Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt

Tags: YA, contemporary, cancer


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Similar Authors
Jennifer Castle

Cover discussion: I don't even want to.

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Adaptation, Book 1

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Erin Jade Lange Guest Post for BUTTER Blog Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Visit to South Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review: Saltwater Vampires by Kirsty Eagar

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Similar Authors
Dan Brown
Stieg Larsson
Jonathan Maberry

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

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

Personal copy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (123)

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Ironskin, Book 1

Tags: steampunk fantasy, fairies, retelling


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

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


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

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

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

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

Similar Authors
Daphne du Maurier
April Lindner
Charlotte Bronte

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

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

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.


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