Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

I like zombie novels. But I usually go for the ones where a zombie has been turned into a more sympathetic character and the whole concept or mythos of the creature is turned on its head. So it surprised me that I was intrigued by the premise of This Is Not A Test. It wasn't the kind of thing that I would normally read, at least not on the zombie front.

But as friends read it and gave it absolutely fantastic reviews, I felt ever more compelled to pick the book up and weigh in. I figured that at the very least it wouldn't hurt to download a sample to my kindle and check it out.

So I did. And when I finished the sample, I wished I had the book in my hands at that very minute. (I decided to buy the physical copy because it was less. I refuse to pay more for an eBook.)

I've taken my sweet time writing this review, because while I love This Is Not A Test and think it is truly awesome, I've had a hard time putting my thoughts into words. (Odd, huh?) Read on and I'll try to do this book justice.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self.

To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live.

But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside.

As far as I am concerned, there are two major plots going on in This Is Not A Test. We have the direct and obvious presence of the zombies themselves and the situation that they have created for our characters' story to take place in. But then we also have the far more important story of how this situation has effected, and continues to effect, those characters. This is where Courtney Summers spends the majority of her time and it really pays off.

Sloane comes into the zombie crisis already use to living in a violent environment. She actually wants to die, and her life sucks enough that while I didn't want her to succeed in that quest I also didn't feel compelled to shout "Why?!" at her. I hoped she would find something to live for, and I think it's very clever how Courtney used Sloane's pain as a strength that actually made her capable of surviving.

This is an extremely character based novel and the twisting, shifting relationships between the characters -- how their lives were vs. how they change because of the zombie situation -- is handled very well. No one seemed to remain who they were. Instead of Grace, the class president, leading our band to safety we have drug dealer Cary doing so. Our 'leading man', Rhys, is just your average guy who happens to be a pretty decent person and who grows more interesting as the story progresses. You get the idea.

It's not all character psychology, though. There are some genuinely heart pounding moments that will ensure you never forget the threat lurking just beyond the doors. The thing to remember is that while the threat outside is very real, the dangers of surviving something this horrific and the things people will do to keep living are the central theme here.

The Characters

Sloane is an intriguing and complex heroine. She isn't your typical sunshine and roses type of person. She genuinely wants to die. Yet she has a strict moral code regarding this and does not want to get the rest of the group killed in the process. I really loved watching her grow as the novel progressed. She never made some drastic 180 turn where she was suddenly bubbly, but she did seem to regain at least some desire to exist as she witnessed the things happening to those around her. I also particularly loved the fact that since the others really didn't "know" her, they constantly mistook her indifference about whether she would survive -- her constant willingness to risk herself for them -- as courage.

The other five students she shared the school with were all equally fascinating in their own right. I don't want to give a character by character analysis here. Instead, I'll say that each of these people had their own distinct issues to deal with. They had strengths and weaknesses. They struggled with real issues that made the situation inside the school every bit as perilous as the one outside of it. And at the end of the day, each character had a moment that truly defined them. A reason why they, specifically, needed to be there.

The Romance: 

The Romance in This Is Not A Test was very well done. I did not immediately pick out any one character as a love interest for Sloane. In fact, I didn't go into this looking for a love story. However, the way that things developed between her and Rhys felt both real and interesting to me. I love the fact that both characters seemed like such "normal" people. They weren't beautiful or perfect or anything like that. Rather, they were simply two individuals who gradually came to be together. While this isn't a book I would recommend for someone looking for their next romantic read, I think that the scenes between these two were very well done and that the way they were presented was appropriate for the story that Courtney was trying to tell.

In General: 

I read This Is Not A Test within 24 hours of receiving it. I absolutely could not put this book down. I really felt sucked into the 'world' that Courtney Summers created and I felt really connected to her characters. I was desperate to know what would happen to these people. They felt very real to me.

This Is Not A Test is a novel that I would recommend very highly. I will definitely be reading more books by Courtney Summers in the future.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A bunch of writing updates!

The last week or so has been pretty busy.

I am now two chapters and an epilogue from being finished this round of revisions on Sealer's Promise (previously titled Moon Dance.)

Of course, the catch is that those two chapters are the climax of the book and trying to figure out how I want them to be is kicking my butt. There is stuff that Isabelle and Kyden need to do dealing with Jayden, and there are major things Sarena and Kesyl must do dealing with Avish. Gah!

On the plus side, I have had some good things happening.

I hired an artist over at DeviantArt to do profile images for my author blog, and she has completed Sarena so far. This is the image she did for Sara and I totally love it.

I wanted the artwork for the profile images to reflect how my love of gaming and anime influenced how I "see" my characters and how much those two mediums influence my work. I think that this image does a fantastic job of capturing the essence of Sara and expressing my love of the things that made me want to write. (Which aren't all books.)

If you would like to see more art by this artist, click here.

I've also been working on a couple pretty awesome media projects. The first is the book trailer for Sealer's Promise. I am not ready to share this with you guys yet, because it won't be ready for upload until I get the cover art around the end of August so that I can put it and the credits in properly.

However, I can show you the banner I made based off of the trailer. :D I had fun doing this and I hope you guys enjoy it!

Right now there are two things that I am looking for:

1. My author blog desperately needs to be designed. *laughs* I cannot get the thing the way I want it. I've put off getting I Write, I Read, I Review professionally done because I do love designing it. But I think I might be wiser getting something a bit above my own level done for the author blog.

Any recommendations? I have a couple people in mind, but I figure I might as well ask here since I'm not rushing into this.

2. I'm going to need some beta readers. If anyone is interested, please feel free to e-mail me about that with something like "Beta Reader" in the subject line, or leave a message in the comments with your e-mail so I can reach you. Thanks!

I suppose I should let you guys see an up-to-date blurb, huh?

Some promises are meant to be broken.

Sarena Lengton knows what it's like to die--two years ago her soul journeyed to the Underworld. Zakariah, the Lord of Judgement, has offered to spare her life in return for a promise. Sarena must convince his younger brother, Kesyl, to use his powers as a Sealer to open a portal to the Underworld. Then Zakariah can absorb Kesyl's soul and experience life on Earth.

Now seventeen, Sarena has managed to avoid completing Zakariah's task. But when she witnesses a murder at Sterling High where nothing but a skeleton is left behind, Sarena knows she will need Kesyl's help to catch the killer. As they work together, she finds herself falling for the boy she promised to help destroy.

Sarena doesn't want to know what Zakariah will do to her if she defies him. But if she keeps her end of the bargain, Kesyl will lose his soul. Can Sarena keep her life and her love? Or will both be torn from her forever?

Anyway, that's it for me right now.


I know, I know, I need to review This Is Not A Test, Winter Love and Critical Failures. I need to quit being so busy so I can do a few memes. Hopefully once this round of revision is looked after I'll have a little more time for things, but I can't make any promises.

I hope everyone is having a great summer! :)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Shopaholic Sunday (5)

Shopaholic Sundays are my opportunity to share what I bought this week, what I'm thinking of buying soon and if I have anything interesting planned here at I Write, I Read, I Review. Curious what I've picked up or found waiting in my mailbox? Read on to find out.

Yet again, it's been a while since I have done a Shopaholic Sundays post. But yet again, I have some pretty awesome stuff to share. :) This summer has been insanely busy (I keep saying that, huh?) but things are going very well.

On the writing front, I have four more chapters and an epilogue to revise. Then I'll just need to sweep through everything for minor errors and my novel will be ready for betas.

In further book related news, my novel has a new title and summary that I will be sharing soon and I have hired a cover artist. I will be revealing all of this, along with a giveaway to celebrate beautiful covers in YA, soon. :)

Anyway, I've rambled long enough. Let's get to the books!

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's book Reviews where we get to share the fabulous things we bought borrowed or received. Curious what I got? (No video this week, guys. My parents have been on vacation and I've been spending 90% of my time at grandma's -- meaning my whole schedule is messed up.)

I Bought:

1. Between The Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer. This looked pretty intriguing when I was waiting for people to finish their shopping at No Frills so I decided to grab it. I like anything that has a fairy tale feel to it, and the idea of falling for a character in a book is something I think any novelist -- especially one who writes romance -- can relate to. This should be fun.

2. This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers. I decided to do an Amazon order and I wanted to keep the number of books relatively small. So I downloaded a ton of samples and read them before I ordered anything. This Is Not A Test grabbed my attention immediately. Having finished it in two days despite how crazy my week has been, I'm sure my thoughts are pretty clear. But if you want the full details, watch for my review which should be up sometime this week.

3. Darkness Before Dawn by J.A. London. I've read mixed reviews for this one, but when I checked out the sample on Amazon it grabbed my interest. I'm a big fan of anything vampire related and the cover is gorgeous. Will the book grab me hook line and sinker? That remains to be seen. But I've always been one to make up my own mind about things, so I had to check this out.

In addition to these novels, I also grabbed a couple writing / writing related books: Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Forgarty and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. The grammar book has tons of great information, but would have benefited from better organization to help a reader find what they are looking for. The First Five Pages has pretty much been glued to my hands every minute I haven't been reading This Is Not A Test. I often find that writing books repeat each other, but I have found lots of information here that is either better explained then I've ever seen it before, or that I've never seen addressed in a writing book before, period. This is to editing and revision what Book In A Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt is to outlining and writing my rough drafts. It's a book that has helped me understand things that are important, and that's always invaluable.


Storm by Brigid Kemmerer. I purchased a copy of this for my Kindle ages ago but I've been hesitant to read it. Why? It has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the book. I read a sample before my purchase and I'm definitely intrigued. Instead, my issue is that this book deals with people who use the elements. Since that is an aspect of my own work, reading someone else's interpretation before everything about my stuff is written in stone makes me nervous.

However, when my brother and his girlfriend went on a trip to Niagra Falls they  picked this up for me as a gift. (For the very reason I haven't read it yet, no less.) My brother's opinion is that I should read it to make sure I'm not echoing someone else. He thinks that with the rest of the aspects of my work I shouldn't have anything to be worried about. He also thinks it's ridiculous I've been doing the author equivalent of sticking my head in the sand like I'm an ostrich.

I'm curious: What do you guys think?

Anyway, many thanks to Shawn and Kate -- both for the book and the brutal honesty. Storm will likely be the next thing I'll be reading.

So, what did you guys get this week? Anything you're super excited about? Sorry I don't have an On My Radar for you this week, but I didn't really see anything that grabbed my attention enough to write one. Anyway, I hope you're all having a totally fabulous summer. Despite all the craziness, I know I am! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

I've been putting this book off for a long time. I haven't had any particular reason for it -- I've either had something else in my hands or I have been doing stuff that isn't book (or at least reading) related.

It's both a blessing and a curse because Shatter Me is a story that I truly enjoyed. On one hand, I can't believe I waited this long. On the other, I'm glad I didn't read it at release and then have to wait *that* long for the sequel.

Curious to hear my full thoughts on Shatter Me? Read on...

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war-- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a world as riveting as The Hunger Games and a superhero story as thrilling as The X-Men. Full of pulse-pounding romance, intoxicating villainy, and high-stakes choices,Shatter Me is a fresh and original dystopian novel—with a paranormal twist—that will leave readers anxiously awaiting its sequel.

The first thing I want to praise here is the distinct and engrossing writing style. I have never seen anything written quite like Shatter Me before, and I definitely think a risk was taken here. But it paid off. The way that the story was written really helped me connect with Juliette and have some kind of idea what was going on inside her head.

When I first picked this book up, my thoughts were basically, "Cool. Someone's playing tribute to X-men.". While I still see the undertones for this, I found much more here then I bargained for and that is awesome. Of particular interest to me, and I will be discussing this further, was the tension that Warner brought to the story. (I really, really love Warner. I know, I have issues.)

My big problem with the plot was the ending. I won't tell you *what* happens. What I will tell you is that it was anti-climatic and it ran too long. I understand that the way it was written will set things up for the next story, but it weakened the overall punch this story had. That's a shame, because there were definitely some totally explosive moments here.

The Characters:

I like Juliette. But I don't love her. Tahereh Mafi does a great job of showing her thought process is scattered, but Juliette's moral compass is wound very tight in one direction, and with the way some of the other characters are set up this is a shame. I felt there were opportunities in the story that were not / will not be really explored because of this fact. I suppose I can understand her hate of the Restablishment, considering what they did to her. Still, it's a shame. (Likewise, my feelings about things are clearly coloring my comments here. *shakes head*)

I felt the same deal with Adam. Liked, yes. Loved, no. It's not that Adam is a character that has some fatal flaw that makes him unworthy of love. He's exactly what Juliette needed / needs. The problem, for me (not Juliette) is that he was essentially your typical nice guy thrown into a dystopian setting. Sometimes this works -- Peeta anyone? -- but here it just didn't click with me the same way.

Okay, now we get to the good (bad) stuff: Warner. He totally took over the book for me. From the moment he entered I was riveted, unable to put the book down, unable to do anything but keep going. Tahereh Mafi did not shy away from making Warner an extremely bad guy. But she did something else that I feel many authors lack the guts / understanding / I-don't-know-what to do: she made him extremely human and real. I alternated between wanting to punch him in the fact and wanting to grab him, hug him and tell him it would all be okay. His absolutely desperate need for her love and acceptance threatened to crush me. (Yes, yet again, I do realize how messed up this must make me sound. But I'm not one to brush away from the truth and that is how I felt.)

The Romance: 

Juliette and Adam are good together. 'Nuff said. That's really all there is to see.

I think that might be my problem. Here was have this incredibly tense world building, character voice, situation, etc. And then we have the romance between Adam and Juliette. It essentially becomes the book's method of providing an interlude. Interlude is important in the flow of a novel. It gives the reader a chance to keep their brain from scrambling. But interlude is also the aspect of a novel that is most likely to be scanned rather then actively and vividly read.

Your romance should not be something I view as an interlude when it's on the back of the book and being used as a selling point. I admit, perhaps for me the problem is that Warner just totally took over the book. But there is enough room for more then one character to be amazing. I found Juliette and Adam's relationship and connection too easy (ultimately) to really buy into it or care about it.

Maybe the issue with the bird dreams / bird tattoo will be addressed further in the rest of the series and make this make sense. But right now, my 'this doesn't make sense' meter is going off, sorry to say.

In General:

As many of you know, I have a really hard time reading and writing (or more importantly revising) at the same time. I sat down with Shatter Me one night out of sheer curiosity. I know this is generally not my best time to click with a book. I am 'cranky', for lack of a better description, since I am trying to fix the holes in my own work.

Despite all of this, Shatter Me grabbed me and absolutely refused to let me go. If, like me, you have not read this book yet it is one that I must highly recommend. An absolute page turner, Shatter Me served as an excellent reminder of why I read, why I write and why I blog.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review: Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey

She lives!

It's been a long time since I wrote a review. That's because I have a lot of trouble reading and writing at the same time. I'm always afraid the two will bleed together -- whether that's true or not. I think that might be my worst nightmare? Anyway...

Dragonswood has been on my radar for a while, and when I sat down and started reading it I could just tell I was in for something special. I am glad to say that I was not wrong or disappointed. I really love this book. Now, let me tell you why.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Wilde Island is not at peace. The kingdom mourns the dead Pendragon king and awaits the return of his heir; the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans is strained; and the regent is funding a bloodthirsty witch hunt, hoping to rid the island of half-fey maidens.

Tess, daughter of a blacksmith, has visions of the future, but she still doesn't expect to be accused of witchcraft, forced to flee with her two best friends, or offered shelter by the handsome and enigmatic Garth Huntsman, a warden for Dragonswood. But Garth is the younger prince in disguise and Tess soon learns that her true father was fey, making them the center of an exciting, romantic adventure, and an ancient prophecy that will bring about peace between all three races - dragon, human, and fairy.

Accusations of witchcraft, trials of loyalty and friendship and an area sanctioned to protect the rights of fairies and dragons. From word go Dragonswood grabbed my attention and, despite the conditions under which I read it, this book refused to let go. 

I really enjoyed how well developed the world was in this story. It takes place on an island near England and I think that Janet did a great job blending real world history with her magical creatures. I bought into Dragonswood hook, line and sinker.

Any book that has something to do with dragons tends to get my attention, but the way that part of this book was handled is probably one of my favorite things about it. The fact that there is a connection between dragons and the Island's royal family was also interesting and the results of this made for some interesting tension and revelations as the story went on.

Another thing that I felt was cool is how the story was broken into parts, and how each of these managed to both connect tightly together to form a single, wonderful whole and yet, at the same time, have a good reason for being labeled as its own thing. 

The Characters:

I really liked Tess and she felt like a very real heroine. I was immediately able to connect with her -- both to the things about her that were good and the things that could be considered her flaws. She felt very real. I admired her courage and cleverness. I also appreciated the fact that she did not always have these things and that her lack at certain points of the story allowed me to watch her grow. 

Tess' friends, Meg and Poppy, were equally interesting. I liked the bond between the three girls; both when it was in tact and watching how it mended when things happened that threatened to break it. Sometimes the 'friends' of a heroine can seem really shallow but that was not the case here. Each of these girls had their moments and had their own 'things' that were interesting. I found myself caring about all of them which is something I can't always say about the 'friends' in a YA novel.

And of course my thoughts on the characters would not be complete if I did not absolute gush, bounce and squee over Garth. As with the girls his character was complex and definitely had a good number of layers going on, keeping me on my toes. Yet despite their issues and differences, I felt that he and Tess were fabulous together.

The Romance: 

This has an interesting build to it in Dragonswood. Tess starts the book completely opposed to the idea of being interested in anyone. I would guess this is in large part due to the abuse she has suffered and the general behavior of the men that surround her. 

With this set up, it would have been easily for the connection between Tess and Garth to fail miseribly, but fortunately this is not what happened. Janet shows their relationship grow not by having her go on and on about how handsome he is, or by telling us how much chemistry they have. Instead, we see them slowly grow to trust each other, see that trust tested in varying ways, see them together and apart and (for me, at least) actually fall for Garth along with Tess. Both through his presence and through his absense at various points in the story.

The romance does not drown the story, nor does Tess do something silly like ceasing to behave as an individual character as she grows to care about Garth. In fact, I think one aspect that I found incredibly clever was how Janet took what was essentially Tess' wishlist of what she would want in a man and, as the story progressed, had Tess come to realize that Garth -- through his actions and behavior -- possessed the qualities she prized. 

In a literary landscape of jealous stalker guys, it amuses me to no end that one of the most wonderful heroes I've had the pleasure to read about is from a book that takes place in (if memory serves -- been about a week since I finished) 12th century Europe. 

I could go on and on about these two, but really it's better if you just go and read about them yourself. :)

In General: 

Filled with a perfect blend of adventure, intrigue, magical beings and romance, Dragonswood is a delightful tale that has earned its place on my keeper shelf. If you love fantasy, romance and memorable characters this is a book that you simply must read. Highly recommended! 

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