Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Tags: YA, fantasy

Summary

Once a year on the island of Thisby, tourists from all over the world come to watch the Scorpio Races, where locals participate in a race on capaill uisce, mysterious and dangerous horses from the sea that will hardly hesitate to attack and kill human beings. The reigning champion, 19-year-old Sean Kendrick, has been racing for years, but this year there’s more on the line for him: his freedom, and access to his beloved capaill uisce. On the other hand, Puck Connelly is about to be both the first female participant in the race, and the first to race on a regular horse, for the sake of her family and house. Lots are on the line, but as everyone knows, Thisby and the Scorpio Races don’t make things come easily.

Review

This book is everything that people have said it is and more. There is not a single part of this book that’s weak; everything is crushingly beautiful and rarely matched.

Maggie Stiefvater was never a shabby writer, but in THE SCORPIO RACES, her way with language combined with a lingering emotional resonance that I hadn’t quite fully experienced in her books until now. THE SCORPIO RACES is deliberately set neither here nor there, now nor then, with the result that it carries a timeless and universal feel. Broken into multiple small parts, it would be hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this book work so well—so I won’t. All I know is that somehow, Puck’s near-desperate spirit; Sean’s otherworldly skills with the capaill uisce and his unenviable conflicts; and the magical, addicting, dangerous, and mysterious island of Thisby all combine together for a book that’s to be loved and indulged in like a bar of the highest quality chocolate: slowly, lovingly, and satisfactorily with each bite.

THE SCORPIO RACES proves to us all that great books don’t have to come in series or trilogies. Oh, how I can’t wait to read this one again.

Similar Authors
Melina Marchetta (Jellicoe Road)
Franny Billingsley (Chime)

Cover discussion: Probably one of my favorite covers of 2011, effortlessly combining streamlined simplicity with rich texture.

Scholastic Press / Oct. 18, 2011 / Hardcover / 416pp. / $17.99

Personal copy.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna, Book 1

Tags: YA, horror, ghosts

Summary

Cas Lowood’s unusual but steady life as ghost-killer, traveling constantly in search for his next task, takes an unexpected turn when he attempts to confront the ghost known as Anna Dressed in Blood. Anna Korlov has apparently violently killed any human who tries to enter her haunted house for the past 50 years…but, for whatever reason, she doesn’t kill Cas. As Cas unravels the dark and disturbing mystery surrounding Anna’s own violent death, and the evil thing that compels her to perform violence, he finds many things in his life turning upside-down, including his former loner status and the path he is slowly but steadily taking to avenge his father’s death by a dangerous ghost.

Review

ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD came highly recommended by lots of different readers. Unfortunately, this strange tale of horror and romance between a human boy and the ghost girl he’s supposed to get rid of was decent, but didn’t blow me away.

Good things first. Cas was a great narrator. He goes about his business in a no-nonsense yet wry manner, which not only makes his narration and adventures enjoyable to read, but also delights readers when his dealings with Anna unexpectedly trip him up.

Unfortunately, Cas’ genuineness was not enough to offset the tired stereotypes and underdeveloped supporting characters. ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD contained too much awesome to be stuffed into a generic high school setting, and yet it was, with the result that there were awkwardly dramatic confrontations with too-idiotic-to-be-real jocks and underwhelmingly catty girls. Blake makes an attempt to add uniqueness and depth to Cas’ friends, but I never felt like they could have had life beyond the page: there was just something off about the way they spoke, kind of like aliens trying to act like real teenagers or something.

Horror is not my favorite genre, so I’m far from the best person to appreciate and judge it; however, I wanted more from this story. I was confused about the mythological and historical basis for Anna’s violent haunting: what cultures or stories was ANNA drawing from to create its version of ghosts and voodoo? What made Cas and his friends so special that they were able to achieve what no one had done before them? The book’s explanations for these and other similar questions I had left me dissatisfied and, ultimately, dispassionate about the story.

Not every book is for every reader, and ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD wasn’t one for me, though it certainly was for a lot of people. If you’re a fan of ghost and horror stories with a tinge of myth-based supernatural concepts, a la Lee Nichols or Laurie Faria Stolarz, give this a whirl. It might be just your thing, though it wasn’t mine.

Similar Authors
Lee Nichols
Stephenie Meyer
Marta Acosta
Laurie Faria Stolarz

Cover discussion: Ohh, I like. It's a creepy combination of realistic and illustrated, and that blend of styles conveys the ghost aspect of this story more than the actual elements in the picture do.

Tor Teen / July 3, 2012 (reprint) / Paperback / 320pp. / $9.99

Personal e-book copy bought for $2.99 on Amazon.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The Queen's Thief, Book 2
(Book 1: The Thief review)

Tags: YA, fantasy, politics, war

Perhaps because I found The Thief so fun and heartfelt, and was enthralled by numerous others’ lavish praises on the sequels, that I had extremely high expectations for THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA. It pains me to say that I didn’t like THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA as much as I did The Thief, but it’s still a good read in fantasy literature that will appeal across age ranges.

THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA is altogether different from The Thief. It’s told in third-person instead of first. Eugenides seems older; the events and the premise of this book are a lot darker, dipping into the disturbing at times. THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA focuses a lot on the political tensions between the kingdoms, to the point where long sections of the book are dedicated entirely to dry accounts of political and military events. While I go gaga for books that are smart, yet interesting to read, I couldn’t help but feel that all that information could have been presented to readers in a more engaging way.

Maybe this decision to report war news in such a dry way was a deliberate decision on Turner’s part. In any case, it also affected by connections I had with the characters. Which is to say, I felt that the characters saw me, but instead of coming over to chat, decided to head to another room on the other side of the soundproof glass, where they continued to be aloof and secretive and unfriendly. Not quite how I wish to interact with characters.

As for the romance…eh. Well. It’s not as if there weren’t hints as to what would happen, and the turning point was kind of cute in a romantic-movie-swoon kind of way, but the characters’ aloofness throughout the story up to that point took away from the impact of that scene, at least for me. I hope they’ll be good for one another, even though I can’t quite see how that will happen from the rest of the book, but hey, it would go beyond my realm as reviewer to question the decisions of the characters and author, so I’ll just leave them to do their thing.

THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA didn’t sweep me off my feet as The Thief did, but perhaps I was in the wrong mindset when I read this book (ten years too late, perhaps?). I’ll still continue with the series, though, since it’s gotten so many rave reviews from every reviewer I respect. Perhaps, however, by toning down my expectations, I will get more out of my reading experiences.

Cover discussion: I love all of the covers in this series. They're very distinctly related to one another, and have just the right touch of glamor to hint of court intrigues.

Greenwillow Books / Jan. 24, 2006 (reprint) / Paperback / 368pp. / $6.99

Personal copy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Tags: epistolary, historical fiction, fairies, reading

Summary

Following a tragedy that killed her twin sister, Morwenna Phelps leaves her childhood home of Wales, the fairies she “befriended there,” and her mad mother in order to meet her father’s family and attend a boarding school in England. England is unfamiliar and unfriendly, and Mori finds refuge in her voracious science fiction-reading appetite. But even as she slowly connects with her long-absent father, explores the libraries and bookstores available to her, and finds friends with whom she has a love of SF in common, Mori still struggles to escape her mother’s ever-encroaching magical madness…

Review

You don’t need to be an SF fan—or know much at all about SF history, really—to love Mori and AMONG OTHERS. This is a book that everyone who has been or is still a bookworm can relate to and delight in.

Mori represents the kind of bookish teenager you want to be, your best friend to be, your teenage daughter to be. She drinks up books like water and then writes about them in her journal—not in-depth academic analyses, but the kind of meandering way that most bookworms do naturally. I admit to knowing hopelessly little about SF, but I could definitely relate to Mori’s somewhat scattered comments on the books she’s finished. She’s not trying to write a SF novel or be a SF expert; she’s just enjoying herself wholeheartedly as an avid reader, and you can’t help but love that.

Due to its diary format, AMONG OTHERS is filled with bits and pieces of the sort of things that teenage girls wonder about: sex, their sexuality, people they meet, their future. It makes the book so genuine that there is no one primary plotline. Because it’s like life in that way: we have many interests and thoughts and curiosities, and they all make up a part of who we are.

I loved the bookish aspect of AMONG OTHERS so much that I was rather put off by its fantastical element, which I felt was almost unnecessary. The main plot, if you must name one, is Mori’s relationship with fairies and her crazy mother. I have no problem with how fairies work in Mori’s world: like other things that Mori writes about, the fairies are just a part of her life, just a part of her. But I do feel like the magical aspect was not the driving force of this novel, and so, in making it a significant part of the ending, I felt…unsatisfied.

AMONG OTHERS is classified as fantasy, and Mori loves SF, but it doesn’t mean that SFF fans should be its only readers—nor, perhaps, its most significant. AMONG OTHERS is, in my opinion, above all other plotlines, a love letter to books as salvation, and so if ever you love books, you should check this one out.

Similar Authors
Dodie Smith (I Capture the Castle)

Cover discussion: Oh, I love, in a gentle sort of way. I like how it defies any genre conventions and you can read whatever you want into it.

Tor Books / Jan. 3, 2012 / Paperback / 304pp. / $14.99

Personal copy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Bared to You by Sylvia Day

Crossfire, Book 1

Tags: erotica

Summary

When Eva Tramell leaves her traumatic past behind her to take a normal job at an ad agency, the last thing she expects is to fall head over heels for Gideon Cross, one of the richest men in the world—and for him to fall for her as well. Their physical connection is instant and intense, but it is what they learn about each other as, slowly, they reveal their pasts and their flaws that draws them together into an unbreakable bond, no matter how difficult things get.

Review

Ah, an actually worthy erotica title to recommend! While it is not perfect, BARED TO YOU blows Fifty Shades of Grey completely out of the water with its put-together writing and incredible protagonist.

Seriously, I’m not exaggerating when I say that Eva Tramell is incredible. Why was the passive, plain, “who, me?” female protagonist ever in vogue? I say that Eva’s independent, forward, and don’t-cross-this-line-with-me personality should be the model for future romantic protagonists! The thing that drove me craziest in FSoG was how Ana let Christian walk all over her: “Oh, you’re a man, you’re rich, you’re handsome, you’re experienced…you obviously know me better than I know myself. Hehe!” Gag. No, Eva knows what she wants. She’s not afraid to voice her desires, and she’ll put her foot down if Gideon does or says anything that gets her riled up. That she does all of this while being a survivor of childhood trauma makes her even more impressive and sympathetic. And she gets jealous and insecure, like everyone else. Wow! Eva should be every man’s—and even every woman’s—dream. She sure has become mine.

On the other hand, rather disturbingly, Gideon Cross is kind of less appealing than Christian Gray. Christian at least is a man, albeit one with a mysterious and troubled past. Gideon, on the other hand, is like a man-child with too much money and time on his hand. “Ooh, pretty shiny woman, me want, me want more than anything in my life, gimme!” Sexy—uh, yeah, no. I appreciated that Eva was the stronger person in their relationship, instead of letting the troubled Gideon walk all over her (a la Ana Steele). Gideon grew on me by the end—his utter determination to get help for himself in order to make Eva happy and keep her safe definitely threw points in his favor—and besides, without his oftentimes outrageous behavior, there wouldn’t be a story, would there?

The beginning—up to Eva and Gideon getting together—felt a little forced in terms of the writing, but the sexytimes are hot hot hot, and Sylvia Day has created major and minor characters that you’ll find yourself getting attached to before you even realize it. You should read this if you like erotica but felt FSoG was lacking in good writing technique and a compelling character relationship. Because BARED TO YOU delivers on exactly those fronts.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: The Hedgewitch Queen by Lilith Saintcrow

Romances of Arquitaine, Book 1

Tags: YA, fantasy

Summary

Orphaned Vianne de Rocancheil serves as lady-in-waiting and confidante to the princess at the royal court of Arquitaine. But when a treacherous act destroys the court, Vianne is forced to team up with the Tristan d'Arcenne, the mysterious Captain of the Guard. For Vianne possesses something the traitors need in order to properly take the throne, and for the sake of her slain friends, Vianne will do anything to protect it.

Review

I really wanted this to be the next Crown Duel, in terms of story style, characters, romance, and fantasy world. And on the surface, THE HEDGEWITCH QUEEN certainly seems promising in all those fields: Vianne is a humble minor noble lady who gets tangled up in the political court intrigue of a magical world that takes its inspiration heavily from a bastardized version of France and the French language. There's the strong and silent love interest who believes in the heroine long before she believes in herself. Doesn't that just remind you of Crown Duel and all that goodness?

Alas, the similarities end there. Vianne is no Meliara. I didn't get far into the story before Vianne was tripping over herself in an effort to prove herself to be the most tearful, pathetic, and un-self-confident female in all of Bastardized France. Vianne suffers from that literary syndrome I suppose I shall have to give a name to from here on out: the Anti-Histrionic Female Character Syndrome, in which the female MC goes out of her way to convince readers that she is worthless, plain, boring, uninteresting, by virtue of her lowly status, ordinary looks, absolute lack of character, (lack of intelligence), etc. Far from gaining my readerly sympathies, these females simply goad my ire. For this syndrome is wish fulfillment; it's trying to say that females don't have to actively improve themselves mentally, intellectually, or emotionally--because, of course, the hot guy loves them just the passive and pathetic way they are!

The way in which Vianne and Tristan d'Arcenne interacted simply made me feel tired. Everything they said to each other was riddled with misunderstandings--misunderstandings that didn't seem to be necessary to the main plot but rather only served to further the romantic intrigue. What's so romantic or intriguing about constant misunderstandings brought about by Vianne's lack of self-confidence, may I ask? Yeah... that's what I thought.

In the end, my lack of feelings for either of the main characters led to this being a DNF for me. I give Lilith Saintcrow props for trying, but the blandness and patheticness of the main characters could not hold my attention for the duration of the story.

Cover discussion: That model is so not Vianne, but maaaan, I am foolishly attracted to that dress, the title font, and that emblem thingy. And, oh, hey, doesn't this cover look very similar to this one?

Orbit / Dec. 1, 2011 / e-book / 360pp. / $2.99

e-galley received for review from NetGalley and publisher.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone Blog Tour Author Interview with Kat Rosenfield


I'm lucky to be part of a blog tour for Kat Rosenfield's debut novel, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, about which I've heard tons of great things. And today I have Kat over for an exclusive interview, yay! Without further ado...

1. Who or what influences you?

Books, movies, memories, my editor, my agent, my husband, talking with friends, eavesdropping on strangers, old family photos, emails from my mom, local folklore, craft beer, trees that look like monsters, and about a million other things. (I'm extremely suggestible, creatively and in general.)

2. What are some differences between you writing for your freelance jobs and writing your own novels?

For one, I don't think I've ever spent an entire day lying facedown in despair over my freelance work. (Writing fiction gives me a lot of feelings, okay?) But apart from that, the voice I use as a freelancer is very different from the one I use in writing novels; they're both very much me, but the Kat that writes silly lists and entertainment gossip and advises teenagers on how to ask their crush to prom is a lot more sassy and extroverted. And she's probably more fun to hang out with; Novelist Kat is kind of a silent weirdo who collects bat skeletons and never washes her hair.

3. What other author's books would your book date?


I'd like to think that my book and John Green's books could have a pretty good time together.

...And by that, I mean that my book would hang awkwardly around his books until one of them looked over, gave it a bro nod, and said, "Hey", at which point my book would stammer something unintelligible and then pee its pants and run away.

4. Name 3 things that appear in your book that aren't mentioned in the synopsis.

A submerged tractor, a polka-dot bra, and a handful of bloody teeth.

5. What's on rotation in your MP3 player right now?

It's a little embarrassing, but I'm actually right at the start of a summer-long project to make myself more pop-musically literate after a years-long dry spell of not buying music. So I'm listening to the Civil Wars, Azealia Banks, and fun. at the moment — but if someone wants to suggest some others, that would be excellent.

Author Bio:
Kat Rosenfield is a freelance writer and YA author. She lives in New England, but that might change. Visit her author website, or follow her on Twitter (@KatRosenfield).
About the book:
An arresting un-coming-of-age story, from a breathtaking talent

Becca has always longed to break free from her small, backwater hometown. But the discovery of an unidentified dead girl on the side of a dirt road sends the town--and Becca--into a tailspin. Unable to make sense of the violence of the outside world creeping into her backyard, Becca finds herself retreating inward, paralyzed from moving forward 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 summer as the parallel stories of two young women struggling with self-identity and relationships on the edge twist the reader closer and closer to the truth about Amelia's death.


Thanks, Kat! Anyone got some music recommendations for her? (And, transitively, me as well?)

Follow the rest of the Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone blog tour:

7/9- Kick-off & Giveaway at The Mod Podge Bookshelf
7/10- Interview at Rescue Reads
7/12- Review at The Story Siren
7/13- Guest Blog at author Kelsey Sutton's Blog
7/15- Debut Author Spotlight Interview & Giveaway at Page Turners Blog
7/16- Guest Blog at 365 Days of Reading
7/17- Guest Blog at Magnet For Books
7/18- Interview at Steph Su Reads
7/19- Giveaway at YA Bliss
7/20- Interview & Giveaway at Reading or Breathing
7/21- Review at The Mod Podge Bookshelf
7/22- Giveaway at Midnight Garden
7/23- Guest Blog and Giveaway at Reading Away the Days
7/24- Giveaway at Books to Consider
7/25- Guest Blog at Words Like Silver
7/26- Review at Making the Grade
7/27- Interview at Book Chic
7/28- Guest Blog at The Mod Podge Bookshelf

This blog tour was organized by Gabrielle Carolina of Mod Podge Book Tours. For more information, go to the blog tour page!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cover Lust (35)

This installment of Cover Lust has kind of an, um, unintentional theme to it. What do you think of this style?

Imperfect Bliss by Susan Fales-Hill
(Atria / July 3, 2012)

I'm loving this "modern frieze"-esque style. It's contemporary while evoking a timeless style of art that speaks well for its designer and the contents of the book.

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
(Harper Children's / Feb. 5, 2013)

Talk about a book cover of epic movie poster proportions! I want this hanging up on the walls of malls, cinemas, Times Square... And on top of being epic, the colors are also bright and glowing.
Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara
(Simon & Schuster / Nov. 13, 2012)

This is collector's-edition postcard-worthy. I love the colors and the positioning of the title. And you probably can't see it, but there is a white border around the image, which adds to its collector's-edition image feel. I swoon!

(Candlewick / July 10, 2012)

This eye-catching cover evokes the art of paper-cutting and is a lingering mix of art deco and gothic. Is it rewarding to look at? I should say so!

Tell the Wolves I'm Home: A Novel by Carol Rifka Brunt
(Dial Press / June 19, 2012)

Oh my, this reminds me of those embroidered book covers that have been slowly but surely winning over hearts everywhere. How cool is this cover??!

-

So, what's your verdict? Which of these fits your style the most?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Feed by Mira Grant

Newsflesh Trilogy, Book 1

Tags: dystopian, paranormal, zombies, journalism, blogging, politics

Summary

In the years following a zombie apocalypse that changed our world as we know it forever, adopted siblings Georgia and Shaun Mason work hard as first-class blogger-journalists, combining the hard truth with exciting stories. When Georgia, Shaun, and resident technogeek/fiction writer Buffy are selected to be the exclusive blogging team for Senator Peter Ryman’s presidential campaign, little do they know how much their lives are going to change. For it seems like there’s a murderous conspiracy underfoot, and Georgia, Shaun, and Buffy are going to get pulled right into the middle of it.

Review

For years I had been pulled along by the neverending tides of high praises for FEED before I could finally read it. And while FEED, in my opinion, didn’t quite live up to all that praise, it is still one of the better zombie books out there, albeit gratingly slow-moving at times.

The best thing about FEED is unarguably the world-building. This is what world-building should be like: everything with a reason to be, the science behind the Kellis-Amberlee virus that turns people into zombies explained, the far-reaching consequences of the existence of the virus into every facet of people’s lives, from where they live to how the media has involved since the present day. I was impressed by how well Grant thought everything through in her world.

Unfortunately, the very thing that makes FEED so great is also what primarily contributed to its lowered rating for me. Perhaps in excitement over the amazingly detailed world she created, Grant overindulges in the world-building details—I know, right?! Me, complaining about overindulgence in world-building? How strange. The narration, however, doesn’t leave the world-building well enough alone once the world has already been thoroughly established. Instead, even on page 400 or so, readers still encounter “As you know, reader…” sentences everywhere. The repetition is unnecessary and thoroughly grating, at least on me. It made me feel like Grant didn’t trust the reader to have a complete picture of her Newsflesh world, and thus had to keep on emphasizing the same points, over and over: Shaun’s suicidal Irwin tendencies, Georgia’s antisocial nature, the blood tests (and their annoyance over how often they have to do it—if they’re annoyed, can you imagine how readers might feel, having to read about their blood tests and their irritation over it in every chapter?), and so on.

FEED’s strength—and weakness, at least for me—lay in its world-building, but the characters are good enough as well. Nothing to call home about, but Georgia’s cool and collected narration was admirable, and Shaun and Buffy’s exuberance provided a welcome contrast to her personality. I saw the shocking thing at the ending coming early, so wasn’t that affected one way or another by it.

Overall, FEED should impress those who enjoy postapocalyptic or zombie stories with an emphasis on thorough and believable world-building. It didn’t blow me away emotionally, and the Inner Editor That Could insists that the book would’ve been much better had 200 pages been cut from it, but I still more or less enjoyed the time I spent with it.

Cover discussion: Brilliant. Really conveys the convergence of zombies and blogging in a memorable way.

Orbit / May 1, 2010 / Mass Market Paperback / 608pp. / $9.99

Personal copy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Defining "Normal" and "Adult": A Declaration of Being Yourself

When I was a teenager, I struggled with the concept of normalcy and my feelings toward it. I wanted to fit in with the crowd, which at many times resulted in angst over whether or not I was able to be or was being myself. I participated in some activities I didn't feel particularly interested in, because the friends or classmates I wanted to impress or imitate did them. I didn't know what to contribute to group conversations, because many of the things I felt comfortable speaking about--books, the experience of being a minority in the US, my frustration with academic competitiveness--often led to conversational dead ends. I was constantly struggling with being just good enough to be recognized and given opportunities for further personal development, and not receiving the sneering condemnation of my peers.

I'm sure many can relate.

The concept of "normal" was a mystifying one, made even stranger when I took AP Statistics. In studying averages, I thought about how arbitrary "normal" is. One of our main concerns in our teenage years is to be accepted by our peers--to be "normal." But this "normalcy" to which we strive rarely exists in a pure, attainable form: it is an invention of the faceless mass of society that conforms our expectations, goals, and perceptions of ourselves as inadequate. Much as the mean of a set of numbers (that's the number you get when you add up all the numbers in the set and divide it by the number of numbers in the set) sometimes doesn't even appear in the set itself (example: the mean of 1, 2, 9, and 10 is 5.5, which isn't a number in the set), so the norm is basically nonexistent if you try to point to a single individual as a exact representation of the norm in a crowd. (That last part is basically what applied statistics is all about. Don't you wish I had written this post before your AP test?) I'm sure most of us can think of the high school classmate whose social grace and overall peer acceptance we envied--but there's a good chance that that classmate would think of someone else if asked to do the same, and so on. No one thinks of him- or herself as the norm.

In effect, I was trying to be a concept that rarely ever existed in a crowd. I was part of the 99.99% trying to be the 0.01%.

If so many people are unique, not "normal," how meaningless it is of us to wish to be the norm.

At 23, I have long passed my teenage years, even if I didn't know when it happened--but I struggle with another concept now: that of being an adult. I don't feel like an "adult" at all. What does that mean, anyway? Does it mean working a passionless day job and saying a passionless prayer for the fact that I have a job? Does it mean marrying my long-time partner because marriage is what you're supposed to do at or by a certain point? Does it mean Sunday night spaghetti dinners, dinner talk about how work or school went, and routine sex on Friday nights? How does society define an adult, and how can I define the term myself so that I am comfortable with it?

The concept of being an adult is just like the concept of being normal--societal pressure to conform to a standard that no one can exactly define--which is why I find the idea that people will "outgrow YA in time" so laughable. Again and again I make the point that being an adult isn't necessarily better than being a teenager. I've met a lot of adults who I think are a waste of space, and many teenagers who I think should be heard by more people. If you replaced all the US Congressmen with a similarly powerful group of teenagers, I think there's a chance that a lot more things could be done.

This is what critics of the genre of YA lit don't get. "YA" is not a measure of quality. Your lifestyle is not necessarily better than mine; what right do you have to try and impose your lifestyle on mine? Don't tell YA readers that they're just going through a phase. Don't tell John Green and Melina Marchetta they'll be legitimate authors when they finally write adult books. Don't say people can't learn anything from reading escapist literature.

Why aspire to be "adult," to be "normal"--to be "them"--when it's better to strive to be the best me that I can be?

While I use terms such as "teenagers" and "adolescents" in my reviews, in no way would I consider myself its figurative antithesis, the adult. I am simply me, and I am on an ever-changing spectrum. Sometimes parts of me overlap with parts of others, resulting in similar interests and values. Other times parts of me differ from parts of others, and those are called unique qualities. That's my definition of personhood, irrespective of age labels. As long as I don't kill people and treat my fellow human beings like human beings, and as long as I remember that at no point in my life will I have learned everything there is to learn, then I'm proud of being myself and not trying to be someone else.

Age categories and other black-and-white labels are becoming more and more archaic. One's maturity lies on a spectrum, not in a series of stiff, unidirectional stages. YA literature can be read, enjoyed, and respected by anyone. If you tell someone they can't do or read something because it's not "normal" or it's not what an "adult" would read and that doing or reading so will limit my thinking or being, well, besides for thinking that you are a close-minded being, I am not really limited at all.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Tags: YA, fantasy, dragons, music

Summary

The fortieth anniversary of an uneasy peace treaty between humans and dragons is approaching, and tensions are high as the kingdom of Goredd prepares for the arrival of the dragon leader. Even in their human shape, the dragons stand out in court, and the humans find it difficult to treat them with ease and respect.

In the midst of the racketed tensions, newly appointed court music master’s assistant Seraphina Dombegh struggles to main aloof in order to hide her terrible secret: she is half dragon, and if anyone found out. But it gets harder and harder for Seraphina to stay apathetic as she gets to know the royal family and discovers a shocking personal connection to a long-brewing plot to destroy the peace treaty.

Review

High fantasy is my favorite genre, but it doesn’t mean that I’m an easy customer. It takes a lot for a fantasy to become a favorite of mine: in addition to nearly impeccable world-building, it also has to have empathic characters and enough action to satisfy the baser part of me. I had heard positive things about SERAPHINA before I was finally able to read it, but rave reviews often make me wary, worried that the book will never live up to the reviews’ promises. Happily, for me and the whole world, SERAPHINA is worthy of its high praise. Rachel Hartman writes with a sureness of hand and mind that sweeps readers into Seraphina’s complex and fascinating world.

In SERAPHINA, dragons and humans have made an uneasy peace treaty, but the social tensions are still apparent and painfully recognizable in its similarities to the prejudices that minority groups in our world still suffer. I love that “real” aspect of the book, and feel that the countless instances of anti-dragon sentiment in SERAPHINA are authentic as a result.

The social tensions aren’t the only thing that make SERAPHINA’s world-building so astounding. It’s clear that Rachel Hartman did research on her Medieval-inspired fantasy world, from the clothing to the instruments to the layout of court (physical and human). If an aspiring cable TV channel *cough HBO and Game of Thrones crew cough* were to consider adapting this story, they would have plenty to go off of.

Splendid world-building by itself isn’t enough to get me to love a fantasy, and that’s where SERAPHINA’s wonderful characters come in. Seraphina, Seraphina, you amazing protagonist. You’ve had such a rough life and it in no way is going to get easier after the events of this book, and yet you handle it with an aplomb that those twice your age cannot often claim as their own. Seraphina’s personality is the direct product of her difficult and isolated childhood, but it does not weigh her or the story down. The girl is resilient, ethical, intelligent, and determined…and she is not the only awesome character. Supporting characters are allowed a full range of thoughts and reactions, so that where we think we’ll find potentially stereotypical character roles—in the spoiled princess, or the love triangle—we instead find refreshment.

Debut authors like Rachel Hartman show me that literary talent is not in danger of being swamped by the mediocre hype-fueled masses. Hartman has the detail-oriented skills to be a fixture in the fantasy genre, and the understanding of human beings and society to make her mark in any other genre she’s interested in dabbling in. SERAPHINA was a heck of a debut, one that I sincerely hope marks the very beginning of a long and beautiful writing career.

Similar Authors
Juliet Marillier
Rachel Neumeier
Rae Carson
Zoe Marriott
Kristin Cashore
Melina Marchetta

Cover discussion: I swoon, I swoon. It's so unique and detailed and eye-catching and breathtaking and appropriate.

Random House / July 10, 2012 / Hardcover / 480pp. / $17.99

e-galley received for review from the publisher and NetGalley. Thank youuu.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: Let It Bleed by Jeri Smith-Ready

WVMP Radio, Book 3.5
Book 1: Wicked Game review
Book 2: Bad to the Bone review
Book 3: Bring on the Night review

Tags: urban fantasy, vampires

Summary

Ciara’s attempts to deal with her new life as a vampire aren’t easy, especially when her fianc√© Shane’s unstable vampire DJ coworker Jim “accidentally” kills two humans who turn out to be Ciara’s cousins. Things get more complicated—and intriguing—when several more members of Ciara’s Traveler family come to town to look into their relatives’ disappearance…and bring some shocking revelations about Ciara’s anti-holy blood.

Review

In an unprecedented move, Jeri Smith-Ready publishes an essential piece of her WVMP Radio series in an e-book novella format. Longtime fans of this urban fantasy series, including me, have been eagerly awaiting LET IT BLEED. The verdict? While a refreshing dip back into the WVMP Radio world, LET IT BLEED’s novella length does make it feel a bit rushed and incomplete.

As ever, Ciara’s witty narration carries readers’ enjoyment of the story, but—and this may just be me—I wonder if the series may be suffering from the literary equivalent of the “Moonlighting” curse—that is, now that the main characters have gotten together and are getting married and all that, some of the tension that drew me through earlier installments of this series is gone. LET IT BLEED expands Ciara’s story to include more troubling conflicts and revelations, but it feels a little bare in some places, as if the story is trying to juggle too many of these conflicts, revelations, and sideplots, with the result that the pacing is uneven and the resolution abrupt. I would’ve liked LET IT BLEED to be longer, so as to give space for the plots involving Jim and Ciara’s family to be given more space to develop.

LET IT BLEED was a complete story structurally, but I didn’t have the same emotional investment in it as I had with earlier installments. Still, I am no less a fan of the series, and excitedly look forward to the final book, Lust for Life. There are, in my opinion, few protagonists who can compare to Ciara for paranormal resourcefulness and wit, and I’d follow her through anything to the ends of the earth…or the end of the series, since that seems more likely.

-

Let It Bleed is currently available as a free download on Jeri Smith-Ready's website. It's an essential part of the series, so don't miss out!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker, Book 2

Tags: YA, dystopian, war

Summary

War has ravaged what was previously the United States of America. Two friends and orphaned victims of the war, Mahlia and Mouse, struggle to be safe and to get out of the terrifying hands of the different political/military factions that are all too willing to pressure young "war maggots" to sign up for their cause, lives be damned. With the help of a scary half-man named Tool, a genetically modified superfighter, do Mahlia and Mouse stand a chance to escape to freedom?

Review

This is very clearly one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” situations. Bacigalupi is a great writer. He can come up with a unique dystopian premise, lay it out in all its entirety, and still proceed to shock readers with the depth of emotions he can conjure up for the characters and their predicaments. A less squeamish reader would probably appreciate the brilliance and magnitude of this impressive story. But I squirm over stories about featuring war, violence, and heartless characters.

It is an intriguing feature of Ship Breaker, and now THE DROWNED CITIES, that I don't think readers are ever supposed to like the main characters very much. They're not lovable: a hard childhood has taught Mahlia to be humorless and untrusting, while Mouse, in comparison, is scrawny and cowardly. I guess we're supposed to empathize with the characters and their predicament: they are once-innocent victims of a depraved, dangerous, and corrupt society turned not-so-innocent from the hardships of life. But, as much as I admire Bacigalupi for what he's done, not yielding to literary conventions of having sympathetic main characters, well... that is a literary convention that I like in my books.

THE DROWNED CITIES moves at a slow pace, but is mesmerizing in terms of how it imagines the future. Unlike the majority of YA dystopias published these days, Bacigalupi's vision of the future unsettles and upsets me precisely because it forces us to admit that there are a lot of things wrong in our current world that could very well make the future what Bacigalupi imagines.

Is THE DROWNED CITIES amazing? Yes. Should people read it as an example of what a dystopian should be like, as well as to reflect on the many things we should address in our world in order to prevent such a future from happening? Yes. Did I like it? Not quite. But it's one of those cases where that's okay.

Cover discussion: Hmm. Not bad. I like the dystopian vision of a future Washington, DC--although I admit that when I was reading the book, I had no idea it was set in DC until more than halfway through the book. I'm a little confused about whether those eyes are supposed to belong to Mahlia, though. Do they...well, do they look Asian to you?

Little, Brown / May 1, 2012 / Hardcover / 448pp. / $17.99

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fun Book News!

Meg Cabot is celebrating the release of Size 12 and Ready to Rock, the latest book in her Heather Wells mystery series, by giving us an--OH MY GOD, is that an '80s-style pop music video?!?!?!



(It is.)

See Meg Cabot on tour in the US this summer!

July 10: Des Moines, Iowa – Des Moines Public Library (7 pm)
July 12: Cincinnati, Ohio – Joseph Beth Booksellers (7 pm)
July 13: Dayton, Ohio – Books & Co (7 pm)
July 14: Cleveland, Ohio – Cuyahoga Public Library at the Independence High School auditorium (2 pm)
July 15: Pittsburgh, PA – Barnes & Noble, Homestead (2 pm)
July 17: Lansing, MI – Schuler Books & Music (6 pm)
July 19: Indianapolis, IN – Barnes & Noble, Carmel (7 pm)

-

In other news, the first book in Cassandra Clare's bestselling Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones, is now on e-book sale for $0.99! I already own the series in p-book form, but have been wanting the chance to buy the e-book for my Kindle for a cheap price. It's not litt-ruh-chur, but it's guilty-pleasure fun nevertheless.

-

Finally, if you've been following Jeri Smith-Ready's WVMP Radio series, an vampire series of the highest caliber (and if you haven't read it yet, you should get on it), you should know that Jeri has recently released an e-book called Let It Bleed, which is essential reading between the third book, Bring on the Night, and the fourth and final book, Lust for Life, which will be released in both p- and e-formats this fall. Jeri has generously made the e-book free on her website, but you can be just as generous back and donate something for her time and effort in appeasing fans and the characters. Go check it out!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger

Tags: YA, contemporary, family, romance

Summary

Whitley Johnson’s post-high-school-graduation summer with her dad takes a turn for the much worse when he drops the shocker that he is getting married…to a woman with two teenage children. On top of that, her future stepbrother was the guy she hooked up with at a graduation party, believing that it could be someone she would never see again. How was she supposed to know that three days later he’d be living right across the hall from her?
There is no way Whitley will have a good time this summer. Unless the good new people of her life manage to break through her front and show her the good things she has… 


Review


After a (subjective) stumble with Shut Out, Kody Keplinger and her relatable, snappy, and thoroughly odern characters are back on track with the impressive A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHTMARE, a short but fulfilling book full of the swift pace and dialogue, realistic emotions, and charged moments that made readers fans of her writing in the first place.


A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHTMARE has a premise that could be the stuff of soap operas: hooking up with your soon-to-be stepbrother?? Gasp!! But Kody Keplinger pulls off the story without a hitch, without it rolling into the land of melodrama. While perhaps not everyone is like Whitley, we can certainly relate to her frustration over surprises being sprung on her, the deep hurt she carries over her changing relationships with people in her life. Though Whitley might be brasher, sexier, and sassier than we’ll ever be, she never becomes a caricature, and I was firmly rooting for Whitley the whole time.


If you liked The Duff (never mind what you felt about Shut Out), then do for your enjoyment pick up A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHTMARE and bask in the post-reading glow of having immersed yourself in a smart contemporary YA drama.


Similar Authors
Miranda Kenneally
Ann Brashares
Kate Brian


Cover discussion: I'm keeping my mouth shut. Next.


Poppy / June 5, 2012 / Hardcover / 305pp. / $17.99


e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley. Thank you!

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...