Friday, April 30, 2010

Big Spring Giveaway!

No description really needed?

But pictures. Pictures, yes!

One (1) GRAND PRIZE WINNER will win the following books:

The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
She's So Dead to Us by Kieran Scott
Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus
Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready

Signed books:
Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder
The Heart Is Not a Size by Beth Kephart

And yes, the books are signed!


(Sorry for the poor lighting. I took these pictures at 2am.)

The grand prize winner will also win the following pile of swag:

Basically, lots and lots of stuff that authors have given me to distribute, etc.

The first runner-up winner will get the following pile of swag:

And the second runner-up will get the following:

This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY and ends Friday, May 7, 2010. Yes, that's only one week from today. It's a quick giveaway because I need to have these sent out before my college semester ends and I go home for a few weeks. So enter enter quickly, and spread the word soon, please!

To enter, fill out the form below. Good luck!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guest Post and Giveaway: Rachelle Rogers Knight! (T2T)

For today's stop on Rachelle Rogers Knight's Traveling to Teens tour for her new book, Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens (which I've reviewed earlier today), Rachelle has graciously stopped by my guest blog to share yet another of her suggestions for great summer reading! Welcome, Rachelle, to Steph Su Reads!


Rachelle's Summer Reading Pick

The theme of the Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens Traveling to Teens Tour is "Great Summer Reading". For each of my guest posts on the tour, the blog host and I will both recommend a book we feel would be worthy of some sunny weather, summer reading.

If you are looking for an adventure with a fascinating leading lady and enough pages to last through a family trip in the car, a long plane ride, or some fun days at the beach, Graceling by Kristin Cashore is an outstanding pick.

To be 'Graced' means to have special powers. These are not Super Hero powers per se, more extra-human powers. A Graceling might be able to see as well as an owl at night, sense storms, swim like a fish, or in the case of Katsa, the amazing heroine of the story, fight an entire army and not get hurt. She has incredible endurance, doesn't need to sleep, eat or rest like a normal human and is insensitive to pain. Her compassion for others contradicts her Grace and guides the appreciation of her truly human nature, even if she accepts her King's bidding to kill on demand.

A Graceling is known not only by their extra abilities, but by their eyes; they are two different colors. Katsa has one green and one blue. These eyes are disconcerting to most she comes into contact with, alerting them to her abilities and bringing forth a prejudice that leaves Katsa with few friends.

Katsas' future is reshaped when a prince of another country comes to the Muddlin court (Katas' home). Po, the seventh prince of Leneid is also Graced with fighting abilities similar to Katsa. His gold and silver eyes mesmerize and befuddle Katsa to the point that she is comfortable with Po only when trying to beat him in the arena. What follows is a slowly developing, realistic romance between friends - albeit friends that attack and fight each other with enough force to leave an army dead. Po is also deeply compassionate and his influence on Katsa serves as a sculpting tool, softening her more deadly and angry edges, while allowing her skeptical heart time to learn about love.

If you dive into Graceling and are left with a craving for more adventure, the tale continues with the 2009 Cybil Award Winning novel Fire.

Graceling is mentioned on the following lists in the Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens reading journal:

  • YALSA Teen Top Teen Award, page 33
  • Amelia Bloomer Project, page 66
  • Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, page 83
  • Love Stories for 13-15 Year-Olds, page 91


Steph Su's Summer Reading Pick(s)

Yeah, picks, plural. I'm going to go and link to my Great Summer Reads list that I compiled in the depths of winter for my 2009 Best Books Lists feature. But mostly I want to talk about a total summer beach read that I'm hoping I can get to reread one day in the future:


The Au Pairs series by Melissa de la Cruz

First of all, the covers are borderline scandalous, guiltily lovely photography, and SO up my alley as a result. *grins* Secondly, this is everything I want in a fun and addicting beach read. Lifestyles of the rich and maybe-not-quite-famous! Hot boy drama! Best friends drama! Family drama! Drama drama drama! All done in adorable sundresses and sandals. I'm aware I probably sound rather un-Steph-like right now, but A) I'm tired, and B) if you take these books too seriously, you'll have no fun. So check them out!

(Or just buy them for the covers, as I partially did. *grins wider* More of Steph being scan-dah-louss.)


Giveaway info: Thanks to Rachelle and Sourcebooks, I'm giving away one copy of Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens to YOU, my lovely blog readers! All you have to do is CLICK HERE to go to my unique giveaway site on Rachelle's website, enter your email address, and you're all set! Each blogger on the tour has their own giveaway, so it would do you good to check out the blog tour schedule if you want to increase your chances of winning.

I'm not sure if it's international or not (you might as well try, right?), but it ends on Thursday, May 20, 2010. Good luck for your chance to check out this nifty journal!

Review: Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens by Rachelle Rogers Knight (T2T)

Tags: nonfiction, guide, YA lit, literature, lists, recommendations

This guide-slash-journal to middle grade and young adult literature is an admirable compilation of recommendations and reader interaction. Writing a guidebook for a field that literally changes by the day is no easy feat, and while I had some issues with some parts of the journal, I still commend Rachelle for taking on this monumental task, and would recommend RRR as a great gift to give a bookworm.

Because this is not the usual type of book I review (i.e. er, it's not fiction), I will organize my review slightly differently, in a section each for Pros, Cons, and Concluding Thoughts.


The first half of the journal contains hundreds, if not thousands, of different lists of recommended reads: awards that range from the local to the national level, for pretty much every genre imaginable. The lists towards the end of this section are even divided up by genre and similar bestsellers (i.e. one of those “What do I read after Twilight?” things). And what’s especially happy-making for list-obsessed bookworms like me is that beside each title are spaces to mark if you’ve read it, want to read it, want to own it, and/or would recommend it to others. The organization of this section is, I think, ideal for book industry professionals in a role of recommending books to others: librarians, teachers, etc.

Following the lists is a good-sized space for creating your own lists: of books you read, your thoughts on books, books you’d recommend to others, and books you’ve lent out and would love to keep track of. The format can be a bit awkward, as the lines are narrow and the spaces fairly small, but I love the concept of this section and would’ve gone completely ga-ga over it as a tween, when I was obsessed with organization but, instead of preferring to make my own formatted lists, would’ve preferred to use something neat and premade.

And finally, in the back are lists of resources: websites to libraries, blogs, and author pages. There’s also a great appendix of basic-to-intermediate-level literary terms—handy for upcoming English tests!


As far as I can gather, all the lists in this book were taken from lists that other organizations had written—so, essentially, this book is like a well-organized compilation of other people’s works. This works if it’s what you’re looking for, but I couldn’t help but feel that this format creates a certain lack of connection for me. I would’ve loved to see some original lists written by the author herself, or perhaps somehow put a “face” to all the organizations whose lists are included in this compilation. Quotes from contributors, original lists created specifically for this journal by book lovers…that would’ve made the journal feel more personal to me, as I think a good journal should do.

Also, there are no descriptions for each book’s title, which for a fairly well-read YA reader is no problem, as many of the titles are either bestselling or destined to YA canonization, but for someone hoping to enter the wide world of YA lit may be a bit more frustrating and more work to find out more about the titles. Though I understand that including descriptions would’ve made this journal close to about a thousand pages, compilations like these are always a careful balancing of breadth vs. depth, with things being forced to be sacrificed somewhere down the line.

And finally, I would’ve loved to see a section explaining Rachelle’s “credentials” for and investment in taking on this enormous task of compressing the whole of YA lit into a manageable journal. I guess that being a blogger for over a year now has made me think more about the concept of objective authority, and whether it can exist for an industry that’s constantly changing. Anyone who takes on this challenge can obviously not make everyone happy: all they can do is to clearly define the place from which they’re coming. And I wanted to see where Rachelle stood, where she was coming from. To paint an example, I especially wanted to know how Rachelle created the Resources pages in the back, as those were the most original of the content in the book. But how, may I ask, is a list of YA book blogs complete without Lenore?? Alright, I’ll stop there before I continue to nitpick more.

Concluding Thoughts

Rating this kind of book is extremely difficult, as recommendation lists are always so subjective. I’m not fully convinced that this is the most exemplary and reader-friendly compilation regarding YA lit out there, but if you’re in that in-between stage, where you’ve read a handful of YA novels and have interest in reading more, or if you’re simply a lover of lists about books, this is definitely something need to check out.

Physical design: 4/5
Content: 3/5
Organization: 4/5
Usefulness: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Sourcebooks / April 1, 2010 / Paperback / 352pp. / $15.99

Received from publisher for Traveling to Teens Tour. Don't forget to check out the tour's site for a list of other blog tour stops!

Guest post from Rachelle coming soon...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (62)

A Matter of Magic by Patricia C. Wrede

When a stranger offers her a small fortune to break into a traveling magician’s wagon, Kim doesn’t hesitate. Having grown up a waif in the dirty streets of London, Kim isn’t above a bit of breaking-and-entering. A hard life and lean times have schooled her in one lesson: steal from them before they steal from you. But when the magician catches her in the act, Kim thinks she’s done for. Until he suggests she become his apprentice; then the real trouble begins.

Kim soon finds herself entangled with murderers, thieves, and cloak-and-dagger politics, all while trying to learn how to become both a proper lady and a magician in her own right. Magic and intrigue go hand in hand in Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward, two fast-paced novels filled with mystery and romance, set against the intricate backdrop of Regency England. [summary from Goodreads]

To be honest, I was first drawn to this book by its cover. It's just... WOW. And Patricia Wrede is a fantasy author I have huge respect for (I adored Sorcery and Cecelia, which she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer). She's like the equivalent of Robin McKinley, in my opinion: I'll read anything she writes, so brilliantly did she charm me with Sorcery and Cecelia. I have Thirteenth Child in my TBR mountain, and look forward to seeing how this reissue and bind-up of these two of her novels will turn out.

A Matter of Magic will be released in paperback by Orb Books on June 8, 2010.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Awesomesauce Trailers

Wow. Thanks for the astounding response to my previous post! It's heartening to see that so many of us have noticed and want the same things in contemporary YA. And I know that authors are definitely taking note! Maybe those editors who purportedly recommend that their authors kill off parents or "beautify" their acned characters will think twice about their decision to perpetuate YA tropes that we readers note and are tired of.

On a far lighter note, I am going to share with you some cool trailers that some kind publicists have alerted me to. The first is one for Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready, a paranormal YA coming out from Simon Pulse on May 4--omigoodness that's a week from today!

I'm in the middle of reading this fabulously well-written book right now (would read more but it's dark now and this book is seriously creeping me out cuz I'm a wimp), and what can I say? Jeri is no adult urban fantasy author "dumbing down" her writing for the YA genre. The characters are three-dimensional and non-cliched, the world-building is full, the major plot conflict is steadily growing but the pace is not plodding, and I'm going to have to stop here because I don't want to expend all the phrases I want to use in my review. Needless to say, awesomesauce.

The next is for Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson, also coming out from Simon Pulse later in May:

I haven't started this book yet, but it came in the same shiny silver-foiled package as Shade, which by the transitive/proximity property must mean that it is awesome too, no? Also, the background music is so...well, would "rad" be an acceptable way of describing it?

The last is Part One of a series of teaser clips for the fifth book in Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series, Spirit Bound. I love this series incredibly much, but I haven't read the fourth book yet, so I'm shielding myself from this teaser trailer and instead providing you a link to its Youtube page. Check it out! (I accidentally peaked, and the quote that came up was just...whoa. Brought back the VA magic for me.)

Now, morning, can you come so I can return to reading Shade without my fear of ghosts?

Monday, April 26, 2010

What's Missing In YA Lit? The Contemporary Edition

One of the side effects of blogging, especially if you're blogging with being an aspiring writer in mind, is that you start to notice trends, of what's overdone, what's missing, things that worked for you, things that didn't.

Here are some things that I have found curiously absent in the contemporary YA books I've read, and would love to see more of:
1. Parents

This has been explored over and over again: notable essays on the topic are the April 1 New York Times article and the brilliant breakdown of parental archetypes by the First Novels Club. While I still generally do have problems with any time the NYT attempts to talk about YA lit (this one's not that ignorant or outdated, but the writer is still coming from the point of view of a rather hoity-toity "literary" adult. Can they get someone who actually knows what teenagers are thinking about, please?), it was still an interesting read. I'm not sure I agree with their point that problem parents are a literary norm at odds with society, but I do agree that more recent YA lit has lessened the impact of parents on teenagers' lives.

But still. Where are the parents? Why are 90% of parents either single, divorced, dead, workaholics, etc.? I understand that a little over 50% of married couples now divorce, but I'm also curious, because the writers of these problem parents are usually in stable, happy marriages themselves. (I read your acknowledgments page. Don't try to worm out of this one.) I think it's easy to exaggerate or categorize parents into flawed archetypes because that's the way teenagers think of their parents, for the most part. But it doesn't mean that the parents have to be truly awful people. The problem parent arises in the teenage protagonist's perception of his or her parents, not necessarily in the parents themselves. It's a subtle difference, but one that I would love to see explored more in YA lit.

Some favorite parents, or stories of parents: Audrey's hilarious parents in Robin Benway's Audrey, Wait! Sarah Dessen's parent-daughter relationships (I don't care if SD's parents have practically become an archetype in themselves, they're so well done in their ambiguity of who is right and who is wrong).
2. YA lit

Where's the YA lit in YA lit? Most of us like to read about characters that we can relate to in some way or another. We readers read tons of YA, but have you ever noticed how little YA the characters in YA books actually read? When literature is brought up, it's usually classics (Bella's love of Austen and Bronte in Twilight), YA classics (Judy Blume's Forever plays a central role in Tanya Lee Stone's A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl), or conspicuously obscure translations of European philosophers' works (I can't even give an example for this one). How cool would it be to read about a girl who reads the same type of stuff we do? If authors refer to one another within their own texts? I think it'd be absolutely fantastic if an MC read, say, the Mortal Instruments trilogy, or, for a more unisex taste, if the MC and the love interest got into a (spoiler-free, of course) discussion about The Hunger Games. Can you see that happening?

If you're worried about contemporary YA literary references dating a work, keep in mind that so many authors like to have their characters interested in pop culture, or have a particular taste in indie music. What's so different if characters were YA bookworms? I'd totally be up for that. The same way zillions of readers have picked up Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Romeo and Juliet from Bella Swan's love for them (and thanks to HarperTeen's exceedingly Twilight-y rejacketed reprints), or the same way I sometimes take music recommendations from book characters, I'd love to take book recommendations from characters as well. If we YAers are constantly working towards and fighting for YA lit's acceptance as "real literature" in today's society, shouldn't YA characters be a model YA bookworm?

YA books that contain YA lit: Lindsay Eland's Scones and Sensibility, which, alright, deals with two classics (Pride and Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables), but I loved how her obsession with those two drove her character. Aaaaaand I can't think of any more.

3. Homework

This is similar to the topic before this. Why, why, why do characters never have to do homework? They can be in 3 APs, 4 Honors classes, and get into some swankified Ivy League school... and yet we never see them hard at work. Instead, they spend 3-6pm at the mall, commiserating with their best friend over the guy who broke her heart over the past weekend's party. Then, when they go home, they go online, chat with their crush. Freak out. Call BFF for support and in-depth analysis of IMs. Get in bed by 10.

In bed by 10? And you're able to get into an Ivy League school? Excuse me, but from personal experience, that's impossible. For me, getting to sleep by midnight was a real miracle. There is no way an Honors student can get 8 hours of sleep every night and still get into said swankified colleges without a significant portion of their life dedicated to schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Sad but true. (And no, you cannot get into a top-tier college on grades alone. Just ask any Honors student.) I enjoy the drama the MCs face, and the conversations they have with their best friends, and the hours upon hours they can spend on spontaneous road trips with their crushes or whatever. It just...can't happen.

I know, I know that we don't read fiction to get a play-by-play of reality, but I still think it'd be nice to have hints of heavy loads of homework, all-nighters, baggy eyes, and canceled plans due to academics in YA lit.

Books with realistic portrayals of academics: Robin Brande's Fat Cat. Cat spends lots of time working on her science project. Granted, it's what drives the plot of the novel, but you can see telltale signs of her intelligence (in the effortlessness of her narration) and hard work (late nights are mentioned).

Speaking of which...
4. An ACCURATE portrayal of the college application process

Here are some basic facts: the Early Decision deadline (for academically competitive colleges, which are what many characters aim for and, miraculously, all get into) is between Nov. 1-15, notification date is a few days after Dec. 15. Early Decision means it's binding: the character can't decide to change his/her mind without financial ramifications. Regular Decision deadline is between Dec. 31-Jan. 2. And no, academically competitive colleges (like Dartmouth) will not accept--and admit--applicants after the deadline *coughBellaSwancough*. RD notifications come between mid-March and mid-April; by May 1, you have to have made your decision. Also, IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS (and D2 and D3 schools) DON'T GIVE OUT ACADEMIC OR ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIPS.

So can we not have characters still applying to, like, Columbia or Brown in February? Or finding out, belatedly, that they had gotten into their dream school, after everyone else has had to turn in their college decisions? Or getting a full-ride soccer scholarship to Harvard? Maybe this is a small pet peeve of mine, but the college application process quite literally sucks away all the time and energy that many academically competitive high school students have, and authors making careless mistakes such as these really puts a brake to the whole "I can relate to YA lit because I'm going through what they're going through" symbiotic relationship we want between the books and the readers.

I'd also love to read about characters going through the entirety of the college application process. It doesn't have to be a book about applying to college, but the process is such a huge part of a high school senior's life that to not talk about it in books is really to disrespect all the work that teenagers have put in to get to this point in their lives.

Books: I can think of books that show parts of the process, but none that actually get it right, unfortunately.

5. Realistic romances

I really don't want to read yet another contemporary YA book in which the shy protagonist, so full of inner turmoil is she, is suddenly pursued by a super-confident, super-cute, and super-persistent boy who *gasp* turns out to have had his eye on her for years. Can we pause for a moment here and consider how often that really happens in real life? I asked some of my friends, and, surprisingly I guess, the majority of them who are in relationships had initiated contact themselves. You heard that right. Today's women are more assertive in romance than today's men.

Now, I know that reading fiction is mostly wish fulfillment. But it can also be partly educational. Maybe I shouldn't be doing this, but when I'm really confused about life, or social situations, I sometimes try to think back on the stories I read, to see how characters in situations similar to mine had reacted. With romance, there are so few assertive female protagonists to look up to it's rather shocking. We'd all love to be the reserved and unassuming girl whose love of her life suddenly approaches her and is all, sweetheart, I've loved you for years, and I love you just the way you are, awkwardness, shyness, quirks, and all. But the probability of that happening to us? Slim to none. And not because we're extremely unlikable, but because today's love or lust doesn't work like that.

Books: I'm tired.

6. Athletes

This topic actually came up at a YA panel with Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Beth Kephart, and Rita Williams-Garcia that I attended at the Philly Book Festival a couple weekends ago. Someone told Catherine that she had heard that publishers were not very willing to publish books about athletes, especially female athletes. I'm not sure where the lady had gotten her info, and I certainly hope that publishers don't feel that way, because I personally love characters who are athletes. I don't think this is as big of an issue as the others on this list, but I enjoy how books featuring athletes do not have to be sport books, y'know?

Though I would like to see some more actual athletic action: mentions or recaps of games, practice, interactions with teammates, bus rides, the like. Basically, I'd love if YA's approach to sports (part of a character's identity, but doesn't define him/her) could be extended to other aspects of YA lit, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, introvertedness, mental illness... the list goes on and on.

Athletes in books: Josie in Natasha Friend's For Keeps (varsity soccer). D.J. Schwenk in Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen series (super-awesome basketball player, not so great mental player).

7. Acne (and other physical "uncomfortableness")

AudryT on Twitter suggested this to me, and I wholeheartedly agree (and am appalled that this slipped my mind initially). If acne is such a common teen nightmare, why do so many books make it a point to note characters' (particularly the MC's) clear, model-worthy skin? If the average woman is a size 14, why do more than 90% of all MCs I come across complain about their boyish figure, the way their fast metabolism makes it so that they can never put on the weight they want? Also, why do 5'6" MCs weigh only 105 pounds? Is that healthy? [ETA: So I'm not going to look up a BMI chart, but my main point is that I'd also like for there to be 5'6" MCs who weigh, say, closer to 130. Get the spectrum of body types.] I'm 5'4", size 4, and weigh far from 105 pounds. Also, I had (have) acne. Put on some muscles, girls!

I realize that teenagers are supposed to hate their bodies, no matter if your body type is the envy of someone else. But I'd love to see, say, heavier teens. Or, teens with bad skin. A lazy eye. A limp. A hearing device. An amputated leg. There are these teens out there (and bad skin and size 10 bodies are not that rare), and they (or we, in some cases) shouldn't have to feel as if they/we can't find themselves/ourselves in books.

Books: Carolyn Mackler's Love and Other Four-Letter Words. The MC's best friend in NYC does not have perfect skin. The MC in Beth Fantaskey's Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side is a size 10.

8. Characters whose differences don't identify them

The girl can be on the larger side, but it's not a book about obesity. The boy plays football, but it's not a sports book. A book with a black protagonist is not labeled as "ethnic" literature. A gay teen doesn't make a book GLBTQ lit. It's 2010: the world is a lot more diverse than literature gives it credit for. I find myself almost subconsciously looking for racial and ethnic diversity in the characters in a book. For example, are you really going to have only white, upper-middle-class friends? Protagonists don't have to be white to be understood by readers; "white" is not a default race. Having a white MC doesn't signify the MC's "lack of race": it simply means that the parameters of his/her race are normalized as to be "invisible" in society.

There's a curious disjuncture between YA and adult POC. In adult literature, POC characters are often celebrated, considered a huge accomplishment by the author in "convincingly embodying" the character's voice. Just check out an NYT bestselling list or something. Or recent books that have a good chance of being a "modern classic." In adult lit, POC is IN. Whereas in YA lit, there is still an unbalanced ratio of non-POC to POC characters. Here's to hoping for more POC "non-issue" books, and less segregation of books into "issue" (body image, self-esteem, family troubles, abuse, gang activity, etc.) and "non-issue" (light, fluffy, romance happily-ever-after, biggest problem is best friend not speaking to you).

Books: Nina Beck's This Book Isn't Fat, It's Fabulous. Justine Larbalestier's Liar.


I'm going to stop with the in-depth analysis here, but a quick survey on Twitter showed that this is far from a complete list. I could go on about the ones below, but I'm just going to list them quickly. Many thanks to my Twitter friends for helping add to this list, especially Carol, who said, like, half of these. :)

  • Well-rounded cheerleaders and jocks - because bitchy cheerleaders and asshole jocks aren't the only types out there
  • A best friend-less MC who's NOT a social leper - because I didn't (and still don't) have a BFF, and it's not because the world is unfair and I was wrongly accused of something-or-other
  • Socioeconomic diversity - because I read Holly Hoxter's The Snowball Effect and realized how often books featuring blue-collar characters are often still classified as "problem novels"
  • Realistic IMing/texting shorthand - U R tryin 2 hrd if U wryt lyk dis. Pls stop kthxbye.
  • Male MCs - because a lot of YA readers like boys, and boy narrators are hot, and besides, we want to try to understand how their minds work
Got anything else you'd like to see more of in contemporary YA lit? How about paranormal? (For the Paranormal Edition) Or other genres? (for potential Other Editions) I want to hear them!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Review: Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn

Tags: YA, dragons, war


Kay Wyatt lives with her parents in a small town close to the border that separated the land inhabited by humans from the land of the dragons. Except for occasional glances from afar, no one had ever truly seen a dragon, much less talked to one, since the treaty many decades ago that gave the dragons their own land in exchange for peace. But one day, a dragon rescues Kay when she’s out hiking. Fascination overcame fear, and Kay and the dragon, Artegal, become friends, meeting despite the fact that they can both get in lots of trouble if they are found out.

When an escalating series of events ominously promises the start of another war between humans and dragons, Kay and Artegal realize that their rare friendship, while illegal, may be the only chance of saving the world from devastation.


VOICES OF DRAGONS, Carrie Vaughn’s YA debut, is a fascinating blend of modernity and the ageless awe of dragons. From the start, I was effortlessly pulled into Kay’s world and greatly enjoyed this unique tale that melds new with old.

The greatest strength of this book is in its world-building. Carrie Vaughn easily creates for us readers a world in which it is natural for humans and dragons to coexist in an uneasy sort of peace. The presence of dragons is smoothly intertwined with our own history, and Kay’s border town is a well-drawn location of new troubles but classic fears, of dragon raid drills among a world of high school relationships, rock climbing, and the wild beauty that is Montana.

While the plot is comparatively simple and even a little slow at points, Vaughn’s depiction of the dragons is enough to hold our attention despite the plot’s conventionality. Artegal, through Kay’s eyes, is an astonishingly complex character, with the dangerous majesty of that mysterious race. In comparison, Kay is relatively unextaordinary: she rarely gets a strong, standout voice.

But that was okay by me for this book. Carrie Vaughn is an accomplished writer whose smooth prose can make even the most basic story elements shine. VOICES OF DRAGONS is unlike anything I’ve read before, and not only will I pounce on the sequel when it comes out, this book has also reawakened my interest in dragons in literature. Check it out: I dare you!

Similar Authors
Diana Peterfreund (Rampant)
Carolyn MacCullough (Once a Witch)

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2 out of 5 - Unfortunately, I am not at all taken in by this cover. Despite the lovely warm, golden hues, the model is bland and doesn't remind me of Kay, and the dragon? Hardly noticeable. I am disappointed. I want more dragon, less stereotypical image of teen girl staring pensively.

HarperTeen / March 16, 2010 / Hardcover / 309pp. / $16.99

Borrowed from library, then bought for permanent collection.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In My Mailbox (33)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea and hosted by Kristi. Check out Kristi's post to see what others got in terms of books this week!

Back to individual book covers and summaries, as I'm not at my apartment this weekend.

For review:

Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards
(Alfred A. Knopf / April 13, 2010)

Sixteen-Year-Old Celestia spends every summer with her family at the elite resort at Lake Conemaugh, a shimmering Allegheny Mountain reservoir held in place by an earthen dam. Tired of the society crowd, Celestia prefers to swim and fish with Peter, the hotel’s hired boy. It’s a friendship she must keep secret, and when companionship turns to romance, it’s a love that could get Celestia disowned. These affairs of the heart become all the more wrenching on a single, tragic day in May, 1889. After days of heavy rain, the dam fails, unleashing 20 million tons of water onto Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in the valley below. The town where Peter lives with his father. The town where Celestia has just arrived to join him. This searing novel in poems explores a cross-class romance—and a tragic event in U. S. history.

Read it and thought it was pretty good this week.

Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus
(EgmontUSA / July 13, 2010)

Since her sister’s mysterious death, Persephone “Phe” Archer has been plagued by a series of disturbing dreams. Determined to find out what happened to her sister, Phe enrolls at Devenish Prep in Shadow Hills, Massachusetts—the subject of her sister’s final diary entry.
After stepping on campus, Phe immediately realizes that there’s something different about this place—an unexplained epidemic that decimated the town in the 1700s, an ancient and creepy cemetery, and gorgeous boy Zach—and somehow she’s connected to it all.
But the more questions she asks and the deeper she digs, the more entangled Phe becomes in the haunting past of Shadow Hills. Finding what links her to this town…might cost her her life.

I was lucky enough to read this several weeks ago through an ARC tour... but then a copy showed up this week!

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
(WestSide Books / March 24, 2010)

Kendra, fifteen, hasn't felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can't remember the most important detail-- her abuser's identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life. To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it's her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who's becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra's abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences. Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl's frightening path to the truth.

This sounds like it has the potential to be so, so powerful and riveting.

Keeper by Kathi Appelt
(Atheneum / May 18, 2010)

To ten-year-old Keeper, this moon is her chance to fix all that has gone wrong...and so much has gone wrong. But she knows who can make things right again: Meggie Marie, her mermaid mother who swam away when Keeper was just three. A blue moon calls the mermaids to gather at the sandbar, and that's exactly where she is headed -- in a small boat, in the middle of the night, with only her dog, BD (Best Dog), and a seagull named Captain.
When the riptide pulls at the boat, tugging her away from the shore and deep into the rough waters of the Gulf of Mexico, panic sets in, and the fairy tales that lured her out there go tumbling into the waves. Maybe the blue moon isn't magic and maybe the sandbar won't sparkle with mermaids and maybe -- Oh, no..."Maybe" is just too difficult to bear.
Kathi Appelt follows up to her New York Times bestseller, The Underneath, with a tale that will pull right at your very core -- stronger than moon currents -- capturing the crash and echo of the waves and the dark magic of the ocean.

I haven't yet read Kathi Appelt's The Underneath, but this is middle grade, and it might be about mermaids. And it's a thick book, too. I can't wait to dive into this one (pun not intended).

The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott
(Simon Pulse / March 16, 2010)

Everyone knows the unwritten rule: You don't like your best friend's boyfriend.
Sarah has had a crush on Ryan for years. He's easy to talk to, supersmart, and totally gets her. Lately it even seems like he's paying extra attention to her. Everything would be perfect except for two things: Ryan is Brianna's boyfriend, and Brianna is Sarah's best friend.
Sarah forces herself to avoid Ryan and tries to convince herself not to like him. She feels so guilty for wanting him, and the last thing she wants is to hurt her best friend. But when she's thrown together with Ryan one night, something happens. It's wonderful...and awful.
Sarah is torn apart by guilt, but what she feels is nothing short of addiction, and she can't stop herself from wanting more...

Hmm, I already reviewed this book several weeks ago, but another one arrived.

Young, Loaded, and Fabulous, Book 1: Pretty On the Outside by Kate Kingsley
(Simon Pulse / April 6, 2010)

Alice and Tally have always been the queens of St. Cecilia's. Between jet-setting to Rome and Paris on weekends and sneaking out of their London boarding school for late-night trysts, what's not to love?
Enter Dylan, the New York City girl who had a summer fling with Alice's best friend (and new crush), Tristan. Now the girls must defend their status as their charmed lives spiral into broken hearts, jelousies, and the most vicious of revenge plots.

I've never heard of this series before, but apparently it's a British import? I'm actually pretty intrigued. The cover is so different from others out there, and it looks like it might be a fun and juicy read, kind of like Gossip Girl Lite.

Hottie, Book 2: Burning Ambition by Jonathan Bernstein
(Razorbill / April 1, 2010)

Alison Cole and the Department of Hotness are back and ready for action in the sizzling sequel to Hottie—all about a Beverly Hills princess who can shoot fire from her fingertips! Ever since defeating her evil stepmother, Carmen, Alison’s life has been totally fla-mazing. But when she wins a coveted internship at Jen Magazine, she’ll have to take on fifteen-year-old Editor-in-Chief Pixie Furmanovsky—the biggest Superbrat the world has ever seen! Pixie always gets what she wants, and now she’s after Alison’s boyfriend, T! Can Hottie give little miss BratGirl a Super Sweet Sixteen that she’ll never forget? Or is this Superteen about to get superfired?

Why, hello there, Penguin. You're sending me random books for review now? *looks around bewilderedly*

From Dark Faerie Tales ARC Tours:

For Keeps by Natasha Friend
(Penguin / April 6, 2010)

Josie’s never met her dad, and that’s fine with her. To Josie, Paul Tucci is just a guy who got her mom pregnant and then moved away. It all happened sixteen years ago, when Josie’s mom was still a teenager herself. But now Paul Tucci is back in town, and Josie has to deal with not one but two men in her life—her father and her first boyfriend, who Josie fears will hurt her just like Paul hurt her mother.

I just finished this book. It was really good!

From Around the World Tours:

The Clearing by Heather Davis
(Graphia / April 12, 2010)

In this bittersweet romance, two teens living decades apart form a bond that will change their lives forever.
Amy is drawn to the misty, mysterious clearing behind her Aunt Mae’s place because it looks like the perfect place to hide from life. A place to block out the pain of her last relationship, to avoid the kids in her new town, to stop dwelling on what her future holds after high school.
Then, she meets a boy lurking in the mist—Henry. Henry is different from any other guy Amy has ever known. And after several meetings in the clearing, she’s starting to fall for him.
But Amy is stunned when she finds out just how different Henry really is. Because on his side of the clearing, it’s still 1944. By some miracle, Henry and his family are stuck in the past, staving off the tragedy that will strike them in the future. Amy’s crossing over to Henry’s side brings him more happiness than he’s ever known—but her presence also threatens to destroy his safe existence. 
In The Clearing, author Heather Davis crafts a tender and poignant tale about falling in love, finding strength, and having the courage to make your own destiny—a perfect book to slip into and hide away for awhile.

I've heard surprisingly positive things about this book (apparently her first book was disappointing?), so I'm looking forward to reading this!

The Heart Is Not a Size by Beth Kephart - with many thanks to the incomparable Beth Kephart.

Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn
WVMP Radio, Book 2: Bad to the Bone by Jeri Smith-Ready - woohooooo!

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks - assassins!
Geektastic by Various
Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden - highly recommended by my Aussie blogger friends

Review: Whisper by Phoebe Kitanidis

Tags: YA, paranormal, psychic abilities, sisters


The females in 15-year-old Joy Stefani’s family are all able to Hear Whispers: people’s unspoken desires. Joy Hears to please everyone around her, but her older sister Jessica (better known as Icka) hates her Hearing and lashes out at everyone around her. Joy and Icka used to be close, but their different attitudes toward the Whispers opens up a seemingly unfixable chasm between them.

Then, Joy’s Hearing starts changing for the worse, and Icka disappears. With unlikely help from an unlikely boy in her class, who has his own secrets, Joy sets off to find her sister and unravel the truth about their ability.


WHISPER is a story that covers lots of ground, ranging from siblings to family to self-esteem. While it has its most serious flaws concerning pacing, it is in the end an intriguing read that will resonate if you like this type of paranormal story.

WHISPER’s more serious themes of sisters and self-esteem are fairly well done. While most of the characters, particularly Joy, are annoying at the beginning with their shallow thoughts and dialogue, they manage to develop into sympathetic characters of the course of the novel as they face their challenges. In particular, I found the course of Joy and Icka’s sisterly relationship well-written and believable—even if the story does resort to borderline cheesy high-stakes paranormal melodrama to bring about the ending.

Unfortunately, the snail’s pace of the first two-thirds of this book made it so that I had a lot of trouble getting into the story. So much of the book seems to be spent laying down the situation, introducing Joy’s relationships with her friends and family, and showing examples of the sisters’ Hearing, that not enough in terms of plot occurred until the very end. If you can get past the first 150 or so pages, then you’re in for a treat: there’s plenty of action, reconciliation, and growth at the end of the novel to almost redeem itself for its utterly uneventful first half.

Almost. Its numerous flaws in characterization, pacing, and romantic development make it clear to me that this is not a book I would have finished had it not been for review. Nevertheless, WHISPER will probably appeal to lovers of unique paranormal ideas who will be willing to excuse its problems.

Similar Authors
Bree Despain
Lisa McMann
Kimberly Derting

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Plot: 1/5

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - I like the color scheme, and that wispy/sound-wave-y/smoky thing going on, but I've seen far too many covers featuring half-faces of random girls to be able to be interested much in this one.

Balzer + Bray / April 27, 2010 / Hardcover / 288pp. / $16.99

ARC received from Around the World Tours.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A YA Community Thanksgiving Post

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. The food, the family, the love that is almost tangible in the small spaces between loved ones. And the ever brilliant Adele of Persnickety Snark has started a mini-celebration that is not just limited to one country: a YA Community Thanksgiving, where we are encouraged to post about what we love about the YA blogging community, link to Adele's main post, and to comment on at least five other blogs who've participated, especially ones you didn't know of before. After recent drama, I'm more than willing to think about happy things, so here goes!

Note: I wrote this post in several chunks, one of which was late at night and in a strange, semi-giddy mood, so the tone and writing style may have, er, changed rather abruptly throughout. Oops? Well, all the more fun for you!

Why I Am Thankful for the YA Blogging Community

1. I'm finally meeting people who share my interests. I'm sure that many of us have felt isolated more than a few times in our lives, with our love of books (sometimes over people), written words (over dialogue), and fiction (over reality). I read almost as much YA as I do now back when I was in high school, but I was always aware that it wasn't something I could talk about to many others, as most people didn't know the books I knew, or weren't half as passionate about reading as I was. It was something I did individually, secretly, almost shamefully, not knowing that there are indeed many people out there who love what I love, who support my passions and share them too. Which leads to Number 2...

2. I have something to talk about. I'm no good at small talk, which is probably a problem a lot of other bloggers have. (I hope I'm not generalizing too much when I'm supposing that many bloggers are at least partially introverts...?) I don't like talking about myself, or relating acquaintances' anecdotes for chuckles at cocktail parties. I can't for the life of me figure out how people are comfortable being the entertaining center of attention, regaling story after amusing story to a large group of people. But engage me in a one-on-one or small-group conversation about a YA book, or YA lit in general, or how YA lit can fit into education, and I have plenty to say, and more besides.

3. It builds my writing skills, and my confidence in them. I wrote a post about a similar topic several months ago, and I still stand by it. Not only do writing posts, creating reviews, chatting with blogger friends on Twitter, and writing emails that range from professional (to publishers and authors when I ask for blog interviews) to friendly (author friends) to cheeky (uhh, everyone, every once in a while?) all give me practice with my writing and finding my voice, I'm also much more confident about my writing skills, and cautiously optimistic that I might be able to become a published author one day. And this is thanks to all of your support, of course. I'm not one to praise lightly or ingenuously, and so I sincerely hope that the supportive comments I receive on my posts are indicative of my strengths and growth (and supahpowahhhs!) as a writer.

4. You can find--and fall in love with--books (and their respective authors) you otherwise would've never picked up. Case study: the lovely author Lauren Mechling contacted me early in the fall of 2009, asking if I'd be interested in reviewing a book of hers that was coming out in January 2010. She had read my review policy (hallelujah! someone who did thorough research before contacting me!) and knew that I don't really like cute and fluffy books about, ahem, bitchy teenagers, but that she was hoping I'd give her and her only slightly cute and fluffy book a try.

I am SO glad I did. I was delighted by both Dream Girl and Dream Life and now I just want Lauren to publish MOARRR BOOOOOOKS. It's an extraordinary feeling when you get to prove yourself wrong.

5. Getting to talk to and befriend authors. Carrying over from the last point, Lauren and I now send each other random emails every once in a while, just to say hi, because, um, we can! I feel truly blessed to know each and every author I have gotten to know. I may not be head over heels in love with their books all the time, but they are such wonderful people, and I like that there can be this separation between author and book, when once (when I was younger) they were like the same thing to me, and authors were like intimidating celebrities who, like, lived in mansions, wrote with gold-tipped fountain pens or on typewriters, and didn't do "human" things, like eat, or poop. Probably.

6. You can spread your passions. You can do it in extremely silly (but still ultimately satisfying) ways, like convincing your blogger friends to pick up a book that you rave about 365 days a year, and having them become as equally evangelical about the book as you are (i.e. when Meg picked up Robin Brande's Fat Cat at my recommendation, and it was love forever and ever, both between blogger-book and blogger-blogger).

Or you can do it in a powerful and awe-inspiring way, such as how blogger Harmony of Harmony Book Reviews started PAYA to increase awareness of and attention to YA lit in Pennsylvanian libraries, all the more important now because of our huge statewide public library budget cuts. I have only ever dreamed of doing something like this, and it amazes me that there are extremely talented people out there who can make my vague daydreams a reality.

7. It helps me be more attuned to my communication strengths and weaknesses. What I've learned about me in social situations: I communicate best through writing. I'm better in one-on-one conversations than group talks. When lots of people are talking, I clam up, get this look on my face like I'm either falling asleep or horrified, and try to extricate myself as subtly as possible. I like talking about books, but I don't like talking to other book lovers who feel the need to go on and on in LOUD VOICES about how they've already read EVERY book you bring up. For your entertainment, an example:

Me: "You like YA books too? Cool! Have you read this book by debut novelist Lauren Oliver? It's called Before I F--"
Me: "Oh. Um. Awesome! *looks at bookstore's display table* Oh, look. They have Incarceron on displ--"
Me: "Okay. Well. Um. I'm gonna go eat more food now. Bye!"

(Unfortunately this actually happened to me.)

But more on book people annoyances--and my own social oddities--another time. The point is, I'm beginning to know what works for me, and what doesn't. And I learn from my embarrassingly awkward moments at author signings and try to be more myself next time. I'm hoping I can bring all these revelations with me to BEA so that I don't end up being overwhelmed and hating humanity and myself by the end of the day. (Sorry, did I mention that I'm about as introverted as introverts can get? You should see my Myers-Briggs personality test score.)

8. I discover new things to love outside of books. One phrase: Khy and Glee. Thank you.

9. Every day, I learn five new things. Why five? I dunno. It could be another number if you'd like. All I'm saying is that I learn so many things through blogging, and in so many areas. In writing up posts, I practice my writing skills. In organizing blog tours for Traveling to Teens, I learn what does and doesn't work for publicity and email organization. In reading others' reviews, I am able to figure out the things I pay attention to in reviews. And just reading many, many books alone, I add every day to my mental list of things I like and dislike about YA lit, and what I think I'll focus on doing in my own WIPs.

Blogging has been the greatest "class" I've ever taken, on a "subject" that's hardly present in formal education, and my fellow bloggers are the best teachers.


I'm sure I could go on for longer but I'm going to stop before I hit double digits and then go, well, I'm not that far from triple digits now, why don't I just go on? Anyway, even writing this post has put me in a good mood. You see the power that you guys have? Now why don't you join in the celebration over at Adele's blog?

Happy YA Community Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty, Book 2

Tags: YA, summer, cancer, death, grief, love triangle

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Note: potential spoilers for Book 1


Belly’s last summer at Cousins Beach ended on a bittersweet note. On the one hand, the love of her life, Conrad, finally noticed her in a romantic way. On the other hand, they find out that Conrad and Jeremiah’s mother Susannah’s cancer has returned. Everyone takes Susannah’s passing hard, but perhaps none more so than Conrad, who disappears halfway into his summer college session. Jeremiah asks Belly to help him find Conrad, which Belly agrees to—with reservation, for she has no idea how he feels about him, whether or not they’ll ever work out.

When they catch up to Conrad, however, they realize that something big is at stake, and it may require all of them to lay aside their turbulent feelings for one another in order to save summer as they know it.


I find it very hard to describe why, exactly, I love this series so very much. The story’s not that unique, and the plot can drag at times. Nevertheless, I found myself effortlessly lured into Belly’s world in this second book in the series. IT’S NOT SUMMER WITHOUT YOU made me laugh, tear up, and swoon, and it is every bit as good as the first book, if not better.

It was impossible for me not to get emotionally invested in these characters. Jenny Han has created marvelously nuanced characters, flawed or troubled or just plain not nice…and yet all endearing. IT’S NOT SUMMER WITHOUT YOU has a gorgeous blend of family/parental tensions, vivid flashbacks, and your plain old-fashioned love triangle done right. The book is dotted with quietly emotional scenes that made me cry or cringe or shout at these characters I love to start treating one another better, darn it. The emotions are agonizing, and thus addicting. You don’t want to look away even in the most painful of moments.

Loving this book is an conscious act of devotion. I recognize that these books are not for everyone. Some might find the plot too slow and meandering to be engaging. Others will not feel much sympathy for Belly, who can come off as bland and immature. Those things, of course, did not bother me, for the sheer emotional resonance of this story quite justifiably overcame everything else.

With IT’S NOT SUMMER WITHOUT YOU, Jenny Han cements herself as a supremely talented writer who can avoid the second-in-a-trilogy book slump and make readers fall hard for the characters. Fans of the first book will adore this one, and if you haven’t yet read the first, you should definitely do so as soon as possible, preferably on a night when you want to feel emotionally alive.

Similar Authors
Gayle Forman (If I Stay)
Jillian Cantor (The Life of Glass)

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

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - I like that the font, color scheme, and images match the look and feel of the first book, but overall it's SO dull, and lacks a certain sort of passion, and doesn't do any justice to the story.

Simon & Schuster / April 27, 2010 / Hardcover / 288pp. / $16.99

ARC borrowed from Doylestown Bookshop's Advance Readers Program.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (61)

The Sorcerer of Sainte Felice by Ann Finnin

I was only an apprentice. I swear it. By all the angels in Heaven.
Fourteen-year-old Michael de Lorraine has been condemned to death by the Holy Office for sorcery. But just as the flames threaten to consume him, Michael is saved by Abbot Francis and granted refuge at the Benedictine monastery of Sainte Felice. Michael learns that this strange and wonderful place, famous for its healing wine, harbors renegade monk-sorcerers, enchanted gargoyles, and a closely guarded secret: Abbot Francis is the great Seratois, exiled Grand Master of the Fratres Illuminati.
As the church intensifies its cruel efforts at justice, Abbot Francis and the brotherhood are in grave danger. Michael will do anything to protect his mentor, but are his powers great enough to save the monastery from the merciless, bloodthirsty Inquisition?
Blending together magic, miracles, and historical details of life in fifteenth-century France, this unique fantasy offers a vibrant portrayal of one boy's journey of faith.

Doing my WoW post this week a few hours early because I am waaaaaaay too tired from schoolwork to write up a more complicated post. But back to the matter at hand. Doesn't Flux always have amazing sounding books? This sounds grand, and like it could be good. This one just sounds so sweeping and grand, an epic in the making. Plus, it's by a debut author. I think I'll buy this when it comes out, and hope it turns out to be as good as it sounds!

The Sorcerer of Sainte Felice will be published in paperback by Flux on June 28, 2010.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

In My Mailbox (32)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea and hosted by Kristi. Check out Kristi's post to see what others got in terms of books this week!

For review (links go to Goodreads pages):
Faithful by Janet Fox (Speak / May 13, 2010)
Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski (Delacorte / April 27, 2010)
Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr (HarperTeen / April 20, 2010)
Kiss in the Dark by Lauren Henderson (Delacorte / April 13, 2010)
Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner (Random House / April 27, 2010)
Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens: A Reading Journal for Book Lovers by Rachelle Rogers Knight (Sourcebooks / April 1, 2010)

From Around the World Tours:
Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly (Henry Holt & Co. / May 25, 2010)

Bought from library book sale:
The Naked Mole-Rat Letters by Mary Amato
Pretty Little Liars, Book 2: Flawless by Sara Shepard
Pretty Little Liars, Book 3: Perfect by Sara Shepard
Hallowmere, Book 3: Between Golden Jaws by Tiffany Trent
How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review: Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Tags: YA, fantasy, conspiracy

Rating: 4 out of 5


Isabel knows she’s a Shifter, a mythical creature created from mist and wind, whose only purpose is to defend the life of the king. She’s been brought from her beloved Mistwood back to the Samornian king, the young Rokan. Magical and political conspiracy abound in the Samornian court, and it’s up to Isabel’s powerful Shifter senses to seek out danger to the king, even if it means risking her own safety and well-being.

Meanwhile, Isabel struggles to puzzle out her hazy memories of her previous lives as Shifter in the court, but when she uncovers a shocking conspiracy, Isabel learns things about Rokan—and herself—that she’s never had to deal with before.


MISTWOOD is an exquisitely written, beautifully rendered high fantasy YA debut that will make it an instant favorite of fans of Kristin Cashore. The beauty and complexity of Isabel’s story literally took my breath away and left me begging for more.

Leah Cypess wastes no words in her writing. Instead, every sentence provides a wealth of material about the story: setting the scene, describing Isabel’s inhuman-like thoughts and her struggles. It is fascinating to watch Isabel change over the course of this novel. The change is subtle yet carefully crafted, and just when you thought you had things figured out, Cypess comes along and throws you for a loop that is unexpected but, on second thought, completely appropriate and wildly appreciated. As I’ve said in previous reviews, I like when books outsmart me, and I was delighted that all my predictions were blown out of the water in a totally plausible manner.

The secondary characters were not as well developed as Isabel, which can oftentimes lead to confusing conversations. Likewise, the plot can always get rather confusing at times: I found myself having to read slowly in order to fully understand the intricacies of particular scenes. Not that I didn’t enjoy doing it, however. All the enjoyable twists and turns—and yes, even the confusing bits—ensured that I didn’t want this book to end.

Overall, MISTWOOD was a book that started off strong and just got better by the end. The publicity line for the book, comparing it to works by Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce, and Megan Whalen Turner, doesn’t lie. This is an incredible debut accomplishment, and I’m hoping for many more books written by Leah Cypess in the future.

Similar Authors
Kristin Cashore
Tamora Pierce
Megan Whalen Turner
Robin McKinley

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2 out of 5 - I might be in the minority about this, but I'm not particularly inspired or intrigued. Indeed, I had passed on this book multiple times when it came up in my Goodreads dashboard, on account of the strangeness of the cover. The awkwardly positioned half-face with the discomforting eyes, floating atop a faraway view of a gloomy castle... Didn't work for me. The colors are gloomy, the composition feels forced, and the overall thing just repels me instead of attracts.

Greenwillow Books / April 27, 2010 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $16.99

ARC borrowed from Doylestown Bookshop's Advanced Reader Program.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lots of Giveaway Winners!

Yeah, yeah, it's been a while. And I contacted and have heard back from some of these people already. But here ya go!

The 3 winners of a copy of Numbers by Rachel Ward are:

#11 alicia

The 5 winners of a copy of The Wish Stealers by Tracy Trivas are:

#8 Julie H./holdenj
#33 Carol M
#6 jedisakora

The 3 winners of a copy of Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan are:

#266 Nancye Davis
#45 Eve Eschenbacher

Yay winners! Please get back to me soon with your info. Don't forget to check out the giveaways that are still running! (top right sidebar)

Plagiarism in the Blogosphere

Recently it was brought to my attention by several of my blogger friends that they have spotted disturbing similarities between their reviews and the reviews posted by a certain YA blogger who shall remain anonymous for the time being. They found more than just a handful of structurally similar reviews, and encouraged me to look through the blogger's reviews as well, to see if I might find any that were similar to any of mine.

So I took their advice. I spent two hours looking through her reviews (lucky there weren't very many of them to start with), comparing them with the ones of mine that have been posted on my blog.

I am horrified, angry, and very, very disappointed. quotes the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as defining "plagiarism" as:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source 
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else's work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)
From, emphases mine.

(See what I did here? I copied content from the website, and I made sure to make it clear that the information came from there, as well as provided a link to their site if you want more info. This is called proper citation.)

Today's teenagers are the first generation to have grown up with Internet and computers readily available for their entire lives. (Even I didn't really understand the use of the Internet until I was in middle school.) With all sorts of information available for anyone to read on the Internet, it is all too easy to cross certain lines, to not understand that Internet DOES NOT EQUAL free and for the taking.

It is one thing to read another blogger's review and go, "Hmmmm. I really agree with a lot of what he/she is saying, especially with such-and-such point. He/she said it really well, and I'd like to mention his/her review in my own as being an inspiration and supplementary material to mine."

It is quite another to have your reviews sound like you wrote one sentence of your review, got stuck, opened up the other blogger's review to see how he/she did it, and then turn back to your own to write down a paraphrased/slightly reworded sentence, and so on and so forth for the entirety of 3-4 paragraphs...and then to pretend that your content is your own. Which is what has happened in this blogger plagiarism case.

Plagiarism is not just the direct copying of uncredited quotes and trying to pass them off as your own. It is ALSO taking another person's ideas and/or sentence structure. To paraphrase without proper citation, or to break out your internal thesaurus, does not mean that you have produced original content.

Sure, I'll say that there are only so many original ideas out there, and that some of your ideas may sound like others'. As a crazy-cool example of this, read the Hunger Games plot study that the brilliant First Novels Club did comparing THG to mythology. You can also check out the HarperTeen reprints of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Romeo & Juliet to see that Stephenie Meyer evidently got her inspiration for her Twilight books from these classics.

But the difference between these examples and this blogger plagarism case is that these inspirations are accredited. Suzanne Collins does not hide the fact that she was inspired by Theseus & the Minotaur and Spartacus (and this here is a properly cited paraphrasing of the First Novels Club's words). Giving credit where credit is due is of paramount importance in our "no tolerance for plagiarism" society, especially as accusations of plagiarism can have long-term effects on the perpetrator, such as college and job rejections, and everyone needs to be all the more careful that they have not "unconsciously plagiarized" other people's works.

Of course, here is where the debates intensify. My blogger friends have emailed this blogger with evidence to her plagiarism presented in neat Word documents and very politely asked if she would remove her plagiarized reviews and rewrite them. It is ambiguous at this point whether or not the blogger will really do that, because we have gotten a good sense that she does not realize how serious her actions are, and what the consequences of her having done this can be. If the most common perpetrators of plagiarism nowadays--teenagers who've grown up with astoundingly easy access to the Internet and information--do not believe that what they're doing is plagiarism, how can we make them aware of the seriousness of their actions?

Some of you may recall how, several months ago, a German teen debut novelist was found to have lifted passages of her book from another novelist's. (See this Time article for more details.) What truly frightened me about the incident, however, was that the teen novelist was unrepetant about her actions, "claiming that 'true originality doesn't exist anyway, only authenticity' and insist[ing] on her 'right to copy and transform' other people's work, taking a stand against what she called the 'copyright excesses' of the past decade" (quoted from "German Teen Novelist: Plagiarism or Sampling?").

First of all, there is hardly a thing as "copyright excesses." Says on copyright laws:

At one time, a work was only protected by copyright if it included a copyright trademark (the © symbol). According to laws established in 1989, however, works are now copyright protected with or without the inclusion of this symbol.

Which only goes to stress that plagiarism, even of bloggers' material that is posted online for public perusal, is WRONGWRONGWRONG. Even unintentional plagiarism is a serious crime that, like intentional plagiarism, can be punishable in court:

While it is possible that you might write on the same topic as someone else, odds are that you will not have exactly the same ideas or express them in exactly the same way. It is highly unlikely that you would be accused of plagiarizing a source you have never read. Be careful, however, of "accidentally" plagiarizing from sources you have read and forgotten -- if your ideas turn out to have been influenced by a source that you read but failed to cite for any reason, you could be guilty of plagiarism. [, emphases mine]

So no, I don't believe this blogger's claims that she "subconsciously" wrote structurally and phraseologically similar reviews to mine and others'. Not after placing the reviews side by side, examining them line by line, and discovering identical syntaxes and more, from each individual line to the overall paragraph structure of the review. This is plagiarism, even if you didn't intend to exactly copy my work--and I'm not sure what the case is at this point. What you have done IS punishable by law, and your weak defenses for the originality of your work (subconscious influences, analyses for school projects) would NOT hold up in court.

I hope that this blogger will realize the seriousness of what she has done, rectify her plagiarized reviews immediately, and be all the more vigilant that she doesn't plagiarize again in the future, whether consciously or not.

How can you avoid plagiarizing?

Adele and Tirzah, two other bloggers whose reviews were plagiarized, have written great posts on this issue, and I highly suggest you read them (clicking on their names will get you to their respective posts). They have suggested that you not read others' reviews before writing your own, in order to avoid plagiarizing.

However, I am going to respectfully modify their advice. I don't know how possible it is to not look at reviews of a book before writing your own review. I'm afraid to count the number of times I go on Goodreads every day or open my Google Reader. There are also times when I've read reviews of a book beforehand that encouraged me to pick the book up. So yes, it's really hard to cut yourself off from reviews before writing your own.

My modified suggestion is that you be aware of any reviews you've read before writing your own, particularly the ones that resonated with you. Sometimes I come across well-written reviews that make me go, "Ah, that is almost exactly how I felt about this book!" And then I'll keep that blogger in mind, but I won't write my review with the same structure and phrases as the review I admired. It doesn't need to be that hard, really, to be more self-conscious when you're writing. If you've come across a review that really stuck with you, mention the blogger in your review. We loooove other bloggers who respectfully link back to us, and we love knowing that our reviews have influenced you to pick up the book!

BUT, we do NOT love when you paraphrase our ideas and words and pass them off as your own.

Get the picture?

Needless to say, the strongest emotion I feel right now is disappointment. I hope that the blogger who plagiarized off of my, Adele's, and Tirzah's reviews (and who knows who else she plagiarized off of?) now more clearly realizes the seriousness of her actions, and the life-altering consequences that may ensue if this behavior continues. (Did I mention you can go to court?) If you would please respect our requests that you remove your plagiarized reviews from your blog, we would appreciate it.

I don't think you want to know what can happen to you if you don't.

It is my sincerest wish that we all--bloggers, blog readers, authors, industry professionals--can learn from this incident and be all the more vigilant about our writing. And yeah, I remember being extremely frustrated as a teenager that I didn't seem to know what my own voice was, or if I even had one. It's taken me many, many years to finally feel like I have created some semblance of a writing style that I can call my own and be comfortable with. You should also check out Kristi the Story Siren's post about this issue, in which she talks about this very concept of finding your own blogger voice. Please help one another realize that turning to other published works for "inspiration," ideas, and sentence structure is an immoral--not to mention illegal--act. I really hope nothing like this will happen in the future.

ETA a list of bloggers who were affected by and/or posted about this issue:
Adele -
Tirzah -
Kristi -
Liz -
Lenore -


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