Monday, April 29, 2013

Beautiful Creatures, No. 1 by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

I was trying to decide which book to review today and realized I never talked about Beautiful Creatures apart from the first few lines!

Here, then, are my thoughts upon reading the first book of the Beautiful Creature series:

1.  The setting is phenomenal.  I feel like I know this town.  Gatlin, South Carolina must be a a real place.  Since I live in South Carolina, I was happily surprised at the authenticity of the novel's setting.  Everything rang true to me, from the superstitions, pies, people, and small-town petty feuds.  The muggy heat, the thunderstorms, the countryside...the landscape is impeccable.

2.  The characters don't seem so much like characters as potential neighbors.  Again, this could just be me, living in the South, but I also know people like this.  Even though there's paranormal activity going on, even though some of these people aren't technically 100% human...these people are real, or at least they feel real.  Even the teenagers are real, without being gross or risque (which I deeply appreciate, since I am squeamish when it comes to steamy scenes).

3.  I loved the relationships between people.  Ethan's heartbreaking relationship with his father, his humorous (and somewhat awed) relationship with Amma, his sweet relationship with Lena, and his dislike of the lives of the people around him.  I can definitely identify with that last one.

4.  The history presented in this book is a great middle-of-the-road view.  It isn't anti-South, but it isn't exactly pro-North either.  It presents the Civil War for what it was: a great tragedy in the history of our nation.  Both sides suffered, in more ways than one.  And some families haven't quite forgotten it.

5.  My only nitpick is that there were so many words.  I feel like there wasn't enough action to merit such a high word count (the book is enormous).  I might be inclined to say it was because they had to ground the story in such a deeply complicated setting, but I've also just read a fantastic dystopian YA novel that had the bare minimum description and still managed to make me feel like I was there.  So...I go back and forth about it.  It only detracted slightly from my enjoyment of the story.

My favorite character right now is Lena.  She's a very unique individual.  I feel like we would get along.  I feel like we have a lot in common (writing, keeping little things that we consider valuable, highly sensitive), even though she is vastly different from me (she has supernatural powers, which of course, no matter how much I want them, I do not possess).

I'm really enjoying Beautiful Darkness (book two), and I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out in a few weeks.  Come back next Monday for a review on a different book!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Showers of Books Giveaway Hop!

There's a great giveaway going on right now -- lots of good books up for grabs!

Follow along with me by starting here:

Good luck!

(I'm hoping for a chance to win Cinder or Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, Under the Never Sky or Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi, or Shadow & Bone or Siege & Storm by Leigh Bardugo!)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

It might have been a mistake to read a Cinderella re-telling while trying to write a re-telling of the same story.  I ended up reading Cinder and thinking, "Why should I write a re-telling?  This is the most imaginative and fun version of this story I've ever read!"

[I also discovered that while I enjoyed reading historical fiction as a child, I loathe writing it.  I couldn't even open the document to work on it after the first five chapters.  So there is that too]

The book opens with Cinder, the best mechanic in New Beijing, being visited by Prince Kai.  He brings a robot for her to repair.  Before they have time to fall in love at first sight, an outbreak of plague causes them both to scurry home, before they succumb to the frightening disease.

Cinder lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters, and a robot, her one constant companion.  Unknown to many, including the prince, Cinder is a cyborg, which allows her to diagnose and fix machines as well as tell when people are lying.

When she's sent to the palace as a 'volunteer' for experimentation with a cure for the plague, a scientist takes particular interest in her.  There is more to Cinder than even she knows, and when the Lunar Queen visits, Cinder is warned to stay away for fear of her life.

Of course, she can't, needing to get vital information to the prince, and what results is a tragic and breathtaking beginning of the Lunar Chronicles.  Scarlet, the second book, is already out and I am anxious to continue reading about Cinder.

There were lots of things to love about this book: the cover is striking, Cinder is an intelligent girl who knows how to handle machinery, she isn't overly romantic, and she struggles with things that a lot of us go through at that age.  I also loved the nods to the classic story.  The new twists made the story fresh, and the setting was just incredible -- a future world where the moon has its own colony ruled by the Lunar Queen, Beijing has been rebuilt, and robots/cyborgs are looked down on as second-hand citizens.  It's an interesting way to look at race/disabilities.

The one thing I didn't like was that I saw the biggest twist coming right from the start.  I wish the clues hadn't been so obvious, or that they had showed up later, about 2/3 of the way through the book instead of in the first few chapters.

Other than that, it was amazing, and really, it's one of my new favorite books.  Re-tellings are always such fun, and Cinder was more fun than most, being put in a science fiction setting rather than a fairytale.

I'm curious to see Cinder's journey throughout The Lunar Chronicles, and I'd love to hear your thoughts (mark your spoilers, though, as I haven't read Scarlet yet) on Cinder's story! 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Has anyone read Brenna Yovanoff's book The Replacement?  It's a spooky, weird, dark little fairytale about a boy who doesn't fit in -- not in this world, and not in the fae world he visits.  It's a fascinating book but quite dark -- Paper Valentine continues that tradition.

Paper Valentine is unsettling.  It ends unresolved, in some ways.  It discusses a disturbing issue.  And it's a really, really interesting psychological story.

I liked it.

Not in the "This-is-my-favorite-book-of-all-time" kind of way (like Blink & Caution or Shadow & Bone were) but "This-is-a-very-unique-book-and-wow-I'm-so-glad-I-got-to-read-this" kind of way.

Paper Valentine focuses on a girl, Hannah, who lives in a small town.  It's summertime.  And her best friend's ghost is following her around.  Also...she might be attracted to Finney Boone, the guy who scrubbed her face with snow in elementary school.

As the plot thickens, dead girls begin cropping up, surrounded by plastic toys and childish paraphernalia.  And a single valentine cut out of paper.  Hannah catches glimpses of the gruesome scenes while working for her cousin, who develops the photos at her shop for the police.

Hannah's dead friend becomes obsessed with the murders, dragging Hannah along for the ride.  Will Hannah be able to unravel this mystery, or will it be the end of her?

So: Hannah's dealing with her best friend's ghost, a constant reminder of the way she died (it is hinted that she died from complications due to bulimia or anorexia); a family who's freaked out by the serial killer (which means she's cooped up with her friend's ghost -- not a pleasant way to spend the summer); Finney Boone, who starts showing a gentle side; and her own guilt and feelings when it comes to her friend's death, the way she treated Finney in elementary school, and her friend's need to find the killer.

Paper Valentine weaves complex psychological elements into the characters early, but doesn't start pulling threads until you've made up your mind about the characters.

Do you like Hannah?  Well, she's in a clique of mean girls who made fun of Finney when they were younger.  She's never been able to get away from their influence.  She's living in her head more than she's living in real life.

Do you like Finney?  Well, we don't know much about him.  He could even be the serial killer.  Aren't they supposed to turn on the charm when they meet a potential victim?

It goes on like this for a while, beckoning you this way and that, tantalizingly giving you one piece of information at a time, never enough to put it all together until the very end.

While I didn't completely buy the ending, it has started to make sense now that I've had a few days to think about it.  What I really loved is that it's a character that runs true to form for a serial killer.  It's someone you know.  You trust him.  You don't even give him a second thought, since you've been in his house before.  But once you really see him, you wonder why it never occurred to you why his eyes are so lifeless.

(And the only reason I didn't buy the ending was that we never got much time with that character.  There wasn't as much of a build up as there needed to be.)

I loved that Hannah wasn't a reliable narrator.  The more you learn about her and Finney you realize she's looked at him wrong her whole life.  He's a hooligan and he steals from the gas station, but that doesn't mean he can't also be a sweet, gentle guy.  And it doesn't mean he should be automatically pointed to as the main suspect.

Paper Valentine is full of mystery.  It's creepy, scary, dark, and contains some thematic elements not for the younger crowd (there's a oujia board used for a seance at least twice, and there's a few romantic moments, although nothing graphic).  It's a lot of psychology.  It's about grief, anger, and hopelessness.

But the rays of hope emanated by Hannah and Finney's relationship are beautiful to behold.  In the midst of this nightmare, they find each other and gently, kindly lead each other to a better understanding of each other.

Finney's the type of character I always gravitate toward -- the misunderstood antihero.  He reminds me of a slightly younger John Bender (from The Breakfast Club) -- a guy who's got it rough and pretends that he's rough, while on the inside, he's actually sweet; he's a person yearning for love.

If you enjoy ghost stories, psychological thrillers, mysteries, or paranormal stories, you would probably like this book.

I'll be reviewing Cinder by Marissa Meyer next week.  Stay tuned!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I won a copy of Insurgent a few weeks ago and had to scramble to find an available copy of Divergent (book 1) at the library.

Even though it has been out two years this month, I didn't have any friends who'd read it and didn't really know what it was about -- somehow, I had managed to avoid spoilers (a grand feat).

I am so glad I knew nothing about the story when I began it.  I was sucked into the world immediately, emotionally invested from the beginning, and I'm not quite sure what magic Veronica Roth worked to assure this outcome.

Divergent speaks on the deepest need we humans have -- the need to belong.  It explores that idea in a family setting and a societal setting, with friends, leaders, acquaintances and classmates.  It's a powerful story of how we divide ourselves, and how dangerous that can be. The subcultures created in this setting are meant to separate, sometimes with tragic results.

It also explores our need for power, and the corruption that inevitably follows.  A society of the type depicted in Divergent can only last as long as the leaders are able to keep control firmly in hand.  When the people realize they can wield power (and aren't afraid to try), a revolution often occurs.

With this social and political commentary as a backdrop, one girl searches for her identity in the midst of a life altering decision, a budding romance, and familial expectations.  It's breathtaking to watch unfold -- and sometimes horrifying.

Divergent is categorized as YA dystopian fiction, but there's a lot more it has to offer.  There are several twists and turns, advanced science experiments, and danger in spades, so this story could also appeal to mystery lovers, thriller admirers and science fiction readers.

I'd recommend this story to just about everyone, really.  You'll easily be able to empathize with the main character as I found myself doing, and you also might find yourself subconsciously attempting to philosophize on which faction you'd belong to.

It's an exciting ride and I can't wait to read Insurgent.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Shadow & Bone: Thrilling News!

Several months ago, I was skimming the Grisha Trilogy Facebook page (Shadow & Bone is book one in the trilogy, followed by Siege & Storm) and noticed an article that asked for our blogged reviews of Shadow & Bone.  Since I had absolutely loved it, I sent in my review and waited.

And waited.

...And waited.

I pretty much forgot about it.

Until last night, when I received a lovely e-mail from someone at MacMillan publishers, who had been working on a surprise for us bloggers who had loved Shadow & Bone from the beginning.

We are included in the paperback edition of Shadow & Bone, coming out May 7th!!!


She sent us a watermarked page (it's beautiful) and there was the name of my blog.

Chills, people.  I got chills.

Back in the day you were lucky if you wrote an author and they scribbled a note back.  That kind of thing was extremely rare and a lot of writers were hermit-esque except for the occasional speaking gig.

Not today.  Today, we have authors contacting us through Goodreads (this has happened to me twice), writing blogs (I've won giveaways from authors), and saying a public thank you to those who fell in love with her first book.

It's an exciting time to be alive!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to Host a Great Giveaway

I've been entering giveaways since last year when I discovered the YAmazing Race (an uber-trek through the blogosphere for the primary purpose of sharing YA stories), and I've thought about doing my own giveaway (or participating in a blog hop), but haven't worked myself up to it yet (lack of money/time issue, primarily).

I have, however, given a lot of thought to running a giveaway smoothly and what not to do if you want people to enjoy your giveaway and come back for more.

I offer this sage advice (from one weary blog-hopper to the next) and hope it gives you a headstart when you decide to join the ranks of The Blogs That Give Awesome Stuff Away.

General guidelines:

1. Give something away that you'd like to win -- please, please don't offer up a worn-out copy of a vacuum cleaner manual.  No one wants that.  Also, don't offer up your own writing  unless it comes with swag and signatures.  It looks desperate.  (This also protects you from feeling sad when only a few people enter your contest)  If you can't think of something to give away, look through the hot titles list at your local library or on Amazon and Goodreads.  Or ask your readers with an easy, one-question poll.

2.  State rules and prize clearly (preferably at the beginning of the post).

3.  Hold yourself to deadlines -- post the giveaway when you promised, end it and choose the winner in a timely fashion, alert the winner, keep in contact as necessary, and ship as soon as possible.  You want people to keep visiting your blog.  Be professional.

4.  If you are using images in your giveaway, make sure the photo quality or image quality is high.  Label them (with the title or series title) and link to their Goodreads or Amazon page.

5.  If you are using Rafflecopter, there are a few suggestions I have after entering more than a dozen giveaways and bemoaning the complicated entry possibilities.  Either assign all the options 1 point, or assign them points based on the time involved for each activity and how much exposure you'd potentially get.  Also take into consideration what you'd like more of -- Twitter followers?  Blog followers?  Goodreads friends?

I'd set up a Rafflecopter as follows:

  • Follow via e-mail or RSS
  • Follow in one of these ways: Networked Blogs, Linky, BlogLuvin', GFC, etc.
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Friend/follow on Goodreads
  • Follow on Pinterest
  • Like Facebook page (or share contest)
  • Comment -- ask them a question they can answer in the comment section

The reason I've only put one Twitter option on there is because some people don't have smartphones and therefore don't have a Twitter account (can you imagine Twitter on the computer?  Maddening).  I also think you should group similar things in one option - would you really follow someone three different ways via your own blog?  Also -- it's nice to get comments, but if I have to go through your reviews and post a thoughtful comment, I probably won't do it.  For ease and a sure entry, ask them a pertinent question (tie in the theme of the giveaway!  Ask for recommendations!).  Another thing I've seen is only allowing one option to show until completed.  What if you only let people who have a Twitter handle enter?  You've just lost part of your audience.

If the point of a giveaway is to enlarge your readership, do yourself a favor and make the giveaway fun and easy.  People will appreciate it and might even tell their friends to enter your next giveaway.

Let me know in the comments if you can think of anything else to add, or if you agree/disagree with my giveaway rules.  Those of you who have hosted giveaways -- what was your experience like?

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Legend of Eli Monpress (Books 1-3) by Rachel Aaron


I have finally finished reading the epic (I'm going to use that word a lot in this review) 3-book collection The Legend of Eli Monpress (and there's still two more books to go!  I'm currently reading the next one, No. 4 -- The Spirit War).

And may I just say...

Well done, Rachel Aaron.  *slow clap*  Well done.

The first book, The Spirit Thief, is a great heist story.  It's full of epic sword fights, kick-butt characters, witty repartee, etc.  The ending is a big finish, a grand finale, and you think, "Oh, wow, that was really cool!" and then you go on to the next book, unaware of the depth of epic-ness that is to come.

Then you start in on The Spirit Rebellion.  Really cool, thriller-type story with sneaking around, some character background, and a tyrant that *really* needs to be overthrown.  Epic fight at the end that raises the stakes even more.  We begin to see twists and turns in characters' stories, and the tangled relationships they're involved in.

And then you read The Spirit Eater and start to understand just what exactly is going on.  It's waaaaaay bigger than you've imagined and things are getting pretty serious for our beloved trio.  This one has more...darkness involved.  An inkling of the danger our characters are in (pretty deep) starts trickling into your brain and you start worrying that one of them (any of them!) might just keel over and die.  It's a mystery -- shadowy, with more threatening villains, and the answer to a question we never thought to ask.  It's almost a throwaway conversation -- but it *isn't* and that's where Rachel's brilliance appears (like it has everywhere through the books) -- we've built up to this point and have barely noticed.  And then WHAM!  There it is.  And then the stakes are raised EVEN HIGHER.  FOR EVERYONE.

I kept reading each book and thinking, "HOW IS RACHEL GOING TO TOP THIS?!?!?!"  And you know what?  She topped each ending.  Every. Single. Time.

I don't even know what could happen in books four and five.

Let's just say I scrambled to find a copy I could beg, borrow or steal so that I could finish the series stat.

I'm serious -- I literally begged friends for a copy of book four, The Spirit War, so that I could keep going.

What I love about Rachel Aaron is that she knows how to keep an epic story light while at the same time explore the depths of a fantasy world (and to some extent, the characters' backstories).  She also handles multiple main characters extremely well -- I feel like I know the trio.  I could travel with this group.  I also know the person chasing them, and I can't help but sympathize.  They are a slippery bunch to catch (and hold onto).

Her books feel big, expansive -- the universe she's created feels real.  I can picture the countryside the trio travels through, I know what they look like, I can see the castles and buildings they thieve from, and I can feel the food they eat in my hands.  I can see their world so clearly.

While the series isn't YA or middle-grade, it hits a nice medium -- it isn't 'adult' in theme.  It's a really epic fantasy with elements of several genres mixed in (and is low on the romance scale, which of course you know delights me).  It's a saga, a story whose scope is far greater than what you first see.

I think this series would be perfect reading for a long summer or winter.  I'm already sad that it's more than halfway over.  While I'm trying to rush through and see what happens, I'm also lingering because I know once I read the last book, I have to say goodbye to Eli, Josef and Nico (and Miranda and Gin).

And that's just gonna be a sad, sad day.