Sunday, October 31, 2010

In My Mailbox (49)

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 books this week!

For review:
Ice Claw by David Gilman
Trash by Andy Mulligan
Dark Water by Laura McNeal
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers
The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
Eternal: More Love Stories with Bite edited by P. C. Cast
Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Many thanks to Random House, Penguin, Courtney, St. Martin's Press, Dia, Simon & Schuster, Jeri, and BenBella Books!

From Around the World Tours:
Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang
Angelfire by Courtney Moulton

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Illyria by Elizabeth Hand
The Glass Maker's Daughter by V. Briceland
Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
Blameless (Parasol Protectorate, Book 3) by Gail Carriger
Bayou Moon (The Edge, Book 2) by Ilona Andrews
Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Borrowed from library:
The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti
Girl, Stolen by April Henry
Elixir by Hilary Duff
The Unidentified by Rae Mariz

Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep
Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart
The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Featured Blogger (25): Melina from Reading Vacation!

Today's Friday Featured Blogger, Melina of Reading Vacation, has been blogging for a little over six months at this point, but she is all the more extraordinary because she is currently in the sixth grade! Reading her blog, you'll wish you were that well-read and well-written when you were her age. She features a constant flow of MG book reviews and is a great example of what you can accomplish regardless of age. Welcome, Melina, to Steph Su Reads!

1. Tell us about yourself in a few short sentences.

If you are reading this, then you are probably a book lover just like me. I feel like books bring us together. What may be a little different though is that I am eleven years old and I just started middle school.

My name is Melina and I started the Reading Vacation book review blog in March 2010. I have always loved reading and I found blogging was a great way to have fun with books.

I am a Native Texan and am very girlie. In fact, I have only worn jeans one time in my entire life! I take advanced classes in school and can be on the nerdy side – but in a good way. My friends like to read too, and I am always recommending books to them.

I have an eight-year-old brother named Travis. He is super silly, but he is also very smart. He likes to read, but math and science are his favorite subjects.

2. Tell us about your blog. When did you start it and why? Where did the name come from? What interesting things can visitors expect?

I started my blog in March 2010 when I was ten and in fifth grade. Reading has always been a big part of my life and I wanted to find a way to celebrate books.

I had never heard of a blog before, but my parents showed me that there were blogs where ordinary people reviewed books. They helped me get Reading Vacation set up. Now, they monitor what I do on my blog, twitter, and email. Everything you see and read though, is done by me.

My first choice for a blog name was Reading Paradise, but it was already being used by the Eastern Mediterranean University. They have not updated it since 2006. My next choice was Reading Vacation. It just sounded so peaceful.

I have a few unique features at Reading Vacation. The Third Degree posts on most Thursdays. This is where I discuss interesting topics related to books. Recent topics were Libraries and Blog Layouts.

My new feature, Bookends, posts on Sundays. This is where I post a photo of some unique bookends. It’s random, but fun to do.

3. Melina is such a pretty name! Is there a story behind your name, and/or who are your favorite Melinas, if you have any?

Have you ever seen Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger? The character name of the girl he meets on Mars is Melina. She’s a very tough-cookie. My parents choose it because they wanted me to have an uncommon name. Oh, it is also a Greek name and I am half-Greek.

I do not know any other Melinas in real life, so my parents' plan seems to have worked out perfectly.

4. That's so fascinating! Now, name 3 favorite books and why you think everyone should read them.

The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy – Girl power at its best! This book celebrates the beauty of being a girl.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale – This retelling of a classic fairytale is beautiful and has amazing characters.

The Iron Fey Series by Julie Kagawa – This series draws you in because of its utterly amazing writing.

5. Excellent choices. :) You just started middle school a few weeks ago. How is it so far? What's your favorite thing about it? What is a piece of advice you'd give someone worried about going into middle school?

Middle school ROCKS! I was lucky to get the same or similar schedule as most of my friends, so I get to see them all day long. I love my teachers and language arts is my favorite class.

What I like best compared to elementary school is that we have some freedom now. We used to walk down the hall in straight lines with our hands behind our back. Now, we change classes on our own. We can also choose our own seats at lunch rather than sitting at the class table.

My advice would be to be yourself and everything else will fall into place. It’s not nearly as scary as everyone makes it out to be.

6. What's your favorite non-reading/writing/blogging thing to do?

Play with my brother, Travis. He has the bestest personality ever and he is always happy. Travis is so FUN!

7. Tell us some new things you've discovered recently that you really, really like.

That’s easy – I just started middle school and I totally love it so far.

8. What are some possible jobs you'd like to have in the future?

My dream is to have a bookish job. At this point, I am not sure what that would be. Perhaps working for a publisher, being an agent, or being a publicist.

So many book bloggers seem to be aspiring authors, and some of them say that they can see me as a writer. Maybe….anything is possible.

9. What are some things you just LOVE to receive for presents? :)

Books, things for my room, and earings.

10. And finally, tell us two interesting things about yourself that can spark conversation.

In the last 6 months, I have read over 33,000 pages!

I am 4 foot 5 inches tall, easily making me the shortest girl in my school.


Thanks so much for answering my questions, Melina! I hope you take the chance to visit this talented young lady's blog and say hello! :)

Friday Featured Blogger is an occasional feature on my blog where I interview bloggers whose blogs I respect, admire, and wish to promote. Check out other featured bloggers here!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (88)

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she trusts, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left. [summary from Goodreads]

This book has been abuzz in the blogosphere ever since its stunning cover was revealed. I would so love to get a poster version of this cover, but remained wary, because my experience with much-hyped-about books with elaborate premises in the past has been...mixed. Even though it is a dystopian novel. However, then I read this: a Chapter One excerpt. Talk about totally capturing my attention and having me dying for more! I really, seriously, totally cannot wait, after reading that excerpt.

Wither will be published in hardcover by Simon & Schuster on March 22, 2011.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (87)

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.
To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.
The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance. [summary from Malinda's website]

The cover to Huntress, Malinda's second novel, which I have been eagerly waiting for ever since I read and fell in love with Ash, was just revealed earlier this week. Can I just say that I got tears in my eyes when I saw this? She is so very clearly badassedly Asian, and you all know by now how I feel about publishers' representation of minorities on YA book covers. Add to that the incredible synopsis, and the fact that encountering Malinda's writing is like reading the open face of beauty itself, and this has stolen my heart.

Huntress will be published in hardcover by Little, Brown on April 5, 2011.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Author Interview with Erin Bow!

Erin Bow is the author of Plain Kate, a fantastic fantasy/magic adventure tale with a diverse cast of interesting characters. She also has an incredible talent with words, as you can see in her book as well as, much to my delight, this interview. Erin was gracious enough to answer some of my questions below. So welcome, Erin, to Steph Su Reads!

1. Your website describes PLAIN KATE as a "Russian-flavored historical fantasy." What sort of research went into the writing of this novel? What was the most interesting thing you did/discovered for research?

Research, even for an invented world like Kate's, is never ending. Fortunately most of it was library or internet research. I really owe the research librarians at the University of Waterloo a huge debt. The Society for Creative Anachronism helped out with a few sticky bits. I spent a couple of days hanging around a horse barn so that my horses wouldn't be too awful. And I learned enough about wood carving to make a small one with hurting myself. Much.

On the other hand, the middle of the novel takes place on a small punt, and my research into punting consisted (in its entirety) of rereading Three Men in a Boat. I fear it shows.

The hardest, weirdest, best research is always in the details. There are two things I learned that I really wanted to put in the story, but didn't fit: the first is that medieval woodcarvers used the skin of sharks as sand paper. Kate's too poor, so she uses a wet leather pad dipped in sand: what a pity! And I wanted to use the Hussar knights, whose armour included huge wings. But it turned out Kate's part of the world was a bit low-rent for them.

2. All of your works so far involve a lot of research. What drives you to tackle projects that require so much research in unfamiliar cultures?


I'd like to know that one, myself. In the first chapter of the book I just started, I created two lead characters from two different real historical cultures, who between them speak three languages I don't speak. YIKES.

I really don't know what draws me to these projects. I think it's that I like my fantasy worlds to feel big and well-lived in. My pet-peeve with high fantasy is that sometimes the setting feels like a setting for a stage: gorgeous, and about three inches deep. My pet-peeve with historicals is that sometimes they seem like the same old story with some feathers and human sacrifice glued on. There's no sense of language, culture, architecture, foodways, landscape, ecology, belief... it all just doesn't work.

Starting with a real setting helps me avoid that. It may be that I don't have the right kind of imagination to create a big, well-lived in world from scratch, a world like Middle Earth or Earthsea or Attolia or even Hogwarts. So, research it is.

(On a related note: I'm sick of everyone in fantasy being white. I'm aware that it's dicey for a white chick from Omaha to write about, say, Aztecs, but still....)

3. Yes, I agree with your answer big-time! So you used to work in physics--I love physics! What do you like about it? What was the best part about working at CERN?

You love physics? I'm so glad! People usually react as if I have trained a giant squid to follow me everywhere: you know, impressed, but somewhat wary.

I think what I like about physics is that you can ask questions that are so basic they are almost nonsense, such as, “why does a ball roll downhill?” I mean, yes, gravity, but the ball has potential energy at the top of the hill and kinetic energy at the bottom; why is the kinetic energy “better”? In high school I asked this and was told, “Well, gravity.” In college I asked it and was told about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics and the heat death of the universe. In grad school we started talking about the idea that there's no particular reason for the only-forward nature of time we experience as humans, and that the universe in most ways works just fine without that notion. Which is cool. I like the leap from simple-minded to astonishing. Poetry is like that too.

The best part of working at CERN was hanging out with a bunch of really smart people. That was fun! We all worked together, bounced ideas off each other, cooperated to get stuff done, spun ideas out over coffee and napkins. We also climbed mountains and formed bands and threw frisbees around. The Russians I worked with taught me to play cards and drink vodka (I never got good at either) and my roommate from Bombay taught me to cook Indian food. What's not to love? Besides the radiation, the rampant sexism, and the sixty- to eighty-hour work weeks, that is?

4. Linay, the "villain" of PLAIN KATE, turns out to be a marvelously complex character. Who are some of your favorite villains in YA literature, and why?

I just spent fifteen minutes starring at my bookshelf, trying to jog my memory. Before I did that I was going to say that I love villains, and always fall for villains. But I didn't come up with any villains that I loved. What I do like is, well, Snape: the villain on the side of light. Or, someone like Sherlock Holmes, the anti-social genius. Or the anti-hero. I just read The Demon's Lexicon, for instance, and Nick, the protagonist, is violent, cold, and difficult – for very good reason. I liked that.

What I like, in short (and in fiction) is people with baggage, people with damage, people who are a little bit crazy, a little bit off. They make good characters. I wish more people handled villains this way. I think there are very few people in real life who are cackling and twisting their moustaches, you know?

5. Can you tell us about how you reacted when you heard that PLAIN KATE had sold to Arthur Levine?

My experience is a little unusual, because my book went to auction, so I knew The Call was coming. Round Two Bids were due at 11:00 AM. Torturously, they didn't come in on time. They trickled in, and my agent refused to show them to me (wisely) until they were all ready. It was 7:00 PM before the last bid came. Meanwhile, I was at work, writing an article about the physical strengths of nanostructured films. I'm not sure it was a good article, mind you.

When Emily, my agent, finally called, it suddenly became clear that what had been a very good bid in the initial round one was now a shatteringly good, ditch your job, change your life bid. And it was from Arthur A. Levine. "Erin," said Emily, who had worked on the book with me for three years, "I have been dreaming about making this call for a long time." And then we both started to cry.

It's been wonderful to work with Arthur and his imprint and all the people at Scholastic, too. They've been a dream. I'm so grateful.

6. Taggle is totally endearing in his "cat-ness." I was wondering, who are your favorite literary felines?

I love Princess Arjumand, the cat who nearly destroys the space-time continuum in To Say Nothing of the Dog. And there's Mogget from Sabriel, of course. People often compare Mogget and Taggle, but Mogget's most fascinating characteristic is that he isn't a cat, and Taggle's best quality is that he is a cat – who just happens to talk.

7. Favorite way to kick back and relax after a long and busy day?

Bath and a book, of course! Before kids, I was capable of spending the evening in the bathtub, reading an entire book and using all the hot water in the house. Sometimes these days words get to be too much, and then my hubby and I opt for video and popcorn. I love both good and bad science fiction. I'm a Doctor Who fangirl, for instance. And I love to rent movies like, say, The Core, and have some friends over and mock it until a beverage comes out of someone's nose. We actually have a travelling trophy for that.

8. What advice would you give to aspiring writers, especially those of whom, like you, also have seemingly unrelated interests and passions?

I wish I could tell young me: don't let anyone push you into picking a passion. Follow them all. Find a balance and let the balance shift as it needs to. Yes, this means you won't “get ahead” particularly fast, and it means people in both literature and physics will routinely look at you as if you have a duck on your head. But both are important to who you are. You will not regret following your passions, even if you follow them into dead ends.

For aspiring writers: write. It is difficult, and often stupid, and doesn't pay very well. Do it anyway. Start now. Read everything. Fill notebooks with stories or just with compost -- you'll need a lot of compost to grow a few good stories. Edit and make them as good as you can make them. Find someone to share them with -- a few someones, ideally. Other writers are good if you're not competing with them; they will Get It. In any case you need people you can both learn from and teach, people you can lean on and really trust. And then maybe think about publication. But even if you don't publish -- and many don't -- write. Because you want to. Out of love. Write, write, write.


Thank you, Erin, for that insightful and engaging interview! It's been a real treat for me. I hope you check out Erin's gorgeous written book, Plain Kate, if you can!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Tags: YA, fantasy, adventure, magic, Russian folklore, woodcarving


Plain Kate’s life is forever changed when her carver father dies and she is left to her own resources. Plain Kate survives by carving pieces of wood into charms, but people are still wary of her tremendous carving skill. Rumors of her being a witch increase when a stranger by the name of Linay starts to pay attention to her. Running out of options, Plain Kate makes a deal with Linay: she will give him her shadow in exchange for provisions to leave her increasingly unfriendly town.

Armed with her carving knife, meager possessions, and a wry talking cat, Plain Kate joins up with a group of Roamers and tries to leave her past behind. However, magical troubles keep on following her and hurting those she cares about, and Plain Kate begins to realize that giving up her shadow, she may have gotten herself with magic much darker than anything she wanted…


I am possibly the furthest from objectivity in reviewing this book, because epic, magically written fantasy adventure novels sweep me off my feet each and every time, leaving me drowning in my own puddle of envious, awed, and enraptured drool. PLAIN KATE channels the good old-fashioned writing of fantasy queens such as Robin McKinley to conjure up an astonishing world that flavorfully blends together folklore and magic, both in content and writing style.

Truth be told, I would’ve read this book solely for its language. Reading Erin Bow’s words is like reading a generations-old fairy tale, passed down from parent to child again and again. The book has a poetic soul at heart, and without the language, I’m pretty sure the magic of this story wouldn’t have been the same. I fell in love with the writing from the first page, and savored each paragraph of PLAIN KATE like I would decadent, heartwarming chocolate.

The plot doesn’t quite have the epicness that I adore in beautifully written fantasy adventures, but is enjoyable nonetheless. Like her name, Plain Kate is a no-nonsense girl: here is someone who has had to deal with loss and prejudice her whole life, and thus she doesn’t have time to waste on ambiguous hormonal teenage issues, which is almost refreshing in a YA book. Taggle, Plain Kate’s cat, adds much-needed humor breaks throughout the book, with his wry cat comments that anyone who has come in contact with cats before can most certainly relate to.

The story moves slowly, even as the characters travel far, preferring instead to spend time on the language rather than on specific physical action. The parts containing Linay and his sinister plans are a bit confusing—again, probably because I was, uh, too spellbound by the writing to get a solid hold on the story’s main magical conflict.

Despite that, I would read this book again and again, if only to savor Erin Bow’s words when I need a touch of beauty in my life. If you, like me, like falling under the spell of beautiful fantasy writing, then PLAIN KATE is a must-read. Kate’s story will make you fall in love with this genre all over again.

Similar Authors
Malinda Lo
Robin McKinley
Sarah Beth Durst

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

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - I love love love what the cover evokes: an otherworldly, almost historical fantasy feel. I just wish there was some of Kate's woodcarving in it.

Scholastic / Sept. 1, 2010 / Hardcover / 336pp. / $17.99

Review copy received from publisher.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In My Mailbox (48)

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!

I had a wonderful, incredible past two weeks in books!

For review:
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
Spy Glass (Glass, Book 3) by Maria V. Snyder
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Her and Me and You by Lauren Strasnick
Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher by Wendelin van Draanen
Banished by Sophie Littlefield
Pegasus by Robin McKinley
Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Thank you SO much to Random House, Harlequin TEEN, Lauren, Penguin, LibraryThing, and Beth!

Jane by April Lindner
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

Forbidden Sea by Sheila Nielson
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
The Midnight Charter by David Whitley

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Crux of Character

Recently I've read a few contemporary realism books that I found myself unable to truly get into. Now, mind you, these are big-name YA books, books that have been raved about for months by a vast majority of the blogging community, awards panels, librarians, book review publications, etc. They are also "issue" books--more specifically, books about the death of a loved one.

I don't know about you, but I always feel compared to give "issue" books a higher rating than contemporary realism that deals with less objectively serious subjects. But the thing is, it frustrates me when an "issue" book receives accolade after accolade when it cannot convincingly answer an extremely important fiction question for me:

Can the main character exist without the book's "issue"?
Look--I know that most books are written about an exceptional moment of the character's life, such as a life-changing event or period of growth, or both. There's got to be something that makes that particular slice of the character's life worth writing a whole book about. The death of a loved one is life-changing, definitely--traumatic, tragic, heartbreaking. But I get really frustrated when the character development reads like the character did not even come into existence until this tragic event occurred to them. Surely you must've had a personality before the death? Hobbies? Interests? Worries? Crushes? Then why do you sound like, without your Significant Event, you would be a totally unrealistically simplistic boring non-person?

I used to think that bland protagonists existed only in guilty-pleasure paranormal romances, hidden behind the romantic appeal, okay-ed through the editing process because of the flashy premise. But now I know that they can exist in realistic fiction as well. This time, they're masked behind a sad, sad event that screams "PITY ME", otherwise you will be considered a horrible, insensitive person.
There seems to be this misconception that giving your protagonist as few definable traits as possible makes him or her more relatable to the audience. Because they are a blank slate, deeply, irrefutably, life-changingly in love with the love interest, and we are supposed to focus entirely on the transformative, obsessive, all-consuming power of the romance and how neither character can live without the other. They are, supposedly, the everyman or everywoman.

But this is a misconception, because the way to get people to relate to your character? To make your character as specific as possible. Little mundane quirks that bring out the human in your character. Because I am still constantly being surprised at how related so many of us are in our thoughts and experiences. Yeah, human beings are unique creatures, but they also share a whole lot, particularly in adolescence. Everyone feels lonely. Everyone feels misunderstood. These feelings of isolation, frustration, and fear are what differentiate us, but also what draw us in solidarity when we find someone else who feels the same way we do.

Some of the best contemporary realistic YA fiction I've read deal not with serious subjects like death or abuse, but rather with the completely, absolutely, totally, terrifically ordinary everyday concerns of being a teenager: friendship fluctuations, romantic worries, school, body image, adults who just don't get them. I like a serious, thought-provoking, and eye-opening read myself, but I also love it when a more so-called "lighthearted" or "frivolous" YA book really gets what it means to be an average teen. Because--and let's not delude ourselves in the name of sensitivity and empathy--many of us just want flawed, rebellious, and tetchy screw-up characters that we can read about and go, "Oh my God, I am totally like that." And on the rare occasion where I can find a book with a strong premise and a truly well-developed protagonist, well, that's just incredibly cool and wonderful.

I think that writers should ask themselves as they're writing, "Can my main character exist without the catalyst for their story in this book?" Take away the tragedy and what remains? If you draw a blank--if you can't describe the character beyond the embarrassingly basic facts such as living arrangement, primary extracurricular activities, tentative career ideas, etc.--then you really should rethink your character. YA readers are becoming sophisticated enough to notice when a premise remains only a premise. A novel does not truly take flight on a flashy or sympathy-inducing premise alone. That's why some of the best books--or at least some of my favorite books--can have seemingly little or no plot at all. An attention-grabbing premise can garner the pre-hype and release week bestselling status, but only thorough and relatable characterization can make a story memorable across both one and many lifetimes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blog Tour Review: Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Caster Chronicles, Book 2

Tags: YA, paranormal, romance, South, magic


Ethan Wate knew that his romance with powerful Caster girl Lena Duchannes was never going to be easy. But, in the wake of Lena’s uncle’s death, things seem almost impossibly difficult. Lena is pulling away from Ethan and hanging out with her Dark cousin, Ridley, and a mysterious boy who is but is not quite an Incubus. Even worse, old and new nemeses return, struggling to stake a claim on Lena and her Caster powers.

With the help of his best friend, a new Keeper in town, and an unexpected Caster ally, Ethan sets off on a journey through mortal and Caster worlds, chasing a Caster myth that may or may not hold the answer to Lena’s changes.


BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS is a worthy sequel to Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s bestselling debut novel, Beautiful Creatures. Everything that fans loved in the first book appear here as well: the lush Southern atmosphere, comfortable teen speak, forces of good and evil battling, and a romance that triumphs over impossible obstacles.

BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS occurs on what could be considered a grander scale than Beautiful Creatures. Stakes are higher, adventures are more far-reaching. Events unfold at the same almost maddeningly leisurely pace as the first book, but past the first 150 pages, I found myself absorbed by the epicness of Ethan’s struggles. I loved that the plot takes you miles across Southeastern US and beyond that, in the Caster realm. The physical movement of the characters in BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS now matches the sprawling grandiosity of this series’ premise—something that BC fans will devour.

The second book reveals to us more of the core group of characters’ inner turmoils, from Ethan and Lena’s conflicting emotions and dedication towards one another, to Link and Ridley’s evolutions; introduces several compelling new characters; and adds mysterious depth to some already larger-than-life Gatlin residents. A more or less successful web of characters and their development set this series apart from most other paranormal romances.

The Caster Chronicles works, for me, on the most basic level of sweeping good vs. evil conflicts and romances that conquer all. It is, to be honest, not great writing. I find Ethan’s voice to be generally unconvincing, a boy lacking in truly attractive distinction. All too often the writing contains sentences that make points that the average reader will be able to infer for him- or herself: “duh” reactions to events or revelations. The magical element of this series is still a bit murky for me; I feel like it relies mostly on the characters’ insistence of its malevolence for its impact (or lack thereof). Critical revelations occur with insufficient forewarning, and I was left scratching my head and wrinkling my forehead sometimes in confusion and disbelief.

Those points being made, BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS and the first book have accomplished what the series set out to do: create a slightly different paranormal romance world that Twilight fans will greedily devour. If you’re not too hampered by a need for literary sophistication, then this is one of the most entertaining and epic paranormal series out there.

Photo credit: Vania Stoyanova.
Similar Authors
Stephenie Meyer
Anastasia Hopcus
Maggie Stiefvater

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - I love how nice it looks alongside the Beautiful Creatures cover. The stairs in the background allude to the Caster Tunnels that feature so prominently in this book.

Little, Brown / Oct. 12, 2010 / Hardcover / 503pp. / $17.99

ARC received at BEA.

This review was brought to you as part of the Beautiful Darkness blog tour organized by Novel Noise. Another tour stop occurs today at Raw INK Online, and the next blog stop on the tour is Monday, October 18 at GreenBeanTeenQueen. Happy book birthday, Beautiful Darkness!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (86)

Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

Happiness is a bloody knife.
Kit and Fancy Cordelle are sisters of the best kind: best friends, best confidantes, and best accomplices. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy are used to feeling like outsiders, and that’s just the way they like it. But in Portero, where the weird and wild run rampant, the Cordelle sisters are hardly the oddest or most dangerous creatures around.
It’s no surprise when Kit and Fancy start to give in to their deepest desire—the desire to kill. What starts as a fascination with slicing open and stitching up quickly spirals into a gratifying murder spree. Of course, the sisters aren’t killing just anyone, only the people who truly deserve it. But the girls have learned from the mistakes of their father, and know that a shred of evidence could get them caught. So when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities.... [summary from Goodreads]

Not many of my favorite books stay with me down at school; most go home eventually. But Dia's first book, Bleeding Violet, is one of the few that I am able to stare wondrously at nearly every day of my life. Its unapologetic and fantastic weirdness have earned it a spot on my favorites shelf, alongside the Hunger Games trilogy, Kristin Cashore's books, and all of the Jessica Darling series, among just a few others. Obviously I anticipated Dia's sophomore novel with a little more than a typical amount of anticipation. And read that synopsis! Look at that cover! Only Dia can pull off something like this, and I am really looking forward to reading this.

Slice of Cherry will be published in hardcover from Simon Pulse on January 4, 2011.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Author Interview (T2T): Jackie Morse Kessler

Adult urban fantasy turned YA writer Jackie Morse Kessler is participating in a Traveling to Teens tour to promote her debut YA novel, a unique and wonderful magical realism book called Hunger, which reimagines the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Today, Jackie was kind enough to stop by and answer a few questions for readers. Welcome, Jackie, to Steph Su Reads!

1. A modern, urban fantasy retelling of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--how cool! What gave you the idea for this new series?

Death, doom and destruction, of course! **g** Actually, for me the focus was always on an anorexic protagonist becoming Famine. Thinking through the purpose of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse came later. I guess it’s closer to magical realism than urban fantasy.

I’ve wanted to write this story for years. But I’d convinced myself that it would never sell, because it wasn’t sexy. No one would want to read about a girl with anorexia, I thought. Luckily, my agent convinced me otherwise. (Her exact words were, “Are you crazy?”)

2. Lisabeth's demonic inner voice is so pitch-perfect it's eerie. Did you have a similar inner voice when you were a teen? How did you finally defeat it?

Ah, the Thin Voice. Yeah, evil, isn’t it? I used to be bulimic, and even though I haven’t been for many years, it was very easy to slip into that mindset when I was writing HUNGER. I wonder if we ever lose that nasty voice, the one that whispers how ugly/fat/alone/insert-your-poison-here we are. I still have bad days when I feel worthless. But even at my worst, I still live my life. That’s the thing: being able to ignore that voice if we can’t completely silence it. I’ll never be perfect. And that’s OK.

3. How different was it to switch from writing adult urban fantasy to YA?

Once I figured out that the protagonist was 17 and not an adult, it just flowed. So I was very fortunate; it wasn’t difficult at all. (Maybe that’s because the story has been simmering for 10 years! It was much harder writing the second book, RAGE.)

4. Let's talk a little about Death, probably my favorite character. Why did you decide to create such an unconventional--and, as a result, endearing--Death character?

Thanks! He sort of pulled an Athena and sprung from my mind, fully formed. I wasn’t even into Nirvana when I created him. (Or maybe I was and I just didn’t know it.) Other authors have done wonderful things with the character of Death — Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Piers Anthony come immediately to mind; I’m sure those characters influenced me when I created Death for HUNGER.

Unlike the other Horsemen, who have been replaced over the years, Death is the original. So it seemed to me he had to have a very...interesting perspective on life. You’d have to have a sense of humor if you were Death for thousands upon thousands of years, no? (One hopes!)

5. The Four Horsemen are said to bring about the apocalypse as harbingers of the Last Judgment, in the biblical version. At the risk of sounding a bit morbid, how might you imagine the end of the world coming about?

Well, if I were an evil overlord—and if there’s an opening, please let me know—I’d destroy everything with chocolate. Chocolate typhoons. Chocolate avalanches. Chocolate volcanoes. Chocolate climate change! Sucks for those people who are allergic to chocolate, but hey — I’m evil. **g**

6. And now for something hopefully a little less morbid: if you could be a Horsemen, what would you symbolize, what color would your steed be, what would you carry, and what would your travels consist of?

I’d be the Horseman of Second Guessing. My color would be blue—no, green...I’d have an overstuffed backpack as my symbol because I’d be afraid that I’d forgotten whatever my real symbol was. And I’d mostly hang out in Washington, D.C., where it seems like second-guessing prevents anything meaningful from getting done quickly.

7. What books would you recommend to a reader who's interested in starting to read adult urban fantasy?

Oh wow. Much better for me to recommend authors instead of specific books. And so...Neil Gaiman, Chris Moore, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Rob Thomas, all of the Deadline Dames (Devon Monk, Jenna Black, Karen Mahoney, Keri Arthur, Lili Saintcrow, Rachel Vincent, Rinda Elliott, Toni Andrews and me. :) and the League of Reluctant Adults (Mario Acevedo, Michele Bardsley, Dakota Cassidy, Carolyn Crane, Molly Harper, Mark Henry, Stacia Kane, Caitlin Kittredge, J.F. Lewis, Richelle Mead, Kelly Meding, Nicole Peeler, Cherie Priest, Kat Richardson, Michelle Rowen, Diana Rowland, Jeanne C. Stein, Anton Strout, Jaye Wells and me again!). And finally, everyone should read the Jaz Parks series, by the late but great Jennifer Rardin, who just passed away.


Thanks for answering my questions, Jackie! I encourage you to check out the tour as it continues tomorrow at Sarah's blog ( You can find the complete tour schedule at the Traveling to Teens website here, and Jackie's author website is here. I hope you check Hunger out!

Review (T2T): Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Book 1

Tags: YA, magical realism, mythology, anorexia


In the throes of anorexia and contemplating suicide, Lisabeth Lewis is paid an unexpected visit by Death, who tells her she is to be the new Famine, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Lisa is incredulous: how can someone with such a hateful relationship with food be Famine? But as she travels the world on her steed and sees famine in action in heartwrenching scenes, Lisa begins to wage a war with her own inner demons as well.


HUNGER is a succinct but powerful tale with mythological undertones, yet a very relevant modern topic. Jackie Morse Kessler weaves together old-style storytelling with contemporary charm to create a memorable and 100% fascinating read.

HUNGER draws on mythology, but its fairy-tale-like feel comes from much more than just its premise: it’s the way Kessler writes the story. Lisa’s conflicting emotions never feel forced: Kessler’s choice of words, their rhythm and their placement, portray that for us, so that we are never told how Lisa or we are supposed to feel. The writing thus makes you feel like you’re simultaneously within Lisa’s mind and above it, viewing everything from a magical, observant distance, the sort of reader-story distance that forms the core of ageless fairy tales.

The human characters in HUNGER are relatively straightforward, as befits their role within the fairy-tale-like feel of the story. However, Death is such a great and unique character. He’s cheeky, and has a sort of too-cool-for-his-own-good vibe going on. It puts a different spin on something that could be otherwise very heavy in the mythology and issues.

Overall, HUNGER was an incredible read. At under 200 pages, it goes by quickly, but it packs a punch, expertly combining an old-school storytelling feel with the issue of eating disorders, so relevant to many today. I will definitely be looking out for Jackie Morse Kessler’s future books!

Similar Authors
Holly Black
Marcus Zusak

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - Uniquely, enticingly unisex, different, and flavorful.

Graphia / Oct. 18, 2010 / Paperback / 180pp. / $8.99

ARC picked up at BEA.

This review is part of a blog tour brought to you by Traveling to Teens. Stay close for an interview with Jackie!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Tags: YA, contemporary, road trip, grief, romance, breakups


Amy’s father’s recent death in a car accident has left Amy retreating into herself. The problem comes when she needs to join her mother in their new home on the other side of the country. Enter Roger, a slightly older family friend who also needs to make his way across the country.

As the two near strangers embark on an epic road trip, throwing Amy’s mother’s strict driving directions out the window and instead going where they want, working through Amy’s grief and Roger’s hang-up over an ex-girlfriend, they learn that healing may not be so far off after all…even if it does take a cross-country road trip to attain it.


AMY AND ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR is a multiformat delight of a road trip read that will sweep you into these two teenagers’ stories.

Morgan Matson’s writing is easy to read, fluid but not floral, emotional without melodramatics. There is huge potential for dramatics in the premise—a death, an ex-girlfriend, a heterosexual boy and girl stuck in a tiny car for days on end—but thankfully descriptions are curtailed, emotions carefully doled out…and all the more effective as a result.

Amy and Roger, while lacking in particularly definable characteristics or quirks that make them stand out in the genre, have one major quality going for them: their relationship is gradual, slowly strained, one of growing attraction, not the “insta-luv” formula we typically get. If you’re looking for a real YA contemporary romance, one that gives the characters clashing histories and emotional obstacles instead of claiming to bring them together at the first look, you need to check this book out.

Finally, AMY AND ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR provides a pleasant reading experience with its playlists, scrapbook-style layouts of pictures, and handwritten notes and doodles. These elements add to the realistic element of the story: you are made to feel as if Amy and Roger’s road trip actually took place, and you can enjoy their journey as much as possible by adding in the musical and visual experience.

Overall, Morgan Matson’s debut novel is a winning addition to contemporary YA. With a romance that actually develops, the multimedia supplements, and the feel-good magic that usually arises from a good road trip, AMY AND ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR will feel as good as listening to a playlist of great new songs with your favorite person.

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - It has a cool vintage tint to it, but I actually had completely disregarded this book until I read the zillions of good reviews on it. Just goes to show you what sort of impression a cover and a title can make, I suppose.

Simon & Schuster / May 4, 2010 / Hardcover / 352pp. / $16.99

Review copy bought.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Review: Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

Tags: YA, feminism, student council


Natalie is the girl who knows what she wants: academic success, student council leadership, and avoidance of the male miscreants that run amok at her school and destroy girls’ lives with one raucous laugh and joke. Her one friend was at the receiving end of one of these boys’ cruelties in freshman year, and now, as seniors, Natalie has almost made it out home-free.

Until the entrance of two very different people into her life throws her into disarray. Spencer, her former babysitting charge, is now a one-woman force, unafraid to play up her sexuality and toy with the boys, much to Natalie’s chagrin. And Connor Hughes, quarterback and supposedly the biggest jerk of them all, surprises her with a side of him that she’s never known…and his interest in her.

Can Natalie deal with changing up her entire philosophy for success and feminism?


NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL, Siobhan Vivian’s third novel, succeeds where few other contemporary YAs do: it features a smart, determined, but not always nice or right female protagonist and a strong message of the different definitions of what female empowerment entails.

Natalie is not a straightforwardly sympathetic protagonist. She’s smart and has obviously accomplished much, yes, and her narration is delightful for the “over-read” YA reader: anguished and angsty, determined and stubborn, without being overly dramatic and annoying. However, we get the sense early on that, despite the seeming solidness of her feminist creed, she could stand to learn a lesson or two. Too often I feel like YA protagonists are always made out to either be ethically perfect in dealing with external problems, or else have an identity utterly wrapped up in a love interest. Thus, Natalie is a breath of fresh air—even if she may snap at you, and even slap you, for daring to objectify her as refreshing.

There are a gratifying number of strong females in this novel—even if not all of them are “strong” in the best ways—but Spencer is probably the most admirable character of them all. She is the type of girl Natalie fears, though for all the wrong reasons. Spencer is confident, strong-willed, feminine, and, to Natalie’s horror, not afraid to play up her feminine appeal to get her way. Spencer and Natalie come from different schools of feminism, and while there is no clear answer as to which of them is more correct—Spencer gets hurt more, but she also lives—they are excellent examples of the different manifestations of feminism…with a hearty dose of entertainment in their shenanigans and interactions, too.

NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL focuses on the feminism aspect, on what it could mean for a female to be empowered, but it’s hardly preachy, and not without a crackling romance as well (although Natalie’s interactions with Connor was something I wish had been more fleshed out). Siobhan Vivian is a strong writer with a talent for character subtleties. This is my first book of hers, but it will certainly not be my last. Don’t overlook this strong gem of a contemporary YA read!

Similar Authors
Kody Keplinger
Natalie Standiford

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2.5 out of 5 - Sooooo generic. Would have avoided if not for the good things I heard about this book. I do like the pink accents though.

Scholastic Push / Sept. 1, 2010 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $17.99

Review copy bought.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: The Ivy by Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur

Tags: YA, college


California girl Callie is about to start her freshman year at Harvard and is ready to take the campus by storm! The trouble is, she feels totally out of her league amongst the beautiful, poised, and well-connected student body. Two of her three roommates, Mimi and Vanessa, know more about fashion and making connections in their left big toe than Callie does. (Her fourth roommate, Dana, is a super-prudish, super-religious Southern girl. Great.)

On top of academics and social mobility, Callie also has to worry about several very different, yet all very appealing guys. There’s Matt, the super-sweet boy-next-door who shares Callie’s interest in journalism; Gregory, Matt’s hot jerkface of a womanizing roommate, whom Callie unfortunately finds herself thinking about more often than she’d like; and finally, Clint, gorgeous, sweet, a gentleman, popular, perfect, and an upperclassman.

What’s a freshman at Harvard to do?


Let’s start by placing my poised, semi-professional reviewer mode aside and putting on the hat of my other half, that of an aggrieved college-aged YA reader. In this alternate, blogging- and review-free world, Steph would say that these sorts of books, these seemingly “in-depth” looks into college life, piss her off to no end. People getting into Harvard, only to not care about academics at all and instead focusing all their time on partying, befriending the right people, and boy drama? Are you serious? How did you get into that school in the first place? I’m so exasperated I’ll probably throw something against a wall (preferably the book and not the laptop upon which I’m writing this). I hate that these types of books claim to portray the reality of college life. Actually, college has become simply another setting for the petty “boarding school drama” YA books, except that, with the elevated age group, you can now talk about sex, drinking, drugs, and more! And you still don’t have to worry about parents! Or (God forbid) classes! Woohoo!

Someone stab me.

It’s along those lines that I absolutely cannot get behind Callie as the protagonist with whom we’re supposed to sympathize. This supposedly smart, talented, and high-achieving au naturelle arrives on campus, only to have her mental capacities reduced to that of a hormonal 13-year-old as she falls into fashion insecurities and obsesses about boys. Oh, but I guess since this book is set at college, this isn’t another installment in the Clique series. Guess I missed that memo. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was part of the 3% in her year who won’t graduate from Harvard.

Callie’s dippiness at odds with her supposed intelligence is reinforced by the choppy writing. It’s unclear what point of view this book is written in. It starts out third-person limited, in Callie’s POV, but then occasionally pops over into Callie’s roommates’ heads before staggering back “home” to Callie’s. Uh, perhaps the authors were trying to emulate a Victorian novel panoramic (i.e. omniscient) narration? I’d have no problem with this, even if it is a risk in the current YA world, akin to third-person present tense, or even first-person present tense sometimes. The problem comes when that intention is not made clear; then the narratorial choice only seems sloppy, the mark of an amateur writer.

As another example of the clunky writing, take any scene from any party where drinks are served and the characters drink. Suddenly, time ceases to exist. Dialogue tags go into hiding. Words become more rhythm and less coherence. Now, all of this could actually be sort of cool, a literary expression of being wasted. But the rest of the narration is not tight enough for this literary exercise to win me over. I mean, sometimes the narrator talks to us, the reader. As in, “As you should know, reader…” statements. As in, something you probably shouldn’t do EVER in fiction, something taught to basic-level creative writing students. Argh.

I could probably go on for longer about the petty plot, or the way one guy in particular is about the only thing I enjoyed reading about in this book (even though, in certain ways, he’s pretty cliché; what can I say? I like my bad boys). But I’ll leave it there. My hope is that reading my review will help you realize whether or not this book is something for you. Don’t get me wrong: I like books set in college, as well as the occasional juicy, Gossip Girl-esque dramas (I have a weak spot for Zoey Dean’s books, after all). But THE IVY was flawed in ways that unfortunately cheapened the whole reading experience for me.

Cover discussion: About the best thing I like about the cover is the tagline (even though I don't believe the book deserves it). But otherwise... what is the impression I'm supposed to be getting from this shiny, foiled cover? It doesn't speak to the scandals, or the glitter, or the drama. It's just... shiny. In a way that the actual story is not.

Greenwillow Books / Aug. 31, 2010 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $16.99

ARC picked up at BEA. Sorry.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (85)

Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler

Missy didn’t mean to cut so deep. But after the party where she was humiliated in front of practically everyone in school, who could blame her for wanting some comfort? Sure, most people don’t find comfort in the touch of a razor blade, but Missy always was . . . different.

That’s why she was chosen to become one of the Four Horsemen Apocalypse: War. Now Missy wields a different kind of blade—a big, brutal sword that can cut down anyone and anything in her path. But it’s with this weapon in her hand that Missy learns something that could help her triumph over her own pain: control.

A unique approach to the topic of self-mutilation, Rage is the story of a young woman who discovers her own power, and refuses to be defeated by the world. [summary from Goodreads]

I got to read Hunger, the first book in Jackie's new magical realism YA Horsemen of the Apocalypse series, for a Traveling to Teens tour, and I enjoyed it mightily. I can't wait to see how she combines the mythology/magic with the unfortunately all-too-real contemporary issue of cutting. If it's anything like Hunger, it will be incredible, for sure!

Rage will be published in paperback by Harcourt Graphia on April 8, 2011.

Crescendo Vlog Tour!

Today I have the lovely honor of being the second stop on the vlog tour for Becca Fitzpatrick's second book, Crescendo, the sequel to the bestselling Hush, Hush. Today she tells readers about how her process of researching angels went. Watch below!

Or you can watch the video on Youtube here.

Thanks, Becca, for sharing this with us! The next stop on the tour is October 8 at Chick Lit Teens. Alternatively, you can find the full tour schedule on Becca's Livejournal here.

Here's a little bit about Crescendo:

Nora should have know her life was far from perfect. Despite starting a relationship with her guardian angel, Patch (who, title aside, can be described anything but angelic), and surviving an attempt on her life, things are not looking up. Patch is starting to pull away and Nora can't figure out if it's for her best interest or if his interest has shifted to her arch-enemy Marcie Millar. Not to mention that Nora is haunted by images of her father and she becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened to him that night he left for Portland and never came home.
The farther Nora delves into the mystery of her father's death, the more she comes to question if her Nephilim blood line has something to do with it as well as why she seems to be in danger more than the average girl. Since Patch isn't answering her questions and seems to be standing in her way, she has to start finding the answers on her own. Relying too heavily on the fact that she has a guardian angel puts Nora at risk again and again. But can she really count on Patch or is he hiding secrets darker than she can even imagine?

The sequel to the New York Times bestselling phenomenon Hush, Hush will be available October 19.

About the author:

Becca Fitzpatrick's first book, Hush, Hush debuted as a New York Times bestseller. She graduated college with a degree in health, which she promptly abandoned for storytelling. When not writing, she's most likely running, prowling sale racks for shoes or watching crime dramas on TV. She lives in Colorado. Find out more at

Find out more about the books at the new book website,

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blog Tour Author Interview + Giveaway with Clare Dunkle

Clare B. Dunkle is the author of the recently published Victorian gothic novel The House of Dead Maids, which I reviewed earlier today for a blog tour. I now give you an interview with this accomplished, intelligent, and well-spoken author! Welcome, Clare, to Steph Su Reads!

1. What inspired you to write THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS, a sort of supernatural prequel to Wuthering Heights?

Several things fed into that inspiration. To start things off, I grew up with the book; it was very important to my mother, an English professor, and it became very important to me after I discovered it in her library at about the age of nine. Then, my beloved editor, Reka Simonsen, asked me at one point to consider writing a Brontë book because she thought it would be a good match to my style. And finally, my family went through a very dark time, not unlike the time the Brontës must have endured with their addicted brother Branwell. It was a good time for me to spend with ghosts.

I was inspired to make the prequel supernatural because to me Wuthering Heights has always seemed a thoroughly supernatural read. I can understand the motives but not the observations of those critics who downplay this aspect of the book. One of the book’s two narrators, Lockwood, encounters a ghost and calls it a ghost, although he also talks about having a nightmare. The other narrator, Nelly Dean, sees no ghosts herself, but she reports that four other characters have told her about their ghostly encounters. I wanted to give my Nelly Dean-style narrator the chance to see for herself what Nelly Dean only hears about.

2. Your writing is spot-on for Victorian literature. Who are some of your favorite Victorian writers?

Thank you so much! I worked very hard on that because I want readers to forget they’re reading a modern book when they read my prequel. I’m very fond of the Victorians; I enjoy Dickens, from the Pickwick Papers all the way through to his unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (my favorite novel of his). Of course I love the Brontës, and I take time to reread the Sherlock Holmes stories every couple of years. (It’s one of my family’s favorite “sick in bed” books.) Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories have been important to me since childhood, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula took up the better part of a thrilling summer during my teenage years. Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is one of the heirlooms passed down from my English professor mother; each member of my extended family can recite his or her favorite lines from that play. Through my research for this book, I got to know Sheridan Le Fanu, who produced some wonderfully atmospheric Gothic horror tales, and George MacDonald’s strange, lovely scenes still haunt my imagination.

3. THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS is gothic, suspenseful, and ghost-ridden. Do you like to be scared? What are some of your favorite scary books and movies?

Bram Stoker comes to mind immediately: the original Dracula. I love the opportunity the protagonists of that novel have to sit down with an intelligent monster and chat about death. But by and large, I prefer ghost stories to horror novels or movies. It isn’t the scare factor that makes them special to me; I enjoy them for that glimpse of a hidden world with laws different from our own. As a child, I read every collection of ghost stories I could find, and I still read them avidly, but I spend little time with fictional accounts. Instead, I prefer “true” stories because even though they tend to be very short and have no real narrative to them, they are much more unpredictable and are therefore fascinating. “Real” ghost stories touch on folklore and superstition, both much loved studies of mine.

Some of my favorite ghost stories have been told to me: I ask about ghost stories when I visit historic properties, and I usually manage to ask new acquaintances for stories they’ve heard or ghostly encounters they’ve had. The oral tradition is still the best way to learn a new ghost story. Other favorites of mine are in collections like Glen Grant’s Obake Files. I read ghost stories wherever I can find them.

In the literary world, the scariest stories I know are by Robert Aickman. I have his work collected in two massive volumes by Tartarus Press. His surrealistic little tales cause such an atmosphere of dread that you’ll end up afraid of your own shadow after reading them. They produce a fever pitch of paranoia. On the other end of that spectrum is the gorgeous ghost story by Shirley Jackson called “The Lovely House.” It isn’t scary at all—but it is priceless.

I do enjoy a good scary movie. My favorite, for sheer atmosphere, is The Others, and I thought Paranormal Activity was well done. Also, since I enjoy “true” ghost stories, I like the Discovery series, A Haunting.

4. What other classic would you consider writing a prequel to?

I think one prequel is enough! It isn’t easy to hold the reader’s interest when he or she already knows the outcome. This book was a special case—a labor of love to persuade readers to try this wonderful classic.

5. If you weren't a librarian or a writer, what other careers would you consider?

As crazy as it sounds, I would very much enjoy abridging books and articles. A friend of mine edits a magazine, and as a favor to him, I abridged several articles down to a third or less of their original size. It was one of the most enjoyable puzzle games I’d ever played, trying to keep the spirit and style of the original while removing so much content. That would be a great way to earn a living.

6. What is one activity you'd like to try before you die?

I don’t know if it’s an activity exactly, but I lived in Germany for seven years, and I’d love to live for a few years in England and really get to know the place.


Thanks so much, Clare, for answering my questions! And now...

A Special Bronte-Themed Giveaway!

One Grand Prize winner will receive The House of Dead Maids, a gorgeous Brontë sisters pocket mirror, and the HarperTeen edition of Wuthering Heights! Two lucky runners-up will receive the two books.
To enter, send an email to with your name, email address, and shipping address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and email address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on October 31. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on November 1 and notified via email.

The next stop on Clare's blog tour is at Bronteblog. Check it out if you're interested!

Blog Tour Review: The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle

Tags: middle grade, YA, historical paranormal, horror, ghosts, Victorian


Tammy Aykroyd is only a young girl when she is brought to Seldom House to be maid to the young boy who grows up to be the famous Heathcliff. Seldom House has some chilling secrets, however, Tammy realizes, when she is haunted by the ghost of the maid before her. As Tammy and her young charge explore the house, they uncover some truly gruesome discoveries and realize that they may be in mortal danger.


Gothic and gruesome, THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS is not exactly my usual type of book, but is an excellent example of what “creepy Gothic literature” should be like.

Dunkle certainly knows her Victorian—or more particularly, Brontean—language. THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS reads like it was written by someone who lived during that time and wanted to tell children a scary bedtime story. The historical fiction aspect is authentic and believable.

Accordingly, there is little character development—Victorian lit was never that big on character growth—but in keeping with the tone of the book, that’s okay. The ghost element is creepy enough if you like the gothic. The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are indispensable to the creep factor.

THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS ends on a slightly far-fetched note that segues interestingly into the book that it is a mini-prequel for, Wuthering Heights. That being said, one does not need to know Emily Bronte’s romance in order to enjoy this book. THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS stands on its own as a creepy, albeit a bit slow, portrayal of the Victorian gothic. Don’t read this on a dark night with the wind rattling tree branches right outside your window.

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

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2.5 out of 5 - I am that total chicken who needs to cover this cover before I can read the book. Soooo creepy! Not my thing, but hey, if it works for you...

Henry Holt & Co. / Sept. 14, 2010 / Hardcover / 160pp. / $15.99

Sent by Blue Slip Media for blog tour review.

Author interview and giveaway opportunity coming soon!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Banned Books Reading Challenge: Week 5 Links

Want to share a link to your latest review of a banned/challenged book or a censorship-related blog post? Post your links below! Don't forget to check out this post for more information about the Banned Books Reading Challenge.

Review: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Tags: YA, paranormal, urban fantasy, historical paranormal, Victorian London


Tessa Gray arrives in Victorian London with the expectation of meeting her brother. Instead, she is kidnapped by members of the Pandemonium Club, where she discovers that she is not human, but a Downworlder, a magical being with the rare ability of being able to transform into another person. The leader of the Pandemonium Club, the Magister, wants Tessa’s power for himself, and it is only with the aid of the Shadowhunters that Tessa manages to escape.

At the Shadowhunters’ London Institute, Tessa learns about the existence of Shadowhunters and Downworlders, and befriends Will, cheeky and close-lipped about his past, and Jem, calm and sensitive but with a shocking secret. Will they manage to find Tessa’s brother? What is Tessa, exactly? And which boy will she choose?


CLOCKWORK ANGEL is the first book in Cassandra Clare’s highly anticipated new series, The Infernal Devices, sort of a prequel to the Mortal Instruments series. It delivers Clare’s now-signature mix of gritty urban fantasy, fights, witty banter, and love triangles, and, while there’s nothing really new about the setup, it will still satisfy TMI fans, and is one of those rare books that I know will get better with subsequent guilty-pleasure rereadings.

There’s a decent amount of good to be said about all of Cassandra Clare’s books. Technically, not that much happens in the 400 or so pages her books span, but you don’t realize it because you’re so caught up in the drama and the smirk-inducing dialogue that makes you wish you had thought of that quip yourself. Her books don’t have the depth that the setup has the potential for—there is a LOT of political discussion that could surround the Shadowhunter/Downworlder dynamic—but—at least for me—the love triangle and the dialogue are typically so well done that I don’t even care that the potential for deeper issues isn’t explored.

CLOCKWORK ANGEL follows in this mold. The first 100 or so pages were frustrating for me because, I’ll be honest here, I read Clare’s books for the love triangle and the snark, and it was mostly just Tessa being damsel-in-distress-y at the clutches of the nefarious Dark Sisters. Then suddenly it was Page 200 and I’m wondering, “Did anything actually happen, or was I once again seduced by Will’s quips into not noticing that little has happened by way of plot so far?”

The actual plot of CLOCKWORK ANGEL unfolds almost painfully slowly, if we were to actually examine it. Like in the Mortal Instruments series, the villain of the book, the Magister, retains a status of “villainy” that never fully manifests into true villainy. Like Valentine, the Magister is the villain mostly because all of the other characters insist that he is and whisper fearfully about him. I suppose, though, that this is part of my emotional disconnect from the book, in that reading it felt, for me, like watching a silly-good TV show in which everyone says funny things, and drama happens, but then I shut off the TV and their voices go quiet in my head.

This is not at all saying that this is a bad book, not at all! CLOCKWORK ANGEL is good at what it is: a sinfully entertaining paranormal series with lots of flashy fights and swoony romances. Will is too similar to Jace in his humor and mannerisms for me to actually crush on him (Jace is number one in my heart, after all), but Jem’s genuine (at least, let’s hope it’s genuine) sensitivity towards Tessa’s endears him to me. The main female character is once again a breathless ninny inclined to shrieks and rescues, but hey, whatever, okay, if it floats your boat.

CLOCKWORK ANGEL once again displays Cassandra Clare’s writing strengths: snarky humor and swoon-worthy (albeit a bit predictably so) guys. Comparison to the Mortal Instruments series is inevitable, and there are a troubling number of similarities between the two books so far. I’m hoping there will begin to be differences in the next installment, but meanwhile, I’m keeping this on my shelf to reread whenever I need some smile-inducing, flutters-in-my-stomach pick-me-up reads.

Similar Authors
Charlaine Harris

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4.5 out of 5 - I absolutely love all of her covers. Love the metallic sheen of this one, even if that doesn't really look like the Will in my mind.

Margaret K. McElderry Books / Aug. 31, 2010 / Hardcover / 479pp. / $19.99

ARC from BEA.

P.S. Have you entered my giveaway to win one of two finished copies of Clockwork Angel plus some swag yet??

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In My Mailbox (47)

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!

Had a crazy week full of unexpected and lovely surprises...

For review:
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Teeth edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
Father of Lies by Ana Turner
Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst
I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison
Brain Jack by Brian Falkner
Three Black Swans by Caroline B. Cooney
Gone, Book 4: Plague by Michael Grant
Fallen Angel by Heather Terrell
A Touch Mortal by Leah Clifford
Trundle's Quest by Allan Jones
Blood & Flowers by Penny Blubaugh
Emily the Strange: Dark Times by Rob Reger
Vampire Crush by A. M. Robinson
Through Her Eyes by Jennifer Archer
Steel by Carrie Vaughn
Violence 101 by Denis Wright (not pictured)

Swapped (not pictured):
Saving Sky by Diane Stanley
Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan

World, please pause so I can read these now!


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