Huntress by Malinda Lo

Monday, February 28, 2011

Click the cover to purchase at Amazon

Book: Huntress
Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release date: April 5, 2011
Source: I Read Banned Books ARC Tour

Summary: (from Goodreads) Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance.

First impressions: The world here was so different from any other book I've read recently. I couldn't put it down, because I was so curious about where this story was going. The first chapter is retrospective, so we see where things might end up, but not what has happened yet, and it is achingly beautiful.

Lasting impressions: Breathtaking. Grand. This fantasy was gloriously epic while still remaining a quick read and avoiding an overly complicated plot. This one is top notch.

Conflicting impressions: I didn't want it to end. I wanted more! I would have loved to have had more backstory on the state of the world and relations with the Fairy people. There's definitely enough here to make the story work, but a tad more information would have just filled in the edges a bit.

Overall impressions: If it wasn't already clear, I loved this book. Any book that can surprise me is on good footing already. One of the things I found so refreshing about this book is the love story that builds between the two female main characters. That in and of itself is a bit outside of the norm, but what really made me soar was that this budding attraction was not shameful, shunned, or disapproved of by their society. Kaede and Taisin are only kept apart by Taisin's path as a sage. Sages are to be celibate, yet the vision she has of the future, where she knows she loves Kaede, haunts her. How does she choose life as a sage or life in love at the vulnerable age of seventeen?

It's this struggle that defines the book. When the girls are sent on a quest to meet the Fairy Queen, and later, to battle an evil presence, the heart of the issue is this growing bond between two young girls who just want to do what is expected of them without losing themselves in the process. Malinda Lo handles this tension with exquisite ease.

Like any good questing fantasy, this one involves bloody battles (including one particularly violent clash with a band of wolves). Still, the love stories that wind their way through the novel are more emotional than physical, so I think it would be appropriate for the younger teen set as well. This book tackles so many of the struggles we all feel, and so well, that it would be a shame for any reader to miss out.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

This book was provided for review by the Banned Books Tour at I Read Banned Books.

Silly Sunday - Psych

Sunday, February 27, 2011

On Friday I wrote a little bit about one of my favorite shows, Psych on USA Network. I was actually a bit of a latecomer to this show. When it first started airing, I was a regular watcher of Monk, and thought the premise of Psych seemed kind of dull. A show about a psychic detective who's not really psychic? What's the point?

During its second season, my husband and I had the TV on after Monk and got swept up in the Halloween episode, where the female detective, Juliet, goes undercover in a sorority house. It was hilarious and full of physical comedy, cultural references, and just plain silliness. From then on, we were hooked.

Shawn and Gus, the two main characters, are BFFs who grew up together. Shawn's father is a retired Santa Barbara Police detective, and most episodes start with flashbacks of Shawn (usually with Gus or his dad) getting into trouble or setting up a personality flaw to be exploited in the episode. Shawn is a fake psychic, who uses his above average observational skills to pretend he is a psychic detective in order to make money as a consultant with the SBPD.

Gus is a pharmaceutical rep and also a business partner in Psych, Shawn's detective service. They are like brothers, constantly bagging on each other with an undercurrent of love. This is bromance at its finest. A long-running gag on the show is that Shawn rarely introduces Gus by his full name, Burton Guster. Instead, he makes up silly names for him like Ovaltine Jones and Methuselah Honeysuckle.

The show is crazy clever, well written, and laugh out loud funny. I try to get everyone I know to watch it. It airs on Wednesday nights on USA, with the season premiere usually in July. This year marks its 6th season, and I hope it stays on a few more years at least. I never get tired of these guys.

This clip I think best sums up the tone of the show:

Follow Friday/Blog Hop and Weekly Recap

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's Follow Friday! Hosted by the always amazing Parajunkee's View, this is a chance to meet new blogger friends and grow our networks.

This week's question is "Share your current fav television show! Tell us a bit about it."

I could say The Vampire Diaries. Or the Modern Family/Cougar Town double feature. I could even say Glee. All of these are favorites of mine. But the ultimate mega-amazing super fantabulous Must See Show for me?

Psych on USA Network. It's. Amazing. Hilarious, full of the best bromance ever, and has the perfect balance of formula no-brainer television mixed with cult insider deliciousity. It's so amazing I have to make up words to describe how much I love it. You dig?

Image Credit: Alan Zenuk/USA Network

Yum. To all of it.

Be sure to check out this week's featured blogger NaKesha at Totally Obsessed and the rest of the participants.

Book Blogger Hop

Hosted by Crazy For Books, this blog hop is all about connecting with our fellow bloggers. Each week we discuss a book-related question and hop around to other blogs to see their answers.

This week's question is "Do you ever wish you would have named your blog something different?"

Oh, you sly devil! Yes, sometimes I do wish that I had thought ahead and kept book blogging separate. In my haste to get a domain secured (the "E." came in when was already taken), I slapped a blog about books together before I fully realized what book blogging was all about. So I do think it would be cool to have a slick name to go with my book blog and have my domain direct to a blog about my writing or something. I am kind of the oddball using just my name.

What do you guys think?

My weekly recap is inspired by the phenomenally talented, kind and generous Small Review. If you are not already following her, you are really missing out.

If you're a first time visitor, or just didn't get the chance to stop by this week, here's what you missed:

Features and Memes
Silly Sunday - Very British Movie
Watch the very funny, very British fake movie trailer from SNL.

In My Mailbox
A list of the books I bought from Borders this week.

Writing Wednesday - I Am Number Four
I discuss why I boycott James Frey.

Better Know a Blogger by For What It's Worth
I was interviewed as part of the Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge month at For What It's Worth.

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
5/5 stars
Shifter Challenge
YA Series Challenge
Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge

Cold Hit by Linda Fairstein
3/5 stars
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge
Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge

The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher
3/5 stars
Debut Author Challenge
Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge

Review: The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher

Click to purchase on Amazon

Book: The Water Wars
Author: Cameron Stracher
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: January 1, 2011
Source: Ebook purchased for Kindle

Summary: (from Goodreads) Vera and her brother, Will, live in the shadow of the Great Panic, in a country that has collapsed from environmental catastrophe. Water is hoarded by governments, rivers are dammed, and clouds are sucked from the sky. But then Vera befriends Kai, who seems to have limitless access to fresh water. When Kai suddenly disappears, Vera and Will set off on a dangerous journey in search of him-pursued by pirates, a paramilitary group, and greedy corporations. Timely and eerily familiar, acclaimed author Cameron Stracher makes a stunning YA debut that's impossible to forget.

First impressions: I was really anxious to read this book. I got swept up in the world right away. This is my ultimate nightmare scenario, and one that could realistically come to fruition. Stracher does a nice job setting up this dry, dusty, water-starved world. I found it believable and disturbing.

Lasting impressions: I didn't connect to this book the way I thought I would. There was something missing for me, and though I really wanted to fall in love with this book, in the end it wasn't what I thought it would be.

Conflicting impressions: I lacked a strong connection to the characters. It felt like Stracher was writing from a distance, and so even when the action was heart-pounding, I wasn't invested in the outcome.

Overall impressions: When the story begins, we are introduced to a world with very strict access to water. Companies are mining the oceans and desalinizing water for consumption - at a price. The rich water miners have to travel by armored guard. The poor have to spend large portions of their income on water with a chemical aftertaste.

Access to potable water is a very important issue, and unfortunately this book seemed more focused on the issue than the story. We follow Vera and her brother Will on a wild journey from their home territory of Illinowa, through Minnesota, and into Canada, desperate to find their new friend Kai. They fear he has been kidnapped by pirates, and it is the pirates who end up stealing this story.

There are good pirates, bad pirates, scientists, miners who exploit children, greedy corporations and evil politicians. It was in the balance of all of these characters and mixed interests that the story seemed to get away from Stracher, with the focus more on the water and who has the right to it over the initial interest in whether the children will ever get home safely.

I wanted to see Vera struggle more, love more, and learn more from her adventure. She barely knows this boy, and asks her brother to accompany her on what appears to be a suicide mission in order to find him. The farther she travels, the more she discovers about this world, and that the good guys aren't always good and the bad guys aren't always bad. Yet she doesn't seem to process any of this, remaining stubbornly fixated on Kai without understanding the power he holds. I felt that as the reader I learned more from her journey than she did.

Despite my disappointments, the writing is well done and the book is a quick and exciting read. I recommend it particularly to anyone with an interest in discussing environmental issues, as the book does a great job raising awareness about the fight for scarce resources.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Want a different perspective? Check out this four star review by i swim for oceans.

Writing Wednesday (8) - I Am Number Four

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writing Wednesday 2

Grab the button and join in:

Welcome to Writing Wednesday, my weekly feature where I discuss my works in progress, project ideas, editing struggles, or anything else related to the world of writing. Feel free to grab my button and post your own thoughts on writing! Leave a link to your post in the comments and I'll stop by.

James Frey and controversy go together hand in hand. In fact, I'm fairly certain he doesn't know how to publicize himself or his projects unless they are portrayed in a negative light. When I caught wind of the New York Magazine piece on Frey and his "fiction factory" a few months back, I wasn't exactly surprised to see him roiling in a grave of his own digging.

I fell victim to the A Million Little Pieces fervor, devouring the book and singing its praises to the world. I was convinced Frey was an amazing soul who had endured much and lived to tell us the glorious but disturbing details. When the castle came crumbling down around him, and he was eventually forced to admit to Oprah that the story wasn't exactly memoir so much as it was fiction, I felt a little angry, but ultimately who did he hurt? I sort of laughed him off, shook my head in judgey judgment, and ignored the sequel, My Friend Leonard.

The Full Fathom Five publishing venture he created is a little different, however. I won't go so far as to say that people were hurt, because like many have pointed out, Frey signed legal contracts with willing writers. Nobody forced these desperate artists to sign away their lives for the possible opportunity of a lifetime. Should we really feel sorry for them, even if they were stupid and exploited?

Much of the controversy around this issue is derived from the contract the writers sign. Essentially, for a small upfront fee, they agree to write a marketable novel with a plot they may or may not have sole control over, and give Frey the right to use a pseudonym for the book, as well as ownership of the final product. They are able to collect a percentage of the profits related to the project, but it is at Frey's discretion to use them again for any sequels. Also, they can never disclose that they were the actual author of the material.

It was at this point that I decided I would not read I Am Number Four, which if you hadn't heard, was one of the first Full Fathom Five projects. I have no desire to read a book derived solely as a gimmick. Yet Alex at Electrifying Reviews makes a good point. Aren't these stories and ideas just a little bit exciting?

I'll be the first to admit that the trailer for I Am Number Four made it look great, and I kind of wanted to see it. Until the reviews poured in, at which point, I was doubly okay with my decision to boycott the project.

Lots of people have enjoyed the book, though. I feel torn between my desire to boycott Frey and the equally strong desire to help the author, Jobie Hughes, make as much money as possible. The fact of the matter is that I don't really care to help Frey expand his ideas. He was too lazy to just write the concept himself, so he preyed on vulnerable debt-ridden students to do the work for him, but ultimately kept all of the prize for himself. That doesn't sit well with me, so for now I'm sticking to my decision not to read or see I Am Number Four.

What do you think? Did you read the book? See the movie? What do you think of Frey's publishing company?

Review: Cold Hit by Linda Fairstein

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book: Cold Hit
Author: Linda Fairstein
Publisher: Scribner
Release date: August 17, 1999
Source: Borrowed from local library
Series: Alexandra Cooper Mysteries #3

Summary: (from Goodreads) Alexandra Cooper has seen many murder victims, but few more disturbing than the silk-clad body of a woman, her hands and feet tied to a ladder, pulled from the turbulent waters at Manhattan's northern tip. With her colleagues, including NYPD detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, Alex races against the clock and hopes for a "cold hit" -- a DNA match that would reveal the identity of the murderer by linking the crime to someone already in the police database. But as the case pulls her into the exclusive world of East Side auction houses and cutting-edge Chelsea galleries, Alex discovers she may be marked as an expendable commodity in a chilling and deadly scheme.

First impressions: I adore this series, so I settled right in to the narrative. The book opens with a crime scene, which always makes for interesting reading.

Lasting impressions: This was definitely not one of the most memorable crime novels I've read. The book was incredibly slow through the middle, and the ending seemed anti-climactic, despite a lot of action.

Conflicting impressions: The plot revolves around the art world, which seemed to be a really exciting premise, but somehow it didn't quite create a compelling enough story. I found the discovery phase of the investigation quite boring.

Overall impressions: Alexandra Cooper is a great character. She's a wealthy New Yorker, heads the sex crimes division of the District Attorney's office in Manhattan, and relaxes with ballet on the weekends. Her cop friends that help her investigate the crimes are playful, yet tough, and they have a good working relationship accompanied with some old-fashioned ribbing.

Though the book unfurls at a snail's pace, the glimpse into the cut-throat nature of the art bidding process and how rich people build up their collections is quite interesting. I'm not convinced that it was tied in well enough to the actual crimes, however. When the big reveal came at the end, the motivation just didn't quite gel enough to the severity of the crime.

Still, this was a satisfying way to quench my mystery thirst. I enjoy the characters enough to let a little plot fizzle slide, and I'll pick up another Cooper mystery when I get the chance.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Review: The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book: The Dark Divine
Author: Bree Despain
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Release date: December 22, 2009
Source: Ebook purchased for Kindle
Series: The Dark Divine #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) Grace Divine—daughter of the local pastor—always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared and her brother Jude came home covered in his own blood.

Now that Daniel's returned, Grace must choose between her growing attraction to him and her loyalty to her brother.

As Grace gets closer to Daniel, she learns the truth about that mysterious night and how to save the ones she loves, but it might cost her the one thing she cherishes most: her soul.

First impressions: I know it has nothing to do with the book, but that cover is gorgeous. I hate to admit it, but it did kind of influence how much I wanted to read this one. I mean, it is seriously beautiful.

On to the actual book. One of the first things I noted about this book is the demarkation of time. Despain uses section breaks that indicate the time of day or location of the story, which really helped orient me within the timeline and kept the momentum moving. This concept worked really well for me.

Lasting impressions: The mystery that permeated Grace and Daniel's story was sublimely realized in the final few chapters. Despain really delivered a great ending, even including a few surprises just when I thought I had it all figured out. Silly wabbit.

Conflicting impressions: Some of the plot elements had a bit too much build for my tastes. It takes a really long time to figure out the beef between Grace's brother and Daniel, for instance, even though it's constantly referenced throughout the entire book. My impatient side got a little frustrated.

Overall impressions: Grace is a pastor's daughter, an art student, and a good girl from a good family. Hanging over her is an incident with the boy next door, a close friend of the family's, who came from a broken home and moved in with them for a time. One day Daniel's mom came to collect him and they moved away, and he disappeared from their lives for years until his sudden return to town. Daniel and Grace's brother can't get along, no one in her family is interested in inviting him back into their lives, and Grace struggles with the desire to stay away from the troubled and mysterious boy despite her strong attraction to him.

Nice church-going girl falls for bad boy, conflict ensues. Simple, right? Not so in this deliciously complicated tale of love and loyalty. Daniel is struggling with more than just an abusive father, and Grace has far more at stake than just a disapproving family if she chooses to love him. For me, this was like the good girl/bad boy story on steroids.

Through the course of the story, Grace encounters increasingly disturbing events. The suspense builds nicely, with each new death or near-death forcing the reader to ask more questions about what's really going on. Is Daniel responsible for the violence spiking now that he's back in town? Is there more to pseudo-boyfriend Pete than meets the eye? Why does her brother Jude hate Daniel so much?

Although the ending is a bit predictable, given the numerous clues throughout the book, it's still satisfying in that we get answers to all of these questions, and even some we didn't know we were asking. I liked that Grace had to figure out the answers for herself, with both her dad and her brother giving her the information, but leaving her to draw her own conclusions. This helped keep Grace as a capable and intelligent main character without seeming passive or whiny. It also explains how she makes the difficult decisions she does, both selflessly and thoughtfully.

This is a fast paced tale with believable characters and just enough action to keep things exciting. I'm definitely looking forward to The Lost Saint.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Want a different perspective? Check out this review by Sonette's Bookworm Blog or another five star review by The Lovely Getaway.

Looking for my usual Monday post? Be sure to check out what's In My Mailbox this week.

In My Mailbox (6)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme devoted to sharing the new books we've received, borrowed, or bought. For more information, visit IMM's fantastic host, The Story Siren. You can visit other blogs that are participating in this week's IMM here.

Bought from Borders:

Since all but two Chicago Borders stores are closing, we decided to go browsing to see what kind of deals were happening. All books were 20-40% off, which normally would send me into a frantic tailspin of purchasing chaos, but I showed impressive restraint. I'm trying to keep my house from getting overrun with books, so I bought only the books that both my husband and I would read, or that I thought I could give away, either on the blog or to Half Price Books, the library, or some other such place.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan
(Books 2-4 of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series)

My husband is not a big reader. He's pretty vocal about the fact that he's read fewer than 20 books in his life. One notable exception to his "I hate reading" mantra is the Harry Potter series. When the Percy Jackson series became a movie, I bought The Lightning Thief to read, and he ended up reading it as well and loved it. When he saw the other paperback series books on sale, he jumped at the chance to read them. I was happy to encourage more book reading from him, so they came home with us.

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
(Southern Vampire Mysteries #5)
Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress #1)
The Judas Strain by James Rollins (Sigma Force #4)

My other motivating factor for buying at Borders was that many of the titles were cheaper in store than as ebooks. Normally, I almost exclusively buy ebooks simply because they're cheaper. Dead as a Doornail is the next book I need to read in the Sookie Stackhouse series, and I've been meaning to check out the Night Huntress series, so I picked up those two. The Rollins book I've already read and is one of my faves in his Sigma Force series, which I didn't happen to own yet in ebook form. I'll definitely re-read this one many times over.

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning
Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning
Faefever by Karen Marie Moning
Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning
(Books 1-4 of the Fever series)

The entire blogosphere went crazy when Shadowfever was released last month, and I felt very left out since I have not read any of the Fever series yet. Romance books were 30% off at Borders, so I picked up books 1-4. I'd like to do a giveaway with them when I finish reading. I don't know how popular that will be on a mainly YA themed blog, but that just means people who enter will have more chances to win, right? :)

Bought for Kindle:

I also bought a few ebooks this week. It's been a few months, and these were all books I'd been meaning to buy for a long time. As it turns out, I should have checked these purchases before my Borders spree.

Yep, that's right. I bought Darkfever. You'll notice that I also bought it from Borders this week. I'm an idiot.

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments #3)

I want to finish this one before Book 4 comes out on April 5th. I went ahead and bought it to remind myself to GET READING ALREADY!

The Fallen Blade: Act One of the Assassini by John Courtenay Grimwood (Vampire Assassin Trilogy #1)

This series looks really interesting. Set in 1407 Venice, Duke Marco's chief assassin discovers a young vampire boy and decides to train him as his apprentice. Historical vampire ass-kicking novel? Um, okay.

Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson #5)

My mom recommended this series to me a long time ago, and it quickly became my favorite urban fantasy series. Mercy Thompson is a Native American shapeshifter who can become a coyote at will. She is an auto mechanic who is tough, independent, but totally loveable. Her world involves fae, weres, vamps, and lots of suspense. It's awesome. I also love the fact that she can have a love interest with some major spark and chemistry without sex scenes. I don't always need my heroine and her man to get it on to make a compelling love story. Book 6, River Marked, comes out March 1st, so this purchase was another GET READING nudge.

Silly Sunday (7) - Very British Movie

If you missed Saturday Night Live last week, you missed one of the funniest fake videos they've ever created.

A commenter on another site pointed out that around 1:30 or so, during his long speech, he distinctly says "Graham Norton" among the rest of the gibberish. The first time I saw this, I was crying, because seriously, who hasn't been thrown off by really thick British or Australian accents. I know they're speaking English, but it takes a while for my ears to adjust sometimes.

In other news, I'm being featured today on For What It's Worth's Better Know a Blogger interview series. If you're not already participating in the Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge, you can still sign up. I hope you'll stop by and see my interview!

Follow Friday/Blog Hop (5) and Weekly Recap

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's Follow Friday! Hosted by the always amazing Parajunkee's View, this is a chance to meet new blogger friends and grow our networks.

This week's question is "If you are a fan of Science Fiction what is your favorite book? If you haven't read Science Fiction before...any inkling to? Anything catch your eye??"

I haven't read a lot of sci-fi. I've had a hard time getting into it, particularly if it's heavier on the science end. I do really want to read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card and Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I suppose if you count steampunk as sci-fi (which I do), I did really like The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia.

Be sure to check out this week's featured blogger Dreaming About Other Worlds and the rest of the participants.

Book Blogger Hop

Hosted by Crazy For Books, this blog hop is all about connecting with our fellow bloggers. Each week we discuss a book-related question and hop around to other blogs to see their answers.

I'll post the question and answer for this week when the hop post goes live.

Keep hopping and following and I hope to see you soon!

If you're a first time visitor, or just didn't get the chance to stop by this week, here's what you missed:

Features and Memes
Silly Sunday - The World's Smallest Horse
See the cutest tiny ponies EVER.

In My Mailbox
A vlog of the books I received this week.

Writing Wednesday - Animal Violence
I discuss a disturbing level of detail in violence toward animals in fiction.

Marked by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
5/5 stars
YA Series Challenge
The Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
3/5 stars
YA Series Challenge
YA Historical Fiction Challenge
The Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Book: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release date: December 9, 2003
Source: Borrowed from local library
Series Gemma Doyle Trilogy #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.
Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.

First impressions: Wow. The first few chapters of this book are gorgeous. Gemma is a feisty 16 British girl living in India with her parents, and witnesses the tragic death of her mother under mysterious circumstances she has a difficult time processing. We don't know what Gemma saw, but it was scary and strange and compelling.

Lasting impressions: I think the summary says it best. This book is complicated. The friends Gemma makes in her new English boarding school are difficult to like, because we don't know if we can truly trust them. If nothing else, this book is very suspenseful.

Conflicting impressions: Since the main characters were not that likable, I had a hard time getting into the middle of this book. The story is so dark and strange that for me, I just couldn't get into it.

Overall impressions: Full disclosure: I skimmed the last third of this book. I couldn't really stand to read it in-depth because I was discouraged by Gemma's nasty "friends." Still, I wanted to know what would happen when Gemma's visions drew more people into them and how the mysteries would be solved. The ending delivers quite the punch, and I'm sure is terrifically satisfying for readers that connect more with the characters. Though I couldn't fully engage with the material, I did appreciate the unique and mysterious plot.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Want a different perspective? Check out this review by The Elliott Review.

Writing Wednesday (7) - Animal Violence

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writing Wednesday 2

Grab the button and join in:

Welcome to Writing Wednesday, my weekly feature where I discuss my works in progress, project ideas, editing struggles, or anything else related to the world of writing. Feel free to grab my button and post your own thoughts on writing! Leave a link to your post in the comments and I'll stop by.

I don't know if it's coincidence or part of a larger trend, but lately I have read a lot of books that feature pretty graphic scenes of violence toward animals. I hesitate to call them "animal cruelty" since none of these scenes involved torture or neglect, but the scenes did disturb me almost as much. Recently Small Review sparked a little conversation about this very topic, and it got me thinking. What is it with animal violence in books?

At first I thought it was a genre thing. Take, for instance, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. It's a book about werewolves, so you kind of expect some wolfish violence. Still, I was quite surprised when the dog fight scene appeared. Sam "trains" on how to kill the neighbor's guard dogs by watching dog fights and ripping apart fryer chickens. Then later, he gets into a fight with the dogs while trying to protect one of his pack. It was pretty brutal, but then again, violence is a common theme throughout the entire book.

Today I finished Huntress by Malinda Lo, and wolves were the brunt of violence in this one as well. Here, a traveling party is attacked by the wolves before retaliating in kind. Though it's easier to justify in this scene, the violence was still pretty gruesome. I just kept thinking, "Really? Do we need to read about jaws snapping through flesh and arrows slicing through eyeballs?"

Then there's scenes like the one Small Review reminded me about in Delirium by Lauren Oliver. I can guarantee you that the reason I couldn't remember this scene from the book is that I had blocked it from my memory. Lena hears a guard next door beat a dog, and later she finds the bludgeoned and dying animal lying in the street next to the garbage. She ends up watching the dog die while trying to decide what to do. It's horrifying.

I think what disturbs me the most about scenes of animal violence is that they tend to include so much more detail than your average human fight scene. Perhaps it's natural in that animals have teeth and claws to fight with, which can get a bit messier than swords or guns. That was my thinking with Shiver anyway. I mean, it's wolves versus dogs, so things are bound to get ugly and ferocious.

I know that the scene in Delirium was telling us about Lena. It was a moment of clarity for her, when she had to come to terms with the underlying brutality of her society that had been out of sight/out of mind. She was forced to recognize that things were not as great as everyone pretended they were, and no one cared enough to help a defenseless animal, because that empathy was taken away when they were denied the ability to feel love. I'm not saying that difficult scenes shouldn't be written, particularly when they serve a purpose.

As a huge animal softie, however, these types of scenes really pull me out of the world of the book. They make me disengage with the material, however briefly, and the author really has to work hard to win me back. Scenes like these are a real challenge. How do we, as writers, address difficult scenarios without losing our readers? Many readers will check out of the scene entirely, skim it, or worse yet, put the book down and never pick it back up.

You can never please everyone, and we don't all have the same comfort level with violence. I just wonder if this same level of violence would be tolerated with human characters. Sometimes it seems like writers can "get away" with heightened violence if it's happening to animals, and that's not something that sits well with me. I don't want to get into a whole animal rights argument here, but suffice it to say that I don't find violence any less offensive when it's perpetrated against animals. This makes it hard for me as a writer to find appropriate levels of violence, particularly if what is expected is something outside of my personal comfort zone.

How do you feel about animal violence in books? Does it bother you more or less than human violence? Am I seeing a pattern where there is none? Do you writers find it hard to write scenes that make you uncomfortable? Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

Review: Marked by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book: Marked
Author: P.C. Cast + Kristin Cast
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release date: May 1, 2007
Source: Bought for Kindle
Series: House of Night #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) The House of Night series is set in a world very much like our own, except in 16-year-old Zoey Redbird's world, vampyres have always existed. In this first book in the series, Zoey enters the House of Night, a school where, after having undergone the Change, she will train to become an adult vampire--that is, if she makes it through the Change. Not all of those who are chosen do. It’s tough to begin a new life, away from her parents and friends, and on top of that, Zoey finds she is no average fledgling. She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess, Nyx. But she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers. When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school's most elite club, is misusing her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny--with a little help from her new vampyre friends.

First impressions: I have to admit, I must have picked up this book and flipped through it 5 or 6 times at the bookstore over the years. It seemed like something I would like, but when I read blurbs while standing at the store, it just didn't grab me. I know tons of people go crazy for the series, though, so when it went on sale at the Amazon Kindle store, I decided to spend the $2.99 and try it out.

Lasting impressions: Holy cow! I'm so glad I did! This book is amazing. Zoey has such a distinctive voice that immediately pulled me in to her world. I can't believe I waited this long to start this series. I can't wait to read the next ones.

Conflicting impressions: I was a little surprised at the sex talk. I don't have a problem with that kind of thing in adult books, but for a teen book, it made me raise my eyebrows a bit. Zoey meets her love interest for the first time when his ex-girlfriend is trying to go down on him. O-kay.

Overall impressions: There wasn't anything that overpowered my enjoyment of this book, however. One of my favorite things about Zoey is that she's written to show us her inner monologue. It feels like we're reading her diary or like we are actually inside her head, which is wonderful. It made me, as a reader, connect to Zoey right away and I just loved her personality.

Zoey's grandmother is a great character, and I hope we see more of her. I love the Native American heritage that mixes so well with the paranormal elements of the story. The House of Night is a great concept, and I'll be curious to see if in future books we see more interaction between this boarding school and the outside world. It would be great to see more of Zoey with her grandmother and friends instead of focusing solely on what's happening at the House.

This book made me giddy with anticipation about Zoey's new school, new friends, and new powers as a vampyre. I highly recommend this book to all paranormal fans, and I can't say enough good things about it.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Want a different perspective? Check out this review by A Cover Lover.

In My Mailbox (5)

Monday, February 14, 2011

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme devoted to sharing the new books we've received, borrowed, or bought. For more information, visit IMM's fantastic host, The Story Siren. You can visit other blogs that are participating in this week's IMM here.

Borrowed from the library:

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Lord of the Silent by Elizabeth Peters
Cold Hit by Linda Fairstein

Received for I Read Banned Books ARC Tour:

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Borrowed from Tabitha at Writer Musings:

Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren

Silly Sunday (6) - The World's Smallest Horse

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I love animals. Especially the cute ones. I particularly love dogs, ponies, and manatees, so when I saw a news piece about a horse the size of a puppy, my heart melted.

This is Thumbelina, who was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's smallest horse at 17" tall. The piece I saw was in April 2010 when 14" Einstein came along.

I seriously cannot handle the cuteness of these two animals.

Follow Friday (5) and Weekly Recap

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's Follow Friday! Hosted by the always amazing Parajunkee's View, this is a chance to meet new blogger friends and grow our networks.

This week's question is "What is your favorite romance hero-type? Do you like the strong silent type or the brute macho man?"

I have to say that in literature I am very drawn to the macho type, though in real life I'm definitely more of a strong and silent kinda gal. If you knew my husband you would be nodding emphatically right now. Guys like the suave, single dad pack leader Adam Hauptman in Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series or the rugged, red-headed Highlander Jamie Fraser in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series are more my style when reading. It's the perfect fantasy. If I'm already in a make believe world of shifters or time travel, you may as well include a guy who is devastatingly attractive, handy with his fists, and so in love with you that he would do anything to protect your honor/well-being. Ahem. *fans self*

Be sure to check out this week's featured blogger Ruby's Reads and the rest of the participants!

I'm trying something new this week. If you're a first time visitor, or just didn't get the chance to stop by this week, here's what you missed:

Silly Sunday - The Great Chicago Blizzard!
Watch some crazy clips of the storm that blew through my city last week.

Writing Wednesday - To Review or Not To Review?
I weigh in on the debate over whether aspiring authors should be writing negative reviews.

The Minister's Daughter by Julie Hearn
4/5 stars
YA Historical Fiction Challenge
The Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge

Wonderland by Joanna Nadin
5/5 stars
The Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge
I Heart Banned Books ARC Tour

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
4/5 stars
YA Series Challenge
The Ultimate Reviewer's Challenge

Review: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Book: City of Ashes
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Release date: March 25, 2008
Source: Borrowed from local library
Series: The Mortal Instruments #2

Summary: (from Goodreads) As readers of series starter City of Bones already know, teenager Clary Fray is a Shadowhunter, a demon slayer who has the gift of spotting Downworlder werewolves, vampires, and faeries. She is also an adolescent in an abnormally dysfunctional family: Her mom is in a magically induced coma and her father is probably insane and undoubtedly evil. All of which places Clary in situations that would challenge even the most talented average American girl.

**SPOILER ALERT** If you haven't read the series, this review may contain mild spoilers.

First impressions: This book picks up where the first one left off. Clary is trying to navigate a relationship with Simon, Jace is struggling to come to terms with who his parents are, and Clary's mom is still in a coma. I was so anxious to get back into this world, and I was glad the plot picked up right away.

Lasting impressions: I actually liked this book better than City of Bones. I don't know if it was that I was already familiar with the characters, but I related to them much more as a reader this time around. I loved the introduction of more Downworlders (especially the werewolf Maia), the Faerie Realm and a deeper relationship between Alec and Magnus.

Conflicting impressions: I still feel a bit squicky when Clary and Jace pine for each other. I just keep hoping they'll find out they're not related after all, especially given the steamy shots being released around the upcoming City of Fallen Angels (Book Four in the series).

Overall impressions: The world that Clare created for this series is so well-developed that you can't help but get totally immersed in it. It's no wonder her books attract thousands of rabid fans. The writing is seemingly effortless, her plots have the perfect balance of action and character development, and there's always something unexpected. I am falling hard for this series.

Poor Clary is stuck between Simon, who loves her mightily and who she tries to love back, and Jace, who she loves but just found out is her brother. It's amazing that Cassandra Clare gets us to root for Clary to love Jace, even though we know she shouldn't. I love that she doesn't back down from this tough issue, and she handles the line without it veering into totally icky territory.

In the first book Clary discovers she is a Shadowhunter, and in this book she discovers a special power. This continued growth serves the plot well and advances Clary's standing among her fellow Shadowhunter and Downworlder friends, which allows me to believe that she is capable of holding her own in a fight. I dislike when a book or movie character learns something about themselves and then automatically has the ability to control that aspect. Here, Clary struggles to balance her innate abilities with the power to control them, making her believable and likable at the same time.

I highly recommend this series to paranormal fans (if you're one of the few who haven't read it yet) and am really looking forward to the next installment.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Wondering about my thoughts on the first book in The Mortal Instruments series? Read my review of City of Bones.

Writing Wednesday (6) - To Review or Not to Review?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Writing Wednesday 2

Grab the button and join in:

Welcome to Writing Wednesday, my weekly feature where I discuss my works in progress, project ideas, editing struggles, or anything else related to the world of writing. Feel free to grab my button and post your own thoughts on writing! Leave a link to your post in the comments and I'll stop by.

A big kerfuffle hit around the blogosphere the last couple of weeks after a #YALitChat on Twitter developed into some well-written blog posts about whether writers should be reviewing books. Stacia Kane and Susan Dennard put up some great posts about the matter. Stacia also wrote some great follow-up posts. Some bloggers defended the art of writing negative reviews. Tabitha at Writer Musings and Izzy at My Words Ate Me have particularly thoughtful posts.

All of this talk really got me thinking. As a writer, the last thing I want to do is jeopardize my future chances of getting published, but this idea that I shouldn't post negative reviews is a tough pill to swallow. I've really enjoyed setting up this book review blog and sharing my opinions. I feel like I'm doing myself and my readers a disservice by ignoring any books I read that I don't completely enjoy.

So what's a girl to do?

Well, I did go through Goodreads and delete books that I hated. Because really, what is the point? If I really despise a book, does that need to be shared? Do I need to go into the reasons I didn't like it? I mean, if it's a one-star book for me, that means there are no redeeming factors. I decided that in the interest of respect, I should get rid of those books. I felt bad about those really negative opinions floating around.

The tough area for me is the in-between. What if overall I liked the book, but I had some issues with it (my three-star reviews)? I don't want this to end up as a blog that only celebrates 4 and 5 star books, because that seems a bit one-sided. I also don't want to offend authors, agents or editors. Three star books are still books I want to recommend, I just had some reservations about them.

This is the very crux of the debate. At some point, you have to decide if you want to be a reader or a writer. Reviews are for readers, not for writers. A great analogy that one of the above posts mentioned was that Roger Ebert reviews movies because he is a movie reviewer and consumer - it's his job. Nicole Kidman does not review movies, she makes them. It's not appropriate for her to publicly judge the quality of other films or performances because that is not professional. That argument really resonates with me.

At this point in my life, I'm more of a reader. I'm reading and reviewing books not just as a consumer, but as a tool to help me learn more about YA writing. I want to pay attention to what works and what doesn't, so I can learn. So I'm considering changing my "negative impressions" section of my review template to focus more on learning opportunities or what things in the book worked for me as a writer.

But is that even more negative or pretentious? Do those thoughts even need to be shared?

If I can't write reviews for fear of damaging my future career, I don't know what to do with this blog. I'm still in the early stages of writing, I don't have an agent, I'm not seeking an agent, and I don't even have a finished manuscript close to being ready to query. Like I said, I'm still more of a reader at this point. I don't have enough writer knowledge or tips to fill a blog right now.

For now, I'm going to continue reviewing. I'm going to be more cognizant of my tone and what I say. I'm going to try to lean as positive as I can. When I get to a place where I'm ready to even think about querying, I will address this issue again. Yes, the internet lives on forever, but I'm not likely to be the same person in a year or two as I am now, and at that point, I can change my perspective. I can stick to the positive recommendations and write more about the querying process.

The point of the whole debate, really, is to be professional. I can be a reviewer while I'm a reader and still be professional. When I'm ready to start moving forward as a writer, I can temper my online presence to suit the level of professionalism required then. And if I ever get so lucky as to get an agent and a published book, that online presence will have to adapt again.

Until then, I'm going to carry on and hope for the best. What do you think? Should aspiring authors avoid reviewing books? Does it matter if they are actively querying or submitting?

Weigh in with your thoughts!

Review: Wonderland by Joanna Nadin

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book: Wonderland
Author: Joanna Nadin
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: February 22, 2011
Source: ARC Tour run by I Read Banned Books

Summary: (from Goodreads) Sixteen-year-old Jude has to get out of tiny Churchtown. She has to escape her outcast status and her pathetic dad, who hasn’t gotten past her mother’s death. The one bright light is drama, her way out, if only she can get into the Lab, a prestigious program in London. Then Stella, Jude’s childhood best friend, swaggers in after years away. With bold and magnetic Stella by her side, Jude knows she’s capable of anything. But Stella’s influence extends well beyond the theater. Soon Stella’s wild and dangerous streak begins to cause trouble for Jude -- yet Jude can’t bring herself to abandon Stella and the attention she’s always craved. And besides, now that Stella’s back, there’s no stopping her. In Jude’s dark and tangled story, British author Joanna Nadin plumbs the aftermath of loss and the consequences of becoming the person you always wished you were.

First impressions: Jude and Stella open the book in a Thelma and Louise situation: cigarettes, lipstick, and a car at the edge of a cliff. Can you say "Grab on and don't let go?" I read this book in one sitting, because I just had to know how these girls got there.

Lasting impressions: This book is so well-crafted that although I had my suspicions as to where the story was going, I still couldn't quite believe it when I got my answer. This is one of those books where you have to flip back and read scenes again to see if you really missed it the first time.

Negative impressions: The ending is a bit trite and overplayed, but the story was so captivating and well done that I got over it. I mean, there are only so many plots in the world, and if I discarded every new book for having an element done before, I wouldn't be reading very long.

Overall impressions: This book had real heart. I loved Jude and her complicated relationships with her dead mother and distraught father. She feels trapped in her small town, but scared to pursue her acting dream for fear she will end up just like her mother. Her mom was a bright star that faded to nothing when they moved to their small town, and watching the depression wash over her was too much for Jude and her father to bear.

Jude feels ignored and invisible, with few friends and not much going for her...until Stella comes back. Stella was a childhood friend who had pulled Jude out of her shell until she disappeared and moved away. Now she's back, and Jude gets caught up in Stella's whirlwind energy and bad influence. With Stella, Jude starts partying, dressing sexier, and getting interested in boys. When she lands an audition at the prestigious Lab, her dream theater school in London, she and Stella take the train together and Jude nearly blows her chance.

Watching Jude's life get bolder and more outrageous is exciting until you see the scale tip in the wrong direction. When Jude goes to her audition, Stella is no longer the fun friend out to ensure they have a good time, she's an enabler who is controlling Jude's actions and dragging her down. It's heartbreaking to see Jude realize that Stella may not be the best thing in her life. This definitely struck a chord with me - the idea that sometimes your friends can harm you more than help you. Welcome to adulthood, Jude!

This story is quickly paced and full of all the pains of adolescence: first love, wild friends, dreams of grandeur, and absent parenting. Jude rises to the challenges presented by all of these, finding her own voice and strength of spirit to reclaim the hold on her life that Stella threatens to steal from her. Dramatic, harrowing, and real, Jude's tale will definitely make an impression.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Interested in reading this book? Click below to sign up for the ARC tour for this and other titles at I Read Banned Books.

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