Friday, July 31, 2009

Review (SS5): Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Tags: YA, fantasy, faeries, love, deception, music

Rating: 4 out of 5


Deirdre Monaghan is just your average super-talented harpist. Then a boy walks out of her dreams and straight into her life. Deirdre knows that the attractive and slightly dangerous Luke Dillon is no human, but she is hardly prepared for what he is: the faerie queen’s soulless assassin, a human who rejected her and is now forced to kill all she believes is a threat to her.

Luke was sent to kill Deirdre, but neither of them anticipated falling in love with each other. Now, Luke is risking his life to save hers, but Deirdre is not going to let the evil faerie queen walk all over her and destroy her and her family, friends, and loves. Maybe Deirdre is more of a threat to the queen than she herself thought…


Maggie Stiefvater is going to be the rising voice of YA faerie fiction, I can tell. She writes brilliantly, the story is intricate yet satisfying, and, most of all, her characters are the kind you’ll want to fall in love with or be.

We are thrown right into the story from the very beginning, which is confusing for about the first half of the book, as we do not know Luke’s unspeakable history or his connection to Deirdre and the amount of danger she is in. Fortunately, Maggie Stiefvater’s writing totally makes up for that: Deirdre’s narrative tone can be described as “irreverent:” she’s a witty and self-deprecating observer who still manages to pull kick-butt abilities out of thin air as if she’d been born to do it all along.

The characters are truly what make this book. Deirdre is your ideal female protagonist, and Luke her heartbreakingly dazzling male counterpart. Even secondary characters—such as James, Deirdre’s wisecracking best friend, and Una, a bold faerie—take on full shape and importance. It didn’t matter how confusing the beginning was, because once I really got into the book, it was impossible to put down, that’s how deep my connection to the characters was.

LAMENT leaves off on a bittersweet note, and I can’t tell you how eager I am for the release of BALLAD, a companion book. If I could devour Maggie’s writing as food all day, I would. Instead, I will be content to reread LAMENT over and over again, desperately waiting for what she has to show us next.

Similar Authors
Holly Black
Melissa Marr

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5
Want more? Do you even have to ask? Yes!

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - I love this so much more than its original cover, particularly the falling green clovers on the black background.

Flux / Oct. 2008

Interview + GIVEAWAY: Jennifer Sturman!

And Then Everything Unraveled by Jennifer Sturman is a hugely enjoyable yet not well enough known novel that came out recently. I fell in love with it when I read and reviewed it last month. I had the chance to talk to Jennifer when she asked if she could quote me on her website (how could I say no?!), and she agreed to an interview! I hope you enjoy, and read on for more exciting news and a chance to read this fantastic book!

1. Where did the idea for And Then Everything Unraveled come from?

I’d been rereading one of my favorite books of all time, Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis, which is about an orphaned boy growing up with his madcap aunt in New York City. Auntie Mame was first published in 1955, and I started thinking about how that same basic premise – orphaned kid, crazy aunt – might play out today. Of course, once I started playing with the concept, the kid became a sixteen-year-old girl who might or might not be an orphan, and the crazy aunt became more of a downtown free spirit, and I threw in another aunt who was equally crazy but in an uptight Upper East Side sort of way, and then I had to add in some mystery, and also some romance – and eventually I ended up with a story….

2. Your characters' names are all quite unusual. How did you go about picking the "right" name for each character?

The funny thing is that a bunch of the characters’ names changed in the rewrites. Delia was always Delia – there was something sunny and Californian about it that would contrast nicely with her new life in Manhattan. The three sisters, though, were originally named after the three Furies in Greek mythology: Tisiphone, Alecto, and Megaera. This was because of a minor subplot that went away after the first draft, at which point there was no reason to burden the characters with such terrible names! But by then, T.K. was already very much a T.K., so I needed a “T” for her, and given what her parents were like, I knew it would have to be stuffy and old-fashioned, so I came up with Temperance.

Meanwhile, Charley was originally going to be called Tanner (which was her middle name initially, in homage to Patrick Dennis, whose real name was Everett Tanner), but it reminded everyone of the TV show Full House, and while I still wanted her to have an unconventional name, I also wanted it to be consistent with her sisters’ names, so I struck on the Charity/Charley combination. Which left Patience, and mostly I just wanted her to have a nickname that she’d hate, and I knew she’d hate being called Patty, so I worked backward from there to Patience.

3. And Then Everything Unraveled - quite an unusual, though eye-catching and memorable, title! How did it come about?

Pretty much by accident! The working title was The Fourth Fury, because Delia’s mother and aunts were supposed to be named after the three Furies, which would have made her the fourth. Once I did away with that, though, the title no longer made any sense. So then I was thinking about how Delia’s entire life comes apart at the seams while she’s also trying to solve the mystery of T.K.’s disappearance, which led me to words like “undone” and “puzzle” and “knot.” “Unraveled” somehow got on the list, and once it did, it felt right.

4. What events or books in your childhood and teen years inspired you to write?

This is probably a boring answer, but there was never a specific trigger to wanting to write – I just always knew I would, because I loved reading so much.

5. Will you share with us the story behind the cover of And Then Everything Unraveled?

I absolutely love the cover, but I can’t take any credit for it. Authors tend not to have much say when it comes to cover art, which in my case is good as I have no aesthetic sense. Mostly I lucked out, because the team at Scholastic did such a fabulous job with it.

6. What's the best writing advice you've ever received?

Another boring answer, probably, but still the best advice I’ve gotten: write.

7. How did you react when you read Meg Cabot's blurb for your book?

I’m a huge fan of Meg’s, so I was thrilled!

8. What are you reading right now?

I tend to have several books going at once, and it’s usually a fairly eclectic mix of genres as well as books I’m reading for the first time and ones I’m rereading. Here’s what’s currently on my nightstand:
  • This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Careless in Red by Elizabeth George
  • Kitty, Kitty by Michele Jaffe
  • The Eight by Katherine Neville
  • Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
9. Fun random question: what would the perfect meal for you consist of?

It’s very hot in New York, so I’d have to go with peaches and blueberries, or tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, or just about anything with artichokes. But in February it would be cheeseburgers or chili or something much more carnivorous.

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

Apparently there’s been a bit of confusion about whether Unraveled has a sequel – but it does! And Then I Found Out the Truth will be out next year, and I hope you’ll check it out when it hits the shelves.

Thank you for answering my questions, Jennifer!


Interest piqued yet for this fantastic book? Need another nudge? Check out Meg Cabot's: not only did she blurb Jennifer's book, she also wrote a blog entry recommending this book to all her readers, AND she linked to my review. (Thanks, Khy, for letting me know about it!) How's that for a little brush with fame for this little ole blog?!

The Giveaway:

Now that you've learned a little more about Jennifer and her latest book, here's an opportunity for you to win your own copy! Jennifer has very graciously provided a copy of And Then Everything Unraveled to send anywhere in the world--and to thank her, and to share my love, I am going to match that! So now you have TWO chances to win this fantastic book!

To enter, answer the following question: What are you reading right now?

For additional entries:

+2 if you're already following my blog, and let me know
+1 if you're a new follower, and let me know
+1 if you follow me on Twitter (@stephxsu)
+1 for each place you mention this giveaway (your blog, sidebar, Twitter, Facebook, etc...) and let me know

Ends: Thursday, August 20, 2009

Open: WORLDWIDE! So come and enter!

Please remember to leave your email address so I can contact you if you are a winner. Don't forget to check out Jennifer's website for more info if you're interested. Good luck!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cover Lust (3): Black Backgrounds

Recently I've been seeing a number of covers that contain a translucent/shimmery/neon/ethereal/eye-catching image on a black background. I'm sure you know the kind of cover I'm talking about. While I'm not sure how well any of the following covers capture the essence of the story--being as I haven't read all of them--I think there's just something about them that will catch your eye in the store or library and make you want to read it!

Ballad: The Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater
I love the use of fire of flames on cover (but that's another post for another time!), but this one is particularly striking to me because it's against the black background.

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
Simple and a little eerie, these legs: they look much too pale, skinny, and crooked to be human... which is part of their appeal to me! There's a heck of a lot of purple for me, but it's still a striking image.

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
I'm not sure what this is supposed to be a picture of--a leaf? a flower? a snowflake? a hint of a person? Maybe it's all of them, and maybe it's not. But I love the light that you can sort of see through the surface. Backlighting!

Gone (Wake, Book 3) by Lisa McMann
All of the covers for the Wake series are pretty nice, but this one is my favorite by far. Maybe it's just because green is my favorite color, and I think they did a great job using just the right amount of green to not be overwhelming. The interrogation chair spotlighted in the middle of all the darkness is amazing.

How do you feel about these covers? Are you a fan of the black backgrounds, or if you're not, do you think they will attract attention and sell? Can you think of any other black background covers that you like?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday (23)

Beautiful by Amy Reed

Summary from GoodReads:

When thirteen-year-old Cassie moves to a suburb of Seattle, she is determined to leave her boring, good-girl existence behind. She chooses some dangerous new friends and is quickly caught up in their fast-paced world of drugs, sex, secrets, and cruelty.

Cassie's new existence both thrills and terrifies her. She embraces the numbness she feels from the drugs, starts sleeping with an older boy, and gets pulled into a twisted friendship triangle that is tinged with violence and abuse. Cassie is trapped in a swift downward spiral, and there's no turning back.

I absolutely loved, and at the same time was horrified/fascinated by, the movie Thirteen, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, which came out a few years ago. This book sounds similar to the movie, which means it's a definite want for me. I'm always intrigued by stories with darker plots, stories of lives that could happen to any of us if we're not careful.

And isn't the cover great? I love the unusual title treatment, and the picture looks like a good girl gone bad. It's really compelling. I can't wait!

Beautiful will be published by Simon Pulse in hardcover on October 6, 2009.

What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

(And let me know how you think of the slight tweaks I've made to my layout! I like it a lot more now--there are still things I need to continue to work out, as well as some very necessary features such as "About Me" and "Review Policy" posts, but overall I'm happy that I was able to figure out the HTML on my own. One of the few perks of being an insomniac!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Review: Initiation by Susan Fine

Tags: YA, boys, prep school, drugs, manipulation

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Mauricio Londono, son of a middle-class college professor, thinks that the prestigious St. Stephen’s School for Boys is his dream school. Then he enters as a new freshmen, and quickly realizes that in this world of the rich and privileged, there are a whole different set of rules. Now, Mauricio must navigate his life with little to no knowledge of how things work.


INITIATION reminds me very much of Curtis Sittenfeld’s PREP: middle-class outsider attends a prestigious high school, witnesses with shock the lawless doings of the rich, and emerges from his/her school years relatively unchanged. Even with this proliferation of inaction and non-growth, however, I still definitely enjoyed INITIATION for its convincing portrayal of privileged teen apathy.

Since Mauricio is mostly a non-participating narrator, it’s all the other characters that are fascinating and draw my attention. Mauricio talks about the classmates he comes in contact with—all their ups and downs, convoluted morals, and shocking actions. It is often difficult for us to imagine that students at good high schools will actually act this way, and Mauricio’s narration adds to the prevailing shock and horrifying truth in a way that sticks with you.

INTIATION is not at all plot-based, and even the little plot it contains is overshadowed by the supporting characters. This turns out to be not a bad thing at all: I really think that this book should be read as a look into the lives of students at a private high school rather than one in which the plot was underdeveloped and unexciting.

Overall, I was very impressed with INITIATION and Susan Fine’s writing. She was able to fully convince me that schools such as St. Stephen’s do exist, much as we are loathe to admit it. I look forward to seeing how she continues to write telling studies of adolescent behavior in the future!

Similar Authors
Curtis Sittenfeld (Prep)

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Flux / May 2009 - Thank you, Susan, for allowing me to review your book!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review: My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent

Tags: YA, paranormal, banshees, death

Rating: 3 out of 5


When the best looking guy in school, Nash Hudson, starts paying attention to Kaylee Cavanaugh, all she wants to do is to live a normal life. But Kaylee is far from normal. She can sense when someone near her is about to die—and when she does, she starts screaming incontrollably. Inhumanly.

Then, Kaylee learns the shocking truth from some unexpected sources: she is actually not human, but rather a bean sidhe, a mythical creature who scream when death is near. Before Kaylee can have time to digest the truth, however, her abilities are needed to help find out why girls are mysteriously and suddenly dying every day.


Rachel Vincent blends mystery, romance, and magic into a series starter that will definitely find an audience with teen readers. With so many paranormal novels out there, the idea of MY SOUL TO TAKE is refreshingly unique: I haven’t read many books concerning bean sidhes (banshees), those who announce death, and Rachel Vincent’s take on the mythical creatures is satisfying and intriguing. The explanation behind the existence of bean sidhes is well spun; I always appreciate a well-wrought backstory.

The characters and writing, while not too noteworthy, were still interesting enough to capture the attention of a less discerning reader than me. Kaylee reacts like most teen girls in her situation would probably react: with horror and lots of hand-wringing, but not much action. The romance was tame, the attraction between Kaylee and Nash a little too sudden and forced for my taste, but it was okay because of the high interest levels of the world this book describes. It’s not the romance that’s the focus here, but the paranormal world.

Even though the plot is slow in the beginning and not much in terms of action really happens throughout (frustratingly enough, a lot of things seem to occur in conversations), my attention was still captured. MY SOUL TO TAKE is a good beginning to a series that will attract who are new to YA paranormal fiction. A decent introduction to a diverse genre.

Similar Authors
Amber Kizer (Meridian)
Maggie Stiefvater (Lament)
Gillian Shields

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

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - I like it. I think it's sexy and exotic, and I love all the red. This is a cover that would attract me for sure.

Harlequin Teen / Aug. 1, 2009 - Thank you, Harlequin Teen!

Interview Me, Interview You

Steph Bowe of Hey! Teenager of the Year started this fun "co-interview" meme. Check out how this works (cuz I hope you'll participate):

Follow these instructions:
  1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me.” (Include your email address if you think I don't already have it).
  2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
  3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
  5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
And here are my answers to Steph's questions:

1. Have you ever read a book that’s really spoken to you? Can you tell me about it? (Not in the sense that it suddenly began talking, but something that you could really relate to, and which drew a really powerful emotional response out of you.)

Oh, God, where do I even begin? I'm a leaky faucet when it comes to sad movies, but not so much for sad books. So when a book manages to make me cry, that's very impressive.

When I finished The Sweet Far Thing, the last book in Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy, I felt like I walked around in a cloud of despair and bittersweetness for the rest of the day. I've talked to numerous people who really didn't like how the trilogy ended, but for me, it was perfect in its sad hopefulness and imperfection. It's one of my favorite "imperfect" series endings, and is always something I think about when considering how to write my own stories.

I also recently read The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale, which made me bust out laughing as well as sob nonstop for the last third of the novel. I don't think I've ever read a book that made me sob, and this one was just so well-written, a fun but un-fairy-tale-like story.

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler is not one of my all-time favorites, but there was just something about the main character, Anna, that I could completely relate to. If I were ever placed in that position of loving my best friend's dead brother, I know that I would react exactly how Anna related. I have problems liking people--and characters--who are too similar to me, but at the same time I have trouble getting Anna and her story out of her mind, so eerily alike we are. That was a cool discovery.

2. If you could choose only five movies to watch for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?

Another hard question! The 1995 Pride & Prejudice BBC miniseries (self-explanatory), When Harry Met Sally (love the dynamics and dialogue), 10 Things I Hate About You (makes me laugh every time), Hairspray or Rent (great musical soundtracks that I can sing along to for *gulp* the rest of my life), and the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary in Concert DVD (best musical of all time. Period).

3. If you were a shape shifter, what animal (or inanimate object, if you prefer) would you choose to be the form you could shift into and why?

lol, this is not something I've ever really thought about, but it might be pretty cool to be a ferret-like creature like the form that Lyra's daemon, Pan, prefers to take in the His Dark Materials trilogy. (Wow, that was really specific.) Sleek and pretty, with soft fur.

4. If you were arrested by police, what would it most likely be for?

Illegal downloading. Or falling asleep at the wheel. :/

5. Zombie apocalypse scenario: I want you to have a look around whatever room you’re in, and choose which object you’d use to fight them off if the undead suddenly rose, right this very second.

In the surge of adrenaline that would surely accompany this unlikely scenario, I would probably brandish my three-piece floor lamp. Hee-yah!


Sounds fun, right? Just leave a comment saying you want to be interviewed, along with your email address, and I'll send you some questions for you to answer! :D

Friday, July 24, 2009

Author Interview: Leslie Goetsch

Leslie Goetsch is the author of Back Creek (Bancroft Press), which I had the pleasure of reviewing last month and which I called "a pure slice of heaven," perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen. (Check out the rest of my review here.) In order to spread the word about this little known but well-deserving novel, Leslie agreed to answer my questions for an interview. Hope you enjoy!

1. Hello, Leslie! What in your childhood / teenage years shaped your love of reading and writing?

I have always been a big reader; I remember getting my neighbor (who was in first grade) to teach me how to read because I was too young to go to school and I was too impatient to wait to learn. Writing seems a natural segue for someone who has a passion for literature, as I always have. I remember starting stories since I learned to write, but never finishing any of them.

2. You spent 10 years writing Back Creek. What kept you writing during those years? What held you back?

I think two things sustained me for the embarrassingly long period it took to complete this book: a faithful, supportive writing group of four women, and sheer bullheaded-ness. I was lucky enough to be invited to join a writing group when I had barely begun what would become Back Creek. Their encouragement and wise writing advice kept me writing, despite lots of crises of faith and a good deal of questioning just why I was doing this. And, truth to tell, once I got going, I became determined to finish. Bear in mind that I was teaching full-time and raising a family. Without knowing there were at least three people who were interested in what happened in this book, I am sure I would have given up a long time ago.

3. The town of Back Creek is such a vivid, detailed, and fascinating place. What inspired the locale?

The setting of Back Creek is really the only non-fictional part. My mother and stepfather built a house on a chunk of land on a deep creek near Yorktown, Virginia. Even though I never lived there, I did visit often and found the water and the locale powerfully evocative. It just stuck with me.

4. What is the story behind the cover of your book?

The cover of the book is actually a photograph taken by my brother from the deck of my mother’s house. You can “see” Cal’s boat, the marina, the Whythes’ house, and the Creek. I thought it worked out perfectly.

5. BACK CREEK is a coming-of-age story, but with a pace and feel that is not exactly young adult fiction. As a teacher, how do you believe your book can be used in the classroom setting? What do you hope young adults and teenagers will get out of it?

I teach at a girls’ school, and so I am reminded of, and involved in, the struggle so many adolescent girls have finding a sense of confidence and the courage to recognize their own strengths. Grace’s summer is like an intense, compact version of that struggle and I feel what she learns about herself and her family might prompt girls to reflect on their situations, their futures, their strengths and, hopefully, their sense of self. I have had really positive response from the girls who have read it, as well as great enthusiasm from their mothers who have read it.

6. Who are some of your favorite authors and books?

I always freeze up when I am asked this questions, because there are SO MANY writers and books I like. Perennial favorites include: Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Scott Fitzgerald, Toni Morrison, Richard Ford, Richard Russo, Alice McDermott—I will stop here before your eyes start to glaze over. I just read a great first novel by Tania James called Atlas of Unknowns. It was wonderful!

7. What's the best part about being a published author? Are there any particular reader reactions or actions that stand out to you?

The best parts of being a published author are the satisfaction of completing a project and the kindness of people who read the book. I have been completely blown away by how encouraging everyone has been. I’ve enjoyed every one of the book clubs I’ve spoken to and the presentations I’ve made in connection with Back Creek. The business side is not so fun—but that’s another story.

8. I ask this question to many of the people I interview: tell us two interesting/unique/strange things about yourself that can spark a conversation.

Two interesting things about me? I’ll give my stock answers for such questions: I was a model when I was a baby and I am related to Robert Frost. I’m a pretty conventional person—wish I had something more interesting…maybe I’ll get a tattoo.

9. Any final words you would like to say to readers?

THANK YOU FOR READING BACK CREEK!!! I am happy to talk with groups about the novel and about the process of writing a novel—please just shoot me an email. And thank you, Stephanie, for this virtual chat!


Thank YOU, Leslie, for sharing with us the answers to my questions! If you're interested in contacting Leslie, her email is lesliegoe [at] aol [dot] com. Hope you considering reading this magnificent book!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review and Guest Post: Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert (T2T)

Last month I wrote a short post in which I raved--in the (hopefully) least annoying but most inspiring manner possible--about Stephanie Kuehnert's sophomore book, Ballads of Suburbia, which basically rendered me speechless. This you will see in my upcoming incoherent, insufficient review. It's a book that must stand for itself, one that is easily in contention for the best book I've read in 2009 so far.

I was blessed with an ARC, but I know I'm getting my butt over to to my local bookstore as soon as I can and buying a finished copy (they're only $13--less if you buy it on Amazon!) to have a place of honor on my perma-bookshelf. If you do buy it, you can enter the Ballads Blitz that Shelly from Write for a Reader is holding, with awesome prizes. But the best part is that you have a copy of this magnificent, haunting, raw, powerful, and life-changing book. Enough of laundry-listing adjectives. Let's go to the T2T section.

Publication date: July 21, 2009 (MTV Books)

Tags: YA, drugs, sex, friendship, suicide, divorce, edgy

Rating: 5 out of 5


Kara goes to USC film school and loves ballads, those songs about one’s life and the events, decisions, and mistakes that make one who he or she is. However, she has never been able to write her own ballad, of her teenage years growing up in the Chicago suburbs amongst sex, drugs, music, and betrayal.

Her friends were all able to write their own ballads in their shared “Stories of Suburbia” notebook, but as Kara relives her teenage years, she realizes that her own ballad is a composition of all of her friends’, and a few others’ besides. Her story consists of a wrecked home life; a younger brother, Liam, whose heart she is always breaking; friends whose loyalties waver; and a boy who’s bad, but not all there is to her crashing-and-burning. And in the end, all the experiences help Kara realize who and what in her life are the most important of all.


BALLADS OF SUBURBIA left me reeling, thinking hard for hours afterwards. I share zero experience with Kara, and yet Stephanie Kuehnert masterfully pulls us into this dangerous, deceptive, yet enticing world of drugs, sex, and warped friendships. Only a talented writer can pull you into a world you know nothing about and make you feel as if you simultaneously understand and yet can never understand that world.

I know that I won’t be able to find the words significant to describe this novel, because what it covers is beyond my words. From family and sibling relationships to the ebb and flow of friendships and loves being made and broken, this book follows Kara through her high school years in the untalked about part of the suburbs. All of the characters seem to jump out of the page and walk around you like they are real, problems and all. Nothing is black-and-white: the characters have different and sometimes troubling attitudes, but it’s their (or, rather, Stephanie’s) ability to convince us of their justification for their beliefs that is truly great.

Overall, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA is a remarkable achievement that hits you right where it counts (your heart) and lingers where it matters (the brain). I’m truly looking forward to seeing what Stephanie Kuehnert will do next.

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5
Want more? Abso-freaking-lutely.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4.5 out of 5 - I love this cover. I think it succeeds at being creepy, twisted, and ironic: it's a common playground toy perverted into a haunting reminder of the dark side of suburbia. The colors are brilliant in their carefully muted way. Again, love it.

Stephanie on Teens and Ballads

I would absolutely be honored if Ballads was used in classrooms. I wrote it because it was the kind of book I wanted/needed to read in high school. A lot of kids are dealing with heavy baggage from a young age. I know I did. And what made it really hard was that I didn't feel comfortable talking about it. I kept a lot of things hidden even from my friends, so when it came to talking to adults... well I barely did that. The one thing that got me talking semi-openly with my mom was that she would watch My So-Called Life with me. I was the same age as the main character, Angela Chase, at the time it was on, so sometimes after the show we'd talk about how I related to whatever Angela was going through. Sadly, that show was cancelled after one season. But part of the reason I open Ballads with a quote from that show is to pay homage to it and because I hope this book will create dialogue between teens and their friends, teachers, parents, etc. liek that show did for me and my mom.

If Ballads were read and discussed in a classroom environment that would be awesome. But even that might be too public a forum for kids to really feel comfortable discussing their feelings. I guess I just really hope that the book will inspire teens and young adults and really people of all ages to talk to the people closest to them. To speak up when something is bothering them rather than just letting it fester. Yes, it may be upsetting. But the world is an upsetting place and it can't be made a better place unless we talk about it and work together.

The things that the characters in my book are going through are all real: divorce, abandonment/neglect issues, loneliness. Some people, probably even people you know, cope with their pain by self-injury and substance abuse. Talking is the first step to healing. And writing is often the first step to talking. When I was a teenager I did 'zines. I spilled my soul into those zines, all the painful, ugly, dark pieces of it. It was like my version of the notebook the characters keep. The more I focused on writing, the less I cut myself or drank too much or did drugs to escape.

I hope that anyone who reads this book will think about, maybe even write down, their own ballad. Then think about if "singing" that ballad-- meaning sharing it with a friend, posting it on your blog, talking about it with a trusted family member-- would help you to heal. I think you'll find that it will and more than that, you story will help lots of other people dealing with similar situations.

This fall, I'm coming together with another author, Jolene Siana, who wrote Go Ask Ogre, which also deals with self-injury and depression, to create a website where people can post the art and writing they've done to get through the dark places in life. I hope to have more info soon. But I guess my biggest hope is for readers to find away to express what they've been through in life. Sing your own ballad loud and clear.

Thank you so much, Stephanie. Have fun celebrating your book's release! 

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

YA is evil! (Or so these people think..)

Sara Zarr shared on Twitter today a CNN article about parents in a Wisconsin city trying to ban YA books in their local library for affirming homosexuality, providing pornography to teens' tender ears, among other reasons. Read the whole article here. I encourage you too. It's quite infuriating and makes me livid. There is no doubt that for some things in teens' lives, their parents' opinions are best, but as many people have said better than me, the best thing that parents can do for their children is to let them read what they want. Experience is learning; sheltering a kid and providing them with only the watered-down nuggets of real life is not.

And that's not even getting into the outrageously out-of-fashion attitudes towards any type of sexuality in general. When it comes to reading taste, the target audience knows best what they want to read and how much and what they can handle. From the turbulent and widespread mass of literature out there we seek out what we enjoy and can relate to. Keeping teens sheltered and in the dark? Acting with the stubborn belief that ignorance is bliss? (Is it really, now?) Failing to remember how you were as a teen: inquiring, yearning, learning, breaking, mending, creating...?

Is trying to keep history stationary or even going backwards in time really helping any one of us grow to make the world a better place?

I'll turn it over to you now. How did you react to the article?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday (22)

This past week was a good one in terms of discovering books I would love to read. But in a rather eyebrow-raising coincidence I discovered great-sounding two books, with uncanny similarities...

EDIT: Thanks to some keen-eyed fellow bloggers, it appears that I've been misinformed about the two author names. I thought Fallen was by someone named Kate Lauren, but it turns out that both Fallen and Betrayal are by one person: Lauren Kate. Someone please tell Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and numerous other book websites that they need to change their information as well. Thanks for the heads-up, guys! :)

Fallen by Lauren Kate
(Random House / Dec. 8, 2009)

Seventeen-Year-Old Luce is a new student at Sword & Cross, an unwelcoming boarding/reform school in Savannah, Georgia. Luce’s boyfriend died under suspicious circumstances, and now she carries the guilt over his death with her as she navigates the unfriendly halls at Sword & Cross, where every student seems to have an unpleasant—even evil—history.

It’s only when she sees Daniel, a gorgeous fellow student, that Luce feels there’s a reason to be here—though she doesn’t know what it is. And Daniel’s frosty cold demeanor toward her? It’s really a protective device that he’s used again . . . and again. For Daniel is a fallen angel, doomed to fall in love with the same girl every 17 years . . . and watch her die. And Luce is a fellow immortal, cursed to be reincarnated again and again as a mortal girl who has no idea of who she really is.

Well, right now Becca Fitzpatrick has cornered the market on fallen angels for me, but I'm still curious to see how this will turn out. I'm no Team Zombie, I'll admit, and vampires are definitely starting to get overwhelmingly prolific and cliche. So, fallen angels it is!

And here's the other one:

The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove by Lauren Kate
(Razorbill / Nov. 12, 2009)

A steamy Southern beauty makes one fatal mistake...

Natalie Hargrove would kill to be her high school’s Palmetto Princess. But her boyfriend Mike King doesn’t share her dream and risks losing the honor of Palmetto Prince to Natalie’s nemesis, Justin Balmer. So she convinces Mike to help play a prank on Justin. . . one that goes terribly wrong. They tie him to the front of the church after a party—when they arrive the next morning, Justin is dead.

From blackmail to buried desire, dark secrets to darker deeds, Natalie unravels. She never should’ve messed with fate. Fate is the one thing more twisted than Natalie Hargrove.

Cruel Intentions meets Macbeth in this seductive, riveting tale of conscience and consequence.

Yay, sinister intents, deaths, and beautiful teenagers gone wrong! No, seriously, every once in a while I just want to read something that's like Gossip Girl for the paranormal and non-upper-class set, and this book looks like it can deliver.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review (SS4): Evernight by Claudia Gray

Tags: YA, paranormal, vampires, boarding school, vampire hunters

Rating: 2 out of 5


Bianca Olivier’s parents are new teachers at the boarding school Evernight Academy, and Bianca just knows that she has to get out of Evernight. The students are distant, sophisticated, and creepy; Bianca feels like she doesn’t belong.

Then she meets Luke. He makes her feel complete, and it’s not long before they are inseparable. But Luke acts mysterious sometimes, and Bianca can’t figure him out…until disaster strikes. Suddenly, old family secrets are revealed, and the two young lovers’ lives may be in grave danger.


The first reaction I had when I finished this book was, wow, I’m glad it’s over. That doesn’t bode well for the first sentence of a review, but I’m going to try to explain why EVERNIGHT gave me a headache and had me rolling my eyes through every page.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some good parts to this book. I really liked the concept of a boarding school for vampires; the gothic towers and rooms of Evernight reminded me vaguely of Hogwarts, which was cool. The idea that Gray presents readers of a world where immortal vampires are constantly struggling to fit in, and need to be taught technology, was intriguing, although not as well developed as it could’ve been.

I really liked the tension between vampires and the human vampire hunters, even though the motivations for the vampire hunters’ actions were not well explained. And finally, I was a fan of the huge twist halfway through the book that everyone likes to talk about. Books with unreliable narrators are difficult to pull off, and Bianca’s revelation to us was shocking, yet satisfying at the same time.

However, EVERNIGHT fell flat in all other aspects. Bianca was difficult to like: she constantly feels the need to tell readers things about herself and the world around her, things that we didn’t need to know—like the fact that she’s supposedly shy, even though there’s no indication of shyness beyond the general awkwardness of adolescence among a new crowd—or could have inferred in the hands of a more skilled writer. Similarly, none of the other characters were interesting, least of all Luke. I rolled my eyes at the stilted dialogue and forced attraction between the two, felt my eyelids start to slide shut at the unbearably slow pace of the novel.

I read EVERNIGHT for the express purpose of finding out what that plot twist was, but it wasn’t worth it. Lovers of vampire lit might be interested in the world that Gray has tried to spin, but newcomers to the genre would be better off with other vampire series, such as Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy.

Similar Authors
Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy)
Stephenie Meyer
Aprilynne Pike
P. C. Cast (House of Night)

Writing: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Plot: 2/5
Want more? No thanks.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2.5 out of 5 - Well, I don't have a problem with it. I like the glossy-on-matte monochromatic look/feel--even if it doesn't have anything to do with the story.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Review (SS3): The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart

Ruby Oliver, Book 3

Publication Date: July 28, 2009 (Random House)

Tags: YA, high school, drama, friendship, angst

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Now in the second half of her junior year, Ruby Oliver seems to have reached a sort of satisfying plateau in her social standing. No longer a social standing after the incident with the boyfriend list in sophomore year, Ruby now has several friends, of both genders—but, alas, she still does not have a boyfriend!

This is not to say that she doesn’t have any prospects. A school bake sale she runs prompts several guys to participate, and to maybe show an interest in her. Roo also can’t decide how she feels about her ex, Jackson, newly single after breaking up with Roo’s ex-best friend, sending her more gifts and always hanging around her. And finally, she has trouble interpreting the actions of Noel, her friend and someone she may like.

But then things get worse—much worse. And suddenly Roo is back in a position of trying to figure out who her true friends are, and whether or not she is a good person after all.


E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver books are, quite simply, some of the best studies of high school platonic and romantic interaction that ever exist. What I love about Roo and the books about her are how thoroughly and realistically complex the characters are. Teens do a lot of crazy things in high school, and there are never easy explanations for their motivations. Similarly, Roo is constantly trying to analyze her behavior and decide whether she is being a normal teenage girl or a horrible person.

This kind of three-dimensional psych study isn’t just limited to Roo, however. All of the other people in Roo’s life—with the exception of the adults—are prime candidates for loads of discussion. What makes them do what they do? Are they right to put so much blame on Roo for things going badly, or are they themselves also partially at fault? All the questions that teens subconsciously must answer in high school, and yet rarely have the ability to voice as clearly as Roo does.

The excellence doesn’t stop there, either! E. Lockhart not only creates wonderful characters, she also writes humorously. Roo has a habit of using footnotes liberally to either go off on tangents that usually involve cinema knowledge or to make a funny and/or informative note. The result is a book that is easy yet fun to read.

Due to E. Lockhart’s insightful observation about the behaviors of teenagers in a small school, as well as Roo’s admittedly dramatic life, the Ruby Oliver books would make great presents for teen girls who read a lot of manga but not many actual novels. The situations involving friends and love interests will be familiar to them, and the language will be accessible and enticing. And at the same time, there are plenty of smarts in this book to win anyone’s heart. If you want to relive those painful high school years of confusing and crazy emotions, this is a great series to pick up.

Similar Authors
John Green
Megan McCafferty
Diana Peterfreund
Michele Jaffe

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 4/5
Want more? Yes--not only because I love Roo, but also because the ending just begs for another saga to be written.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - I love these covers! If you've read the previous Ruby Oliver books, you'll know that they're all pretty similar, with the white backgrounds, unassuming font, and the one simple "toy". Love it. They look great together, and they're definitely recognizable.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In My Mailbox (13), or Author/Publisher Appreciation

Yes, you could probably tell that I haven't done an IMM post in a long time. Two months, to be exact. I stopped because, after a while, it wasn't fun anymore. It took a lot of time, and I was always left feeling empty after reading everyone's posts, and I'm not even sure why.

However, I am now reinstating IMM on an irregular basis to give thanks to authors and publishers who have been wonderful in offering their books for review. I won't include books I got in swap, and very little of what I bought (because that would just make things all the more confusing), but I will list the books that I borrowed from the library, to show support for the library! Hehe. Here goes!

Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
(Little, Brown / Dec. 1, 2009)

A Southern town with dark secrets... a cursed family... a doomed romance. Sounds... delicious! And the cover is beautiful, of course. I featured it on one of my Waiting on Wednesday posts. Sooo excited to read it. Thank you, Kami, Margie, Cecilia, and Little Brown!

Initiation by Susan Fine
(Flux / May 2009)

A middle-school, minority student at a prep school filled with the usual amount of snobbish and dangerous prep students. Written by a Deb! Thank you, Susan!

And Then Everything Unraveled by Jennifer Sturman
(Point / July 1, 2009)

A teenage girl's mother goes missing, and she is sent to live with her two very different aunts in NYC. However, she can't shake off the feeling that her mother may still be out there, and in danger...

Have I already said how much I enjoyed this book? No? Well, read my review, in which I talk all about why I enjoyed it and why I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel. Also look out for an author interview and giveaway soon. Thank you, Sheila Marie!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
(Henry Holt & Co. / May 12, 2009)

An 11-year-old girl talks about what it's like to grow up in rural Texas at the turn of the twentieth century. This book has received numerous awards and recommendations, and it reminds me a bit of the Little House on the Prairie books, which I loved. Thank you, Henry Holt & Co., and Sarah from Blue Slip Media!

Ghost Huntress, Book 1: The Awakening by Marley Gibson
(Sandpiper / May 4, 2009)

A girl discovers her ghost-fighting powers and uses technology to get rid of ghosts in her new town. I've been seeing mixed reviews of this, and am curious to find out what I'd think of it. Thank you again, Sarah!

Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors
(Walker Books / July 21, 2009)

An angel comes into a girl's life and wishes to grant her deepest desire... only she doesn't know what it is herself. Besides, she's got bigger things to worry about--such as how her grandmother's coffeehouse is going to stay open. (See my review here.)

Oathbreaker: Assassin's Apprentice, Part I by S. R. Vaught and J. B. Redmond
(Bloomsbury / May 12, 2009)

Two boys discover their role in helping right the corruption that is pillaging their world.

The above two were from Bloomsbury for review. Thank you, Anna!

The Rapture by Liz Jensen
(Doubleday / Aug. 11, 2009)

Touted as a cross between Girl, Interrupted and The Dead Zone, this is a story about a girl, incarcerated for murdering her mother, but perhaps responsible for upcoming natural and geological disasters. A Shelf Awareness find. Thank you, Doubleday!

Constellation Chronicles: The Lost Civilization of Aries by Vincent Lowry
(Mill City Press / Dec. 1, 2008)

A UFO crash-lands in New Mexico, and a young man is thrust into a strange new world. From Bostick Communications. Thank you, Vincent.

Across the Pond by Storyheart
(Xlibris / Sept. 2008)

Transatlantic romance. Another Bostick offering. Thank you, Storyheart.

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
(Simon & Schuster / Oct. 13, 2009)

Patch is dangerous, devious, irresistibly sexy... and not of this world. And Nora Grey is about to fall for him.

This book has been one of the upcoming releases I'm most looking forward to ever since I found it and featured it as a Waiting on Wednesday pick. And wow! This is an incredibly tantalizing story. I couldn't put it down, and when I finished, I had to go back and reread some of my favorite parts! My review will be posted closer to the publication date soon, by order of special arrangements with Becca, but it's up on Goodreads if you stalk find me there. Thank you SO much, Becca and Patricka!

Ash by Malinda Lo
(Little, Brown / Sept. 1, 2009)

A lesbian retelling of Cinderella and one of my most anticipated Waiting on Wednesday picks...need I say more? Malinda was wonderful enough to offer me one of her remaining ARCs, and words cannot express how much I'm looking forward to reading this. Thank you, thank you, Malinda!

David Inside Out by Lee Bantle
(Henry Holt & Co. / May 12, 2009)

When David falls for another guy on the track team, he does everything he can to try to suppress his "inappropriate" feelings. I've been reading some brilliant GLBTQ lit recently (most notably being Sprout by Dale Peck--review here and an interview with Dale here). Therefore, I am excited to read this book. Thanks for the opportunity, Lee!

Meridian by Amber Kizer
(Delacorte / Aug. 11, 2009)

Meridian Sozu is a freaky combination of half-angel and half-human, causing inexplicable links to deaths all her life. She learns that her responsibility is to help people die, so that their half-dead souls will not be used for sinister purposes.

A total surprise when this one came in the mail. Total. Okay, maybe once, long ago, I mentioned on my blog that Meridian was on my wishlist... and then Amber did this for me?? Thank you thank you thank you, Amber! My mouth fell open when I saw this, seriously. :)

Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen
(EgmontUSA / Oct. 13, 2009)

Sara is new at Anton High, and decides to reinvent herself by lying about her past. But when a classmate starts to dig up old history, Sara may be in trouble...

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff
(EgmontUSA / Sept. 8, 2009)

Andrew is grossly overweight, and that's only one of the reasons he doesn't fit in at school. But he decides to try and belong somewhere... by trying out for the football team.

Wow! I'm so excited to get these from EgmontUSA, whose line launches this fall with some spectacular titles. Thank you so much, Stephanie!

My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent
(Harlequin Teen / Aug. 1, 2009)

Kaylee has the unfortunate compulsion to scream whenever someone near her is about to die. It's cutting into her ability to have a normal social life, but when classmates start dying off, Kaylee's sucked into the horrifying mystery.

Intertwined by Gena Showalter
(Harlequin Teen / Sept. 1, 2009)

Aden has four souls living inside him. It's confusing and crazy, but then he meets a girl who can quiet the turmoil within him. Only problem is, he's not good for her.

These books came from a website promotional offering. They sound delicious. I secretly enjoy romance novels, so I'm intrigued to see how Harlequin will write for teens. Thanks, Harlequin Teen!

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner
(Atria / July 14, 2009)

From what I gather from online synopses and the book jacket, this book is basically about two friends who fall out of friendship but then are drawn back together due to some circumstances. This one was a surprise, and originally I thought I would have to read Jennifer's previous books to understand this, but it turns out this is a stand-alone novel, which is good right about now. Sounds good! I'm going to read it soon.

Also got the following from the library:

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
Mudville by Kurtis Scaletta
Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian
Girl Stays in the Picture by Melissa de la Cruz
Highway to Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore

I probably missed some along the weeks or so, especially if I've already read and reviewed them. If that's the case, sorry about that! The next time I do an IMM post it will be a lot better, since it won't be a two-months' buildup, hehe. How 'bout that?

Cover Lust (2)

I'm always intrigued by how other countries interpret books originally published in the US, and make a cover art and title translation to fit. The German version of Michelle Zink's Prophecy of the Sisters caught my eye, because... well... is an explanation really needed?

Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink (German cover)

Wow. Just... wow. I love the saturation, which makes the models' eyes and lips stand out. I love the designs on the corners, and I love how they treated the font. If I were living in Germany and knew how to speak German, I would totally pick this one up. Heck, I might even try to get my hands on a copy, just so I can have the pretty covers, side by side.

Okay... *peels eyes away from that delicious cover* Moving on. As you all probably know, I have a slightly unhealthy attachment to It is also a great place to find intriguing covers. Here are two that really caught my eye and made me want to read them:

The Lacemaker and the Princess by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The thing I love about this cover is the attention to detail. You can practically see every thread of of the left girl's shawl and the right girl's dress! Plus it's bright and warm, which gives off a magical, comfortable feeling--and you'd be right. What do you guys think?

The Dream Merchant by Isabel Hoving

It's not as colorful or as bright as the first two, but there's still something about it that just... gets me. I love the bright spot of light near the top, and the simple white font looks striking against the textured background. This was definitely a cover that made me look more into the book--and now it's sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. How does it affect you? From the cover, what do you think the book's about?


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