Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Writing, Reading and Working On "Stuff"...

The last few days have been pretty busy for me as a writer.

I am now working on revisions for Chapter 15 (out of 27) of Moon Dance. I am happy with how the changes I am making are going. I feel I am doing what is right for my book and for my characters, and that is very important to me.

I've also been doing some reading. But not necessarily of the nature that many of you may be interested in. What's been getting prime time on my Kindle? Here, I'll show you: 

Why have I taken off down this strange little path? Because I was finding that while I sat there trying to edit Moon Dance I kept getting stuck because I was worrying about things like, "How does an eBook or print book actually get designed?", "What do I need to know to format a cover properly?" and of course, "What haven't I thought about yet that I'm going to kick myself over when the time to launch Moon Dance rolls around?". It's very hard to escape 'where I am' and get to 'where my characters are' with that noise in my head. So I needed to find a way to turn down the volume. 

A short and sweet list of what I've learned this weekend:

1. Even if I like to write in Scrivener, I will likely benefit from a copy of Microsoft Word. It will make my life easier when it comes time to format my eBook and design the inside of my print book. (I should also invest in a bottle of Advil -- dealing with these things is likely going to give me a headache before I get them right.)

2. Everyone has an opinion on how a book cover should look, and what it is for. Since I am planning to publish both in eBook and print, winding up with something suitable and practical may be challenging.

3. People have very strong feelings about self publishing... Why they do it. Who should do it. How it should be done. What steps should be taken.

Have you ever wondered what motivates me? I just want to write the best story I can, package it nicely, wrap it in a beautiful cover and share it with readers. It's not about the bottom line. It's about my characters and making sure their story is both told and heard.

Which of course raises the question: "But, Kat! If you feel that way, why charge anything for it?"

I have three reasons:

-- I want to hold my book in my hands. This is my holy grail. This is the part I am doing for me. This is what will make me feel that everything I have done is 'real'. That my 'people' (characters) aren't just strings of cotton candy floating randomly around in my head. 

-- I want to be read, not collected. If you make something free, lots of people will download it. But that does not mean lots of people are gong to actually read it. I know I have been guilty of getting something for free and having it languish on my Kindle. (Okay, I do this with books I buy, too. I'm terrible and an impulse buyer.) I believe in an altered version of what that lion king on the isle of misfit toys says in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (If anyone remembers his name, could you tell me?): "A [book] is never truly happy until it is loved by a [reader]." Yes, I am just a little crazy. But I'm sure you knew that already. :) 

-- Even if money is not my primary motivation for writing, publishing or wanting to share my work, I do not feel I am in the wrong for trying my luck and seeing if my book will sell. If I understand correctly, a writer is someone who writes books. An author is someone who has sold them. Do I really need to point out that while I may not be out to make a million dollars, I do want the right to refer to myself as an author? *laughs* 

4. Oh, yeah. I did learn a little bit about the stuff I set out to research. (See #1: Buy MS Word.) 

I do have one final piece of exciting news before I end this, though.

I should soon have an actual cover to show you all! With 'holding a print copy of my book' as one of my big dreams, this is a pretty big deal to me. 

Anyway, I just thought I should pop on here and let you guys know I didn't fall off the face of the earth. Hopefully once I have some of this stuff (especially the editing, which needed to be done four days before yesterday...) is under control, things will get back to normal.

My questions for you are:

1. Do you want to know what I think about the books I am reading?

2. Would you guys like another sample from Moon Dance?

I hope you all had a great weekend and are into the start of a fabulous week!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Before and After: Miss World by Randi Black Gets A New Cover

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to be part of the blog tour for Miss World by Randi Black. I really loved the book, and when Randi asked if I would be interested in doing a Before & After to showcase the book's new cover design, I was happy to say yes.

Today I'm going to share with you the Before and After for Miss World, what the book is about (just in case you missed my review earlier this year) and an interview with Randi where she was kind enough to take the time to share her adventures giving Miss World a new look.

Before and After:


My thoughts:
I love the color scheme for the new cover. The pink is shocking and eye popping -- it will stand out well against the majority of book retail sites, which tend to have cream or white backgrounds. The details -- the pose, setting, etc. -- fit what the book is about and definitely create a stronger mood. The new cover looks good and the contrast between title and name seems appropriate given the intensity of the story this book contains.

So, what's Miss World about?
It's 1993. Kimmy Ho's never really been happy (and thinks her life sucks). She's not really good at anything - or at least, that's what her mother says. But music makes her feel better, and gives her something to live for.

Then, she gets raped on the day Kurt Cobain's found dead. And her life begins to suck even more.

From his death comes her cross-dressing imaginary friend Joey, and her budding romance with Walter, the skinny kid from special-ed. Walter shows her love and the ability to feel pleasure again, but even he can't make everything better. Not when he also awakens a lust for violence and revenge that she never knew she had inside her.

An Interview with Randi Black: Designing the New Cover
Q: How did you come up with the original cover for Miss World? What was your goal with that?

Randi: I was working with an artist in New Zealand on the original cover for Miss World. Basically, I e-mailed her a copy of the manuscript and she took it from there. Sometime in 2010, I formed an artist's collective with some friends from SAIC and we held salons during the first Saturday of every month. There would be all sorts of local artists presenting their work, with a Q&A session afterward. My friend, who was the head of it, wanted to throw a release party for Miss World. But my artist in New Zealand fell ill close to the release date, so I went into Createspace and used one of their templates to design a cover. At the time, all I wanted was a tangible paperback to sell at the release party! It looked like a low-rent version of Valley of the Dolls, and I ended up replacing it with the other cover a couple months later.

Q: Why did you decide Miss World should get a new cover? What were you looking to change? 

Randi: You know, the old cover is nice. I love the L.A. cityscape. The model, who looks so haunted and vulnerable, is someone I've always been curious about. I’d wonder if she knew she was on the cover of my book and if she’s ever read it. When I asked about her, my cover artist wouldn't answer the question. LOL. That being said, I don't think the original cover was a true representation of the content, nor did it get the message across. It's also deceiving, in that way, as it might make someone think the book's less abrasive than it really is. I never intended for Miss World to be a YA novel, but it just kind of got classified as such and I decided to take advantage, because I'm evil like that. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to change everything about the cover.

Q: How did you go about designing the new cover? Have there been challenges? Was there a part of the design process that was really exciting for you?

Randi: Originally, the plan was to book a cheap motel room and have the cover model lie naked beneath a white sheet, with her face completely covered, with my boyfriend behind the camera. I wanted it to look like a crime scene photo. I ran that idea with Molly, a friend of mine who is a great graphic designer (she won the City of Los Angeles Design Award in 2001), and she suggested that the model lie on her back in gothic clothes with her eyes closed, her forearm over her forehead, and Nirvana records by her head. Then all of a sudden, I saw this image in my head and I was like, "Minor Threat!" I forwarded her the link to the image and we agreed that it would definitely work. And other friends of mine, who shared similar sentiments about the cover, agreed. (Click here to see what inspired Randi.)

One of the most exciting things about the design process was working with my boyfriend for the cover photo. We’ve been together for a long time so we work well together. The photo shoot took place on my back porch. Our original cover model flaked out, so I ended up taking her place. Why not? ;) I looked the part. It went by pretty fast, which was good since I was wearing black leather and torn fishnets in 90 degree weather. My boyfriend then converted the images to grayscale on Photoshop, then we e-mailed them to Molly and let her do her magic.

I enjoyed the design process so much that I want to take matters in my own hands again and be part of the cover design for Miss World’s sequel. Speaking of which, I already have some ideas…

Q: Are you planning to make the new cover available in eBook and paperback? If you know anything about the process here and would like to share it, feel free. 

Randi: I'm definitely making the new cover available in both eBook and paperback! I know eBooks are cheaper and faster to get, but print is alive and well, and there's this feeling of completion with a paperback (and yes, I love signing and personalizing books, along with adding cryptic messages and crude drawings). Now that I'm changing the cover to both, I've been playing around with other fonts and layouts just for the paperback, because you can't seem to do that for eBooks. eBooks also don't seem to recognize the Wingdings font, which what I used to make those little bombs that divided certain sections of the paperback. Now I'm also tempted to change chapter numbers into song titles. This is why I love self-publishing. It's great for someone as capricious as I am, because it gives me the opportunity to make changes when needed (after this one, though, it's about time that I leave it the way it is). Createspace won't let me change the paper color from white to cream, but that's not a big deal.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share with the readers of I Write, I Read, I Review? 

Randi: Dear readers: Which book covers out there have made you want to read a book without caring what it's about? (Mine is Darcey Steinke's "Suicide Blonde"). And how important is the cover when deciding whether or not you want to read a book?

Thanks for having me back, Kathy! I'm in the middle of editing Miss World's sequel right now, and look forward to sharing next year!

Kathy: Thanks so much for dropping by and sharing your experience with us. For those who write, understand the design process is helpful. And for those who read, getting a glimpse into how a book cover comes together is fun. I wish you all the best with Miss World and with your next book. I know I can't wait to read it!

So, what do you think of the new cover for Miss World? And to highlight Randi's question: what covers have convinced you to read a book? How important is the cover to you? Feel free to leave a comment. We'd love to know what you think! 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Summer Love by Merri Hiatt

*This book is not YA

I discovered this book because Merri Hiatt is one of the people who talks a lot on the Absolute Write boards that I like to visit when I am stuck in my edits. The theme of women who had the names of seasons for characters caught my attention since I use elements tied to seasons in my own work. Different concepts? Yes. Still got me curious? Yes.

Last night I finally had a pause in my edits for Moon Dance (read: I'm stuck!) so I figured I might as well read something. Today's review was suppose to be Vision in White by Nora Roberts but that's going *slow* because the book's print is obnoxiously tiny and giving me a headache. So my apologies to anyone who is like, "Where's the Vision in White review?" -- it may be a while yet.

I didn't go into Summer Love with a million expectations. Instead, I downloaded the sample for it and for Autumn Love and liked them enough that I decided to buy Summer Love and give it a go. Ready to hear what I think of Summer Love? Read on...

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Summer Lansing is used to reading about love in books, keeping her at a safe distance from heartbreak. Mike Duncan doesn't know the meaning of the word safe. He's spontaneous and thrives on taking risks. When the duo cross paths, searing kisses soon follow and Summer finds a real-world passion she never knew existed.

Summer Love is contemporary romance. To me, this means that the characters are going to drive the plot, and they are going to determine whether the book is interesting. Summer Love had a totally wonderful cast, and since this is part of a series I am looking forward to catching up with them all again in the other books?

"But Kat, this is the plot section..." Yeah, I know. I really liked the stuff that we get to see her plot wise. The book club meetings are fun, the interactions at Mind Travels are great... But this is all placeholder. It's the characters and what is going on within them that counts.

Summer's need to have a plan and her struggle learning to listen to her heart outside the confines of a book. Winter being given a hard time by her boss. Autumn's determination to succeed as a country singer. And of course the nearly electric chemistry between Summer and Mike. (Can't forget that, can we?) Those are the things that immediately come to mind when I think of Summer Love

The Characters: 

Summer seemed to have all her ducks in a row, perhaps even a bit more then was good for her. I could definitely relate to her love of escaping inside the pages of a book and her need to have things planned out. She had layers and I appreciated that. She felt this need to have it all together and to succeed, but she also had a warmth about her -- the way she is friends with the people she works with, for instance -- that kept her from being unrelatable. 

Mike is Summer's polar opposite. He likes to live by the seat of his pants and I think the effect he had on her was definitely for the better. Let me be clear: Mike wasn't some lazy freeloader or anything like that. He had a job, knew tons about various aquatic subjects (surfing, scuba diving, etc.) ... But he wasn't out to become #1 boss or anything like that. I think that this parallel brought out the best in their characters. 

The rest of the cast is really what made Summer Love stand out from other great romances I've read. I really grew to love the characters of Port Townsend. I felt like I got to have a glimpse at a whole little community, not just our hero and heroine. And yet this was done in such a way that it never took away from the central romance. If I had to give a favorite character outside of Mike and Summer, it would likely either be Kitty or Winter. 

The Romance: 

I'm not gonna lie: the attraction between Mike and Summer takes off like a bat outta hell. The characters have lived in the same town for a while, and Summer seems to have had a crush on Mike for a while at the book's start. But the evolution of their relationship was definitely fast and furious. This probably won't sit well with people who are anti insta-love, but I was fine with it personally. By the end of the book this is addressed and the characters and relationship grow from it. 

Merri Hiatt did a great job of capturing the chemistry and intensity of how these two felt. I was really able to get behind what was going on with Summer, both when things were going good and when problems arose. I was rooting for them to get together, but I both understood and respected her desire for caution and her fear or being hurt or left behind. 

In General: 

The only other thing I can really say about Summer Love that might be a deciding factor for anyone is that there are some POV changes in this book and they can happen pretty quick and last short periods of time. This is not a constant thing and once I knew it was going to happen I was fine with it. But I know this might not be cool for everybody, so I figure its probably best to point it out. On the plus side, in my opinion, it allowed me to connect with the cast better since there were a lot of people coming and going. It made me very eager to read the rest of the books in this series. 

Summer Love is a fun quick read that I zipped through effortlessly. I read about 90% of it in one sitting and likely would have finished the whole thing in one go if it hadn't been 4 a,m. and I hadn't been tired. A quaint little town full of quirky characters and a book club I'd love to join if the place was real and I lived there served as a lovely backdrop for a wonderful romance between two characters who had totally sizzling chemistry. This is the kind of book that tempts me to turn around and read the next in the series immediately. Highly recommended! 

So, have you read Summer Love? What did you think? Or perhaps you haven't gotten to it yet, or it wasn't your cup of tea? Maybe you haven't *heard* of it? Whatever your thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment. I'd love to know your opinion! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

*I received this book as an eArc from Random House via NetGalley. Thank you.

One of the most notable tropes in YA paranormal is the stalker boyfriend. I've never totally understood the popularity of this idea, yet it seems to pop up time and again. It's not even that I blatantly dislike the idea, or that I am looking to make fun of it. Rather, I simply have never felt convinced that the lovers in these stories truly love each other, or at least love each other in an equal way. One character always seems to have a distinct disadvantage that makes me question the relationship.

Lies Beneath caught my attention because it is told from the hero -- rather then the heroine's -- POV. I was curious to see whether this might let me have more insight into the more aggressive of the two characters, whether Anne would be able to convince me of why Calder wanted Lilly since we spend the book looking through his eyes.

Curious to see what I thought of Lies Beneath? Read on and find out.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge. They blame Hancock for their mother's death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family's homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter, Lily. Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistable good looks and charm on ususpecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there's more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him.

What's the best way to get close to someone you want to kill? Seduce his teenage daughter. That seems to be the consensus in Lies Beneath, an interesting take on mermaid mythology with a memorable lead character named Calder White. Considering our "hero's" motivations and intent at the onset of the story, I think I am safe in saying that this is quite a unique perspective for YA, although perhaps not one for the faint of heart. 

Personally, I really loved Anne Greenwood Brown's take on mermaids and felt that the mythology she developed was detailed and interesting. It added to the plot, strengthened the characters and showed a great level of attention to detail. It really helped me buy in to what was going on with Calder and his sisters. While I certainly wasn't "cheering" for them to succeed in their mission, I was intrigued with the workings of their world. 

Unfortunately, I also felt that too much of the time this book was purely about Calder sneaking around and spying on Lilly. It got to a point where I had this old country song going off in my head: "I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see if I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me..." The reliance on this plot device became too much for my tastes and even the interesting mythology / world building could not totally cover it up. 

The Characters: 

As I said in my opening, the drawing factor for me was that we get to see a book about a predatory hero told from that character's perspective. In showcasing the complexity, twisted thoughts and depth of Calder White, the book did not disappoint. There were decisions he made and actions he took that I definitely didn't agree with, but I must say, reading from his POV certainly wasn't boring. I liked the fact that Anne had him questioning things from the go, ensuring he would not lose out on all my sympathy and become unbearable. Yet at the same time, he walked the line between being a guy and being a dangerous creature -- this was done very well.

I wish that I could give this same level of praise to LIlly, but yet again I found that reading from the male POV only has left me with another female lead who just didn't measure up. Perhaps the problem with this setup is that Calder is such an intriguing character, and is so much larger then life, that Lilly just got overshadowed? I did like her relationship with her little sister, though. And I think it is clever how the way they behave parallels what is going on with Calder's family.

And the three mermaid sisters are the last characters I simply must talk about. They are the reason I am certain it wasn't an inability on Anne's part directly that Lilly and I didn't click. With these three and Calder running around there was just too much "Whoa!" stuff going on for me to focus in her direction. These ladies are bad, bad, bad and I totally loved them for it.

The Romance: 

It's a shame, but of course the fact that I did not like the leading characters equally is something bound to reflect poorly on the romance front. These two were essentially suffering from Bambi vs. Godzilla syndrome, and not so much because 'he has powers', but rather because 'she just wasn't nearly as interesting'. I couldn't really grasp what Calder saw in her. And considering that Lilly is suspicious of him, I don't get how they got to where they did in this book.

In real life, its fine for someone to sit, look at a couple and think: "How did that happen?". In a love story, its the author's goal to show us "How did that happen?". I didn't feel that I really "got" that here. I understood what I read logically, but the problem ends up being I didn't *feel* it.

In General: 

Lies Beneath was a fun read and I'm glad I had the opportunity to check it out. I'd definitely recommend taking a look at it because of the great mythology and interesting narrator. Just know what you're getting yourself into.

So, have you read Lies Beneath? What did you think of it? Are you thinking of reading it? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Shopaholic Sundays (3): Stacking the Shelves / On My Radar

Shopaholic Sundays are a weekly feature here at I Write, I Read, I Review. This is my place to talk about what I bought this week, what books are releasing that I'm excited about and what's coming up on my blog.

Hey guys!

I'm still working at fine tuning how I want to do Shopaholic Sundays. With that in mind, I think I'm going to be crediting Stacking the Shelves for my "Things I Bought" videos, and I'm going to keep On My Radar and This Week... the way I have them now.

Sorry for a bit of radio silence over here! I keep starting new books and they keep bouncing off of me. They don't wanna latch on and stick! I'm not sure if it's stress or editing woes (Moon Dance needs a major plot edit at the part I'm working on.)

At least the weather is beautiful and I got some great books. Curious what's happening (and happened) this week? Read on!

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga Reviews where we get to share the books that we bought, borrowed or received. Ready to see what I got? Watch the video! 

Here are the books:

Please Note:

I caught two errors in the video. (1) The elderly woman in A Turn In The Road is the heroine's mother in law. and (2) I slipped and added an s to "Hocking". Thank you.

On My Radar is a weekly feature inspired by Fresh Batch over at Xpresso Reads. The purpose of On My Radar is to give me a chance to talk about the books I am thinking of buying, or at least sampling on my Kindle.

Shift by Em Bailey -- This has a very "hive" feel to it, which is certainly not something I've seen done in YA before. I'm intrigued to see whether my hunch about this is right and to see how it will play out.

Of Poseidon by Anna Banks -- I've been looking forward to this book for months. I'm very interested in anything fantasy aquatic or mer related, so this definitely has my attention. Whether it will be a book I love or not waits to be seen, but it certainly has my interest.

Dark Kiss by Michelle Rowen -- For a long time I have checked out books about angels and demons, waiting to find that one book that will totally sweep me off my feel, completely blow me away. It's too soon to say this will be "the one". But I can safely say that I am interested.

Tuesday -- A review of Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown. As I said in the video, don't quote me on this one, but I'll do my best. What I can tell you so far is that Calder's voice is unique and interesting and this is definitely a book you don't want to miss.

Wednesday -- Waiting on Wednesday post. I have a pretty awesome book picked out that I'm really excited about. Want to know what it is? Come back and see. :)

Thursday -- A review of Vision in White by Nora Roberts. My thoughts so far: I love how much attention to detail there is about the wedding business, Vow. Mac is a heroine I really sympathize with and Carter is an absolute cutie; definitely a unique hero who will likely stick with me.

That's "it" for me this week! Thanks for dropping by! I'd love to know what you got this week, what books you are looking forward to and whether you have anything interesting coming up on your blog. Feel free to leave a comment! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

I've wanted to read this book since the first time I heard about it. That said, I knew that there was a fifty fifty chance on this book for me. This would either be something I totally loved or totally hated. Why? Because the premise both compelled and repulsed me at the same time.

Claimed to be The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, The Selection actually drew me in because of it's reality TV attitude. I was there for the tension and intrigue among the contestants, as well as the developing romance between America and Maxom vs. America and Aspen. As someone who went and auditioned for Canadian Idol, I've had a bit of experience with the whole competitive aspect of reality TV and when romance was mixed with that I couldn't look away.

So, are you curious what I thought of The Selection? Did it live up to my expectations? Leave me deliriously giddy or completely ticked off? Read on and find out.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Okay, first let me cover my one tremendous beef with The Selection. (Or rather, its marketing...)

If you are looking for another dose of The Hunger Games, I'll tell you what you need to know right now: please look somewhere else. I don't know who came up with the idea for the whole 'peanut butter and chocolate' marketing plan this book went through. I just know it was a really, really bad idea. There are a lot of things that I really loved about The Selection. There are a lot of things I think it did really well. But any aspects that could be paralleled to The Hunger Games are, without question, the weakest elements in this book.

The rebel threat is interesting, the caste system adds a unique layer that will hopefully be explored more vividly in future books and the fact that history is being kept from being recorded is a very scary thought. But these things were not the forefront of the story, and it's not fair to have people coming to this thinking they are.

My biggest issue among these three topics is by far the rebel situation. It was done in a way that is completely passive -- as was pretty much every violent or threatening situation covered in the book. I did not dislike our leading lady America for this passivity. I didn't come to The Selection expecting to find a warrior princess. But when the worst thing that directly threatened her was another contestant ripping the sleeve off one of her dresses, comparisons to The Hunger Games are not a smart move.

Okay, now that I've got that out of the way, let's talk about what was great. And there was a LOT of great...

What The Selection lacked in dystopian danger and physical jeopardy to the main character, it made up for in a somewhat twisted fairy tale type charm, filled with internal conflicts, fascinating characters and an intriguing premise that (rebels aside) succeeded admirably. The love triangle, although I picked a team easy here, is set up in a way that I'm sure will up the danger quota down the road. The relationships between America and the other girls competing for Maxom's hand, as well as those between America and her maids, were extremely well developed, considering the size of the cast. 

Despite the fireballs I threw at the book a minute ago, allow me to grant it the praise it deserves. Of all the books I have read in the last (roughly) year or so I've been blogging, none has allowed me to recapture and experience the loss of first love and the hopeful thrill of discovering new love in the last place one would expect it the way that The Selection has managed to do. 

The Characters: 

The reason I felt this incredible connection has to be The Selection's totally awesome heroine, America. Is her name totally cheesy? Yes. That was one of the things that had me a little hesitant. But who really gets to pick their own name? Cheesy name or not, America seemed like the kind of girl I could easily be friends with. And because of her honest and real narrative, this book really made me feel. I went through everything America went through with her. The friendships, the homesickness, the confusion, the love, all of it. 

This was what I'd call an "active" reading experience. I've talked about being frustrated when a book doesn't make me leave my chair -- when my imagination does not kick in to let me forget that I am turning pages. This was the opposite. Not only did I pretty much forget about the book in my hands, but I felt it along with America. I laughed. I cried. I blushed. I cringed. I had moments when I had to stop reading because I was terrified or mortified about what could or would happen next. This is the absolutely most awesome sense of connection I can have with a book. This is the holy grail for me as a reader. I'm very glad I found it here. 

If I could use a quote to try and clearly explain why America won my respect by the end of the book, I'd draw your attention to this:

"So, you're choosing him over me?" he asked miseribly.

"No. I'm not choosing you or him. I'm choosing me." 

(The Selection, pg. 325)

The two love interests, Aspen and Maxom, were both interesting, too. Neither of them was actually what I expected which lead me to wind up feeling differently then I thought I would feel by the end of the book. I liked that. It's always fun, to me, when an author does things that go beyond my expectations.

We meet Aspen first, and honestly, I just thought he was alright. He has this very "I'm the Man" attitude going on that really irritated me. I get it: he's poor, his family needs stuff and he has a strong need to prove himself. But really ... he just wasn't my type. And I really, really hate what he did near the end of the novel. I'll save talking about that for a book chat or something, since I don't want to spoil it. I guess my other big issue with Aspen is that we really don't get to see the relationship between him and America grow. We enter it en media res and personally, I just wasn't impressed.

Maxom, on the other hand? Oh my God I loved him. Sign me up, sign me up! Here's the thing, guys: I was totally ready to hate his guts, just like America was. But he was absolutely nothing I figured he would be. He's in the same class as only one other book boy I've read about who left this kind of impression on me: Linden from Wither. This is a really, really hard thing for an author to pull off, in my opinion. A lot of times when a reader decides they're gonna hate somebody, it sticks. But Maxom had this very sweet and innocent quality that is very unusual for a YA love interest, a vulnerability and honesty that actually made me stop going, "Oh, God. I feel so sorry for America, having to go and meet this twit who has girls brought to him that he can pick between." and instead think, "Gee, this guy is actually pretty neat. I'd love to see America and Maxom get together. I'm still kinda eh on the Selection itself, but at least the prince is worth fighting for," That is huge.

The other really great characters here were some of the girls that America is competing against for Maxom's hand. There were a lot of characters here, and of course there was no way Kiera could really flesh them all out in vivid detail. But I really loved Marlee and I look forward to finding out what her deal actually is in the next book. Something has been set up around her, I have *no* idea what that is, and it's killing me. Celeste, who could be considered the book's "villain" was decently done, although I wish we'd seen a few more layers about her. I suppose that would be hard to pull off in first person POV though.

The Romance: 

The first thing I want to touch on, and I have a little already, is the parallel between Aspen and America vs. Mxom and America. I understand that Aspen and America needed to already be together to make the plot work, but it really put his character at a disadvantage and (to some extent) made him feel like a plot device to me. Whereas with Maxom, we actually get to know him as America does and so (at least for me) I felt my attachment to him growing as hers did.

There is also the parallel of the things Aspen does to get America to go into the competition, in comparison to how Maxom behaves at every turn where she pretty much tells him she does not want to be there. Does this work in Maxom's favor? Is it likely what helped make his character into more then I assumed it would be? Yes. But it also poses a problem: As far as The Selection is concerned, the love triangle is weak. The fact that I had such an easy time picking which guy I want the heroine to be with, that it felt almost painfully obvious to me, is an issue. I am curious to see whether Kiera will address that down the road, or whether she meant for it to be that way.

One of the things I really liked about the book is that it didn't just make all 35 of the girls competing for Maxom turn into simpering piles of goo the moment they got to the palace. I'm sure there are some who are naturally growing to care about him, as with America. But at the same time, there are those who are discovering they don't feel anything for him and still others who are plain out to win a crown. Maxom's situation is not as simple as it might seem. Consider the idea that for him there really aren't "plenty of fish in the sea". When coupled with the fact that he seems genuinely concerned about picking someone who will want to be with him, the idea of the Selection becomes a little more easy to swallow.

The last thing I want to say is that I loved the growth we see between America and Maxom in this book. We see her go from having perceptions about him, to becoming his friend, to beginning to have feelings for him. It's truly beautiful, still isn't "flawless" by the end and actually feels like it has a certain sense of naturalness behind it. It's rare to find well paced romance in YA when you step outside of the confines of contemporary, so this was a very welcome change.

In General:

The Selection was everything I hoped it would be, nothing I really feared it would be (personally) and many things I never expected it to be. I cannot possibly sing the praises of this book loudly enough, or express how bad I want the next book "NOW!" without fearing my enthusiasm will be seen as pure impatience. I do realize it takes time to write a good book, and based on her debut, I think I am safe in saying Kiera Cass is destined for great things. The Selection was an absolute joy to read from start to finish.

Is it as fluffy and frilly as the dresses on the front cover? Absolutely. But I wouldn't have it any other way. This is the kind of book that can make a person fall in love with love again. There are books, and they are different for every person, that are truly treasures for our hearts, minds and spirits. Sometimes its because they have a message we need to hear. At others, a place we long to go. Or perhaps its when an author has told a story we might have thought of ourselves. I'll leave you to consider which and whether these apply to me about The Selection. What I will tell you is that it's possibly my favorite thing I have read all year.

If you like pretty dresses, romance and memorable characters, The Selection is not to be missed!

So, have you read The Selection? What did you think? Are you team Aspen, team Maxom or are you staying neutral? If you haven't read The Selection, do you want to? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment! :)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Before and After: A White So Red and The Scarlet Dagger get new covers!

As some of you may know, I reviewed Krystle Jones' The Scarlet Dagger last year. It was one of my favorite books of 2011. I gave it five hearts and awarded it a Kat's Meow. 

Over the last couple weeks, Krystle has been posting about the new cover she had made for The Scarlet Dagger. She has also shown the novel (and final) cover for her next book, A White So Red.

Since I'm rather fascinated -- okay, I'll admit it I'm obsessed right now -- with cover design, I thought that I would take a few minutes to share some before and after images. I think that these designs have come a long way and the new covers look great. I'd also love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to share your thoughts!

The Scarlet Dagger


The strength of Sloane’s heart is about to be put to the ultimate test.

After the Eclipse – the night vampires began openly slaughtering human victims – everything changed. Out of fear, the government salvaged what remained of the human population and enclosed them in massive, security-laden cities called White Sectors, while marking the vampire infested territory as Red Sectors.

When seventeen-year-old Sloane McAllister’s twin brother disappears, she seems to be the only one who thinks he isn’t dead, and vows to stop at nothing to find him. Gathering her courage, she braves the Red Sector to search for clues to his whereabouts. By chance, she encounters Aden, a handsome, charismatic vampire with a hidden agenda. He turns Sloane against her will, and whisks her away to his underground city. Enemies quickly become friends as Sloane struggles against her attraction to Aden, and resists her growing loyalties to the creatures that ruined her life. But the vampires themselves are the least of her problems. The city is harboring a devastating secret, one that could change the tide of the war and threaten to destroy everything Sloane has come to believe in.

Heart-stopping action and scorching romance collide in this dystopian, urban fantasy thriller.

A White So Red


Take back what is yours.

Seventeen-year-old Snow’s life changed forever the night her stepmother, the Queen, sent her huntsman to cut out her heart. Fleeing for her life, Snow runs to the Silver Forest, a place as dangerous as it is enchanting, and begins an adventure she could never have dreamed.

With no one at her side but a rowdy band of carnivorous dwarves and an arrogant, rogue prince who’s too handsome for his own good, Snow must confront the challenge that’s been laid before her: Kill the Queen, and take back the kingdom that should have been hers.

But if she is to succeed, Snow will have to tap into a powerful, ancient form of magic, one that may have been sleeping inside her all along.

A White So Red is a dark, sexy retelling of the classic fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Both of the new cover designs were done by Robin Ludwig Design, Inc. 

Personally, I think they both look great. I really, really love the cover for A White So Red. The contrast in colors, the way that the vines balance the image, the way it all fits together ... It really does seem to fit the type of story being told. 

What do you think of the new covers? What do you think of covers in general? How much do they influence your book buying habits? I'd love to hear all of your cover related thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment. 

Review: Beastly by Alex Flinn

I love Beauty and the Beast retellings, so Beastly has been on my want list for a long time. So long, in fact, that it was actually one of the books I almost bought in my first order for I Write, I Read, I Review last summer.

However, people seemed hesitant to recommend Beastly. I had a lot of people advise that, with all the other books I was looking at getting, this one should be skipped. Since I was relatively new to YA and I wanted the content of my blog to be appealing to my readers, I did that.

But when I saw this new version, with both Beastly and Lindy's Diary included, I couldn't resist. The cover is really pretty and since you get the original book and the diary for the price of a paperback, I figured I was getting a bargain.

Curious to see what I thought of Beastly? Do I think it lives up to the fairy tale that inspired its creation? Read on to find out.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
I am a beast.

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.

You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.

There were some fun and original ideas at play in Beastly that I found refreshing. The story is modern, not one of those epic dark tales of a poor, beautiful girl living in France. This lead to a lightness of language and modern quirks in the characters. It allowed the circumstances that lead Kyle to become a Beast be far more relatable to the type of audience this book would likely attract.

One thing I really loved were the chat room scenes with other characters who were dealing with being parts of fairy tales as well. I thought that the contrast between such a modern medium and such traditional versions of the tales being woven in modern lights to parallel what was going on in the main story was brilliant.

Unfortunately, Beastly suffered from the side effect of being a book that took place over a long period of time. That is, while time moved forward and what the characters were doing changed, and perhaps they even changed, I did not feel that I actually got to witness that depth and growth. This is a serious problem when a writer chooses to write over a long term. It's a shame that this aspect didn't work out for me, because it is a vital part of a story of this nature, but I think that too much effort was given to some aspects of the plot and not enough was given to others.

The Characters: 

Kyle, the story's Beast, is awesome. I think that Alex Flinn's decision to write from his POV made her retelling fresh and original. Watching him grow and change from this perspective allowed me to connect with him better then one normally can with the Beast in this fairy tale under normal circumstances. I like how Alex integrated the Beast's interest in roses, his wealth, etc. while still allowing Kyle to seem like a pretty normal guy as much as she could.

Lindy, on the other hand, seemed weakly done to me. There are several reasons why this might be. The most simplistic, and one that wouldn't be anyone's "fault", is that I am use to reading stories like this from the female POV. Perhaps Lindy didn't feel as developed and I didn't feel as close to her since she was not our narrator. But I think it goes deeper then that. I really didn't see a lot that made Lindy distinct as a character. True, her father breaks from the tale's trope of the loving and doting father. But that in and of itself does not make a whole and fleshed out character. Neither does her frustration at being brought to Kyle's mansion.

More interesting then Lindy were Kyle's maid and tutor. One of the things I liked most about these interactions was that as Kyle grew as a character, these two served as mirrors to showcase his generosity, growth in compassion and overall better attitude.

The Romance: 

I think this may be what disappointed me the most about Beastly. What it gained in allowing me to get closer to the beast, and in being more interesting in showing things from his POV, it lost on the romance front. It took a long time to actually get to the point where Kyle and Lindy were living together and when they did I just didn't get a lot of interest or connection from them.

In General: 

Under normal circumstances, a telling of Beauty and the Beast is a love story at heart. Here, it seemed to me, the major focus was in showcasing Kyle's growth. It was interesting and well done, but without an equally strong romantic component, Beastly did not give me what I thought I was signing up for. Sometimes that works, but in this situation, for me, it didn't. Too bad, because I was really ready to like this.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (May 9th)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Breaking the Spine. We all get together to show each other books we can't wait to get our hands on.

This week's can't-wait-to-read-it selection is:

Lies Beneath
by Anne Greenwood Brown
Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge. They blame Hancock for their mother's death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family's homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter, Lily. Easy enough — especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistible good looks and charm on unsuspecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily — just as Lily starts to suspect that there's more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him.

I've waited so long to feature this book as a Waiting on Wednesday post. I don't quite remember when I first heard about it. But I know I've been waiting for its release quite a while now. Shall we talk about what Lies Beneath has going on that has me reading to click the pre-order button? (Yeah, I want it THAT bad, people. This sounds AMAZING.) 

1. Murderous mermaids. Too often I see books about merfolk that were too clearly influenced by Disney's The Little Mermaid. I love that movie, but as with many other mythological creatures, Merfolk are derived from myths that are a heck of a lot less sugar and spice then they've been portrayed in our media. When I see a book that tells it as it *was* I tend to take notice. 

2. Romance between a human girl and a merman. Nice! I love this! (Okay, I admit it, the next book I'm writing *features* it. I'm actually waiting to start writing til after I read this so that I don't overlap. I wouldn't want to touch it if I'd already started, and as I've said, I Can't Wait.)

3. A romance tinged with danger and deception. Lily doesn't look like she's going to get out of this scott free if she and Calder don't work out. And Calder trying to seduce her so his family can murder her father ... hello, dark twisted and creepy motivations. When he falls for her, how the heck is he going to get out of THAT? 

4. The "victim" isn't innocent, either. The merfolk believe that Lily's father is responsible for the death of their mother. And his aversion to the water definitely makes me suspicious. (Although if he knows they feel that way, I don't necessarily blame him.) I'm not going to say he "is" guilty. But there is a chance, and that's a rather unique way to spin this. 

5. Calder. I don't know why I like dark or dangerous male leads, but I do. They have to be done right, but the way this guy looks like he's going to be set up in this book -- especially since we're getting it from his POV -- looks very promising. Sign. Me. Up. What else is there to say? :D 

Well, now that you know what book I'm counting down the days for, it's your turn to share. What book has you totally excited this week? I'd love to know so feel free to link to your post so I can drop by and check it out. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

I am often very leery of reading books that involve any type of serious medical conditions or illness. Why? Because books like that tend to make me sad. I have many people I am close to in real life who suffer, or have suffered, from various issues and when I read fiction I tend to want to escape that -- not embrace it.

So it probably seems baffling that, with my grandma just out of the hospital and diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, that I would even consider touching any book to do with cancer. But here's the thing: I've been so stressed out over grandma that it's been blocking my ability to focus. While everyone else here is struggling externally, I'm doing my best to keep my act together, because someone has to keep grandma smiling.

It's beating the crap outta my ability to create and respond to art, though. Since "How is your book?" and "What are you doing on your blog?" are two of her favorite questions, I had to figure out a way to stick to the program, and reading this seems to have helped.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

As with most of the contemporary books I have read and loved, The Fault In Our Stars does not have a plot in the conventional way that I am use to thinking of 'plot' when reading stuff like fantasy, paranormal or dystopian. Rather, it feels like we meet Hazel and get to live part of her life with her. Those who don't read contemporary never seem to 'get' this. When I bought this, my boyfriend said, "Oh, God. That sounds depressing and boring." I could not disagree more.

Are there aspects of The Fault In Our Stars that are depressing? Will it make you feel like there is a hand reaching into your chest and squeezing your heart until you fear it might break? Will it reduce you to a sobbing me? Yes, oh yes. But even I, a self-proclaimed hater of books that make me cry, know that sometimes a book needs to reach out, grab the reader's heart, and send it north. Some subjects, some characters and some stories just cannot 'be' without that.

Don't get it in your head that this is just a "crying book", though. The writing in The Fault In Our Stars is truly a thing of beauty. It's honest, real and laugh out loud funny just as often or moreso then it is tear jerking. This is extremely important. The book could not have become what it is to me without either part that makes it whole.

The way that the characters act, the way that they hope and dream and support one another and grow close and struggle and succeed (or fail) ... Real life is not comprised soley of sorrow or smiles and, in wanting to be a mirror for life, contemporary fiction cannot fall into the trap of going too far in either direction. John Green nails the balance perfectly, and The Fault In Our Stars is such a great book because of this.

The Characters: 

The first thing that deserves to be said is this: Hazel's voice was absolutely amazing. I really felt that I got to know her in this book. She felt very real to me and I found myself deeply invested in what was happening to her. I admired her honesty and courage and at the same time liked the fact that her character could have a bit of bite and that she did not buy into any real type of bullshit. 

Augustus Waters is a male lead who is going to stick with me. He's definitely up there on my top five love interests in YA. What I liked so much about him is that he has this very distinct and quirky personality that compliments Hazel perfectly. His moments of strength and humor, coupled with moments of fear and doubt, made him a character I grew deeply attached to and whom I deeply admired.

The other character I really loved in this book is Issac. The role that he plays in the book from where he is at the beginning to where he ends up in the end made me really respect him. While I am not totally blind, his struggle at the beginning of the book is one of the things that initially bound me to the pages and made me feel really invested in what was going on. His struggle was one that I could, in a certain way, identify with.

The Romance: 

I really enjoyed watching Hazel and Augustus together. I think that the pace of their relationship and the way that it progressed was distinct, believable and suited the characters well. I like how everything -- how they felt about each other, how *everything* going on in their lives and how their own unique hopes and fears all added to the trials they faced and to both the joys and sorrows they had in being together. 

I also think that there is this extremely interesting shift where we see Augustus as being the stronger of the two -- more outgoing, hopeful, etc. -- at the beginning of the book, yet as it progresses we see Hazel come more and more into her own and step up to the plate. (Please realize I am *not* saying one grows at the expense of the other, for those who've read the book.) 

Despite the way everything happens in this book, the relationship between Hazel and Augustus may well be one of my favorite pairings that I have read about. Not just in YA, but *ever*. It was just that good, just that honest and just that moving. I loved it.

(SPOILER: I must warn you, if you are a romance reader, that The Fault In Our Stars does *not* have a normal HEA ending. I do not hold this against the book because the romance, while beautiful and moving, is not the main point. Hazel's growth is, and John Green gets that absolutely right.

In General: 

The Fault In Our Stars is a truly beautiful and moving story. But more important then that it's honest, it's real and it holds nothing back. It'll make you laugh, make you cry and make you think about what it means to be alive. Because while there is cancer in this book, while there is struggle and heartbreak, sorrow and tears, what ultimately matters is not that we will all eventually someday die, but how we all consciously, here, today, choose to live. Highly, highly recommended. I cannot praise this book enough.

Now that you've read my thoughts on The Fault In Our Stars, I'm wondering ... What are yours? Have you read it? Did you love it or hate it? If you haven't read it, do you want to read it? Or perhaps contemporary isn't your style or, like me, you're nervous about the subject matter. Whatever your view is, please feel free to speak your mind. 

Sixth Recipient Of...

1. Handles a difficult subject I normally would not touch with grace, style and class. Successfully walks the line between being tasteful about said subject while not drowning the reader in unbelievable mounds of nonsense.

2. A heroine who was distinct, unique and stood behind what she believed in. I really, really liked Hazel a lot.

3. A love interest who will definitely stick with me for a while. Augustus Waters made me smile on many occasions and watching him and Hazel together was awesome. 

4. A blend between humor and heartbreak that kept the book very real, gave it 'weight' and yet never bogged it down. 

5. Beautiful writing that suited the story and characters perfectly but that never got in the way. When I forget I'm holding a book, it's safe to say the author got it right. 

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