July 31, 2012

Article 5: A Panoramic Review

"New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned.

The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.

There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don't come back.

Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren't always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it's hard for her to forget that people weren't always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It's hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different.

Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow.

That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings—the only boy Ember has ever loved.
" (from Goodreads) 
Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
My reaction: 

This is one of those books that you can enjoy as long as you don't think about it too much. If you critically analyze the world-building, things will begin to fall apart. It's both quite conventional for a dystopian novel — think militarized regime à la 1984 — and not that plausible. I was skeptical that the military and people high in command would actually care about a couple of runaways like Chase and Ember; I just don't see it as being a practical, efficient use of resources (along with the reform schools). Basically, Chase and Ember are living in a police state and always on the run. That's pretty much all you need to know, and trying to figure out how everything fits together — the past war, the Statutes, the evacuations, the weird reform schools for girls — will not lead to success.

Plot-wise, it's predictable. The one big revelation that happens towards the end I had my suspicions about for a while (spoiler, highlight to read: I suspected that the mom was either dead or going to die). I guessed the plan for how Ember was going to extract Chase and herself from a tough spot before she executed it. So don't go into this expecting a whole bunch of surprises that you can't see coming. Also, I wasn't totally sold on the climactic scene; I think things were a little too easy for Ember and Chase, and the adversary they faced should have been able to do something else.

That said, as a reading experience I found Article 5 to be pretty gripping, and I was really into it most of the time. There was a point at which I was feeling the whole thing was pointless and had lost its direction; Ember and Chase go from one skirmish or hiding place to another without accomplishing anything for quite a while. But then the big revelation occurs and that changes things.

Best aspect: the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) aspect of Chase's character. (PTSD has always been an area of psychology that's interested me.) His behaviour is never officially labelled, but it's clear that's what Chase is dealing with. He's obviously torn about his involvement in the military — he's a strong fighter, but he feels sick about what he's been forced to do. This guilt mixes with blame of Ember for not asking him to stay (though this is pretty irrational, since what could they have done, really? He was drafted...if he disobeyed, they would have been on the run anyway, right?). Of course, Ember blames him, too, since he's present when she and her mother are arrested. 

Their relationship is fraught with tension. In one way, it's a slow-burn romance (you're going to have to wait a while for any kisses!), but since they have a history and were involved before, it's not a new romance. There are all these memories and past stuff that they either need to talk about or get over. Ember's memories of Chase from before work really well to contrast with the current Chase — they're almost different individuals in her mind.

If I could change something... I'd make Ember a little more self-reliant and independent right from the start. To be honest, Ember bugged me in parts. She spends a lot of her time doing the following: panicking, freaking out, crying, and being scared (sometimes all at once!). Since Chase is from the army and knows more than Ember about the society and survival, and he and Ember spend most of the book together, she relies on him heavily. As in: there will be a danger, Chase will come to the rescue and save Ember, she will cling to him, and then they will bond before they remember all their issues and go all cold and distant with each other again. This happens multiple times with different dangerous situations: lather, rinse, repeat. Aspects of their relationship — his protectiveness of Ember, his greater strength, his tendency to save her all the time — might remind you of the Bella-Edward relationship in Twilight, so you have been warned.

However, to put things in perspective, I feel like many of us would do the same as Ember in the situations she faces. I think I would be freaking out too if someone was pointing a gun at me or I was hiding while someone else was getting murdered nearby. If there was a strong guy like Chase next to me, I might very well be clinging to him in shock too...so I don't think I can blame Ember all that much. But the Ember-crying-at-the-drop-of-a-hat thing does get tiresome. Thankfully, Ember also has some good qualities; she's extremely loyal to her mother, and cares about integrity and ethics — not only her own, but also Chase's. And she goes through some important character development and comes into her own at the end, a key piece of information eventually pushing her into a place of greater mental strength. Hopefully she won't regress to her previous behaviour in the next book.

If you haven't read it: and you liked the quick pace and constant danger of The Hunger Games and the slow-burn, "forbidden" romances in Matched and Birthmarked, you'll probably enjoy Article 5. But if you're a reader who wants to think critically about the dystopian elements of the society, you'll likely be dissatisfied.

If you have read it: do you agree with the above comparisons? How do you think this book stands up to those others?

Just one more thing I want to mention: at times I was reminded
of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The desperate lengths people will go to when threatened or starving are portrayed well here.


"My terror grew, closing off the world around me. Chase's presence didn't soothe me as it had in the past. The mouth that had once curved into a smile and softened against my lips was a hard, grim line. There was no warmth in him now. This was not the Chase I remembered. This wasn't my Chase."

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. I know I've touched on a lot of weaknesses above — shaky world-building, clichés and stereotypes, repetitive plot. But despite all of that, it was a good reading experience for me, and for the most part I enjoyed the romance and the characters. If you can tune out the many questions or criticisms that may arise as you read it, and just go along for the ride, you might find yourself surprisingly riveted to its pages.

Disclaimer: I received this for review from the publisher.

Note: Article 5 contains some mature content (scenes of violence).

This book counts towards my goal for the Debut Author reading challenge.

July 29, 2012

The Book Lode (5)

There are quite a few memes to choose from now for showing the books we've gotten recently, so I thought to be fair I'd link my posts up to a different meme each month. I'm grouping the posts under the name "The Book Lode," and this month I'm linking up to Showcase Sunday, which is hosted by Books, Biscuits, and Tea.

This post covers the past couple weeks. My apologies in advance for the funky lighting in this vlog!


Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee

For review:

Dark Companion by Marta Acosta
Waking Storms by Sarah Porter
Junk-Box Jewelry
Who I Kissed by Janet Gurtler
Send by Patty Blount
Cuttlefish by Dave Freer

Thanks very much to Tor Teen, Thomas Allen & Son, Raincoast Books, and Pyr Books!

July 27, 2012

Thief's Covenant: A Snapshot

Thief's Covenant by Ari Marmell

"Once she was Adrienne Satti. An orphan of Davillon, she had somehow escaped destitution and climbed to the ranks of the city’s aristocracy in a rags-to-riches story straight from an ancient fairy tale. Until one horrid night, when a conspiracy of forces—human and other—stole it all away in a flurry of blood and murder.

Today she is Widdershins, a thief making her way through Davillon’s underbelly with a sharp blade, a sharper wit, and the mystical aid of Olgun, a foreign god with no other worshippers but Widdershins herself. It’s not a great life, certainly nothing compared to the one she once had, but it’s hers.

But now, in the midst of Davillon’s political turmoil, an array of hands are once again rising up against her, prepared to tear down all that she’s built. The City Guard wants her in prison. Members of her own Guild want her dead. And something horrid, something dark, something ancient is reaching out for her, a past that refuses to let her go. Widdershins and Olgun are going to find answers, and justice, for what happened to her—but only if those who almost destroyed her in those years gone by don’t finish the job first.
" (from Goodreads)

The subject: a girl who's busy stealing riches, hiding from the law, evading thugs, and hanging out at the "Flippant Witch" tavern in her spare time. Widdershins lives on the edge, brave to the point of foolhardiness; she's crafty, but sometimes underestimates her adversaries and overestimates her own skills. Though she has her own sort of moral code most of the time — as in, stealing's fine, but not murder — when push comes to shove she can be pretty ruthless, and I couldn't get behind all of the choices she makes.

The setting: the city of Davillon, in a world with a bit of a 'historical urban fantasy' feel (but not set in our world's history, obviously).

Shutter speed: for a fantasy adventure, it's actually fairly slow-moving and dense. It's written in third-person omniscient, alternating between many characters, which works to draw the mystery out. There's no shortage of fights, but I thought the action scenes could have been quicker-paced.

What's in the background? An interesting religious system. The gods rely heavily on their followers' worship, and if the god has no more followers, he or she is basically "dead." It makes sense, then, that Olgun is "attached" to Adrienne, and I thought this was a neat way to make Adrienne a target. Olgun comes in very handy to help Adrienne out of some tight pinches (a little too handy, perhaps, at the end when it really counts) but since there are limits to his powers, she has to do a lot of work the rest of the time.  

Zoom in on: the emotional connection. This is definitely a story that's more about the 'swashbuckling,' so to speak (no pirates, but there are plenty of brawls and lots of the grotesque factor). Numerous deaths happen, but I wasn't bawling my eyes out for any of them. While I understand the focal point is the adventure, I do wish there'd been more of an emotional connection. The angle that comes closest is probably Adrienne's relationship with Alexandre, since he's one of the few people she cares about.

I also would have welcomed more scenes involving Julien Bouniard (a member of the Guard).  He's out of his depth dealing with Widdershins but doesn't realize it, and their interactions are actually pretty cute. In an odd kind of way they respect each other, but at the same time, Widdershins is constantly giving him the run-around. I wanted to see these two get together but it seems like the author is hinting at a different character for Adrienne's love interest (there isn't any romance in this book, but I suspect there may be in sequels).

Anything out of focus? The plot is complicated and difficult to follow; I found myself repeatedly flipping back to try to figure out what was going on. It was difficult to keep all of the characters and groups/organizations straight, and remember who knew what/had gone where/was working for whom/etc. 

Ready? Say... "Thieving and murder and secrets, oh my!"

Click! 3.5 shooting stars. It took me several tries to get into this one, I think partly because the prose seemed overwritten, giving me more of an 'adult fantasy' vibe than YA (I believe Ari Marmell has previously written adult fantasy novels but this is his first YA book). As I continued to read, though, I got used to the writing style and it didn't bother me that much. 

Note: There is some mature content (namely, scenes of violence) in this book. 

Disclaimer: I received this for review from the publisher.

This book counts towards my goal for the 2012 Debut Author challenge

July 26, 2012

"New Adult" Niche: Interview with Melanie Card (and E-book Giveaway!)

I'm pleased to be able to welcome Melanie Card, author of the New Adult novel Ward Against Death, to the blog today for an interview!

First, a bit about the book:


Ward de’Ath expected this to be a simple job—bring a nobleman’s daughter back from the dead for fifteen minutes, let her family say good-bye, and launch his fledgling career as a necromancer. Goddess knows he can’t be a surgeon—the Quayestri already branded him a criminal for trying—so bringing people back from the dead it is.

But when Ward wakes the beautiful Celia Carlyle, he gets more than he bargained for. Insistent that she’s been murdered, Celia begs Ward to keep her alive and help her find justice. By the time she drags him out her bedroom window and into the sewers, Ward can’t bring himself to break his damned physician’s Oath and desert her.

However, nothing is as it seems—including Celia. One second, she’s treating Ward like sewage, the next she’s kissing him. And for a nobleman’s daughter, she sure has a lot of enemies. If he could just convince his heart to give up on the infuriating beauty, he might get out of this alive…

And now for the questions...

1.) Many of the New Adult books being released these days are contemporary, featuring protagonists dealing with issues arising from living on their own/having their first full-time job/going to college/etc. Ward Against Death, in contrast, is a fantasy novel. Is there a reason you chose to make your characters older than those found in a typical YA fantasy? Are there some commonalities that are shared between New Adult books, regardless of genre?
Thanks Danya for inviting me here today. In all honesty I wasn’t thinking about YA or New Adult fiction when I wrote Ward Against Death. Historical and Epic Fantasy has a long tradition of young protagonists with books solidly placed on the adult fantasy shelves. I think one of the reasons for this is the “quest” which is often about growth and self discovery and young protagonists lend themselves well to “learning” about themselves and their world. That “quest” for fantasies can be interpreted (sometimes loosely) as the metaphoric journey into adulthood. This theme has been studied a lot in the academic world. One scholar, Joseph Campbell, did extensive research into world mythologies and wrote a fascinating (although sort of dry if you’re not into text books) study on how this “quest” theme from youth to adulthood transcends cultures. He called this universal story a “monomyth” and out of that came “The Hero’s Journey”.

At the time I wrote Ward Against Death I only had a vague idea about all that. What I wanted was a book like the others fantasies I loved reading and a hero, Ward, who just wouldn’t get out of my head.

That rather long theoretical explanation about fantasy can also explain a part of the genre of YA and New Adult books as a whole. In these genres we have young protagonists (be they in a historical setting, a modern day setting, or a futuristic setting) who are trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and how they can be independent of the adults in their lives. In New Adult fiction, that independence might be won but it’s still tentative, and the certainty we hope to have in ourselves when we’re adults isn’t there yet. These are the characters I find completely fascinating. For me, these characters have the potential for such growth and so many surprises. It’s that potential for growth and self discovery that I think is the commonality between books in the genre.

2.) How do you think the story would have played out if Ward was 16 or 17 instead? Would he have made different decisions that could have set the plot on a completely separate path?

This is a tough one and I’m not sure if Ward’s age would change things. Ward is determined and untested when the book opens. He’d be just as determined and just as untested if he was 16 or 17. I suspect he’d be even more suspicious of Celia’s attentions and that might take the story in a different direction.

3.) The New Adult category has been doing quite well in e-books, but hasn't yet managed to carve out a spot for itself on physical bookshelves. Do you think this pattern will continue? How do you see the future of NA unfolding?

I wish I did know what the future of New Adult would be. If you figure it out could you please tell me? :)

4.) Are there any NA fantasy books you can recommend to my readers?  

I highly recommend the Study series by Maria V. Snyder.

5.) I understand Ward Against Death is the first in the Chronicles of a Reluctant Necromancer series. Do you have any ideas for future books once the series is completed?

So many books so little time! I have a lot of ideas for future books, some New Adult, some Adult, some in the same world as Ward Against Death, some not.

6.) If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring New Adult writer, what would it be?

Write and write lots. Don’t be afraid to write badly - that can be fixed when you go back and edit. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – that how we learn. Write the stories you want to read, about the characters that interest you. There’s a lot to know about the craft and business of writing, and yes that’s important, too, but in the end it always comes down to writing, to putting words on the page and exploring worlds, and characters, and stories.

About Melanie Card:

Melanie has always been drawn to storytelling and can't remember a time when she wasn’t creating a story in her head. Her early stories were adventures with fairies and dragons and sword swinging princesses.

Today she continues to spin tales of magic in lands near and far, while her cat sits on the edge of her desk and supervises. When she’s not writing, you can find her pretending to be other people with her local community theatre groups.

Connect with Melanie:  
Facebook  /  Twitter@melaniecard  /Goodreads / MelanieCard.com

Get your copy of Ward Against Death at:

Thanks very much, Melanie, for answering my New Adult questions!

Now for the giveaway...courtesy of Melanie and her publisher, there is an e-book of Ward Against Death up for grabs!

The rules:

- Entrants must be 16 years or older.
- Open internationally
- One entry per person. But anyone who's officially signed up for my New Adult reading challenge gets an extra entry! (You must have already filled in this form, prior to the posting of this giveaway, in order to qualify. Please mention that you're a participant in your comment and leave the e-mail address you signed up with.)
- Following and tweeting are not necessary but always appreciated!
- Ends August 10, at 11:59 pm EST.
- Winner will be selected randomly.

To enter, please leave a comment with your e-mail address.

July 25, 2012

Psychtember Question Box!


Psychtember is back this coming fall (mark your calendars!), and along with it, Dr. Carolyn Kaufman! She's a clinical psychologist, author of the book The Writer's Guide to Psychology, and writing coach. You can read last year's interviews with her here and here

Last year I gave my blog readers the chance to offer up their own questions for Dr. Kaufman, and I'd like to do the same again this year! This time around, though, I'm going to make it an anonymous "Question Box" so that people feel more comfortable voicing their ideas. For instance...
  • Are you a writer, wondering how to best portray a character with a particular mental illness? 
  • Are you a reader, trying to figure out if therapy in real life actually works like it does in the YA novel you're reading? 
  • Are you a mental health professional looking for books to recommend for teens who are struggling with mental health issues?  

Whatever the case may be, I welcome your questions! I'll choose some and pass them on to Dr. Kaufman, who will answer them during the event.

To suggest a question or topic for Dr. Kaufman to discuss, please use the form below (or if it's not working for you, this link here

July 21, 2012

Guest Post by Kate Hinderer (The Emerald Isle Blog Tour)

I'm pleased to welcome Kate Hinderer, author of The Emerald Isle, to the blog today! She's discussing how the writing processes differed for her contemporary novel Aurora Undefined and her paranormal novel The Emerald Isle.

First, a bit about the book and the author:
"To escape a bad break-up and fighting parents Audyn takes a job as a lifeguard at Fascination Island. The posh five-star resort lives up to its name in every way, including the strange rules the owner has about entering the water at night. Despite declaring it a boy-free summer, it isn’t long before the shy, endearing Levi and the mysterious, tattooed Tristan begin vying for her attention. When Levi tries to push his advantage and Tristan comes to the rescue, Audyn realizes there is more to both these boys and the island they inhabit. Suddenly, she’s forced to acknowledge a reality she’d never considered and to pick a side in the conflict that has been waging for decades." (from Goodreads)
"Kate is a journalist by profession. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications such as The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune special sections, The Milwaukee Business Journal, RelateMag, The SuperMelon, MercatorNet's Tiger Print blog, Sadie Magazine...

She started writing stories and novelettes in 7th grade. Her teachers thought she was copiously taking notes, but really she was penning stories about her classmates. That passion only increased in high school. The stories became longer and the passion for writing was deeply ingrained. As a junior she resurrected her school's student-run newspaper and opted to pursue a journalism career to harness her love for writing into a payable profession. Still the stories never stopped flowing.

Kate also writes a fashion and lifestyle blog called ModlyChic."
(taken from the author's website)
And now the guest post:

Hey, I’m author Kate Hinderer and I’m lucky enough to be guest posting for the day as part of the blog book tour for The Emerald Isle. This book is part paranormal part contemporary fiction and it’s all fun.  (The book can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.)

When I wrote my first book, Aurora Undefined, the process was vastly different from that of my second book, The Emerald Isle.

Auora Undefined is a contemporary young adult novel and something that could easily take place today in any high school. A lot of the scenes are things pulled from my own experience and that of my friends and relatives. As a result, there wasn’t much research that needed to take place to write the story. I mapped out the story line and started writing.

The Emerald Isle, on the other hand, mixes contemporary characters with paranormal elements. I wanted Audyn, the main character, to be relatable and realistic while having her fall prey to something out of her realm of experience. I took her out of environments I know myself and put her in the midst of Fascination Island, a luxury resort where anything can happen. The writing took more research and plotting since I needed to feature things I don’t have first-hand experience of: five-star resorts, life guarding and, of course, mermaids.

The notes I took filled sticky notes and word documents. I would sketch random parts to better visualize the scenes and the characters. For more than three months I carried around a color-coordinated map of what Fascination Island looked like in my head, memorizing it to better be able to describe where the characters are going.

I spent way too much time researching mermaid folklore on the internet. I spent a lot of time watching movies and TV shows that feature mermaids… the Australian show H2O, Aquamarine, Fishtales, etc…

Unlike other paranormal characters (vampires, werewolves, etc..) there isn’t a unified front on what mermaids are all about. Oh, sure, they are beautiful and such, but beyond that what exactly is a mermaid or merman? I needed to come up with my own definition of merfolk and what they were really all about. It was an adventure and something I loved fleshing out on my own.

Thanks very much, Kate, for dropping by and sharing a glimpse into your writing process! The full blog tour schedule can be found on Kate's blog here.

And just a heads-up: Kate is also holding a giveaway on her fashion blog, ModlyChic, to celebrate the release of The Emerald Isle, so you might want to head on over there and enter!

July 19, 2012

U-Pick: Broodiest Hero?

Here's how this feature works: each week I'll post a categorical superlative (e.g. "most sadistic villain" "crankiest father figure" "protagonist you would most like to slap some sense into" etc.) and list a few choices of characters from YA books in a poll. You get to pick! The poll will run for a week, and then in the following post I'll update with the name of the winning character. 

Last time the poll was for the Most Adventurous Heroine, and in the end the title was captured quite securely by...

... Tris from Divergent!

Second-place went to Alanna from Song of the Lioness and third to Rose from Vampire Academy. I'm a little surprised that so many of the other options received so few votes — I guess they're all going to have to step up their game if they hope to rival Tris!

And now for another poll: who's the Broodiest Hero in YA?

There are lots of choices here, so vote below! (If the book is part of a series, I've just listed the series name. You can decide which book you want to base your vote on.) There's also an option for a write-in vote if your pick isn't listed. If that's the case, please choose "other" and then leave the character's name and book title in the comments :)

July 17, 2012

Daughter of Smoke & Bone: A Close-Up Review

"Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?"
(from Goodreads) 
Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

I tried so many times to read this book. I kept picking it up, reading the first few chapters, going, "This is SO WEIRD," and putting it down. However, finally I just started reading it in very short sittings — we're talking, a chapter or so at a time, maybe less — and eventually I got into it!


Karou: I didn't connect that well with Karou, especially in the beginning. She marches to the beat of her own drummer, and can be ruthless and brusque. Despite the fact that she doesn't like to let too many people in, though, she has a strong sense of loyalty to friends and "family". However, as the story progresses and we find out more about Karou I got a little more on board with her character. But I'm still not sure I'd want to be friends with her (and I suspect she probably wouldn't want to be friends with me!). She's quite independent and likes it that way, which is why this bond with Akiva, which takes her quite by surprise, is so important to her character development as she opens up to someone and lets her emotions take hold of her.

Akiva: Things get more interesting once Akiva becomes involved. He's a broody "Rochester" type — although that's about the only comparison to Jane Eyre one can really make with this book — with all these dark regrets about the past. I liked his haunted character, despite the fact that I think he occasionally plays it up a little much, as though he enjoys wallowing in what he thinks is his own undeservingness.

Karou & Akiva: Their relationship is somewhat "insta-love", but at the same time, it's believable — they have a shared past so there's an immediate bond they sense that they don't understand at first. Karou and Akiva are good foils for each other; they're very different in some ways, she being bubbly and full of life, and — despite how she might wish to see herself — still quite youthful and naive in comparison to Akiva. She doesn't have memories of war, suffering and loss the way he does, and her personality balances well with Akiva's darker, more somber temperament. And I have to admit, I've got a soft spot for the forbidden-love-across-battlelines kind of romance.

Everyone else: I don't actually have that much to say about the rest of the characters. I wasn't a big fan of Zuzana. It seemed at the outset that Kaz was going to have a large role, and then he barely featured in it at all (though I think he is instrumental in shaping Karou's attitude). I discuss the chimaera more below, but apart from being a little fond of Kishmish — he was cute, and it's a shame what happened to him — I wasn't particularly attached to any of them. Razgut was creepy, vile in a pitiful kind of way; he's an interesting character in that he's not a villain or an enemy, but at the same time he's not someone you'd voluntarily wish to hang out with.


We're given a straightforward but thought-provoking magic system in Daughter of Smoke & Bone. I am always so pleased to see when a fantasy novel actually has rules for magic, and Laini Taylor delivers: the magic doesn't POOF out of nowhere here, but instead has a (very interesting) source. I don't tend to like reincarnation stories, but I thought that aspect of this book (I'm not going to give away specifics) actually made sense: there's a rhyme and reason to the methodology. I would like to know more of the details of the process, but perhaps we will see that in the sequels.

The world of "Elsewhere" is very richly realized, complete with detailed description and history. It hasn't just been cobbled together piecemeal, but rather, the whole world feels like it's actually there. I thought Karou's world could have used more description, but the exotic locales chosen — Prague, Morocco — serve well as a backdrop for the magical goings-on. Somehow, I just don't see it working in a city like New York or Vancouver, that screams "modern." Prague is steeped in history, so it seems more plausible to set it there — a wise choice on the author's part.

The portrayals of angels and "devils" are fresh and different; this is not your average paranormal YA angel story. The chimaera creatures themselves I found kind of weird and creepy, and very odd to visualize with all their preposterous and bizarre animal body-part combinations. I had some trouble keeping the various chimaera straight; some, like Issa, Kishmish, and Brimstone, were easier to remember than ones like Twiga and Yasri. Some more repetition of their descriptions would have helped here. Plus, as I have mentioned before, I'm not one for talking animals. Suffice it to say the chimaera weren't my favourite part of this book. 


After I got into the story, it went by pretty quickly until part 3, where all of a sudden we're flooded with a whole lot more backstory, including new characters, expanded world-building, and plenty of history. This section felt denser and the pacing slowed, and while I liked the legend-like quality of the story (complete with whirlwind romance and betrayal), this meant part 3 was not my favourite. I preferred the preceding interactions between Karou and Akiva, when they're learning about each other.

There actually isn't that much action in Karou's story — it's more about her finding out information. When significant action does occur in part 3, it fails to bring tension with it, since the reader knows everything's going to turn out more or less okay (can't explain this too much without spoiling it, but you'll understand if you read it). It's almost as though, with part 3, the book veers off in a different direction than it had originally pointed, and the climax — if you can call it that — is all about Karou and the reader becoming aware of important events in the past. That said, I did like the ending — a wedge is driven between Karou and Akiva, but it's understandable. Many series follow this kind of pattern of creating conflict in the romantic relationship, but some only use a frivolous means — like making one of the characters jealous, for instance. Thankfully the way it's handled here actually provides a decent reason for contention between Karou and Akiva.


The quality of the writing is high, although the style itself is not really my typical cup of tea. Laini Taylor excels at a poetic style of writing exhibited in her lush descriptions of "Elsewhere" and the lyrical storytelling that accompanies them. In the sections set in the modern world, however, she relies more on slang and sense of humour (which unfortunately was not my kind of humour, by and large). The author manages to create meaning through interesting, sometimes unexpected use of words and metaphors, rather than relying on cliches.

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. This isn't a favourite or comfort read for me, or even my usual style, but it's well-written, different and creative. There's some depth in themes and plotting that standard YA paranormal novels don't have, reflecting that the author's put some thought into it. The dark tinge to the story, along with the fantastical imaginings and the notions of sacrifice and prices to be paid, makes me think that fans of Neil Gaiman, particularly fans of his book Neverwhere, would appreciate Daughter of Smoke & Bone. I have the feeling this story is meant to be discomfiting and disquieting — and that it accomplishes quite well.

Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the publisher.

July 16, 2012

Come See About Me Giveaway Winners!

I've just drawn the winners of the giveaway for Come See About Me by C.K. Kelly Martin!

The signed paperback copy goes to...


I've e-mailed Suzi, and she has 72 hours to reply with her mailing address before I choose another winner.
And the 3 e-book copies go to...

...Ashley @ Book Labyrinth, Laura (The Zealous Reader), and Tore!

The e-book winners should be receiving their prizes shortly from the author.

Congrats to all of the winners, and thanks to everyone else who entered! I was really pleased to see the level of interest in this giveaway :)

July 15, 2012

The Book Lode (4)

There are quite a few memes to choose from now for showing the books we've gotten recently, so I thought to be fair I'd link my posts up to a different meme each month. I'm grouping the posts under the name "The Book Lode," and this month I'm linking up to Showcase Sunday, which is hosted by Books, Biscuits, and Tea.


For review:

Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You by Joyce Carol Oates
Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson
Fostergirls by Liane Shaw
Thinandbeautiful.com by Liane Shaw

Thanks to HarperCollins Canada, R.J. Anderson, and Second Story Press!


This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers
So Close to You by Rachel Carter

Thanks so much to Deb from Just Deb, and to Epic Reads (HarperCollins)!


Introduction to the Human Body by Gerard J. Tortora and Bryan Derrickson

July 14, 2012

Forget-Me-Nots: Anything by Paula Danziger

Forget-Me-Nots is a feature on my blog for highlighting books I enjoyed in childhood and the teenage years that I don't see getting much attention nowadays.

I read a lot of Paula Danziger's books when I was younger: There's a Bat in Bunk Five, This Place Has No Atmosphere, Earth to Matthew...they're pretty much all awesome. Paula Danziger writes with wonderful humor and lively dialogue, capturing the ups and downs of adolescence perfectly.

She's also written some books for younger readers, like her Amber Brown series. I know I had a copy of You Can't Eat Your Chicken Pox, Amber Brown when I was a kid, and quite enjoyed it :D Just the title is fantastic!

Anyone else have fond memories of Paula Danziger's books? Which were your favourites?

July 12, 2012

Love Story: A Panoramic Review

"For Erin Blackwell, majoring in creative writing at the New York City college of her dreams is more than a chance to fulfill her ambitions--it's her ticket away from the tragic memories that shadow her family's racehorse farm in Kentucky. But when she refuses to major in business and take over the farm herself someday, her grandmother gives Erin's college tuition and promised inheritance to their maddeningly handsome stable boy, Hunter Allen. Now Erin has to win an internship and work late nights at a coffee shop to make her own dreams a reality. She should despise Hunter . . . so why does he sneak into her thoughts as the hero of her latest writing assignment?

Then, on the day she's sharing that assignment with her class, Hunter walks in. He's joining her class. And after he reads about himself in her story, her private fantasies about him must be painfully clear. She only hopes to persuade him not to reveal her secret to everyone else. But Hunter devises his own creative revenge, writing sexy stories that drive the whole class wild with curiosity and fill Erin's heart with longing. Now she's not just imagining what might have been. She's writing a whole new ending for her romance with Hunter . . . except this story could come true.
" (from Goodreads) 

Love Story by Jennifer Echols

My reaction: 

Jennifer Echols is clearly talented at writing flawed, not-so-likeable characters (see my review of Forget You). Erin initially struck me as overconfident, self-centered, and even kind of stuck-up. While I wouldn't say all of these descriptors are inaccurate, she grew on me, and I started to like her a little more as the book went along. I had to respect that she was trying to make it on her own, without her grandmother's support, because she didn't want the life her grandmother was trying to force on her. Hunter also has his faults — he's a bit too much of a suave charmer for my taste, and (along with Erin) he suffers from an inability to talk about his emotions. In fact, he's a little creepy in a way...you can't quite trust him, he always wants to be in control — and frankly, even by the end of the book I don't think he's really reformed.

I liked the use of stories throughout — it was a cool way to show different writing styles, and yet you can draw parallels to Hunter's & Erin's lives from them. At the same time, we're also reminded that we can't read too much into them, since the stories have been written with a purpose by Hunter and Erin. The tagline — "She's writing about him. He's writing about her. And everybody is reading between the lines." — is true, but the most important part is what Erin and Hunter themselves are reading between the lines. In essence, they're really terrible at communicating! They need to figure out how to express themselves to each other's faces, rather than through the medium of the written word.

Best aspect: Hunter's and Erin's weird, twisted relationship — it's what really makes this book. I almost saw them as a modern, YA version of Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, especially through the first half of this book. They keep wanting to hurt each other so that they don't get hurt, trying to protect themselves by lashing out at the other person. Neither wants to let themselves be vulnerable. Now, I have made no secret of the fact that I really didn't like Wuthering Heights — but the same, thankfully, is not true of Love Story. I'm not sure exactly why, although I think the characters here are not as thoroughly reprehensible. Neither Erin nor Hunter on their own is that complicated a character, but together they're a real mess. Half the time they want to kiss, the other half they want to fight.

I was always wondering what they'd do next, because there's so much that's not water under the bridge, and the past is rearing its ugly head and creating a barrier between them in the present. This gives the book a low-level tension throughout that kept me reading. They've let their past misunderstandings pile up, and now they hold all these assumptions about each other, and what happened, that wouldn't be there if they'd just talk things through! 

If I could change something... I'm not sure I like the way things ended with them. Their conflict wasn't resolved to my satisfaction and I thought they needed to talk more about the status of their relationship and share their true feelings (as cheesy as that sounds!). I didn't think their relationship was very healthy, with Hunter's behaviour in particular raising some warning signs. Spoilery, highlight to read: Yes, Erin wrote some cruel messages directed at him, but personally I felt that the way he lied to her for so long was worse. Although they're in a better place by the last page than they were at the first, I'm not convinced that they should be together as a couple.
The "New Adult" aspect:

A Tapestry of WordsErin's at times impetuous behaviour makes her feel immature in some ways, which I think will help teens relate to her voice (this book is marketed as YA, even though it's set in college). While it's on the younger side of NA spectrum, I think her voice and mindset is quite in line with what you might expect for a student early on in their college experience. Jennifer Echols gets the college scene right, from going to clubs and getting drunk at parties to attending class. I thought she provided a neat glimpse into the world of a student in a  creative writing program, and probably a fairly realistic view of what college writing classes are like.

Just one more thing I want to mention: the horse farm inheritance plotline seemed kind of old-fashioned. Erin likens Hunter to Gatsby at one point, and certain themes in this book definitely reflect those of The Great Gatsby — namely, the emphasis on status in the social hierarchy, and the concept of someone attempting to rise above and improve their lot in life. I thought it was a little weird that this was such a big deal in the modern day, but perhaps I don't know much about what status means to Kentucky horse farm owners.


I wanted so badly to slap him. Or kiss him. But there was no physical show of the emotion passing between us, layer upon layer, the upper strata putting the lower ones under enormous pressure. I simply turned and left the classroom, "Almost a Lady" flopping about in front of me.

But I would need to mine those layers when I met him alone. I had to shut him up before he said anything about me and my stable boy to Gabe. I could not let Hunter Allen ruin my life.


Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. Don't go into this book expecting a comfort read that will give you warm fuzzies — but you can expect some good quality writing and a very complex relationship.

Note: This book contains some mature language and content.

This book counts towards my goal for the "New Adult" reading challenge and Just Contemporary reading challenge.

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