Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: Purity by Jackson Pearce

Tags: YA, contemporary, death, sex, father-daughter relationships


Several years after her mother died, Shelby still manages to keep three promises she made to her. However, the promises—of which one involves listening to her father—prove hard to keep when Shelby’s father asks her to participate with him in the father-daughter Princess Ball, during which the daughter will vow to lead a “pure” life.

To Shelby, this means one thing: that she must have sex before the Ball, so that the vow will be null. But finding someone to have sex with her in the space of a few weeks proves harder than she thinks. And along the way, Shelby realizes the true meaning of the other two promises she made her mother: to love as much as possible and to live without restraint.


PURITY had a great premise that catches the attention of even the most jaded of readers—promises to a dead person! a ball! SEX!—but unfortunately, the book fell flat for me. The story seems to struggle with an identity crisis over whether it’s lighthearted or philosophical, with the result that it doesn’t really succeed at either end.

The good thing is that the characters, their relationships with one another, and the story’s romance are done very well. Shelby is a bit of a Jane Everygirl, which was slightly disappointing, as there was great potential for her to have some interesting quirks, and not every story requires an Everygirl at its heart in order for it to be relatable and likable. Fortunately, other characters, such as Shelby’s friends, are lovely to read about. Nothing too special about them, but they’re nice and supportive and people whom you want to be your friends. Shelby’s relationship with her father is more noteworthy, in that I think that a fair number of daughters can relate to Shelby and her father’s awkward yet fierce love for each other.

What tripped me up about PURITY, however, was its intent. Was it a straightforward novel about overcoming lifelong grief, looking for sex, and finding love instead? If PURITY wanted simply to be a grief novel, I think I would have been okay with it. Grief novels are obviously a dime a number in YA literature these days, but there are still some decent, if perhaps not original, stories among the lot. However, at many points PURITY dipped into random paragraphs about questioning one’s belief in God and faith, and I suppose that I didn’t feel like the religion aspect of this book was built up enough to support Shelby’s questioning thoughts.

PURITY is a noble effort at making different a tried-and-true contemporary YA routine, but ultimately it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Read it if you want a slightly different spin on the classic grief novel, albeit one that doesn’t entirely succeed at being different.

Similar Authors
Nova Ren Suma
Sarah Dessen
Melissa Walker
Donna Freitas

Cover discussion: I like it... I think. I can't help but wonder if it connotes something slightly off about the book, though. Either this reminds you of the cover for Sarah Dessen's Lock and Key, or this seems like a candy-colored book aimed for younger teens.

Little, Brown / April 24, 2012 / Hardcover / 224pp. / $17.99

e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Tags: fiction, philosophy


THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING is not quite a novel, not quite a philosophical treatise, not quite political commentary. It has fictional characters and a “plot,” if you want to call it that…but the plot is hardly the most important part of the book. It is chock full of interesting philosophical ideas.

Perhaps the thing to say about THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING is that it is an incredible experience that cannot be fully understood and appreciated in just one go. Perhaps what astounded me most about this book was how nuanced the characters are. Like real human beings, no one is perfect: in fact, Tereza, Tomas, and the others are often aggravatingly flawed, to the point where you kind of want to throw down the book in frustration, or else reach into the story and single-handedly plunk them in psychotherapy.

The real and frightful thing about such a reaction, however, is that, in certain ways, Tereza and Tomas are eerily canny reflections of ourselves, and what our pithy and ultimately futile internal struggles would look like at the hands of a literary genius. Tomas’ perpetual womanizing and his guilt over his inability to make Tereza happy, Tereza’s hopelessness over her own feelings of jealousy—it reflects some of the ugliest parts of ourselves, the parts that we’re afraid to see in literature, for fear that we may recognize them as being part of ourselves.

It is because of this discomfort that Kundera creates in the relationship between reader and creation that I both admire and fear this book and Kundera’s writings. I admire it because I see the possibilities for what I can do with my own thoughts and writings; I fear it because Kundera’s thorough, everyone-yet-no-one portrayal of his characters could so easily be me or any one of us, despite evidence to the contrary (i.e. we are not perpetual womanizers or guilty jealous snakes). But Kundera’s omniscient narration helps us understand the mentality of flawed characters, and if you apply that to real life, it’s hard to not not think of things in black and white afterwards.

There are things that I didn’t like about this book: the political stuff (it’s just not my thing), and the fact that Kundera often rejects typical literary conventions such as introductions and climaxes and denouements. I think, however, that the experience of reading THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, the ideas about living and existing and worth that it contains, and the things it makes me think about the potential of writing, make everything worth it. I am already looking forward to the next time I can reread this, pencil in hand to mark the things I missed before.

Harper Perennial / Oct. 27, 2009 / Paperback (reprint) / 320pp. / $16.99

Borrowed from library.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hearting Things

The speed of your Internet connection seems to be the limit to how fast bad news can travel. Because of that, I'm taking taking a leaf out of I Heart Daily's book and writing a post that's only full of things that make me happy.


Mads Langer
Okay, I admit it: I discovered this sultry Danish singer through Castle. (That TV show offers up way too many great and underrated artists.) I've been obsessed with this song ever since. To me, it's seems to represent the romantic idea of love perfectly: the longing, the feeling that you will never be good enough to deserve the love of the one you love. The excruciatingly slow but delicious-in-its-slowness buildup to the risk, the jump, the fall. Replay.

The Civil Wars
Thank you, Hunger Games soundtrack, for introducing the greater world to The Civil Wars. There's nothing quite like listening to a song that contains eerie harmony, and these two singers' voices are so different, yet blend together for a simple but intense film that reaches into your very veins to stir your blood.

Postcard Sets

I used to collect postcards up until high school, but lately I have been really getting into sending them. I love how they are like little notes: they don't need the time commitment of a full-length letter, and they make people feel special when they receive one in their mailbox. My pointer finger itches to click on these glorious postcard sets and BUY them:

So, so much more. What, then, do you do with 500 postcards when you've given in to the urge to buy them all? Why, you join, of course, to connect to thousands of people around the world who also love to send and receive postcards. Let me tell you, it's SO COOL to carefully select the postcards you're going to send to a perfect stranger, and to open your mailbox and discover a postcard containing unique postage from a country you may have never even heard of before. Join if it sounds interesting to you, or leave a comment if you're interested in exchanging postcards with me!


April has been a splendid month for me in terms of reading. I'm highly aware of the fact that my reading tastes are changing, and I have a lot less patience for stuff that I probably would have nicely pushed myself through in the past. I've also been carefully considering people's book recommendations to me, and have discovered these four new favorites:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My review of this book is going up soon (though it's already on Goodreads if you follow me there), contains the line, "At around 700 pages, The Name of the Wind is the perfect shape and story to sleep with." I also take a jab at hipsters in the review. (That's what writing a review at 3 in the morning does to you.) OH MY GOSH IT'S BEEN A MONTH SINCE I'VE READ THIS BOOK AND I STILL AM LIKE THIS ABOUT IT. It's... it's... it's... It's like when you read Harry Potter for the first time. At first you can be all, This is any ole thing, but before you even know it you're so far into the story you can't remember your life without it. Anyway. You need to read this.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
I'm hesitant when it comes to Maggie's books (remember Shiver?), but this one was just exquisite and totally deserving of its Printz Honor. I love how the romance never overpowers the incredible, desolate, razor-edge fearful majesty of Thisby and the capaill uisce. So glad this one turned out so beautiful!

Among Others by Jo Walton
I was in a reading slump after The Scorpio Races, picking up books, reading the first few chapters, and putting them away with a sigh of disappointment. Then Aaron Vincent of Guy Gone Geek suggested I read characters who love books, and recommended me Among Others. I had heard of the title--it was nominated for a Hugo this year--and immediately downloaded that shizz for my Kindle. It's like I Capture the Castle, with a slightly fantastical element. Adorable. Mori primarily reads pre-1980s science fiction which goes way over my head but it's just fun to see her geek out in her journal without going into too much literary analysis. She's just a bookworm talking about books.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This book has been on my radar for months and MONTHS. Mostly because my dear blogger friend Chachic seems to go on and on about it on every single social networking platform I am on. And now, closer and closer to the US release date, more and more people are raving about this, until I finally caved in and bought a UK copy online. It's AMAZING. I love the narrator's voice, she manages to still be feisty even in her difficult situation. I have a feeling that, once I finish this book, I'll immediately flip back to the beginning to read it again. Love love love.


Okay, I've blathered on for long enough, but fortunately I've made myself happy in doing so. So share with me, because the world can't have enough happiness: what things have made you happy lately?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Tags: YA, fantasy, POC


Her real name is Suzume (sparrow), but she is also Rin (cold) and Yue (moon). That’s because Suzume’s world ended the day her family was murdered. Living with her mother and her new stepfather, Lord Terayama, Suzume inadvertently practices her shadow-weaving: the art of creating illusions out of thin air. Her talent comes in handy as it becomes clearer to her that has life is in grave danger. As Suzume shuffles through her many identities, what happens when her one goal of avenging her father’s death is slowly but surely replaced by another more tender?


YOU GUYS, do you know how long I have waited to read this book? Since Zoe Marriott first revealed the gorgeous UK cover for SHADOWS ON THE MOON, over a year ago. I simply can’t resist a beautiful Asian face on a YA cover, and I have enjoyed Zoe’s previous books. I am so, so happy to say that SHADOWS ON THE MOON was one of those rare books that I didn’t want to end.

There is something great to be said about every element of this book. According to the author’s note, SHADOWS ON THE MOON is not set in feudal Japan, but rather a society similar to it. And Marriott has certainly done her research. Things such as the vocabulary for different kinds of clothing and the exact procedure for a tea ceremony may not add directly to the plot, but they certainly help immerse readers into Suzume’s lush, simultaneously foreign yet familiar, world.

Suzume masterfully treads the thin line between her mask of feigned placidness and actually being a placid character. After all, at what point does the person you pretend to be actually become a part of you? However, Suzume’s soothing narration helps ground what could be melodramatic events, so that they never go beyond the point of credibility. Her reactions to the events happening to her are natural and relatable. We sympathize with Suzume, and also hope that, if we are ever in a similar situation (which hopefully we won’t be!), we can endure in a way as strongly as she does.

SHADOWS ON THE MOON is a big book, but it never feels too long. It is a fantasy of epic worth and length that will nevertheless fly by, appealing even to readers who don’t often read fantasy. Suzume is a heroine for the modern-day reader, and Zoe Marriott’s unique take on the Cinderella tale will have you soaring through its pages.

Cover discussion: I'll admit that I prefer the UK cover slightly more to this one, but the awkwardness of this cover is slightly alieviated when you read the book. Then you get it.

Candlewick / April 24, 2012 / Hardcover / 464pp. / $17.99

e-galley provided by NetGalley and publisher. Thank you so much!

Monday, April 23, 2012

HMH Prom Book Giveaway!

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I have an incredible set of 3 books to give away, just in time for prom season! Check 'em out below, and I dare you to not want this awesome prize.

Illuminate by Aimee Agresti
Haven Terra is a brainy, shy high school outcast. But everything begins to change when she turns sixteen. Along with her best friend Dante and their quiet and brilliant classmate Lance, she is awarded a prestigious internship in the big city— Chicago—and is sent to live and work at a swanky and stylish hotel under the watchful eyes of a group of gorgeous and shockingly young-looking strangers: powerful and alluring hotel owner Aurelia Brown; her second-in-command, the dashing Lucian Grove; and their stunning but aloof staff of glamazons called The Outfit.

As Haven begins falling for Lucian, she discovers that these beautiful people are not quite what they seem. With the help of a mysterious book, she uncovers a network of secret passageways from the hotel’s jazz-age past that leads her to the heart of the evil agenda of Aurelia and company: they’re in the business of buying souls. Will they succeed in wooing Haven to join them in their recruitment efforts, or will she be able to thwart this devilish set’s plans to take the souls of her classmates on prom night at the hotel?

Illuminate is an exciting saga of a teen’s first taste of independence, her experience in the lap of luxury, and her discovery she may possess strength greater than she ever knew.
Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber
Perry Stormaire is a normal high school senior– he is busy applying to college and rehearsing with his band –until he agrees to go to the prom with the Lithuanian exchange student who is staying with his family. It turns out that Gobi Zaksauskas is not the mousy teenager that she seems but rather an attractive, confident trained assassin. Instead of going to the prom, Perry finds himself on a wild ride through the streets of New York City as Gobi commandeers the Jaguar his father lent him for the prom in order to take out her targets. Perry learns a lot about himself – and ends up with some amazing material for his college application essays.
Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey
The undead can really screw up your senior year ...

Marrying a vampire definitely doesn’t fit into Jessica Packwood’s senior year “get-a-life” plan. But then a bizarre (and incredibly hot) new exchange student named Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that Jessica is a Romanian vampire princess by birth—and he’s her long-lost fiancĂ©. Armed with newfound confidence and a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, Jessica makes a dramatic transition from average American teenager to glam European vampire princess. But when a devious cheerleader sets her sights on Lucius, Jess finds herself fighting to win back her wayward prince, stop a global vampire war—and save Lucius’s soul from eternal destruction.
One lucky winner will get all three books. Enter via Rafflecopter below, answering the mandatory question of what your favorite thing about prom (your own, a fictional one, the general concept) is. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only, and ends Sunday, May 6, 2012. Good luck!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Finally Watched The Hunger Games

I have finally joined the post-March 23rd space-time continuum as regards books and movies. In laymen's terms, I FINALLY WATCHED THE HUNGER GAMES MOVIE.


The story behind my five-weeks-delayed inaugural viewing of The Hunger Games is, in short, simply that China, which last November had agreed to let The Hunger Games play in Chinese cinemas as one of only 20 films allowed into China this year, rescinded their offer, or something like that, so that it's no longer being released in China. The government probably realized the series' plot revolves around the people rising up to topple an overly controlling government. Heh, heh. (Ugh.)

Anyway, this weekend I was on a business trip to Shenzhen, which is literally one metro ride away from Hong Kong. I thought, with all the free time I have on this trip, why not go into Hong Kong for an afternoon and an evening, and take advantage of the fact that Hong Kong is, in many ways, a scion of Western culture on the Asian continent.

The view from Avenue of Stars (
The movie was fantastic! I admit to trepidation at the movie adaptation of the next big YA series after Twilight, considering, well, how melodramatic and insipid those films were. The Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect Katniss, and such a talented actress. She captured the complexities of Katniss' character excellently, so that even someone who hadn't read the books (the person I saw the movie with) could get a glimpse into what she was thinking throughout the story. I also think that the people in charge of the movie's sound editing should get an Oscar nomination, it just complemented the story so well. I was less impressed by Gale and Peeta, but whatever. The Hunger Games was always and forever Katniss' story.

So, who wants to talk about the movie with me now?

It's hard for me to pick a favorite part of the movie, but this was definitely one of the most powerful scenes. (

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Immortal Rules Giveaway!

Like vampires? Like Julie Kagawa? Thanks to Harlequin, I have one copy of Julie's latest book, The Immortal Rules, to give away to a lucky person!

About the Book
In a future world, Vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity.

Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die… or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn't easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for.
This is my first time using Rafflecopter, so bear with me if things go awry. One entry for leaving a blog comment about how you feel about vampires, plus extra entries you can earn, yadda yadda you know the drill. Open to US and Canadian mailing addresses only and ends Monday, April 30, 2012. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (120)

Long time no WoW! YA and I have been working through potholes in our relationship lately. I'm telling it that it hasn't been trying hard enough to become a better being, and in return it's telling me that I can't think of it as a single being, that there are some diamonds in the increasing rough. But anyway. On to the main feature. Here's an upcoming book that I hope will put the "wow" back into WoW.

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings—and to catch their wives.

The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment.

Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also unspoken love.
When you have Melina Marchetta saying, "It's my favourite Margo Lanagan and that's saying something. It's truly beautiful writing," what more do you really need?

The Brides of Rollrock Island will be published in hardcover in the US by Random House on September 11, 2012.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Review: The Shattering by Karen Healey

Tags: YA, fantasy, New Zealand, murder


Keri never believed that her beloved older brother Jake was actually capable of committing suicide, so when her childhood friend, Janna, and Sione, a boy from out of town, propose another theory—that their older brothers were actually murdered—she jumps on board their investigation. As the three teens explore further, they begin to realize that Summerton, their “perfect” tourist town, actually has some sinister secrets hidden behind its beautiful surface. There are people who are willing to do whatever it takes to keep Summerton the way it is, but Keri, Janna, and Sione are also willing to do whatever they can to ensure that no other family has to suffer the way they did.


I was lukewarm on Karen Healey’s award-winning debut novel, Guardian of the Dead, but after reading THE SHATTERING’s eerie and absorbing first chapter, I was willing to give her books a second try. Unfortunately, THE SHATTERING just confirmed what I was already worried about: that there is something “off” with either me or with Healey’s writing, resulting in a disconnect between her stories and me.

As I mentioned, THE SHATTERING starts off strong. The cast of characters is diverse, and each main character has their own worries and distinct personality. You’re not quite sure what’s going on in Summerton, and so you read on, your heart fluttering to know. It’s a great setup, and all the elements are there to make it a good story: the suspense, the characters’ personal investment, the tensions between the characters, and the hint of a threat beneath it all.

Unfortunately, THE SHATTERING was ultimately a frustrating read for me. Oftentimes I felt like I was singlehandedly trying to pull a stubborn mule and his cart up an unending hill, that was how much the plot dragged at times. A large part of THE SHATTERING felt simply like the characters were running around, not finding out much. Once again, the problem I had with Guardian of the Dead arose here: I felt like the ultimate setup and revelation of the suspense did not justify all the “effort” that the characters—and readers—invested into discovering it. In short, I liked the characters, but wanted them to be part of a different story: either one that wasn’t so ambitious in its supernatural elements (so perhaps a contemporary novel, which poses its own awe-inspiring complexities), or one that did succeed at achieving its supernatural ambitions (i.e. an urban fantasy that is more fantasy than urban).

THE SHATTERING will find its audience in fans of uncommon elements of speculative fiction. It is far from bad, but it just didn’t have the special something, that readerly investment, that I crave in my books.

Cover discussion: I think it's cool-looking, but, like I said in my review, I'm not sure if it really reflects the...under-impact of the book.

Little, Brown / Sept. 5, 2011 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $17.99

ARC sent by publisher.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

The Lumatere Chronicles, Book 2

Tags: YA, fantasy


For the past three years, Froi of Nowhere has devoted himself to serving his queen, Isaboe of Lumatere. An unexpected royal assassin’s mission into the heart of neighboring Charyn, however, uproot his life once more. For Charyn has been in the throes of a long curse as well, and at its center seems to be Quintana, the mad princess who declares herself to be essential to the curse-breaking prophecy. As, reluctantly, Froi begins to care about the people he meets in Charyn, he discovers just how deeply he is entangled in the affairs of Charyn…


Once in a blue moon I find that I would rather not write a review for a book, because there is just no chance I will be able to find the right words to express just how magnificent I think the book is. Unsurprisingly, as with nearly all of her books, Melina Marchetta’s latest, FROI OF THE EXILES, is one of these times. It just doesn’t seem possible that FROI is “just a book,” or “just a story.” FROI is an experience. It’s an event. It’s altogether unforgettable.

As always, Marchetta pulls off the miraculous feat of having characters that initially seem unlikable but then grow so much on you you find you kind of, sort of, maybe want to date them. If you remember Froi from Finnikin of the Rock, you’ll probably remember him as an angry and petulant adolescent with a hard childhood. Froi starts out much the same way in this book, but he grows until we see how truly noble, how fiercely loyal, he can be when his heart runs away from him.

Other characters, both old and new ones, get plenty of page time in FROI OF THE EXILES. We get heart-wrenching pictures of the rebuilding of Lumatere, the hurts that remain from the time of the curse, the difficulties of keeping happiness and hope alive in a crowd of hopelessness, resentment, and suspicion. We also get new problems in the Charynites and their curse, revelations about Froi’s past, and tensions between old characters we feel protective of and new characters that we perhaps love even more. Marchetta weaves brilliant tapestries of plot and conflict together, surprising and astounding us with their complexity.

Characters, setting, plot…I may have to go ahead and call FROI OF THE EXILES flawless. Not that I’m surprised. FROI simply reiterates the fact that Melina Marchetta can do anything when it comes to writing. It was a wonderful reading experience and I look forward to finding out more about Froi, Quintana, and the others, in the next book, Quintana of Charyn.

Cover discussion: Umm... is that supposed to be Froi? I don't know how I feel about that...

Candlewick / March 13, 2012 / Hardcover / 598pp. / $18.99

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

All Things Asian

Have you checked All Things Asian out yet? It's an event hosted by Julia from That Hapa Chick, Izzy from My Words Ate Me, and Lucia from iLive, iLaugh, iLove Books, celebrating Asian bloggers, Asian authors, and books featuring Asian characters, settings, and/or themes. In other words, something that I wish I had thought of!

These three proud and talented Asian bloggers have compiled blogger and author interviews, book reviews, discussion posts, and giveaways into several weeks of celebration. Check out the All Things Asian schedule for links to all the blog posts, events, and giveaways going on! It's excellent! (And not just because they interviewed me!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: Darkness Falls by Cate Tiernan

Immortal Beloved, Book 2 (Book 1: Immortal Beloved review)

Tags: YA, paranormal


At River’s Edge, a sort of rehabilitative haven for wayward immortals, Nastasya is struggling. She’s only just beginning to realize the full extent of the horror that she and her friends inflicted on innocent mortals over the years. There’s also the pesky problem of her continued attraction to the dangerous immortal and her fellow River’s Edge inhabitant Reyn, a former Viking “god” known as the Butcher of Winter, whose family killed hers many centuries ago.

But Nastasya’s biggest challenge yet will come from her self-doubt: her fear that there is an incurable, inescapable darkness within her. When she crosses paths again with her old friends, Nastasya must figure out where she belongs, and what she is capable of.


These days I usually stay away from YA paranormal romance as if they have contagious diseases. But this series snagged my cynical YA PNR affections from the first book, Immortal Beloved, and dug its hook in deeper with this worthy sequel, DARKNESS FALLS.

There’s something about Nastasya’s voice. There really is. There’s probably no other explanation for why I enjoy this series so very much. Nastasya is sardonic and witty without being dramatic. Her commentary is very much 21st-century, which sometimes takes away from the authenticity of her past identities, but is nevertheless appealing to readers. Nastasya’s narration carries her past some subjectively large bumps in the story, such as the slooow plot, the sputtering romance, and the melodramatic climax.

For there is not much plot: the majority of DARKNESS FALLS involves Nastasya reflecting on her previous actions and wondering whether or not she is incurably dark. The romantic development with Reyn is put to the wayside as Nastasya grows as a person, which can be frustrating for Nastasya-Reyn shippers. And the melodramatic climax is exactly that.

However, there really is something special about the character of Nastasya, because I never got bored, or rolled my eyes (too much), or felt apathetic. I enjoyed snorting at Nastasya’s commentary and silently cheered her on as she learned and suffered and remembered and grew.

In the end, then, I guess I can say that the Immortal Beloved series is one I would recommend to those who think they are seriously tired of YA paranormal romance, and those who love snarky protagonists. I can’t wait to read the third and final book!

Cover discussion: Forget the cover. (Forgotten.) Has anyone noticed that this book and Immortal Beloved are both copyrighted Gabrielle Charbonnet? Does that mean Cate Tiernan doesn't exist, or that Gabrielle Charbonnet is once again ghostwriting for previously successful authors?

Poppy / Jan. 2, 2012 / Hardcover / 400pp. / $17.99

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

#DivergentNation: Team Amity, Unite!

Unless you have been living under a blogging rock (e.g. me), you have probably been encountering posts regarding Veronica Roth's upcoming novel, Insurgent, the sequel to last year's totally cool Divergent, and about the faction teams that are planning some fabulous events, giving away jaw-droppingly wonderful prizes, and are just all-around promoting some great bookish online community. A little late to the game, I declare myself to be a proud member of #TeamAmity (what?! they're a bit too nice for my taste, but, d'aww, the bloggers are so cool) and will now show you why you, too, should join #TeamAmity.

The #TeamAmity Group Giveaway

The first thing #TeamAmity decided on when we got together was that we wanted to come up with a way to thank all of you for your support. We pooled our resources and assembled the #TeamAmity Group Giveaway. We hope that you’re as excited about it as we are.

The giveaway starts Monday, April 9th at 12:01 EST and ends Monday, April 30th at 12:01 EST.

There will be a total of 15 winners. Here are the prize packages you could win :
  • Prize #1: Kindle Touch, 1 Kindle Copy of Divergent, and 1 Kindle Copy of Insurgent (US Only)
  • Prize #2: Kindle Touch, 1 Kindle Copy of Divergent, and 1 Kindle Copy of Insurgent (US Only)
  • Prize #3: 1 Copy of Insurgent for NOOK, 1 Divergent Bookmark, 1 Insurgent Bookmark, 1 Amity Bookmark made by Designs by Leesa (US Only)
  • Prize #4: Grab Bag of 10 YA ARCS (US Only)
  • Prize #5: 1 Pre-Order of Insurgent and 1 Copy of Divergent (US and INT)
  • Prize #6: 1 Pre-Order of Insurgent (US and INT)
  • Prize #7: 1 Pre-Order of Insurgent (US and INT)
  • Prize #8: 1 Pre-Order of Insurgent (US and INT)
  • Prize #9: 1 Pre-Order of Insurgent (US and INT)
  • Prize #10: 1 Pre-Order of Insurgent (US and INT)
  • Prize #11: 1 Pre-Order of Insurgent (US and INT)
  • Prize #12: Amity Necklace* made by The Green Forrest, 1 Insurgent Bookmark, 1 Divergent Bookmark, and 1 Amity Bookmark made by Designs by Leesa (US Only)
  • Prize #13: Custom Made Divergent/Insurgent Clipboard and Bracelet designed by Kassiah (US Only)
  • Prize #14: Book Lovers Prize Pack #1- Includes a Canvas Barnes and Noble bag, a book light and a bookmark (US Only)
  • Prize #15: Book Lovers Prize Pack #2- Includes A Canvas Barnes and Noble bag, a book light and a bookmark (US Only)

So there it is, the #TeamAmity Group Giveaway. Thank you again for supporting us and #DivergentNation! Fill out the form below and keep those fingers crossed.

Want more entries? Members of #TeamAmity receive 5 bonus entries. If you haven’t joined us yet, fill out the form by clicking here. If you’re already a member, post about joining #TeamAmity on your blog and you’ll receive an additional 5 entries.

The #TeamAmity Group Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
This giveaway was put together by the following #TeamAmity blogs:
Special thanks to the following prize providers:

Sign up for #TeamAmity using the form here!

For joining #TeamAmity, you will receive:

  • A "Four Thinks I'm Beautiful" bookmark
  • A welcome email from our marvelous organizer
  • The Team Amity "Four Thinks I'm Beautiful" graphics to post on your sites, twitter, etc.
  • 5 extra entries in the Team Amity Group Giveaway
  • Other bonuses throughout the month

After you've joined #TeamAmity, post the graphic you will receive via email to your blog and/or as your twitter avi, and help us tweet/pimp this link: If you make a blog post about joining Team Amity, you will receive extra entries into the Team Amity Group Giveaway!

Join the #TeamAmity Facebook page!

Check out the giveaways hosted by #TeamAmity members:

I will be putting up weekly posts summarizing #TeamAmity activity and mentioning more giveaways open to you. May the best faction win!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Chopsticks Giveaway!

Thanks to Penguin Books, I have one copy of Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral and a $10 iTunes gift card up for grabs! Chopsticks is a cool conceptual novel, filled with text, photographs, illustrations, and multimedia interactions. In fact, that's what the iTunes gift card is for: so you can access the Chopsticks app!

Check out some of the gorgeous visuals in the book:

And a demo of the Chopsticks app:

Watch the book trailer here!

About the book
CHOPSTICKS was born out of the desire to tell a story with multiple medias, without losing the fundamental truths which make reading fiction an emotional human experience.

The novel’s digital format will still allow you to encounter the lives of Frank and Glory, the characters that fill the pages, but the additional videos, songs and digital links will create a new novel experience.

CHOPSTICKS is a novel, an app, a website. It is a collage of original drawings, objects, text, sounds, and video. It is a love story. It is a mystery. Read it. View it. Experience it.
About the authors
Rodrigo Corral runs Rodrigo Corral Studio and is the creative director at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He has designed covers for the Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz and the bestselling author Chuck Palahniuk among many others. He also designed the New York Times bestselling books Decoded by Jay-Z, Classy by Derek Blasberg, and Influence by Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen. He has taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and lectured around the country. Through it all, he remains deeply committed to transcending the visual possibilities in art, in culture, and throughout the universe.

 Jessica Anthony’s debut novel, The Convalescent (McSweeney’s/Grove 2009), was an ALA Adult Notable Book, a B&N “Discover Great New Writers” selection, an Editor’s Choice in the San Francisco Chronicle, and has been taught in several universities across the country. Her short fiction can be found in Best New American Voices, Best American Nonrequired Reading, McSweeney’s, New American Writing and elsewhere. She was raised amidst the farms and bowling alleys of Upstate New York, and currently teaches at Bates College and Southern New Hampshire University.
Check out the book's official website and the Chopsticks app.


To enter, please fill out the form below. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only and ends Sunday, April 22, 2012. Good luck!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Review: The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y. S. Lee

The Agency, Book 3

Book 1: A Spy in the House review
Book 2: The Body at the Tower review

Tags: YA, historical fiction, mystery, Victorian England


Mary Quinn’s latest assignment for the Agency has her placed as a servant in Buckingham Palace. But a dull assignment to unearth a thief in the palace turns into something a lot bigger—and more personal—when the death of an aristocrat is linked to a Chinese sailor who may or may not be Mary’s long-absent father. In addition to trying to unravel what happened to her past, Mary reluctantly joins forces again with James Easton, arrogant, infuriating, but oh-so-irresistible engineer, to examine a plot to overthrow the queen.


Whenever a new Agency novel by Y. S. Lee comes out, I always try to resist the temptation to devour it immediately, knowing that I will have to wait a while until the next book. I succeeded in resisting for all of approximately two weeks after I was approved for it on NetGalley. While, in my opinion, THE TRAITOR IN THE TUNNEL didn’t quite live up to how much I loved the first two Agency books, it is still a satisfying return to Lee’s Victorian London.

My biggest frustration with TRAITOR was that I felt that many things were “uneven.” The story takes place among the most well-noted London landmarks and features well-known historical characters, but I still didn’t get a really thorough sense of the setting and minor characters. Some of the actions of seasoned characters felt rather abrupt and left me scratching my head and wondering, did he/she really do that? I also didn’t feel as much urgency or investment in TRAITOR, and felt like no sooner had I grasped what was going on in the plot than it was over.

But perhaps it’s just a result of it being a long time since I was in Mary’s world, or the fact that I was reading this on a Kindle, which, truth be told, sometimes takes away from my engagement in a story. I am very glad to see Mary again, who is resourceful, yet also contains relatable insecurities, particularly involving her familial past and her future, both of which get explored in appreciable side plots in TRAITOR. As always, I am more than happy to see James again—even though some of his behavior did feel a bit incongruous with the James I knew from the previous two books.

So THE TRAITOR IN THE TUNNEL might not be my favorite of the Agency books, but this series is still arguably the best mystery series set in Victorian England available. Best yet, there is one more Agency book in the works—and you’ll agree with me that it is a wonderful thing to be able to read about Mary, James, and the others for as long as possible once you start this series!

Cover discussion: I love that this model is featured so prominently on all of the covers. And yay for matching covers!

Candlewick / Feb. 28, 2012 / Hardcover / 384pp. / $16.99

Galley received from NetGalley and publisher. Thank you!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

Tags: middle grade, dystopian, global warming


Jaden is the daughter of Stephen Meggs, the renowned scientist who has created a StormSafe community that guarantees protection from the monster storms and tornadoes that are ravaging the entire earth due to climate change. Jaden should feel lucky for the chance to live with her father in the StormSafe community for a summer and attend Eye on Tomorrow, a prestigious science camp for young people. However, unexpected discoveries in the process of working on storm dissipation models with her new friends Alex and Risha make Jaden suspicious of what her father is really working on for his research. The truth is shocking and horrifying, but is there anything that Jaden and her friends can do to stop innocent people from being hurt by the storms?


Kate Messner is a queen when it comes to middle-grade contemporary literature, but her take on MG dystopian does not disappoint. EYE OF THE STORM is a relevant story that contains the meticulous research and believable characters that are trademarks of Messner’s writing.

It’s hard to read EYE OF THE STORM today and not think of the frightening tornadoes that have recently hit the US. It makes the premise all the more believable, the book all the more a great read for kids. Messner blends meteorological science seamlessly into a fast-paced plot, and the book’s message—that if we don’t start doing something about today’s global warming, then the future will be grim indeed—is quite clear. It’s the best way to give kids an important lesson: cool science tossed into an exciting story, the moral easily extrapolated from the all-too-possible setting.

Some things that did frustrate me a little with EYE OF THE STORM were how polarized the adults were, and how dramatic the plot and narration got at times. EYE OF THE STORM felt very much like an “adults did bad things, and now it’s up to us kids to fix the problem” tale, which to me felt like the too conveniently easy way to drive the story’s message home to readers. The last half or third of the book felt like an endless event of friends screaming life-or-death orders/suggestions to one another, storms tearing up things, and glass shattering. Think a scene from the movie Twister, only played out over the course of 100 or so pages. The marathon demands on my heart were rather exhausting and perhaps, I think, not that necessary.

Nevertheless, EYE OF THE STORM is sure to delight its intended audience of middle-grade and juvenile readers. This is one I’d definitely put in schools, libraries, and gift boxes. Relevant, well-written, and exciting, Kate Messner’s latest book deserves to be read.

Cover discussion: I love how unique it is! I love how it keeps the same style as Kate Messner's other MG novels but has a more intense spin to it.

Walker Childrens / Feb. 28, 2012 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $16.99

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: Boy21 by Matthew Quick

Tags: YA, contemporary, friendship, mobs, basketball


In the city of Bellmont, where mobs covertly rule the streets and it’s not safe to ask questions, Finley tries to lead a quiet existence of basketball, basketball, and more basketball along with his girlfriend, Erin, whose brother is part of the Irish mob. But the arrival of Russ shakes up Finley’s life—for Russ, who is a nationally ranked high school basketball player, has been through some pretty recent trauma, and now insists on being called Boy21. Finley doesn’t know how he, of all people, can help Boy21, but when terrible things befall him, Finley finds solace in this true friend.


Set in an unsettlingly realistic world of poverty, violence, and racism, BOY21 gifts readers with the subtle magic that contemporary literature can possess.

The setting of Bellmont may be one that some readers are not familiar with, a poverty-ridden city ruled by the invisible hands of mobs. BOY21 is not a “mob story,” but the presence of mobs in Bellmont does play a role in explaining characters’ behaviors. Neither is BOY21 a story about race: instead, race is a conscious presence in the story, but does not dictate its plotline. This kind of refreshingly realistic and relatable take on issues such as race and poverty will, I hope, be emulated in YA to come.

But I haven’t yet begun to talk about the best thing about BOY21, which is…its characters! Finley is an easy protagonist to like, despite—or perhaps because of—his reticence. We like him partly because of his harmlessness—which is what other characters think of him as well—but also because we can see the potential in him to overcome his own tragedy and find his voice. Boy21 is believable in his mannerisms and you come to feel both sympathy and regard for this extraordinary yet humble young man.

The ending feels a little bit like wish fulfillment to me, but it proved to be only a small dent in what was otherwise a satisfying reading experience. BOY21 may not be fast-paced in the way of action stories, but it’s hard to put down in its own right.

Cover discussion: Eccentric and fascinating... just like Boy21 (the character and the book *smiles*).

Little, Brown / March 5, 2012 / Hardcover / 256pp. / $17.99

e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Some Wanderlove of My Own

I didn't realize how difficult it would be to get back into daily routine--which includes blogging--after almost a month of traveling and vacation! Sorry I've been so absent lately. On the other hand, I've had some brilliant experiences and discovered new places that I love and would like to revisit in the future.

At the end of February I went on a company retreat to Malaysia. We stayed mostly in Kuala Lumpur, which was a lovely city, not just because of the weather, which was consistently sunny and warm (a far cry from cold Shanghai), but because the people were friendly and the food was delicious.

The weather was like this:
--and I visited a Kinokuniya Bookstore, which is basically book heaven for book lovers, because it's huge and has pretty much any book you can think of on its shelves somewhere. AND because it fully integrated YA literature into literature at large, and there were lots of placards around the store recommending YA lit as "your next great read."

The Petronas Towers were so, so, breathtakingly beautiful:
They reminded of plants, taking root on our earth and unfurling towards the impeccable sky. I didn't get to see much of Malaysia as I was only there for a few days, but I will definitely return.

A few days after Malaysia, I left for vacation to Taiwan. My family is from Taiwan, but this was the first time I had a sizable say in where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do. Being there simply reinforced to me the fact that Taiwan is an incredible, lush, friendly, wonderful place that I could seriously consider calling home.

My favorite place on the trip was probably the Pingxi district, a short train ride outside Taipei, which is like a slice of the 1800s in the middle of the 21st century.
In the town of Shifen, the train track slips in between old houses, and during the times when the train is not passing by, people will stand on the tracks to release "sky-lanterns" that they can buy and paint their wishes on.
These are scenes that seem to come right out of stories and dreams.
Incredible, isn't it?

There's more, so much more:
Storm clouds moving in to the city of Hualien.

Riding bikes along abandoned railroad tracks in the East Rift Valley past rice paddies.

Attending the weekly Saturday night local music performance in Dulan.

Looking off from the paragliding launch site on the high terrace overlooking the pastoral town of Luye.

And, as always, braving the crowds at night markets to enjoy the ubiquitous good Taiwanese street food.

It was a wonderful trip and it was really hard to return back to "normal" life. Needless to say, I will be going back to Taiwan as soon as I can. This tiny island is truly incredible in what it has to offer in terms of scenery, culture, food, and people. I'll stop short of being a salesperson for Taiwan vacations but seriously, you should try to go if you have the chance!

These two places in the past month have really awakened the wanderlust in me. Hopefully I'll get to explore more places in the future while I'm still hanging around Asia. South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia, I'm looking at you!


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