Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: East by Edith Pattou

Tags: YA, fantasy, retelling, Scandinavia

EAST is the tale of Rose, who sacrifices her freedom to save her sister, grows to care for the cursed white bear who is her “captor,” unwittingly betrays him, then goes beyond the ends of the earth to make things right. It’s a classic folktale that never fails to move me, but Edith Pattou’s retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” went above and beyond, astounding me with its magical rendering of a traditional story and simple literary elements.

EAST is not extraordinarily sophisticated in writing style: narration alters between several different voices, and none of them particularly stand out as individual examples of great literariness. However, the magic of EAST lies in how these common elements—straightforward prose, a retelling—fit together. The multiple narrators adds a unique rhythm and scope to the story that makes the whole so much more than the sum of its parts.

Edith Pattou sets EAST in historical Europe, and the story traverses lands, cultures, seas, and languages for an astonishing and engrossing read. This is the second retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and I’m astonished at the different directions in which each author took this folktale. I’m no history buff, but I was mesmerized by Edith Pattou’s description of the various people that Rose meets on her journey, by the variety of people and cultures that existed over great distances at the same time.

Words fail me when I try to describe an extraordinary book; indeed, there is no part of this book that was not amazing, and thus there is no part that I can describe well. There is a reason I still see this book in bookstores: it has the rare lasting power that only the most accomplished of fantasy reads possess.

Cover discussion: It's quite unique and memorable. A loving artistic rendering of a lovely book.

Graphia / May 1, 2005 / Paperback (reprint) / 528pp. / $8.95

Personal copy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Sevenwaters, Book 1

Tags: fantasy, retelling, family, sorcery, Ireland


Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of a seventh son who is constantly at tensions with his neighbors over land. Sorcha spends most of her days playing and being loved by her six older brothers, but when an evil sorceress bewitches her father and puts her brothers under a terrible spell, only Sorcha can break it—though it might be the death of her.


I was one of those kids (I’m sure you’ve known a few of us) who read our Complete Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales cover to cover until the book was in tatters. Among the hundreds of extraordinary—and, admittedly, some not-so-extraordinary—tales, however, the one about the girl who must endure great travails to free her six older brothers who have been turned into swans has always been one of my favorites, because it’s just so emotional, and the girl is so admirable. Happily, Juliet Marillier keeps my favorite aspects of the original fairy tale, and dresses it up in an astounding world of Irish historical culture and intricate political relationships.

Unlike other retellings that may push aside the original for the sake of setting, DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST stays true to the tale at its core. Sorcha endures almost unimaginable sufferings in her quest to free her brothers, gets unwillingly pulled into social politics, and is wrongly accused of things that were not her intention. She is a strong protagonist not because she’s very active, but simply because she endures. The first 150 pages or so feel a little slow, but once the book moves into the frameworks of the original tale, I couldn’t put it down.

This is a book I would’ve loved to death back when I first started reading fantasy in middle school, alongside lifetime favorites like Robin McKinley and other admirable fantasies by authors like Garth Nix. As it is, DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST is still an incredible book, full of the richness of my favorite kind of high fantasy. I’m glad I chose this one as my first Marillier book, and look forward to reading her other books in the future.

Tor Books / Feb. 18, 2002 / Mass market paperback (reprint) / 560pp. / $7.99

Personal copy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This Is Teen Giveaway!

Thanks to Big Honcho Media, I have a trio of boy-friendly books from Scholastic to give away to one lucky person! Just in time for the holidays, eh? Here is some info on the books:

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

In the aftermath of a war, America’s landscape has been ravaged and two thirds of the population left dead from a vicious strain of influenza. Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his family were among the few that survived and became salvagers, roaming the country in search of material to trade for food and other items essential for survival. But when Stephen’s grandfather dies and his father falls into a coma after an accident, Stephen finds his way to Settler’s Landing, a community that seems too good to be true, where there are real houses, barbecues, a school, and even baseball games. Then Stephen meets strong, defiant, mischievous Jenny, who refuses to accept things as they are. And when they play a prank on the town bully’s family that goes horribly wrong, chaos erupts, and they find themselves in the midst of a battle that will change Settler’s Landing forever.

Underdogs by Markus Zusak

Before The Book Thief, Markus Zusak wrote a trilogy of novels about the Wolfe brothers: The Underdogs, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl. Cameron and Ruben Wolfe are champions at getting into fights, coming up with half-baked schemes, and generally disappointing girls, their parents, and their much more motivated older siblings. They’re intensely loyal to each other, brothers at their best and at their very worst. But when Cameron falls head over heels for Ruben’s girlfriend, the strength of their bond is tested to its breaking point.

iBoy by Kevin Brooks

Before the attack, Tom Harvey was just an average teen. But a head-on collision with high technology has turned him into an actualized App. Fragments of a shattered iPhone are embedded in his brain. And they’re having an extraordinary effect on his every thought. Because now Tom knows, sees, and can do more than any normal boy ever could. But with his new powers comes a choice: Seek revenge on the vicious gangs who rule the South London housing project where he lives, and who violated his friend Lucy? Or keep quiet and move on? Not even the search engine in his head can predict the shocking outcome of iBoy’s actions. A wifi, thriller by YA master Kevin Brooks.


Visit This Is Teen on their Facebook page.

One winner will receive all three books. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only, and ends Tuesday, December 13. To enter, fill out the form below. Good luck!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Author Interview with Julie Kagawa!

Happy Thanksgiving to my American-ish friends, wherever in the world you are! I'm a little late in putting up this interview with Julie Kagawa, which is part of a blog tour to promote her newest book, The Iron Knight. Welcome, Julie, to Steph Su Reads!

1. Out of all four books which has been your favorite to write?

I think my favorite to write was The Iron Queen, because that's when everything came together; the last battle, Meghan's destiny, her and Ash's fate, all the loose threads that wove together as this was the final fight. And it was satisfying seeing Meghan's story finally come to a close. Everything worked out, with the exception of her and Ash, of course, but that's where The Iron Knight comes in. ;-)

2. What are some of your favorite martial arts movies? Classics, animated, or modernized.

Too many to list, lol! But here are a few: Yojimbo, The Seven Samurai (anything by Kurosawa, actually), Ip Man, The Forbidden Kingdom, Zatto Ichi, Lone Wolf and Cub, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (hush), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, and the list goes on. (Don't even get me started with anime, we'd be here all night.)

3. Had you already started Blood of Eden series before the Iron Fey series, or did the idea come from nowhere and wouldn't disappear?

I'd been toying with a post-apocalyptic world as I was finishing up The Iron Knight, but the idea to add vampires didn't come until my agent and I were discussing ideas for my next series. She mentioned that HarlequinTEEN was on the lookout for vampire books, and the idea to mesh the two together just sort of clicked.

4. Is Puck going to get his own book? Are you going to do any spin offs of other characters now that Ash and Meghan are together? Any chance for a novella of Ash and Meghan's new life together in the Iron Kingdom?

There is a spin off series in the works. This time it's Ethan Chase, Meghan's younger brother, as the protagonist, and I'm sure there will be many a cameo, including the original four. But that's all I can reveal at this time.


Thanks, Julie! If you've been following the Iron Fey series, be sure to check out its fourth and latest installment, The Iron Knight, now available in bookstores!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

Tags: YA, magical realism, theatre, incest


Madeleine and Rogan are first cousins from a large family whose lives intertwine beyond just the usual ways: they are each other’s first loves, and they both have a passion for the theatre. As they participate together in their school’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, changes force them to evaluate their relationship, as well as what the future holds for them, both together and apart.


ILLYRIA was far from what I expected. I wanted something slim yet fulfilling, with a magic that is solidly grounded in reality. Instead, I felt no connection to the characters, and felt like the author was trying to go for mood instead of engagement, with the end result that neither was accomplished.

Content aside (because there have been other YA books written about incest), how is ILLYRIA a YA book? It reads like the work of an adult author who chose to write about teenaged characters without any real consideration for the emotions that teenagers may feel. Madeleine and Rogan’s togetherness lacked actual affection, both in the way Rogan treated Madeleine and the way Madeleine narrated their relationship with an old-woman-at-her-confessional manner. Characters spoke to one another with no real purpose behind their conversations except—well, in my opinion, except to fill up the pages, to give off a “mysterious” vibe at their ambiguous feelings and statements. And I hate hate hate when things in stories only appear for the purpose of accomplishing something—in this case, the author’s unrealized intention of creating an eerie yet compelling atmosphere throughout the novella.

ILLYRIA could have been an interesting, subtly magical, and deeply unsettling story. I think, however, that it was definitely marketed to the wrong audience, and thus I can’t commend it as a work of YA literature.

Similar Authors
Jeffrey Eugenides
Clare Dunkle
Alyssa Sheinmel

Cover discussion: Oh, but the cover I do like. It captures the "magical realism" intention perfectly--like intruding on this couple's lives by scrutinizing them through a dusty snowglobe.

Viking Juvenile / May 13, 2010 / Hardcover / 144pp. / $15.99

Personal copy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: Saving June by Hannah Harrington

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


Struggling to deal with her perfect older sister June’s suicide, Harper sets off on a road trip to California, accompanied by her best friend, Laney, and Jake Tolan, a boy who was somehow connected to June. Harper is not sure what their road trip will accomplish, except that it was always June’s dream to go to California. However, their journey takes unexpected twists and turns as Harper learns about Laney, Jake, June, and herself in a trip that none of them will forget.


SAVING JUNE is a debut YA contemporary novel that lives up to its hype: it is a wonderfully told story that weaves standout characters and a genuine passion for music into a journey that is moving for Harper as well as for us readers.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d like SAVING JUNE at first. The beginning one-fifth of the book had more than its fair share of features that are all too common to YA books dealing with grief—or, for that matter, any YA contemporary story: the main character with suppressed anger towards her dead sibling, the dead sibling, the more outgoing best friend, the good-looking mysterious boy with secrets, the over-the-top ridiculous mean relative. I mean, there is a “life-changing road trip,” for goodness’ sake.

Once Harper, Laney, and Jake finally, finally hit the road, however, it was like someone had flipped the switch and turned on the life to this story. Spending weeks together in a car is really a great way to get to know characters: personalities clash, secrets are revealed, and unshakeable bonds develop. The three main characters completely grew on me. Harper’s grief became less plot-driven (i.e. there for the sake of the story) and more character-driven (genuine poignant grief over June’s death). Laney started out as simply the outgoing best friend, but grew to have more depth than I initially thought.

As for Jake, well, his character development definitely impressed me the most. You’d have to be slightly naïve not to guess what role he plays in the story, but what impressed me was that his “ideal love interest” character developed not from a set of parameters thrown at us at the beginning, but, rather, gradually through the course of the story, each new chapter revealing another lovable aspect of him. Authors, take note of how to write a truly swoon-worthy love interest, please.

All in all, SAVING JUNE pleased me to no end. It broke the constraints it imposed on itself by having a rather tired premise and, through genuine and memorable characters, makes itself stand out in the crowd. If you love YA contemporary, please, do yourself a favor and give this a try. Odds are you won’t regret it.

Similar Authors
Courtney Summers
Lili Wilkinson (Pink)

Cover discussion: Well, this is a, um, quite morose cover for this book. I definitely didn't pay attention to this book on account of its cover, until people started raving about it.

Harlequin Teen / Nov. 22, 2011 / Paperback / 336pp. / $9.99

Requested for review from NetGalley.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (118)

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Generations ago, a genetic experiment gone wrong—the Reduction—decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Eighteen-year-old Luddite Elliot North has always known her place in this caste system. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. But now the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress and threatening Luddite control; Elliot’s estate is floundering; and she’s forced to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliott wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she abandoned him.

But Elliot soon discovers her childhood friend carries a secret—-one that could change the society in which they live…or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she has lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.
I have been intrigued by this book ever since Diana announced its deal a while ago. A dystopian/steampunk-ish retelling of a Jane Austen novel? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! (The Pride and Prejudice movie quote was totally unintentional, by the way.) Diana is remarkably good at writing realistic and relatable characters, and I can't wait to see how she does this. CANNOT. WAIT.

For Darkness Shows the Stars will be published in hardcover by Balzer + Bray on June 12, 2012.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Author Interview with Jaclyn Dolamore!

Yesterday I posted my review of Jaclyn Dolamore's lovely book Between the Sea and Sky (Bloomsbury / Oct. 25, 2011). Today I have for you an interview with the authoress herself! Welcome, Jackie, to Steph Su Reads!

1. The characters in BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY have such beautiful names: Esmerine, Dosinia, Alander. How did you come up with them?

They just come to me. Which makes it sound easy! But sometimes the right name can take MONTHS to come to me. When I first started writing I was calling the mermaid "Millea" but it never sounded right... The story didn't actually get going until I found Esmerine's name.

2. Alander is an interesting and complicated character: a bit of a literary snob, but also deeply loyal. Who were your inspirations for Alander?

I saw him as kind of a Mr. Darcy figure but with an intellectual bent. I've periodically known guys like him, too, where you'll be talking about something and they'll, like, reference Dostoevsky or something, and you'll think, "Ooh, he's smart, I like smart" and "God, but Dostoevsky? How pretentious" at the same time.

3. What was the most interesting job you had?

The first job-let I ever had was working a booth at an anime convention. My sister and I were at a convention and this guy is like, "Hey, you want to work for me?" Like, he would just show up to a convention and hire reasonably attractive girls (the better to get anime nerd boys to part with their dollars) on the spot as they browsed his booth. We didn't have anything else to do at the convention so we spent the rest of the day working the booth and at the end he paid us in merchandise. We then used this to convince our parents to take us to Anime Weekend Atlanta, because he got us in for free. It was a lot of fun, but grueling. We had to work the entirety of the dealer room hours, which was like 10 hours, without any break or barely any food (and the whole time I was wearing a Fushigi Yuugi costume complete with those little cheap Chinese shoes with NO support) and in the end I was paid in anime soundtracks. I had an awesome collection of anime soundtracks after that, though. I always worked the CD section because I could read some Japanese and so I could find CDs for people much easier than everyone else.
4. What are some of your favorite mermaid stories, both classic and new?

I love Splash, in all its 80s movie glory. And The Little Mermaid in various incarnations--the heart-wrenching original, the Disney version. As a kid I was obsessed with Saban's Adventures of the Little Mermaid.

5. What is your favorite thing about autumn?

Cooler, drier weather, in theory, although living in Florida we're lucky to see much of my true favorite weather, with a high of about 60, until December. (With any luck next year I'll be living in Maryland.) Ditto for changing leaves...I love them, but they don't really change here! Autumn is my favorite season, actually, but in Florida it's kind of a big tease, where you only get hints of the best parts.

6. What is your favorite Miyazaki film? (This can be expanded to include all Studio Ghibli films.)

My two favorites actually are not Miyazaki films: Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday. They are both slice of life stories, that capture certain aspects of what it's like to grow up and find your place in the world, as well as to fall in love, although in Whisper of the Heart, the growing up and falling in love happen together, in the moment, and in Only Yesterday we see flashbacks of the protagonist's childhood, and then her current life going to rural Japan, a sort of "back to the land" thing. Both have beautifully rendered backgrounds of Japan, but they aren't fantastical like so many Ghibli films. To my chagrin, Only Yesterday still has not been released in the US. But I am also a big fan of Miyazaki himself. Howl's Moving Castle is my favorite of his, but I love so many of them!


Thanks for answering my questions, Jackie! Whisper of the Heart is also, in my opinion, one of the best Studio Ghibli films ever (remember my old blog banner?). I hope you consider checking out Between the Sea and Sky when you have the chance!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blog Tour Review: Between the Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore

Tags: YA, fantasy, mermaids


Now that Esmerine has finally become a siren, she can’t wait to guard the underwater mermaid world from overly curious humans alongside her older sister Dosia. But when Dosia seems to have been kidnapped by humans, it is up to Esmerine to enter the human world and find news about Dosia. Esmerine is forced to accept the reluctant help of Alander, the winged young man who used to be her friend and taught her how to read. But it’s been years since they’ve talked, and they are now, more than ever, aware of the great differences that separate them. What happy ending can occur for these former friends who have come from such different worlds?


BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY is a mermaid book for those who are wary of books categorized by the particular creatures that inhabit the stories. Told in Jaclyn Dolamore’s trademark writing style—straightforward narration that nevertheless paints a lush magical world—BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY is a charming story that, while not perfect, is still a quick and enjoyable read.

Much like in her debut novel Magic Under Glass, Jaclyn Dolamore has the quiet but valuable ability of deftly portraying elaborate new worlds with no over-fanfare. The first few chapters pulled me completely into the unfamiliar mermaid world of Dolamore’s creation, where magic lanterns are borrowed as a sign of status and being chosen as a siren is one of the highest honors a mermaid can receive. Mermaids, humans, winged people, and who knows what else exist in an unusual society that nevertheless seems to operate in a completely natural and self-contained manner—the mark, in my opinion, of a skilled world-building writer.

Where this book falters a bit is in plot and pacing. BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY starts out so engagingly, with the introduction of this new mermaid world, and the somewhat uneasy dynamics between the different creatures. Unfortunately, I felt that the plot was rather uneven: for a great amount of time, Esmerine is simply waiting to hear of news about her sister, and then the next thing we know she and Alander are off on a confoundingly simple adventure to seek Dosia. I say “confounding” because, with such a wonderful beginning to a novel, I really wanted more from the plot.

That being said, BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY is a humbly sparkling story that will make for a sweet read one quiet afternoon. If you are a fan of mermaids or Magic Under Glass, Jaclyn Dolamore’s sophomore novel is not to be missed!

Cover discussion: A gorgeous work of art, befitting the world of this book.

Bloomsbury / Oct. 25, 2011 / Hardcover / 240pp. / $16.99

eGalley courtesy of publisher and NetGalley.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


So today, I'm part of a very special blog tour. Upcoming debut author Sara Wilson Etienne has put together a cool blog tour that reveals pieces of original artwork inspired by her debut novel, HARBINGER (Putnam Juvenile / February 2, 2012). Here is the Goodreads synopsis:
Girl, Interrupted meets Beautiful Creatures in this fast-paced thriller.

When sixteen-year-old Faye arrives at Holbrook Academy, she doesn’t expect to find herself exactly where she needs to be. After years of strange waking visions and nightmares, her only comfort the bones of dead animals, Faye is afraid she’s going crazy. Fast.

But her first night at Holbrook, she feels strangely connected to the school and the island it sits on, like she’s come home. She’s even made her first real friends, but odd things keep happening to them. Every morning they wake on the floors of their dorm rooms with their hands stained red.

Faye knows she’s the reason, but what does it all mean? The handsome Kel tries to help her unravel the mystery, but Faye is certain she can’t trust him; in fact, he may be trying to kill her—and the rest of the world too.

Rich, compelling writing will keep the pages turning in this riveting and tautly told psychological thriller.
Click on the image below to go to the full-resolution image!

Walk the Path! Explore the whole gallery of HARBINGER-inspired artwork at
HARBINGER by Sara Wilson Etienne debuts February 2nd, 2012.
Follow Sara: @wilsonetienne

Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend, Book 1

Tags: YA, dystopian, he-said/she-said


In the war-happy Republic, located in the former western United States, 15-year-old Day is the most wanted criminal. Not because he’s the most dangerous, but because his elusiveness—he was supposed to have died five years ago, after all—discredits the Republic’s control. When Day’s latest break-in leads to the death of Captain Metias Iparis, Metias’ little sister, the child prodigy June Iparis, vows to be the one to hunt Day down.

But as their lives cross paths and they get to know one another, the truth they learn about the Republic will change them forever…


A premise that sounds like a dystopian Robin Hood? You didn’t have to ask me twice if I wanted to read this. Marie Lu provides us with a solid dystopian read in her debut novel that, while not incredible, still proves to be very enjoyable.

LEGEND’s strength lies in Lu’s writing. Written in alternating POVs, Day’s and June’s voices feel completely natural: both of them have genius-level intelligences, which shows in the way they approach and analyze situations (a great relief from those YA novels whose main characters claim to be smart but then they do or think the most idiotic things). LEGEND will appeal to readers who like their dystopian books endearingly unsentimental, in the way Katniss is a reluctant but still beloved hero. Both June and Day are like that: they are very focused on what needs to be done, and do not exhibit the types of thoughts or behavior that normal teenagers do.

This makes it believable that they live in a world where violence is part of the job description. This is no half-hearted dystopian world: the government does things that leave even me shocked and uncomfortable. LEGEND will surely become one of those books that censorship-happy critics target due to its darkness.

The trouble is, LEGEND’s violence does feel a bit gratuitous. It’s not that I have qualms about violence in YA fiction; I love The Hunger Games, after all. It’s more that I still struggle to understand what purpose the violence in LEGEND serves, except to make the government as scary as possible. But the revelation that June and Day uncover about the government is rather anticlimactic, considering all the setup. I feel more scared by less violence-proven fictional dystopian governments, such as The Giver’s, than I did by LEGEND’s over-the-top controlling government.

While I adored June and Day individually, I felt like their romance left something to be desired. Here, I suppose, is where their age shows, for their mutual attraction seemed to arise more out of the fact that they each find the other to be different than anyone they’ve ever met and less due to an actual liking of one another. Still, I did like them individually, and thought they were pretty well developed in that regard. I had no problem with those two as the main characters, but perhaps if the book hadn’t been sold to me with such a heavy emphasis on an epic romance I would’ve been more impressed.

So LEGEND is not perfect, but solid writing and two sympathetic main characters make it a cut above most other dystopian YA out there. Dystopian fans will surely want to keep this on their radar, though perhaps toning down your expectations a notch will make it a better read for you.

Similar Authors
Veronica Roth (Divergent)
Suzanne Collins

Cover discussion: Um, this cover is FANTASTIC. I love how it goes in the vein of The Hunger Games and is a simple design, yet devastatingly effective at drawing your attention. What's even cooler is that inside (the ARC, at least), Day's sections are printed in gold. Wonder if they'll keep that in the finished copy. I don't see why they wouldn't!

Putnam Juvenile / Nov. 29, 2011 / Hardcover / 336pp. / $17.99

Sent by publisher for review.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Dearly, Book 1

Tags: YA, paranormal, steampunk, zombies


Several centuries into the future, Nora Dearly, daughter of a renowned and recently deceased doctor, lives in New Victoria. Her physically comfortable but emotionally stifling life is shattered when she is kidnapped by what appears to be an army of good zombies…and finds out about a virus that infects humans and turns them into either good or bad zombies.

As Nora learns more about “the Laz,” the government’s cover-up, and the truth behind her father’s death, she spends time with Bram, an intelligent and kind-hearted zombie. Bram may technically be dead, but he still cares about others—especially, as they get to know one another better, Nora.

Can Nora and Bram’s feelings for one another find a place in the midst of the looming catastrophe?


Oooh. DEARLY, DEPARTED was fun, fun, fun. If one overlooks some inconsistencies in worldbuilding, supporting character development, and plot, then Lia Habel’s paranormal/steampunk debut is a charming read that’s sweet and funny.

I’m at the point now with my YA reading where any mention of a romance in the synopsis puts me on guard. Because, come on now, how many more insta-romances, too-good-to-be-true boys, or dickwad love interests do we really need? This, however, is why Nora and Bram stood out to me so much. The multi-POV narration (admittedly unnecessary at times) really added to this couple’s attractiveness, both to one another and to us readers. Bram is a total sweetheart who is nevertheless also a guy, not some ideal creation of a love interest.

The premise is moderately well-developed and the pacing uneven at points—quite action-packed in the beginning, followed by uneven spurts of information and a climax that felt the tiniest bit rushed. But it’s the characters that make DEARLY, DEPARTED stand out from the pack of paranormals or steampunks being released. These characters are a RIOT! They deliver the most wonderful zingers in their dialogue that made me literally guffaw. DEARLY, DEPARTED may be set in a futuristic/anachronistic world that may require a bit of suspension of disbelief, but these characters could be kids in any high school today. Lia Habel fills her characters with heart instead of ideals, with the result that readers will have a good time hanging out with Nora, Bram, & Co.

If you’re looking for a funny and romantic speculative fiction read this fall, consider checking out Lia Habel’s debut novel, DEARLY, DEPARTED and be prepared to be thoroughly entertained!

Similar Authors
Cynthia Hand
Scott Westerfeld

Cover discussion: It's a lovely image, one that I would love to have as a print. However, after reading the book, I'm not sure if I think this picture does the story justice. That girl just doesn't strike me as having Nora's feistiness. But hopefully this will encourage paranormal romance lovers to pick it up...?

Del Rey / Oct. 18, 2011 / Hardcover / 480pp. / $16.99

Sent by publisher/author for review. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins

Tags: contemporary romance, humor, veterinarians, Vermont


Callie Gray knows that she should’ve gotten over first kiss, boss one-time fling, and love of her life Mark years ago. Yet when Mark gets engaged to a woman who is everything she’s not, Callie finally decides to attempt to move on. Unfortunately, in their sleepy Vermont town, there aren’t that many candidates. The most eligible bachelor, the new vet, Dr. Ian McFarland, is antisocial and seems to have a stick up his bum. And yet Ian is precisely who Callie keeps on running into. As their paths continue to cross, Callie begins to wonder if she may actually be able to love Ian after all…


The problem with reading my first two Kristan Higgins novels back to back is that, the second time around, the formula becomes glaringly, embarrassingly obvious. In one breath, here are the characteristics that, after reading just two of her books, I suspect hold throughout all her novels: a theoretically smart female MC (often a middle child with an unusual interest or hobby) with a bad history in men and who turns into idiots around men, a quirky family, a cantankerous grandparent, an over-hyper and disobedient canine pet who gets talked to in frighteningly embarrassing babytalk, eCommitment and horrible blind online dates, a gay best friend… I guess I’ll stop here for now (although I’ll just say: seriously, a requisite gay best friend? Isn’t that so 1990s?).

Furthermore, the plot progresses at pretty much the same “ratio”: for example, the requisite lovers’ misunderstanding occurs at around 85% of the way through the novel. GAH. I don’t know whether I should laugh at the unapologetic adherence to a formula, or cry a little.

Now, I understand that this is romance and that bestselling romance often follows a formula that everyone knows yet still loves. And yep, that’s pretty much the case here. This is classic Higgins (if one who has only read two of her books is allowed to reach such a conclusion after having just dissected her formula in a disconcertingly easy way). Callie is likable (and has the requisite quirky hobby!), and her awkwardness/stupidity around men is still infuriating yet relatable. Zany humor abounds in conversations. The dog is still annoying.

But Ian. Oh, Ian. He totally makes this book. Think a blond, Slavic version of Mr. Darcy, with a reticence slightly reminiscent of Asperger’s but with puppy-like loyalty that is hard to earn but oh so worth it. Shy guys! Stories these days are overflowing with guys who know they’re good-looking and know how to say just the right thing to get what they want. Ian, however, has NO CLUE what he’s doing most of the time, as far as relationships go, which makes his rare right actions all the more genuine and truly endearing. We need more Ians in stories, that’s for sure.

It’s probably going to be hard for me to pick a favorite Higgins romance, because they all follow pretty much the same formula, and yet are all so much fun to read. Hopefully this review will push you in the right direction and encourage you to pick up a book by Kristin Higgins! And if you already have, well, let’s just giggle and gaggle and gossip together over which Higgins man we’d like to have for ourselves…

HQN Books / July 27, 2010 / Mass Market Paperback / 384pp. / $7.99

Personal copy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Yu Garden: A Tourist Necessity

Oh, hi there, from your favorite neglectful book/travel blogger. I just checked my archives and it's been over two months since I posted about my new life here in Shanghai. Heh. I'm telling you, I'd much rather talk about the fictional worlds I travel to in books, rather than the actual worlds I live in. October has also been a craaaaaaaaazy month for work, what with the November 1st ED/EA deadline. Work six days a week, work from home in the evenings, work work work... like, I love my job, but I'm not at my most efficient when it comes to constant exposure to the same elements...

Anyway, Shanghai. Back in August, my grandfather and one of my brothers hopped the Strait (from Taiwan) and paid me a visit, yay! Too bad they brought with them a sort-of typhoon. We checked out Yu Garden (豫园), a supremely touristy food-and-shopping place:
It was PACKED. I dislike crowds.
But it is gorgeous and interesting. Peddlars hawk all different sorts of wares: my favorite was a kind of glass artwork in which artists take small glass bottles and draw intricate designs or pictures on the inside of the bottles using the tiniest sliver of a brush. Visitors line up for half an hour to get their hands on the food at a famous Shanghainese tourist snack place.
We also entered Yu Garden proper, a stone garden that required an admission fee to enter. But it was so worth the 30rmb, because the insides were lovely, all stone walls, classical architecture, and water that flowed from one area into another.
The fish were freakishly aggressive! Visitors would sometimes toss crumbs to the fish, whipping them into such a frenzy that they would swim over one another and out of the water in order to get closer to the source of food.
The wonderful thing about Yu Garden proper was that, within its walls, the madness of the city seemed to fade away, replaced by an utterly lovely sense of tranquility, even despite all the tourists wandering around. I could totally see why the Chinese of the past would want such private gardens. It's a place that I would definitely consider revisiting for its calming sights, that's for sure.
Pretty pretty, even in spite of the gloomy skies, no?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

Tags: YA, contemporary, grief


Laurel’s life shatters when she loses her entire family in a car accident. As she struggles to move on while trying to figure out where her grief—or other people’s knowledge of her tragedy—fits in, David, the boy-next-door whose parents were also involved in the same accident, seems to move in and out of her life. Tragedy separates the two with a seemingly uncrossable chasm, and yet maybe they need one another above all in their different, yet mutual, grief.


Oh, this book. Sigh. In the beginning I had no interest in reading yet another YA contemporary talking about grieving the death of family members. There’s really, truly only so much I can read about grief plots. But then, inspired by high praise from early reviewers, I was convinced to give THE BEGINNING OF AFTER a shot—only to wish, after a long and drawn-out struggle, that I had just stuck with my original instincts.

To give credit where credit is due, I actually quite admire what THE BEGINNING OF AFTER attempted to do, and that is to talk about the less sympathetic aspects of grief. Meaning: When strangers learn of your tragedy and offer to do you favors, do you accept or reject? When classmates start paying more attention to you as a result, how do you react? I admire that Jennifer Castle unflinchingly let Laurel explore these unappealing and perhaps even shocking aspects of losing loved ones, because it’s the truth: tragedy is tragedy, but tragedy in some cases is also opportunity, and we’d be willingly blindfolding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that.

However, I forced myself to get to the halfway point before I finally had to knowledge that absolutely nothing relevant to the premise has happened yet. The first half of the book is such a trove of Things to Avoid When Writing Yet Another YA Novel About Grief: popular girls approaching the MC, formerly uninterested guys approaching the MC, former best friend drifting away, etc. You might ask, where’s David? as the very idea of him begins to seem far more interesting than reading about every single minute detail of Laurel’s life. Well, you see, that’s a very good question. Because for the first half of the book, David’s mostly on the other side of the country. How’s that for plot and character development?!

Readers, I’m done. Maybe the second half of this overly long book has some merit, but if you’ve given me a 400-plus page book in which approximately 150 of the first 200 pages could be condensed into three chapters, I’m going to hand it write back to you and tell you to do some heavy rethinking in terms of revisions before you ask me to take it seriously.

Cover discussion: It's pretty and evocative, in the way that many YA novels about grief are. Too bad the contents of the book don't quite live up to the prettiness of the cover.

HarperTeen / Sept. 6, 2011 / Hardcover / 432pp. / $17.99

Requested for review through NetGalley.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Too Good to Be True by Kristan Higgins

Tags: contemporary romance, humor


Grace has a bad habit of making up boyfriends to get out of awkward situations, divert a pity party, and more. Her latest fake boyfriend—a golden-hearted pediatric surgeon—comes in the weeks leading up to her youngest sister’s wedding…to Grace’s ex-fiance. Of course, it doesn’t take a surgeon to see through her stories, as evidenced by the fact that her neighbor, Callahan O’Shea, an ex-con-turned-handyman with whom she got off on a rather clumsy foot, seems to have figured out her most embarrassing habit. With her sister’s wedding looming but her having not yet fully moved on, Grace needs to find an eligible (read: real) man to transfer her affections to…


More chick-flicky romantic comedy than the more scandalous affairs I’ve become used to when it comes to romance, Kristan Higgins’ writing will have you smiling, bouncing, and sighing over this straight-up romance with the best of intentions.

Grace is a smart and funny woman with a really awkward weaknesses when it comes to talking to and about guys that will make you both pity and empathize with her. Sometimes her stupidity when it comes to guys drove me crazy: you kind of just want to shake her and yell in her face, SNAP OUT OF IT, ALREADY!

But when Grace is not making a fool of herself regarding guys, she’s the best, with an endearingly geeky love of Civil War reenactments (have you ever met a character who was into Civil War reenactments? I didn’t think so) and appreciation for teaching history. This makes it totally possible for us to cheer for her happy ending, when she finally gets it…and Callahan is no slacker in the “ideal guy” department, if yanno what I mean.

Complete with zany family members and laugh-out-loud dialogue, Kristan Higgins’ books will now be on my radar forevermore when I’m looking for a sweet and funny romance. Highly recommended!

Cover discussion: From here on out I exempt myself from discussing covers of mass market paperback romances. The end.

HQN Books / Mar. 1, 2009 / Mass Market Paperback / 384pp. / $7.99

Personal copy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review + Interview: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Tags: YA, contemporary, grief, teen pregnancy, adoption


Jill MacSweeney thinks that her mother’s way of dealing with her father’s death—adopting a baby—is absurd. After all, you can’t replace a lost loved one with a new person. And someone else’s arrival precedes the baby’s—Mandy, the teen mom. Mandy has had a rough life, and living with the MacSweeneys in the weeks before she gives birth feels like paradise—although knowing that it won’t last definitely puts a damper on it. Can these two hurting teens, coming from such different backgrounds, find a way to accept, and maybe even love, one another as their lives intertwine in hurt, grief, and hope?


I’m kind of ashamed to admit that, when it comes to Sara Zarr’s novels, I appreciate them as good literary examples, but otherwise don’t often connect with them as much as I feel I should. HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is no exception. Once again, Sara Zarr elevates the writing of a common yet controversial topic to a literary level, but falls short of the emotional connection I need to consider books and authors my favorites.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE’s strength lies not in a flowing plot, but rather in the inner thoughts of the characters. Thus, this book will work better for you if you like character-driven novels. Just to make it straight, I like strong and well-developed characters as much as anyone, but I admit to being disappointed when character-driven novels come at the expense of real plot. And this book has a lot of inner monologue, but not much plot. Jill and Mandy are fine main characters if you like ‘em passively angsty and full of inner monologue. But really, the plot—or the lack thereof—really drags. Jill goes to school and angst with her faux-friends, and Mandy stays at home and angsts. Fun times.

The truth of the matter is that I feel like HOW TO SAVE A LIFE attempts to do so much more than it actually ends up doing. There’s a POC love interest, an unusual family situation, teen pregnancy, abuse, the ending of a relationship…but I never felt the full power or emotions that each one of these deserves. In short, I felt like this book tackles YA clichés without much oomph behind it.

Some character-driven novels with little to no plot can make me climb on top of tables and blast-sing its praises (see: Melina Marchetta); HOW TO SAVE A LIFE, however, kind of just made me hum a little, under my breath. I recognize that my appreciation-but-not-love for this book is totally a personal thing, because the majority of people have loved and probably will love this book. Just putting another point of view out there, for any fishies who want to bite.

Similar Authors
Elizabeth Scott

Cover discussion: The scene makes some more sense after reading the book. However, I can't get past that stupid song by The Fray every time I think about this book or see its cover...

Little, Brown / Oct. 18, 2011 / Hardcover / 352pp. / $17.99

Review copy requested from NetGalley.

Interview with Sara Zarr

1. What was the very first scene, character, predicament, etc. that came to you when you started writing HOW TO SAVE A LIFE?

This book actually started with a writing prompt from NAMING THE WORLD, a great book on craft edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. The initial scene, from the prompt, was basically what became the first chapter - Jill waiting, with her mother, for the train that brings a pregnant teenager, Mandy, into their lives. When I went back to that exercise months and months later, I thought, "Hey, this is a story!" I had questions: Why did Jill's mother want to adopt, at her age? What did Jill think about it? Why didn't Mandy want to keep the baby, and what were the circumstances of its conception? The story unfolded from there.

2. Which character in HOW TO SAVE A LIFE do you relate to best?

Anyone who knows me will see a lot of Sara in Jill. In my late teens and early twenties, especially, I was very sarcastic and impatient, and intolerant of people, and all of that was a mask for pain and insecurity. I wanted to keep people at a certain distance to avoid any mess or potential loss or abandonment.

3. Would you consider writing in a different fictional genre? What other genres appeal to you as a writer?

There are a lot of things I'd like to try, including adult fiction, screenwriting, short fiction. Maybe even something fantastical or historical if I had the right idea.

4. What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

I'm not great at answering questions about "bests", but here's a good, practical piece of advice I almost always heed: leave off every writing session in the middle of a scene or, even better, the middle of a sentence. That takes care of the momentum or blank page problem that can keep so many of us from getting our work done.

5. Current guilty pleasure(s)?

I try not to feel too guilty about any pleasure, but I think a lot of people I know would frown upon my love of country radio.


Thanks for answering my questions, Sara, and thanks to Ames for setting up this blog tour. The next stops on the tour are:

10/19 -
10/20 -
10/21 –
10/24 –

Hope you check them out in the next few days!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cover Lust (32)

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
(Dial / May 1, 2012)

I think this one deserves an AT LONG FREAKING LAST. But the wait will be sooooo worth it. Kristin Cashore is one of those rare authors who get better and better with each book, and I don't care how long she needs to write each of her books, I will wait patiently. I'm so happy that Bitterblue got such a gorgeous cover too. The style matches the covers for Graceling and Fire, but the keys just... wow! They really pop. Reading this article on Cashore in last week's edition of Publisher's Weekly's Children's Bookshelf email made me all the more excited for May 2012.

Destined by Jessie Harrell
(Mae Day Publishing / Nov. 17, 2011)

I feel kind of silly for liking this cover, but I do think it's gorgeous and works well for its intended YA audience. The sharpness of the lines and texture complements the model's stare, but then the softness of the colors and lighting elevate the image into a dreamlike state. The textured silhouettes on the edges, and the complex font treatment, is still delicate enough in my opinion, and not overboard: they complement the image well. Very pretty!

Insignia by S. J. Kincaid
(Katherine Tegen Books / July 10, 2012)

This book has the same publisher as Divergent, and sources point to the publisher's hope that this book will pull in some of Divergent's audience and do just as well. And from the looks of the synopsis and that cover, I don't see why it couldn't do just that. I LOVE the sci-fi feel of this cover: YA sci-fi is a whole new as yet unexplored world, and I'm excited to see what the future will bring in terms of YA sci-fi. This one is fancy enough to catch the attention of tech-minded male and female readers, while still having an overall theme that unites all the different elements.

(Penguin / Aug. 16, 2012)

More indulgence of the pretty! That bride-worthy dress trailing off into strands of beautiful flowers... There is a softness in the costuming, and the flowers, and the lighting, but the woods in the background suggest that something darker may abound, and I want to know what it is.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
(Harvill Secker / Sept. 15, 2011)

I posted about another version of this cover in my previous Cover Lust post, but then I saw this one and was swept away again. Is this the UK version? Aussie? I like how it keeps the style of the US version, in terms of silhouettes and color scheme, but the silhouettes in this one are so gorgeously intricate. Wow. Sigh.

The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
(Bloomsbury / April 4, 2011)

I'm often not a fan of UK covers for YA contemporary novels, with their wishy-washy pastel-colored swirly lines, but when it comes to the fantastical, I think that this style of strong lines and dashes of color works so, so well. I think this is the UK version of The Folk Keeper...? Whatever country's version it is, it is so much better than the original US cover. Now that was a cover that would have succeeded in keeping both past me and current me away if I didn't now think that Franny Billingsley is an amazing writer.

Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman
(Penguin / April 12, 2012)

The fact of the matter is that THEY ARE RE-RELEASING SINGING THE DOGSTAR BLUES, WOOHOOOOO. Probably on the heels of the success of Eon and Eona. I'm so glad. This was such a charming sci-fi read (see my review here), in a YA publishing world where quality sci-fi is still scarce. I appreciate this new cover as well. Yes, a harmonica appears in the book. Yes, you should definitely look out for this book. Hopefully this new cover will remind, and thus attract, fans of Tamora Pierce, Megan Whalen Turner... and maybe even Stephenie Meyer?


So, which of the above covers do you like the most? Which book are you looking forward to reading the most?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

Tags: YA, contemporary, music, anxiety, mother-daughter relationships


17-year-old Carmen Bianchi is a world-class violinist, with several CDs, Grammys, and international tours under her belt. But the biggest challenge is yet to come, in the form of the Guarneri Competition, the world’s most prestigious young violinists’ competition. Carmen wishes she could be confident of a win, but her biggest competition is Jeremy King: British, handsome, arrogant, astoundingly talented…and more attractive than she ever thought possible.

Carmen’s attraction to Jeremy is just one of her many pre-Guarneri problems. Her mother, Diana, is becoming insufferably interfering, and Carmen is also taking pills to alleviate her massive pre-performance anxiety. With so much pressure stacked up against her, can Carmen pull through, or will she end up crashing and burning?


I delight—and simultaneously despair—when a book is more than what its synopsis implies. I delight because is better than I expected. I despair because I wouldn’t have picked it up on account of its synopsis had someone not convinced me to read it, and I despair that others might miss out on it for the same reason I almost did.

VIRTUOSITY’s synopsis suggests that Carmen’s main conflict will be against her performance anxiety and Jeremy, but the fact is that there is so much more going on in this book. In fact, my favorite part of this read was not even mentioned in the synopsis: Carmen’s struggle with her overbearing mother. Parents are often cast in the adversarial role in adolescent fiction and reality, but the fact of the matter is that it is extremely difficult to write a believably antagonistic parent. That’s where Jessica Martinez succeeds. Carmen’s mother, Diana, is a failed musician, and channels all of her hopes and demands onto Carmen. Their relationship is wonderfully fraught with good intentions and poor actions. I found myself wanting to reach into the book and strangle Diana a little—and that’s how I know when a character is well-written.

The romance between Carmen and Jeremy is still a bit of a stretch and a YA cliché, but Martinez lets Carmen’s history of crippling performance anxiety unfold in such a way as to wring your heart. VIRTUOSITY is, simply put, a warm contemporary read that should satisfy even the most jaded of readers.

Similar Authors
Maria Padian (Jersey Tomatoes are the Best)
Nina de Gramont (Every Little Thing in the World)
Tara Kelly (Harmonic Feedback)

Cover discussion: I'm not a big fan. The retro coloring is, I think, overdramatic. In fact, until the publisher pitched it to me, I had no interest in reading this book because of its cover. Which would've been a shame.

Simon Pulse / Oct. 18, 2011 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $16.99

Received for review from publisher.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Fire and Thorns, Book 1

Tags: YA, fantasy, magic, war, destiny


With the mysterious but mystical Godstone in her belly, Princess Lucero-Elisa has grown up knowing she has a special role to play, but she feels as far from a proper Godstone bearer as possible. Elisa is not beautiful or politically apt like her sister, and when she enters a political marriage with Alejandro, ruler of the neighboring kingdom, she’s immediately in over her head at the political games and shocking revelations surrounding her heritage and destiny. And yet, as Elisa learns more about her new people, she begins to invest in their—and her own—well-being with a strength that she never knew she had in her.


After a rocky start, Rae Carson’s debut novel, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, quickly grew into a YA fantasy tour de force, with an admirable complexity and characterization that makes it worthy of consideration from every high fantasy fan.

Admittedly, approximately the first third of THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS was difficult for me to get into. I found it hard to connect with Elisa and her predicament of being the plain and passive princess who is supposed to have a big role.

The more I read, however, the more I respected—and then eventually loved—Elisa, her world, and the story. Elisa turned out to be a supremely capable protagonist of the highest caliber, who seemed to blossom with every page I eagerly absorbed. Her lifetime of dullness and dissatisfaction is what gives her clarity in her new role as a princess and Godstone-bearer that everyone looks to for inspiration and guidance. This is one heroine whose future, beyond the confines of this particular story, is quite clear: she will make a remarkable queen, mother, and wife, even if, happily, the first book in this trilogy leaves her future appealingly wide open.

At first I wasn’t quite convinced that Carson’s fantastical world was on par with those of fantasy masters such as Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley, but as THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS unfolded, I was happily proven wrong. Elisa’s world is every bit as complex, logical, and entwined in tradition and lore as a fantasy world should be. As Elisa extends her horizons and understandings, so does the scope of the story and the fictional world.

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS is one of those rare few YA speculative fiction books published nowadays that proves that writing and world-building can still be complex and intriguing without being completely “overwhelmed” by an underwhelming romantic plotline. I wasn’t sure at the beginning, but Rae Carson fully won me over, and I now eagerly await the next installment in Elisa’s adventures!

Similar Authors
Zoe Marriott
Kristin Cashore
Alexandra Bracken

Cover discussion: I wasn't a fan of the original cover, and I don't really feel that this is much better. There's something... contrived about both this cover and the old one: it doesn't have the effortlessness of fantasy covers I've liked in the past.

Greenwillow Books / Sept. 20, 2011 / Hardcover / 432pp. / $17.99

Requested for review through NetGalley.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Review: A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Tags: YA, fairy tale, retelling, Rumpelstiltskin, weaving


When her father dies, it is up to Charlotte Miller to carry the dying Miller tradition of running the Stirwaters Mill, which many believe is cursed. Things repaired one day fall apart again the next, and mysterious accidents befall workers. Practically minded Charlotte refuses to court such superstitious notions, but with the arrival of a pushy uncle and the incidents that thwart her attempts to ward off those who pressure her for money owed, she is forced to become involved in things beyond her understanding. As Charlotte delves deeper in order to unravel the mystery of the curse on Stirwaters, little does she realize how much is at stake.


I always look forward to fairy tale retellings, and with this one winning the Morris Award for Best Debut YA, I eagerly picked up A CURSE DARK AS GOLD after two years of having this in my TBR pile. Unfortunately, it was pretty much an all-around disappointment, and in rather unexpected ways: for some reason, the way the story was written, and the way it unfolded, really frustrated and repelled me.

A CURSE DARK AS GOLD theoretically had all the elements I like in a story: a unique spin on a fairy tale, a strong female protagonist, and a compelling plot with only the subtly appreciated undertones of romance. However, I wasn’t far into the book before the way the story was playing out began to irk me. Charlotte’s vehement insistence that there was no such thing as a curse soon characterized her as blindly stubborn to me: I like my fair share of headstrong and independent females, but not when they are stubborn in a maddeningly close-minded way. Hints about the malignance of the curse were dropped in the book from here to kingdom come, but it was not until the last fifth of the book that things began to be explained, and I can’t help but think that all stories that are carried forward by the “mysterious and pervasive influence” of a “shocking secret” are kind of gimmicky. The absolute lack of forward progression in the plot regarding the understanding of Stirwaters, the Miller history, and the curse made me so frustrated that I was tempted to put the book down forever and not bother to find out how it ended.

As Charlotte insisted on pulling away from her loved ones in a misguided effort to protect everyone and shoulder the burden herself, I just couldn’t bring myself to empathize with her decisions. There’s a difference between being admirably independent and dumbly mule-headed, and I’m afraid that Charlotte fell on the wrong side of that line.

All in all, A CURSE DARK AS GOLD was actually too light on the Rumpelstiltskin retellings, rendering itself more just a supposedly spooky and tense story of desperation and redemption that turned out not to be my thing, mainly because of my dislike of the main character for her mule-headedness and the way the plot unfolded. These criticisms I have, of course, are far more subjective than my usual ones, and so if you think that these two points won’t bother you as much as they did me, then I encourage you to give this award-winning book a try. Many important people obviously thought it was a great work, so there is the likelihood that I am in the minority on this one.

Similar Authors
Erin Bow
Patrick Ness

Cover discussion: Simple, but the careful attention to focus--the image is sharpest on the threads in her hands--makes this cover an arresting one for me.

Scholastic / May 1, 2010 (reprint) / Paperback / 400pp. / $9.99

Personal copy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Supernaturally Blog Tour: Poltergeist Dossier!

Today I'm part of the supercool blog tour put together by Big Honcho Media for Supernaturally, the second book in Kiersten White's fun and bestselling paranormal series! This blog tour is different and cool because each stop features an IPCA Dossier and artist rendering of a different Paranormal creature from Kiersten/Evie herself!

IPCA Employee Handbook Section 3.1.34 Subsection B of Spirits

Level Five
Known Entity (Human Corruption), Human Origin, Unknown Genesis, Predatory
Immortality: None
Breeding: Incorporeal; no risk

Appearance: Varies, depending on the poltergeist and its manifestations. Most often gruesome, intended to upset viewers.
Myths: Too many to list. Most true, mainly because poltergeist hauntings change from situation to situation.
Facts: Poltergeists are the lingering spirits of humans (occasionally human corruptions, such as werewolves or vampires) that seek vengeance. Through manipulation of visual, auditory, and sensory elements they create frightening situations. The method for getting rid of poltergeists depends on who the poltergeist was before dying. Because it takes enormous amounts of energy to stay on in poltergeist forms, the most effective way to get rid of a poltergeist infestation is to remove the motivation, whether through religious means that the poltergeist is familiar with, or by addressing the reasons the poltergeist has not moved on.
Dangers: Though poltergeists cannot physically harm people, the fear induced by the various hallucinations can cause heart palpitations, nightmares, stress, and digestion problems. A team effort is always recommended to divide the poltergeist’s attention.

Information contributed by Evelyn age 15 (please see Appendices Catalog, Section 7, for details on glamour-piercing abilities), transcribed from the original audio:
I watched Poltergeist when I was nine. Don’t tell Raquel; Lish let me watch it with her. So when I went on my first poltergeist mission I was terrified, waiting for trees to reach in the window and rip me out or whatever. Imagine my disappointment when it turns out that all poltergeists are is glamour. Everyone else was freaking out about the enormous monster centipedes crawling out of the floor, but I could see right through them. Really it was just some seriously grouchy old dude floating up in the corner laughing his head off. When I wasn’t scared he got annoyed, so I told him what I thought of his theatrics, and he got so mad that he lost his hold on this world and disappeared. Yet another paranormal occurrence that was nothing but a disappointment.

Artist rendering of Evelyn’s description:

About the book:
Evie finally has the normal life she’s always longed for. But she’s shocked to discover that being ordinary can be . . . kind of boring. Just when Evie starts to long for her days at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s given a chance to work for them again. Desperate for a break from all the normalcy, she agrees.

But as one disastrous mission leads to another, Evie starts to wonder if she made the right choice. And when Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend Reth appears with devastating revelations about her past, she discovers that there’s a battle brewing between the faerie courts that could throw the whole supernatural world into chaos. The prize in question? Evie herself.

So much for normal.
About the author:
Kiersten White is the NYT Bestselling author of Paranormalcy. She has one tall husband and two small children and lives near the ocean, where her life is perfectly normal. This abundance of normal led her to a fascination with all things paranormal, including but not limited to vampires, faeries, and pop culture. Visit her at
Kiersten is now on tour with a slew of other cool authors for the Dark Days of Supernatural tour around the US. Check out their tour schedule to see if they're coming near you later this month!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (117)

Insignia by S. J. Kincaid

More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology. [summary from Goodreads]
I just found this, and it was too good not to post. Basically it sounds like a badass combination of Divergent, Ender's Game, and The Hunger Games, okay?? Besides, YA is well overdue for fascinating sci-fi, and this one sounds totally promisinwg. Plus that cover rocks.

Insignia will be published in hardcover by Katherine Tegen Books in July 2012.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Battling Publisher Prejudice

I'm going to admit something that probably will make some people angry: I am kind of biased when it comes to deciding which books to review or read, based on their publisher. I give much more consideration to books published by the three or four biggest publishing companies, and rarely, if ever anymore, accept for review books published by smaller publishing houses or via self-publication.

I'm conflicted about this decision process of mine. On the one hand, there has to be some way for me to sort through the plethora of books that are published each year: I can't possibly read all the thousands of books published annually, and so I have to narrow my pool somehow, and the ways in which I do this may not be the fairest, or the best way. But it is a way--it is my way. And after my first year of blogging, experience taught me that the books I enjoyed the most were the ones that were published by the major publishing houses.

In a way, I think that my "sorting system" makes sense, because the major publishing houses are the ones that have the money to snap up those rare but precious high-quality books that I love: the people who work at those houses are the ones who can recognize quality (and, okay, yes, financial success as well, but since my opinion on most YA bestsellers doesn't match that of the majority, I'll just be talking about my own reading preferences here), and who are in a position where they have the luxury of being able to choose the best of the best, the cream of the crop. Naturally, whether we readers, authors, and publishers wish to admit it or not, not everyone has equal amounts of talent, and not every book is equal in quality, which is extremely subjective anyway. So the major publishing houses get first pick of the potentially critically and/or commercially successful manuscripts (unfortunately those two elements are not mutually inclusive, sigh) and have the capacity to ensure that those chosen manuscripts receive the largest readership; smaller publishing houses get to choose from the remaining pool, and so on.

On the other hand, I do still feel bad that, in a way, I am judging books by elements other than simply the quality of the story and writing, by leaving it up to the (mostly) capable hands of professionals to do the "pre-selection" for me. For the most part, this decision of mine has worked well for me. Exceptions do occur: I have enjoyed books published by smaller houses in the past, and authors have opted out of the traditional publishing track for a successful attempt at self-publication and self-promotion. However, the writer in me doesn't feel too great about the fact that I cannot give each and every author's each and every book an equal chance to be read by me, because of the basic fact that I do not have infinite amounts of time, energy, or patience; I barely even have enough energy left over after work to keep up my blog.

Nowadays, more small and independent publishing houses are coming out with their own YA imprints, but I have yet to be motivated to pick up any of their books. (I admit that one small publishing house nearly gets me with their absolutely breathtaking covers every time, but I have resisted, which turned out to be a good decision when I had a spare moment in a bookstore one day, picked up one of the house's books, and read the first chapter.) I have just found most of my experiences with independently published books to be a disappointment: those publishing houses, I think, either cater to a very specific audience, or they seek to ride the wave of YA's everchanging genre successes. Neither of which appeal to me very much. I admit that I am the worst publicist because I cannot find it in me to promote something that I don't strongly believe in--but, of course, when I do find that special and uncommon book, I will talk about it to all those whom I feel share my reading tastes, and who I want to share a good book with.

I've rambled on for long enough about a potentially divisive topic in a manner that I can't even tell is comprehendible or not. I'd love to hear what you think. Do you find yourself "biased" towards a particular publishing house, or group of publishing houses? How do you sort through all the review requests that you get, or the books available for you to read? How do you feel about smaller publishing houses, or self-publishing? If you're an author and have experience either with the major or smaller publishing houses, what insights would you like to share?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies by Allen Zadoff

Tags: YA, middle grade, contemporary, theatre, grief, friendship, romance


High school sophomore Adam Ziegler is content with his behind-the-scenes role as a lighting man for his high school’s theatre company. Ever since his dad died in a car crash two years ago, Adam has stayed out of the spotlight, but this begins to be really difficult as he falls for the new actress, Summer, and gets on the bad side of Derek, the student director. Everyone knows that actors and techies don’t mix…but has Adam finally found the motivation he needs to make his stand?


Allen Zadoff remains a contemporary charmer with his second novel for young adults, MY LIFE, THE THEATER, AND OTHER TRAGEDIES.

As he did in Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have, Zadoff breathes life into subjectively overdone themes like high school isolation and grief with his winningly empathic characters and humorous dialogue. Adam is endearingly geeky and shy. Sometimes his inability to stick up for himself made me want to give him a good hard (well-intentioned) slap, but then watching him grow throughout the book was extremely rewarding. Supporting characters, from Derek the Evil Student Dictator to Reach, Adam’s best friend, are entertaining. And the girls are no Manic Pixie Dream Girls, which can happen sometimes in books with geeky males as main characters: these girls are legit, and they’re nice, but they’re also pretty. Furthermore, MY LIFE, THE THEATER, AND OTHER TRAGEDIES has a dead father, but the grieving process happily does not dominate the plot.

MY LIFE, THE THEATER, AND OTHER TRAGEDIES will appeal to both the seasoned and amateur reader. For a quick and funny yet heartfelt look into the awkward teenage boy’s life, you can’t go wrong with Allen Zadoff.

Cover discussion: Disappointingly ordinary and uninspiring.

EgmontUSA / May 10, 2011 / Hardcover / 288pp. / $16.99

Sent by publisher for review.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Shades of London, Book 1

Tags: YA, paranormal, ghosts, murder, mystery, boarding school, London


Rory thought that the most difficult part of transferring to a fancy boarding school in London would be adjusting to the British culture and making friends. But it turns out that that autumn, her school’s neighborhood is the setting for a series of murders that almost exactly follow the Jack the Ripper murders from over a century ago. The murders gain international notoriety. Why hasn’t the murderer been caught on London’s extensive CCTV security camera system?

It turns out that Rory sees a murderer suspect whom no one else seems to be able to see. And then Rory gets recruited by a secret police group who explain to her the truth about the existence of ghosts…and the handful of people who can see and talk to them. Rory’s skills might help them catch the killer…but it’s a dangerous game they play with a murderer who can’t be killed—again.


I thought that I was done with stories about boarding schools, ghosts, and/or secret societies. But it turns out that all I needed was the expert hands of a talented author. THE NAME OF THE STAR introduces a freakishly delicious creepfest of a new series that had me gasping, shuddering, and turning pages almost faster than I could read them.

At first glance it seems like THE NAME OF THE STAR has the odds stacked against it. Rory’s a decent protagonist, though she doesn’t quite stand out; the plot doesn’t drag, but it does move languidly; and secondary characters can feel a little, well, secondary. But it’s a testament to Maureen Johnson’s skill that she can take all of these average-sounding elements and spin them together into a tight and suspenseful story.

I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not much of a horror fan. But THE NAME OF THE STAR is just so creepy in its deliberate slowness that I found myself simultaneously wanting to squeeze my eyes shut and devour the book in one sitting. The person behind the murders is a true villain, very, very scary. I was biting my nails through the last two-thirds of this novel, and couldn’t even relax when Rory and her friends discovered the killer’s identity, that’s how dangerous this killer is.

If you’re a fan of horror, this is a must-read. If you enjoy Maureen Johnson’s novels, this is a must-read. Don’t miss out on this creepiest of creepy reads this fall.

Similar Authors
Lee Nichols (Deception)
Rosemary Clement-Moore
Carolyn McCullough (Once a Witch)

Cover discussion: Initially, I thought that this cover was simply mediocre, a tad too Photoshopped for my taste. After having read the book, however, this just creeps me out in a very good way. *grins*

Putnam Juvenile / Sept. 29, 2011 / Hardcover / 384pp. / $16.99

Won on LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program, sent by publisher.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...