Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (115)

Saving June by Hannah Harrington
If she’d waited less than two weeks, she’d be June who died in June. But I guess my sister didn’t consider that.

Harper Scott’s older sister has always been the perfect one so when June takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen-year-old Harper is devastated. Everyone’s sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split her sister’s ashes into his-and-her urns, Harper takes matters into her own hands. She’ll steal the ashes and drive cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going California.

Enter Jake Tolan. He’s a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession and nothing in common with Harper’s sister. But Jake had a connection with June, and when he insists on joining them, Harper’s just desperate enough to let him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanour and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.

Except June wasn’t the only one hiding something. Jake’s keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harper’s life upside down again. [summary from Goodreads]
This book escaped my notice for the longest time because, well, mostly of personal preferences. I'm a bit skeptical of books about taking road trips with bad boys with secrets. But the reviews on Goodreads for this book are overwhelmingly positive, and a lot of my Aussie friends who were fortunate enough to read it early are head over heels for it. A contemporary read that I can fall for? Count me in!

Saving June will be published in paperback from Harlequin on November 22, 2011.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hooked Giveaway!

How can you resist a book when it's touted as the literary Juno? I have for you today an opportunity for ONE winner to win a copy of Hooked by Catherine Greenman, which is about a pregnant teen, but I'm not going to copy the synopsis here because I think it's a bit spoilery, but you can read it here on Goodreads if you want. Anyway, to enter, fill out the form below. One winner, open to US mailing addresses only (publisher's rules), and ends Friday, September 16, 2011. Good luck!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Review: All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Tags: YA, dystopian, organized crime, NYC


Anya Balanchine, daughter of one of New York’s most famous crime bosses, lives in a world where everything is rationed, coffee and chocolate are illegal, and crime families run a very well-organized black market. Since her father’s murder, Anya wants nothing to do with the “family business,” wanting only to take care of her mentally damaged older brother and younger sister.

But when Anya’s ex-boyfriend is poisoned by her family’s chocolate, Anya must unwillingly come to terms with her birthright—both the good and bad points.


With a cover like that, a premise like that, and the name of one of YA’s most highly awarded authors attached to it, how could one not pick this book up? With her trademark intelligent writing and world-building, Gabrielle Zevin’s dystopian ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE should be a hit for those who like their YA dystopias a touch on the literary side. It doesn’t quite hit the mark in terms of characterization, but I still very much enjoyed this novel, and look forward to its sequels.

Anya’s New York is like the present day gone to seed and corruption. Famous landmarks have been transformed into slumming hangouts and holding areas, and prepubescent kids rob people off the street with stolen handguns. The setting is fraught with tensions of all sorts, and Zevin makes great use of it. We keenly feel Anya’s struggle to juggle taking care of her family, standing her ground against her corrupt extended family, developing platonic and romantic relationships, and staying on the right side of the law. It is a testimony to the world’s potential that I couldn’t put this book down, even when the plot trudged along like it had all the time in the world to tell its story.

I had the same problem with ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE that I had with Gabrielle Zevin’s other books: that is, I know that Zevin’s writing is wonderful and mature and intelligent, but for some reason, I don’t find myself connecting to the characters as much as feel like I should. For example, while Anya and Win’s relationship is pleasant, it didn’t, I dunno, sweep me off my feet or anything. Anya’s “enemies” are supposed to be sinister and scary, but I didn’t really find myself that indignant or protective on Anya’s behalf.

But I feel like that’s just a “me” thing, because most others I know really like Zevin’s writing. Either way, I enjoyed ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE. At times it can feel like a really long setup to the second book, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be able to enjoy the stellar world-building along the way.

Similar Authors
Holly Black

Cover discussion: Easily one of my favorite covers of the year. It's attractive in a way that doesn't involve flashy dresses or brooding models, but instead with a rich complexity that's hidden from first sight by its appearance of starkness.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Sept. 6, 2011 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $16.99

Sent by publisher for review.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (114)

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani
After her father loses his job, Sonia Nadhamuni, half Indian and half Jewish American, finds herself yanked out of private school and thrown into the unfamiliar world of public education. For the first time, Sonia's mixed heritage makes her classmates ask questions—questions Sonia doesn't always know how to answer—as she navigates between a group of popular girls who want her to try out for the cheerleading squad and other students who aren't part of the "in" crowd.

At the same time that Sonia is trying to make new friends, she's dealing with what it means to have an out-of-work parent—it's hard for her family to adjust to their changed circumstances. And then, one day, Sonia's father goes missing. Now Sonia wonders if she ever really knew him. As she begins to look for answers, she must decide what really matters and who her true friends are—and whether her two halves, no matter how different, can make her a whole. [summary from Goodreads]
Why I want it: it's a POC main character! It's middle grade! Okay... I really only had those two reasons, but those are two really! awesome! reasons! Because--POC!!!!

The Whole Story of Half a Girl will be published in hardcover by Delacorte Books on January 10, 2012.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In the Philly Area? PAYA Festival This Weekend!

To those of you still lucky enough to be in the Philly/Delaware/Jersey area, the second annual PAYA Festival is happening this weekend! PAYA, or Bring YA 2 PA, is a nonprofit initiative started by the incredible teen blogger Skyanne of Harmony Book Reviews to raise money for Pennsylvania public libraries. The PAYA Festival brings together YA authors, bloggers, aspiring writers, and just plain readers in a wonderfully cozy and exciting in a one-day event featuring author signings, writing workshops, book raffles, and more. Its coziness is the main reason why this was one of my favorite book events that I attended last year. I'm sad I can no longer attend, but that just means that more of you should go and support YA!

2011 PAYA Festival
Saturday, August 27, 2011
12:00pm - 3:00pm
1585 Paoli Pike, West Chester, PA 19380 (Google Maps here)

View Larger Map

A partial list of authors attending:
Josh Berk
Cyn Balog
Jeri Smith-Ready
A.S. King
Dianne Salerni
Shannon Delany
Shelena Shorts
Ellen Jensen Abbott
Alissa Grosso
Jennifer Murgia
Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman
Sarah Darer Littman
Amy Holder
Keri Mikulski
Chelsea Swiggett
April Linder
Leah Clifford

Yeahhh, that's why you don't want to miss this event, if you're in the area. Check out the event's Facebook events page for more details or to RSVP! I had a blast last year, and I promise you won't be disappointed. :)

Here are some pictures from the awesome time I had last year:
Skyanne setting up signs to the site.
Most of the authors who attended the 2010 PAYA Festival.
Some bloggers at the 2010 PAYA Festival: Chelsea (blogger turned author), me, Kristi (The Story Siren), Skyanne (Harmony Book Reviews), James (Book Chic Club)
Will you be a part of this great event too? :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Tags: YA, contemporary, Italian Australians, ethnic biases, families


Josephine Alibrandi is 17, lives with her single mother, and must deal with her critical and past-obsessed grandmother. Little throws this opinionated and feisty girl off guard in her female-dominated world, but if anything can cause her to rethink all that she thought she understood about the world, the arrival in her life of a potential love interest, a deeply suffering friend, her long-absent father, and a shocking family secret just might.


At long last, I’ve picked up and finished my favorite author’s debut novel, which also happens to be the last book of hers that I read. It’s fascinating—and quite odd, to tell you the truth—to read her first book last: it’s like peeking at a great author’s first draft. Nevertheless, LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI was an enjoyable, if not spectacular, contemporary read featuring a feisty main character and a discussion of ethnic discrimination in Australia.

The great maturation of Melina Marchetta’s writing style over the past 20 years shows. Much of the character development in LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI takes place in the form of dialogue: Josie’s grandmother, in particular, talks a lot about their family’s history, and Josie is often at odds with her grandmother as to where they stand regarding their position as Italian Australians in Australian society. Sometimes the character development feels choppy, for Josie will be acting like an immature brat one day, and in the next chapter, she will talk about how she feels herself changing as she learns more and more. Um, from where does this growth naturally progress? I scratch my head in confusion.

The best part of LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI is probably Josie. In a genre where all too often female protagonists will be much blander than their authors intended for them to be, Josie is loud-mouthed, mean at times, unafraid to make her thoughts heard. She is very direct with the family members she disagrees with over various issues. Because of Josie’s opinionated point of view, readers are able to be immersed in a discussion over ethnic biases that existed in Australia at the time of this book’s writing, that may still exist today. Josie is unafraid to voice her complaint about how she is treated and thought of differently by her classmates. Sometimes this feels like too much telling and not enough showing, but it’s Melina Marchetta. Which means that even not at her fullest potential, she is still worth reading.

LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI may not have claimed my heart as Saving Francesca and Jellicoe Road have, but it’s still, I think, a must-read for Marchetta fans, who will be able to appreciate just how far their beloved author has come.

Similar Authors
Cath Crowley
Sarah Dessen

Cover discussion: I'm... indifferent about this one, I think. Sure, I think the model could be Josie, especially given Josie's propensity to, uh, speak her mind at every opportunity. But I'm not quite sure what the oversaturation is supposed to accomplish.

Knopf / May 9, 2006 (reprint) / Paperback / 320pp. / $8.95

Personal copy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two-Box Giveaway!

Two months ago, in the midst of packing for an across-the-world move and getting rid of half my book collection, I packed up two differently sized boxes, each containing a smattering of recently released finished copies, upcoming ARCs, and random books that I thought were good and would be nice to share with other bookish people. In all the excitement of, y'know, starting a full-time job and living in a new and exciting city all by myself, I, well, uh, didn't get around to posting about the boxes until now.

So yeah. There are two boxes. No, I do not remember what I put in them. (That's part of the fun, right?) I am giving them away. Enter if you're interested. (Please, please enter!)

To enter, fill out the form below, making sure to answer the question relevantly. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only (sorry, but my parents are going to be paying shipping, even though they don't know it yet), and ends Friday, September 16, 2011. Good luck!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cover Lust (30)

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
(Wendy Lamb Books / Aug. 23, 2011)

Sometimes I don't have particularly sophisticated demands for a book cover. Sometimes all I want is to enjoy a cover with a nice, straightforward picture. So I kind of like how this one is just a straightforward picture, and yet suggests things in tune with the book's synopsis. Plus, the title design is quite interesting!

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz
(Candlewick Press / Sept. 13, 2011)

Now this one is simple, in a completely different way than Eight Keys' cover, and its simplicity makes it AWESOME. I love the abstract, postmodernist feel of the cover, taking the title at its most literal. The subtle changes in gradations of the blue is insanely smooth and stands out.

Ghost Flower by Michele Jaffe
(Razorbill / April 12, 2012)

I pretty much exclusively like the foreground pattern, and how it weaves among the title and author name. The girlface is pretty stereotypical... but does anyone else think that the foreground design lends perhaps an Eastern feel to this cover? And does anyone else think that they could do more cool things with foreground two-dimensional designs?! (I do!)

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (special edition)
(HarperCollins / Aug. 2, 2011)

Again, I fully admit to occasionally being shallow when it comes to covers. I was rather indifferent towards both the ARC and original hardcover versions of this cover. But this one, with the girl looking straight at you, is like, BAM! -- a factor that neither two previous versions had. There's something deliciously eerie about the blue-green of the plants and font used, too. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it chills me... and I like that just that color does that to me.

Bewitching by Jill Barnett
(Bell Bridge Books e-book / June 6, 2010)

In a completely opposite vein, this cover of Bewitching is so cool, hinting at the magic within the story. I'm a sucker for a well-done silhouette image, and I think this one includes just the right amount of different textures, while maintaining one general theme of silhouettes and yellow-green-blueness.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"How We Met": Initial Meetings Between Us and Our Favorite Books and Authors

Just like every couple has a “how we met” story, I’m sure that nearly everyone has a story for how they first “met” an influential author or book. You can sometimes tell from a review how the reviewer and the book or author “met”, but some of my favorite “encounters” happened so long ago that my reviews for those books don’t encompass the sweet initial meeting. So, just for fun, here are the stories behind how I “met” some of my favorite authors and books!

Melina Marchetta

I sometimes suspect that I don’t have the best taste in book covers. Faces on covers are so overrated, but the model’s piercing green eyes—how I wished I had eyes like hers!—were what drew me to pick up an otherwise unassuming book on display on the public library’s YA shelf, called Saving Francesca. Talk about being the best find of the year. With unassuming YA contemporary prose, Francesca drew me into her ordinary yet extraordinary fictional world (Will Trombal!). This was back in the day where I’d check out the same book multiple times for delightful rereads, and I found myself doing this with Saving Francesca, before the paperback was released and bought my own copy.

Sarah Dessen

In eighth grade Reading & Writing class, we were assigned a book project where we had to make a brochure for a book we felt would make for a good whole-class read. As the example, my teacher held up the brochure she made for a book I had never heard of before: Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen. Initially I was turned off by the cover (an awkward mishmash of collage-like illustrations) and premise (dating abuse?! How can I relate if I’ve never even been kissed??) but, wanting something new to read, I decided to pick it up at the library and give it a try. The premise still unsettled me, and I was very glad when Sarah’s publisher decided to reissue the book with a new cover, but how fortuitous that, in using Dreamland as the example of the assignment she was giving us, my teacher led me to one of the greatest YA authors of our time.

Megan McCafferty

“Listen to this,” my eleventh-grade creative writing teacher announced in class, shaking the computer printout in her hand. “’Harvard student author accused of plagiarism.” It was the infamous event of 2005, in which She Who Will Not Be Named was found to have plagiarized passages from the books Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, by some author named Megan McCafferty. As my teacher read aloud the plagiarized passages alongside the original passages, I thought to myself, “Hah! The original passages are pretty damn funny. Who is this Megan McCafferty person and where can I get me more doses of snarky humor?” and it was off to the library after school for me. Perhaps Jessica Darling and I can say that we became acquainted through dubious connections, but when it’s a relationship this wonderful, who cares how it started, really?


Blog readers, lend me a moment of your time and energy and share with me your favorite “how we met” stories, if you will. Hmm, perhaps I may even turn this into a meme of sorts; who knows?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: Eona by Alison Goodman

Tags: YA, fantasy, love triangle, magic

Eon, Book 2
(Book 1: Eon review)


At the heels of an imperial takeover, Eona has been revealed as a female Dragoneye and flees with her rebel friends for her life. Determined to put Kygo, the rightful heir, back onto the throne, Eona and her friends must do all they can to understand her Dragoneye powers, which so far are nearly impossible for her to control. To help Eona gain control over her powers, the Rebels reluctantly rescue Lord Ido, the Rat Dragoneye who murdered the other Dragoneyes in a selfish quest for ultimate power, who is to help her learn.

However, Eona finds herself torn between her love for Kygo and her undeniable pull towards Ido. She struggles to be true to herself in a world where telling the truth can mean losing her free will. Eona’s eventual decision will not only alter the political landscape of the land, but also the Dragoneyes’ very connection to the mystical and powerful dragons themselves.


I was dying for this sequel. Absolutely dying. Two years of distracting myself by reading other books, waiting for EONA to finally, finally be released. And even though I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Eon, it is still a towering accomplishment in fantasy literature that should satisfy most fans of the first book.

Alison Goodman’s world-building is as astonishing as ever. Whereas Eon largely takes place within the walls of the castle grounds, EONA traverses various landscapes, cultures, and attitudes in a dizzying array of information to keep track of. And it doesn’t entirely succeed. The bulk of the story remains close to Eona, Kygo, Ido, and their various plans for overthrowing the traitor “Emperor” Sethon; supporting characters who come in and out of the story don’t feel grounded within the world, and thus I found it extremely difficult to keep track of the goings-on and their importance.

Perhaps I should’ve reread Eon before starting EONA, because I found that EONA went in an entirely different direction than I had expected. For instance, whereas Eon emphasizes personal growth and court tensions, the majority of EONA felt like it toyed with a disappointingly more conventional YA love triangle between Kygo, Eona, and Ido. Neither of these people are truly likable: turns out that all three are power-hungry and mistrustful in their own ways. I actually appreciate this complexity of character. Here are three very different people, all thrust into an inescapable game of political and magical push-and-pull; it would be next to impossible that they’d come out of their experiences untouched.

So I really enjoyed reading about their flaws, but it made the fact that the love triangle seemed to be such a large part of EONA a little unbearable. I wasn’t particularly a fan of either “leg” of the triangle, and it felt a little like giving in to YA conventions, in my opinion, detracting from the action-packed, conspiracy-oriented feel of Eon.

Nevertheless, EONA is an impressive conclusion to a marvelously complex world that was introduced in Eon, and therefore has to be read by anyone who read and enjoyed the first book. The focus of EONA shifts, but still ends on a note that will likely leave you nodding and smiling.

Similar Authors
Maria Snyder

Cover discussion: Zowweeee! I wish the girl were more Asian, as befits the inspiration for Eona's world, but otherwise the layering of the girl, troops, and dragon is very impressive.

Viking Juvenile / April 19, 2011 / Hardcover / 637pp. / $19.99

Personal copy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In My Mailbox (68)

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 books this week!

I think my bookish fortune has no bounds, because this is the second week in a row that I'm able to participate in IMM, thanks to the astounding generosity of Macmillan Publishing and Rachael of The Book Muncher, who interned there this summer and made Christmas in July ACTUALLY FREAKING POSSIBLE. (Well, sort of. Minus the appearance of a jolly fat white man dressed in red crash-landing into my apartment.)

For review:
Prized (Birthmarked, Book 2) by Caragh O'Brien
Without Tess by Marcella Pixley
The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas
Amplified by Tara Kelly
When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen
Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Yes, so you see, it did snow ARCs in Shanghai this week. I'm out of my mind with excitement at these lovely (physical!) books. Prized, of course, goes without saying, as I have been waiting for this sequel since I gave Birthmarked 5 out of 5 stars (y'know, back when I was doing ratings) last year. Donna Freitas can't disappoint, and as for the others, I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to read them in ARC form!

So once again, a heartfelt thank you to Rachael, Caragh, and others at Macmillan who gave me this lovely gift. Can't wait to start reading these! (Eeeeeee!)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Review: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Tags: YA, magic, gothic, witches


Lexi lives in the village of Near, surrounded on all sides by miles and miles of hilly, mysterious moor. A village legend tells of a witch who was killed by villagers after a child was found dead in her garden. But when the arrival of a stranger in Near coincides with a string of children’s disappearances, the villagers want this stranger’s blood.

However, Lexi gets to know the mysterious stranger with the powers of the wind, whom she names Cole, and is convinced that he is not involved in the children’s disappearances. But in order to prove Cole’s innocence and save his life, Lexi must find proof of who she suspects the culprit is: the ghost of the Near witch, coming back to take her vengeance on the village.


I’m not usually a fan of being scared, but I make an exception for Victoria Schwab’s gorgeous debut novel THE NEAR WITCH. Reading THE NEAR WITCH is like treating to yourself to a five-star restaurant, with an especially decadent dessert to top it all off: the characters and plot may at times be frustrating, but the very experience of reading this story is worth it.

I’m going to continue with the dessert analogy to describe the writing. Victoria Schwab is like an innovative master pastry chef: she takes common ingredients and spins them together with such intricacy and skill as to create formations we had never dreamed of before. I wanted to bookmark every other page in this book, to be able to go back and reread the surprising yet utterly delightful ways in which Victoria Schwab uses language.

In comparison to the writing, sometimes I felt that the characters and plot were a bit lacking. Because THE NEAR WITCH is so tightly set around one village, the atmosphere and relationships feel intentionally claustrophic. The majority of Lexi’s actions involve running back and forth between houses to figure things out. Sometimes it gets tiring, reading of the ever-increasing cycles of suspicion and desperation chapter after chapter. And some of the “bad guys” feel a little one-sided in their “badness.” But THE NEAR WITCH winds tensions up for a truly creepy resolution that will steal your breath away, an ending that was, in my opinion, worth any character or plot frustrations I had along the way.

THE NEAR WITCH proves itself to be one of the stronger debut novels I’ve read in 2011 so far. It’s a delightful treat for those who think they’re tired of magical books about witches and romance. I’m looking forward to seeing what Victoria Schwab has for us next!

Similar Authors
Brenna Yovanoff (The Replacement)
Cath Crowley (A Little Wanting Song)

Cover discussion: Admittedly I am not the biggest fan, although after reading the book I can see how it fits the mood of the story. Still, I imagined a cover that would be a lot...darker.

Hyperion / Aug. 2, 2011 / Hardcover / 288pp. / $16.99

Review copy requested from publisher.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (113)

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. She's stuck at JFK, late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's in seat 18B. Hadley's in 18A.

Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it. [summary from Goodreads]
When was the last time I read a YA contemporary love story that truly blew me away? I... I can't remember. But despite this book's slightly melodramatic premise, and the fact that the last Jennifer Smith book I read was alright but didn't completely impress me, I still have high hopes for this book, especially some of my favorite British bloggers, like Jenny and Carla, have nothing but praise for it. (How did they get to read it so early? I'd like some of that!) This is the sort of thing I always find myself wishing would happen to me when I'm having a day when nothing is going right. Oh, travel woes, how I empathize.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight will be published in hardcover by Poppy on January 2, 2012.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blog Tour Interview: Catherine Fisher!

I have a special guest on my blog today: the incredi-author Catherine Fisher, of Incarceron and Sapphique bestsellerdom, is here to celebrate the re-release of The Margrave, the fourth and final book in her Relic Master series, by answering a few questions! Welcome, Catherine, to Steph Su Reads!

1. Was there anything in the Relic Master series that changed between their original release and their re-release? Is there anything you wish you could change?

There was nothing fundamental that changed between first publication and the re-issue in the US. I had the opportunity to re-read and edit the books lightly, but I feel they represent a phase in my writing that was important to me, so I didn't change very much. If you start playing around with your work you might lose the spontaneity it had at the time of writing. Of course my style has changed a little - it seems sparser to me now - but I really enjoyed revisiting Anara, and reliving Raffi and Galen's adventures with a new readership in mind.

2. Which of your books was the most challenging for you to write?

Each book is challenging in its own way. Some have difficult or complex plots that have to be worked out- such as Oracle, or Incarceron; in others the characters are hard to pin down, or are not what I expect them to be, such as perhaps, Corbenic, or my current project, which is still under wraps! In some books, like Crown of Acorns, the challenge is writing in the first person voice of an 18th-century young man, and also jumping between three stories and trying to give equal weight to all of them. Some books have pacing problems - the action drags, or goes too fast. So none of them are easy. I did find the Relic Master books a challenge, as they are very complex in both ideas and plot. But perhaps Incarceron was the most difficult book I've ever written.

3. While fantasy is not as explosively trendy as paranormal romance or dystopian, it has enjoyed steady readership over the years. Why do you enjoy writing fantasy? Why do you think fantasy has had consistent readership over time?

I don't really categorize what I write as fantasy, or dystopian or anything really. Actually I invented a term /mythic fiction/ a while ago to use when people asked what sort of books I write. It baffles people, at least! I just like to write stories with a strong element of the metaphysical, the strange, the unearthly, and that manifests in various ways - ghosts, sci-fi, elemental beings, gods. I think such stories have a consistent readership because they, like myths, appeal to some very deep need in us; they try to explain the workings of the world, and they give readers the ability in some way to control fate and nature. Which is what we all want.

4. In your Q&A section on your website, you mention that you don't write much in first person because you find it limiting. Can you explain this more? What things about writing in third person do you like?

I do find first person a bit limiting, but only in the sense that one character must see or take part in everything - if that character is not there, the scene can only be reported. It's a challenge and I am using it more often now, mostly in the form of diaries and journals. It also, of course, has huge advantages; the character can really express their depths, you can get into their feelings. But I think a third person narrator can do that too. All things are good. (Except stories told in the present tense, which I don't like.)

5. How much do you feel like your college studies and degree contributed to your current career as an author? What advice would you give college-bound students who are interested in becoming writers?

Things are different now. When I was in college there were no creative writing degrees or any way of getting professionals to look at your work without sending it to publishers. So people have a lot more opportunities for that now. But I still think you can't beat studying the greats of English Literature. If you don't know what is possible, how can you find your own limits? So I suppose my advice would be, study Shakespeare, study great literature of all languages, but don't despair and think I can never do anything like this. You can do something, and you will enhance your own work. Also the truth is it takes time to develop as a writer. As a student you are unlikely to be anywhere near your best work yet.

I hope everyone enjoys the final episode of Relic Master, THE MARGRAVE.
My favourite. And possibly, the best.

Best wishes!


Thank you, Catherine! Be sure to check out the Relic Master series, starting with THE DARK CITY, and visit the Relic Master series website. And here is the fourth piece of the map of Anara! Each book in the series contains a portion of the map:

About the Relic Master series:
Welcome to Anara, a world mysteriously crumbling to devastation, where nothing is what it seems: Ancient relics emit technologically advanced powers, members of the old Order are hunted by the governing Watch yet revered by the people, and the great energy that connects all seems to also be destroying all. The only hope for the world lies in Galen, a man of the old Order and a Keeper of relics, and his sixteen-year-old apprentice, Raffi. They know of a secret relic with great power that has been hidden for centuries. As they search for it, they will be tested beyond their limits. For there are monsters-some human, some not-that also want the relic's power and will stop at nothing to get it.
RELIC MASTER is a four book series. Each book will be released over four consecutive months this summer:
Book One: The Dark City, May 17
Book Two: The Lost Heiress, June 14
Book Three: The Hidden Coronet, July 12
Book Four: The Margrave, August 9

Each book will include a piece of the map of Anara, the world of RELIC MASTER, on the reverse of the jacket. Collect all four books and you will have the complete map.

Visit Catherine's author website. And thank you, Big Honcho Media, for organizing this Q&A!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fuxing Park: A Sight for Nature-Starved Eyes

If you've talked to me in the month since I've moved to China you will probably know that one of the main things I gripe about regarding my life here is the unfortunate lack of vegetation. Born and raised in the Northeast United States, I miss my towering trees, rolling hills, and lawns of green. Therefore, one of my unofficial projects here has become finding and hanging out in the green spaces that Shanghai has to offer. And I started out at probably one of the nicest parks in Shanghai.

Fuxing Park (复兴公园) is a modestly sized park located near Xintiandi (新天地), a former European occupied neighborhood renovated into high-end shopping and clubbing. European influence is abundant throughout Shanghai, and so are high-end shopping areas. However, I walked down streets that looked like this:
A tree-lined avenue! I must've been a sight, strolling down this street with a bounce in my step and a huge grin on my face, the camera planted firmly in my hand.
One of the entrances to Fuxing Park.
Fuxing Park contains a variety of "landscapes," from wide-open grass to avenues guarded by leafy trees with smooth white trunks. I rather ignorantly chose one of the hottest days of the summer so far to visit the park, and thus was very appreciative of the ample shade and seating.

But the reason I ended up enjoying my time at Fuxing so much had little to do with nature: it was, in fact, the people in the park that completed the experience for me.  This is Shanghai, so there are people people people everywhere, and everyone is trying to get to where they need to go as quickly as they can. However, the people at Fuxing were not in a rush. Things seemed to run about three times slower than the city beyond the park's boundaries, and maybe it is the absence of this need to be somewhere else that makes everyone more easy-going, and I more interested in watching them.

Clusters of old men and women sat together on benches or in circles of scooters, gossiping. Young parents patiently played ball in the middle of the street with their toddler children. Men dressed in loose cotton clothing practiced taichi with their eyes closed while listening to a Chinese opera singer's warbling over their boombox. Tourist families ambled slowly by, enjoying the view and not rushing to visit a hundred other places. An artist unhurriedly set up shop on a bench, one by one leaning his portraits on the bench to attract customers. European students sat two by two on the benches and read. And me, sitting there in the middle of all that, wrote everything down with a lightness of spirit that I closely associate with special places.

I didn't stay long because it was so broiling hot, but I'd like to go back one day, maybe with some friends, and throw a frisbee around on the lawn or something before chilling out on the benches. Fuxing Park is definitely my kind of park, and I'm happy to know that there's a Steph-place in the middle of all this concrete. :)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In My Mailbox (67)

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 books this week!

Surprisingly, I DO have books to talk about this week! Thanks to the astounding generosity of a few individuals, and the device built into my brain that hones in on any and all used bookstores within a 15km radius, I managed to acquire some new, fabulous books.

For review:
Relic Master, Book 1: The Dark City by Catherine Fisher
Relic Master, Book 2: The Lost Heiress by Catherine Fisher
Relic Master, Book 3: The Hidden Coronet by Catherine Fisher
Relic Master, Book 4: The Margrave by Catherine Fisher

Picture me jumping up and down and silently screaming in joy when Big Honcho Media was so astoundingly kind as to send me these four books for review. Shipping to China is no easy business, and I really appreciate the lengths to which they went for me. I'm honored; thank you. I can't wait to read this series!

For e-review:
Into the Parallel by Robin Brande

Another act of kindness that bowled me over. Robin, who is one of my favorite authors thanks to the behemoth YA contemporary accomplishment that is Fat Cat, offered me a copy of her latest novel for e-review! I have been excited for this book ever since I found out, over a year ago, that Robin was doing research on string theory for it. Cue the astrophysics geek in me. I don't think this will disappoint. Thank you, Robin!!

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
East by Edith Pattou
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (not pictured)

I found a used bookstore! It's about the size of an average single person's bedroom, maybe smaller, but some patient digging into its double-stacked shelves revealed some gems. As I already have copies of these books back in the States, these will be donated to my company's library once I have finished them (I've already donated The Subtle Knife and plan on somehow acquiring the other two books in the series so I can reread/finish it).

So so so so happy that I was able to participate in IMM this week!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Review: Eon by Alison Goodman

Tags: YA, fantasy


Eon has trained four years for a chance to be picked as the new Rat Dragoneye apprentice, one of eleven whose powerful spiritual connection with the dragons is used to keep the nation prospering. Eon believes he has a chance, despite being a cripple: he has the rare ability to enter the energy world and “see” all the dragons.

However, Eon is actually Eona, a teenage girl. Females are forbidden to be Dragoneyes, and so Eon desperately tries to hide his true gender when he is miraculously chosen to be the next Mirror Dragoneye, when the Mirror Dragon has not been seen for over 500 years. It is a dangerous world that Eon must maneuver in, what with the old emperor seriously ill and political mutiny tainting the air. Does Eon—Eona—have what it takes to survive, or does the secret that Eona hides threaten to destroy everyone’s lives?


If you want a hardcore fantasy set in a deliciously elaborate and complex world, pick up EON: DRAGONEYE REBORN. Goodman’s majestic tale brings to mind the works of fantasy masters like Garth Nix, Robin McKinley, Diane Wynne Jones, and more. Eon’s world is well wrought, engaging, and one hundred percent fascinating.

The world of EON is reminiscent of ancient Asian cultures, and is a careful and studied mixture of the spiritual and the physical. I loved the idea of dragons being a part of the energy world, of Dragoneyes connecting with the dragons to share a mutual power. At the same time, the physical setting is incredible: a place full of beauty and treachery, awe and horror. Alison Goodman weaves for readers a multisensory setting that’s a treat to experience.

The characters are far from lacking either. Eon is a brilliant, three-dimensional protagonist: his internal conflict of adhering to the tradition of male Dragoneyes versus breaking protocol and acknowledging Eona is heartbreaking and enthralling. Readers may be able to guess things that the often-obstinate Eon misses, but all in all Eon is a fascinating character to follow in this highly charged story.

At a little over 500 pages, EON may seem like a daunting read, but every chapter is worth it, even the few that you wish would speed up to Eon’s long-awaited revelations. I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel, Eona: The Last Dragoneye, to come out, so that I can read more about Eon/Eona and his/her adventures in this magnificently complex world.

Similar Authors
Robin McKinley
Garth Nix
Tamora Pierce

Cover discussion: The hardcover's image was what attracted me to this in the first place, so while I was surprised at the change in the paperback's cover, I'm still not disappointed with the epic coloring and silhouetting.

Firebird / Aug. 31, 2010 / Paperback (reprint) / 576pp. / $9.99

Personal copy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (112)

The List by Siobhan Vivian
An intense look at the rules of high school attraction-and the price that's paid for them.

It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn't matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.

This is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, "pretty" and "ugly." And it's also the story of how we see ourselves, and how other people see us, and the tangled connection of the two. [summary from Goodreads]
Siobhan Vivian is pretty damn good at writing, and pretty damn good at writing about important and relevant issues such as feminism and the complexities of the "outside gaze" on females. I'm intrigued to see how she takes on this tantalizing premise (because I fully admit that I am interested in reading about people who "judge" and "rank" others).

The List will be published in hardcover by Scholastic in April 2012.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Open Letter to Politics Etc.

Dear World--or, I guess, more specifically, the US government and other political systems like it--please explain something to me. Explain to me why it is in humanity's best interest to support our most unhealthy habits at the expense of peace, intellectualism, and empathy. Explain to me why professions such as teaching and information services make astronomically less than professions such as professional athletics, corporate law, and I-banking. I fully admit to being ignorant of most things related to economics, capitalism, politics, and finance, but please explain to me why these three professions--one of mentally or physically abusing another human being for the sake of entertainment, one of helping rich people spend large amounts of money fighting one another, and one of playing with fake money--make so much in terms of salary when one in seven American households are not getting enough to eat.

I used to think that, much like what Jefferson said, there are some certain "truths" about being a human being that everyone can agree on, regardless of your upbringing or college major or career. The right to be happy through means that do not cause others pain or unhappiness. Shelter. Food. Good health. Not screwing other people over. Choice. But the more I see of the world, and the more people I interact with it, the more I fear that these basic truths and rights of humanity must, instead, be taught, and learned, and can all too easily be cast aside for other values.

With the recent U.S. debt talk, I'm already cringing in dread at the budget cuts that will be implemented. Want a bet that educational, reading, and library programs will continue to take hits to their budgets? And meanwhile the rich just keep getting richer. Professional athletes are still getting paid eight figures a year. Apple has more money than the US.

Please explain to me how decreasing funding for intellectual endeavors serves to benefit the world in the long term.

Sure, I'm a reader, and thus my opinion is biased. But I honestly do think that the world needs readers. Literacy is not just about opening a book and understanding characters and plots. It's about searching for answers within a vast array of data. It's about making new connections between old material. It's about reading between the lines. It's about critical thinking.

And somehow, despite all the propositions that the government has made, support for intellectualism--and thus support for progress (I know, I know, I go on about this all the time)--continues to fall by the wayside in favor of supporting mindless consumerism and short-term satisfaction. I don't intend for this to be a "back in the good ole days" rant, but in light of the boundless advances we have made in technology and the like, I admit to being quite surprised and disappointed by the simultaneous lack of progress that society and humankind have undergone.

I have long since believed that influence should be based on merit and not merely on ambition. I just don't know how to implement this change in the world. Who knows what the world could have been like--could still could be like--if we artsy, intellectual, bleeding-heart types call the shots?

I feel a little guilty that most artsy, intellectual, bleeding-heart types would so rather not play the stupid political games that occur in the government or corporate world. We're the ones with the good ideas and (necessarily) dramatic suggestions for improvement, but there's a reason, I guess, that politicians and CEOs are at the top of our societal hegemony food chain. However, despite the power of societal influences, maybe if we remember that we, as individuals, are the ones who shaped society in the first place, and if we all rose up and really demanded societal reform with every fiber of our will and resources, then maybe society can change for the betterment of all. Maybe leaders, then, would be chosen by the example they provide and not merely by their title.

So then what can and should we artsy, intellectual, bleeding-heart types do? The self- and socially-appointed bigwigs won't take us seriously. Our resources are being cut by the day. Our souls are being consumed by the corporation demon. One day we'll go to bed and realize that our daily routine has been reduced to working a white- or blue-collar 9-to-5, coming home, eating a silent dinner with the family, and zoning out in front of A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila until our minds have been zapped enough for us to be okay with falling asleep having accomplished exactly the same things that we have done for the past 20 years of our lives. How will we ever escape this downward spiral?

Guess we'll just continue to write earth-shattering, heart-wringing, life-changing books.


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