Sunday, December 2, 2012

An Explanation For My Absence

You may have noted my absence from the blogosphere these past two months, and I'm afraid that I might have to continue to be absent for at least one more. My work involves US college applications, and since the Big Deadline is in early January, I'm now basically on the computer doing work 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Needless to say, at the end of the day, the last thing my eyes really want is more time spent looking at a screen. I hope to be back into the swing of blogging again in Spring 2013. Happy reading, everyone!

Monday, November 5, 2012

PRODIGY Giveaway!

Have you been eagerly awaiting PRODIGY, the sequel to Marie Lu's electrifying debut Legend? Here's your chance to win a copy of Legend plus some cool swag!

About Prodigy
Prodigy is the long-awaited sequel to Legend, the must-read dystopian novel for all YA fans of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth. A brilliant re-imagining of Les Miserables, the series is set to be a global film sensation as CBS films have acquired rights to the trilogy.

June and Day arrive in Vegas just as the unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son Anden takes his place. With the Republic edging closer to chaos, the two join a group of Patriot rebels eager to help Day rescue his brother and offer passage to the Colonies. They have only one request—-June and Day must assassinate the new Elector.

It’s their chance to change the nation, to give voice to a people silenced for too long.

But as June realizes this Elector is nothing like his father, she’s haunted by the choice ahead. What if Anden is a new beginning? What if revolution must be more than loss and vengeance, anger and blood—what if the Patriots are wrong?

About Legend
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

About the author
Marie Lu writes young adult novels, and has a special love for dystopian books. She likes food, fighter jets, afternoon tea, happy people, electronics, the interwebz, cupcakes, pianos, bright colors, rain, Christmas lights, sketches, animation, dogs, farmers' markets, video games, and of course, books.

She left Beijing for the States in 1989 and went off to college at the University of Southern California. In her past life, she was an art director in the video game industry, but now she writes full-time.
Related links:
Legend official website
Marie Lu's official author website
Legend series on Facebook
@PenguinTeen on Twitter
@Marie_Lu on Twitter

About the Giveaway

One (1) winner will receive:
  • a copy of Legend by Marie Lu
  • a limited-edition Prodigy t-shirt
  • a limited-edition Prodigy flashlight

To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only and ends Saturday, November 17, 2012. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt

Tags: YA, contemporary, cancer


One day, Mia’s biggest problem was figuring out how serious her crush, the jock Ryan, was about her. The next, it’s learning she has leukemia and trying to hide it from all her friends because she believes that as long as she can make everything stay the same as it’s always been, her cancer will eventually go away as well. But the more Mia tries to act normal, the more it strains her relationships with Ryan and her friends, especially that with Gyver, her longtime guy friend. How long can Mia keep up the deception, and what will happen when people find out?


I approached SEND ME A SIGN with the knowledge that many readers had high expectations for this book, though I didn’t really have any myself. What I got out of my reading experience was that this debut novel squandered a good opportunity to discuss cancer in eye-opening ways and opted instead to be a perfectly, irritatingly run-of-the-mill YA contemporary novel about high school relationship drama.

SEND ME A SIGN could’ve used Mia’s cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to reflect on people’s belief in superstitions: What is the significance of signs to people? Why do people often look for signs in the course of their life, and how is the significance they place in signs affected in light of a life-changing event? Instead, Mia’s superstitions are a mere gimmick that fails to mask the truth about this book: that it is a totally average, totally unoriginal “cancer tale” featuring a hopelessly selfish heroine who never realizes the extent of her privilege and concocts wildly immature justifications for the predicaments she gets herself into with her own narrow thinking.

This book wants us to sympathize or empathize with Mia, the popular, she’s-got-it-all cheerleader whose life unravels from something out of her control—but Mia is no Sam from Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall or Parker from Courtney Summers’ Cracked Up to Be. Sam and Parker’s are bitchy and self-centered, but we readers could see their flaws and see how they can become better people.

Mia, however, is—oh, how can I put this delicately—inexcusably, horrifically, disappointingly f*****g selfish. I could see the series of decisions she made to end up the way she did, but I wasn’t sympathetic at all to her self-imposed plight, and I didn’t believe at any point in the novel that Mia’s character was redeemable.

Actually, part of me sees this as a problem with the form of the fiction novel. The very fact that Mia refused to give up the appearance of perfection even when inside she was falling apart was easy for her friends and us readers to see: Mia succeeded much less than she thought she did at fooling her friends, and of course, with this book being written in first-person POV, we weren’t fooled at all. This premature understanding on our part of Mia’s Tragic Flaw, however, meant that the majority of this overly long novel was just a cycle of the same events and situations over and over again: Mia has an opportunity to tell the truth, something prevents her from doing so, and she gets into even deeper shit. It’s painfully repetitive with no point and adds nothing to the story’s character or plot development. Most of the story’s major conflicts were set early on, in the first few chapters, and then the characters don’t arrive at any sort of growth until the last few chapters! Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t need to read nearly 400 pages for the MC to learn something I already knew she had to learn by Chapter 3.

SEND ME A SIGN suffers from a naïve belief that its “deep and sensitive” subject—cancer—will automatically evoke readers’ sympathies and keep readers invested in the story. Uh, no. That’s Fiction Writing 101: even the most intriguing premise can be made into a cure for insomnia by shoddy storytelling. What SEND ME A SIGN really is is a basic high school friendship/love triangle tale with “I’m different because I’m about cancer!” written on its figurative forehead. There is a maybe-maybe-not jock love interest; a group of cheerleaders who try and fail to be more than just an easily forgotten group of privileged white teenage girls; and oh, yes, apparently there is some dude named Gyver who’s supposedly the love interest but kind of just flits in and out of the pages and conveniently forgives Mia for her appallingly selfish behavior because he’s been in love with her his whole life. Like we haven’t read that before. Honestly, if Gyver were half the guy this story wants him to be, he would have never put up with so much of Mia’s crap. It’s pure wish fulfillment, is Gyver. And that is how this book’s romance failed for me as well, adding yet another black mark against it: if you didn’t do the cancer storyline well, couldn’t you at least have done the romance a little better?

The following quote, which appears at 77% in my e-galley, kind of sums up all of what’s wrong with this book for me:
Cancer had cost so much: friendships, grades, cheerleading, my whole sense of who I was. I needed to know: would I beat this and have time to fix things?
No, Mia, your cancer didn’t ruin your life. Your self-centered personality did. And this book isn’t a cancer book: it’s about the relationship drama of a protagonist who—by the way—has cancer. You get no pity from me.

Similar Authors
Jennifer Castle

Cover discussion: I don't even want to.

Walker Children's / Oct. 2, 2012 / Hardcover / 384pp. / $16.99

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley. Sorry.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Adaptation, Book 1

Tags: YA, sci-fi, aliens, LGBT, love triangle


Reese and her debate partner David are about to fly home from a national debate tournament when shocking bird strikes make planes fall out of the sky and ground all North American air travel. In trying to get home to San Francisco via rental car, Reese and David get into a terrible accident and receive medical treatment that heals them, but requires them to sign a strict nondisclosure agreement.

Returned to San Francisco and forced to act as if nothing out of the ordinary happened to them, Reese and David nevertheless discover that they are not quite the same as they used to be. Any injuries they sustain heal impossibly quickly, and there are other, stranger qualities they’ve developed that they find difficult to talk about. In the meantime, Reese struggles to understand herself as her romantic feelings are pulled in two unexpectedly different directions. But for whatever reason, the government refuses to let her and David go, and they race against the infinitely superior resources of the government to figure out what’s happened to them, and what will happen to them next


Malinda Lo takes her readers way outside her previous fantasy genre with her third novel, ADAPTATION, which I suppose I would describe as “sci-fi lite.” While the events of ADAPTATION were at times hard for me to immerse myself in, Lo adds a refreshing LGBTQ element to her story that may encourage readers typically reluctant to pick up sci-fi to give this a try.

Part 1 was mind-blowingly awesome. Scary events—bird strikes downing planes, people forgetting their humanity in the face of their impending mortality, Reese and David struggling to make it home as transportation unravels around them—unfolded in an ominously quick fashion reminiscent of apocalyptic movies. I hardly breathed as I followed Reese and David through a “road trip” fraught with danger, one that led them right up to the accident that changed their lives forever.

…And then the rest of the book becomes…weird, and awkwardly paced. Obviously there’s a speculative element to the story, as the story hints of weird things occurring to Reese and David’s bodies and minds—though nothing is confirmed until the end of the book, in a manner that seemed rather far-fetched despite all the hints that were dropped throughout. In Part 2 and beyond, ADAPTATION loses the steam it had been so excellently accumulating, and becomes a plodding and seemingly endless period of rising action where little happens and the characters run into more and more questions but don’t get any answers. Why is this so often a symptom of YA novels, for which I thought good pacing was key? Little (with the exception of one thing, which I will discuss next) happens in the middle third or so of this book, and the effect of cramming all the information-revealing actions into the last few chapters of the book was that I was left unpleasantly disoriented and unprepared for the shocking curves the story threw us at the end.

I have mixed feelings about Reese’s romantic conflicts in ADAPTATION. On the one hand, what Lo always does well in her stories is give lesbian interactions and relationships the full consideration and respect they deserve. This is especially significant in a current publishing world where heterosexual romances often seem written into a story for the sake of having a romance, not because the MC actually learns anything through the experience of a romantic relationship. It adds some well-appreciated novelty to the typical YA love triangle trope. On the other hand, the balance between ADAPTATION’s romantic and sci-fi plotlines felt uneven—most especially in the nothing-happens-sci-fi-wise section of Part 2—and the two seemed to come too easily together in the end for me to believe that these characters and their predicaments could exist outside the realm of fiction.

And that, I think, is my ultimate feeling toward ADAPTATION. It’s a technically precise YA thriller with LGBTQ aspects, but its uneven pacing never let me forget that I was reading a YA novel that would probably better enthrall a younger audience that may not yet appreciate the shockingly possible dystopian worlds of books like 1984 or The Hunger Games. It fits the current trend of YA sci-fi-ish thrillers with more-or-less plausible premises that nevertheless rely on their assumption of your investment in the book’s “mystery” to keep reading.

Similar Authors
R. J. Anderson (Ultraviolet)
Robin Brande (Into the Parallel)

Cover discussion: I'm not sure how much it has to do with the actual story, but it looks pretty cool nevertheless.

Little, Brown / Sept. 18, 2012 / Hardcover / 400pp. / $17.99

e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Erin Jade Lange Guest Post for BUTTER Blog Tour

Erin Jade Lange's debut novel, BUTTER, was released last month from Bloomsbury. Here's what it's about:
A lonely obese boy everyone calls "Butter" is about to make history. He is going to eat himself to death--live on the Internet--and everyone is invited to watch.

When he first makes the announcement online to his classmates, Butter expects pity, insults, and possibly sheer indifference. What he gets are morbid cheerleaders rallying around his deadly plan. Yet as their dark encouragement grows, it begins to feel a lot like popularity. And that feels good. But what happens when Butter reaches his suicide deadline? Can he live with the fallout if he doesn't go through with his plans?

With a deft hand, E.J. Lange allows readers to identify with both the bullies and the bullied in this all-consuming look at one teen's battle with himself.
And here's Erin with a guest post as part of the BUTTER blog tour!

BUTTER's Scottsdale setting is vibrantly alive with "Arizonian" elements of high school girls with fake tans and fake blond hair, bright 7am sunshine waking Butter up, and mountains on which Butter can get lost playing his saxophone to the coyotes. It's hard to imagine BUTTER set anywhere else. What is your own relationship with Arizona's culture? What do you like and/or dislike about it?

I first fell in love with the desert as a kid, on a road trip out west. My introduction to this half of the country was Monument Valley. It was so bare and vast and nothing like the crowded landscape of trees and hills that I’d grown up with. I was fascinated by it, and to this day, I think it’s one of those most striking places I’ve ever been.

But I knew I couldn’t live in that kind of landscape all day every day. I needed a little more variety… which is why Arizona is so great. I am a desert dweller, but I can be snowboarding in the mountains in 2 hours, swimming at the beach in 6 hours, floating down a river in 30 minutes and shopping in an entirely different country in less than 4 hours. Also, other than a few brutal months in the summer, I can’t complain about the weather!

Aside from the scenery, I often have a love-hate relationship with Arizona.
It’s good to live in an area where so many people are active and healthy, but I feel there is less empathy here when it comes to weight. I grew up in the Midwest, where we hibernate in the winter, hunkering down with rich warm comfort foods and generally spending a little less time in bathing suits and a lot less time looking in the mirror. It’s one thing to take care of yourself, but I sometimes feel parts of the southwest, Arizona included, put a little too much emphasis on physical image. That’s part of why I set BUTTER in Scottsdale, AZ – to position this character who is struggling with obesity against that backdrop.

Unrelated to the book, one problem I have with living in Arizona is the negative national attention we sometimes get. It’s disappointing to see our state so often the butt of a late-night comedian’s joke or in the news for all the wrong reasons. But as a journalist, it certainly makes Arizona an interesting place to work!

Like anywhere else, Arizona has its pros and cons, but one absolutely WONDERFUL thing about living here is being able to sit OUTSIDE and write almost year-round.

Thanks, Erin! Check out BUTTER, now available in stores and online. And visit Erin's author website and Twitter for more information.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Visit to South Korea

I'm taking advantage of my current location in Asia by traveling to many nearby places usually less accessible from the US. In June, I visited my college friend Melinda, who's currently on a Fulbright teaching fellowship in South Korea. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to A) see her again, B) travel to another country I've never been to before, and C) go to Korea, which I've heard great things about and have always wanted to experience for myself!

Mel teaches English in Jeonju, a sleepy, smallish city nestled in between mountains. There's not much to do there but we did go to this hanok village, which is a small neighborhood built in the traditional style, and have some delicious tea in a traditional-style teahouse under a brilliantly blue sky.

The rest of my time there was spent in Seoul. Some highlights were Bukchon Hanok Village, a hilltop covered with traditional-style houses that people still live in. Meandering through these alleyways makes you feel like you're slowing moving backwards in time:

Then there was Gyeongbokgung, the main palace that has housed several dynasties' worth of royal families (and their concubines! they have separate concubine quarters!) and was the target of many foreign invasions. It has only been restored in the last 20 years or so, and parts of it are still under restoration:

I was fascinated by the Cheonggye Stream. It's an old stream that runs through Seoul and has gone through many reincarnations: as a peaceful observer of small business owners' shops, a sewer for migrant workers' shantytowns in the early 20th century, hidden from view and forgotten when the city built a road over it, and finally uncovered, cleaned, and restored as a romantic walk:

Mel has an interest in South Korea's cafe culture, and after going to a few, I can see why it's so interesting. Each cafe is highly unique with the most carefully thought-out decorations. It's like an extension of its owner's personality and interests, like walking into an acquaintance's bedroom for the first time and learning more about them through what you see:

These are kimchi pots! You make kimchi in these things!

I didn't take many pictures of all the great Korean food I had--I was too busy stuffing myself and enjoying it--but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a picture of omija tea, which is a "five-flavor berry" tea that supposedly has the five tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and spicy. If you can't conceive of that, let me assure you, it is deliciously refreshing:

Five days was barely enough to explore these two cities, let alone the whole rest of Korea. There are so many incredibly wonderful things about Korea: the people's hospitality, the culture, the FOOD (lots and lots of barbecued meat! Oh! And check out this article on famous Korean drinks, yum yum). It's not perfect--Koreans' preoccupation with physical appearances, as evidenced by the constant barrage of plastic surgery ads in metro stations and diet pill commercials--but it's a culture that I definitely want to know more about, to better understand. Think I can go back for a longer period of time anytime in my near future?

Resting/reading at our lovely hostel, Lee & No. Guest House:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review: Saltwater Vampires by Kirsty Eagar

Tags: young adult, paranormal, thriller, vampires, Australian lit, surfing


This New Year, Jamie and his avid surfing friends have more on their mind than catching good waves, making money, and enjoying themselves at the local music festival when they stumble upon a 400-year-old vampire plot and employ all the resources they have on hand in order to save their town.


There are few authors I would trust to write a truly original and good vampire story. Kirsty Eagar is one of them, and she delivers beautifully with SALTWATER VAMPIRES, her sophomore novel. Quirky, fast-paced, and sprawling, SALTWATER VAMPIRES should be your next read if you’re looking for a book that’s, well, pretty much like no other.

Usually the adjectives “quirky,” “fast-paced,” and “sprawling” aren’t used together to describe one book, but hey, this is Kirsty Eagar we’re talking about here, and she defies norms. SALTWATER VAMPIRES is quirky because, as others have said, it is a purely Australian vampire thriller. It combines elements of the paranormal, thriller, horror, and YA contemporary, presented in a distinctly Australian writing style, by which I mean, in addition to some Australian slang, a deep respect for readers’ intelligences: the book is not going to pause for you to get with it, so you had better not have a lazy reading mind and expect everything to be laid out clearly for you.

SALTWATER VAMPIRESfast pace comes from its thriller aspect. The book channels some Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson for its exciting premise. Don’t expect a melodramatic romance here: these 15-year-olds are trying to save their town, and their actions and reactions befit that of one of their age and predicament—that is, they (especially the boys) are going to occasionally say some really stupid things that make you want to clip them upside the head the way you would a younger brother. I truly enjoyed how realistic yet personable the characters were, and would not trade their occasional awkwardness and dramatically heroic decisions for the much more boring and unbelievable antics of a pair (or trio) of luv-struck-dumb teenagers.

Finally, this book is sprawling because of the way it successfully handles its convergence of multiple genres, time periods, and perspectives. In between setting up the Batavia backstory to following the thoughts of some vampire-connected adults on their journey to Australia, the book remains true to its YA genre by treating its teenaged characters the way they should be treated: sympathetically, but with attention paid to their idiosyncracies and (occasional) idiocies.

SALTWATER VAMPIRES doesn’t make vampires out to be anything other than single-minded monsters. It also doesn’t delve too much into the subtle mindsets of adolescents, so if you’re looking for something akin to Raw Blue, you won’t find it here. On the other hand, if you want an exciting read unhampered by teenager melodrama, you’ll want to basically date this book.

Similar Authors
Dan Brown
Stieg Larsson
Jonathan Maberry

Cover discussion: Erm, I'm not the biggest fan of it--books with staring eyes on them creep me out--but I can see why it fits the horror/thriller-esque mood of this book.

Penguin Books Australia / Aug. 30, 2010 / Paperback / 384pp. / $23.99

Personal copy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (123)

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson. [summary from Goodreads]
I have heard of Alaya Dawn Johnson and her novels ever since I started blogging, but never had a chance to read anything by her. But how can I resist the promise of her upcoming YA novel? POC characters, futuristic fantasy, a doomed romance... Me, please!

The Summer Prince will be released in hardcover from Arthur A. Levine Books on March 1, 2013.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Ironskin, Book 1

Tags: steampunk fantasy, fairies, retelling


Jane Eliot is an Ironskin: she wears an iron mask to cover the fey scar on her cheek, a physical remnant of the recent Great War between fey and humans, in order to prevent her curse from affecting others. Jane takes a job as governess/nanny to the unusual fey-touched child of the artist Edward Rochart. But Rochart is no ordinary artist, for the rich women he lets into his studio come out looking stunningly, inhumanly beautiful.

Jane wants nothing more than to have a normal, unscarred face. But, as she gets more and more entangled in Rochart’s doings, she must learn to see the gift that the fey curse has also given her…especially in the face of an ominous adversity.


IRONSKIN took an…interesting approach to retelling Jane Eyre with fantastical elements. Inconsistent with everything from its plot to its characterization, IRONSKIN will probably be a temporarily intriguing but ultimately forgettable entry in the category of classic retellings.

Readers who love Jane Eyre will probably find fewer things objectionable in IRONSKIN. I, however, was never a fan of the bland heroine, brooding, self-deprecating hero, and the melodramatic secrets unveiled at the end of the story. IRONSKIN actually does quite a good job of sticking to the original and necessary elements of JE. Mr. Rochart channels all of Edward Rochester’s self-deprecating comments and tortured moodiness. Which, you know, if you like that sort of self-pitying thing is all well and good. The setting of the house and the mysterious woods and moor surrounding it are played up and given dark life of their own. Surface-wise, things look good for IRONSKIN to be a great, loyal retelling.

It’s when the fantastical elements are added in that IRONSKIN loses some of its credibility with me. The tricky thing about retellings is that the progression of the characters’ decisions and actions has to make sense independent of the story it’s retelling. This is why superficial retellings of Pride and Prejudice have always bothered me: one can’t just “conveniently” bring up the existence of an impending high school “ball” in order to bring the separated lovers back together, or have one if the characters arbitrarily do something inconsistent to his or her character, just to set them back onto the path of the original story. IRONSKIN suffers from this in some regard too: little happens in the first half of the book besides for Jane struggling to teach Dorie and having cryptic encounters with the moody Mr. Rochart, which means that the book had to make lots of dramatic events happen in order to bring everything to its proper, dramatic conclusion in time. The pacing was clumsy, which resulted in some of the characters’ decisions feeling contrived for the sake of sticking to the original. It really took me out of the story, the constant awareness that IRONSKIN was adhering to the plot of Jane Eyre at its every twist and turn, and kind of smushed the original JE elements and new steampunk fantasy elements together when necessary.

I realize that I talked about a lot of my critiques of this book in my review, but really, IRONSKIN wasn’t a bad read…except for that I was a bit confused about some messages regarding beauty and “normalcy” that this book seemed to be sending. The trajectory of characters’ outcomes seems to suggest that it’s okay for women to base their worth upon their physical looks. Or something. I don’t know. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the implications. IRONSKIN was an interesting steampunk fantasy take on Jane Eyre, but I think I won’t be picking up the next book, because I felt myself skimming, my eyes wandering, too often for me to feel emotionally connected enough to the characters and their story.

Similar Authors
Daphne du Maurier
April Lindner
Charlotte Bronte

Cover discussion: Stunning, stunning, all those metallic shades of gray and blue and swirlies. I can kind of see Jane being like the cover model, too.

Tor Books / Oct. 2, 2012 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $24.99

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Confessions of China Living

I wish someone had told me, before I moved to Shanghai last year, to be careful to not let China make me a meaner person. I had thought that I had adjusted well. I had learned the width of the narrowest opening between two people that I could weave through on a crowded city street. I learned to accept the smaller dimensions of personal space here, but not give it up for the obnoxious, privileged young Shanghainese women who will cut you in line. I learned not to cross at crosswalks and how to judge the likelihood of a car hitting me by its distance from and the speed at which it is going. I accepted the fact that horns were going to blare at 3am, and have even begun to be able to sleep without earplugs.

I learned to survive, but I mistook my accumulated survival skills as signs of my emerging cosmopolitanism. This is what it is to be an urbanite! I thought. I am tough-skinned, competent, and worldly!

But in actuality, I was slammed by the thrice-as-forceful wave of post-graduate life, city life, and Chinese life all at once. I can't separate the three, can't ever figure out whether my feelings and frustrations are the natural reactions of a newly minted independent adult, those of a space-and-quiet-loving girl whose prior contact with cities up till now had been day trips into New York and Philly, or the result of coming to a Chinese city.

I no longer want to deny it, no longer want to cover it up with euphemisms. China is impatient and judgmental and unforgiving, and in my struggle to survive here, I've absorbed a lot of that into myself.

It's easy to internalize a lot of frustration in China. That's what happens to a society led by a government that doesn't allow freedom of speech. It only takes one bus ride in Shanghai to get a pretty thorough gist of what makes me angry here. As the bus pulls to the curb, middle-aged men and single-minded young mothers push shuffling old women out of the way to be the first onto the bus. The bus drivers slams the doors shut as soon as you step on board, barely avoiding catching the back of your shirt in its wheezy path. Slouching young men with artfully arranged bangs sit in the courtesy seats and bury their heads in their iPhones or iPads, determinedly ignoring the thin-wristed, white-haired little old ladies who cling to the side of their seats and struggle to stand upright as the bus driver lurches in and out of traffic with his hand permanently pressed against the horn. The man desperately missing his sixteenth cigarette of the day on his short bus journey groans and shudders and jerks his head and hacks up a thick gob of spit into the single, tiny, overflowing trash can. Oh, traffic lights? A mere suggestion. The thing that counts down the seconds until your light turns green? Obviously an indication that traffic is supposed to go when there are still 4 seconds left of the red light to go. If you get to your stop and the bus is crowded, which is often, it becomes a game of push and shove, see how many people you can bang with your overstuffed purse on your way to reach the door. The concept of letting people off the public transport vehicle before new passengers board? A mere concept, rarely put into practice.

A trip on Shanghai's public transportation illustrates the selfishness and inconsideration of a nation that adopted capitalism while still held in the thrall of communism. Knowing this, everything in China becomes suspect. The smiling, well-made-up waitress who serves you at dinner may be secretly resenting your white-collar job and accompanying salary. You buy a cheap watery beer for 40RMB at a pub that tries to evoke European legacies and feel guilty that your one beer could feed for one whole day one of the many beggars, often deformed or missing limbs from factory accidents, who sit in the streets. You become suspicious of every price given to you at the local market, wondering if the seller isn't trying to gyp you out of a few more yuan despite his already reasonably low price. Silence does not indicate contentment, but rather decades of pent-up frustration at inequality and corruption.

No community is perfect, but I never thought that I'd lose so many of the things I used to like about myself--listening skills, objectivity, concentrated kindness--so quickly, in this environment. It took almost a year's worth of unhappiness and regretful meanness on my part for me to realize that I don't like much of who I've become. So, starting now, I will strive to be more aware of when I'm being mean, and to resist the easy temptation of sliding into meanness. I will also write more about China, my travels, and my thoughts here. I haven't written as much about my life abroad as I had expected to mostly because I'm really unhappy with many things about it. But if writing about it will be my catharsis, then I'm going to. I'm going to put the truth out there, because I'm still an American citizen, I'm still a reluctant leader of humanity, and the truth cannot be denied.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Review: Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin

Tags: humor, parody, BDSM


Soon-to-be-college graduate Anna Steal meets the irresistibly sexy, rich, handsome, suave, and nerdy Earl Grey and gets swept away in a romance beyond her imagination. The sex and presents may be great, but Earl Grey has some deep dark things that he is ashamed about, which can threaten their chances of staying together forever.


FIFTY SHAMES OF EARL GREY was at its best when it scathingly critiqued the (many) flaws of Fifty Shades of Grey and E. L. James’ writing. Alas, FIFTY SHAMES OF EARL GREY enjoyed itself too much too often, and the liberties it took with plot, characterization, and humor ultimately weakened my overall enjoyment of the book.

FIFTY SHAMES OF EARL GREY has an arguably unlimited source of material to parody, and that’s what it does best. I giggle-snorted the most when Merkin/Shaffer laid bare the utterly ridiculous inelegance of James’ writing.

On meaningless descriptions:
“I gaze into his gazing eyes gazingly like a gazelle gazing into another gazelle’s gazing gaze.” 
“We step inside the cabin and he turns the lights on. Wow. What a place. There are so many things, like couches and chairs and tables.” 
“It doesn’t seem fair that one man could be so beautiful, and so talented, and so rich, but damn: Earl Grey is the total package. My inner guidette shakes her head. That’s like the fiftieth time you’ve said that, using nearly the exact same words, she says.” 
On using physical qualities to repeatedly characterize “her” characters:
“I watch as he pulls his credit card out of his wallet using his long fingers, which I swear have to be longer than his forearms.” 
On illogical progressions in story events:
“’I’m kind of glad you crashed into the ocean,’ Earl says.
‘And why is that, Mr. Grey?’
‘Because I’m throwing a masked charity ball tonight, and I’d love for you to come with me.’” 
On Christian Grey’s creepiness/unrealisticness/unattractiveness:
“He’s just too good looking to say no to. I can’t quit him, even if I tried. Mostly because he would stalk me to the ends of the earth, but still.” 
“’You’re doing so much good in the world, Mr. Grey,’ I tell him.
‘It’s to balance out the cruelty in my own heart,’ he says grimly.
I don’t say anything, because there’s no use arguing with Earl Grey when he’s PMSing.” 
On the transparency of Fifty Shades of Grey being Twilight fanfiction:
“Earl is only six years older than me, but sometimes the gulf between our ages seems like something I can’t bridge. It’s like he’s a 104-year-old vampire in a twenty-seven-year-old’s body.” 
So yeah, the book has some great biting lines about FSoG being an utter piece of crap. But, as I mentioned, it’s one thing to parody and criticize the original material’s ridiculousness, it’s another to add your own kind of ridiculousness. The liberties that FIFTY SHAMES OF EARL GREY took with content left me mostly unmoved. For instance, Earl Grey has a love for Tom Cruise that shows up in the form of multiple movie references. Shaffer explains this as being a running gag, but it didn’t do anything for me. Neither did Jin’s (Anna’s “ethnic friend,” ahaha poking fun at token minorities as “diversity” in literature) bronyism, Katherine’s alcoholism, or “Triassic Park.”

On Ana/Anna’s idiocy:
“Once I graduate, I’m going to start looking for a ‘real’ job. I don’t have anything lined up yet, but I’m not one to worry. In this economy, it shouldn’t be too hard for a fresh college graduate to find a new job.” 
“I feel naked before him, mostly because I don’t have any clothes on.” 
“Less than a minute later, there’s a reply from Earl Grey. Somebody clearly wasn’t busy enough.” 
Actually, that last line illustrates another of the head-shaking things about EARL GREY: Anna Steal has a better head on her shoulders her counterpart. Ana Steele was too stupid in a blank, wish fulfillment kind of way for the author and susceptible readers; Anna Steal was over-the-top stupid (and also, might I add, cringe-inducingly horny), but she also hits it spot-on with her character analyses of Earl Grey. Such insight does not belong to Ana/Anna’s character; the fact that it does in FIFTY SHAMES OF EARL GREY makes readers wonder why she felt she deserved Earl Grey when she clearly deserved better than him.

My favorite lines from the book:
“He’s a nice guy. Like Mark Zuckerberg, only less autistic.” 
“’Look, the point is, there are plenty of ponies in the sea.’
‘Yeah, and they’re called “seahorses,”’ Jin says, sulking. 
And the utter truth about FSoG, spoken about Anna (which, again, makes her smarter than her counterpart ever was):
“’You act like there’s something wrong with you, like everything you enjoy is embarrassing or scary. News flash, Mr. Grey: This isn’t 1950 or whatever. Your sexual tastes aren’t as shocking or as deviant as you think. Neither is anything else you like. Maybe if you didn’t take your fifty shames so seriously, I wouldn’t be so compelled to laugh at them.’” 
Over and out.

Da Capo Press / July 31, 2012 / Paperback / 224pp. / $13.99

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Author Interview with Sarah Beth Durst

Sarah Beth Durst has been a steady fixture on the YA fantasy scene for the past few years. Her latest is VESSEL, is recently out from Margaret K. McElderry. Us PoC book lovers have been dedicatedly keeping an eye on this book for a while, thanks in large part to the breath-stealing cover:

And this alluring book synopsis:
In a desert world of sandstorms and sand-wolves, a teen girl must defy the gods to save her tribe in this mystical, atmospheric tale from the author of Drink, Slay, Love.

Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. The goddess will inhabit Liyana’s body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But Liyana’s goddess never comes. Abandoned by her angry tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.

Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. For the desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.

The closer she grows to Korbyn, the less Liyana wants to disappear to make way for her goddess. But she has no choice: She must die for her tribe to live. Unless a trickster god can help her to trick fate—or a human girl can muster some magic of her own.
Today, I have Sarah Beth Durst as a guest on my blog to talk more about herself and VESSEL, hooray!

1. Your cover has a beautiful POC model on it, and that is a total deal-maker for me! Can you tell us a bit about the type of research you had to do for VESSEL, and which cultures, if any, you drew upon for it? What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research?

I researched the lives and cultures of people who live in deserts, specifically the Sahara, the Gobi, and the southwest United States. And I meshed them together and injected them with magic to create my desert world.

A few things I learned: Snakes can stay venomous for twenty-four hours after death. You can eat a scorpion raw (if you cut off the tail). And date palm trees have bark that you can climb, but the bark is also sharp enough to cut you.

2. What was the hardest part of VESSEL to write? What was your favorite part?

I loved creating the world, especially inventing the mythology. (Oral storytelling plays an important part in the culture of my desert land.) The hardest part for me is always the first draft, when the story is the farthest from what it's supposed to be. I love revisions because, for me, that's when the story comes to life.

3. Give us a snapshot of A Day in the Life of Sarah Beth Durst, Writer.

Every morning I wake at the crack of dawn to feed the fire-breathing dragons, then I have to muck out the centaur stables and check on the were-chickens in between writing a few paragraphs...

Okay, I don't really wake at the crack of dawn. But otherwise, it's fairly accurate. My day is a constant mix of writing and daily life. I do my best to balance both.

4. You're stranded on an island. Would you rather do it on your own (Robinson Crusoe-style) or with a group of strangers (Lord of the Flies-style?)

If the island has its own library, then alone is fine. If not... then I suppose I'll take my chances with the people. Aside from being able to type fast, I don't have many survival skills so it would be nice to have other people... at least until they decide I'm Piggy.

5. What is your favorite thing to do after a good writing session?

Collapse on the couch with my husband and a bag of tortilla chips! I'd like to say something a lot more exotic, such as "after I finish writing, I head off to skydive, followed by a snorkeling expedition and a hunt for the Loch Ness Monster," but really, I just like to watch Project Runway then go to sleep.
6. Complete the following sentences:

- Fans of Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Kristin Cashore will enjoy VESSEL.

- When reading VESSEL, readers should prepare date pastries and goat cheese on pita bread as their snacks.

- After reading VESSEL, readers will never be able to think of sand in the same way again.

Thank you, Sarah! Be sure to check Sarah out at her author website, Twitter, and Facebook. Remember, VESSEL is out now from booksellers!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Shadowfell, Book 1

Tags: YA, fantasy, romance, fairies


On the run from the dreaded Enforcers of the king of Alban’s terrifying rule, 16-year-old Neryn has no one left. Her only option is to travel north to a place called Shadowfell, where rebellion against King Keldec is rumored to be brewing. Shadowfell may be the only place Neryn can be safe…for she holds a rare, magical talent that the king is determined to destroy…or, even worse, possess.


I write this review from the point of view of a Juliet Marillier fan who, shamefully, has only read a handful of her books (so far!). SHADOWFELL, the first book in her new YA fantasy series, may not be as canonical as some of her other works, but it is still a solidly good fantasy read that will please fantasy and non-fantasy readers alike.

SHADOWFELL’s strengths lie, strangely enough, in its great use of common fantasy tropes. Say what? But you hate tropes, Steph! Yeah, well, sometimes you just need a story in your favorite genre with a bit of feel-good predictability. SHADOWFELL does that primarily with its straightforward quest plot, angelic heroine, and simmering romance.

The primary thing that Neryn does in this story is walk…all the way…to her destination. Rather than be bored, however, I was fully engrossed in the many adventures she encountered along the way: the people she talked to, the Folk she befriended, the constant tense threat of encroaching Enforcers. Marillier doesn’t spend too much prose describing the landscape of Alban, but you know enough to envision Neryn traversing dark forests thick with thousand-year-old trees, bleak rocky landscapes, and mountain ridges with the sharp autumn wind conspiring to push her off the edge of the world. Neryn may only do one thing throughout SHADOWFELL, but the story purrs along in that smooth, pleasant way of good rides.

Neryn is a sympathetic heroine, despite her being almost too good to be true. As she unwittingly completes more and more of the “tests” that determine her (ahem) calling, she maintains a sort of golden-heartedness that seems only to exist in literature. Neryn follows her late grandmother’s mantra of “You always have something to give others” so carefully that some readers might be prone to rolling their eyes. Nevertheless, she makes for the perfect protagonist for a quest plot, as she encounters, and overcomes, a number of scenarios and obstacles.

Last—but certainly not least—we have what probably makes all of Marillier’s fantasies stand out the most: the romance. Huzzah, no insta-luv! Flint and Neryn’s attraction develops almost painfully slowly. Neither one of them had an upbringing that endears them to easily trusting others. Perhaps the thing I appreciated most in SHADOWFELL was how we readers, alongside Neryn, never knew whether or not we could trust Flint. That man sure walks the line between two sides so talently. The uncertainty of Flint’s loyalty adds a refreshing uncertainty to this literary romance.

SHADOWFELL probably doesn’t break any new grounds in fantasy, but it’s the sort of story that could’ve easily gone wrong at the hands of a less talented author. Marillier fans, this book may not be your new Marillier favorite, but it is worth your time. And as SHADOWFELL’s voice runs a little younger, this may be the perfect book to give to young readers who have received devoured all of Tamora Pierce’s books and are begging for more.

Similar Authors
Maria V. Snyder
Sherwood Smith
Tamora Pierce

Cover discussion: I am underwhelmed by this cover. The eye skips off it; there is nothing to hold one's attention.

Knopf / Sept. 11, 2012 / Hardcover / 416pp. / $16.99

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

Speechless Giveaway!

For Speechless, Hannah Harrington's sophomore novel, Harlequin Teen has partnered with the Love Is Louder movement to spread the word about the power of love and support and help those who are bullied know that they are not alone. Therefore, I have a special giveaway for you today. One (1) winner will receive a finished copy of Speechless and a branded iPhone skin!

About the book:
Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can’t keep a secret. Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast – and nearly got someone killed. Chelsea has taken a vow of silence – to learn to keep her mouth shut and to stop hurting anyone else.

Speechless explores the real-life teen issues of bullying, mean girls, LGBT awareness and hate crimes. Compared to the many books already out about bullies, Harrington’s novel stands out for its authentic voice and unflinching portrayal of what it means to be part of the bullying. In October 2012, Harlequin TEEN will be releasing a brand new survey that has interviewed 1,500 girls between 13-18 years old on the subject of bullying.
Hannah's author website:
More about Speechless' partnership with Love Is Louder:

Check out the book trailer:

The special Speechless/Love Is Louder phone skin you could win!
About Love is Louder:
Harlequin TEEN has partnered with the nonprofit Love is Louder, a movement that started when actress Brittany Snow, MTV and the Jed Foundation decided to do something to help those feeling mistreated. Hundreds of thousands of people just like you have come together to raise the volume around the message that love and support are louder than any internal or external voice that brings you down.

To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. One entry per household, please. This giveaway is open to entrants with a US or Canadian mailing address, and ends Saturday, October 6, 2012. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review: Moon Over Manifest by Claire Vanderpool

Tags: middle grade, Newbery Award, historical fiction, small towns, mystery, immigrants


12-year-old Abilene Tucker’s dad sends her back to his childhood town of Manifest for the summer while he works the railroads. Abilene is not too thrilled by the dullness of town, but things begin to look up when she discovers a hidden trove of trinkets and letters dated from 1917 and 1918. Through a “business agreement” with Miss Sadie, the local diviner, Abilene begins to unravel the story of two friends, Ned and Jinx, that took place over the years 1917-18, back when Manifest was a mining town that was tense with the mass diversity of immigrants arriving for work. But what do Ned and Jinx’s nearly 20-year-old story have to do with her? And why is her father never mentioned in any of Miss Sadie’s stories?


I wasn’t swept away by MOON OVER MANIFEST the way I want books, especially Newbery Award-winning ones, to do to me. In some ways, this is an odd book: the 1936 plotline mingles with the 1917-1918 plotline that’s told through stories, and for some reason or another I found the 1918 plotline so much more interesting than the 1936 plotline. I actually have to shake my head a little at how it’s possible for the 1936 plotline to be so dull. But there you have it: what could have been a charming plotline about Abilene Tucker arriving at Manifest, getting to know the town’s quirky residents, and digging into its secrets turned into a snoozefest in which Abilene runs around town with all the productivity of one of those annoying little dogs that always have so much energy and yet are so stupid, has placeholder conversations with the townspeople and eats their food, and purportedly has adventures with her two friends (whom I couldn’t pick out of a three-person lineup if I tried, they were so uncharacterized) without actually doing anything that was actually worth writing 350+ pages about.

That was a bit harsh of me. I like clever books that surprise and outsmart me, and the revelation at MOON OVER MANIFEST’s ending did that, and even brought out some tears in me. However, under no circumstances can I wholeheartedly recommend a book just for its good ending if I felt the rest of it was just average. And, yeah, I felt MOON OVER MANIFEST was just average. It’s clever, the way the two storylines finally connected, but that’s not enough to overcome average characters and a slow plot. If I was inclined to put it down several times in the middle, how do you think a middle-grade audience would feel?

Delacorte / Oct. 12, 2010 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $16.99

Personal copy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

STORMDANCER Blog Tour: Interview with Author Jay Kristoff

A couple days ago I posted my review of STORMDANCER by Jay Kristoff, one of the biggest earth-shaking reading experiences I have had this year so far. I'm lucky to say that today, as part of the Stormdancer Blog Tour, I'm featuring an interview with author Jay Kristoff, who has given some of his precious time to thoughtfully and intelligently answering my many questions. Welcome, Jay, to Steph Su Reads!
1. How did the idea for writing STORMDANCER come to you?

This is kind of a lame answer, but I had a dream. It was about a little boy in a field of dead grass. He was standing in front of a griffin and screaming at it, trying to get it to fly, but the griffin’s wings were broken and it couldn’t get off the ground.

Friends who think too much about “what dreams mean” tell me that the little boy was me, and the griffin was my first novel (which I was querying at the time, and wasn’t going to get off the ground no matter how much I yelled). But that image of a griffin with broken wings stuck in my head. It all kinda came from there, really. The little boy became a teenaged girl, and the dead grass became blood-red flowers, but that was where it started.

2. What influences and inspirations did you draw upon to create your world of the Shima Isles and the oppressive Lotus Guild?

There’s this strange habit among a lot of steampunk authors where they treat the advent of industrialization as something fantastic. The machine is a gateway into awesome adventures and inexplicable corsetry. When in reality, the industrial age was forged on the backs of serf and slave labor, child exploitation and misery. So I wanted to make the gatekeepers to Shima’s technology bad guys. The machine is destroying the nation, even as it empowers it. I wanted to draw a parallel between the Guild and the constructs we see in our world today – faceless oil and munitions companies dictating foreign policy, wars being fought in the name of resource acquisition and to keep the military industrial complex afloat.

I’m not some hippy who wants to go back to the days of growing your own potatoes and starving to death when Mr Fungus comes to town, but I do genuinely believe we’re addicts, just like the people of Shima. Not to chi, maybe. But to something that looks an awful lot like it.

3. Tell us a bit about the writing process of STORMDANCER. Did you outline in advance or just start writing? What was the first scene you wrote? What is your favorite scene? What was the hardest scene for you to write?

I just started writing. I’m a pantser by nature. I like not knowing what’s going to happen next. I like surprising myself. Before I actually wrote the scene where he appeared, Kin was going to be a girl. The scar on Kaori’s face was something I threw in on a whim, and over the course of writing the sequels, it’s become this huge, character defining trait for her. The one thing I knew for sure when I started writing was how the book was going to end, and it didn’t end that way at all. :)

The first scene I wrote was chapter 2: Yoritomo giving Hideo his decree. Although again, when I started writing it, Yoritomo was much younger – eleven or twelve. It was only after the story developed that I aged him up and made him an utter bastard.

My favourite scene to write was the scene where Yukiko and Buruu are fighting the oni, and their minds converge for the first time. There’s a really cool brutality in that scene, but it’s framed in this moment where Yukiko and Buruu are perfectly in tune and moving through the world like water amidst all this blood and thunder. Lots of fun to write.

Hardest scene to write is full of spoilers, so I can't talk about it ☺

4. Did any part of the story surprise you with how it turned out?

Oh, absolutely. Most of the big twists in Stormdancer are twists I didn’t know were coming. I have this document called “So what happens now?” dated 2010 on my hard drive, back from when I was first drafting Stormdancer. It outlined where the book was going to go from the halfway point. I read through it now and it’s hilarious - everything ended differently from how I expected.

I can’t really talk about details without throwing in huge spoilers, but the twist at the end of the second act? Had no idea that was coming. The twist during the prison break with Masaru? No idea that was coming either.

But I enjoy that element of uncertainty. If you don’t know how your story is going to end, it’s a sure thing most of your readers won’t either.

5. Yoritomo is one of the creepiest fantasy villains I have ever read. Who are some of your favorite literary villains?
I like real life villains. Villains who have a plausible foundation for their evil. I based Yoritomo on the Roman Emperor Nero – a kid who basically came to rule far too young, and eventually began experimenting with the limits of power. If you’re an absolute monarch who isn’t raised with a sense of justice and integrity, eventually you’re going to figure out you can do pretty much anything you feel like, and nobody is going to stop you – particularly if you’re the lynchpin of a dynasty. The choice between suffering a madman’s rule or plunging the nation into a bloody succession war in which thousands will perish – that’s a hard choice for most people to make.

I like studying people like Nero or Caligula. Xerxes. Alexander the Great. Edward the 1st. Henry the 8th. Napoleon. Stalin. These men were all absolute bastards – villains and conquerors and murderers, all corrupted by the absolute power they wielded. I like that idea. I like an evil founded in reality and human desire, a villain who started with the best of intentions and somewhere just went… bad.

6. How did you put yourself into the mindset of a teenage girl? Was it difficult? Did you have anyone checking your writing for you to make sure Yukiko's voice was genuine?

It was difficult, but I’m not sure if it would be any more difficult than writing in the shoes of another archetype I’m not and will never be. Is writing a teenage girl any more difficult than writing a soldier? I’ve never been to war, never killed anybody. Never swung a sword or felt my life in real danger. I think every writer faces that difficulty – unless you’re writing an autobiography, you’re always in someone else’s shoes. I guess that the challenge of what we do. I tried to stick to universal truths when writing Yuki – male or female, there are things everyone wants and needs. Friendship. Love. A place to belong. We all want those, no matter the configuration of our chromosomes.

I do have my wife vet all my work though. She devours books – she’s the most well-read person I know. So not only is she great for keeping the female voice true, but she spots clichés or tired tropes and my stumbling, bumbling logic. She’s brutal in her criticism, but she’s good at keeping me honest. This series wouldn’t exist without her.

7. Do you have any particular "writing quirks" (location, outfit, time of day/night, snack, music, etc.)?

I write all slouched on the couch with my feet on the coffee table. Usually wearing ugg boots (very glamorous, I know). Sometimes the dog sits on my lap, so I balance the laptop on his back. I always work at night – I just seem more comfortable when the world is asleep. The only snack I really pop is red bull. This is my rock and roll author life.

8. Can you give us a teeeeeeny tiny hint as to what the sequel will feature? :)

It’s actually tricky to talk about that – there are some massive spoilery events that occur in the first half dozen pages of book 2 that I shouldn’t be let out of the bag yet, and if you haven’t read book 1, the climactic events at the end of book 1 are also huge spoilers.

But basically, the Shima imperium begins to descend into all-out war. The seeds they’ve planted with their conflict overseas against the gaijin begin to bear bitter fruit, the nation begins tearing itself to pieces. The Lotus Guild try to maintain their grip on power as the nation begins to decline, and they risk all in a stratagem to wipe out the Kagé rebellion once and for all. Yukiko’s powers are growing beyond her ability to control, and she’s also trying to deal with the mantle of “hero” that’s been thrust upon her. We meet new friends, new enemies and a couple of the minor characters from Stormdancer become major players.

If you wanted to read more about Kin after book 1, you’ll be happy with book 2. Although maybe not happy with the way it ends…

Dun, dun, duuuunnnnnnnn.

9. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Buruu says it best.


I have a little more optimism than Buruu. I have a little more faith in our ability to turn back from the precipice we’re rushing towards in our 8-cylinder SUVs, tossing our Starbuck’s cups out the window. Maybe not much, but a little.

Everyone can make a difference.

You can make a difference.

Your time starts now.

Thank you so much, Jay. Visit to learn more about the author and book. You can also visit the other stops on the Stormdancer Blog Tour here. Stormdancer is now available in the UK and US.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

The Lynburn Legacy, Book 1

Tags: YA, paranormal, mystery


Kami Glass’ family has always lived in the small village of Sorry-in-the-Vale, which used to be rule by the mysterious and intimidating Lynburns from a grand mansion overlooking the town until the Lynburns all left a few decades ago. But now the Lynburns are back, stirring up old feelings, but no one will tell Kami anything about them and why she should stay away from them.

Kami’s journalist instinct cannot let the mystery rest. Finding what little information there is available about the Lynburns is hard enough, but things get extremely complicated when the boy whose voice Kami has been hearing in her head ever since she can remember appears in real life…as a Lynburn.


A slow plot. A long book that could’ve been cut down by 150 pages. An important reveal that should’ve happened 100 pages earlier. A love triangle (sort of). An average but not particularly memorable protagonist. These are the qualities that seem to be characteristic of YA bestsellers these days—and, since, UNSPOKEN had all of these, I’m sure it has a shot at getting on the bestseller list. Unfortunately, because of all these qualities, this book didn’t end up being my thing.

Kami fancies herself a “sassy female detective,” but Veronica Mars she is not. This is in part, I think, due to Brennan’s rather strange choice of telling the story in third person, instead of from Kami’s point of view. I LOVED Kami’s voice in the first-person opening, and was initially shocked, then eventually disappointed, when the rest of this long long overly long book proceeded in third-person. Presumably this was because sometimes, randomly, the POV switched over to Jared’s—but the main characters were so forgettably bland anyway that having a few pages from their POV didn’t impress them upon me more. So anyway, my point here is that any potential for the Veronica Mars-esque sassiness that Kami claims to possess was unfortunately smothered by the third-person narration.

Speaking of “long long overly long”… At less than 400 pages, UNSPOKEN is shorter than a lot of books I’ve read and loved, but even that length was unnecessary for the events—or lack thereof—that transpired. Maybe the idea suffered from YA trilogy-itis? I read this on my Kindle, and the Important Big Reveal, the revelation that would justify the characters’ (and readers’) confusion and curiosity up till then, didn’t occur until more than two-thirds of the way through the book. Come on. That’s just basically assuming that readers will be pulled along by sheer curiosity instead of anything actually substantial—which I suppose some readers might be, but I’m thoroughly not put over the moon by a bunch of villagers being all “Hush, we don’t talk about the Lynburns” while initially nothing scarier than the common fear of a haunted wood happens.

The first two-thirds of UNSPOKEN (you know, the part that should’ve been condensed to half its length) consist of Kami running around—sometimes by herself, sometimes with Jared—picking up clues but then not acting on them because she’s so busy agonizing over her confused feelings about Jared vs. Ash. True, she’s no Bella Swan over boys, but still. Kami. Girl. Don’t be the person who loses all common sense in the midst of a crisis because you can’t decide how a certain boy feels about you.

With the exception of a few good quips, Kami and Jared don’t hold a candle to the supposed supporting characters (and let’s not even talk about Ash). I loved the casual yet loving banter among Kami’s family members, and Kami’s friends Angela and Holly stole the scene every time they appeared. (Why couldn’t Angela have been the protagonist instead? I could totally get behind a people-hating protagonist.) Alas, the vibrancy and attractiveness of the supporting characters meant that the main characters’ “conflicts” felt terribly clichéd in comparison. I found myself not caring much about how Kami and Jared struggled to deal with their feelings for each other. YAWN, YA TROPE ALERT. For an author in a position of literary influence (I thought that Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexion trilogy was great, and she belongs to a literary circle of some of the most influential YA authors in the past decade), I was greatly disappointed by all the clichés and tropes that this story ended up using.

In this review I once again dredge up what I find frustrating and lacking in the so-called “YA bestsellers” of these days. Which means that the majority of YA readers will love this, and I will be the curmudgeonly old lady in the ratty overstaffed armchair in the corner of a drafty room furthest away from the fireplace, knitting and talking to my friends the rats and cats.

Similar Authors
Maureen Johnson
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Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
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Kendare Blake

Cover discussion: It's a pity about this book, because I love that cover. It's so striking. It would've looked great on my bookshelf, but alas.

Random House / Sept. 11, 2012 / Hardcover / 384pp. / $18.99

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

FINALE Excerpt Reveal Blog Tour

I'm excited to be part of an exclusive blog tour put together by Simon & Schuster and revealing excerpts of FINALE, the conclusion to the Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick. Finale is the fourth and final book in the Hush, Hush series and will be released on October 23, 2012. Read on for an excerpt of this embargoed book. :)

“When do I get to see these dance moves of yours?” he asked. “We’ve never gone dancing at the Devil’s Handbag together.”

“You aren’t missing much. I was told tonight I’m definite fish-out-of-water material on the dance floor.”

“Vee needs to be nicer to you,” he murmured, pressing a kiss to my ear.

“Vee doesn’t get credit for that line. That would go to Dante Matterazzi,” I confessed absentmindedly, Patch’s kisses lulling me into a happy place that didn’t require a lot of reasoning or forethought.

“Dante?” Patch repeated, something unpleasant creeping into his tone.


“Did I forget to mention Dante was there?” I asked. Patch had also met Dante for the first time this morning, and for most of the tense meeting, I feared one would drag the other into a fistfight. Needless to say, it wasn’t love at first sight. Patch didn’t like Dante acting like he was my political adviser and pressuring me into war with fallen angels, and Dante . . . well, Dante hated fallen angels on principle.

Patch’s eyes cooled. “What did he want?”

“Ah, now I remember what I wanted to talk to you about.” I cracked my knuckles. “Dante’s trying to sell me to the Nephilim race. I’m their leader now. Trouble is, they don’t trust me. They don’t know me. And Dante’s made it his mission to change that.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Dante thinks it might be a good idea for me to, ah, date him. Don’t worry!” I rushed on. “It’s all for show. Got to keep the Nephilim thinking their leader is invested. We’re going to squash these rumors that I’m dating a fallen angel. Nothing says solidarity like hooking up with one of your own, you know? It makes for good press. They might even call us Norante. Or Danta. Do you like the sound of that?” I asked, trying to keep the mood light.

Patch’s mouth turned grim. “Actually, I don’t like the sound of that.”

“If it’s any consolation, I can’t stand Dante. Don’t sweat this.”

“My girlfriend wants to date another guy, no sweat.”

“It’s for appearances. Look on the bright side—”

Patch laughed, but the humor was lacking. “There’s a bright side?”

“It’s only through Cheshvan. Hank got Nephilim everywhere all worked up over this one moment. He promised them salvation, and they still think they’re going to get it. When Cheshvan comes, and ends up being like any other Cheshvan on record, they’ll realize it was a crapshoot, and little by little, things will go back to normal. In the meantime, while tempers are running hot and the hopes and dreams of Nephilim are hanging on the false belief that I can free them from fallen angels, we have to keep them happy.”

“Has it occurred to you that the Nephilim might blame you when their salvation doesn’t come? Hank made a lot of promises, and when they aren’t fulfilled, no one’s going to point fingers at him. You’re their leader now. You’re the face on this campaign, Angel,” he said solemnly.

I stared at the ceiling. Yes, I’d thought of it. More times today than I wanted to sanely contemplate.

One forever night ago, the archangels had made me the deal of a lifetime. They’d promised to give me the power to kill Hank—if I quashed the Nephilim rebellion. At first, I hadn’t planned on taking the deal, but Hank had forced my hand. He’d tried to burn Patch’s feather and send him to hell. So I shot him.

Follow the rest of the blog tour this week for more sneak previews into Finale!


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