Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Tags: YA, new adult, contemporary, Marines, war, romance, family, PTSD, grief


Travis Stephenson is back home for a month after a year of active duty as a Marine in Afghanistan. Still suffering in the wake of his best friend’s death, Travis is in no mood to play mind games with his bastard father, needy mother, competitive brother, and manipulative ex-girlfriend. But amongst all the dread of returning home comes the unexpected surprise of falling for Harper, she of the girl-next-door type.


SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL is not a book about the psychological effects of war so much as the PTSD-suffering Marine protagonist is a thinly veiled mask over a fairly basic contemporary YA story about one guy’s emotional growth. It was decent and a quick read, but didn’t end up blowing me away with emotional catharsis, as other pre-release praise seemed to suggest.

I quite liked Travis, the protagonist. It was nice and refreshing to get inside the head of a young man as he dealt with relationship issues, and I commend Trish Doller for her nuanced but still honest portrayal of a male Marine’s mind. Yes, he thinks about girls and sex; yes, he would rather not deal with females’ “emotional vomit;” yes, he likes to talk crap with his Marine buddies. But he’s also a genuinely good guy, being understanding and supportive of the emotionally vulnerable women in his life, and you know he would not hesitate to give his life for his friends. Not all of Travis’ actions and decisions are admirable, but they absolutely make sense, and his good intentions made me care for him and think twice about other college-age guys who act like boneheads.

Unfortunately, I almost felt like SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL was not long enough to contain the emotional and relationship growth that Travis undergoes. In the interest of keeping itself at a manageable length, SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL foregoes, I think, some of the situational and character depth that the scenarios in the story had potential for. Travis’ dad comes across as a one-dimensional bastard, when in real life even the bastards usually have some sort of reason for why they act the way they do. In addition, Travis’ budding relationship with Harper felt rushed: one minute he’s telling us about their shaky past, the next she’s falling for him. It’s not often that I say a book should’ve been longer, but I think it wouldn’t have hurt for SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL to have been 50 or even 100 pages longer, so that the subtler elements of relationship issues could have had the space to breathe.

SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL was, for me, a decent but not mind-blowing read. For a gentle and somewhat predictable YA contemporary, this will be a good enough choice. For a more intimate and thorough look into the mindset of a soldier, however, I’d go elsewhere afterwards.

Cover discussion: I like the text treatment slightly better than I did an earlier version, but I still think the stock photo is moronic and makes it look like every other YA contemporary out there. Is that what we're really supposed to go for, hrm?

Bloomsbury / June 19, 2012 / Hardcover / 225pp. / $16.99

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Hearting Things (2)

Last time I found that doing one of these happy-things-only posts pulled me out of my blogging funk. So here's another, of me sharing things that have made me happy or made me think lately. Because no one likes a thoughtless person. Yay!

Two words: Veronica Mars. All. The. Time. I started watching this show last year but somehow didn't get into it until, uh, a few weeks ago, and since then I have thoroughly finished the first two seasons and am now rewatching. No, I am not obsessed much...

What can I say to persuade you that Veronica Mars is an incredible TV show that deserves to be watched by everyone who likes smart things? It's not purely a detective show, although Veronica Mars does an enviable job of solving those small- and big-time cases that come her way. It's not purely a high school drama, either. It's just a lovely, sassy combination of wit, humor, relationship trouble, and the best damn father-daughter relationship. Ever. I'm not doing it justice with my description, but just watch 3 episodes, I promise you.

You can get gems like these moments:

And this:
Dick: Uh oh, someone’s got her eye on that Miss White Trash title.
Beaver: You know, you got solid effort in the talent competition, but I’d like to see that car up on some cinder blocks.
Logan: Guys, come on.
Veronica: I know. Guys, come on. The talent is making a grilled cheese sandwich on the engine block. Guys, come on. You can’t put your car up on blocks in the yard if you don’t have a yard. You know, I think I can do both sides of this little act now. So how about next time, you don’t bother. I got it covered.
Squee. What are you waiting for?!

(GIFs and quotes from

In Season One of Veronica Mars (I know, I know, I can't stop myself!), this beautiful song appears at a critical moment--but, in the interest of being non-spoilery, I can't tell you. However, that doesn't mean you can't appreciate this song, "Momentary Thing" by the former Irish rock band Something Happens, on its own.

I can't seem to get enough of this song--and the song is designed to induce that precise feeling in listeners. The way the the singer's voice falls off at the end of lines; the way the verses build up to a chorus that, while satisfying, still feels like it is holding its full sound back from you; and the way the song seems to end before you want it to... all contribute to the feeling that you can never get enough. And I appreciate that, and love its genius for it.


Reach a Reader Resources: ARCs Float On
Ever wonder what in the world you should do with all those ARCs you've either finished reading and don't intend to keep or will never get around to reading? This wonderful program will connect you with teachers around the US who are willing to receive ARC donations for their classroom libraries. Check out ARCs Float On for more info and to participate. What a great way to help out and clean your shelves at the same time, eh?

International Book Bloggers Conference
Yes, you read that right. Cool blogger Liyana at LiyanaLand is accepting input on the possibility of putting together an International Book Bloggers Conference for as early as next spring! For those bloggers who live abroad and are never able to make it to BEA, ALA, and all those other incredible-sounding US-based events, this is something you might want to check out. Fill out the Google doc to have input into this possible future event.
Racial Hybridity in Firefly
Are you a Firefly fan? (If you're not, again, what are you waiting for?) Have you ever thought about the implications of Joss Whedon creating a future world where China and the US are the two remaining superpowers whose cultures are seemingly fully integrated? This academic paper by Jenni Fong titled "Stuck in a Blender: Genre and Racial Hybridity in Joss Whedon's Firefly" (yes, all academic paper titles sound as pretentious as that, deal with it) presents an interesting, relevant, and slightly disturbing argument that instead of achieving cultural and racial hybridity, Firefly has only appropriated Asian culture without accepting Asian people, and thus has perpetuates the existing standard of appropriating but not accepting Asians and Asianness in contemporary Hollywood. Most of what the paper talked about was not news to me (nor will it be news to most other Asians), but if you want to expand your Firefly- and media-loving mind a little, I highly recommend you take a look.

That's all for now! And now that I've gotten blogging back in my system, expect some more normal posts from me soon.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Tags: YA, apocalyptic, zombies, suicide


The apocalypse has befallen the world, or at least on the town of Cortege. Zombies have risen, destroyed families, sent survivors scrambling into whatever secure ground they can reach. Sloane Price camps out at the local high school with five other teens, but the zombie invasion is merely an inconvenient detour for her, as she has been planning to end her life soon anyway. Trapped among the tensions and budding connections of a group of six, Sloane is forced to rethink what she believes about the value of life.


Courtney Summers’ trademark sparse yet hard-hitting prose meets the walking dead. Sound like either the next best thing or the stuff that makes you squirm in discomfort? It was a…strange…pairing in my opinion, and I’m still not sure what to think of it, but THIS IS NOT A TEST was a quick and intense that was still hard for me to put down, despite some of my hesitations toward it.

There were many moments while I was reading when I stopped, pressed my palms into my eyes, and thought again how much subjective overkill of content this book contained. Sloane is a suicidal teenage girl with an abusive family history and a missing older sister. Sound like the beginning of a YA contemporary novel to you? It did to me too. Which was why I found the choice to make zombies a huge part of the problem in THIS IS NOT A TEST a rather strange one. The zombie premise made the book read sort of like a giant metaphor for not killing yourself and whatnot, and masked—at least for me—the subtlety of character development that a sophisticated contemporary YA allows.

It’s hard to not get fed up with the characters in THIS IS NOT A TEST. Sloane has a sort of narration that can dip into stream-of-consciousness at times, which combined with The Zombie Situation gave me headaches sometimes. (There are zombies. I just wanted some direct prose sometimes, y’know?) Other characters are even less likable, hung up on past events or sniffling at every single new thing that goes wrong. There were large chunks of the book that felt like characters simply shouting at one another, to no avail.

On the other hand, even if I wanted to grab some characters by the scruffs of their necks and drop-kick them outside to be at the mercy of the zombies, it’s hard for me to say whether or not this would be the natural behaviors of a group of six people stuck together in the middle of an apocalyptic situation. So I, as a reader, was torn between my frustration with some of the characters’ pettiness and the sobering thought that even I would be like those characters in that situation.

THIS IS NOT A TEST is not my favorite YA take on zombies, nor is it my favorite of Summers’ objectively accomplished novels: the strange juxtaposition of the supernatural with a setup that seems more ideal for a contemporary YA story didn’t quite work for me. However, if you’re a big fan of Summers’ writing style, don’t mind reading about zombies, and are interested in the details and behaviors of human beings in apocalyptic situations, THIS IS NOT A TEST will be just the thing for a dark and stormy night’s read.

St. Martin's Griffin / June 19, 2012 / Paperback / 336pp. / $9.99

e-galley received for review from NetGalley and publisher.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (122)

Ironskin by Tina Connolly
Jane Eliot wears an iron mask.

It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain—the ironskin.

When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a "delicate situation"—a child born during the Great War—Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help.

Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her own scars, and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio...and come out as beautiful as the fey.

Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things is true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of her new life—and discover just how far she will go to become whole again. [summary from Goodreads]
What seems to sell this book for many readers is its description as a "steampunk/fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre." Which, y'know, sounds cool and all, but isn't what does it for me. I struggled through Jane Eyre and it's far from my favorite classic. However, there's something about the way the synopsis is written that totally captures all of my attention. Evil fey! An unlikely romance! Something mysteeeeerious going on. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that that cover is so blisteringly breathtaking.

Ironskin will be released in hardcover from Tor Books on October 2, 2012.

Monday, June 4, 2012

SHADOW OF NIGHT Giveaways and News!

On July 10th, Viking Adult, an imprint of Penguin, will be publishing SHADOW OF NIGHT by Deborah Harkness, the sequel to the bestselling A Discovery of Witches of last year.

SHADOW OF NIGHT picks up right where A Discovery of Witches left off. Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont, a witch historian and vampire geneticist respectively, have timewalked to Elizabethan England on their hunt for a magical alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782—its sudden appearance and sudden disappearance have upended the delicately ordered world of magical creatures (witches, vampires, and daemons), threatening to unleash unprecedented metaphysical chaos.

Though Diana and Matthew have escaped the threats of the present, they soon find the past holds its own challenges—Diana must find a witch to continue her magical education, a task made difficult by a rash of witch hunts across the British Isles. And Matthew finds himself back in a life he thought he left behind, reuniting with friends and family that had long been reduced to memory, opening wounds he thought had healed. Some of those friends comprise the infamous School of Night, a coterie of visionaries that includes Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh. Together, Matthew and Diana must navigate the new dangers of an old century—bringing them closer and closer to solving the mystery of Ashmole 782.
About the Author:
Deborah Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California. Her publications include works on the history of science, magic, and alchemy. Her most recent scholarly book is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. She has received fellowships from the Fulbright Association, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Humanities Center, and the American Council of Learned Societies, among others. She is also a noted wine critic and blogger. A Discovery of Witches was her fiction debut. Learn more at Deborah's author website.
A combination of history and magic? Sounds awesome, right? I hope to get around to reading A Discovery of Witches--and then Shadow of Night--sometime this year!

For those who haven’t gotten around to reading A Discovery of Witches: Amazon is offering the e-book as their “Deal of the Day” on June 10th, where readers will be able to buy it for just $2.99 on that day only. Put it on your calendar!

For even more goodness, on Deborah’s Facebook page, Viking is hosting a contest leading up to the book’s publication. Every Friday from June 1st to July 6th, four winners will be selected to receive an advance copy of SHADOW OF NIGHT signed by Deborah and sample bottles of two perfumes specially selected to represent the scents of Matthew and Diana. To enter, click on this link to the contest page!


As if that wasn't enough, I get to give away a set of specially designed Ashmole 782 temporary tattoos, 6 All Souls Trilogy-related buttons, and a finished copy of SHADOW OF NIGHT! Check out the goods below:

Sooo pretty.... alright, Steph, enough goggling. To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below. One winner, open to US mailing addresses only, ends Friday, June 22, 2012. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 1, 2012

Sarah Dessen New Cover Reveal: THIS LULLABY (+ Giveaway!)

I'm honored to be working with Penguin to reveal the NEW cover for my favorite Sarah Dessen book of all time, This Lullaby. Without further ado...

I love the richness of the purple, and that heart-shaped guitar pick. Hubba hubba.

Book Synopsis:
When it comes to relationships, Remy doesn't mess around. After all, she's learned all there is to know from her mother, who's currently working on husband number five. But there's something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy's rules. He certainly doesn't seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can't seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy's starting to understand what those love songs are all about?
My favorite Sarah Dessen book, I'm telling you. Don't miss out! You can purchase THIS LULLABY at your local bookstore or on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound.

Other links you might be interested in:
See the cover reveals for Sarah's other books at the following blogs on the following days:

May 28: That Summer (Mundie Moms) -
May 29: Someone Like You (Penguin Teen Tumblr) -
May 30: Keeping the Moon (Frenetic Reader) -
May 31: Dreamland (Green Bean Teen Queen) -
June 1: This Lullaby (Steph Su) -

June 4: The Truth About Forever (Forever YA) -
June 5: Just Listen (Princess Bookie) -
June 6: Lock & Key (Presenting Lenore) -
June 7: Along for the Ride (The Story Siren) -

Giveaway Info

Thanks to Penguin, I have THREE paperbacks of This Lullaby featuring the new cover to give away to 3 lucky winners! Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only and ends Friday, June 15, 2012. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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