Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Re: Road Trip Wednesday #94: Best Book (August) + Giveaway!

"What is the best book you read this month?" + Scroll down to win a copy of The Sky Is Everywhere

Summary: (from GoodReads)

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life - and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.

This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie's struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.

My Thoughts:

Every once in a while a book comes along that is so moving, so wonderful and so special that it becomes associated with the word "favorite". For me, this doesn't happen very often. I am quite cautious of claiming that a book is among my "favorites", because I read many books and when I say something is a "favorite" I want it to mean something.

Sort of the same as I feel about saying "I love you", I suppose.

The Sky Is Everywhere is a book that gets the "favorite" label. I gave it an absolutely glowing review that you can read here. It's also the only book I've read so far that I've given The Kat's Meow Award for Amazing Storytelling. Okay, truthfully? I decided to create the award because, to me, The Sky Is Everywhere is such a step above anything else I have given five hearts to that I needed some way to clearly distinguish how much I love it. I'm sure that other books will eventually become recipients of The Kat's Meow... But the bar has been set very high.

All of the reasons that I gave for loving The Sky Is Everywhere in my review hold true, and they are great reasons for loving a book. But the reason this book is special to me, personally, is because it made me recall a powerful memory from within my own life. It made me examine and deal with a situation that I thought I had faced and conquered a very long time ago. A situation I thought I had fully mastered, but which in truth I had simply buried and hoped would never resurface.

To me, that is what the best books do: they live for you as you read them. (take a look at what I said about how powerful the characterization is in my review...) Then, in turn, they make you live for yourself -- live more honestly, more clearly and more fully -- once you have finished reading.

I was once, many years ago, in a situation very similar (in some ways) to what happens between Lennie and Joe and Toby. And, alas, my story ended unhappily. Yet by reading their story, by experiencing their happy ending, I have been freed from remembering the sorrow of that situation. I can finally look at it and see the beauty of what was there. See why it mattered so much in the first place.

By watching Joe forgive Lennie for her mistakes, I am finally able to forgive myself for the mistake that I made. Does it mean the person I hurt has or will ever forgive me? No. But it means that, in at least some small way, I can move forward.

By watching Lennie learn to live with, if not accept, the loss of Bailey, I am finally able to accept the loss of someone that I thought I loved deeply. (Thankfully no one died in my situation, but losing someone sucks regardless of what form it takes.) Someone I didn't even realize I still missed quite so much until I got deeply ensnared within the pages of this story. Until my past caught up with me.

When something we watch, or listen to, or read somehow touches our lives, I believe that is when it becomes the most profound, powerful and real. I cannot tell you that The Sky Is Everywhere will do this for you. My goal in saying all that I have isn't to try and convince you that it should be one of your favorite books.

But hopefully from reading this, I have given others a glimpse of why it is one of mine.

Once again, if you haven't read my review yet, click here to read my thoughts about The Sky Is Everywhere.

Have you, by chance, not read The Sky Is Everywhere yet? I'm here to fix that for you. :)

I am giving away two (2) copies of The Sky Is Everywhere. I believe that the highest praise I can give a book is to increase the number of people who have read it. This book is so amazing that I'm doing that twice over. ;)

Here is How to Enter / How to Get Bonus Entries:

  • To enter the contest, please leave your e-mail in the comments for this post. This contest is open internationally; I will be sending the prizes out from my home in Ontario, Canada.
  • +1 If you follow my blog / Are a follower of my blog
  • +1 If you follow me on Twitter / Are a follower of my Twitter
  • +1 If you friend me on GoodReads / Are friends with me on GoodReads
  • +1 If you tweet about this giveaway
  • +1 If you mention my giveaway on your blog
  • +2 If you recommend a book that you would like to see reviewed
  • +2 If you blog about your favorite book
In total, this means, you can earn up to ten entries. (One regardless of what you do, and nine bonus chances available if you do all the bonus activities.) I need to know which bonuses you have done, if you choose to do them, so please mention them or include links (depending on which you do). 

Entries must be in by September 15th, 2011.

To those who dropped by to read about my Best Book: August, thanks for reading. And for those who enter my giveaway, Good Luck! :) 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

This book was recommended to me by friends on Absolute Write. I was looking for books that depicted a well done YA romance. The book I'm writing is urban fantasy / romance, but I wanted to read some books that had a more slow building and believable relationship. Perfect Chemistry did not disappoint. It fit the bill... perfectly. I'll do my best to tell you why I think this book is so amazing.

The Plot: (from GoodReads)

A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more. In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

This book was fascinating to read because of how carefully the ties between plot and character were built. At the front, you obviously have the slow building relationship between Alex and Brittany, which moves from "I can't stand you" to the two being deeply in love. At the same time, you have the struggles of a girl trying desperately to live up to her parents unreal expectations. (Spoiler: So that she can keep them from sending her sister, who has Cerebral Palsy, away.) You also have the story of a young man who has committed his life to a gang, rather then to following his dreams, so that he can protect his family.

This only barely scratches the surface of what goes on in this book. Every character we meet is that for a reason by the time that the story draws to a close. The pace is quick, the dialogue is by turns funny or touching and the use of two first person narratives allows the reader to see into both Brittany and Alex's worlds. The contrasts between these two different lives, and the distinctness of each character, allows Elkeles to weave a story that is hard to put down because the reader wants to know either how the other character is going to react to what is happening, or what is happening to the other character while Alex and Brittany are on their own. In a word: addictive.


Brittany and Alex were both complex, well rounded characters. I felt that the voice for each was clear and distinct and that the way they were written enriched the way that the reader connects to them. I also like the fact that we get to see Alex's softer side and Brittany growing stronger and standing up for who she really is rather then continuing to be what people want or expect. Through their actions throughout the book, it slowly becomes apparent that these two seeming polar opposites actually bring out the best in each other.

I thought that the other characters were generally well done, too. I liked watching Brittany become friends with Isabel. I thought that Doug and Sierra were an interesting couple. And Paco was just plain amazing. (Read the book and you'll understand why...) I also thought that the contrasts in Brittany and Alex's relationships with their parents was an interesting situation. Both had either absent or absentee fathers (for very different reasons) and strong mothers (although the results of their 'strength' in the lives of their children were very different as well.)

The Romance:

I really liked how this was done. It took time for them to become interested in each other, and then time for them to be together. We actually get to see what they are like as a couple, and get to see them evolve from Brittany being worried who seems them, to a point where she is willing to risk her perfectly crafted reputation in order to be with the one she loves.

Alex is no slouch in the sacrifice department either. Elkeles sets up the story with Alex taking a bet. But by the end of the book, he redeems himself for that decision in ways that range from shocking to utterly heartbreaking. Despite any actions he make have taken in the past, by the end of the story there is no doubt that Alex is worthy of Brittany and that the love the two share is absolute, solid and real. Alex is the kind of hero that I fell in love with alongside the heroine. In a romance, I cannot give higher praise then this.

I thought that the double ending was sweet -- both the Five Months Later as well as the epilogue. It covered everything that needed to be said and left my with a warm happy feeling, which is generally what I am looking for when I read a love story.

In General: 

Perfect Chemistry hit all the right notes for me. I cared about the characters, I cheered for Alex and Brittany to get together. I laughed when they laughed and cried when they cried. The pacing was perfect, showing both the slow progression of two people falling in love and the hectic craziness that can happen as days go by. I never found myself bored or skimming. In fact, I really had trouble putting the book down for any reason.

Perfect Chemistry is a story I know I will read again. If you are looking for a story of true love, one where you can fall in love right beside the characters, this is the book you need. Highly recommended!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3

I got interested in reading The DUFF because of the high praise The Underground had for the book during a recent giveaway contest. The post was about The DUFF and Bumped -- which I reviewed a while ago and really liked -- and I figured that I might as well read The DUFF so that I could consider how the two stories compare.

The first thing to note is that while both stories do deal heavily with teen sexuality, that they are totally different genres. The DUFF is purely a YA contemporary, whereas Bumped is closer to a dystopian novel.

I'm glad that I checked both books out. they are both worth reading.

The Plot: (from GoodReads)

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

I was drawn to this book because the way that the term DUFF was described reminded me, quite vividly, of how I felt when I was in high school. (The big difference being that I was an English nerd and tended to call it being Fifth Business instead.) I was the matchmaker, the peacemaker, the advice girl and the go-to guru for pretty much everything any of my friends needed. And I had friends in lots of different social circles.

But I didn't have an actual date all through high school. I could fix anyone up with who they wanted except for myself. So when Wesley told Bianca she was "the DUFF" I cheered when she doused him with cherry coke. I wish I was that brave. But I really wanted to scratch my head at her willingness to sleep with him. I get it -- her life was spiraling out of control. And we all know people can do some crazy things to regain what they fear they have lost. If people use food, pain, drugs or abuse, then there is no reason they could not use sex in the same fashion.

I have to admit that I am still not use to discussing plot in contemporary YA. When I read a fantasy or paranormal book I know that there is going to be a serious conflict that will be introduced and defeated. In a contemporary book the lines feel a little more blurry. I think Keplinger did a good job at making the reader want to see Bianca and Wesley get together. I don't think she did quite so hot on the situation with Bianca and her parents, which is a bit of a shame because their actions are what drive Bianca to do the things she does. A more well rounded exploration of what was going on there might have made the book a little more complete.


Another thing that I wanted to know was why Bianca was so damn cynical. If it is suppose to be because Jake broke her heart two years before that's fine. But at the same time, we don't really see her dealing with this cynicism and the underlying emotions that must be triggering it. She seems to be this way all the time. All I can say about that is "Whew!"... That must take a heck of a lot of energy. I also found her unwillingness to consider that she might be in love was a little silly. Quantifying what is felt does not make it any more awesome when it's going good or less painful when it's going bad.

Wesley was a good match for Bianca, in my opinion. I like how we see the perception she has of him change, and then how he changes in response to it. It really ties into the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you are something, or let people constantly tell you that you are something, eventually you will end up believing it. (Spoiler: I think that was the point of the scene between Bianca and Amy in the latter half of the book.)

I found Toby Tucker annoying. Then again, I don't really go for political guys so that might be part of the reason. I like the fact that by the end there was such a good parallel between what was happening with him and Bianca in comparison to what had been happening with her and Wesley. (Spoiler: Bianca uses Wesley as a destraction and then Toby uses Bianca as a way to try and get over his ex.)

On a more general note, something I really want to give Keplinger credit for is the fact that she wrote a very interesting novel without pinpointing a specific villain. Every character that appears in the book has the potential to do good or bad things, and most of them actually do a little bit of both. Wesley might be a "man-whore" but he also defends Bianca when something terrible happens. "Perfect" Toby turns out to be human. Casey, Bianca's best friend since forever, doesn't always have her absolute best interests at heart -- she actually encourages Bianca to do something that would make her (Casey) feel more secure. In short: I think this is awesome and that it was well done.

The Romance:

This is not your typical "Awww, isn't that cute?" romance. And it makes total sense: these characters did not set out trying to fall in love. (I will say that there is a sweet gesture near the end that did produce the generally desired "Awww", however.) One thing that I think was handled well is that neither of these characters (Bianca and Wesley) wanted to be first in saying they loved the other. Each, in their own way, makes it clear to the reader that they do. But they never directly, 100%, tell each other.

My one big issue between these two is that we are clued in to why Wesley is the way he is (or at least given a hint as to part of the reason) but we never fully get a real glimpse of what makes Bianca tick. Sure, she got her heart broken by a guy when she was 14. But does that fully explain why she feels that love takes years to develop? It seemed a little too cynical for someone to be thinking that way after one bad experience. It didn't ruin the book for me in any way, but it did leave me scratching my head.

I'm not totally convinced that the whole Toby Tucker thing was necessary, either. She's wanted to be with him for three years and yet she ends up wanting Wesley more? Hmm... I suppose I can understand the idea of a long term crush not ending up satisfying. That is generally how that goes. But it seemed, to a certain extent, like filler. I was far more interested in what happened between Wesley and Bianca and really didn't care about her and Toby as a couple.

Last, I just have to scratch my head and wonder what it is with all of the YA novels using Wuthering Heights as a parallel for what happens with their characters. I mean, I like Wuthering Heights. I just find it a bit odd how often I'm finding it referenced in YA romances.

In General:

This book took me a few days to read, but that was more because I was busy then because I lacked interest in it. I loved reading about Bianca and Wesley and I thought that the scenes with her and her friends were good, too. I wasn't quite as convinced about the portrayals of her parents, but that was more of a personal thing. I also wish that the use of The Scarlet Letter had been handled a little better. I know what the book is about but have not read it. I wonder whether I missed something of value because of that.

If you like tales of friendly enemies, The DUFF is a must read. If you've ever felt like the person who fixed everyone else's life while yours stayed stagnant, The DUFF is a must read. If you like characters who tell it like it is, The DUFF is a must read. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Re: Road Trip Wednesday #93: Beating Writer's Block

Is there anything more awful then a blank page?

For anyone who aspires to write, I think the answer could safely be no. It can be maddening to have visions of images and scenes and words stuck in my head and to be barred from pinning them down for others to see.

I feel that there are two reasons that I can get blocked.

#1: I Don't Know What I'm Talking About:

I write a lot of fantasy and paranormal stories. This means that some of the things that I come up with are, in large part, drawn from my imagination. This can be a blessing or a curse. It leaves me free to come up with awesome ideas, but it also gives me the responsibility of finding a way to make people understand and experience what I am talking about as they read. That can be easier said then done.

I have lots of ways that I combat this problem. I do detailed character sheets. I find images so that I can see my characters and their world as vividly as possible. You see, I need to believe that the world I am building (or altering, if I am setting a tale here on earth) is real before I can write it. I need to feel like I am there, believe what is happening. Quite a paradox for someone who writes about Gods and magic and the supernatural, huh?

There is also the more practical aspect of this, too. I need to know what I am talking about when I use things from the real world. For instance, I had to research Whistler, B.C. for Moon Dance, as well as The Nutcracker, what the model of the iPhone that was available at the time was capable of doing, how to fire a pistol, avalanche causes, conditions and rescue, cars (curse you and your obsession with cars, Kesyl!) and ballet. I find it hard to decide how well I need to know a topic. I am always nervous that what I am saying won't ring true. And this can get me stuck until I feel at least semi-confident from doing a bit of research.

#2: Nothing I Write Sounds Right:

This drives me mad. "Would he say this?", "Do I need him to drink some coffee between those sentences?", "How much thought / interior monologue is acceptable here?", "Should I end the chapter here or after the next scene?" ... If I let myself get bogged down in this stuff, I can go totally cold and complete absolutely nothing.

It's funny to talk about this, because what I have found is that I am able to overlook it in my rough draft. But now that Moon Dance is in revisions? Right. My brain is in overdrive trying to get every little detail perfect instead of relaxing and working on one set of problems at a time. (Right now I'm suppose to be working on editing some plot bunnies that didn't quite reach the briar patch.)

There are two weapons that tend to work for this. The first one is to bribe myself. I keep lists of things that I want -- games, books, gadgets, DVD sets, etc. -- and use them to keep me moving forward. The second is to pretend I am writing the scene I am editing again for the first time, tricking myself into thinking it's part of the rough draft or a totally separated short story.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Writer's block can really suck the life out of you. But if you can figure out who or what stole the key, it is totally possible to open the door and let the story come through. Good luck! :D

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

My Rating: <3 <3

The premise for Nevermore intrigued me. I had to buy it. I was dying to read it. And for the first three hundred or four hundred pages, it was a pretty solid tale. Yet like anything wondering through a dense forest, it risked losing its way... and once it veered from the path, it never seemed able to make it back to civilization again.

There is a lot of good in this book, and I will make certain to cover that. But I would be lying to you if I didn't make it absolutely clear that I was extremely disappointed by the time that I closed it for the last time.


When cheerleader and all around popular girl Isobel is paired with moody, goth Varen for an English project she thinks her English teacher must be out of his mind. The two can barely stand speaking to each other. How are they going to work together? It's vital that they get a good grade on the project -- if Isobel's English grade is poor she'll lose her place on the cheer squad. Yet as she gets to know Varen better, she becomes intrigued and the two slowly develop a friendship which might just be something more...

This plot concept had everything that should have made me love the book. A slow building, interesting romance. Characters that I cared about (if I don't care about the characters, the plot doesn't matter). A creepy paranormal element that was fresh and original. So, why am I giving it two hearts?

First up: the way that the book was organized with regard to the paranormal elements did not work for me. Our hero and heroine don't really work 'together', which means that the author squandered some great opportunities to let us see them interact. The overall way that the paranormal element was more based on description then action until the last hundred or so pages also made its presence so minor that when it came up there was part of me that wanted to skip it and get back to watching the chemistry between Isobel and Varen develop.

Second: Because what I liked most about the book was the chemistry that Creagh built between Isobel and Varen, the last hundred or so pages where the two were almost exclusively separated made me want to fall asleep. Creagh's writing was vivid, her dreamworld was rich and vibrant with detail and interesting creatures... But I just wasn't interested. All I wanted was for Isobel and Varen to be reunited and escape. And I didn't get what I wanted, which made me very cranky as a reader. (*laughs*)

The best parts of the book were the interactions between Varen and Isobel, Isobel's growing friendship with Gwen, and the behavior of Isobel's old "crew" as she became more and more her own person. I liked the fact that, at least for a part of the story, that falling for Varen was actually making her stronger and more able to stand on her own two feet.


I liked the fact that Isobel and Varen both rose above being the stereotypes that they could have been. I loved watching them grow as a pair and thought that the effect they had on each other was both very sweet and very well handled. Watching how they went from practically hating each other to caring about each other so deeply was a rare treat -- Creagh did a fantastic job at making the way their opinions of each other changed seem believable and moving.

The other big round of applause in the character department has to go to how well Isobel's parents were developed and how actively they were a part of the story. In a genre where parents are so often missing in action this was a refreshing change that I'd like to see more of.

The Romance: 

What we get to see here is absolutely fantastic. It is real, interesting and very personal to the characters of Isobel and Varen. The things that they do together are simple and normal for the majority of the book and the fact that it takes hundreds of pages for them to finally have their first kiss was absolute torture that was totally worth the wait.

The problem, of course, is that shortly after this they are separated for the remainder of the book and that the remainder of the book is over a hundred pages long. This sets up conflict for the next book, of course. (I believe this is suppose to be a trilogy?) but I am far more interested in conflicts between a hero and heroine who are in close proximity then I am in those that are the result of their separation. It actually dulls what they feel (in my opinion) and allows me to distance myself from their problem(s). It pulls me from the story and reminds me I am reading a book. (Psst, writers... That's a bad thing.)

What Creagh did with Reynolds to set up the story for the next book is brilliant and it does leave me wondering what Varen will think of her by the time they meet again. Yet now that Creagh has shown me she is willing to go this route in a book I am, to some degree, weary to read more from her because I know this is not my kind of thing. A pity, because it was all going fantastically well until the separation happened and then all I could think was "Oh, noooo..."

In General: 

I don't say this often, but I must say it here: this book had pacing issues. A lot of them. There were too many descriptions of things I didn't care about. The paranormal element went from background noise to being Isobel and it only by the end, and the romance got shoved to the side at the end of the book because of the choice to separate Isobel and Varen for such a long period of time. (A separation that will continue in the sequel. Will I read it? Sure. Am I waiting with baited breath? No.)

There are two things you must understand with regard to my review. (1) I do not have a thorough background in reading Poe. For someone who is familiar with his writing and poetry, the paranormal element here might be totally fantastic and spine tinglingly frightening. (2) I am often harder on books that I have been anxiously waiting to read if they disappoint me. Especially if they disappoint me at the end or in the later parts of the book.

Nevermore disappointed me in ways I could not have expected and that I was not prepared for. It is a reasonably well written and interesting story, but by the time that I closed it at the end, I was glad that it was over. That's not how you want me to feel at the end if you want to keep me as a reader. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

I had a lot of people recommend that I read Divergent. I would like to thank all of them, because I really loved this book. Also, those who told me that I would like Four -- you were absolutely right.

With that said, it can be daunting to read something that is receiving so much praise. I'm not the kind of person to deliberately dislike a book for this, but I am the sort of person who likes to reach my own conclusions. In this case the truth is simple: Divergent deserves all the praise it is getting. Now let's talk about why...


Now that she is sixteen, Beatrice Prior has to make a choice: will she remain with her family in their faction, abnegation? Or will she join one of the other four factions in her world. It's no small thing -- choosing her faction will determine not only who she is, but what kind of job she will have, what she will value and who her friends will be. Faction over family. Can she really leave her mother, father and brother behind?

I love books where a character is learning to become something new. The largest portion of Divergent dealt with Tris (the name Beatrice chooses for herself when she joins Dauntless) going through the testing that will determine whether she will pass initiation and become a member. I liked a lot about this: watching her make new friends, deal with the kids who weren't so friendly, go through her training... I felt like I was with her every step of the way. I cheered when things went well, I bit my nails when they went wrong.

I also like how Roth carefully constructed the other plot points that will lead to the next book so that they were being prepared from the very beginning and made perfect sense by the time that Tris passed initiation and we discovered the major conflict that happened at the end. My only concern with this portion of the story is that at the end of the book there were a lot of deaths. While I felt that they were handled well enough and that their depictions were appropriate for the situations, it makes me wonder how dark the other two books in this trilogy will end up being. Tris lives in a very scary world.


The stars of the show were definitely Tris and Four.

I loved how Tris constantly struggled with being brave and being selfless. The balancing act that she went through kept her from being too vicious for me to connect with her. I also really liked the fact that it was her need to be selfless and help others that tended to bring out her best.

The thing I really liked about Four was that as we watched Tris get stronger and become tougher, in contrast we learnt more about Four and it allowed him to be viewed in increasingly softer light that made him easier to relate to. To me, Four represented the ideal that Tris needed to achieve -- a realization that strength and cruelty are not one and the same. (Which was something that Roth carefully contrasted through the rivalry of Four and Eric.)

The other character that really impressed me was Al. For a moment here, I am speaking as a writer rather then a reader. Al represented everything that can go wrong when we listen to someone else's expectations rather then being who we truly are. I'm not sure what faction Al was meant for, but as we watch him fail physically and morally a clear contrast between what is going 'right' for Tris and what could go 'wrong' is shown through him.

The Romance:

Tris and Four are awesome together! I loved the buildup between these two. It was not insta-love in my opinion. He was her instructor first and as they experienced things together their interest in each other carefully and gradually grew from what was happening to them and around them.

Another thing I really liked was the thought Tris had where she realizes that whether they were dressed in their black Dauntless clothes or had they remained in Abnegation and been dressed in gray, nothing would have changed the fact that they would have found and been right for each other.

There was no love triangle, which is a refreshing change. Tris wasn't an idiot once she and Four got together, which (yet again refreshingly) happened part way through the book. One of her friends, Uriah, offers to let her sit on his lap at a time when she and Four cannot be sitting together and she turns this down despite all of the seats being taken because she does not want to have Four see her sitting with a guy like that. She also turned down Al earlier in the book when she wasn't interested rather then stringing him along. She knew what she wanted (or didn't want) and she remained true to that throughout the entire book.

In General:

Divergent is a pretty long book at 486 pages. I read the whole thing in one sitting. So I think it's pretty clear that I felt the pacing was solid. I also found Roth's writing to be really good -- this was one of those books where I read quickly yet was still able to see the story in my head like a movie was playing out in full color.

Divergent is a well written book. It is a satisfying story in its own right and the beginning of what I hope will be a really awesome trilogy. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3

The first time that I read anything about Wither I actually screamed. I thought it was a description of one of the most utterly despicable, twisted and depraved scenarios ever constructed in a YA novel. It wasn't that I did not feel "teens" shouldn't read it. I didn't actually know whether I, personally, could handle it.

Have no fear. While Wither does raise some interesting questions, and while it does attempt to tackle some heavy issues, it's nowhere near as rage inducing or difficult to get through as I thought it would be.

In a way I am disappointed.


Rhine lives in Manhattan with her brother Rowan until a fateful day wen she is captured by gatherers and sold into the house of Linden Ashby to become one of his three brides. Rhine wants nothing more then to escape the mansion, her new husband and the posh prison she now inhabits. She wants nothing more then to be reunited with the brother she was separated from. Yet freedom is not something that will be easily obtained...

DeStefano had a lot of material that she could work with here. Imprisonment in a gilded cage, control over one's sexual and reproductive rights, the morality of a society where teens were forced to bare children knowing that they would end up orphaned, the effects of all of the above... The problem with Wither, and one of the reasons that I took a heart, is because for the most part things do not happen to our heroine Rhine. They happen around her, in front of her or behind her.

Cecily gets pregnant. Gabriel gets beaten. Jenna's sisters get killed. The worst thing that we actually see happen to Rhine herself is that she receives injuries when she attempt to escape from her bedroom window during a hurricane. While recovering she receives a few vague threats from the book's villain, Housemaster Vaughn, but in all reality nothing actually comes of those threats with regard to actual harm to Rhine herself.

Reading about terrible things happening to Rhine might have made reading Wither more difficult, but at the same time it would have also made reading Wither more real and more satisfying. If the major events of the book are technically not happening to the heroine, then the question must arise... Why are we following this character around?


Rhine has a lot of opportunities to take action. Actions that could help, protect, or save her loved ones. But at every opportunity she somehow either fails or chooses something lesser and in turn less challenging. Why doesn't she make Linden wake up and smell the java? Why doesn't she take Cecily's place and have sex with Linden? I realize that at that point in the book that she despises him. I realize how difficult doing this would have been for the character. But to do nothing and allow Cecily to lose her innocence -- and to later sit there and tell the reader that she wishes she could tell Linden how disgusting it is -- made me want to slap her.

Passive. Heroines. Suck.

Despite some of the things that he does, I actually really liked Linden. He was my favorite character in the book. I found his character deep and interesting. I love how DeStefano sets us up to hate him. I love how, as more of his truth was revealed to me, I found myself falling for him. Right along with Rhine, in my opinion. Yes, I realize that it's creepy that he slept with a thirteen year old girl. Yes, its strange that he has three wives. Yet nowhere do we see Linden being deliberately cruel to anyone. Nowhere do we see him forcing any of his wives to do anything, abusing them, etc. In fact, I feel that Linden may be one of the most kind and gentle male love interests that I have ever seen. By the end of the book, I wanted Rhine to stay with him.

I am not a Gabriel fan. It's not that I feel he did anything wrong. I just didn't connect with him. Maybe its because he and Rhine had to be so careful. Maybe its because he wasn't around a lot in the latter half of the book where Rhine and Linden seem to be connecting so wonderfully. Maybe in the sequels DeStefano will actually give Gabriel a personalty. Yes, I did just go there. That's how vapid I actually found him. I understand that to Rhine, Gabriel represented a way to rebel against her imprisonment and that he also represented a companion with whom to escape. But I just could not find a single thing about him compelling.

Housemaster Vaughn was a passable villain. Neither the greatest, nor the worst, that I've seen in a book. Since we never really get any answers from the part that he actually played in the story I feel no real reason to fear him and have no basis on which to understand him. If he is to remain the central villain of this trilogy, that is something that DeStefano will need to address. The sooner, the better.

The Romance:

I'm well aware the romance is not the center of Wither. But where there is a romantic subplot, you can be sure I will talk about it. This is no exception.

I touched on this briefly already, but I preferred Linden to Gabriel. I found him more interesting, I felt he had far more chemistry with Rhine, I felt a great deal of tension between them and I felt a real sense of growth in how they view each other by the time that Rhine finally does make her escape. Also: Rhine might think her "I love you" was an illusion at the end of the book, but I bought it entirely. Linden is adorable and I would love to see the two of them get together. (Please note that I do *not* mean in a polygamous relationship in which she shares him with Cecily, and that he needs to be made aware of the truths of how he met her and make things right.)

It would be a far safer choice to have the romance between Rhine and Gabriel continue since it is not really controversial in the mind of the reader. (How many of us really felt that Rhine was ever Linden's wife?)  What I also found was that every time they glanced, touched, kissed, etc. it felt wrong to me. I sat there wanting to shake her. "Is this worth your life? Worth his?" I didn't buy the connection between them strongly enough to justify all that they were risking to be together. I tried to cheer for them but I absolutely couldn't.

This quote from the end of the book sums it up well:

"We are just a servant and an unwilling bride who haven't been granted one moment of true freedom to explore how we feel about eachother." (Wither, pg. 352)

Tell me, Rhine, what makes you and Gabriel so special...? Is Cecily free? Is Jenna free? Is Linden free? Something about that quote just really rubbed me the wrong way. 

The Sister Wives:

I loved the bond between Rose and Rhine. And I really loved the bond that formed between Rhine, Jenna and Cecily. I like how it grew and changed, warmed and deepened over the course of the novel. I also thought that the way that DeStefano makes the actions that characters took earlier effect what happened later. This lead to a huge pair of actions and consequences that shaped several important facts within the book. (Spoiler: The fact that Cecily tells Vaughn about Rhine and Gabriel's kiss, and Jenna's plotting to help Rhine find him, v.s. the fact that Cecily sends the servant who helps Rhine and Gabriel get past the gate at the end of the book.)

In General: 

This novel moved a little slower then some of the other stuff that I have been reading. But as I grew more interested in the characters I felt compelled to keep going. I am not sure if I am satisfied with the number of answers DeStefano gave in comparison to the number of questions that she brought up here. The actual writing itself was good, although I felt that at times I was being bogged down in Rhine's mind and felt the need to skim until something was actually happening again. 

This book is worth reading, but it is not without it's flaws. As long as you know what you're getting into it's well worth the read. Just realize that a lot of the premise that could have been here is chickened out on.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Who names the love interest in their book Joe? That's what I was thinking as I added The Sky Is Everywhere to my cart on Amazon. I think I clicked and unclicked this book three times. I decided to go for it since I got some great recommendations for this on Absolute Write. I am so glad that I did. I am going to attempt to tell you with words how much I love The Sky Is Everywhere, but there is no promise that I will succeed. I loved it that much.


At the start of the book, it's been one month since the death of Lennie's older sister Bailey. Lennie, her Gram and her Uncle Big are pretty much going through the motions, but now it's time for Lennie to go back to school. Even if summer is just around the corner.

It is while at school that Lennie first meets Joe Fontaine. She is interested in him, but feels guilt that she feels anything. Surely she shouldn't feel anything -- she should be grieving Bailey. At the same time, she is growing closer to Toby, Bailey's boyfriend. As the book blurb puts it -- "one boy takes her out of her grief and one comforts her in it." What I will tell you is that until Lennie gains the strength to face the pain of losing her sister on her own two feet -- and realizing that she's not the only one hurting -- she is on a collision course with disaster.

I could not put this book down. This is not an exceptionally long book at 272 pages, yet it took me just as long to read as the books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Why? Because the writing was so beautiful and the whole damn book so interesting that I constantly found myself re-reading parts of it because I wanted to experience them again. (And again, and again...)

The plot weaves together beautifully, combining love, grief, understanding one's past, questioning one's future, love of family, taking center stage in your own life, and just a pinch of the strange and superstitious to create something truly unique, soul shattering in it's realness and yet coated with little touches that give it a slightly magical quality. I think the best way to describe this might be: "Extraordinary moments captured within an ordinary life."

Let me put it this way: Although The Sky Is Everywhere ended perfectly (in my opinion) I sat there, having finished it, going "Wait. I don't get to follow you any further? Why are you walking away? Come back!" Not because I felt any part was incomplete, but rather because the world these characters inhabit and the joy, sorrow ... everything ... that they feel felt so real to me that I did not want it to be over.


A large part of the magic I am describing above is because of the absolutely wonderful group of fascinating, kooky characters that pepper the pages of the book. Gram, with her ritual to get rid of bad luck and her roses that are rumored to make people fall in love. Big, who despite his strangeness seems to have no trouble finding women who want to marry him. Toby: part skater, part cowboy, all awesome. Now I'll talk about our main couple...

Lennie is a girl standing on the cusp of greatness. She has spent her whole life hiding in her sister's shadow and suddenly finds herself throwing onto the stage and into the spotlight. Watching her fumble to find her place in the world, sharing her ups and downs, was wonderful. Lennie makes mistakes, but what I really like about her is that she does eventually pay for them, learn from them, and become all the better for having experienced them. The girl we meet on page one is not the same girl that we leave on page 272. Her capacity for growth is both wonderful and believable.

Joe... Oh, man. What can I say about Joe? First up: I have a new favorite romance hero. Joe does not possess any of the usual suspects that draw me to a male lead in a book -- he doesn't have super powers, he isn't a supernatural being -- what he does have is a beauty of character that runs to the depth of his soul. A warmth, passion ad light that Nelson captures so splendidly in her description and portrayal of him that I wished I could somehow crawl inside of the book, become seventeen again, and witness for myself. And yet, Joe is not perfect. His family has issues, he has had his trust shattered in the past and he knows that he sucks at forgiving people. Joe's realness -- both the good and the bad -- is actually what makes him stand out so brilliantly, like a comet flying by in the night sky. Words cannot describe how much I loved Joe.

The characters in this book are so awesome that I felt like they could enter my head the way that my own characters do. I didn't feel like I was reading, or even watching, their story. I felt like I was living it with them. They felt that real to me.

The Romance:

For starters, this is not insta-love. There is a bit of instant attraction, sure, but to me that's not the same. Nelson takes her time and makes certain that we share Lennie's journey as she gets to know Joe. We watch their romance build and see the joy that he slowly works to bring back into her life. We watch her cling to and struggle with this joy at the same time.

In contrast we see what is happening between her and Toby. Every time stuff with Joe gets better, brighter, happier, what is happening with Toby filled me with more dread and fear for her. And it's not that she is an idiot who does not see what she risks, either. She learns about Joe's past and wants to end what is happening with Toby. Yet her grief and the rollercoaster of emotions that come with it seem to make this impossible. Watching Lennie and Toby began to feel like watching cars crash into each other in slow motion. I knew somehow, someway that something terrible was happening, and yet I could not look away.

I've been harsh on romances where cheating has been done in other reviews (most notably Anna and the French Kiss), so why am I singing the praises of The Sky Is Everywhere?

1. Lennie is not dating Joe or Toby. Her relationship with Joe is in its infancy.

2. What Lennie does with Toby happens out of grief and it makes her feel horrible.

3. When Joe finds out what Lennie has done, Lennie "pays for her crime" so to speak.

4. When Joe eventually forgives Lennie, it is on his own terms and happens after he has struggled with it for a while. The story sets Joe up with good reasons for being upset, Lennie up with understandable reasons for screwing up, and goes from there.

5. The resolution to what has happened ties together the love that is built in the first half of the book and the loss that is felt in the second half perfectly.

I also want to say that I love how the love story parallels what has happened to Lennie's family from losing Bailey. Whereas with Bailey we are looking back and seeing glimpses of what Lennie has lost, with Joe we watch something beautiful be built and then (at least in my case) cheer as Lennie tries to put the pieces back together.

I think that it is important that we see the contrast between Toby and Joe. I think it's important that we see Lennie "with" Joe and "without" Joe. I think it's important that we see Lennie beginning to stand on her own feet during the time where she and Joe are not together. Lennie is sad without him. Yet it is during this time of solitude that we see Lennie grow stronger, both for herself and for those who surround her. (I particularly liked how her relationship with Gram deepened here.)

I like the fact that Nelson never villainizes Toby. We do see Lennie's anger about what keeps happening between them, her shame and guilt and fear. But any time that she stops to try and measure out who is responsible, she never fails to put at least some of the weight squarely on her own shoulders. I also thought it was good that Toby tries to help Lennie fix the mess that he helped her end up in.

All of this would be for nothing if the way that Lennie and Joe get back together wasn't handled properly, but I felt it was beautiful in all ways: setting, sentiment, and a sense of stability -- a feeling that these two characters have gone through something like this and made it out together. That they can make it through anything.

In short: I loved the love story here.

The Handling of Grief:

I like the fact that at no point during the novel does the sadness that Lennie feels about losing Bailey suddenly, totally disappear. I like the fact that what Lennie learns and realizes is that learning to live with her grief is not the same as forgetting her sister. I like the fact that while grief can make us sympathetic toward the trials that Lennie faces in the book, the characters in the book do not allow it to absolve her (and this includes Lennie herself by the end.) of responsibility for the choices that she makes. In short, I think that this was handled beautifully.

In General:

There are so many things that I could praise in this book, but this review is already really long. The writing is fantastic. The pacing was solid; I never felt myself getting bored. I absolutely loved the little poems found throughout the book, even though with my crappy eye sight they made me dig out my magnifying glass. Trust me: You'll love them too once you get to the end and understand what they are telling you. They tied everything together in a way that words simply could not. The story wouldn't be the same without them.

There are tons of great, even awesome, books out there to be read. Yet this rises above even the best of the best in my opinion. I've spent a lot of words trying to tell you how great that I feel The Sky Is Everywhere is, and yet I still don't feel that a thing I have said can truly capture or explain how deeply I was moved by this book; how deeply I loved it. I'm always careful not to claim that something is my favorite book. Yet I will say that The Sky Is Everywhere is among my favorites. I know that I will be visiting these characters again.

If you value stories of love, of loss and of life, then you owe it to yourself to read The Sky Is Everywhere. I am confident that you will not be disappointed. 

First Recipient Of...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Review: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

I discovered Bumped while looking at books on Amazon. I was bored and reading a ton of samples for fun. Because of its interesting premise, quirky jargon and slogans and the way that the twins stories are told in alternating chapters, it piqued my interest. I'm glad that it did. Bumped covers some very interesting topics: the value we place on our ability to reproduce, the ways that religion or societal expectations can effect behavior and self worth and the need to discover who you are for yourself and hold onto what you find with both hands.


Melody and Harmony are identical twins who were separated at birth. Melody was raised in Princeton by her adoptive parents, Ash and Ty. They have groomed her all her life to one day become pregnant with a specified partner so that the child conceived can then by sold for money, college funding, etc. Harmony, meanwhile, grew up in the religious community of Goodside, where thirteen year olds become wives ... and Harmony and Melody are now sixteen. Clearly, something is amiss.

Everything the girls knew is thrown into chaos when Harmony decides to break the rules within her community so that she can find Melody and try to save her soul. But is Melody the only one who needs saving...?

This book is told in alternating narratives and McCafferty does an awesome job of weaving the two plots, which start close together, branch out and then reconnect. Each "chapter" (they are named, not numbered. I would have liked numbers for 'setting the book down for two minutes' purposes, personally) is generally only a few pages long. We are never with either sister long enough for one plot and point of view to overshadow the other. That's a good thing.

I felt that Melody and Harmony both had distinct and interesting voices. There's never any question who's head you are in because their world views, ways of speaking, etc. are both totally distinct. (Personally, I liked Harmony more, but Melody slowly grew on me as she grew as a character.) The events of the book take place over only a few days, but McCafferty carefully avoids the pitfalls that could be associated with this. There is no 'insta-love' (romantically) between Harmony and Jondoe, and when Zen and Melody express how they feel eventually, it feels natural since their shared history is set up throughout the book.


There were no characters here that did not bring out some form of emotion or questioning for me. Harmony was probably my favorite, since I've studied somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty different religions. Watching her struggle with what it means to have faith, why people might choose not to have faith, and realizing that she can set the terms of her own faith, fascinated me.

Zen cracked me up. He's the kind of smart, sweet, funny guy that any girl would want to date. He's an extremely loyal friend to Melody. For a certain chunk of the book I sat there wondering if she really deserved him, but McCafferty did a good job at making their friendship -- and the tension between them because of their society -- become something I wanted to see them sort through more and more as the book continued. By the end I was overjoyed for the realizations these two came to and very satisfied with where we left them.

Jondoe was a mystery in the beginning, and remains one throughout the course of the novel. Can he be trusted? Does he really care about Harmony? Personally, I'm rooting for them (sorry, Ram.) but as it is, who knows? I've never been less certain about a couple. I like that. It makes me want to pick up the next book when it releases.

A Note About Jargon and Slang:

This book has a lot of made up words. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those things that a reader either loves or hates. For me, it drew me in. I had no trouble figuring out what was going on as I read Bumped and did not find that the terms slowed down my enjoyment of the story. Your mileage may very, though. I strongly recommend reading the sample on to see how you feel about this before you decide to make a purchase.

In General:

This was another well paced, quick and interesting read. McCafferty has done a solid job at letting us into her world without turning her world building into something that bogs the story down. While the book does explore some pretty heavy questions and themes, this is not a book that is going to make you have to put it down so that you can breathe. There are a few moments where a gasp might escape or a tissue might be needed, but for the most part, Bumped is like a light, fluffy pastry that has no qualms hiding the rich filling that lies within. By turns deeply thought provoking, laugh-out-loud funny and simply delightful, I eagerly await the sequel. I must know what happens next!

Fun, well written and briskly paced, Bumped held my interest from the first page to the last, and is a book that I am certain that I will be reading again. 


No need to take my word for it right now, though. The Underground is currently having a giveaway, and Bumped is one of the prizes. Enter now for your chance to win!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

My Rating: <3 <3 <3

Romantic, funny and memorable, Anna and the French Kiss tells the story of a girl's first steps into the world. The friends she meets, the love she craves and the truths she learns along the way will intrigue and inspire those who might be going away from home for the first time, spark the imagination of those who've never done this, or rekindle fond memories for those who've gone before.


Anna's dad, a famous novelist, decides that she should study in Paris for her senior year of high school. No amount of begging or pleading will change his mind. Anna befriends Meredith, Josh, Rashmi and St. Clair and begins to explore Paris and discover who she is without quite so much parental supervision.

Along the way she will also fall in love with St. Clair, who happens to have a girlfriend named Ellie, test the bonds of friendship that she holds with her old best friend, Bridgette and discover the joys of being a would-be film critique living in the film appreciation capitol of the world.

For me this book was a little different then what I am use to. I usually read books where there is something major -- and usually life threatening -- trying to be achieved. In Anna and the French Kiss there seemed to be two major goals (1) obtaining independence and (2) obtaining St. Clair. I'm a romance lover, but I really must tell you ... Because of the way the romance's conflicts were handled I was honestly more interested in the independence plot then in the romance.

That's a serious problem because the independence issue is actually more of a multi-themed sub-plot that plays second fiddle to the romance within this book at every turn. Can romance stand on its own? Absolutely. Does it do that well here? No. (See "Romance")

The Characters:

This is the next big issue for me. I started out liking Anna and St. Clair, but as the book went on I found myself constantly wanting to shake them. By the end of the book it seems that her whole existence revolves around him -- what happened to the girl who was so deeply, passionately interested in film critique? We know that he draws and loves history, but aside from the film thing, what makes her tick? She just didn't have enough depth for my liking.

And while I loved the fact that St. Clair had flaws (or at least, characteristics uncommon to the standard romance hero -- he's short and he's afraid of heights, for instance)... He is a coward. He stays with his girlfriend despite the fact that he no longer cares about her. He sleeps in Anna's bed, while he's still with his girlfriend, at Thanksgiving. He kisses Anna while he's still with his girlfriend near the end of the novel. (I don't care that he breaks up with her shortly after. That's still cowardly behavior.)

I also see that Perkins used a lot of painfully obvious mirroring characters: Bridgette / Meredith and Anna's father / St. Clair's father are the first examples that come to my mind. The situation with how Anna feels about her dad is never fully developed, clearly expressed or in any way resolved, which is another problem that really irked me.

The Romance: 

If this is actually a realistic portrayal of teenage romance, then I have only one thing to say: Thank God I didn't date in high school!

Perkins got some things right: The longing. The rollercoaster ride of hope and despair. The torture of being friends with a guy that you like. The jealousy that can consume you when the person your 'friend' is dating does not measure up to how you think you would behave. The slight touches and longing glances that might or might not be real. The intensity of every little thing, innocent or not.

But I could not respect Anna for pining over a guy for all of that time when she knew he was taken.

And I could not respect St. Clair, who admits at the end of the book that he knew he liked Anna the first day, for stringing along his current girlfriend for a good 7 - 9 months. The fact that Ellie ditched Rashmi sucks. But in no way does this justify or excuse the way that St. Clair behaves in any way, shape or form.

I'll give Perkins this: The HEA (happily ever after) she gave them was sweet and had me going "Aww..." despite any prior annoyance. But the bottom line is this: St. Clair and Anna go well together, yet I did not feel myself wishing I could be with St. Clair. If Romance is the central plotline of this novel, then that is what I should feel by the end. If I'd been Anna I would have been too disgusted with him over some of the things he did and said for anything to happen. (Mind you, in the book she did go along with them. They were partners in crime.)

Cheating -- whether its sharing a bed, kissing or stringing someone along -- is not romantic.

Why is it that we see him continually thinking how he is so much like his mother? (Which, on its own is fine...) Yet despite the evidence clearly presented within his actions during the book, we never see him wondering if his behavior in this whole him / Anna / Ellie love triangle is just a little closer to something his father might have done at his own age. (Going by the philosophy that things tend to be done on a smaller scale and snowball...) Lastly, even when he and Anna are confessing their feelings and getting together, I saw no thought or mention that any of this might have been even the slightest bit wrong.

There is absolutely nothing that leads me to believe that Anna won't be next on the chopping block here. I realize that since this is (to my knowledge) a standalone romance with an HEA that I'm not suppose to be thinking forward. I also realize that there are other reasons that any couple in any romance could be threatened with being dumped beyond the covers of the book. My problem here is that there actually seems to be strong evidence to back this up.

In General: 

The pacing was solid. The way that Perkins described Paris was great. The dialog was sharp, funny and natural. While I do not agree with some of her decisions, I liked Anna as a narrator and found her voice to be fresh and distinct. I just wish that the plot had hinged on something more then a guy who didn't have the guts to break up with his girlfriend. I was okay with it at first, but once they slept together at Thanksgiving (I do realize they did not have sex, just to clarify) it all went downhill. And for me, personally, it snowballed completely when she came back from Christmas, saw him and was all "I love him!". I wanted to hit her over the head with my copy of the book.

I gave this three stars. It lost one star because the entire plot hinged on the hero's inability to break up with his girlfriend. It lost another because two people who were (technically) cheating got together with no form of admittance, redemption or even remote consideration of their behavior and how it effected others. (Don't even get me started on the Anna / Bridgette / Meredith subplot...)

But this is strictly my opinion. "Good" is not a terrible review. If I really disliked the book, I wouldn't have finished it. If you're interested in this book, go for it. There are a lot of people who like it far more then I did. 

I would have rated it higher had I been able to respect the hero and heroine. But the plot hinged on them not being brave enough to listen to their own feelings. And the actions they took to fulfill their plot eventually made me lose most or all respect for them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3

Fifty pages into Mockingjay, I wanted to quit. It's not that the plot was dragging, the characters were poorly developed or the writing suddenly sucked. No, Collins had brought her A-game to the table in all of these areas. The problem was that what I was reading was so harrowing, so totally and utterly heartbreaking, that it threatened to rob me of breath.

From what I've been told, this is where a lot of people give up on Mockingjay. It's just too much. Seeing Katniss trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of self-loathing and utterly soul crushing despair is bad enough. Having it conveyed with such beautiful, powerful mastery of language makes it almost unbearable.

The good news is that just when it becomes too much it gets better.


Mockingjay picks up shortly after the spot that Catching Fire left off. The people of district 13 want Katniss to become the Mockingjay. But Katniss is still furious and heartbroken that Peeta was left at the mercy of those in the Capitol. After seeing Peeta in a Capitol broadcast, Katniss realizes that she must take action. The cease fire that Peeta is suggesting can help no one. And with the rebel forces viewing Peeta as a traitor, Katniss demanding he be given immunity if she takes up the role of Mockingjay may be her only hope to ensure his safety. When and if they can get him back.

Okay. I admit that I am focusing on the plot from the angle that I most care about: what will happen between Katniss, Gale and Peeta? There is plenty of action, political intrigue and fascinating twists and turns within Mockingjay's plot that it should keep a wide variety of readers happy. Whatever you've been reading the series for, I'm fairly confident in saying that Collins has you covered.

The ways that district 13 behaves differently then district 12 or the Capitol are described in an interesting manner that enriches everything that is happening. From word go it is questionable whether ot not district 13 can be trusted. (Sorry, folks. You won't get that answer from me.) Collins has a natural talent to know when to switch gears -- how long to focus on action, or switch to something more personal or emotional or when something might warrant some form of description. Her style retains the brisk pacing that made it so easy to finish her first two books.

I told everyone on Absolute Write that I would not finish Mockingjay within 24 hours because of how much the beginning was effecting me. I lied. I finished the book in less then twelve hours -- and at least six of those I was asleep.


THere are many fascinating discoveries to be made regarding the characters in Mockingjay. New characters range from likable to absolutely chilling. Old favorites, such as Haymitch, Gale, Finnick, Johanna and Peeta return as well, each with something important to add to the story.

I loved watching the relationship between Finnick and Annie, as well as when Finnick exposed secrets that he knew about the Capitol. Johanna and Katniss continue to have a complicated alliance / friendship / something, and when something bad happens to Johanna, Katniss' gesture to help her is moving. We learn more about why Haymitch ended up as he did, which is always welcome in my opinion.

The Romance:

You didn't think I was going to skip talking about this, did you? Collins does something brilliant here: she turns everything upside down.

In the first two books we have Peeta as the active guy in Katniss' life. He's the one who's there. The one she can count on. In Mockingjay, Gale gets a shot at this since Peeta is either unable or unwilling to do this for her for the majority of the book. I find it very interesting how the choices they make during a situation are so drastically different, as well. (Wait 'til you see what Gale proposes they do about "The Nut" in district 2. I won't spoil it for you. But I'll ask you to consider: Would Peeta have done this?) I also like how their respective ways of thinking end up effecting certain parts at the end of the book. Just trust me on this one.

I also liked the fact that in Mockingjay, it's Katniss who has to reach out to Peeta, rather then the other way around. (I won't spoil why that is.) We don't just see how she feels about him -- or even what she thinks she feels -- we tangibly experience it from the opening where he is missing to the end where... (you'll need to read the book.). The same is true for Gale: various situations throughout the book demonstrate what is going on between him and Katniss and how they differ.

Overall, I was pleased with how this aspect of the trilogy ended. I found Collins' handling of it to be classy, real and heartwarming without being a slap in the face to everything else these books have been about.

In General: 

As with the last two books, I had a fairly easy time getting through Mockingjay (excluding the beginning, as I said earlier.) At no point was I bored. I didn't feel the need to skim passages or pages. The book was very interesting and the plot moved quickly from beginning to end. If I have any major complaint aside from my struggle emotionally at the start, it is about the reasoning or execution of two deaths of characters. One because it was pointless and carried less weight then it should have. The other because though I ended up understanding the point of it, I felt that it was not given enough weight -- that only it's consequences mattered, rather then the character.

But you're not here to listen to me rant about character death. It's something I'm touchy about and it's definitely a personal thing. What you want to know is this:

This was a good book. Real or not real? 


Now go and read Mockingjay, so you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Summer on Fire Review Featured On The Reader's Choice Lounge

My review for Summer on Fire has been given very awesome treatment at The Reader's Choice Lounge. It's a very different experience having someone read words aloud, rather then reading them on a page or computer screen. I am glad to have had the opportunity to have my review shared in such a fresh, interesting and unique manner.

Many thanks to Karen for her enthusiasm toward my words and toward Kevin's book.

If you are curious to hear what she did with my review, you can find it here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Won Villain School!

A huge thank you to Ellen at the Word Thief blog.

Surely you've all seen that huge banner I've had at the top of my site the last week or two? Well, the winners for the contest were announced and I won a copy of Villain School: Good Curses Evil. I am extremely excited to read this book. I still can't believe that I won. And of course I'll be sharing my thoughts with everyone once I've read it.

So, what's it about?

From GoodReads:

Rune Drexler, Big Bad Wolf Jr., and Countess Jezebel Dracula are students at Master Dreadthorn's School for Wayward Villains. It's like military school for the children of famous villains; it's where you learn to be bad. But Rune is failing at his villainous studies, so when he lands himself in detention (again), Master Dreadthorn assigns him a Plot. In one week, Rune and his friends must find a henchman, steal a baby, kidnap a princess, and overthrow a kingdom. There's only one problem: Rune's not very evil. In fact, his behavior seems suspiciously heroic. . . .

This hilarious adventure stretches across a fairy tale world where the mistakes of famous villains become valuable lessons for our heroes-er, villains. The mix of familiar characters and a wholly original Plot will delight young readers.

By the way, if anyone is looking for a chance to win an ARC of Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs, Kathleen Peacock is having a giveaway on her website. To get your name in, just tell her who you think would win in a fight: Lucy Lawless or the Old Spice Guy.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the happy news. This has been a totally awesome month and it's only the 9th. There seem to be lots of good books coming out and I am having fun reading and reviewing them. (Psst, Kat... You might want to make some time to, you know, work on your revisions for Moon Dance.) Yes, I'm being kind of bad. 

But people seem certain that if you want to write, you should read. So we'll see. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Review: Summer on Fire by Kevin Craig

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

In his debut novel Summer on Fire, Kevin Craig successfully captures the passing of life within an Ontario town in the early 1980s and what might happen were that town to suddenly be struck by tragedy. This is not my typical type of book. I put my name in for a giveaway drawing over on Absolute Write and won. So there was no way for me to predict what I would think of it. I was very pleasantly surprised.


When a fire is accidentally started at Zach, Jeff and Arnie's hangout in Mr. Henderson's barn by a stray cigarette butt falling into a bale of hay, the boys must rush from the burning building and put space between it and them to avoid being in trouble. Afraid already because of their involvement with the destruction of the barn, they are horrified to discover that Mr. Henderson's house also burnt down -- with him in it. Surely they didn't kill him?

This book picks up from the start of the troubles that Zach, Jeff and Arnie find themselves in and does not let go. The thing that impressed me about the plot for Summer on Fire is that the build up of what was happening and the deepening consequences that accompanied it was very much like a fire itself. It mirrored the start of all the trouble and then continued to blaze brighter until it reached its conclusion.

This book was constantly moving forward. It stayed with an event as long as the event was interesting and then moved to the next thing the reader would want to know. The pacing was excellent. I had to go out and run a few errands with my family and as we drove back I was sitting in the car thinking of how much I wanted to get home so I could continue reading. I regretted not bringing the book with me.


There are no wasted people in Summer on Fire. Every character in this book has some interesting piece of history, personality, etc. to share with the reader. From Arnie's mother with her almost "manic" behavior to Jeff's struggles to be his own person, to Marty proving that he wants to be more then a miniature version of his father, every character shone in his or her own way.

I particularly liked the fact that we have interesting teens and interesting adults. The bond between Sherry and Zach and its parallel to the (surprising) bond formed between Marty and Jeff when trouble strikes was brilliant. The bond of friendship shared between Arnie and his mother when things go bad for him was touching, as was her defense of her son when the 'friends' she constantly praised ultimately failed him. The guilt that Zach felt for some of his actions and the ways that other characters made him take responsability. The behavior of Sherry that leaves us wondering if she, like Marty, is ultimately misunderstood as well. I could go on and on. In short, I'll just tell you the characterization is excellent.

The Excellent Use of Not-So-Distant History:

In 1983 I would have been one year old. Thanks to an aunt with a love of 80's video weekends, memories of my early school days from the late 1980's and a general interest and appreciation for how things can change drastically over a short period of time, though, I feel I was able to find a deep satisfaction with Craig's attention to detail in depicting the world his characters inhabited.

From the music they listened to, to the freedom the kids had to run around (aside from the fear when there might be a killer on the lose) to the actual word choices... Everything reflected that, despite the fact that the story took place less then 30 years ago, this very much felt like a very different time and place. The history and its effect on world building, character choices and behavior, family dynamics, etc. made it almost feel like it and the setting it evoked were a character in and of themselves.

In General:

This book was absolutely fantastic. I can already see that this will be making the round among family and friends. It tells a great story and for many that I know, it will likely evoke memories of a different time because of the wonderful attention to detail. I'm very glad to have had the chance to read this.

I would highly recommend this book. It's not an extremely long story, but it has a very interesting, well paced tale to tell. I am confident you won't be disappointed. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 Awesome!

In the second installment of her awesome Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins successfully ups the stakes, enriches her story's world and continues to make readers question who Katniss should be with -- Peeta or Gale. (For the record, I adore Peeta, but I'll try to stay neutral here.)


Catching Fire takes place a few months after the 74th Hunger Games have ended. Katniss and Peeta now live in the Victors' Village with their families in District 12. They are preparing to go on a tour of the various districts to "celebrate" their win in the Games. Unfortunately, President Snow feels that their strategy to both leave the arena alive has caused a risk of uprising. He tells Katniss that she must convince him -- as well as the districts -- that what she feels for Peeta is real. Is it?

I love the way that Collins ties together epic political struggles, combat and an (albeit unwanted by Katniss) quest for love. The role that love -- both what we really feel and what we show people we feel -- plays in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire is very thought provoking.

I enjoyed the return of several secondary characters, especially the stylist Cinna, and the roles that they played. What happens to Darius, for instance, is heart breaking. As sad as things can be, it shows that this is a world where actions have consequences. Often very dire ones indeed. It makes a solid backdrop for the brutal Hunger Games that the Capitol uses to keep the districts in line.

Another thing that impressed me with Catching Fire was how Collins paced this book differently then the original. While a different round of the Games does happen here, it is at the later end of the book and is not actually its only main focus. She spends an equal amount of time showing the situation in District 12 and showing some events going on in other areas as well.


Katniss remains a strong, capable and likeable heroine. She can be tough when she needs to be, but it in no way detracts from or shrouds her humanity. Peeta remains somewhat innocent regarding physical bloodshed. He tends to choose fighting with words over fighting with weapons, and he's generally good at it. I liked the fact that he took up painting. Cinna is back and awesome as ever. He does something really brave in this book and pays dearly for it. Heartbreaking, but it went well with who he is. Haymitch is also extremely awesome yet again. We get a peek at his time in the games, which I feel gives us a better glimpse of who he is now and how he got that way. I also found the prep team's tears very moving.

The Romance:

I think that what is happening between Peeta and Katniss is one of the most beautiful yet heart wrenching things I've ever seen done in a book. (Not bad for a subplot...) I love the fact that she is the warrior and he is the one she feels she must protect. He feels the need to protect her, but generally relies on his wits and his amazing communication skills to get this done. I feel that what is going on between them grows deeper with this book. (I felt that way with most things. Collins did a good job, in general, of raising the stakes and making me care more about everything.)

Can't say much for the Gale situation. Whereas everything Peeta does tends to be to protect Katniss (right down to that first loaf of bread when they were kids...) Gale has a certain amount of self centeredness ... His behavior about things that happen, his reaction to information she gives him, etc. He is also a very passive character. To see Peeta make the sacrifices he does and think people might want her with Gale confuses me. (Yet again, I'm biased here and ridiculously "Team Peeta" If someone who is Team Gale would like to explain their side in the comments that would be very welcome.)

In General:

The plot was interesting and kept me turning pages. The writing was smooth and did not jar me out of what was happening. The characterization was solid and didn't have me going "Why did (name) do that?" I feel that this is a book that I could gladly read again in the future.

I would highly recommend this book. I found it a joy to read and am excited to start Mockingjay. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shopping Sprees Are Fun...

Some of you might know that I have started planning my revisions for Moon Dance. You might also know that I am a big believer in rewarding myself for reaching my goals. Well, that's what's happening this weekend. Once I am done reading and taking notes on my novel -- so that I can then create a new outline and plan how I will actually be revising it -- I'm spoiling myself with a $200 Amazon shopping spree.

People constantly say that if you want to write, you should read. So what could possibly be better?

The trouble is that my "Add to Wishlist" habit is like having an itchy trigger finger. I have way too much stuff on there. So I'm hoping that you guys can help me narrow this down.

So without further ado, here's the list...

Writing Books:

1. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Everyone seems to agree that this is a very good book to have when doing revision or editing. I figure its time I added it to my collection.

2. Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson

I try to add writing books that are YA specific to my collection when I get the chance. This seems to be reviewed well on Amazon.

3. It was The Best of Sentences, It was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande

Recommended by Kitty Pryde over at Absolute Write. I read the sample on Amazon and I think this is exactly what I am looking for.

4. Revision and Self Editing by James Scott Bell

Yet another revision and editing book. Do I really need two? I'd love to know whether it's worth getting both or not.


1. Divergent by Veronica Roth

I have heard a lot of praise for this book and I liked the sample that I read. The Hunger Games went far better then I anticipated. Instead of avoiding YA distopian fiction, I'm now interested in reading it.

2. Matched by Ally Condie

The premise for this one intrigues me. The idea that someone else tells you who you will spend the rest of your life with could seem terrifying -- or a total relief -- depending on your history with dating / romance. I'm curious to see what happens here.

3. Delirium by Lauren Oliver

The idea of loving being considered a disease and scientists perfecting a cure is very chilling. Would you want to live in a world without love?

4. Bumped by Megan McCafferty

I really liked the sample that I read of this. The contrast between one twin who is willing to get pregnant for money and one who lives in a religious commune sounds fascinating.

5. Wither by Lauren DeStefano

I was angry when I read the premise of this book. But that could very well be a good reason to read it. Will it completely tick me off? Does it have anything worthwhile to say? The author has chosen some very sticky subject matter and it could be interesting to see how she handles it.


Hello, genre I have never actually read before! Yes, I generally stick that closely to fantasy and paranormal. Okay ... technically I'm sure I have read contemporary fiction before. But this is the first time I can ever recall going out of my way to read it.

1. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

This book is suppose to have a well balanced and interesting romance. Considering how much slack that paranormal or urban fantasy can get in that area, I thought that trying something a little more real might be an interesting exercise. I also quite liked the sample that I read on Amazon.

2. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

I have heard much praise for this book and it has caught my interest. One of the characters in Moon Dance passes away and leaves my heroine with some grief. So I thought getting a book where the character is dealing with this might be a good idea.

3. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Another book that people seem to really like. The idea interested me when I read it, so here it is.

4. The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Same reasons that I am interested in Twenty Boy Summer. I also think that watching how the main character deals with the two guys in her life should be interesting.


1. Fallen by Lauren Kate

I admit it: I've never read any fallen angel paranormal. Plus, WalMart has the other two books for really good prices so if I like this I will grab those too. (With real money, as opposed to credit card.) I read a sample of this and really liked it.

2. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

I'm actually thinking of buying this because of how strongly some people dislike it. This seems to be the poster child for "What we don't want from paranormal romance". I really wanted it back in February of 2010 but decided not to buy it. From what I've heard the issues people have with this are also present in Twilight (which I have but have not finished. Yawn.) Should I examine that instead?

3. Passing Strange by David Waters

I really liked the original Generation Dead. I have Kiss of Life in my TBR pile but have not been able to get into it for whatever reason. Part of me wants to get this because of my love for the original. Part of me is arguing I should wait until I finish Kiss of Life since they're suppose to be read in order.

4. Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

This has a very intriguing premise and I really want to read it. However, it's being released in paperback at the end of August. Buy it now since I'm curious? Or wait and save a little money?

Other (Not 100% Sure Where These Belong...)

1. Heist Society by Ally Carter

This sounds like it should be a fun read. I've never read anything by this author before but I know I have taken a look at some of her books and been intrigued. Is it time to take the plunge?

2. Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

I've been reading vampire romances since 2001. This looks like it is a parody on the genre and has gained my interest because of that. Anyone know if its any good?

3. Beastly by Alex Flinn

Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale. I'm thinking of starting to collect some re-tellings and this caught my interest.

4. Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan

Another book recommended by Kitty Pryde. This has a very interesting premise and I am curious to see what happens. I read a sample of this and liked it.

Anyway, there they are. :D I told you I have too many choices.

Anyway... Which ones would you buy? What books are you anxious to read next?

Thanks for reading!

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