Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thinking On Thursday: What Do You Do When A Book Breaks Your Heart?

If you've been blogging about books for any length of time, you probably know the following is a given:

You win a few. You lose a few.

There is little that is more joyful then discovering that a book you hadn't expected to read has become one of your favorites. And there is little more frustrating then having a book you were aching to read--particularly when it's from an author you know and love--turn out to be a total dud.

Loving and Loathing both sorta come with the territory, right? And when you close that book that didn't work for you, you dust yourself off (metaphorically speaking), you stand up and you move on.

Most of the time I'd agree and say this is true. People say you've gotta be tough and have thick skin to be a writer. But how often do we really consider what it actually takes to be a reader? Reading is far from a passive activity. Depending on how intensely a particular reader connects with the books he or she reads, the choice to be a reader can encompass anything from skimming the page to handing an author temporarily control of one's senses, heart, and soul. It can be a deeply personal and moving experience that can take something from (or give something to) the reader just as much as writing the text took and gave something to the writer.

Have you ever had a book break your heart? (Or the reverse, fallen madly in love with a book?) I'd never really thought about quite how powerful an impact the books I read--especially since I read quite a few each month as a blogger--effect me until today, when I finally admitted to myself that I am, essentially, suffering an actual sense of loss or a "broken heart" from a book I read two weeks ago.

Signs that a Book Broke Your Heart:

You don't want to read. It may be just a general 'eh, I'll do that later.' feeling or the thought of getting a book might seem outright unappealing.

You are afraid to read because you worry your reaction from the 'guilty' book will influence your feelings about the next book you pick up.

Even the newest most fabulous books you've just purchased can't seem to get you truly motivated to read.

You procrastinate doing other stuff during times when you would normally be reading.

When you try to read you are unable to focus on the book or truly connect to what's happening on the page.

A lot of these are similar to what happens in a reading slump. The big difference, of course, is knowing what caused it.

So I suppose the true question is... how does one mend a broken heart? And how different is one of this nature then one caused, say, by losing a guy? I know this much: the discussion is over. I can't exactly call the book up and yell at it. (Although the review might be a pretty close consolation prize where that's concerned...)

But I Can...

Take It Slow: I wouldn't rush into a relationship with a new guy if I had just gotten dumped, and I don't NEED to be reading two to three books a week if I don't feel like it. I know I do need to read, because I need to put space between me and the book that wrecked me, but I need to read *for me* for now.

Pace Myself: I have two book tours coming up in March and I need to do reviews for those. Hopefully I'll luck out and both of those books will be as stellar as they sounded when I agreed. But to get started, I need to just start reading these. If I do 25% a night on my kindle, I'll have them done in a week and have their reviews written.

Read Stuff I'm Sure I'll Love: This is the time for comfort food (books). Nefert's Curse by P.C. and Kristin Cast and My Soul To Save by Rachel Vincent are likely candidates here.

Read Stuff I've Been Dying To Check Out: But NOT stuff I've hyped through the ceiling. Juliet Immortal might be a good choice, or perhaps Pivot Point? Or I might give Unearthly that second glance I've been meaning to--but ONLY once I get the ball rolling again. Why are these books different then The One That Got In My Way? Because I haven't been dwelling on them for months.

Don't Be Afraid To Stop A Book That Isn't Working: i'm not exactly a strict finisher anyway, but this is definitely a time when DNF or at least pausing a book is better then trying to trudge through.

Write, Damn It!: I'm not a helpless passive wuss who has to give control to someone else's words all the time. (Oh hell that sounded bitter! And yet again--it takes an equal amount of courage to be a reader. I'M being a wuss right now, is what I'm saying. ;) ) I've needed to get doing on the last draft for my novel and this might be a good time to shift gears a little. I don't want to go as MIA as I did last year, but it's time to quit stalling.

So, have you had your heart broken by a book? What would you (or should I) do about it?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Loss by Jackie Morse Kessler

I did a lot of reading about the Riders of the Apocalypse novels before I ever bought or read any of them. And one thing I was very curious to see was how I would feel about Loss after finishing Rage and Hunger. There seem to be a lot of mixed reviews about this book, not necessarily because of good or bad writing, but rather because it tampers with the "formula" (for lack of a better term) set forth by the first two novels.

Those who feel that this novel is different definitely have a valid point, and while I found some of these differences intriguing, I also found them a bit distracting and detracting from the core thing that initially drew me to this series--the seamless blending of the real world and the paranormal.

Did I think it was horrible? No. But I do feel that Loss is an extremely different animal then the two novels that proceeded it and that the effects these changes had on the story are worthy of consideration within my reviewing process.

(Summary from GoodReads)
Fifteen-year-old Billy Ballard is the kid that everyone picks on, from the school bullies to the teachers. But things change drastically when Death tells Billy he must stand in as Pestilence, the White Rider of the Apocalypse. Now armed with a Bow that allows him to strike with disease from a distance, Billy lashes out at his tormentors...and accidentally causes an outbreak of meningitis. Horrified by his actions, Billy begs Death to take back the Bow. For that to happen, says Death, Billy must track down the real White Rider—who is lost in his memories.

In his search, Billy travels through White Rider’s life: from ancient Phrygia, where the man called King Mita agrees to wear the White Rider’s Crown, to Sherwood Forest, where Pestilence figures out how to cheat Death; from the docks of Alexandria, where cartons of infested grain are being packed onto a ship that will carry the plague, to the Children’s Crusade in France—all the way to what may be the end of the world. When Billy finally finds the White Rider, the teen convinces the man to return to the real world.

But now the insane White Rider plans to unleash something awful on humanity—something that could make the Black Death look like a summer cold. Billy has a choice: he can live his life and pretend he doesn’t know what’s coming, or he can challenge the White Rider for his Crown. Does one bullied teenager have the strength to stand his ground—and the courage to save the world?

When I read the summary for Loss, my first thought was "How will she pull this off?" and my second thought was "This doesn't seem as tightly connected (real world / paranormal aspect) as the last two.". Turns out both of my thoughts were well founded. Loss is a book which, unfortunately, suffers because of a lack of cohesive direction. It is broken into three parts and while the story works fine in theory, it does not by any stretch work in the same vein as the plots found in Hunger or Rage

There was a tremendous emphasis placed on the history of the White Rider, rather then on Billy's actual experience being the White Rider. In many ways, this seems like it is more King White's tale then Billy's, which I found (for this series) a little distancing and disorienting. Yet again it wasn't "bad"--but it wasn't what I wanted from a Riders of the Apocalypse novel. 

There was further disconnect for me in the relation between Billy's major issue--bullying--and his connection to the White Rider. I get the whole "ice cream man" and trickery thing--in a way, the White Rider bullied Billy. I also understand that we do get the grandfather with Alzheimer's Disease, and from reading the author's note it's made clear she initially intended that to be a much larger focus. I think, as much as the drawing back on this did weaken its connection to the series, that it likely was the right choice. There is a tendency in paranormal fiction to essentially have a "phoenix tears" effect toward ill or disabled characters, wherein they tend to be healed. Within this series that would have been totally off, whereas showing this disease to its bitter end would have been harrowing and not given the right kind of message. 

It's a shame a better resolution to the problems this caused for the book's structure and connectivity to the series could not be found, but I've never been one to criticize someone for something I can't answer myself, and I have no answers here. So instead I will take a moment to commend Jackie Morse Kessler for taking a hit in how her readers might respond to this in order to preserve a far more important integrity of this series: that the real does matter and that it has real consequences here.  That too guts.

I wasn't a huge Billy fan. I didn't hate him and there was nothing "wrong" with him per se, he just wasn't really my kinda guy--maybe because when people tried to bully me I didn't take it? Though that could just as easily have to do with a difference in boys and girls, at least back when I was in school. I'm not really one for passive or self doubting characters and I think, in a nutshell, that Billy took too long to really step up and stand up for me to really click with him. A pity, because the actual writing *for* him was good. It was a "me, not him" thing here. 

I like that we get to see some very different layers to Death's character in this book. So often he seems charming and very chill and relaxed. It can be almost easy to forget who he "is" and what his job is. I found the way that we see how his behavior has changed over the centuries because of the timeline of the novel. I also found the differences in how he interacted with Billy as opposed to, say, Missy. (I'm referring to a really cool scene in this novel, rather then to the connection between Death and Missy in book two, btw.) 

While I don't necessarily feel all the info about the White Rider was necessarily the best way to go with this story, once we got into learning about him his history was very interesting. Pestilence has been one of my favorite characters throughout the series and I will give a nod of appreciation to how his role in this story was handled and how the end result played out. There is a subtle elegance here that cannot be ignored. 

I think that the Billy and Marianne thing was handled well. I admire the fact that Jackie Morse Kessler let Billy think 'like a guy' for lack of a better way of explaining what I mean. I also like how her confidence in him helped give him courage and how his desire to finally kiss her--which to me represented what he was fighting for, in a way--was handled. I wasn't as crazy about this pairing as I was about the one in Rage, but romance is not the central focus of this series anyway. 

Loss is not as good as the first two books in the Riders of the Apocalypse series, largely because those two books were extremely well done and deal with different genres in a way that is unique and refreshing and which, unfortunately, does not connect as strongly here. However, do not allow this to dissuade you from checking Loss out. It is a perfectly good story in its own right; it's just not my favorite. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stacking The Shelves (Feb. 23rd): Kat's Birthday Part 2!

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly event hosted at Tynga's Reviews where we share the books we've bought, borrowed or received in the past week.

Hey guys! It's time for part 2 of my birthday edition! Ready to see what I got? Remember to take the time to enter my Super Awesome Birthday Giveaway for a chance to win TWO books from The Book Depository!

I Bought / Received: 

A tremendous thank you to everyone who gave me birthday money! :) Now I just need to sit down and start reading all of these while hopefully getting the third and *hopes, prays...* final draft of Sealer's Promise done. Wish me luck! ;)

Once again, make SURE you check out my giveaway!

So, what did YOU get this week? Leave a link and I'll drop by and check it out! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: My Soul To Take by Rachel Vincent

What rock have I been sleeping under?

That's the first thing that comes to mind as I sit down and attempt to somehow take all of the thoughts and feelings this marvelous book has left me with upon closing the last page and somehow turn them into something approaching understandable English.

To say that I "liked" My Soul To Take would definitely be an understatement of epic proportions.

But let's back up and start from the beginning, shall we? I've been aware of this series for some time. I've wanted to check it out for ages. But there are so many books in this one and I am so far behind that I was totally overwhelmed.

Then two things happened: (1) I decided "What the heck, why not?" and then I discovered the Soul Screamers Read-A-Long. The rest, as they say, is history.

(Summary from GoodReads)
She doesn't see dead people. She senses when someone near her is about to die. And when that happens, a force beyond her control compels her to scream bloody murder. Literally.

Kaylee just wants to enjoy having caught the attention of the hottest guy in school. But a normal date is hard to come by when Nash seems to know more about her need to scream than she does. And when classmates start dropping dead for no apparent reason, only Kaylee knows who'll be next.

Okay, let the fangirling commence. I don't know how the heck I'm actually going to write a real review for this one.

First, let me say that the paranormal element--the Bean Sidhe (banshee) as the basis a heroic character--is fresh, original and brilliant. I loved delving into the mythology that Rachel Vincent used to create her world, and feel she did an amazing job both in how detailed it actually was, and at the careful and deliberate pacing of how we and Kaylee learn about it. 

The next thing that deserves praise is the way that the plot actually unfolded. There were some legitimate mysteries going on here, and while I did solve some of them I did this because the author played fair and presented the opportunity to solve them. Not because she bludgeoned me over the head with something obvious, and the things I didn't catch weren't because she tacked them on at the end. I don't see nearly enough of this active-reader presentation in YA and was very welcome to it here. 

While we're talking about the results of great writing, let me pause for a moment to talk about the quality of the actual writing as a whole, because there were some really beautiful turns of phrase here, as well as some memorable pieces of dialog that either made me grin or that had my heat turning over--either in an "Aw!" way or in an "Oh, no!" panic. 

In short, let's just say that My Soul To Take had a lovely narrative flow to it. It moved forward in a natural and organic way that let me feel like I was there experiencing each moment with Kaylee every step of the way. 

Before I delve into this totally, I'll just say it now: My Soul To Take had one of the most interesting, compelling casts of characters of any book I've ever reviewed on this blog. Why? (1) No character was wasted. (2) What a character was (human, bean sidhe, reaper, etc.) did not define who they could *be*. (3) The characters behavior and my reactions to them shifted, changed and grew as the novel progressed. I feel fairly confident that if Rachel can do this in one book I'm in for a heck of a ride as I continue this series. We'll have to wait and see how my prediction goes, yes?

I genuinely enjoyed Kaylee as a heroine. She was active. She made choices, whether they were the greatest or not. She took whatever information she had and she made the best of it, even if it might mean risking herself to save someone she cared about. In a world full of either "strong" to the point of being empty, or obnoxiously passive characters who play second fiddle in their own stories, Kaylee was a change that we need to see more of in YA. She could be strong or vulnerable and regardless of which was at the forefront, I never doubted she still possessed the other.

I thought Nash was all right. There's just something ... off? ... about him and Kaylee together. (I'll get to that!) I appreciated that he allowed Rachel to explain her mythology in an interesting way (what girl doesn't want to learn she's a bean sidhe from a hot guy?) but I think that I agree with what Kaylee was thinking on the last two pages of the book. (You'll have to read it. Sorry.)

And maybe the reason Nash seemed kinda pale is that half way through the book we meet Tod and I just fell off a cliff from MY instant interest in him. I mean, c'mon... A blonde haired blue eyed Reaper? DUDE, where do I get one?? But Tod goes much deeper then being "pretty". There is this air of mystery surrounding him and some of the revelations about his character near the end of the book were pretty darn shocking. Also, despite the sense of danger I sensed from what he was, I was equally intrigued with his interest in Kaylee. What does he want with her, hm?

The last thing I want to say is that I loved the active family dynamics and Kaylee's awesome best friend Emma. These people, in large part, felt real and like what family should feel like. Not necessarily always in the "I want to emulate that" way, but in the 'despite the paranormal junk, these people have real connections to each other' way. There are way too many absentee parents in YA. I get it: it makes plotting easier and more plausible. But I'll give credit where it's due: great effort was taken here to balance the teen characters' heroism and real family relationships.

Here there be insta-love. But I'm okay with that, because in all reality it's insta-dating, and that is NOT the same thing.

The actual depth and growth of the relationship between Kaylee and Nash was actually, in my opinion, the least detailed and fleshed out aspect of this novel. He is in a lot of the novel, and he plays a huge role in helping Kaylee learn what she is. But we really don't learn about them as a couple and we don't really see a great deal of depth or growth in their relationship. Is it real or is Nash just happy to have found another Bean Sidhe?

Adding complication to my thoughts on these two are the comparisons I can't help drawing between Nash and Tod. Most importantly: after Kaylee sings (screams) at one point in the book, Tod brings her a cup of hot chocolate to help her throat. This required two things: (1) He was paying enough attention to know she had done this even though he had not been present. (2) Despite Reapers' general disdain for Bean Sidhe, Tod shows genuine concern for Kaylee. Tell me, Tod, what was the price for that cup of hot chocolate, huh?

Nash, on the other hand, seems to always be the one having things done for him by Kaylee. She's the one who drives him around, or brings burgers to his house, etc. I realize this may come across as a petty thing to note (and likely comes across as me having some bizarre and unfounded with Tod--go figure.) but it's something I noticed and I want to note it so I can look back as I read more.

Could TOD possibly be more important then I thought he was at face value? I hope so.

My rating system is going haywire here. There is part of me that wants to go all guns blazing and give this five hearts and a Kat's Meow--and it would definitely be worthy. But what the heck is there for future books in this series to shoot for if I give it all of my awards here and now? I can say this much: tomorrow I go to Chapters for my birthday and I know what priority #1 on my shopping list will be. There's part of me that's begging to sit down and read this whole thing from cover to cover and I don't generally do that.

My Soul To Take is a novel that I found fabulous from start to finish. The plot, the writing, thee characters, the world building... everything was all I could ask for and more from a book. I think I can sum this really long review up by saying: I think I've found a new obsession. Well done, Rachel Vincent. Well done indeed!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Waiting On Wednesday (Feb. 20th)

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:

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

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

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

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Well, well... If I'm being totally honest, this could be very interesting or it could be a total train wreck that will leave me a weepy, blubbering mess. I like happy endings and this seems to be promising anything but. However, that is often the case in fiction and I think the setting and concept is original enough that I might be willing to take a risk. Artists? Futuristic Brazil? A government blocking tech advancement? And a Prince who is destined to die? You have my attention! 

So, what are YOU looking forward to this week? Link to your post and I'll drop by! 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: The Culling by Steven Dos Santos

*A huge thank you to NetGalley and Flux for the opportunity to review this book. 

The moment I read the blurb for The Culling I knew I had to read it. It has this totally bone chilling premise, you see, and it made the hair on my arms stand on end. I'm sure you're wondering: did it deliver?

Well... yes, and no.

The Culling is a book that I zipped through effortlessly and which I really enjoyed. However, there are a few flaws that keep it from reaching absolute perfection. If you are interested in my full thoughts, read on for my complete review!

(Summary from GoodReads)
Recruitment Day is here...if you fail, a loved one will die...

For Lucian “Lucky” Spark, Recruitment Day means the Establishment, a totalitarian government, will force him to become one of five Recruits competing to join the ruthless Imposer task force. Each Recruit participates in increasingly difficult and violent military training for a chance to advance to the next level. Those who fail must choose an “Incentive”—a family member—to be brutally killed. If Lucky fails, he’ll have to choose death for his only living relative: Cole, his four-year-old brother.

Lucky will do everything he can to keep his brother alive, even if it means sacrificing the lives of other Recruits’ loved ones. What Lucky isn’t prepared for is his undeniable attraction to the handsome, rebellious Digory Tycho. While Lucky and Digory train together, their relationship grows. But daring to care for another Recruit in a world where love is used as the ultimate weapon is extremely dangerous. As Lucky soon learns, the consequences can be deadly...


Hear that? That's the sound of a bone chilling premise making me shiver in both horror and delight. I've heard some people compare The Culling to The Hunger Games, but I must say... While The Hunger Games is, humbly, the stronger novel ... the idea of my actions getting my family killed would likely upset me more then my mistakes costing me my own life. Not sure if that's just a me thing, but I really wanted to get that out there right away. 

The real question, though, is whether the premise is really carried to its full extent. And this is, again, a yes ... and no... answer. There are some extremely creative and gruesome deaths in The Culling, but one thing that I noticed as I read was that the deaths and the characters they happened to were chosen with very deliberate care... to protect the reader. This may or may not work for you. I will admit it likely made the book easier for me to read. BUT... and this is a big but... that came at the price of the believibility and consistency of the world Steven Dos Santos was trying to create. So I found it a bit of a mixed bag. 

On the other hand, I will commend him for how he built up the novel rather then dropping us dead into the actual Recruitment trials themselves. You get to really feel for Lucky and his competitors to a point where no matter who something was happening to, I was interested, alert and freaking scared. I really wish this had gone further and we had dug deeper into each character--especially Lucky himself--but as far as how they effected the plot all was good. 

Lucky was a decent protagonist. Unfortunately, I probably found him the least interesting of the major characters (talking about the other competitors and Cassius here) in the novel. I think that my key problem with Lucky is that his character is, ultimately, defined by its relationships with other characters. This is obviously an important aspect of characterization, but it only shows us one part of who he is. I can say that I understand it's much harder to show other things in the context of a really harsh dystopian environment, but it does not take away from my want of that for him. 

Who gets my "favorite character" sticker this go around? That would actually go to Cassius. While he isn't in the book a ton, the scenes with him tend to be really interesting and the choices he makes and the way he behaves makes him really memorable. What *is* his deal? How did he wind up the way he did, to get to a point where making such choices was okay? Did / Does he really care about Lucky? (I believe strongly that a character can be epicly flawed and still capable of THINKING they love someone.) 

Last I'll talk about Digory. I thought he was a pretty good character, but the big problem I had with him was that he and Cassius seemed like flip sides of a coin, with Digory coming out a bit too perfect. I like some depth and issues with my love interests, especially in a world where everyone is bound to be a little warped in their morality by sheer association. Digory didn't suck and wasn't totally boring, but he paled next to Cassius, even though Cassius was definitely NOT a nice guy. 

The other competitors were interesting, but kept at an arm's length, yet again, to protect a reader from falling over the edge. I particularly felt that Ophelia was memorable and despite all that happened, my heart broke for her at the end. Why? You'll need to read the book to find that out. ;) 

Okay, first up this is an M / M romance. I'm totally cool with that personally, but I feel I should tell you guys that because I recall vividly starting to read this and going "Wait... Digory is a guy? Okay."

You see, the whole M / M thing isn't a big deal in the culture of the world Steven Dos Santos has created, which is something I felt was distinct, cool and refreshing. There was a LOT going on in this book and that type of ignorance, closed-mindedness and hatred was another flavor of F'd up the book just didn't need--it had enough crap going on as it was. 

Now that that's out of the way... How was the romance itself? Hmm... 

I think this might be another yes ... but no. It wasn't like the romance was flat out terrible or like something happened that made me want to throw things. But I also didn't feel a deep and intense connection between the characters the way I want to when characters fall in love. (For instance: despite how Will Grayson, Will Grayson ends, I recall caring about what would happen to Tiny Cooper more then about any other character in the novel. My point? My lack of connection has nothing to do with the genders of the LIs in question. I just want that to be totally clear.) 

I think my favorite thing about the romance aspect of this book is actually the love triangle. I was really interested in how things were between Cassius and Lucky and I wish that what had set Cassius off to act as the catalyst of the main plot had been handled a little more clearly. I "got it" by the end what had happened and how, but I was really confused for a while and it temporarily weakened him, which was a shame since (even though he did bad things) I really liked him / found him intriguing. 

The Culling is not perfect, but it was a joy to read and I know I definitely want the sequel. I was going through a major reading slump when I got this for review and this got me out of it and clutching my kindle for dear life, which was really fun. If you are looking for a fast paced read with a bone chilling premise, The Culling is probably the book for you. 

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