fey e-book novella called Winter's Passage coming out on June 1. Check it out!

Now, onto the giveaway...

Big Honcho Media is awesome enough to offer one (1) finished copy of The Iron King to give away to one lucky winner! This giveaway is open to US only, and ends Monday, June 7, 2010. To enter, fill out the form below; be sure to answer the entry question. Good luck!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Iron Fey, Book 1

Tags: YA, fantasy, faeries, adventure, love triangle


Meghan has always felt out of place with her family and peers. Her family seems not to notice her presence or consider her feelings, her classmates make fun of her backwater residence, and her only friend is her neighbor, Robbie. But one day her little half-brother disappears, and Meghan is forced to open her eyes to the beautiful—and terrifying—world of faerie.

Led by Robbie, who is actually the infamous faery Puck, sent to watch over her while she grew up, Meghan journeys into the faery world to save her brother. There, she learns startling things about her heritage, gets caught up in a faery war, falls for someone dangerous, and learns of the existence of an even greater threat to both faeries and humans that no one knew existed before.


In the interest of full honesty—because full honesty is always funny in situations like this—I will admit that I approached this book with low expectations. I had read the first chapter a few months back and was uncertain as to where I stood with Meghan. The synopsis seemed too ideal YA fantasy to be true: warring faeries, a love triangle, an adventure across worlds and settings. What’s there not to like, and what’s there that hasn’t been done over and over before?

Don’t you just love it when a book proves you wrong?

THE IRON KING is an unbelievably refreshing, charming, and hilarious faerie adventure. This just proves that there is no story that can be overtold: it’s just a matter of how it’s told. And this one is told spectacularly.

All of the characters in this book easily come alive through their uniquely different personalities and sparkling dialogue. In fact, their differences are what make the love triangle so believable and attractive. In most cases the “male best friend who’s been there her whole life” figure would hardly be in the running (think Simon from the Mortal Instruments trilogy), but here, Puck is a classic, fitting his Shakespearean prankster roots yet being adorably memorable. Ash has more of a “quiet, brooding, dangerous supernatural hot guy” thing going on, and yet he doesn’t fall into the cliché, and turns out to be lovable too in his own way. And last but not least, Grimalkin, who has a Cheshire Cat-like presence in the story, while not a part of the love triangle, probably steals the show every time he gets to talk—and rightly so, for there was probably never a more lovably snide character in literature since Lewis Carroll’s classic itself.

More than just character appeal, however, THE IRON KING is also lusciously written. Julie Kagawa is able to perfectly balance vivid description of setting with a plot that continues to move forward. We easily visualize the faery world, in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the novel.

Meghan is an admirably determined protagonist, a cut above the norm. She’s relatable but not annoying in her stubborn rebelliousness. Her character is a little inconsistent at the beginning, when I had pegged for the typical wannabe-popular, obsessed-with-the-football-star teen girl, but she quickly grew into a heroine I could respect and even admire.

Overall, THE IRON KING defied my expectations. I had expected something clichéd and ultimately forgettable; instead, I got something marvelously rich in terms of writing, character, and story. This debut novel has made me an instant fan of Julie Kagawa, and I can hardly wait until the next installment, THE IRON DAUGHTER, is released!

Similar Authors
Holly Black
Richelle Mead
Libba Bray

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

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - G-g-g-gorgeous. I don't really like the model or her expression (it feels too forced), but I love the colors and the intricacies around the face. Want moar please!

Harlequin Teen / Feb. 1, 2010 / Paperback / 368pp. / $9.99

My copy received from trade.

Swing by tomorrow for an interview with Julie and a giveaway!

Giveaway: Dear Anjali by Melissa Glenn Haber!

Thanks to the wonderful-ness that is Simon & Schuster, I have TEN (10) Advanced Reader Copies of Dear Anjali by Melissa Glenn Haber to giveaway! TEN! Wow. Even I didn't really believe the number when I first saw it in the email. Here is the synopsis:

Dear Anjali by Melissa Glenn Haber
(Aladdin / July 6, 2010)

In Melissa Glenn Haber's Dear Anjali, a 12 year old girl whose best friend died writes her letters as she tries to cope with life without her.
Twelve-year-old Meredith's world is rocked when her best friend Anjali dies from a sudden and severe viral infection. In letters to Anjali, Meredith puzzles through how to cope with the ongoing challenges of school and regular life without Anjali by her side. Complicating matters is the new friendship she develops with Noah, the object of Meredith's and Anjali's shared crush, which leads first to guilt as Meredith and Noah grow closer and then ultimately to revelations that threaten to shatter every memory Meredith holds dear of the friend she lost.

Does it sound like something you or someone you know might be interested in? Then fill out the form below! This giveaway is open to US only, and ends Thursday, June 10, 2010. Good luck!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In My Mailbox (35)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea and hosted by Kristi. Check out Kristi's post to see what others got in terms of books this week!

I'm kind of dreading putting up what I got in these past two weeks, because...

For review:

White Cat by Holly Black + swag - this came with some KICKASS swag, which I unfortunately had to leave behind in my apartment when I came home temporarily after the semester ended
The Beautiful Between by Alyssa Sheinmel - reviewed earlier this week. You know how I felt about it.
This Is Me From Now On by Barbara Dee - this looks and sounds cute; thanks, Barbara!
Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes - thanks, Jennifer!
Dear Anjali by Melissa Glenn Haber
Crank + Glass gift set by Ellen Hopkins
A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley - Thanks, Cath! Isn't that cover really pretty?
Deception by Lee Nichols - came for a tour, and it's pretty riveting
And Then I Found Out the Truth by Jennifer Sturman - I loved the first book, so I'm excited to have the opportunity to review this. Thanks, TK Public Relations!
Dork Diaries, Book 2: Tales from a Not-So-Popular Party Girl by Rachel Renee Russell


Pamela by Samuel Richardson - gotta read up on the epitome of the classic passive-female-rape-culture! Yay those silly 18th-century writers!
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Rapture of the Deep by L. A. Meyer
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 2: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney - I really enjoyed the movie, and am going to read this series soon

The above four were from a local library book sale.

The Agency, Book 1: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee
This Book Isn't Fat, It's Fabulous by Nina Beck
The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander

I've wanted to have these in my permanent collection for a while now, and over the weekend when I was miserable and housebound recovering from oral surgery, I just... gave in...

Ex-Mas by Kate Brian
The Keepers' Tattoo by Gill Arbuthnott
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
Plays by Henrik Ibsen
Extreme Danger by Shannon McKenna
Edge of Midnight by Shannon McKenna

The last 3 were from a local used book place.


The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy
Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Siren by Tricia Rayburn
The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea Campbell
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Darklight by Lesley Livingston
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Magic Study by Maria Snyder
The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley
Heat Stroke by Rachel Caine
Chill Factor by Rachel Caine
Windfall by Rachel Caine
Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione
Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill
Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks
Pretty Little Liars, Book 4: Unbelievable by Sara Shepard
His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce
A Gathering of Gargoyles by Meredith Ann Pierce
The Pearl of the Soul of the World by Meredith Ann Pierce
Hero's Song by Edith Pattou

Borrowed from library:

Evil? by Timothy Carter
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
Blue Plate Special by Michelle Kwasney
The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz (whoops, forgot to put that one in)

Yes, I am aware...that I have a problem. And that no matter how I look at it, there is no way I will ever get to every single one of these books. I blame Alaska Young. On the other hand, I've read 12 books since coming home last Wednesday (plus a lot of manga...). Unfortunately, in light of my book acquiring habits, this is the equivalent of removing an eyedropper full of water from the Atlantic Ocean.

Review: She's So Dead to Us by Kieran Scott

Tags: YA, suburbia, friendship, money, drama


Nearly two years ago, Ally Ryan’s family slunk out of town one night after her father lost lots of his and his friends’ money in a poor investment. Now, Ally is back in her old, moneyed town of Orchard Hill, but things are very different. Her father has disappeared, her old friends still hate her for what her father did, and she’s no longer accepted by the Cresties, the people who live in the rich part of town.

Ally is determined not to let them walk all over her, however. She befriends a couple of nice “Norms”—unmoneyed kids at their school—but also continues to cross paths with the Cresties, including Jake, the hottie who lives in her old house and is friends with her old friends. As assumptions clash and attitudes fly between the two of them, can these friends, enemies, and lovers of Orchard Hill set aside their financial differences and get along? Or will drama and vengeance ultimately prevail?


SHE’S SO DEAD TO US is a perfect addition to the YA subgenre that consists of friendship drama, red-hot romance, and money troubles. Kieran Scott (who writes the Private series under her pen name) has introduced to us a new set of characters whom you’ll want to know every sordid detail about.

For a book in a genre with the potential for characters to fall unconvincingly flat and stereotypical, SHE’S SO DEAD TO US is, like Kieran’s other books, remarkable with its character development. Ally is rightfully the star of the show: she’s an appealing protagonist who refuses to let others walk over her. Whereas many MCs in other books like to brood endlessly about wrongs done to them, Ally will simply confront the person and let them know what she thinks. This kind of assertiveness is HOT, and it’s easy to see why the other characters either can’t help liking her or love to hate her.

SHE’S SO DEAD TO US is presented in Ally and Jake’s alternating first-person POVs. Normally male POVs written by female authors leave me unconvinced, but I found myself actually very much liking Jake here. Yes, he can be an arrogant hottie, but as we follow him and see how he gets to know Ally, we perfectly comprehend his mindset.

Plot-wise, the novel feels as though it’s been done before, but what makes this worth reading is how effortlessly we get sucked into these privileged suburban teens’ shenanigans. The book ends in such a way that I most definitely am going to pick up the next in the series. This is a must-read if you love these types of books, and for the rest of us, it’s also a easy and delicious read, perfect for those mindless days where we want to sink ourselves into other people’s petty problems.

Similar Authors
Melissa de la Cruz
Simone Elkeles
Zoey Dean

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

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 1 out of 5 - I was EXTREMELY turned off by this cover. The broken pearls on a bland light blue background just don't do it for me. This book is actually really good for its type, and I think the cover should've better reflected the dark, addictive, and subversive underpinnings of this novel.

Simon & Schuster / May 25, 2010 / Hardcover / 288pp. / $16.99

ARC received from publisher.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What Makes a Bestseller?

For the past, oh, six months or so, I've been curious as to what makes  certain books bestsellers. I know it's not any one single element, but rather a variety of factors: publisher's interest, commercial viability, story idea, marketing, author blurbs, early buzz. Bestselling books aren't always the most well-written ones (no one would call James Patterson or Dan Brown "literary treasures": their books are the most recyclable ones on the market). Sometimes they don't even send good messages. Early buzz can only get you so far, as we have to be realistic and remember that the majority of the audience that publishers are aiming for with their products isn't book bloggers or fellow authors. We are, in the end, only a sliver of book buyers out there. And even book bloggers can only sway the book-buying market so much. Some of my favorite books aren't bestsellers, even though I wish they would be, and think that they are better than 90% of what's on the NYT bestselling list or whatnot.

So what makes the average book buyer, one who does not spend hours a week on blogs, who doesn't subscribe to Publishers Weekly or Shelf Awareness and follow the book publishing world, pick up a particular book over another at the bookstore?

That got me to thinking about the times in the past when I walked into a bookstore "blind"--with no knowledge of what was out there on the market. This is pretty much impossible for me to do anymore. Nowadays, I walk into my local Borders, head to the YA shelves, and find myself saying, "Yep, read that one.... have that one on my TBR shelf... have that one for review... read that ARC (but the finished copy is so pretty!)... heard of that one... never heard of that one (but it's old, that's why)." I watch the other shoppers around me peruse the shelves, observe which books they stopped on, which ones they end up grabbing. I bet 99% of them aren't book bloggers or in any way involved with the book publishing industry except as consumers... and yet they nearly always picked up the books that are or would become bestsellers. (For example, Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall gets good arm-cradle time.)


When I think about what I will call my "blind" book-buying experiences, two really good ones come to mind. The first occurred in spring 2005, when I was a high school sophomore. The second I think must have been spring 2007, my high school senior spring, because I had a car then. Both times I carefully browsed the YA shelves to buy with what little money I had books that I was fairly certain I'd enjoy. The first time, I bought three paperbacks; the second, I bought one hardcover.

Want to know which books I bought?

In spring 2005, I bought A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Tithe by Holly Black, and Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. In spring 2007, I bought City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.


At the time, I was, of course, unaware that these were or would be all NYT bestsellers (or close enough). I don't remember if they had the coveted and rare "The New York Times Bestseller" tagline on their front covers. So what made me pick these, of all the hundreds of books in the store, up and buy them? What is it about certain books that can make even a "blind" book-buyer subconsciously gravitate to them?

Placement, of course, helps. I used to go to the Barnes & Noble near my house, and they have this small table where they display recent paperbacks. I think they were also turned cover out on the shelves. I know I had to have been influenced at least partially by the covers--the greatest marketing tool. I remember being really enthralled by the covers of A Great and Terrible Beauty, Tithe, and City of Bones. And, of course, there are also the synopses and the lists of awards the book has won on the back (I think that helped a lot: I was a big fan of the YALSA Best Books for Young Adults list). Holly Black's author blurb on the cover of City of Bones definitely contributed to me picking that one up (but it was also a REALLY good blurb, and I haven't seen many equally as captivating since), but author blurbs didn't sway me on the first three. Quantity, I think, also has something to do with it: people are more likely to pay attention if there is a large number of the same books in one place.

So without even knowing it, I had done exactly what the publishers wanted me to do, and picked up the bestselling books, the ones that are still around to this day, still some of the best and most groundbreaking YA lit out there.

That can't have been mere coincidence, can it?

I'd love to hear from you about your own "blind" book-buying experiences and/or theories as to why certain books become bestsellers over others. Has this ever happened to you? Makes you pick up certain books over others at the bookstore?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Review: The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Tags: YA, family secrets, death, cancer, friendship, NYC


Connelly Sternin and Jeremy Cole have little in common. For one thing, Jeremy is at the top of the popularity chain, while Connelly keeps more to herself. Their lives don’t cross…but when they do start talking, they strike up a friendship that Connelly can make neither heads nor tails of. Can his newfound attention towards her have something to do with Connelly’s father, who died when she was very young and whose death is still a mystery to her? What secrets are Jeremy hiding from her?


I have to give credit where credit is due: I’m absolutely flabbergasted with how whoever wrote the synopsis of this book managed to twist it in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with the real story whatsoever. Seriously, that sort of twisting is an incredible accomplishment, a fabulous marketing ploy. For THE BEAUTIFUL BETWEEN is nothing close to what it sounds like it would be about, and it’s left me disappointed and even frustrated.

Most unforgivably, the characters and their interactions with one another felt extremely artificial. I get the feeling that the author tried to present Connelly as the quiet and reserved teen bookworm who has more to her than her classmates realize, but the fact of the matter is that she never grows in the reader’s mind beyond a sullen and passive girl whose fairy tale extended metaphors get tiring and trite within the first 30 pages. She only waits, waits, waits throughout the whole book for Jeremy to show up when he needs her, and even then he never treats her as a good friend, but more like a sounding board for his cryptically “thought-provoking” musings. Jeremy, who’s supposedly this popular and nice guy but whose behavior towards Connelly only make him seem like a tool, using her to get the empathy he thinks she can give him.

Indeed, neither Connelly nor Jeremy (nor, actually, any of the other characters) feel like they’ve been fully realized: there’s something about their motivations, actions, and words that never quite line up. They are like cardboard figures acting the part of emotionally distraught, history-laden high school classmates in different social strata drawn together by mutual experiences and emotions. As a result, we can only read about them as if they’re 500 miles away on the other side of a bulletproof, shatterproof foot-thick glass wall.

It is furthermore unclear as to what this book’s main purpose or point is. The book jacket synopsis makes it sound like it will be about the healing powers of a blossoming relationship between Jeremy and Connelly. Instead, the plot waffles between Connelly’s long-suppressed desire to find out what happened to her father, and Jeremy’s “secret,” which, when finally revealed, is built up so insufficiently and artificially that I was more disappointed than sympathetic (a sad thing indeed, as the secret is actually quite sad). The ending wraps things up fairly neatly—which is a mixed blessing: it ties things up before we are ever connected with the story, but, at less than 200 pages, we are already ready for the blandness to be over.

I’m going to stop here before I get really pissed off, because this is pretty much like the realistic fiction version of the passive-heroine/wish-fulfillment-male’s-attention trope that too often pervades paranormal romance (only this one supposedly has a family emotion twist that makes it more “valid”). I’m pretty angry when I think about how undeveloped characters can masquerade as deep people if you just throw the right unconventional heartwrenching problems in. A book has to be more than the sum of its parts, and even though this one might have the right parts—an introverted bookworm protagonist (so, y’know, we can relate to her), a heartthrob nice guy (so, y’know, we can like him, and like him with her), and a deep familial problem (so, y’know, we can sympathize with the characters’ troubles)—it doesn’t ever come together.

Writing: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Plot: 2/5

Overall Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2 out of 5 - I wish I could like the gray tones more, as I think it's actually a rather evocative cover--but if I think any more about this book I might want to hit something, so I'm not.

Knopf / May 11, 2010 / Hardcover / 192pp. / $16.99

Review copy sent by publisher. (Sorry.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (65): BEA Edition

Really, one of the few problems with book blogging is just the sheer unreasonableness of the ratio of books read to books that one wants to read. Every week, my wishlist increases until there's no possible way I can WoW each and every one of them individually. So since BEA is--yeeeeiiiikeeesss!!!---next week (!!!), I'm going to talk about just a handful of books that I'm hoping I'll be able to find there.

Please note that this is just a sliver of the books on my BEA wishlist. I'm aware that I have a habit of always wanting to root for the underdogs, so I often try to WoW books that I haven't seen being very much publicized elsewhere before. But now, I'm going to indulge in my more mainstream desires, because these books are cool too and deserve all the attention they've gotten already. Wheeee!

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
(HarperTeen / Sept. 21, 2010)

Sixteen-year-old Evie's job is bagging and tagging paranormals. Possessing the strange ability to see through their glamours, she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency. But when someone--or something--starts taking out the vamps, werewolves, and other odd beasties she's worked hard to help become productive members of society, she's got to figure it out before they all disappear and the world becomes utterly normal.
Normal is so overrated.

This has an almost very "adult urban fantasy" premise, and Evie sounds like she will be an assertive and kickass protagonist. I can totally get behind that! And also, I'm pretty sure that the day after I saw this cover for the first time, I had a dream that inspired an idea for a possible future short story... So yeah, good karma all around. I'm definitely interested in reading this one!

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
(Philomel / Oct. 19, 2010)

While other teenage girls daydream about boys, Calla Tor imagines ripping out her enemies’ throats. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. Calla was born a warrior and on her eighteenth-birthday she’ll become the alpha female of the next generation of Guardian wolves. But Calla’s predestined path veers off course the moment she saves the life of a wayward hiker, a boy her own age. This human boy’s secret will turn the young pack's world upside down and forever alter the outcome of the centuries-old Witches' War that surrounds them all.

This is another debut YA paranormal that's been getting TONS of great buzz all over. Personally, I'm a vampire girl, but the synopsis reminds me of Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, which I love a lot, and it sounds like there will be BLOOD AND GUTS. COOL. *is in bloodthirsty mode, as per WIP's requirements* I'm envious of each and every person who's been able to read this already, and would probably go to great (unharmful) lengths to read this.

The Body at the Tower (The Agency, Book 2) by Y. S. Lee
(Candlewick / Aug. 10, 2010)

This is another colourful, action-packed Victorian detective novel about the exploits of agent Mary Quinn. At a young age, Mary Quinn is rescued from the gallows and taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. The school turns out to be a front for a private detective agency. At age 17, Mary takes on her first case (A Spy in the House). In this, the second book of the series, Mary Quinn sets out to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death at St. Stephen's Tower, better known as the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The accident occurred after hours in a highly public part of town and despite the presence of night watchmen. Mary, disguised as Mark Quinn, becomes a builder's assistant to find out the truth about the body at the tower.

I thought Ying's first book, A Spy in the House, was excellent (see my review here), and I can't wait to read the next in the series. Unfortunately, I can't do any raving here without giving out spoilers (the solution to this is obviously for you all to read this so I can talk about this without giving key points away), but yep, I'm super-excited. And the care that Candlewick put into making these covers appealing and accurate to the story is astounding, something that all publishers should take note of and do.

The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
(Margaret K. McElderry / Aug. 31, 2010)

Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.
Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.
Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: Jem, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

Helloooo, gorgeous cover. Hellooo, super-long summary. Hello, guilty pleasure.

Matched by Allyson Condie
(Dutton Juvenile / Nov. 30, 2010)

In the novel, a 17-year-old girl, who has waited her entire life to be told by a group known as “the Society” who her soul mate is, has her world upended when she discovers she’s in love with someone other than the group’s pick.

I did tell you this was going to be the big-name WoW, didn't I? I'm really hoping this one is as good as its multi-digit book deal and early reviews indicate. Plus, the cover is genius: simple but memorable and cool.

The Magnificent Twelve: The Call by Michael Grant
(Katherine Tegen Books / Sept. 1, 2010)

I'm not sure if that's the final cover, and I haven't been able to find an official synopsis yet, but Publishers Weekly described it as a "humorous fantasy series" in their BEA Kids' Galleys to Grab article. Plus, it's by Michael Grant, whose Gone series I really enjoy and make for unputdownable vacation reads. I think this one's middle grade, too. As far as adventure goes, if the Gone series is any indication, I think this one will be really good!


Oy, I'm EXHAUSTED and I don't know why, so I'm going to stop here for now. There are definitely a few more at BEA I'm hoping to find, especially Lauren Oliver's Delirium. You can check out the Kids' Galleys to Grab article and see if any of them are on your wishlist. Hope to see some of you in NYC next week!

Also, I'm sorry if I don't make much sense in this post. I'm trying to reread what I wrote and I can't even focus on what I just wrote. Someone get these stitches out of my mouth and put real food in me, quick!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review: The Tension of Opposites by Kristina McBride

Tags: YA, kidnapping, friendship, emotional abuse, photography


Tessa’s best friend Noelle was kidnapped off the street two years ago. For two years, Tessa has held on to the small sliver of hope that Noelle might still be alive. She has even put her own life on hold while waiting, trying not to make new friends or experience high school things like falling in love while Noelle is gone.

Then, Tessa gets the news that changes her life yet again. Noelle is alive. But her two years in captivity have changed her a lot, and she’s no longer the girl Tessa remembers her to be. Tessa is torn between growing into her own person with a first love, and staying loyal to her hurt and hurtful friend.


THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES is one of the nicest contemporary realistic YA fiction novels I’ve read in a long time. This is a great achievement by debut author Kristina McBride, easy readable, and full of relatable characters and turbulent emotions.

Kristina McBride’s writing pulls us into Tessa’s world from the very first page, and carefully explores the pain and confusion of the effects of trauma on a friendship. Tessa’s struggles to balance her own happiness with that of her friend’s is extremely well drawn, its subtleties clear and real. It’s not that we may necessarily agree with all of Tessa’s actions and beliefs: it’s more that we can see why she chooses to do what she does, just like a confused teenager dealing with a terrifyingly strange situation would.

The characterization is good, but not quite as good as I thought it could’ve been. Oftentimes Tessa’s inner turmoil seemed detached from her borderline cheeky conversations with her crush and friends. I also wanted to get a better sense of Tessa and Noelle’s friendship before the kidnapping, to contrast that with the drastically different relationship shown us in the novel. Noelle’s development felt choppy sometimes, one minute harsh, the next almost unconvincingly vulnerable. And I was unconvinced that Max, the love interest, would fall immediately for Tessa and continue to pursue her after she so continually pushes him away. This is more wishful thinking for how teenage relationships go, than reality.

But perhaps these small issues I had with the book are actually regular behaviors for people in this situation, because one of the greatest things about THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES is that it is a prototype: I have not read anything like it before. And the small issues are basically me nitpicking anyway. Overall, this book was a fantastic read, and goes down like a smooth cup of your favorite refreshing beverage, with a thoughtful aftertaste.

Similar Authors
Elizabeth Scott
Sarah Ockler
Sarah Dessen

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4.5 out of 5 - There are so many elements in this cover that, at the hands of a less nuanced artist, would not work together. But here, it's awesome. I love pretty much everything about this cover, and think that they all show different sides about this book.

EgmontUSA / May 25, 2010 / Hardcover / 288pp. / $16.99

ARC received as part of Around the World Tours.

P.S. Have you seen the trailer for this book yet? Check it out below! Thanks, Kristina, for bringing this to my attention!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Quick Life Update

I was going to work on my IMM post last night/this morning, but I actually got all four of my wisdom teeth taken out yesterday afternoon, and since then have been slowly recovering. I'm not inclined to be online a lot as a result (something about the computer screen just makes me incredibly drowsy), so if you don't see any posts, emails, or tweets from me in the next few days or so, that's where I am! Hope everyone has a good week, and I am going back to reading lots and lots of manga/books now... :)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review: Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr

Wicked Lovely, Book 4

Tags: YA, fantasy, faeries, war, love


Devlin is the brother and assassin to the High Court faerie queen, Sorcha. Ani, a half-human, half-faerie under the protection of the Dark Court, knows that there is something very different about herself. When the two meet, they share a love and connection that they never knew they were capable of—a love and devotion that will bring about betrayal, danger, and the treacherous unbalance of all of Faerie…


I have had mixed feelings about the Wicked Lovely series, as I often find them too slow and overwritten to be truly enjoyable. In RADIANT SHADOWS, however, tensions sizzle, stakes are raised higher, and, even though there were still a few weak points, it did capture my attention in a way this series hasn’t since the first book, WICKED LOVELY.

Ani and Devlin are a fantastic pairing, each with their own worlds of problems and worries, but with an undeniable chemistry together. While I was slightly discomfited by how quickly they got together, their personalities—Ani a restless half-Hound, and Devlin having repressed strong emotions for millennia—justify and accentuate the turbulent urgency of their relationship. The two of them also drew out most of the other main characters in this series: tensions mount for everyone as Bananach, the faerie of War, gets the strength to act out her plans for chaos, and we begin to see the characters’ vulnerabilities, what truly matters to each of them.

Unfortunately—at least to me—like all the other books in the series, RADIANT SHADOWS is often slow and overwritten. We spend so much time in each character’s head, the third-person narration switching POVs almost every chapter, that much of the actual pages in the book are spent with us being forced to read about the same internal conflict that a character experiences, over and over again. Marr has the unfortunate tendency to overwrite, meaning that many of the mini-epiphanies the characters come to every other page or so, we could have easily inferred for ourselves, just from the dialogue, or the characters’ body movements. This tendency to force obvious thought processes on readers distracted me greatly and removed me from the dark immediacy of the novel’s many conflicts.

I’m uncertain as to how fans of this series will feel about it. Readers (like me) who crave higher stakes (which were not really apparent in the previous book, FRAGILE ETERNITY) will find it in this penultimate volume. On the other hand, if you’re reading this series with the hopes that Aislinn and Keenan will finally, finally come back into the story, you will be disappointed. Instead, you should appreciate the strong new characters introduced in this novel and the way the stage is set for a showdown that will hopefully blow the lids off of all other showdowns in the next and final volume in this beautiful faerie series.

Similar Authors
Holly Black
Cassandra Clare

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 2/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - I love all of the covers for this series. In this one, the pose and the blacklight party-esque lighting together look fantastic.

HarperCollins / April 20, 2010 / Hardcover / 336pp. / $16.99

Review copy provided by publicity company/publicist.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Nancy Drew 80th Anniversary Giveaway!

No freaking way!!! Nancy Drew turns 80 this year! And yet she's still chugging along in her perpetual teen years/young twenties, never aging according to the physics of our space-time continuum, kinda like this one below:

what Barbie would look like now if she aged appropriatedly

Scaryyy. Also, quite irrelevant to Nancy Drew. Sorry. But, to celebrate Nancy Drew's 80th anniversary, Simon & Schuster has kindly put together a prize pack for one lucky winner!

Nancy Drew Prize Pack

Includes (follow links for pictures and descriptions):
You should also check out Nancy Drew's official website,, as well as her Facebook fan page. Now is the perfect time to rediscover your love for Nancy Drew and all this mystery, or to introduce her to someone whom you think will love it as much as you did when you were his/her age.

To enter, simply fill out the form below. This giveaway is open to US only and ends Friday, June 4, 2010. Good luck!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"An Asian Guy"

This afternoon my brother walked into my room and started looking through my books. He picked up the stack of review books I had brought back from college and shuffled through them pretty quickly before stopping on one. He then walked over to the books on my desk by me and stopped on another.

"Hmm, another Asian guy," he said.

In the interest of avoiding total capitalization and sounding like a nutcase, I'm just going to say: You guys, you know what this MEANS? It means that readers notice when a cover image is racially or ethnically accurate to the story, and that POC readers are intrigued by and perhaps even drawn to books featuring characters of their own race or ethnicity.

This is so COOL.

Hear that, publishers?

And you can see the two covers my brother paused on below. Kudos to the authors for writing books featuring Asian male protagonists, and the publishers for accurately depicting them on the cover:


(Now that my college semester is finished, and because I was unable to celebrate APIA Month very much, the rest of May is tentatively POC Review Month. I will be reading my review books that feature POC. I don't know whether I'll be posting reviews of them this month, as I'm pretty backed up on review-posting already, but I just wanted to let you know that's what this month's review theme is for me. Read on!)

Review: The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea Campbell

Tags: YA, middle grade, superheroes


All Damien Locke wants for his 16-year-old is to see the V appear on his thumb—the V that will indicate that he will become a villain, just like his supervillain mom. To his horror, an X appears on his thumb, indicating that his father was a superhero! Damien gets carted off to live with his father, the Crimson Flash, and his family, with the hopes that the hero within him may awaken.

Damien would rather go back to his old life of pranking and hanging out with his best friend and ex-girlfriend, Kat. However, an unexpected friendship with Sarah Kink turns his life upside down when he gets sucked into a battle of good versus evil, and he must decide which side he stands on.


THE RISE OF RENEGADE X is an astonishingly interesting debut YA novel that subverts the usual paradigms of the YA genre and our preconceptions of good and evil. And it does this all in the most entertaining way possible!

The gem of this novel is Damien’s voice. A perfect balance of snark, sincerity, and your typical adolescent male stupidity, Damien will charm you into falling for his screwed-up ways. I took a kind of perverse pleasure in liking an irreverent character so much: it’s not every author who can make readers like an obnoxious, mouthy, and crass protagonist!

The plot meanders through family subtleties, adolescent complexities, and the absurdity of a comic book, and so does get a bit choppy at times. However, despite the rather sudden climax and resolution, it is the character development of THE RISE OF RENEGADE X that you’ll remember after reading. The love triangle between Kat, Damien, and Sarah is marvelously believable, lacking the flatness that can often occur in such satirical situations. Damien’s family members are well-rounded and believable in their (sometimes twisted and misguide) support of Damien.

It’s hard to adequately describe THE RISE OF RENEGADE X, as it’s like a subgenre of its own. All I can say is that, plotting issues aside, it is one enjoyable ride for anyone who likes superheroes, supervillains, giggle-inducing adolescent humor, and a great narrative voice.

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - I love how it has the unisex feel of a graphic novel. It's striking and unique and will hopefully capture many people's attentions!

EgmontUSA / May 11, 2010 / Hardcover / 352pp. / $17.99

ARC received through One ARC Tours.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (64)

Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn

When Evie Walker goes home to spend time with her dying father, she discovers that his creaky old house in Hope’s Fort, Colorado is not the only legacy she stands to inherit. Hidden behind the old basement door is a secret and magical storeroom where wondrous treasures from myth and legend are kept safe unit they are needed again. The magic of the storeroom prevents access to any who are not intended to use the items.
Evie must guard the storeroom against ancient and malicious forces, protecting the past and the future even as the present unravels around them. Old heroes and notorious villains alike will rise to fight on her side or to undermine her most desperate gambits. At stake is the fate of the world, and the prevention of nothing less than the apocalypse. [summary from Goodreads]

Ever since I read and loved her first YA book, Voices of Dragons, I have been waiting for the opportunity to read more by Carrie Vaughn. I have the first book of her Kitty Norville series on my shelf (and maybe it'll be The Book to make me actually like werewolves?), but this one (also not YA) sounds so fierce. And it's published by Tor Books, and they're always good for slightly edgier, more daringly straight genre fictions. I'm excited.

Discord's Apple will be published in hardcover by Tor Books on July 6, 2010.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Author Interview with Nina de Gramont!

Earlier today I reviewed an extraordinary book called Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont. You know how, every once in a while, you stumble across an author whose writing skills blow all your preconceptions of the power of writing out of the water? Yeah, that's how I felt reading Nina's book. She accomplishes a depth of human complexity and ambiguity that I didn't even know were possible. Nina was gracious enough to answer my interview questions, so without further ado... Welcome, Nina, to Steph Su Reads!

1. Hello, Nina! Can you please tell us your one-line "sales pitch" for your novel?

As a long-winded person, I am terrible at one-line pitches! So if I may I’ll quote a description I love from another blog, Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf. Lauren wrote, “Every Little Thing in the World is an emotional, enlightening, and fast paced tale of one girl's choice between what's right and wrong when it comes to her pregnancy and her.”

2. I'll let the answer evasion pass this time, because that quote is really a great one. :) What parts of Every Little Thing in the World were based on your own experiences?

When I was a teenager, I did go to a wilderness camp in Ontario that resembles Camp Bell in many ways. And, full disclosure here, it really was after a friend and I “borrowed” her parents’ car! We were younger – fourteen -- and thankfully neither of us was pregnant.

3. There is a huge variety of characters in your book. From where do you draw your inspiration for your characters?

Mostly they tend to be amalgams of people I’ve known. Sometimes I’ll take someone from a specific situation and then give him or her traits of another person. Silas, for example, shares traits with the actual counselor from my wilderness camp, who not only vanished before our eyes on the trip – I swear he lost five pounds per day – but wrote the most wonderful songs. There was one I remember so vividly all these years later, called “Evangeline.” I was dying to quote it when I wrote the book, but of course I couldn’t. In personality, though, Silas more closely resembles an old friend of mine, Mark Spitzer (who’s a wonderful writer, look up his books if you haven’t already discovered them).

Oh, and the incident with Bucket Head? My beloved friend Crawford Parr actually did that, he was spending the night at a campground and heard two men abusing a dog, so he offered them a hundred dollars for it, which they of course took. Very outdoorsy and heroic fellow, Crawford, there’s a good bit of him in Silas, too.

4. What made you decide to write Sydney's story?

So many reasons! I think, though, the pivotal moment was this article in the New York Times:

It addresses movies and television in particular, but the same thing applies to literature. Unplanned pregnancies are often depicted but the characters almost never even consider abortion. I felt it was important to write about a girl – a sensitive and smart girl -- who at least thinks about that choice as a possibility.

5. If you, like Sydney, had to be sent someplace for "reform," where would you be sent to?

Clearly I have fond memories of that Canadian lake, and I do believe wilderness puts the whole world into perspective. There’s nothing like fresh air and physical activity as far as stopping the noise in your head. This may sound like a weird comparison, but we have a one-year-old Lab who’s a total Marley, always misbehaving and getting into things. Yesterday we took her in a kayak out to a little island near our home, and she spent hours digging in the sand, and swimming, and running. Last night, what do you know, best behaved dog you can imagine. I think people are not much different: we were meant to be physical, to move, to have sun warming our skin and our bones. When we get that, we find peace on a very elemental level, and we transform.

6. I really like that answer. :) Now, if you could only read one book over and over again for the rest of your life, which book would it be, and why?

Oh, great question. Tough question, too! It would be between Middlemarch by George Eliot, Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley, and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. That’s cheating, isn’t it, to list all those books? In the end I would choose I Capture the Castle. Just thinking of that tile makes me feel happy. Girls, if you haven’t read that book, run run run and get it. You are in for the biggest treat.

7. Oh, I love Cassandra and just everything about that book! So how is writing for young adults different from writing for adults? Which parts are easier? Which are harder?

Except for choosing subject matter and point-of-view character, I don’t actually find it that much different; I think any author who did would find herself in trouble. The YA novels can be a little shorter, so that part’s easier.

8. Very nicely put. Now, for fun: tell us one of your guilty pleasures.

Oh, alas, there are so many. Like books, I have a hard time choosing just one. I’m kind of hungry right now, so I’ll go with the Asian Zinger chicken wings from Buffalo Wild Wings. My husband went there last night and asked if I wanted him to bring some back. I said “No,” and he actually listened! I couldn’t believe it when he came home empty-handed.

9. And finally, what are some recent YA books you've read that you would recommend to others?

I thought After by Amy Efaw was wonderful. So smart and compelling and compassionate. There’s a wonderful book by Brian Mandabach called Or Not. And I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of May-lee Chai’s new novel, Dragon Chica. It comes out in the fall; I’m not sure if it will be marketed as YA or adult, but either way it’s a wonderful cross-over.


Thank you so much, Nina! When you get the chance, do give Every Little Thing in the World a try. Most likely you will be astounded!

Review: Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont

Tags: YA, teen pregnancy, friendship, wilderness, self-discovery, summer


16-year-old Sydney is on the fast track to a bad life. She doesn’t seem able to communicate with her parents anymore, and, more immediately, she’s pregnant, and not sure what to do. Unaware of her pregnancy, Sydney’s parents send her to a summer camp in the Canadian wilderness. Along with Natalia, her beautiful best friend, and some new people she meets, Sydney embarks on a four-week-long adventure that helps her explore the complexity of different forms of relationships and, hopefully, ultimately figure out what she will do.


With freshness and immediacy, Nina de Gramont takes us deep within the complex mind of a pregnant teenager in the absolutely incredible EVERY LITTLE THING IN THE WORLD. But this is more than just a book about teen pregnancy: it’s also a lovingly detailed celebration and dissection of all different types of human interactions and relationships.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a YA book that gives such insight into human and teenage nature. Sydney’s voice never feels forced, despite the astonishing range of observations she provides us, many of which are things we could only dream of having learned as a teen. The tensions she experiences in her relationships with the important people in her life are perfectly written and balanced.

In this sense, then, EVERY LITTLE THING IN THE WORLD is so much more than a story about teen pregnancy: as Sydney canoes through the Canadian wilderness, she learns about friendship, lust, unrequited crushes, parents, and what really matters to her. This book doesn’t try to present a moral; rather, it’s an exploration into one teenager’s mind. We may not necessarily agree with everything Sydney does, but after reading this book, we come to appreciate the thought processes that go into people making different decisions.

EVERY LITTLE THING IN THE WORLD is so much more than it appears to be upon first glance. Read this for a beautiful and amazing in-depth look into teenage interaction and decision-making.

Similar Authors
Sarah Dessen
Rachel Cohn

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

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4.5 out of 5 - I featured it a while ago in a Cover Lust post because it's just so vibrant. And I know, I know, Sydney doesn't look like that in my head either, and she spends most of the time in the book anguished over her pregnancy... but still. What can I say? Can you tell by now how much of a sucker I am for gorgeous photographs?

Atheneum / March 23, 2010 / Hardcover / 282pp. / $16.99

Review copy received from author. Thanks, Nina!

Check back soon for an author interview!


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