Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Lunar Chronicles, Book 1

Tags: YA, sci-fi, futuristic fantasy, retelling

Summary

In the future city of New Beijing, Cinder works as a talented young mechanic, but her status as a cyborg and ward of her stepmother means that she is trapped. When a mysterious and deadly plague touches her family, Cinder is thrown into the paths of members of the royal palace, including the handsome and caring Prince Kai. There may be something about Cinder that will be the key to finding a cure for the plague, but will Cinder ever be regarded by anyone as more than simply a cyborg?

Review

A futuristic cyborg retelling of Cinderella sounds outrageous, but Marissa Meyer really takes the timeless tale and makes it her own with CINDER, first of a four-book series. Imaginative and action-packed, with likable characters, CINDER will appeal to readers looking for a dose of creative adventure.

Where do I start in gushing about how enjoyable CINDER was? Cinder the protagonist was a lovely protagonist. She is smart, resourceful, and brave. Cinder belongs in that small group of YA heroines who do not possess any extraordinary survival tactics and yet are fighters: she deals with her troubles in a way that many of us can imagine ourselves doing if we are ever in her position.

My next point is contentious, as many great reviewers have considered this part underdeveloped, but I felt that CINDER did a great job of creating a unique future world. No, it’s not quite a dystopian, and it’s not “hard” sci-fi: if it were either of those, the world’s connections to our present-day world would need to be more convincing. However, I was able to enjoy CINDER’s setting of New Beijing as almost a fantasy world, set on a planet with a similar layout to ours, with new technology but similar problems of politics and society. Story and setting complemented each other well: the plot never dragged in order to appease world-building, and the world-building was enough such that the story was supported well.

Overall, CINDER may not win any literary awards in the near future, but it is an utterly enjoyable retelling of a classic in a futuristic fantasy world, with recognizable elements from the old tale but enough new things to keep things fresh. I was surprised at the abruptness of the ending, until I learned that the Lunar Chronicles is a four-part exploration all about Cinder and her adventures, not separate stories each. Oh. Okay. There will be resolutions in the future, then! You can bet I’ll be tuning back in to the next books in this fun series.

Similar Authors
Lia Habel (Dearly, Departed)
Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted)

Cover discussion: I can't help feeling that this cover is a bit... awkward? It's a mechanical foot of sorts trying to masquerade as glamorous. Wuhhhh?

Feiwel & Friends / Jan. 3, 2012 / Hardcover / 400pp. $17.99

Personal copy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Traitor in the Tunnel Blog Tour!

If you haven't read Y. S. Lee's The Agency series yet--well, I don't know what to say to you, except that you are missing out on one of the greatest mystery series set in Victorian England that's available today for YA (you can read my reviews of Book One, A Spy in the House, and Book Two, The Body at the Tower). To celebrate the upcoming release of The Traitor in the Tunnel, the third book in the series, Ying, who has a PhD in Victorian literature and culture, is here to talk to my blog readers about a Victorian obsession. Welcome, Ying, to Steph Su Reads!

Victorian Obsession: Purity (of Food)

Hello! The blog tour makes two stops today, so I wrote a double-header of an essay. The Victorian Obsession of the day is Purity, and I’ll be talking here about Pure Food and over at The Bookmonsters about Pure Women.

What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten? Liver? Slimy, overcooked pasta? Great Aunt Gwendolen’s jello-cabbage salad? I’m here to report that all these things are utterly delicious compared to what poor Victorians ate on a daily basis. In the nineteenth century, milk was frequently diluted with (dirty) water. Bakers mixed wheat flour with cheaper alum powder to bulk out their bread. Meat was often diseased or rancid by the time it reached markets where poor people could afford the prices. Even luxury goods sold on the open market were “adulterated” (the Victorian term). Tea leaves were often mixed with bits of other leaves and twigs, and recycled several times. Candies were brightly coloured with poisonous, lead-based dyes. Is it any wonder that people were suspicious of what they ate?

Makers and sellers of these foods got away with food adulteration, in part because there were very few regulations about what food was: when it was fit to sell, what a recipe – bread, for example - could include, and what additives – like food colouring – were legal. Instead, it was the buyer’s responsibility to recognize what she was getting and not let herself be cheated.

That’s why the purity of food was such a hot topic in the nineteenth century. People now debate the politics of local vs. organic food. But can you imagine the anxiety of trying to figure out whether the jug of milk you just bought is a) fresh, b) from a healthy (undiseased) cow, and c) actually milk?

It’s easy to shudder. But although we now have laws governing food production, there are still tainted-food tragedies. We’re mostly disconnected from where our food grows and how it gets to our plates. And the least nutritious food is still bought by our poorest citizens. Maybe we’re closer to the Victorians than we think.

P. S. The most appalling thing I’ve ever eaten was a banana-flavoured jelly candy. (I like bananas, but can’t stand banana-flavoured things.) What’s the most repulsive thing you’ve ever eaten?



The most appalling thing I've ever eaten was probably durian. Which I know some people love, but I simply could not force myself to eat very much of the vomit-flavored, custard-textured fruit. Victorian food purity sounds similar to some of what is going on here in China versus food quality control (i.e. it is practically nonexistent). Which is why you get things such as rubber eggs, transparent strawberries, flies vacuum-sealed in with dried meat, and condoms in yogurt. Yum!

The Traitor in the Tunnel is out in hardcover from Candlewick Press today!

Book summary (no spoilers!):
Get steeped in suspense, romance, and high Victorian intrigue as Mary goes undercover at Buckingham Palace - and learns a startling secret at the Tower of London.

Queen Victoria has a little problem: there's a petty thief at work in Buckingham Palace. Charged with discretion, the Agency puts quickwitted Mary Quinn on the case, where she must pose as a domestic while fending off the attentions of a feckless Prince of Wales. But when the prince witnesses the murder of one of his friends in an opium den, the potential for scandal looms large. And Mary faces an even more unsettling possibility: the accused killer, a Chinese sailor imprisoned in the Tower of London, shares a name with her long-lost father.

Meanwhile, engineer James Easton, Mary's onetime paramour, is at work shoring up the sewers beneath the palace, where an unexpected tunnel seems to be very much in use. Can Mary and James trust each other (and put their simmering feelings aside) long enough to solve the mystery and protect the Royal Family? Hoist on your waders for Mary's most personal case yet, where the stakes couldn't be higher - and she has everything to lose. [summary from Goodreads]
About the author:
Y. S. Lee was born in Singapore but brought up in Canada. She also lived briefly in the United Kingdom. An academic with a PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she wrote MASCULINITY AND THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS IN VICTORIAN AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND FICTION. She lives in Ontario, Canada. Visit her at her author's website www.yslee.com.
The Traitor in the Tunnel blog tour schedule:

Monday, Feb 27 -- Phrenology @ I Swim for Oceans
Tuesday, Feb 28 -- Purity (2 parts) @ Steph Su Reads and The Bookmonsters
Wednesday, Feb 29 -- Death @ The Story Siren
Thursday, Mar 1 -- Technology @ The Booksmugglers
Friday, Mar 2 -- Opium @ Reading in Color

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Malaysia Bound!

I will be here for the week:
allbestwallpapers.com
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! My company will be there for our annual retreat. Am I excited? You bet. I have a handful of posts scheduled for the week. Otherwise, see you in 6 days!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Rivals and The Mockingbirds Winners!

The three winners of a set containing the paperback of The Mockingbirds and a hardcover copy of The Rivals, both by Daisy Whitney, are:

Bianca!
Kayleigh!
Heather!

Congratulations! Winners have been emailed. Hope you enjoy the books!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier

Sevenwaters, Book 2 (Book 1 review)

Tags: fantasy, Ireland, romance, pregnancy

Summary

Liadan of Sevenwaters, youngest daughter of Sorcha and Hugh (formerly of Harrowfield), twin to Sean, and little sister to Niamh, would be happy to spend her whole life in the lovely lands of Sevenwaters, helping out with the household. However, when a series of increasingly confounding events occur, and people began whispering furtively about the reawakening of a curse, or the fulfillment of an old prophecy, and Liadan is kidnapped by a band of skilled but not-quite-merciless mercenaries, she begins to realize that her destiny may lie beyond the simple household workings of Sevenwaters after all.

Review

I had heard that, while the first book in the Sevenwaters series, Daughter of the Forest, was pretty good, the second book, SON OF THE SHADOWS, would blow me away. I admit to a bit of good-natured skepticism when I was told this. Okay, yes, Daughter of the Forest was good, but it’s still the same author writing the second book, which is set in the same world, and has similar characters with similar problems, right? But no, somehow, miraculously, in an act that seems to defy the unstated law of sequels (“Thou shalt never be good as the first book”), SON OF THE SHADOWS is an astounding original work of fantasy that sweeps the literary awards in the categories of characters, plot, pacing, and readers’ emotional investment.

Daughter of the Forest was constrained by it being a retelling, albeit a lush and engaging retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, melancholy and terrifying and inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time. However, Marillier hits her writing prowess out of the ballpark when she strays away from the retelling and makes the world she created fully her own. SON OF THE SHADOWS has everything a die-hard fantasy fan will want from a fantasy: a strong protagonist, an epic romance, complex political dynamics, nasty villains. Daughter of the Forest focuses more on Sorcha and her difficult journey to break the curse set on her brothers, whereas in SON OF THE SHADOWS, Marillier takes her time in exploring and expanding the world in and around Sevenwaters. In this book, we can feel the motions of the operations of an estate: its fluid routine under strong leadership, and its heart-wrenching struggles when the leadership is being bombarded by political manipulations and betrayals.

I love that the delicate nature of political relationships is explored so thoroughly in this book. Liadan, Sean, and Niamh being children related to the “lord of the manor,” it is inevitable that their destinies would involve how Sevenwaters’ relations with its neighbors and strategic allies must evolve. The lovely thing about this being the second book in the series is that we can already sympathize with Liadan’s parents, Sorcha and “Red,” from reading about them in the first book; thus, they never end up assuming the “antagonist parent” role. So much of this book revolves around the Sevenwaters’ inhabitants’ political relationships with others: Liadan and neighboring lord Eamonn, Niamh and her unhappy strategic marriage to an ally, and so on. I found it utterly engrossing how Marillier deftly weaves these complex strings of human desires and ambitions so that no one is entirely good, no one entirely bad.

But I haven’t even gotten to what may arguably be the best part of the book yet! Liadan’s and Bran’s romance is…epic. There is no other word for it. It sweeps you off your feet in a violent whoosh and keeps you dizzily, giddily swinging through the air, all the while knowing that you are safe, because the person holding onto you is one whom you can trust with your life. That was what it felt like for me when I was reading about their romance. Liadan and Bran: such seemingly incompatible people at first, and yet they share the same values, both have the same good intentions and dreams that they must fight and fight and fight in order to achieve. So they—and I, as the reader—are swept away with the unexpectedness of their connection to one another; and then the incredible trials they must go through in order to have even the barest hope of being happy together is the dizzy, giddy part, pulling the reader along in great breathless gasps, desperate that things might work out for the characters. Finally, no matter how dizzy and breathless and gut-wrenched you may feel along the way, you know that you are safe, because Liadan and Bran are both such fundamentally good, strong, and loving people—even if their life situations do not allow for them to show it—that you can believe that they are, without a doubt, absolutely right for one another, against all the odds.

Whew! I think I’m gonna stop there with the review. The more I write, the more I realize I don’t think I have the words to express how phenomenal my reading experience of SON OF THE SHADOWS was. Just…just read the series. Read this book.

Tor Fantasy / June 17, 2002 / Mass Market Paperback (reprint) / 608pp. / $7.99

Personal copy OH MY WORD.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Keeping Life Simple"

Last month, I went home for a brief vacation. I caught up with old friends, ran errands, refilled prescriptions, visited the dentist--and, as always when I am able to come home, I sorted through my books and got rid of a bunch.

I go through my belongings and purge on a fairly regular basis. At least once a year, I take out all the clothes I own and fill several department store bags' worth of clothes to give away. When I was still in school, I used to go through all my previous class notes annually, throwing away a little more each year until, now, all of my schoolwork from middle school fits comfortably in a 2-inch binder.

I may have once briefly considered keeping all books that passed through my hands ever: ARCs of books for which I own a finished copy, books that were pleasant enough during reading for me to want to hang on to them a little longer, and so on. But ever since I discovered the used bookstores near my house, started blogging, and ballooned my TBR pile from the single digits to the triple digits, I have been getting rid of as many books as I seem to acquire during my time away.

When I was home, I sorted through all the books that had arrived for me in the 8 months I had been gone, and the result looked like this:
It's impressive, but not that intimidating. Because most of that pile didn't stay in my house: I donated and swapped a lot of them away. Such is me.

Anyway, I was walking downstairs with armfuls of packages that I was going to take to the post office, when my mom passed me and stared at my cargo.

"You have soooo many books," my mom said. "I always see you carrying books around." It's true. I'm in a state of perpetual book-sorting. There may be a lot of stuff in my room, but I'm always moving stuff out of my room, out of the house. No one in my immediate family sort their belongings on as regular a basis as I do.

"Don't worry. These are going to the post office," I said in my usual half-bemused, half-defensive way. For, no matter how thoroughly I've admitted to myself that I am a complete and utter bookworm, seeing the astonishment--and, sometimes, judgment--in others' eyes still makes me raise my armor.

"Oh, great!" my mom replied. "You're keeping your life simple. That's really good."

It's sort of funny, her using that phrase--"keeping your life simple"--to describe what I do. It's not the way I would describe myself. But, the more I think about it, the more I can see that being me, of a sorts. At least materialistically. I think it's because I usually have so much going on in my head that, out of conservation of mental energy, I need to keep my physical and informational surroundings as organized and manageable as possible.

Over the course of this past week, whenever I found myself at the computer, wondering what I should do, I have been going through my Google Reader and cleaning out my feed subscriptions. I cleaned out over two-thirds worth of feed material. Over half of the blogs I had been subscribed had not been updated in over a year. That's ridiculous! I can't believe I left them in my Reader for so long. I cleaned out feeds that I generally skip over on the now-rare times I look through my Reader. I want a Reader where I'll read every post that comes up, you know? Quality. Information. Entertainment. Inspiration. All not tied down by half-mumbled promises of checking out each other's blogs we made in rushed moments at packed book events. I find temporary moments of tranquility when I get rid of clutter in my life. I rarely miss the things when they're gone.

How do you organize the "information" in your life?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Small Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker

Tags: YA, contemporary, religion

Summary

Good-girl Lacey Anne Byer is the darling of her town’s steadfastly evangelical church. Lacey can’t wait to star in a leading role in Hell House, an annual event her church puts on in order to illustrate dangerous sins and encourage visitors to devote themselves to Christ. However, as unexpected events take place—members of the church are discovered to have performed the very sins they condemn—Lacey is forced to reexamine her faith and her beliefs, in order to carve out the best future for herself.

Review

YA contemporary fiction just gets more and more stunning in their nuanced, relatable, and thought-provoking treatments of difficult subjects. Melissa Walker’s latest novel, SMALL TOWN SINNERS, is arguably the best examination of religious evangelism that I have read in YA fiction. Its sympathetic cast of characters and the careful way it treads the middle ground between black and white make it a superb literary accomplishment.

Religion is, as ever, a sensitive topic, one that is often difficult to talk about due to its highly personal and subjective manner. Which is why what Melissa Walker does in SMALL TOWN SINNERS is so impressive. Virtually all of the characters in this novel support rather unpopular and subjectively archaic positions on today’s controversial hot topics like abortion and gay marriage. However, rather than simply demonizing religious evangelists, Walker deftly makes all of her characters likeable, or at the very least sympathetic. It’s easy to hate issues and take solid stances on them when they are distant. However, when the issues hit home—when they become personal—is what SMALL TOWN SINNERS does so well. Walker shows that things such as faith and beliefs are individual and personal. This is a lesson that everyone could care to learn and promote.

The theme of SMALL TOWN SINNERS is a wonderful one, which makes up for the fact that sometimes, I felt like the characters were a little…mild. Lacey is a great protagonist in that she really captures the ambiguity of questioning her church-based faith, but there are times when I wanted her to be more than simply a mind-churning, tears-swallowing, does-he-like-me-or-not girlie-girl. Lacey’s best friend Starla Joy is said to be this more gregarious and outspoken girl, but she doesn’t very often display that. Ty, the supposed love interest, is, in my opinion, blown a bit out of proportion in the book’s synopsis. In SMALL TOWN SINNERS, romance definitely takes a backseat to the more compelling plotline of characters questioning their former beliefs. In fact, one may even think that the romance is a little lacking, a little too contrived.

But these minor qualms of mine regarding the characters don’t really matter in light of the book’s larger message. I love that the characters of SMALL TOWN SINNERS change over the course of the story—but in a way that stays true to who they are, and the way they were brought up. Needless to say, this is probably one of the most skilled and nuanced portrayals of extreme religion I’ve read in YA literature. All sorts of readers, I think, find this book compelling and eye-opening.

Similar Authors
Donna Freitas
Tara Kelly

Cover discussion: I'm not sure it really captures the wonderful "gray-ness" and darkness of this novel, but it's eye-catching and hopefully will inspire readers who might not usually read about religion to pick it up.

Bloomsbury USA / July 19, 2011 / Hardcover / 288pp. / $16.99

ARC sent by publisher. Thank you!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: Amplified by Tara Kelly

Tags: YA, contemporary, music

Summary

Deferring college to pursue her music dreams, Jasmine finds herself on the streets with nowhere to live, her father having kicked her out. Moving into a lovely house by the ocean with three guys and joining their band, C-Side, Jasmine gets her chance to shine musically. But with all the doubters in her life—her father, and some of her bandmates—will Jasmine be able to rise above it all and show them she’s got what it takes to make it?

Review

Thank you, Tara Kelly, for reminding me of what a well-written contemporary YA with a flawed but still strong female protagonist can do for me and a relaxing reading night. AMPLIFIED was my unexpected but wholly gratifying pick for the type of evening I was worried I had lost forever: several hours of relaxing into Jasmine’s ultra-cool, exciting, and satisfying musical world.

I wish this book could have somehow come with a soundtrack: Tara Kelly’s descriptions of Jasmine’s mindset as she plays guitar is the kind that you want to experience, to live, yourself. To feel the thrill of being utterly absorbed in the act of artistic creation—reading AMPLIFIED made me all the more determined to practice guitar more or get back into writing!

There was something satisfyingly right about the tone of Jasmine’s narration. It could’ve been easy for her to go over-the-top dramatic with her reactions to everything going on in her life, but I loved that the writing was so smartly controlled. This means that we are allowed to sympathize with both Jasmine and her father as they battle it out epically over letting her scrabble uncertainly on her own or following his well-intentioned path to success. It means that we can connect with every member of the band: Veta with her admirable “badassness” yet kind heart; the utterly adorable Felix (no elaboration necessary, you really just have to read the book for this); Bryn’s well-intentioned anal-retentiveness; and Sean’s snide remarks masking a creative and sexy soul.

Indeed, all of the characters, from major to minor, were well drawn, believable, and easy to empathize with. Some—like Sean and Veta’s younger sister, Zoe, with her thousand-page fantasy epics and cute-to-die-for crush that she so determinedly denies—are easier to like than others—Sean’s vengeful ex—but when it comes down to it, there are no stereotypes in AMPLIFIED, which made for an thoroughly absorbing read.

Contemporary YA authors may have a more difficult time finding an audience fueled on hype and flashy premises, but in the long run, they, in my opinion, often gain the more devoted fans. And as Tara Kelly’s sophomore novel was no less well-written and music-filled than her first, Harmonic Feedback, you can bet that I will be hovering through the Internet, waiting for news of her future books.

Similar Authors
Sarah Dessen
Yvonne Prinz

Cover discussion: Blergh. Did you read the book? Jasmine is a jeans kind of girl. She'd never agree to wearing fishnets. Typecasting, man, typecasting!

Henry Holt & Co. / Oct. 25, 2011 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $16.99

ARC received from publisher.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen

Tags: YA, historical fiction, retelling, Robin Hood

Summary

Most people think “he” is Will—but Will Scarlet, an infamous member of Robin Hood’s band, is in fact a fiercely independent young woman running from her past. When the Sheriff of Nottingham hires the fearsome Guy of Gisbourne to catch Rob’s band of thieves, Scarlet is forced to confront her past, as well as her long-ignored feelings, if she wants to save her friends and loved ones.

Review

Not having grown up on Robin Hood tales of adventures and his Merry Men (I seemed to be more of the Brothers Grimm type), SCARLET was really one of my first introductions to this Robin Hood. And SCARLET is indeed a delightful book, featuring unusual “dialect” prose, sympathetic characters, and plenty of action and romance.

The star of SCARLET is undoubtedly the book’s eponymous heroine. SCARLET may be set in the early Middle Ages, but Scarlet is definitely a 21st-century kind of heroine: spunky, stubborn, and loyal to perhaps a fault. There were times in the beginning when her forcible resistance to accepting help was irritating to me, but as the story unfolded, it was easy to see why Scarlet always holds herself at a distance and is stubbornly determined to be completely independent of others. SCARLET also offers plenty of action—sometimes of the bloody type. The constant “movement” of characters allows us to see and get to know their different personalities.

The one thing that perhaps bothered me about SCARLET was, I felt, the book’s eventual descent into the love triangle that is all-too-often characteristic of any type of YA novel nowadays. I wanted the book to focus mostly on Scarlet and her friends’ increasingly dangerous troubles, in the way of my favorite fantasy novels; however, it felt too me like a good part of the last two-thirds of the book revolved around Scarlet’s dealings with two men who may or may not be interested in her: Little John and Rob. It’s not too much of a surprise who Scarlet ends up with, but I couldn’t help but feel that the other “side” of the triangle was rather unnecessary, and even uncharacteristic to Scarlet. Ah, another book sacrificed to the altar of YA love triangles.

Overall, however, SCARLET was an enjoyable and action-packed read that will appeal to a wide age range of readers. It definitely inspired me to read more about the Robin Hood myth afterwards, and it’s a refreshing new take on the legend for avid Robin Hood or historical fiction devotees.

Similar Authors
L. A. Meyer

Cover discussion: Badass and beautiful in that ambiguous kind of way--beautiful or not? Male or female? Will...or Scarlet?

Walker Childrens / Feb. 14, 2012 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $17.99

Review copy received from NetGalley and publisher. Thank you!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (119)

It's been a while (3 months!) since I've done a WoW, so here are a few titles that have caught my attention lately, and that I eagerly anticipate. Although they may not be news to you, because my in-the-know-ness about book publishing has seriously declined this past year. All book summaries from Goodreads.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, Book 1) by R. L. LaFevers
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
I'm pretty sure people have been talking about this book for a while already but it only recently popped up on my radar. I'm beginning to realize that I have a "thing" for literary assassins and spies: they're so  more clever than I'll ever be, and I love reading about characters smarter than me and pretend that I can be as resourceful as them if I'm ever in their situation. This book sounds like it has the makings of an epic tale, both in length, world-building, writing, plot, characters, scope... et cetera. Read an excerpt of the book here and tell me if you're not hooked by the concept and writing style as well.

Grave Mercy will be published in hardcover from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 3, 2012.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield
On the night of Becca’s high school graduation, the discovery of an unidentified dead girl left to bleed out on the side of a dirt road sends the town—and Becca—into a tailspin. Becca has always longed to break free from her small home town, but as the violence of the outside world creeps into her backyard, she withdraws and retreats inward, paralyzed for the first time in her life.

Short chapters detailing the last days of Amelia Anne Richardson’s life are intercut with Becca’s own coming-of-age summer, unfolding into the parallel stories of two young women struggling with self-identity and tense romantic relationships as the summer’s tumultuous events twist Becca closer and closer to the truth about Amelia’s murder.
Gabrielle Carolina of The Mod Podge Bookshelf has been relentlessly hounding me to put this book on my radar, saying that it's one of the best books she's read in 2012 so far, and that apparently that sentiment is reflected by its editor, THE Julie Strauss-Gabel (whose name should come with royal literary titles or something), who said something along the lines of how this was the best debut she's ever read. If that isn't enough to make you sell your kidney for a galley of this, then I don't know what else you need.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone will be published in hardcover from Dutton Juvenile on July 5, 2012.

Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier
Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill--a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk--Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec.

During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death--but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban's release from Keldec's rule. Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.
I have jumped on the lifelong Marillier fan train (evidence here)--a little belatedly, perhaps, but no less ferociously. How many authors do you have whose books you'll read no matter what the synopsis is about? Kristin Cashore. John Green. Megan McCafferty. Melina Marchetta. Ilona Andrews. And yes, Juliet Marillier. Frankly, any of the aforementioned authors could write about whatever the heck they want--the life cycles of stinkbugs, the composition of bricks, vampires--and I'd read it.

Shadowfell will be published in hardcover from Knopf in Fall 2012.

Above World by Jenn Reese
A suspenseful sci-fi escapade plucks two children out of the ocean for a thrilling adventure.

Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colony's survival is at risk. The Kampii's breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people. But can Aluna's fierce determination and fighting skills and Hoku's tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adapt - growing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountains - here is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.
I shamelessly follow whatever books that delightful MG fantasy author Stephanie Burgis recommends, and so when I saw her Goodreads review about this book, and then she later tweeted me about it (more than once, if I recall correctly), and then I saw that it's a Candlewick book, which has hardly ever failed me in terms of book quality, well, I slapped this baby on my TBR list like whoa.

Above World will be published in hardcover from Candlewick Press on February 14, 2012--oh awesome, that was yesterday! That means all you people in the US are lucky enough to be able to stroll into a bookstore and pick this up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Privacy and Blogging

Around the Jing'an Temple on a winter's night.
In the last few weeks I have been reading a lot of non-book blogs. You might say that they'd be classified under "sex and relationships" and "culture/race." (If you're interested in checking out the blogs I have been poring through, they are here, here, and here.) Many of these blogs have several years' worth of backlog posts for me to blissfully spend hours reading through. I seem to enjoy reading blogs like I read books: one complete story at a time, not really getting into the ones that are serial or ongoing. It's interesting that this behavior of mine applies to TV shows as well. The only TV show I keep up with religiously is Castle; the rest, I tend to buy in box sets and watch over a series of weeks.

Reading these non-book blogs has made me think about what I want out of this blog. For the majority of its first three years (yes, my blog is three years old now. Kind of astonishing to think about, really), Steph Su Reads has been inarguably a book blog. I post book reviews, book-related news pieces, my reflections on book-related topics. It's been an incredible experience, but since graduating college and moving to Shanghai, I can't help but sometimes feel as if I want to do more with my blogging. If I grew tenfold as a person from entering college, I am growing even further in post-grad life. There are things I see, things I think about, things that I have changed that my fingertips sometimes tingle to write about.

And yet, at the same time that I feel like I have more to say, I have withdrawn from blogging. In the past few months, I have posted reviews and Cover Lust posts. Not much more. I used to feel the fire of wanting to write about hot topics in the book world burning through me. Not so much now. While I want to expand my writing here on my blog, part of me is also fiercely afraid of doing so.

I have always drawn a very thick and uncrossable line between my private, "real world" life and my online blogging presence. I don't do vlogs. I rarely post pictures of myself. I find it hard to take my online friendships with other book lovers into the rest of my life. I've cut back on the number of author and blogger friend requests I accept on my personal Facebook account. (No offense meant to you if I don't accept your friend request! You're better off finding me here on Facebook.) Whenever someone in my "real world" life mentions that they have read my blog, I sputter out a nervous laugh and blush fiercely.

The blogs I have been reading lately plunge deep into their writers' lives and discuss all of their joys and worries, good and bad points. I like reading them because it feels like I'm reading a first-person novel. Part of me wants to have that sort of candidness and authenticity in talking about myself and my insecurities, but the only outlet through which I have been perfectly honest is in my dozens of handwritten journals, and those will be private until the day I die. I admire the honesty and authenticity of today's memoirs and blogs (well, so much as any form of written and edited communication can be considered honest and authentic, but that's a discussion I'll save for my Victorian Literature & Culture seminar classmates), but I struggle in revealing that much of myself for others to read about and judge.

The great part about the blogging and memoir culture is that readers find community and connection through personal accounts. Part of me longs to join that community, but a stronger part of me sadly withdraws even more.

I think that as book bloggers, most of us already keep a large part of our lives off our blogs. Oftentimes there feels like an invisible circle of acceptable topics that we book bloggers can blog about, and if we blog outside of those topics, we lose followers. (I admit, I have been guilty of unfollowing people on account of how they became non-book bloggers. It's funny, because now I am thinking about scaling back on the number of book blogs I follow, so that I can expand my blog-reading repertoire without being overwhelmed.) So I'm curious: How much do you, as a book blogger, feel like you must only post about book-related topics? What outlets do you have for when you want to write about non-book topics? How do you think you'd gauge your level of interest for any non-bookish posts I may write in the future? How do you maintain the balance between your online persona and your real-life person?


Happy Valentine's Day. :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins

Tags: contemporary romance

Summary

Posey Osterhagen has a comfortable life with a thriving salvage company, occasionally helping out at her family’s local German restaurant…but the return of Liam Murphy sends her back to her teenaged self. The classic bad boy, Liam took their small New Hampshire town by storm, and Posey was obsessed with him—until he unknowingly broke her heart. Posey has tried to move on since then, but Liam’s reappearance—still working with motorcycles but now a widower with a teenaged daughter—awakens old feelings and makes her wonder if she ever really got over him after all.

Review

Think you’ve read all there is to be written about bad boys? Like all of Kristan Higgins’ contemporary romance novels, UNTIL THERE WAS YOU takes a potentially clichéd idea and spins it into an absolutely adorable, quirky, and swoon-worthy love story.

I’m not sure if Higgins has written other books in third-person before, and at first the change from the beloved first-person POV was jarring for me, but I quickly appreciated the best part about third-person in this story: that we get to go inside Liam’s head and see what he’s thinking, understand how his past influenced his present in a way that we wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. This, I think, puts Liam a cut above other bad-boy love interests: he becomes less of an enigmatic, unapproachable, mythical bad-boy figure and more of a multidimensional man. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an overprotective father to his enviable teenaged daughter—there’s nothing like paternal characteristics that ups the desirable factor for a love interest in a romance novel, eh?

Posey is a pretty typical Higgins protagonist, with a quirky family, fairly independent means, and a cringe-inducing weakness around men. But it’s Liam, and the development of his character, that really carry UNTIL THERE WAS YOU for me. If you’re a Higgins fan, then UNTIL THERE WAS YOU will not disappoint. If you haven’t read any of Higgins contemporary romances yet, what are you waiting for?!

Cover discussion: Lalala... ooh, a short-haired girl!

HQN Books / Oct. 25, 2011 / Mass Market Paperback / 416pp. / $7.99

e-review copy provided by NetGalley and publisher.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Video Interview with Daisy Whitney + GIVEAWAY!

Hi blog readers! Daisy Whitney is back again on Steph Su Reads, this time promoting her latest novel, The Rivals, the sequel to The Mockingbirds. Thanks to Little, Brown, I was able to send Daisy a few interview questions, which she kindly answered in the exclusive video below. Enjoy!

video

The Rivals summary:
When Alex Patrick was assaulted by another student last year, her elite boarding school wouldn't do anything about it. This year Alex is head of the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students who police and protect the student body. While she desperately wants to live up to the legacy that's been given to her, she's now dealing with a case unlike any the Mockingbirds have seen before.

It isn't rape. It isn't bullying. It isn't hate speech. A far-reaching prescription drug ring has sprung up, and students are using the drugs to cheat. But how do you try a case with no obvious victim? Especially when the facts don't add up, and each new clue drives a wedge between Alex and the people she loves most: her friends, her boyfriend, and her fellow Mockingbirds.

As Alex unravels the layers of deceit within the school, the administration, and even the student body the Mockingbirds protect, her struggle to navigate the murky waters of vigilante justice may reveal more about herself than she ever expected.
The Rivals is now out in hardcover from Little, Brown!

The previous stops on this blog tour were at Books Complete Me and Eve's Fan Garden.

Also, thanks to Little, Brown's generosity, THREE winners can get a set of a paperback of The Mockingbirds and a hardcover of The Rivals! To enter, please fill out the form below. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only and will end Wednesday, February 22, 2012. Good luck!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Tags: YA, contemporary, Australian lit, art, graffiti, he-said/she-said, romance

Summary

Lucy is a girl on a mission: her friends corral her into finding romance the night after their Year Twelve graduation, and in a sense, she’s doing that. For Lucy is determined to find the elusive graffiti artist known as Shadow, whose paintings all over town make her feel like this is the guy for her.

Unfortunately, looking for Shadow means hanging out with Ed, the high-school dropout with whom Lucy shares a not-so-great history. Tagging along with Ed may be what Lucy has to endure in order to find Shadow, but Ed has a secret that just might make—or break—their night together…

Review

Australian authoress Cath Crowley burst into my life last year with her US debut, A Little Wanting Song, which was beautiful and sad and gratifying and made my heart ache in ways that, in some ways, felt like a reaffirmation of how much words could make me feel. She’s done it again with her second book to be published in the US, GRAFFITI MOON, becoming another example of why more Americans should take note of the astounding YA that Australia has to offer.

GRAFFITI MOON is a Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist without the hipster music references and excessive foul-mouthiness. For me this is a really good thing, as I can enjoy the cuteness of a he-said/she-said story in which we readers know more than the characters about what’s going on, without crashing into the f-word every other sentence. (Gosh, Nick, for serious, to what effect is your display of your highly creative vocabulary?) Lucy and Ed had my heart from the start: I love a good story where boy and girl hate one another even though there’s some obvious attraction going on.

It would be pointless to write a review on any of Cath Crowley’s books without mentioning her way with language. The woman obviously has poetry flowing through her veins, bred into her genes. Reading GRAFFITI MOON is an experience for your poetic taste. Some authors can draw scenes that paint themselves vividly in your mind; Cath Crowley does that, and she crafts phrases that just make you sigh, so extraordinary do they look on the paper, feel in your mouth. She can write descriptions like “The heat rising from the takeaway place nearby makes the air look like satin” and make you wonder why anyone ever bothered to describe that visual phenomenon in any other way.

GRAFFITI MOON is a study in words, not quite characters or plot. Supporting characters are marvelously quirky or ridiculous, and brighten up any scene. You don’t quite read Lucy and Ed’s alternating POVs to better understand their persons, for, as is expected, their voices sound fairly similar. At times the plot can feel a little draggy, because Lucy and Ed do quite a fair share of talking. And the one “bad guy” in the story feels pretty flat, that side plot appearing and dissipating somewhat clunkily.

Nevertheless, reading GRAFFITI MOON was a delightful experience, as, I hope, rereading it will be, too, one day in the future. For I have no doubt that I will come back to this story, to savor again and again the skill that Cath Crowley can wield in writing.

Cover discussion: Mmm, there's a reason why I featured this in a Cover Lust post. It's a super-cool combination of artsy and quirky, youthful and whimsical.

Knopf / Feb. 14, 2012 / Hardcover / 272pp. / $16.99


(The best gift to give your bookish loved one for Valentine's Day!)

Physical copy gifted by the incredibly generous Trish; e-galley provided by Random House and NetGalley. Thank you all for contributing to my Cath Crowley fangirldom!

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