Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey

Five Hundred Kingdoms, Book 6 (Book 1 review)

Tags: fantasy, magic, retelling


Practical Isabella Beauchamps manages her household while her stepmother and stepsisters engage in their beloved social outings and shopping excursions. However, on a visit to Granny in the forest, Bella is bitten by a werewolf—who turns out to be Lord Sebastian, whom no one has seen in years. Well, being a werewolf is more or less a good reason for someone to be a recluse. In order to determine whether or not Bella will turn into a werewolf from the bite, she must live at Sebastian’s place for three full months. While there, she discovers the existence of magic and The Tradition, and the fact that Sebastian’s under a curse. Can this young lady, new to magical understanding, be the one to discover who wishes Sebastian harm?


I know that Mercedes Lackey is a long-established fantasy writer, and I’ve enjoyed her unique take on fairy tales and magic in other Five Hundred Kingdom books, but unfortunately, BEAUTY AND THE WEREWOLF didn’t quite do it for me. I was expecting more, but mostly what I got was a lot of people sitting in a castle, talking and reading about magic.

It’s not that there are things wrong or bothersome about the elements of the story. I like Bella well enough: she is the type of strong and capable protagonist I can relate to. Bella’s interactions with the invisible spirits of Sebastian’s castle are pretty neat as well, good for a few chuckles. And Sebastian is a total sweetheart, the kind of slightly socially awkward love interest that is endearing in the midst of so many testosterone-fueled, my-bicep-is-bigger-than-your-bicep fictional romantic interests.

Unfortunately, I’m not really sure if there are many more unique aspects of this book to recommend it besides for the aforementioned details. When I said earlier that the book consisted of people sitting in a castle, talking and reading about magic, I was not really exaggerating. Confined to the castle, most of what Bella does is learn more about magic, and The Tradition, Godmothers, the curse… The majority of the book is one very long and drawn-out information dump on magic.

What could have been a more original story instead turned out to be an info dump disguised as the main character beginning to understand her new perspective on the world—which is weird because, as this is the sixth book in the series, there should be no info-dumping necessary for readers. Not, sadly, Mercedes Lackey’s most impressive story. In fact, I wonder if, without her established name on it, this book would’ve gotten by agents and editors at all.

Luna / Oct. 18, 2011 / Hardcover / 336pp. / $24.95

e-galley provided by NetGalley and publisher.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Tags: YA, contemporary, football, sports, love triangle


Jordan Woods is the best high school quarterback in the state of Tennessee, but the people who really matter—her father, and the coach of her dream college football team—don’t take her seriously, just because she is a girl. All Jordan wants is to sign with Alabama, but her life gets turned upside down when a hot new quarterback, Ty, joins the team. Ty is making her want things she’s never really thought about before. Can she still remain herself and yet end up with the guy of her dreams?


Honestly, is every book that claims it is the next Dairy Queen going to end up being a huge disappointment? D.J. Schwenk’s title as Best “Rural” Tomboy has still not been usurped—has hardly been challenged, I think. CHASING JORDAN takes place in a setting where football is big, yes, but for me, that’s where the similarities end.

CHASING JORDAN was a typical YA “dramatic luv” story hiding under a sporty exterior. Sure, there was talk of Jordan being Tennessee’s best quarterback, but all real aspects of state-level varsity sport life soon fell by the wayside, overpowered by the drama of a typical teenage love triangle. Ty never fully developed into a believable character for me. Maybe that had something to do with the outcome of the book, but I don’t think that that is a valid reason for having one-dimensional characters: one can write believable, three-dimensional, and sympathetic characters without forcing them to pair up into happily-ever-afters (see: Donna Freitas). I wanted more sport, less “typical teen love drama”—but “teen luv” was exactly what I got.

But I think what bothered me the most—and perhaps this is just a “me” thing, but I’ve become incredibly sensitive to these things, and, come on, it’s 2012—was CATCHING JORDAN’s complete and utter dismissal of possible “alternative” lifestyles. I hesitate to even use that term “alternative,” since, like I said, it’s 2012, and gosh darnit, people can live whatever lifestyles they want! I understand, marginally, that CATCHING JORDAN is set in the American South, but I was so, so disappointed during that stupid Home Ec scene with the fake babies and the students needing to pair up to be “husbands and wives,” and everyone automatically turning to the only guy in the class, as if being paired up with a female classmate is the end of your social life. What is this, the 1960s? Add to that a story setting in which lots of guys are constantly together, and all they can think about are ditzy cheerleaders. Seriously. Ditzy cheerleaders. In a YA world where cheerleaders can be popular yet real people (again, see: Donna Freitas), this kind of cardboardism is so passé, it’s not even fun anymore. It’s just sad.

CHASING JORDAN’s main premise—of Jordan learning how to embrace her female desires and fall for a guy—was so bland that it allowed me to focus on all the little things about the setup of the story that bothered me and have now made their way into my review. If you’re picking this up because you want a simple love triangle story, that works; however, if you’re looking for a smart and fun book featuring the sports-related travails of a female athlete, you might do better to look elsewhere.

Cover discussion: It's cute in that generic way that covers get when they want to illustrate the sports aspect of a book that is supposedly about sports but really only has sports as a premise for the more inane story of teenage drama...OH WAIT.

Sourcebooks Fire / Dec. 1, 2011 / Paperback / 288pp. / $8.99

e-review copy received from NetGalley and publisher.

Monday, January 23, 2012

In YOUR Mailbox Giveaway!
As some of you may know, I am currently back in the States for a brief week of vacation. Sorting through all the books that came for me while I was gone is no joke! I've been busy reading through as many of them as I can... but I also want to share some of them with you. And so, I'm doing a quick impromptu giveaway. Next Monday (my last full day in the States), I will mail out several boxes full of books for several winners (final number to be determined). The boxes will contain a combination of ARCs and finished copies, soon-to-be-published books and recently released books... it's hard to say what, exactly, I will put in your box if you win. If you're willing to take the risk, fill out the form below! US only, ends Sunday, January 29, 2012, and winners will be notified through email. Good luck!

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time 50th Anniversary Blog Tour: Revisiting A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time, that crazy, weird, intense work of children's literature that, if you read it when you were a child, was probably your first introduction to science fiction and time travel, is turning 50 this year. 50 YEARS OLD! That's practically GRANDMA AGE! Whoa. With the blindingly speedy shelf turnover rate for YA bookshelves these days, 50 years is nothing to scoff at. To celebrate, Farrar, Straus and Giroux has released a gorgeous 50th anniversary commemorative edition of A Wrinkle in Time, and Big Honcho Media has put together a massive blog celebration, celebrating 50 years of A Wrinkle in Time over 50 days and 50 blogs.

As a stop on the blog tour, I am writing today about...

Remembering My First Experience with A Wrinkle in Time...

Like many lucky readers, I read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time when I was probably 9 or 10 years old. Here are the few things I remember myself reacting to upon that first read-through:
  • The space-and-time travel. Of course I didn't completely understand how it worked, and I remember staring at that page where Mrs. Whatsit is explaining to the children about space and time's different dimensions using stick figures for hours, trying to puzzle it out. But from this book probably developed the first inklings of my now-avid interest in astrophysics, relativity, string- and m-theory, and all that good stuff.
  • OH MY GOD, CHARLES WALLACE AND IT. THAT BRAIN. AHHHHHHH. That scene gave me NIGHTMARES. I'm serious. NIGHTMARES. I had NIGHTMARES about Charles Wallace's, blank, pale blue, pupil-less eyes, and IT's evil red glow. I think that scene became the setup for every nightmare I had when I got sick and could feel my blood pulsing through my veins in that shivery, extra-sensitive way that sensations get when you're sick. Eeeeeep.
  • That I read the book with this cover:

lol. Back in the day when books had these sorts of covers. I'm not sure what I found more laughable/sad at 10 years old: Meg's glasses and mousy brown hair (I apologize: an ignorant fourth grader, and would have rather that Meg had straight hair, like me), the centaur-like creature, or the lilies that they are all holding.

...And Revisiting It Now

Rereading A Wrinkle in Time a few days ago, in a way, pulled away the mystical shroud that always seemed to surround this title. This wasn't a favorite of mine when I was younger, though I was definitely glad I read it. But, in rereading A Wrinkle in Time, I rediscovered just how much a work of children's literature can accomplish. Doubtless I absorbed half of what this book contained in terms of themes and motifs when I was 9. Now, however, I understood more of what Madeleine L'Engle wove into this iconic story: the need for humanity to be aware of and to resist the easy ways of evil, how heroes and heroines can be made of the most unexpected people, and the power of love to defeat the bad.

I always love rereading my favorite childhood books, but this time, I realized even more what children's literature can do: to plant the seeds of important thoughts and morals into the minds of children without them being aware of it, to be explored and nourished as the child grows and lives and learns and experiences more. Anyone who says that children's and young adult literature is not important because of their audience should reread some children's lit classics. We were all children once, which is why it is so crucial for the formative years to be filled with rich, exciting, imaginative, adventurous, emotional, and thought-provoking literature.

To anyone who belittles those who work in the fields of children's and young adult literature, I pity you. Really. There's a magical and beautiful formation of the truest and most essential human spirit that can develop in childhood and adolescence. Far from needing less children's literature, less education, less professionals in these fields, we need much, much more. It is the people who grew up reading great works of children's literature that can add to the goodness of the world.

The 50th Anniversary Commemorative edition features:
  • Frontispiece photo*†
  • Photo scrapbook with approximately 10 photos*†
  • Manuscript pages*†
  • Letter from 1963 Caldecott winner, Ezra Jack Keats*†
  • New introduction by Katherine Paterson, US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature †
  • New afterword by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Voiklis including six never-before-seen photos †
  • Murry-O’Keefe family tree with new artwork †
  • Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery acceptance speech
* Unique to this edition
† never previously published

Check out A Wrinkle in Time's Facebook page, and see the list of other blogs participating in this blog tour here.

A Wrinkle in Time: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition will be available in hardcover from Farrar, Straus and Giroux on January 31, 2012.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend to Someone Who Doesn't Read Classics

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is, "Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To Someone Who Doesn't Read X," and I have chosen to write about...CLASSICS!

Now, classics have a pretty bad rap. As the common thing that many students are forced to swallow in school, to the exclusion of all other types of literature, it's often associated by the YA audience as something boring and irrelevant and too dense for modern times. Therefore, I feel lucky to have been able to encounter a fair share of amazing classics, whether through required reading or self-discovery, and would like to share some of them with you, to see if you would be inspired to pick it up and see if you enjoy it as well!

1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
This classic is a tome at over a thousand pages, but it might be one of the most awe-inspiring tomes about revenge you'll ever read. The amount of detail Dumas writes into describing Dantes calculated, decade-long vengeance on a dozen high-status society members is completely amazing compared to some of the mysteries and revenge plots written today. I blazed through all 1300 pages of this in a little less than week, it was that engrossing. Get the unabridged Penguin Classics edition translated by Robin Buss and read read read.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
What classics list of mine would be complete without this book? Austen effortlessly infuses her writing with the sort of "British parlor" humor (read: superficially pleasant but actually quite biting) that many contemporary authors don't quite seem to pull off. This 200-year-old love story still rings as passionately today as it did then--and maybe even more so.

3. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The precursor to contemporary novels written in diary format. Also, in some ways, the precursor to the present-day YA novel, what with teenage Cassandra being the witty narrator--kind of like an early-twentieth-century British version of Jessica Darling (yes, that's right, that Jessica Darling)--and us seeing the unfolding of this book's events through her diary entries. There is quite a bit of giggle-inducing romance in here too.

4. The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Another writer with the gift of a type of humor that is not as prevalent in today's writings. This collection of award-winning short stories is chock-full of hypocritical, ridiculous, and self-deluded characters. Now normally, I hate reading about whining and delusional characters, but O'Connor's "distant narration" makes it so that you're never supposed to empathize with the characters, and instead can gawk at them as specimens of the horrid potentials of humanity. My favorite story is "A Good Man is Hard to Find." That grandmother! That ending!

5. The Rebel of the Family by Eliza Lynn Linton

This strange Victorian novel may no longer be published outside of academic presses, it's still worth checking out if you're interested in Victorian novels, the New Woman movement in Victorian England, and the kind of odd writing that results in no characters we can connect with or really even admire, not even the protagonist. That may sound unappealing, but The Rebel of the Family is also quite amusingly sharp in its satire, in the style of Austen. There are definitely plenty of things to wonder about regarding the author's stance on women's rights, etc. I read this twice for two different English classes in college and found it a fascinating read each time.

6. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

Eliot may be more well known for Middlemarch, but I like this one a little more, because of its slightly more accessible narration (as opposed to Middlemarch's often stifling "omniscient narration"). It's not every day that an author can make me both like a character yet want to throttle her at the same time. I also think that this novel contains one of the most romantic love letters I've ever read. But I won't spoil anything else for you. :)

7. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
I don't know how to describe this novel. It's an expose on the scary lingering effects of the Vietnam War. It's poetry. It's a groundbreaking exploration of the capacity of the written language. It's so, so, so good.

8. The Complete Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales
Like fairy tale retellings but never read the originals? Nearly every single freaking fairy tale you can think of is in this ridiculous collection. Ridiculous because it is quite flabbergasting how morbid the Grimm Brothers were. Daughters willingly amputating themselves and villains pulled apart by horses and evil trolls stealing babies!

9. Sula by Toni Morrison
This is such an interesting take on female friendship by a stylistic powerhouse author. Morrison is a beautiful writer, and many parts of this will ring true to those who ever questioned the veracity and strength of their friendships.

10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I somehow managed to skip this growing up, but even reading it just a few years ago, I became utterly engrossed in the March women's lives. I tore through this book in two nights. It has the kind of familial and sisterly charm that I feel like anyone at any age can love.

What classics do you love and would recommend to other readers, like me?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

Healer, Book 1

Tags: fantasy, magic


After a devastating plague and war, Avry is the last surviving Healer, a person with the abilities to absorb others’ pains and injuries unto themselves. Every day her life is in danger from people who, resentful of the Healers who did not heal the population during the deadly plague, want to annihilate the rest who survived.

After several years of hiding, Avry is captured by a group who want her to heal the prince of another territory. Avry struggles with duty—her job as Healer compels her to treat all injuries and patients equally—and desire—will healing the prince bring about more pain and destruction in the war between the Territories? But as former rulers emerge from the ruins of the Territories and reamass magical armies, Avry realizes that her ability may make her extremely desirable to all her enemies.


I always long to get my hands on the newest Maria Snyder novel. With exciting premises and beautiful covers, they always look so full of promise! Unfortunately, TOUCH OF POWER was a disappointment to me. Nondescript characters and a seemingly endless adventure-plot led to an exhausting read that was overwhelming yet unfulfilling.

Good things first: as always, Snyder manages to create a new world full of political and magical intrigue. Among the plague-torn Territories and as-yet-unexplored possibilities of the various strains of magic that exist in the land, there is a lot of potential for the development of future stories. The history and workings of the world gradually unveil themselves as the plot streams along, unfurling various kingdoms, political characters, and unique magical characteristics (like the Peace and Death Lilies).

Unfortunately, the subtleties of this fantasy world feel swamped under an endless barrage of plot-related “movement.” From the very first chapter, the characters always seem on the move: they are always going from place to place, hiding from mercenaries, taking random sideplots into rescuing random people in distress, encountering figures from their past and then blazing past whatever tension could develop, and so on. Chapters and fictional time fly by with little absorption of the important things that are actually going on—what shadows from the characters’ pasts affect their present-day behaviors? What terrible things have the villains done that make them truly villainous?

Overall, TOUCH OF POWER felt like a high-tech, nonstop-action, frenetic movie, in which things explode, long treks over varied terrains occur, and people hook up. This can be a fun read for a younger reader who enjoys a story in which the characters are constantly on the move, but compared to Snyder’s other series, I still vastly prefer the excitement and subtleties of the Study books.

Cover discussion: I love how Maria Snyder's books always get such vibrant covers, but I'm not sure how I feel about this one. I'm not the biggest fan of how that model looks, or is posed. Is it supposed to purposely look like a painting?

MIRA / Dec. 20, 2011 / Paperback / 400pp. / $14.95

e-galley from NetGalley.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cover Lust (33)

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
(Harcourt / May 8, 2012)

What a lush, colorful, and evocative cover this fairy tale retelling has! I think my favorite part might be the shockingly pink flowers near the top: little splashes of spirit-lifting color.

The Selection by Kiera Cass
(HarperTeen / April 24, 2012)

I feel like there's been more and more a trend of full-bodied (or at least not faceless) girls in pretty dresses on YA speculative fiction covers recently. I'm not sure how I feel about this girl's dress, but I love the funhouse-mirror-esque effect going on behind her! This cover is so shimmery and alluring.

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
(Margaret K. McElderry / Sept. 11, 2012)

Am I... is that... can I believe my eyes? Is that really a strong and beautiful POC female on the cover?!?! Wow. Wow wow wow. I love the lighting, and the smoke, and the translucency of the title, and of course I love that model, a thousand times over. Be still, my trembling heart. (But really, on the inside I'm screaming, "I want this in poster size on my wall!!!!")

The Jade Notebook by Laura Resau
(Delacorte / Feb. 14, 2012)

This cover makes me yearn for bikini weather, warm waters, and sunshine. That is all.

Exile by Rebecca Lim
(HarperCollins Australia / May 28, 2011)

Muse by Rebecca Lim
(HarperCollins Australia / Oct. 27, 2011)

Books about angels always get such pretty covers.


Which of the above covers is your favorite? Have you seen any covers lately that you're lusting over and that you want to share?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

Unearthly, Book 2 (Book 1 review)

Tags: YA, paranormal, angels


Lost after what happened the day of the forest fire, Clara Gardner continues to struggle with the many duplicities in her life. She is part-angel, and yet her mother won’t tell her the full truth about who she is and what she’s meant to do on earth, and in the meantime she has to pretend to be a normal girl attending high school in Jackson, Wyoming…which is beginning to feel like it’s home to a few too many angel-bloods. She loves her boyfriend Tucker—wholly Wyoming hottie, wholly human—but cannot deny her connection with Christian, the angel-blood who had been appearing in her visions even before she moved to Jackson.

When Clara begins having visions of someone she loves dying, she is forced to come to terms with the fact that she belongs to a complicated, and sometimes even dangerous, world that will never be as normal as she wants.


By now most of you know how I feel about YA paranormal romances. We’ll just leave that at that. But there are a handful of YA paranormal books that I would be less skeptical of, less hesitant in considering reading, and Cynthia Hand’s interesting and well-written angel series is one of those few. Despite it unfortunately taking on a few more “YA paranormal cliché” characteristics, HALLOWED remains a well-written and even funny second book in the trilogy.

One of my favorite parts of Unearthly was Clara and her narration. Too many paranormal YA female protagonists have no personality, no sense of humor. Clara has both. I can’t get enough of the moments when she actually pokes fun at her own fictional genre, referencing the melodramaticness of YA paranormal romances, love triangles, and stalker paranormal love interests. I love when fictional characters are, metaphorically, self-aware: it happens so rarely that I’m inclined to laugh out loud and share with everyone around me when it happens.

Unfortunately—although in some ways I suppose it was inevitable—HALLOWED acquired a few more YA paranormal conventions as it continued Clara’s story. Despite its subtle jabs at Twilight, Twilight fans will like this series, and HALLOWED reminded me of that pervasive YA paranormal franchise more often than I would have liked. HALLOWED dilly-dallies: the story within probably could’ve been told in 150 pages instead of more than 400. It contains few surprises: a large portion of the book seemed to consist of Clara waffling between Tucker and Christian.

Sadly, the attractive and confident Tucker of Unearthly is reduced to being stubborn and petty and just not all that appealing in HALLOWED. Methinks I spot a setup for the third book in here…? And Clara finds out something shocking about herself, thereby changing her from “(relatively) ordinary girl we can empathize with” to “character whose struggles are legitimized by her newfound understanding of herself and her role.” If Hand had wanted to blow readers away with so-called shocking revelations and twists in HALLOWED, well, let’s just say that all I felt was a tickle of a breeze.

HALLOWED wasn’t as strong of a read as Unearthly was for me, but fans of Unearthly should still love this second installation in the series. Despite its at-times conventional plot development, HALLOWED is still a well-written and unique take on the angel concept—emphasis on “well-written.” A strong successor to both the deserved and not-quite-so-deserved financially successful YA paranormal series.

Cover discussion: What was a stunning cover in the first book last year just seems kind of stale now. I suppose my tastes have evolved.

HarperTeen / Jan. 17, 2012 / Hardcover / 416pp. / $17.99

e-review copy provided by NetGalley and publisher.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

HARBINGER Trailer Reveal!

I don't watch book trailers often, but every time I do watch one, I'm blown away by how professional it is, how like an actual movie trailer. Penguin Young Readers Group has brought to my attention the just-released trailer for Sara Wilson Etienne's debut novel, HARBINGER, for which I helped reveal some original artwork based on the book back in November. Check out how insanely movie-like the trailer is!

Or watch it here:

HARBINGER synopsis:
Set in a world in which a diminishing oil supply has lead to chaos and mass rioting, sixteen-year-old Faye is plagued by waking visions and nightmares. Her parents think the only solution is to send her to Holbrook Academy, the creepy prison-like school for disturbed teenagers. When she and her friends wake up on the floor with their hands stained red, Faye has no idea what it means, but fears she may be the cause. But despite the strangeness of Holbrook and the island on which it sits, Faye feels oddly connected to the place. The handsome Kel tries to help her unravel the mystery, but Faye is certain he is trying to kill her –and the rest of the world too.
HARBINGER comes out from Putnam Juvenile on February 2, 2012. Learn more about HARBINGER and Holbrook at the super-thorough Holbrook Academy website!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Shanghai During the Holidays

I just love the sight of poinsettias. It's like I see them and immediately think, CHRISTMAS! The sight of them is inextricably linked to the rich scent of a whole day's worth of cooking in my great-aunt's apartment, the sweet stickiness of pine sap on my fingers, and the soft tearing of wrapping paper with family.

 Lovely Christmas tree inside a shopping center near my apartment. I particularly like the luscious BOOKS that are piled on top of the presents. 

 I have no idea who this character is, nor if it has anything to do with Christmas or the holidays (I suspect not), but isn't he so... adorably protective? I wanted to take a picture with it, but it was being bombarded by a three-year-old girl, and I thought it'd be mean of me to ruin her moment.

 Nighttime lights near my apartment. *happy sigh*

Plaza 889 near my apartment. 

 It made me feel a little like I'm home, near New York City, with the trees drenched in Christmas lights. Not a bad way to end up spending the holiday season, considering how I had been working 12-hour days by the end of December. :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas

Tags: YA, contemporary, grief, hockey


After her irrepressible mother dies of cancer, Rose finds a “survival kit” that her mother made for her, a paper bag containing several objects that are supposed to help Rose overcome her grief. As Rose slowly comes to terms with the tragedy, her interactions with the objects in the Survival Kit invariably affect her relationships with important people in her lives, from her father, to her ex-boyfriend, to her friends, to the boy who might be her new love.


Donna Freitas is arguably YA’s best kept secret: her books are released with little fanfare, yet they are all beautifully, subtly written contemporary stories that linger in readers’ emotions for a long time to come. THE SURVIVAL KIT takes on a premise that has become unfortunately conventional in terms of contemporary YA plots, and manages to make it into a heartwarming, memorable, and utterly unique story.

Strangely enough, THE SURVIVAL KIT begins with a slew of clichés: the dead mother, the alcoholic father, the ex-cheerleader protagonist with her quarterback boyfriend and token POC best friend. It wasn’t long, however, before THE SURVIVAL KIT began to set itself apart from other books containing these clichéd elements. There may be cheerleaders and football players in this book, but the characters are not gag-inducing stereotypes: they are truly nice, flawed, well-intentioned…refreshingly normal people.

Rose is grieving, yes, but she’s working to get back to a place where she was once a creative and golden-hearted girl, and is thus not only defined by her grief for her mother. Other characters, too, retain that level of subtlety. Props go to Rose’s quarterback boyfriend and her former cheerleading teammates for not sounding like cardboard characters. Will is appreciably swoony, but THE SURVIVAL KIT’s strength lies in gradual and immersive character development, which puts this book a cut above other YA books about grief.

A successful retelling of an easily clichéd premise and characters that feel truly real combine to make me say: Bravo, Donna Freitas. THE SURVIVAL KIT may not have the flashy synopsis that bestselling lists love, but I hope that word of mouth will help this well-deserving book find a home in the hands of numbers of appreciative readers.

Similar Authors
Jandy Nelson
Tara Kelly

Cover discussion: It grew on me! At first I thought it was kind of weird, to have a model but to not have it be a photograph. But now I think that its uniqueness really matches Rose, and hopefully makes it stand out from other books.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Oct. 11, 2011 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $16.99

ARC received for review from publisher.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Tags: YA, contemporary, romance, family, divorce, London, airplanes


It starts when Hadley misses her transatlantic flight to London to attend her father’s second wedding to a woman she’s never met. Luckily for her, the next flight contains Oliver, who’s going home for family-related business. It seems utterly ridiculous to feel such a strong connection to a stranger you’ve known for less than 24 hours, but in between coming to terms with her father’s remarriage and her new definition for “family,” Hadley will find out that anything is possible.


I have been hearing about how wonderful this book is for almost one whole year before I finally got the chance to read it. Not only did THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT (er, henceforth known as STATISTICAL) not disappoint, it gave me more than I had expected.

STATISTICAL is sold as a love story, and it is that, to a lovely degree, but then it is also more. The unfolding of Hadley and Oliver’s romance over 24 hours could have been too cloying, too rushed; however, Jennifer Smith paces the story like a pro. As we read the book, we see easily how Hadley and Oliver have an enviable instant connection, but it is not insta-luv, no—rather, the romance unfolds over interesting but not blaringly obvious significant conversations, filled with lots of flashbacks and self-revelations.

Indeed, that, to me, was the best part of the book—the fact that it was not merely a love story, but also one of the most mature and empathic stories about understanding divorce that I’ve ever read. At the start of the book, Hadley is still not over her father’s desertion of her and her mother, to marry a woman she’s never met. But no one is solely the villain or the victim here: throughout informative and understandable flashbacks, Jennifer Smith reveals Hadley’s family’s history, and by the end, readers have strong hopes that things will work out for the best.

I am, unfortunately, super wary of YA romances nowadays, but I like how Smith develops Hadley and Oliver’s connection. Hadley is real: she’s not the silly protagonist who needs a guy to save her, nor is she the petulant teen just ripe for character development. Oliver doesn’t come off as an impossible-to-believe perfect guy: he is, to my heart’s delight, simply an above-average-intelligence college student with the type of familial concern and lighthearted flirting that you can expect out of any guy, given that you give him a chance. And STATISTICAL is Oliver’s chance. I totally dig that, had he not been a main character in this story, he would’ve been just another nice college guy who would eventually end up with his happy ending. In that sense, STATISTICAL felt more like a privileged glimpse into the random encounter of two very ordinary people, and I don’t think I can stress in mere words how lovely that is.

I admit that I had hesitations about how much I’d like this book, despite others singing its praises. Jennifer Smith’s omniscient writing has had its times when it did not work for me in the past. However, for THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT, the balance between internal monologue, flashbacks, and present-day action achieved a delectable balance. Channeling the best of authors like David Levithan, Jennifer Smith’s newest novel is one that fans of subtle romances and family dilemmas will surely appreciate.

Similar Authors
David Levithan
Maureen Johnson
Sara Zarr

Cover discussion: It's funky! It's artsy and a little all over the place and a little sweet. Kind of like some cool artwork I'd expect to find in the Village (that's Greenwich Village, in New York City).

Poppy / Jan. 2, 2012 / Hardcover / 256pp. / $17.99

e-review copy received from publisher.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review: Magic Gifts by Ilona Andrews

Kate Daniels, Book 5.4

Tags: urban fantasy, magic, shapeshifters


Work and play rarely stay separate for new lovers Kate and Curran—which really means that it is always work, and hardly ever play—and so when their dinner date comes to a screeching halt with the dangerous appearance of a deadly necklace, it really isn’t all that surprising. Enlisting the reluctant help of the Masters of the Dead, delusional Vikings, and scary dwarves, Kate and Curran set off to discover the origins of the necklace in order to save lives.


It’s the best day of the week…month…(year)…when a new Ilona Andrews book comes out, and it’s even better when it’s a story in Kate Daniels’ world. MAGIC GIFTS may only be a novella, but it was just the thing to whet our appetites with some more of Kate and Curran, and set our senses tingling for the arduous wait until Kate #6.

Perhaps the husband-and-wife writing team that makes up Ilona Andrews has the world’s best/wickedest sense of humor, because MAGIC GIFTS gifts us with more of the delightful humor that we love about the series. Maybe the magical scenarios get wackier and wackier as Ilona Andrews researches more deeply into more and more countries’ mythologies, but I’m willing to believe anything and everything they write, simply because A) they make the mythologies merge effortlessly with their fictional world, and B) the characters have the best sense of humor ever, all the while still being remarkably “human” (despite them, er, not being fully human).

MAGIC GIFTS is a full enough story to be a satisfying read on its own. It’s a must-read for Kate Daniels fans, though not a necessary read—although you should obviously still read it!

This e-book novella is available FREE for a limited time only--as in, only for the next couple of days--so head over to the website to get your copy now!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Steph Su Returns

Well, the title of this blog post might be a bit misleading. I'm still in China. I've been on the Internet, didn't impose an Internet ban on myself or anything. But it's true that I haven't really been active on book-related stuff in the past month or maybe even two. Yes, work took over nearly all of my waking hours (seriously, I was in the office 12 hours a day during the last two weeks before the Regular Decision college application deadline. I will now severely criticize any and all authors who get any part of the process wrong, or "tweaks" deadlines and notification dates to suit their plot, as I have said many years ago), but it wasn't just that.

Quite frankly, I had a crisis of faith.

It's probably still ongoing. I still catch glimpses of nasty blogger-reader-author-publisher shenanigans on Goodreads, Twitter, on blogs, Facebook... everywhere I turn, something was happening that caused me to lose a little more hope in humanity. That, on top of my "real life" of living in Shanghai, China, set me spiraling into God-knows-what direction. I'm not a city person, and China is currently in a state of trying to figure out its place in the world and in contemporary history, and that apparently involves some moral crises. I seriously contemplated getting rid of a lot of things that I was scared was weighing me down: the social "face" I was trying to keep up on Facebook, Twitter, this blog, even Goodreads. I've barely even answered emails for the past several months. (Sorry about that, everyone who's tried to contact me.)

The trouble is that social media has become such a fixed part of our lives today that it's really hard to remove yourself entirely. So, no, I won't quit the Internet entirely (although that's not completely out of the question at some temporary point in the future), but I've been rethinking my boundaries, what I'm willing and not willing to put out on the Internet, what I'd rather keep to myself. I'm trying to remove as much negativity from my life as possible, and most of the negativity, I've learned, comes from me worrying too much about what others think of me. (Yes, I'm a college graduate and I still feel that way. This is why YA and I will never fully break up.)

This affects--or will affect--my blogging because I am going to take a step back from the networking/negotiations part of it and just do my own thing for a while. I need to get back into the feel of blogging, and I don't want it to become yet again something that stresses me out because of this obligation to this author or that obligation to that publisher. So I'm going to take it slowly. I'll blog when I want, what I want, and I'll stop when I want to also. I'll be online when I want, and I'll not be online when I don't want to. This sort of stuff seems really stupidly basic, but I feel like I've gotten frazzled to the point where I need to lay out these very basic rules for myself in a concrete manner. I'm not looking for acclaim or recognition or notoriety right now, because I'm not in the state of mind where I can take those sorts of expectations, whether external or internal.

So... a tentative wave of hello to you. :)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Books Read in 2012

1. Over My Head by Marie Lamba
2. Amplified by Tara Kelly
3. Kowalski Family, Book 1: Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey
4. Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen
5. Dark Swan, Book 1: Storm Born by Richelle Mead
6 (reread). 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter
7. Small Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker
8. Llharmell, Book 1: Blood Song by Rhiannon Hart
9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
10. Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
11. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
12. The Mockingbirds, Book 2: The Rivals by Daisy Whitney
13. Lunar Chronicles, Book 1: Cinder by Marissa Meyer
14. Edge, Book 3: Fate's Edge by Ilona Andrews
15. The Queen's Thief, Book 1: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
16. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
17. The Returning by Christine Hinwood
18. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

19. The Shattering by Karen Healey
20. Wild Swans by Jung Chang
21. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
22. The Queen's Thief, Book 2: The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
23. Lumatere Chronicles, Book 2: Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
24. Fools Rush In by Kristan Higgins
25. Icefall by Matthew Kirby
26. The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Book 1: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

27. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
28. Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner
29. Immortal Beloved, Book 2: Darkness Falls by Cate Tiernan
30. A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
31. Dark Swan, Book 2: Thorn Queen by Richelle Mead
32. Purity by Jackson Pearce
33. Boy21 by Matthew Quick

34. The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
35. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
36. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
37. Among Others by Jo Walton
38. Melody in Lingerie by Imogen Linn
39. Fantasy Heights, Book 1: Help Wanted by Meg Silver
40. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
41. Blood of Eden, Book 1: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
42. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

43. Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
44. Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins
45. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
46. Throne of Glass, Book 0.1: The Assassin and the Pirate Lord by Sarah J. Maas
47. This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
48. Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins
49. Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
50. Newsflesh Trilogy, Book 1: Feed by Mira Grant
51. Ship Breaker, Book 2: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

52. Anna, Book 1: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
53. A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger
54. A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
55 (reread). Love by Numbers, Book 1: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah Maclean
56. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
57. WVMP Radio, Book 3.5: Let It Bleed by Jeri Smith-Ready
58. Crossfire, Book 1: Bared to You by Sylvia Day
59 (reread). Crown and Court Duel, Book 1: Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

60. Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
61. The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
62. The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 2: The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
63. The Queen's Thief, Book 3: The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
64. Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
65. The Lynburn Legacy, Book 1: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
66. Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
67. A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith
68. This Is Shyness by Leanne Hall
69. The Lotus War, Book 1: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
70. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

71. Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
72. Saltwater Vampires by Kirsty Eagar
73. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
74. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
75. Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala
76. Kate Daniels World, Book 1: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews
77. Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han and Julia Kuo
78. The List by Siobhan Vivian
79. One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
80. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
81. Moon Over Manifest by Claire Vanderpool
82. Wonder by R. J. Palacio
83. Speechless by Hannah Harrington
84. Shadowfell, Book 1: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

85. Dublin Murder Squad, Book 1: In the Woods by Tana French
86. Ironskin, Book 1: Ironskin by Tina Connolly
87. Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin
88. The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
89. Butter by Erin Jade Lange
90. The Diviners, Book 1: The Diviners by Libba Bray
91. Fire and Thorns, Book 0.5: The Shadow Cats by Rae Carson
92. Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt
93. Tales of the Otori, Book 1: Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
94. Adaptation by Malinda Lo
95. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
96. Samaria, Book 1: Archangel by Sharon Shinn
97. The Lotus War, Book 1.5: Praying for Rain by Jay Kristoff

98. Small Change, Book 1: Farthing by Jo Walton
99. Dublin Murder Squad, Book 2: The Likeness by Tana French
100. Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Bucknell and Joe Monti
101. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
102. Crossfire, Book 2: Reflected in You by Sylvia Day
103. Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharonn Shinn
104. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
105. Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster
106. Crown and Court, Book 2.5: Remalna’s Children by Sherwood Smith
107. Dark Swan, Book 3: Iron Crowned by Richelle Mead
108. Graceling Realm, Book 3: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

109 (reread). Graceling Realm, Book 1: Graceling by Kristin Cashore
110. A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith
111. Samaria, Book 2: Jovah’s Angel by Sharon Shinn
112. Sevenwaters, Book 3: Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier
113. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
114. Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins
115. My One and Only by Kristan Higgins

116 (reread). Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
117. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Book 2: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
118. No and Me by Delphine de Vigan
119 (reread). Graceling Realm, Book 2: Fire by Kristin Cashore
120. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
121. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth
122. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder


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