Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer Giveaway #13: Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart (US only)

How can you not love a book by Beth Kephart? Her prose is like liquid poetry, and all the befuddled emotions in her books--the pain, the angst, the uncertainty--are clear in their haziness. Her upcoming book, Dangerous Neighbors, is historical fiction: different than her other books but with no less the potential to be relevant and poignant.


Could any two sisters be more tightly bound together than the twins, Katherine and Anna? Yet love and fate intervene to tear them apart. Katherine's guilt and sense of betrayal leaves her longing for death, until a surprise encounter and another near catastrophe rescue her from a tragic end. Set against the magical kaleidoscope of the Philadelphia Centennial fair of 1876, National Book Award nominee Beth Kephart's book conjures the sweep and scope of a moment in history in which the glowing future of a nation is on display to the disillusioned gaze of a girl who has determined that she no longer has a future. The tale is a pulse by pulse portrait of a young heroine's crisis of faith and salvation in the face of unbearable loss. [summary from Goodreads]

I got to meet Beth (for the third, fourth, somethingth time) at BEA, and she was able to sign an ARC of Dangerous Neighbors that I'd love to give away to interested readers. To enter, please fill out the form below, making sure to answer the question relevantly. This giveaway is open to US only, and ends Friday, August 20, 2010. Good luck!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Nothing by Janne Teller

Tags: YA, philosophy, existentialism, mob mentality, Danish lit


When Pierre Anthon randomly climbs up into a tree one day and refuses to come down, shouting that life is meaningless, everything means nothing, his classmates are seriously concerned. They can’t bear to listen to his harsh words any longer, and so they devise a plan, to build a giant heap of meaning to show Pierre Anthon and shut him up.

They soon realize, however, that none of them are exactly willing to give up things that truly mean something to them. So they start deciding for one another what each of them must give up. But little can they predict the shocking turn that their plan takes…


NOTHING, originally published in Danish, is stunning, disturbing. It lingers in your mind and makes you think the way haunting montages of unpleasant moments in history do.

NOTHING is published as YA, but despite the fact that seventh graders make up most of the characters, this book requires a strong sense of maturity and open-mindedness in order to be the best appreciated. It is not an easy read: few of the characters ever manifest themselves into memorable individuals, but as a collective, their actions and the changes their group mentality undergo are profoundly unsettling. NOTHING touches upon philosophy (Pierre Anthon’s cries of nothingness) and masochism (the things they force one another to do or give up) in a way that both enthralls you and forces you to think about serious philosophical themes.

This is a small book, but it is by no means light. Janne Teller’s writing is powerful and memorable in its sparseness. She lets the children’s horrifying actions unfold and create the book’s chilling atmosphere themselves, keeping authorial interventions of description to a minimum. If you’re looking for something dark, unusual, and thought-provoking, I can’t recommend this book to you enough. It is unlike anything out there and is simply remarkable.

Similar Authors
Julie Anne Peters
Jostein Gaarder (Sophie's World)
William Golding (Lord of the Flies)

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

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - I think the desaturation plus the colored splotches together are striking.

Atheneum / Feb. 9, 2010 / Hardcover / 227pp. / $16.99

First came to my attention via Kate Messner's review on Goodreads; copy borrowed from library.

(Also, John Green likes this book. As if you need more reasons to read it now.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why I Want More Asians on YA Book Covers: My Experience with Racism
Everyone has a story like this. Whether you're white or non-white, the racial majority or the racial minority, you've probably had an encounter with racism that you still remember as That Moment for the rest of your life. Here's mine:

I was in early middle school, 6th, 7th grade, maybe. My family had gone out to the all-you-can-eat buffet lunch at Pizza Hut with several other families. We were all close, due to similar cultural extracurricular activities and the same age range for the children. We kids chowed down our pizzas, breadsticks, and sodas, hungry rascals that we were, and began to get restless while the adults ate leisurely and chatted with one another. I pulled out a deck of cards and engaged some of the others in a game, but 52 cards is not enough to entertain 15 or so kids, and so inevitably there was lots of running, shouting, and being hyper kids at a pizza parlor.
So kids were running around and we were all in general making a lot of noises when one of the mothers caught some of the kids as they raced by the tables for the fifth or so time. "Settle down!" she ordered us in Chinese. "We're the minority, we have to be quiet!"


In her defense, rowdy kids in a restaurant should definitely be taught to be more considerate of other patrons and their surroundings, even in a family-oriented location.

Aaaaand that's about all I can say for her argument.

I was shocked. Seething with anger. Humiliated for my own race. Disappointed that someone so well educated, so well respected amongst our community, so looked up to by me and others, would say such a thing to kids, teach us, even unintentionally, that this sort of subservient inferiority thinking is acceptable. It's been probably 10 years since the incident, and my heart still clenches whenever I think of it, that day when I lost respect for someone I admired, that day someone--someone of my own race, no less--took my racial identity and slammed it in my face, pressuring me to conform to "acceptable" behavior and beliefs for my race.

Perhaps one might argue that being Asian is not quite as "difficult" as being a member of another race or ethnicity. Asians are considered to be in a similar position as Jews in many ways in American society. We have light skin, generally perform well in school, and obey rules; a large percentage of Asians live in comfortable socioeconomic brackets. To many, Asians do not come to mind when the word "minority" and its stereotypical implications arise. In fact, Asians were held up as the "model minority" back in the fifties and sixties, as an example of what minorities can accomplish if only they put themselves into it and stopped blaming society and situation for their troubles. [Edited to fix ambiguous statements that could've been misconstrued. Thank you, Linda!]

But what we, over many other racial and ethnic groups, have acquired is a passive acceptance of the beliefs and treatment others subject us to. Many Asians do not have that much of a problem being considered the nerd-smart, obedient, socially awkward race. Better than being considered the hoodlum, or the troublemaker, or the good-for-nothing...right? It is, however, our own quiet acceptance of others' assumptions of what our race is like that ensures our position as a racial doormat.

The problem is that Asians self-perpetuate these beliefs of obeisance, one generation after another. The family friend at the pizza restaurant tells us kids to be quiet because we're the minority, thus we shouldn't attract attention to ourselves. She acknowledged that we may be disturbing the other restaurant patrons, but instead placed the responsibility on society's expectations of our race to be meek and complacent. A white mother would've said to her rowdy white kids, "Settle down! You're in a restaurant, not a park. Don't disturb the other patrons with your noise." Her argument is much more situational and individualistic. The kids are held accountable for their own behavior, not the image of an entire race.

I realize there are cultural discrepancies in these two mothers' different reactions to their disruptive kids. You know, East vs. West, collectivism vs. individualism, the sort of thing you study in psych, history, or soc-anth classes. But if we--and by "we" I don't mean just Asians, but everyone else in this whole damn world--continue to allow this racial self-policing to continue, then it's no wonder that white values continue to be considered superior, preferred. It's no wonder that Asians get pigeonholed into certain "types" of personalities and careers, and no wonder that some Asians' backlash to their own culture is so striking and self-hating. It's no wonder that Asian models get taken off the covers of Asian-set or Asian-themed books.

I encourage you to click to enlarge
this image so you can check out the
words below "Olive Crown."
Forget about democracy and equality and diversity: really what has been going on in many institutions, not just the book publishing industry, over the past decades and centuries is the "deracialization" of races that are considered less, the ones that are not "white enough." When I visit Taiwan and walk the streets of Taipei, I'm bombarded with white models blown up dozens of feet high on billboards, beauty parlors advertising their ability to make you blond, selling products to whiten your skin. Asian women undergo surgeries on their eyelids to achieve the wider-eyed, double-folded lid look that--you guessed it--makes them look more white. And I just watched the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair recently, and there are all sorts of reasons that go into why black women spend so much money relaxing their hair or getting weaves. And not all of it has to do with vanity, but rather with a view that society has ingrained in them that relaxed, flowing hair is not only more beautiful, but also looks more professional in the work force.

And whereas you can walk into a school and see groups of black or Latina ladies expressing their pride at being black or Latina, you don't find the same with groups of Asian friends. Asian girls will typically flaunt their Asianness in a subconscious subjection to archaic Orientalist attitudes. Their thinking is, "I'm glad I'm Asian because I have great hair / age well / guys of all races think I'm cute." It's not, "I'm proud to be Asian for me and ME ALONE" the way black women can often say so about their race. Asians are constantly thinking of themselves in terms of other people. And yes, that's part of our Eastern culture as well, this attention to interpersonal connections as the primary way of validation of self, but that absolutely does not give other races and ethnicities the right to walk all over us.

The lack of Asians on book covers enforces the idea that Asians should be the quiet race. Because we are not the proud stars of our own stories, but rather the spectators and secondary characters to others'. We are always the best friend, never the protagonist. When I look at book covers featuring white models representing protagonists that I end up loving and relating to, I subconsciously associate myself with these white characters. It is my "Twinkie-ness" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) that allows me to enjoy YA books. Reading YA lit the way it's currently jacketed takes away from my Asian identity, because both white society and my own Asian one do not allow for Asians to take a starring role.

Large chain bookstores would not buy Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix because there was a proud Asian model in traditional Chinese garb on the cover. It's a beautiful, stunning, breath-taking cover, one that had me lusting after it for the fact that it had an Asian girl on the cover alone. Replacing the gorgeous, racially correct cover with a racially ambiguous, awkwardly posed and accessorized Darkest Powers trilogy lookalike offends me. It sends the message that being Asian and proud is not okay. By any standard of 21st-century human rights, is that an acceptable message to send to teenagers?

So we Asians are never going to leap to our feets, wolf-whistle, cat-call, and give rowdy standing ovations in concerts, like the mostly black audience did at the incredible Chester Children's Choir concert I attended at my school over the weekend. Our family and friend gatherings are most likely not going to spill into the streets and be full of color, noise, and spice until the wee hours of the morning. We don't yet lead in the way Western society perceives leaders: as outspoken, well-spoken, and progressive activists.

But to tell--directly or indirectly--an Asian teen that the only way he/she can have "fun," can be him- or herself, is by rejecting their Asian-ness and immersing themselves in white culture... that's plain offensive. It's inhumane.

Society--especially mostly white, American society--has made it an uphill battle for me to understand and embrace my Asian identity. As a teenager I think I would've died from happiness had there been more books with Asian characters and Asian cover models. In a world where popular media inevitably colors our perceptions of racial and ethnic acceptance, it is all the more important that something as trite ("don't judge a book by its cover") yet as monumental (covers are an important selling point for books) as book covers accurately and actively portray the truth about the world's diversity.

Sure, reading fiction can be escapism for the majority of the time. But part of what's so appealing about reading fiction is its relatability, be it contemporary realism or hardcore sci-fi/fantasy. We appreciate--nay, adore--characters whom we can understand, characters whom we can picture ourselves acting like if we were in their situation. Readers are not going to freak out if the MC of a book is of a different gender/race/ethnicity/religion/sexual orientation than them. If that happened, I'd already be wallowing in the scanty, unfortunately rather monotonous Ethnic Literature section with the likes of Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan. POC readers have long read literature featuring white protagonists...and many have enjoyed those books. Why are we assuming that white readers can't do the same? If we call for diversity, why the need to stifle important identities and physical and cultural features of a significant portion of our population?

Let's not demean YA readers' intelligences, please. When we pick up a book with a POC character and see a model of a different race on the cover, we're not going to think, "Oh, YAY! Pretty, beautiful, consumer-happy-making cover!" We are going to think, "Um, hello, did the publishing house not read the book or something? Why is there a white person on the cover when the MC is clearly Asian/black/Latino/etc.?" We're not stupid. We're not unobservant. Give us more credit than that.

Let's have covers and stories that more accurately portray the wide range of beautiful, unique, talented, smart, funny, and, yes, weird people in our world. You want to continue to earn more money, industry people? You want people to continue to love reading, to continue to buy books? Then enter the 21st century and embrace CHANGE, like every single industry and organization out there needs to be doing. Cookie-cutter Wonderbreadland white characters and settings are no longer cutting it. Books should help expand our worldview, not stifle it. The 20th century was full of progress in the human rights field: integration of schools, businesses, and facilities; affirmative action; opening old and prestigious colleges and universities to women.

Let's not take steps backward now.


[Note: This post was inspired by Ari at Reading in Color, who wrote a frustratingly sad post about the Silver Phoenix cover change. Head over to her post to find more links to similar posts written by other bloggers.]

Readers: If you are comfortable doing so, please feel free to share your experience with racism either here or in your own post. I welcome your comments, whether you agree or disagree with me. I don't really care what the details of your own opinions on this issue are: it's more important that people talk about this in any degree, and continue talking about it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (75)

Jane by April Lindner

Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, an iconic rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer, and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance. But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is tested by a torturous secret from his past.
Part irresistible romance and part darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers. [summary from Goodreads]

I have to admit, I'm no Bronte fan. I tried reading Wuthering Heights twice, couldn't get through it either time. I've read Jane Eyre and Villette, and found them nothing too special. (I haven't read Anne's works, though; I hope I can get to them soon.) But I've always found the idea of Jane Eyre very powerful. It can be a tortuously sensual, almost gothic story if told with the right writing style and tone. This retelling sounds like a contemporarization that not only will stay true to the original plot, but also the book's dark feel. Plus I've been hearing good things about it from several people on Twitter recently. Can't wait to give this one a try.

Jane will be released in hardcover by Poppy on October 11, 2010.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Author Interview + Giveaway with Lee Nichols!

Earlier today I reviewed the highly original ghost mystery novel Deception, the first in what promises to be a very interesting and entertaining series. Today, the author, Lee Nichols, has stopped by and answered some of my questions, and a wonderful publicist at Bloomsbury/Walker has allowed me to host a giveaway! Read on to find out more about Lee!

1. The Stern museum-mansion, Thatcher... both are unusually exquisite locations full of mystery, beauty, and sophistication. Were there any real-life models/inspirations for these settings, or where did the inspiration for these settings come from?

The museum was inspired by the Pierce-Nichols House which is part of the PeabodyEssex Museum in Salem, Mass. I'm descended from the Nichols part of the family and have always wanted to write about this house. There is a school called Thacher (spelled differently), close to where I grew up in California, and I was influenced a little bit by my experience visiting the school with a friend when I was a teen.

2. What was the easiest scene in DECEPTION to write? What was the hardest?

The answer is probably the first scene for both. When I start a book, it usually comes out pretty easily, but then there's a lot of rewriting and rethinking to get it just right. Because I want to hook the reader from the very beginning.

3. Are you a plotter or pantser when it comes to outlining your books?

From the very first book I wrote, I've always been a serious, scene-by-scene outliner. It just allows me to see whether I've got a whole book or not and whether it all makes sense.

4. What are some of your favorite paranormal/ghost stories?

I like werewolves, so Shiver was a favorite and so was the Mortal Instruments series. And Carrie Jones's Pixie series.

5. A huge lightning storm strikes and you somehow develop supernatural abilities. What would your ability be?

I really love animals, so I'd love to be a were-something. Maybe a werehousecat. Hmm, I'm getting an idea for a new series ...

6. What 3 songs would be on a DECEPTION playlist?

I'm obsessed right now with Elbow, so two songs from them: "Mirrorball" and "Bones of You", and "Acapella" from Kelis.

7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which would it be?

Impossible to think I wouldn't get tired of a novel. Perhaps something I actually find impossible to read, like a book about physics or Chaos theory. Maybe then, I'd finally understand.


Thanks for answering my questions, Lee! If you haven't thought of reading Deception yet, you definitely should put it on your radar.

Giveaway Info

Thanks to Kate at Bloomsbury/Walker, I am hosting a giveaway for TWO (2) ARCs of Deception! To enter, please fill out the form below. This giveaway is open to US only and ends Friday, August 6, 2010. Good luck and happy reading!

Review: Deception by Lee Nichols

Tags: YA, paranormal, ghosts, mystery


Emma Vaile has stopped hearing from everyone she loves—her antiques-collecting parents, her older brother, her best friend—and a supposed friend of hers calls social services on her. To her disbelief, her brother’s best friend, the handsome Bennett Stern, “rescues” her and brings her to his New England mansion, where she enrolls at the elite private school Thatcher.

As Emma makes friends and gets into the flow of private school life, life would be great, were it not for three things: Bennett’s elusiveness, her family’s continued silence, and the disturbing return of her childhood visions. Only this time Emma learns that the visions are actually ghosts, and she can see them because she is a ghostkeeper. As if learning the responsibility for her new role isn’t enough, Emma also needs to juggle high school, a romance that could kill her, and an otherworldly being with the terrifying power to possess and even kill humans.


There are some book synopses I really, really hate, and this book had one of them. It mentions private schools, absent parents, a hot preppie guy, and the eerie paranormal (insert spooky sounds here). How utterly mundane. Can we get a “hasn’t this setup been done before?”

What the synopsis fails to mention, however, is just how smart, interesting, and different DECEPTION is from the rest of the pack. DECEPTION is an entertaining, funny, and touching read that had me caught up in a fictional world I normally don’t take to.

After an admittedly bumpy start, DECEPTION brings us Emma Vaile—smart, sassy, strong, romantic—and an equally lively and engaging cast of characters. Perhaps this was just my experience, but Emma is not someone you can really relate to: rather, you just really, really want to be her. She handles her bad luck with an appealing modern sensibility that will have you nodding along in agreement to her reactions, decisions, and quips.

Likewise, the other characters are equally strong and memorable. Emma’s school friends don’t feel like hollow shells of what high school students should act and sound like. Instead, they are endearingly flawed, jaded, sweet, irritating—you name the emotion, you’ve probably got it. Bennett, too, is far more than a hot, well-dressed love interest. He has his own deeply rooted passions, insecurities, and worries, too. (And thank goodness, or I might’ve inflicted injury upon the nearest wall.) You could think of reading DECEPTION almost like watching a CW TV show: it’s not exactly realistic, and some of the scenarios are a bit unbelievable, but the dialogue is snappy, the teen actors are top-notch, and you just can’t stop yourself from coming back for more.

I thought that the ghost element of DECEPTION was also very well done, familiar enough to attract readers, but original enough to keep the more critical of us on our toes. The paranormal conflict in this story had depth and history. It is a conflict that spans centuries and dimensions, all in a reasonably believable and definitely enthralling way that I can see smoothly carrying over into future installments.

DECEPTION is a book that defied my expectations. I was expecting clichéd paranormal-romance-mystery drivel; I got an engaging and snarky read with fantastic characterization. Overall, a paranormal mystery read that is a cut above mere wish-fulfillment fun. I will definitely keep an eye out for the sequel.

Similar Authors
Anastasia Hopcus
Lauren Mechling

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 1.5 out of 5 - I'm not its biggest fan. Is it a heavily done-up photograph or a drawing? Either way, it says nothing about how kick-ass Emma is.

Bloomsbury / June 8, 2010 / Paperback / 336pp. / $9.99

ARC sent by publisher for review.

Come back soon for an interview with the author, Lee, and a giveaway!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Giveaway #12: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (International)

Here comes one of the most highly anticipated novels of Fall 2010: Cassandra Clare's newest book, Clockwork Angel! Can I just say how tremblingly excited I am to delve into this book, and that obligations to other review or library books are the only reason I haven't devoured this book yet? I hope to read it soon--like, THIS WEEK, maybe!


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.

Yeah, excited doesn't even begin to cover it. This is going to be so much FUN. To enter for a lovely lovely ARC, please fill out the form below, making sure to answer the question relevantly. There will be ONE (1) winner. This giveaway is open internationally (you're welcome) and ends Friday, August 13, 2010. Good luck!

Giveaway Winners!

The winner of an ARC of Nightshade by Andrea Cremer is:

#180 Michelle (Ramblings of a Book Crosser)!

The winner of a signed copy of Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert is:

#4 Lena (Addicted 2 Novels)!

The winner of a paperback of And Then Everything Unraveled and And Then I Found Out the Truth by Jennifer Sturman is:

#64 Kenton Joseph!

The 3 winners of a paperback of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins are:

#37 holdenj
#56 brandileigh2003
#122 Jess (The Cozy Reader)

The winner of the ARC of The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney is:

#33 Lauren Gonzalez

Congratulations, winners! I've emailed you all for more information. Be sure to enter the other giveaways still open, listed on the right side of my blog!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

In My Mailbox (41)

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

This is three weeks' worth of books for me.... can someone say ZOMGGGG?!?!?!?

For review:
Windblowne by Stephen Messer
X Isle by Steve Augarde
7 Souls by Barnabas Miller & Jordan Orlando
Efrain's Secret by Sofia Quintero
The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Vampire High: Sophomore Year by Douglas Rees
Sleepless by Cyn Balog
Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton
Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation by Matt Myklusch
Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner
Fallout by Ellen Hopkins
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Generation Dead, Book 3: Passing Strange by Daniel Waters
Low Red Moon by Ivy Devlin
Plain Kate by Erin Bow

From tours:
Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee

One Dance With a Duke by Tessa Dare
Chasing Perfect by Susan Mallery
Iron Fey, Book 2: The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa
Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn

The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
Fire Arrow by Edith Pattou
Endless Summer by Jennifer Echols
Gone, Book 3: Lies by Michael Grant
To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn
An Arranged Marriage by Jo Beverley
A Summer to Remember by Mary Balogh

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Giveaway #11: Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner (US only)

Rick Riordan blurbed this middle-grade animal fantasy adventure story by debut author Hilary Wagner. Rick Riordan! I'm stoked. I read Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles and this one seems like it will have a similar feel. I have an extra ARC of Nightshade City to give to a lucky winner! Check out the summary below to see whether or not you'd be interested:

Deep beneath a modern metropolis lies the Catacombs, a kingdom of remarkable rats of superior intellect. Following the Bloody Coup, the once peaceful democracy has become a dictatorship, ruled by decadent High Minister Killdeer and his vicious henchman Billycan, a former lab rat with a fondness for butchery. Three young orphan rats--brothers Vincent and Victor and a clever female named Clover--join forces with Billycan's archenemy, Juniper, and his maverick band of rebel rats as they plot to overthrow their oppressors and create a new city--Nightshade City. This impossible-to-put-down fantasy explores timeless themes of freedom, forgiveness, the bonds of family, and the power of love. [summary from Goodreads]

To enter, please fill out the form here, making sure to answer the question relevantly. This giveaway is open to US only and ends Friday, August 13, 2010. Good luck!

This material is copyrighted © 2009-2010 by me, Stephanie Su. Reproduction in part or whole of this content is a violation of copyright laws.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler

Tags: YA, art, schizophrenia, mental illness, family, mother-daughter relationships


Ever since her dad left for another woman, Aura Ambrose has been alone with her mother, Grace, and it's been far from easy. Grace, a talented artist, has schizophrenia, and is often immersed in episodes where she confuses what's real and what isn't. Aura is terrified that, thanks to genetics and her own creative proclivities, she will also become crazy like her mom, and so she shuns her art in order to stay sane. As Grace spirals more and more out of control, however, Aura can no longer hold things together on her own.


A BLUE SO DARK is an astonishing achievement by debut author Holly Schindler. Aura's story is horrifying, enthralling, and touching all at once, and will certainly open readers' eyes to situations they've probably never considered before.

I have never read a book about schizophrenia before, but Holly Schindler writes these heartbreaking scenes between Aura and her mother with a conviction that thus carries into the reader, absorbing us until we, like Aura, cannot escape from the horror. This writer's confidence shows in the character of Aura, who doesn't necessarily approach her situation with more aplomb than reasonable in a teenager, but who also doesn't dissolve into histrionics. Aura keeps her narration poetic yet direct, even as her mother further deteriorates, and this contrast in situation vs. presentation only serves to amplify the terror that she--and we, connected as we are to her--feel as we watch her mom.

A BLUE SO DARK is really a story about family, and thus while some non-family characters are not quite as strongly developed (e.g. Aura's crush and best friend), we really get a complete sense of the important family members: the three generations of women in Aura's family, each of whom is satisfyingly different in action yet similar because they are family.

A BLUE SO DARK, with its evocative cover and fascinating premise, blew me away with the way it handled such a delicate issue. This is a real good one to read if you're looking to expand your experience with books about psychological illnesses. Can't wait to see what Holly has for us next!

Similar Authors
Julie Anne Peters

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - It's a beautiful, eye-catching, haunting cover, but after reading the book, I'm annoyed. Yes, dealing with a family member with a mental illness, as well as fearing for your own sanity, is a lot like trying to survive underwater. But where are Aura's curves??!? When will publishers stop this ridiculous idea that only skinny people can be models??! *irked*

Flux / May 1, 2010 / Paperback / 277pp. / $9.95

Book received from Traveling ARC Tours.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (74)

StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Gerse, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the city, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so. Accepted as a lady's maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold--as well as plenty of jewels for the taking. But after the devious Lord Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes that her noble hosts aren't as apolitical as she thought... that indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion. [summary from Goodreads]

Elizabeth Bunce's first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the 2009 William C. Morris Debut Award. While I haven't read it yet, I have heard fantastic things, and the premise of her sophomore looks to be just as interesting and ambitious! You'd have to call this...what? Fantasy? It feels very old-world at the same time, though--you know, that feel of a classic fairy tale. I'm so intrigued!

StarCrossed will be published in hardcover by Arthur A. Levine on October 1, 2010.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review: The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood

Tags: YA, magical realism, plants, love, historical fiction, poisons, evil


Jessamine lives alone with her father. Her father is an apothecarian and botanist obsessed with unraveling the secrets of plants. He forbids Jessamine to enter the poison garden, in which he keeps all the most dangerous plants he has managed to acquire from around the world.

Then a strange boy is dumped on their doorstep. The boy, who goes by the name of Weed, is peculiar, with a nearly miraculous sensitivity to plants. He seems frightened of the poison garden, calling it an unnatural collection that can do no good. Yet as Jessamine and Weed fall in love, they are drawn into the poison garden in more horrifying ways than they can imagine…


Just when you think it’s all been done before, here comes Maryrose Wood to blow everything out of the water. THE POISON DIARIES is the start of an ambitious series that combines history, magic, romance, and evil into a fast yet resonant read.

THE POISON DIARIES unfortunately starts out rather slow and off-putting. The writing feels a bit stilted, the setup hard to believe. Jessamine was unappealingly weak, and her father difficult to define in his hardness and obsessiveness. I honestly did put the book down a number of times in the first fifty or so pages.

But I’m glad I stuck with it. With the arrival of Weed, we are slowly but surely pulled into their mysterious, slightly terrifying, but definitely enthralling world where evil comes in more forms than we can imagine. Weed is captivating from the start, and he slowly develops into a character we not only wish to observe but also sympathize with.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the back third of the book definitely makes up for its less than stellar start. You will find it impossible to put down at this point, horrified yet also fascinated at the way events are unfolding, and be impressed that Maryrose Wood has come up with this crazy-cool concept.

THE POISON DIARIES ends rather abruptly, which feels slightly gimmicky but will definitely induce readers to grab the next book when it comes out. Overall, Maryrose Wood’s new series is a departure from her previous books, not as solid and masterful as the unique premise could be, but an entertaining and gripping read nevertheless. This book is definitely worth the look!

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2 out of 5 - With such a tantalizing title, I was expecting something more, I suppose. But this one kind of falls short of my expectations. There is little movement, little personality, I think.

Balzer + Bray / July 20, 2010 / Hardcover / 224pp. / $16.99

Borrowed from Doylestown Bookshop's Advance Reviewers Program.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blog Tour Review + Vlog: Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala

I am thrilled to be part of the month-long virtual tour for Holly Cupala's debut novel, Tell Me a Secret! In this post I have my review of TMAS, followed by a special vlog from Holly. Read on!

Tags: YA, teen pregnancy, sisters, family, death


Miranda’s outgoing older sister Xanda died mysteriously when Miranda was twelve. Since then, Miranda has tried to figure Xanda out, but no one talks about her, least of all her parents, who blame Miranda’s boyfriend at the time for her death.

Miranda has always been the good girl, but when she is offered the chance to have the cool best friend and the ideal boyfriend, she falls into a life that hardly seems like her own, but more like her sister’s. But then Miranda’s world is turned upside down when she gets pregnant. Now, Miranda must figure out her own problems, instead of chasing afer her sister’s.


Wow. Just…wow. An unassuming concept for a story glows in the talented hands of Holly Cupala, who captured my attention on the very first page.

Miranda’s narration is easy on the eyes and mind. Through her, problems that could’ve been easily overdramatized become painfully real expressions of emotions that anyone can relate to: grief, fear, desire, and more. While there is never much physical movement throughout the story, the emotional arc is so poignant that, towards the end, I found myself bursting into tears at certain lines or gripping the book with shaking hands as I rushed to find out what would happen, if things will turn out alright, in a way that reminded me of the frantic and passionate mood swings of PMS.

It’s true that very little seems to happen, and that Miranda’s past with her sister doesn’t entirely convince me that it’s driving her present-day decisions. Miranda herself is definitely a quiet protagonist, so those who like their female main characters snappier and wittier will not find that here. Still, there is a way about Miranda that endears her to readers, that draws us into her problems and concerns and misconceptions. Quiet, “good girl” Miranda is a fully realized character: we see her flaws but love her all the more for them.

TELL ME A SECRET is a heartwrenchingly good contemporary YA read. Holly Cupala proves herself to be a powerful writing force with this one, and I can’t wait to see what Holly will write next.

Similar Authors
Sarah Dessen
Nina de Gramont
Jenny Han
Jillian Cantor

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

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - Now that I've read the book, I'm not sure how much I feel it applies appropriately to the story, but it does match the title very well, and it was one of the reasons I looked closer at this book months earlier!

HarperCollins / June 22, 2010 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $16.99

ARC sent by publisher at author's request. Thanks, Holly!


And now, here's Holly:

Hi, everyone, and thanks for stopping by the TELL ME A SECRET Virtual Tour at Steph Su Reads! I’m really excited to be here—I got to meet Steph in person at the Teen Author Carnival, and I was thrilled when she wanted me to drop by. She asked me to tell you about some of the TMAS writing spaces, so we put together a little video to show you… Our daughter was a baby when I started writing, so I hired a sitter one day a week to watch her while I went to the library to write the first draft. When I wasn’t at the library, I’d head for the wi-fi at Grateful Bread. At home, I love to work at the dining room table, and I even show you a little glimpse of the YA shelves. Last but not least, I give you a sneak preview of the super-cool prize I’m giving away at the end of the tour! I hope you enjoy!

Thanks, Holly, for that fantastic look into your writing process, and for satisfying the bookshelf lust in all of us. :) Be sure to check out the full tour schedule here, and follow us to Miss Erin's blog tomorrow for the continuation of the tour. Don't forget to comment at as many official tour stops as you can for your chance to win a multitude of prizes!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Giveaway #10: The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale (US only)

I picked up The Actor and the Housewife last year because it's by one of my favorite authors, Shannon Hale, and even though it's not her usual fare of groundbreaking YA fantasy, this adult fiction romantic comedy quickly rocketed up to its current position as one of my favorite books of all time. It's the book I go back to whenever I'm feeling lonely or...schlumpy (? is that a word? oh well, I'm making it one now). I have an extra copy of this book and so I'm totally sharing the love with you guys!


Mormon housewife Becky Jack is seven months pregnant with her fourth child when she meets celebrity heartthrob Felix Callahan. Twelve hours, one elevator ride, and one alcohol-free dinner later, something has happened…though nothing has happened. It isn’t sexual. It isn’t even quite love. But a month later Felix shows up in Salt Lake City to visit and before they know what’s hit them, Felix and Becky are best friends. Really. Becky’s husband is pretty cool about it. Her children roll their eyes. Her neighbors gossip endlessly. But Felix and Becky have something special…something unusual, something completely impossible to sustain. Or is it? A magical story, The Actor and the Housewife explores what could happen when your not-so-secret celebrity crush walks right into real life and changes everything.

You can see my review of this book here.

To enter, fill out the form below. This giveaway is open to US only and ends Friday, August 6, 2010. Good luck!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Changing Reading Habits

Have you ever regretted starting your book blog?

That may be putting it a bit harshly. What I think I mean to say is: Have you ever wondered what your life would be like without your book blog? If you had never started it? If you quit now?

I do. I feel that, inevitably, having a blog has affected my reading habits and preferences. And not all of it is for the better. Yes, I've been exposed to a ton more YA literature since the inception of this blog. Whereas I barely read any YA during my first two years of college, in 2009 I read over 200 books, most of them YA. The number of books I own has multiplied significantly, as has my TBR pile. Now I will never be for a lack of something to read.

And yet, it is also this abundance of books, choices, and opportunity that seems to be a burden at times. How many times have we looked at our piles and piles of books to be read and been at a loss for what we want to read next? How many times have we guiltily picked up a book to read that wasn't from our gargantuan review pile? How many times have I had book A.D.D., or a reading slump, and then felt horrible that I wasn't reading reading reading all the time, because I have more books than I probably will ever be able to finish in my lifetime, if this pace of book acquisition and publication and lusting after not-yet-released books continues?

I'm fairly sure that there have been studies that have shown that having too many choices may not be the best thing for human beings. I mean, have you ever gone into a supermarket and been overwhelmed by all the choices you could have just for one measly jar of pasta sauce? Do I want the gourmet brand, or the generic store label? Do I want basil-flavored sauce, or sauce with extra cheese? Should I buy the too-big-for-just-me 24oz jar and save a few cents, or spend more money on a smaller size? I just want some pasta sauce, dangit!!

Sometimes, I think having a book blog is bad for my mental health.

(Then again, it wasn't very stable to begin with. I am a weird being. My friends can attest to that.)

I've been told by well-meaning people, just step away from your blog for a while. Take a break. You deserve it. But that is, of course, easier said than done. I LOVE retreats--my idea of a vacation is to go somewhere beautiful and secluded for myself for a period of time--but the thought of being away from the YA industry world, of not being on top of new releases, deals, Twitter, and whatnot, is, frankly, terrifying. I remember the early months of 2009, when I had just started blogging, and how torturously out of the loop I felt (and was) about everything YA. There I was, two years out of reading YA regularly, and I was suddenly being bombarded with years and years' worth of recommendations, news, new and old author news, and more. There is always that insecurity slump several months into blogging, when you've pretty much established a working routine and are consistently producing material, and yet there is so much more out there than you can handle. You feel like you can never catch up. You falter. You sink into the blues. How, you say to yourself, can you ever think of becoming an established and well-respected blogger if you can't even keep up with just general news and be "in the know"?

Do I want to go back to that state? You bet I don't. My ever-expanding knowledge of old, current, and upcoming YA lit is something I worked hard to get and am very proud of. Who doesn't want to be an expert in something? I love that I can recommend good YA books to my friends who enjoy YA but are not as psychotically involved as I am. Even attending TAC 2009 I felt so out of the loop: people were just jumping into conversations with book recommendation and author name after book recommendation and author name. I couldn't keep up. I felt enormously incompetent and redundant. 2010 has been a much better year for me in terms of keeping up with YA news.

I think I'm afraid that if I stop (and sometimes I so very much want to), I'll never be able to start again.

How has blogging changed your reading habits? I think I have a much lower tolerance for books I don't connect with now. In the past, I'd most likely continue slogging through a book even if in the end it wasn't my thing. These days, I really wish I could put down books I don't connect to within the first 30 pages. I mean, come on: I have several hundred books in my TBR pile, I really would prefer to spend my time reading books I enjoy, thank you very much. But such is the commitment one makes when one blogs, the commitment to give more attention and patience to a book sent to you for review than you would've given it had it just been a book from your own purchases or library. I still haven't found a good balance between giving a review book that's not my thing a chance and knowing when to set it aside. (Note to self: work on that in the future.)

Yeah, yeah, I know about the Reader's Bill of Rights, that I have the right to put down a book if I'm not interested in it. But being a human being, being social, taking part in this dance of relationships and communication and etiquette, means that there is an exchange of trust and responsibility taking place. Whether we want to or not, admit it or not, we pay more attention to those things we have more connecting threads with, that we have more personal interest in. Tell me you'd give more of a chance to a book written by a friend, than one written by someone whom you know nothing about, because he or she is one of the last holdouts in this 21st-century social media publicity world.

I don't like the panicky feeling I get in my chest when my gaze falls on the boxes and boxes of books that I say I intend to read "sometime in the future." Reading shouldn't give me anxiety attacks. When I go on long vacations with limited Internet access, I prefer taking classics with me, which does nothing for the appalling size of my TBR review pile. And I know I spend more time each day online, checking all my blogging- and reading-related sites, than I do writing or reading.

Can I really say that I have healthier reading habits now than I had, say, three years ago?

I'm not quite sure I have an answer to that.

I'm leaving for a cruise up to glorious Canada with my aunt, uncle, and family friend tomorrow, with limited Internet access and phone for the next five days. I have scheduled posts, of course (the only way I can manage to post all the reviews I've written), but I'll essentially be offline until Thursday. It'll be like a mini-retreat for me. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you guys think about the blogging experience, and whether or not it has changed your reading habits. Is there anything you miss about not having a blog?

(Disclaimer: This is by no means something like the beginning of the end for me. I'm pretty sure I will continue blogging and reviewing books at least until I finally get a book published--after which I should probably keep my mouth more shut in an attempt at industry neutrality. I just needed to get this off my chest, this thing that has kept inspiration hidden from me for the last month or so.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Author Interview with Cath Crowley!

Yesterday I got to share with you my review of Cath Crowley's A Little Wanting Song, a beautiful Australian import that makes me ache for poetry and the moving power of music. Cath honored me with an interview, where I think (at least I hope) I got to probe the way her mind works. I hope you will find her as remarkable a woman as I do and be inspired to pick up her book. Without further ado, welcome, Cath, to Steph Su Reads!

1. The Australian version of A Little Wanting Song is titled Chasing Charlie Duskin. How did these two different titles come about? Did anything or anyone in particular influence the change?

Chasing Charlie Duskin suits the Australian version. In that book Charlie is chasing herself as much as she’s chasing the ghost of her mother.

In the US version Charlie still wants things but she has a stronger sense of self. She’s a bit sassier, a bit cooler. A Little Wanting Song was the first song/poem that I wrote for the new version. (The first version doesn’t have her lyrics.)

I love the way this title was chosen – it was really collaborative. I wrote down a list of my favourite titles and Allison Wortche (my great US editor) wrote her list and some other people at Random wrote their favourites. In the end there were a lot of titles in the mix but that was great because I knew in the end we had the right one.

And the whole book is written like a song or a wish – because Charlie’s voice is quite lyrical. So to name the new book after a song seemed right.

2. As a teen, were you more like Charlie or Rose?

I grew up in a small country town so I can relate to Rose’s restlessness and her need to escape. In terms of geekishness I was more like Charlie as a teenager. I liked books and art and I was pretty shy outside my main group of friends. I actually think I’m most like Dave. I belonged to a group but I still spent a bit of time on my own.

3. What was the first fictional piece you ever wrote? How old were you? What happened to it?

The first fictional piece I wrote was for my primary school’s short story competition. I was about nine years old and I won a copy of The Railway Children. I have the prize still, but not my story. I remember it though – it’s kind of hard to forget. It was about what would happen if people had fruit for heads. I illustrated it. I remember there was a picture of my family and we all had a different piece of fruit for our heads. I had a bunch of grapes. No idea where that came from.

4. Music plays an important role in A Little Wanting Song. Are you a musician yourself? What does music mean to you?

I’m not a musician, but I love music and I had a lot of fun writing Charlie’s poetry. Music is a way of escaping for me –I put my iPod in and go for a walk and for that amount of time I’m elsewhere. Usually I go into the book I’m writing, so music is a way into story for me, I guess.

I like the way words fit together. The songs I like best use words in a way I wouldn’t expect. I love that Lemonheads song "Being Around." And Clare Bowditch’s song "When The Lights Down" – that line: When the lights went down you shone/Like a mirrored train at dawn. They make me want to try to use words differently too.

Also, I think on a basic level, songs remind me that other people mess up as much as I do in life.

5. Do you have any particular publications (print or web) that you always read / authors whose works you read diligently when they come out with new books?

I always read Helen Garner. I love the way she puts a sentence together. If there’s a new John Green or David Levithan book I have to buy it. I love the way the comedian Daniel Kitson writes so if he’s got a show on I always go and wish I could have a copy of the script. I’m hooked on This American Life. And I like to read The Monthly Magazine about Australia politics/arts/lifestyle. Also, if Lauren Child has a new Clarice Bean book out I get very excited. She’s one of my favourite fictional characters.

6. I've always been curious about the reading tastes of characters. Can you tell us about the reading tastes and habits of Charlie and Rose?

Charlie reads a lot of about her favourite bands/artists. She’s the kind of girl who’d read everything on the liner notes of albums and CDs, everything on a musician’s website. She definitely subscribes to Rolling Stone magazine. She reads the words of her favourite songwriters like Clare Bowditch, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Evan Dando. She likes the way words fit together so I think she’d be into writers like John Green, Neil Gaimon and Jeffrey Eugenides – novelists who use language differently and write about love in a way that’s beautiful but not mainstream.

Rose reads all the sections of the paper from politics to travel. She’s desperate to know about the world. Anything lying around at the doctors or the dentists she’ll soak up. I think she’d also be into Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski. She probably has a dog-eared copy of Richard Peck’s book Don’t Look and it Won’t Hurt lying around. And maybe Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

7. What was the most memorable place you ever visited?

Finland. I went there years ago and I stayed on this tiny boat owned by an old shaggy captain who made me breakfast in the morning. He and I didn’t speak the same language so I had the most peaceful week, sitting on deck reading and sleeping in the rhythm of the ocean.

8. What moves you to tears?

Plenty of things move me to anger or outrage –people getting a shabby life deal, that sort of thing. But the last thing that moved me to actual tears was the documentary The Cove. It was released a while back but I only watched it recently on DVD. I didn’t know that dolphins use their sonar to see a heart beating.

The last book that made me cry was Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The whole book was beautifully sad but especially those last pages.

9. Which minor character in A Little Wanting Song would you consider writing a companion novel on?

I’d write one on Luke – on what happens to him when Rose leaves town. He’s never known life without her and it’d be fun to write about him working out who he is and what he wants from the world. I think he works out that Rose is right. There’s more to life than his small town. Eventually, he takes off to see the world.

10. Anything else you'd like to add for readers?

I hope people enjoy A Little Wanting Song. If have any questions or you want to check out my new book you can find me at


Thank you so much, Cath! Besides for introducing me to several new artists (Clare Bowditch is incredible, by the way), you've also got me re-appreciating the world and its beauties. I hope that YOU, readers, will keep an eye out for A Little Wanting Song the next time you're looking for books to borrow or buy. It's definitely gone on my perma-shelf as one of my favorite books.


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