Waiting on Wednesday: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a feature hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine to feature yet-to-be-released books.

Leigh Bardugo 
Coming June 5th, 2012

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee. Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.  

First of all, it’s finally the first book in a series—which I can’t seem to find these days, because apparently every series is already underway. Second, I have a feeling I’m either going to love or hate it. The description is a little vague and prototypical high fantasy, which gives me pause. However, the description is high fantasy which I’ve been dying to see in YA. Pure, unadulterated, non-urban high fantasy. Finally, someone has answered my pleas! Plus, it looks to have some Russian elements and I’m curious to see how that will be incorporated. Oh, did I mention it’s high fantasy? And doesn’t contain vampires? And despite hints at a romance does not outright focus on girl-finding-love-of-life-at-age-sixteen like the fifty billion other YA novels that would be so much better without steamy dream boy? Hem.


Fridays in Verse: Hostage

For today's very late Fridays in Verse, a poem I wrote in 2007.  Just some fun late-teenage angst for old time's sake, eh?  Ha.

Hostage held is my heart by an iron grip
And a jailor cruel in thoughtless indecision,
By whose various attentions I make my mood’s revision
As between fatal ecstasy and fatality I slip.
For each silent hour, in the flesh a burning rip
And each moment near, a patched incision—
Add a bruise for each skin’s inadvertent collision
And each lasting stare, a heartbeat’s skip.
On these torments, I feast, every wound, I devour,
With a masochist’s palate I sample emotion,
Gorging heart and self on agony I await the hour
When drunk on my blood his courage will flower
Fit to swiftly make known his like devotion
Or release my starving heart from his fickle power. 


Indie Review: The Corridor by Robin Parrish

TITLE: The Corridor
AUTHOR: Robin Parrish
PAGES: 162
FORMAT: Kindle
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 4/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all stories I’ve ever read].
FOR: Sci-fi lovers. People who enjoyed The Time Machine.

CORRIDOR is a fast-paced action-adventure and will keep you hooked from the very first page. "If you are a fan of the HUNGER GAMES or THE MAZE RUNNER you will love CORRIDOR!" -Aaron Patterson, bestselling author of SWEET DREAMS and AIREL THE ONLY WAY OUT IS TO RUN. On the eve of his seventeenth birthday, Troy Goggin finds himself inexplicably transported to an impossibly huge, miles-long structure called the Corridor. But what is the Corridor, and why was he brought to it? It’s a place of mystery, wonder, and heart-stopping danger. It will test him and push him both mentally and physically. His only companion is the girl whose voice he hears inside his head, explaining the rules he must follow if he hopes to escape. But there is much more to this extraordinary place than Troy could ever imagine. The Corridor’s true purpose — the biggest mystery of all — is revealed only to those who make it to the end.

Incidentally, while searching this, I found the unrelated movie by the same name that I will now be watching, because it sounds amusingly sick. But that’s neither here nor there. Here, we’re talking about the MythWorks novel by Robin Parrish. The concept drew me into this story immediately and, I believe, was the story’s greatest strength. Don’t expect a plot thriller. Although it starts out strong, with room-after-room of terror and near misses, the growing relationship between Troy and Victoria is just as much the focus as the journey. Plus a lot of Troy’s internal monologue—how much does he want to live? So this concept. It’s introduced from the first page. Troy wakes up in a blindingly white room full of twisting paths, with no knowledge of how he got there. His goal: find the exit. Every room is differently colored and differently dangerous, testing the limits of Troy’s tolerance for pain and torment. I won’t spoil it, but the ending really made it for me. I almost wish there had been more of an end because I was fascinated with where he ended up.

The writing isn’t especially interesting or poetic, but it serves its purpose for a young adult action novel: it’s unobtrusive. Sometimes I wish it would be a little more obtrusive; in the sense that, I felt the action in the middle of the book moved too quickly. I would have liked Troy to stop and smell the roses a bit. Or at least describe in more detail what it felt like moving through the giant donut-shaped yellow room of fire. The white room was a lengthy ordeal, while some of the later rooms, despite being increasingly dangerous and deadly, were accomplished in a short amount of time. I would have preferred fewer rooms that required more time rather than the amount we were given.

Now that I’ve nitpicked, I’ll say: read it! It’s extremely clever and has great atmosphere. I felt very connected with Troy and all the confusion he was feeling. The book had an air of mystery—like something arcane and mystical and alien rather than your commonplace genre use of the term. I’d tentatively compare the atmosphere I felt in the story to H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allen Poe, only a trifle less dark. But the feeling I had, that creeping eerie anxiety, was an approximation of what I felt while the detective was creeping into the forest ritual in “Call of Cthulu.” And what else should a book do than make a person feel?


Waiting On Wednesday: The Master of Misrule by Laura Powell

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a feature hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine to feature yet-to-be-released books.

Laura Powell 
Coming June 12th, 2012

When Cat and her friends put an end to the sinister Game of Triumphs, they thought they could simply collect their prizes and walk away. But in their haste to take down the old game-masters, they unwittingly created a monster. Before the dust has settled in Mercury Square, the self-proclaimed Master of Misrule is asserting his dominion over the Arcanum and Cat's own world, engineering a sadistic lottery that will unleash the power of the Game onto an unsuspecting London. Misrule's agenda of chaos threatens life as they know it, gambling away free will for fickle fortune, and shaking society to its very foundations. And his power has quickly grown to proportions they never could have imagined. It all comes down to one final play. Cat, Flora, Blaine, and Toby must go back into the Arcanum and take fate into their own hands. This time they have everything to lose. This spine-tingling follow-up to Powell's The Game of Triumphs is everything you could hope for in a sequel and more! It's every bit as thrilling and complex as the first book, with higher stakes and even a hint of romance added to the mix.. 

I actually haven’t read the first one yet, but I just ordered it in anticipation. Because I saw this title on NetGalley and fell in love with it immediately. First of all, I adore the idea of the Lord of Misrule and its fairy tale origins. That was really what grabbed me. And “sadistic lottery”? It’s like it was almost written for me. The first book sounds like a fantasy-style The Hunger Games, with plenty of horror, mayhem, and mind-trip to go around. Basically everything I love. I seriously can’t wait until book one arrives, because I might just have to devour the first book as soon as it reaches my doorstep. . . . Well, after I’ve read the billion other books that I need to get out by certain dates, of course. And then I will be ready to read book two!


Writing: Things in books that make me cringe

Inspired by a delightful post by Amy over at My Overstuffed Bookshelf, I decided to take her lead and add a few things that turn me off of certain books.  They're not necessarily deal-breakers, but they definitely don't win you any points.

I will totally judge a book by its cover. I may still read it anyway, but only if I notice it or know about it. Like, I don't care what the cover for Crime and Punishment looks like because I'm seeking that book out. But that new YA urban fantasy with the poorly done cover just waiting on the shelf...well, I may never pick it up. 

Please. Make it stop. I know all the Twihards claim that Bella and Edward weren't. But come on. This trend is grating on my nerves. A few stolen glances and even some hardcore making out does NOT equal LOVE TO LAST THE AGES. I appreciate all the books trying to build real relationships for their heroines. Yeah, some intense romance is fun, but then don't call it OMGLOVESPARKLYRAINBOWS. Just accept it: it's infatuation. And it's creepy. 

Bad Writing 
I was an English major. Aka I'm a snob. I don't mind flat writing if the story is GREAT....but the story has to be pretty damn great. Most of the time, I'm just going to skim through it and never remember that I read it. You don't have to be Nobokov, but it would be nice if writers focused a little more on the mechanics and the poetry of writing, rather than just throwing down any old words. Or going metaphor-crazy. Short story writers know how important every turn of phrase is. Novel writers should take note. 


Review: Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

TITLE: Slice of Cherry
AUTHOR: Dia Reeves
PAGES: 512
FORMAT: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1416986201
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all stories I’ve ever read].
FOR: Fantasy-lovers. Serial killer fanatics. People who enjoy Chuck Palahniuk and American Psycho. People who aren’t easily sickened or offended by a little blood and sex. People looking for something fresh and new in the YA genre. 

Kit and Fancy are the daughters of the Bonesaw Killer. And they’re starting to realize they’re more like Daddy than they thought.... What begins as a fascination with slicing open and stitching up quickly becomes a murder spree—not of the paranormal demons in their town, but of abusive and cruel humans. But the girls have learned from the mistakes of their father and know that a shred of evidence could get them caught. So when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to what she calls The Happy Place, a mystical garden full of bleeding statues, she opens a door to endless possibilities....

I have a joke for you. What do you get when you mix American Psycho with Alice in Wonderland? If you guessed “this here book,” you’re one smart cookie. Slice of Cherry is sick and twisted in the most delightful of ways. Or less than delightful, if you’re one of the many reviewers who found it morally reprehensible. To that, I say, “Faugh!” And direct you to my good friend Oscar. Reeves offers us the endearingly psychopathic Kit and Fancy Cordelle, sisters who share the best of secrets: murder. Outcasts from society for their father’s reputation, driven by their own dark desires, they choose to use their evil genius to serve the lowly. Sure, it’s a little selfish and they get off on torture, but at least they’re cleaning the streets of some pretty terrible people. Like Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho, Joyce Carol Oates in Zombie, and Chuck Palahniuk in, well, everything he’s ever written, Deeves asks you to embrace a world of moral ambiguity and see the good in some traditionally nefarious characters.

Kit may be a stabbing torturer and Fancy a megalomaniac control freak with a creepily stalkerish affection for her sister—but they’re also just teen girls with some hardcore abandonment issues. Kit longs desperately for love and puts troubled souls to rest. She’s clever, strong-willed, and charming. Fancy struggles with her hatred of the townspeople who ostracize her family, and with her own dark fear of growing up. Add adorable, broken Gabriel, devilishly snarky Ilan, and the weary but hopeful Madda, and you have a cast of lovable misfits who all have their own dark secrets. Portero itself is so alive as to be almost a character. Some find it confusing; I take it at face value. It’s an odd Texan town with even odder townspeople. Monsters and doors into other worlds are commonplace. Superstition is religion. Gristle and gore are about as shocking as a spilt cup of tea. It’s the perfect backdrop in which to insert our murderous heroines and their Wonderland-ish “Happy Place.” Embrace the ridiculousness, and you’ll love it.

The plot is equally thrilling—so long as you’re not turned off by a little bloodlust. Fancy and Kit embark on an exciting killing spree that turns them from outcasts to heroes, encountering such colorful baddies as a group of schoolyard bullies, a would-be rapist, and a madwoman who waters her little sister like a plant. Fancy wears a little on the reader when her jealousy over her sister’s love interest turns childish and murderous, but it’s a small flaw. A more major criticism is how separate the two halves of the book feel. The beginning is an introduction into the sisters’ lives, and it takes a mite too long to hit the turning point—their encounter with the rapist—that sparks their killing spree. As a result, the spree feels a little rushed. However, the murders are so violently silly that they can’t fail to please. Reeve’s writing is some of the best I’ve seen in YA. Tight, strewn with clever, incisive metaphors, gritty, and darkly comic, the writing alone could have kept me reading even with a plot half as good. Take a chance on this twisted horror. It’s bloody good fun.


Essay: Ice Pick: Mental Illness in America

You can push an ice pick through your tear duct and still live. Did you know that? Lift the eyelid, place the point of the ice pick, and tap tap tap. Instant peace of mind. That was Walter Freeman’s intention when he invented the procedure in 1946. Technically, we can thank Egas Moniz for the first lobotomy, or leucotomy, in 1935. Won a Nobel Peace prize for easing the plight of madmen the world over. But our friend Walter brought it to the States to pacify the many psychos chained up in institutions. The perfect solution. No more drilling of those nasty little holes. No need for anesthesia, even, so long as you have an Electroconvulsive machine to knock them out. Insert the device, wiggle around, and your psychopath, hallucinating maniac, or screaming Bloody Mary is a doe-eyed model citizen. If you’ve got a really tricky case, it’s okay. You can still drill some holes and go poking around the prefrontal cortex. Sure, a few of the patients died. That’s to be expected in any medical procedure. And yes, a good number were turned permanently into vegetables. Just ask Rosemary Kennedy. But, hey. Over 50,000 satisfied customers can’t be wrong.

While we’re on fun facts, here’s a killer. Between 1907 and 1981, over 60,000 people were forcibly sterilized. Some in mental hospitals. Some simply as a surprise addition to their normal hospital stay for childbirth or the measles. Where did this happen, you say? If you’ve guessed Nazi Germany, you’re both historically challenged and, well, wrong. No, this all took place in the good old U.S. of A. The land of freedom and equality—unless you’re mentally ill, homosexual, deaf, blind, a racial minority, or otherwise unsavory. Burden being on the crazies, of course. Who wants to reproduce with someone so broken anyway? And what if some of them seemed too normal and accidentally found themselves raising a family? No, better to nip that in the bud—or in the vas deferens, I suppose. Assuming your standard replacement rate of 2.1 children per family, that’s 136,500 children that were never born. Well, good riddance. They were all bound to be genetically deficient drains on society or violent criminals anyway. Like those whack-a-doodles Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace.

Don’t worry. For the faint of heart clutching your breasts in horror right now, we don’t do that anymore. (Not in the States, anyway, and who cares for the rest of the world?) We’re doing pretty damn good. Suicide is only the fourth leading cause of death for adults and the third leading cause for people aged 15 to 24. For any given year, only 26.2% of adults and 46.3% of children and adolescents will have some kind of mental disorder. We only spend about 317.6 billion dollars a year from disability benefits, health care costs, and loss of earnings due to mental illnesses. Assuming your insurance will cover it.

But it’s okay. These people all just need to buck up, suck it up, and get themselves back on their feet. And if they really are suffering, so what? Talk therapy is for the weak. Just pump them with Xanax, Prozac, Thorazine, Aderall, Ritalin, Olanzapine, Lexipro, Ambien, Lithium, or Ipramine until they burnout or die. Maybe they’re only 18% more effective than a sugar pill. And maybe they only work while you’re shelling out cash to take them, while talk therapy can make you feel better long after you’ve stopped going. But who cares? Someone has to keep the 650 billion dollar pharmaceutical industry in business.

You may get a few tremors, diabetes, or sudden death from your drugs. You may die up to 25 years earlier than your nondisordered friends. You may spend every day torn between begging for happiness and wishing you’d never wake up. You may feel alone and ostracized from all the people who’d treat you like a freak if they knew your diagnosis.

But, hey. No one is going to shove an ice pick into your brain any time soon.

We’re much more humane.

If you are in a crisis and need help right away: Call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential. 

More mental health facts.
National Institute for Mental Health.
Recovery is Possible! A video.
The Truth About Schizophrenia.


Fridays in Verse: Two untitled selections from my short-lived Daily Poem project

Fridays in Verse 

So, I realize that I have a ton of mediocre poetry that's never going to see the light of day, print-wise.  And I thought...why not share these serious and silly attempts with you all?  Good for a laugh, at least, and hey...someone might as well read them.  Come back next Friday for something else rhyme-y.

This one comes from my attempt this semester to write a poem every day.  I did about five.  It was also related to the death of one friend's mother and another's aunt.

Golden fall the leaves, said a man
But did he know that they fall on the bones of two women?
If he had known,
Would he have glorified them in his ancient tongue
While they were skittering across a new grave
And making new another’s shroud? 
I’d stuff them in the throats of the mourners
Where the gold can’t glitter.  

And just for kicks, here's another Daily Poem.  About a rather personal subject and a bit all over the place.  I'll leave it at that.   

When the tides they arise
In the mist of your eyes
With the freckles that glint like the sea
Well what shall we do then
For just now and again
I’d defy my own head, though it knows that you’re dead
And live only in dreams, whatsoever I see.
But the worst of it all
Is no tomb, shroud or pall,
For you walk in the sun, fading only to me. 


(And if you want to read some good poetry, go check out Robert Zimmerman.) 


Story Review: Not Even There by J. Scott Sharp

TITLE: Not Even There
AUTHOR: J. Scott Sharp
FORMAT: Kindle – Short Story
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all stories I’ve ever read].
FOR: Fans of mystery, light horror, or anyone who likes good writing and wants a quick, psychologically-minded read.

Roger met Libby for the first time and would do anything to be with her. She's beautiful and popular. He and his best friend are not. Quite the opposite. But then his friend tells him a secret and Roger's whole life goes into a tailspin that he may never get out of. It could be a matter of life and death.

I’ve been meaning to read Sharp’s work for a long time because he’s a lovely person and a very supportive writerly friend. I’m glad I started with this one. It really showcases Sharp’s skill with voice. Not everyone has that talent. Some people can write excellent plots or worlds or characters, but their writing sounds flat or generic. Or just doesn’t fit the character. Sharp’s writing is Roger. You can feel Roger in every word. There’s clearly a unique, real person here.

Not that Sharp doesn’t know plot—obviously not the case, as you’ll realize once you read it. This story hinges on the ending and (though I can’t tell you why!) does it very successfully. I didn’t see it coming at all, based on the beginning, but it made perfect sense once I realized what was going on. The two essential characteristics of a surprise ending. I did have to re-read the ending because the first paragraph was a little confusing, but it was partly out of shock.

The one major criticism I have, which kept it out of 5 range, is Roger’s friend David. I couldn’t reconcile the David from the beginning of the story with the David from the end—the David that would do what he did, if you’ll allow some vagueness. And as my fiction professor used to joke: “I’m sensing the ‘novel’ word.” Short stories need to exist in a microcosm. They can only deal with so much. I feel like there just needed to be more setup to justify the heavy ending, and David’s part in it. But Sharp’s writing has loads of potential. So if this story does show up in novel form someday, you can bet you’ll see my glowing review here.


"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a feature hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine to feature yet-to-be-released books.

J.K. Rowling 
Coming September 27th, 2012

When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…. Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. 

 I discovered today that there is info available on J.K. Rowling's next book! And it sounds delightful! As though I could snub anything from the most cherished author of the Harry Potter series, which is still one of my most obsessive obsessions. I'm a little worried that it won't live up to the Potter legend, but I have hope. Rowling's mastery of dark humor already showed through in the Potter books (a favorite line: "Where's Wood?" "In the showers. I think he's trying to drown himself." for just a small example). I think with an adult audience and the ability to be darker and edgier, she'll come up with something squirmingly funny. I'm predicting something along the lines of Diana Wynne Jones meets Neil Gaiman. Guess we'll have to see!

Coming up on the blog: Review of "Not Even There" by J. Scott Sharp (@JScottSharp)


Review: Wilde's Fire by Krystal Wade

TITLE: Wilde’s Fire
AUTHOR: Krystal Wade
PAGES: 326
FORMAT: Kindle Galley
ISBN: 978-1620070574
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 3/5 [in the genre] or 5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
FOR: Fans of heavy romantic plots. People who loved Amanda Hocking’s Trylle series.

Katriona Wilde has never wondered what it would feel like to have everything she's ever known and loved ripped away, but she is about to find out. When she inadvertently leads her sister and best friend through a portal into a world she's dreamed of for six years, she finds herself faced with more than just the frightening creatures in front of her. Kate's forced to accept a new truth: her entire life has been a lie, and those closest to her have betrayed her. Wilde's Fire is the thrilling first instalment of debut author Krystal Wade's urban fantasy Darkness Falls trilogy, already exciting critics with its intensity and immersive, unique world and concept.

I really wanted to like this book. The cover (which is absolutely gorgeous!) and the description intrigued me. Wilde’s Fire definitely wasn’t bad, but it didn’t make me super excited for the sequel either. I don’t think I was necessarily the target reader for this book. The fantasy elements were strong, but the main plot centered much more about the romance than I had expected. I’m not a romance reader. I love romantic subplots, but emphasis on the sub. I didn’t like Trylle or Twilight, if that gives you any hints. Also, I don’t really like present tense novels. So anyway, if you like any of these things, you’ll probably really enjoy this book. In the interest of a fair review, let’s (watch me) break it down. Yes. I just parenthetically quoted Lady Gaga.

What I Didn’t Like: Start with the sour, then leave ‘em with something sweet. I didn’t buy Kate as a teenager. The way she talks is too pretty. Like she could be a fair romance maiden. Brit had a ton of personality in her dialogue. Kate just seemed kind of flat self-inserty to me. I didn’t really connect with her. The plot was kind of rocky. Started great and exciting, got lost in a mush of training and such, and suddenly what I thought was the main conflict (evil daemons feasting on the populous) took backseat to the me-and-Arland-have-some-issues-with-our-romance-and-something-is-wrong-with-Brad bit. It just felt like they were worrying way too much about their lovey-dovey stuff when people were being killed all around them. The magic was mostly fine, but I thought Kate had it a little too easy towards the end. Maybe it was just a bit mushy for me. I don’t do mushy. 

What I Liked: Great world. You’ve got a pantheon, daemons of all varieties, a war with the Darkness, and hidden old magic. Some parts are a wee bit of a stretch (Ground Dwellers, aka I’m pretty sure they’re sort of dwarves and the humans are sort of elves; everything is inexplicably Irish) but those didn’t stop me from enjoying it. I loved the idea of this decimated world with people hiding out in underground bunkers, thirsting for a long-missing sun. Very neat.

As for characters, Kate wasn’t my favorite, but I loved Brit and Flanna. They were snarky, fun, and brought some pizazz to the pages. The romance was not all bad. I loved that she didn’t actually have a thing for her best friend (the part where they share a kiss at the very beginning was very well done!). I also thought Wade was clever in avoiding insta-romance with Kate-to-Arland. Kate had dreamed for years of loving Arland, so no wonder she was instantly in love with him. (It was a little less clear why he would so quickly fall for her, though.)

As for the writing, it didn’t sound like a teen, but it was clear, largely error-free, and set a very nice mystical tone. And the plot? I kind of saw the ending coming, but I thought it was a great move on Wade’s part. It showed a great error in judgment on Kate’s part and shook up her fairy tale ending, which is exactly what you need to do setting up a sequel. It also made the previous plot with Brad (I’ll spare you the spoilers) make sense, whereas before it had seemed much too neat. So kudos on the ending.

So I can’t say that I loved it, but a lot had to do with it being much more romance-y than I prefer. I may still check out the sequel, because if Wade gets more into the battles and action (which were all really exciting in Wilde's Fire), then I think I'd enjoy it a lot more.  Check it out for yourself! You can find it starting tomorrow, May 15th. [[Don't forget, Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein also comes out the 15th!]]

(Thanks to Curiosity Quills Press for providing access to the advance galley!) 


Review: Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein

TITLE: Pretty Amy
AUTHOR: Lisa Burstein
PAGES: 304
FORMAT: Kindle Galley
ISBN: 978-1620611197
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
FOR: Fans of strong female characters. Fans of Meg Cabot. Anyone looking for a well-written summer read with a realistic romance and real-world, down-to-earth drama.

Amy is fine living in the shadows of beautiful Lila and uber-cool Cassie, because at least she's somewhat beautiful and uber-cool by association. But when their dates stand them up for prom, and the girls take matters into their own hands--earning them a night in jail outfitted in satin, stilettos, and Spanx--Amy discovers even a prom spent in handcuffs might be better than the humiliating "rehabilitation techniques" now filling up her summer. Worse, with Lila and Cassie parentally banned, Amy feels like she has nothing--like she is nothing. Navigating unlikely alliances with her new coworker, two very different boys, and possibly even her parents, Amy struggles to decide if it's worth being a best friend when it makes you a public enemy. Bringing readers along on an often hilarious and heartwarming journey, Amy finds that maybe getting a life only happens once you think your life is over.

I’ve been stoked about reviewing this book for a long time. It’s the first cover reveal I was part of, and the first advanced review copy (galley, technically) I’ve ever received. And ten pages in, I knew I would be writing a glowing review. Pretty Amy brings me back to my own high school days, reading The Princess Diaries and feeling like a no-name loser. Wondering if I’d ever become someone people remembered. 

Amy is that insecure part of every teen girl, always worrying if she’s pretty enough, popular enough, independent enough. Looking for any source of identity she can find. Amy finds her identity in beautiful Lila and badass Cassie, but when they’re all arrested on prom night and the consequences are much worse than detention, she realizes that she still doesn’t know who she is. 

That’s one of the things I loved about this book. Watching Amy find herself. From the beginning, you know she isn’t really happy. She’s the leftover friend. The burnout huddling with a cigarette, not because she really wants to, but because it makes her feel like she belongs. As a reader, I connected with her instantly. I wanted to hug her, to slap her, to tell her that she was making the wrong decisions. But even when she was her most bratty-teenage annoying, I never stopped rooting for her. 

Burstein gives us a real person. Not a Bella. Not a badass hero. Just a bumbling teenager struggling to decide who she is and who she wants to be, with the threat of prison and a ruined life hanging over her head. I adore fantasy, but sometimes it’s good to remember real people. How easily a few decisions can change everything. What it’s like being a normal girl with normal problems.

Before I wax too sickly poetic, back to things I loved. The plot was tight and moved along at a snappy pace. Things were never easy for Amy, but never so hard as to be melodramatic either. You could imagine real people acting the way they do in this situation, even when they’re cold and cruel. As for the writing, I had little to complain of. YA isn’t known for good writing, but Burstein is one of those rare good ones. Her MFA shows through. It’s accessible, pretty in places, snarky and funny in others, and only occasionally too overwrought with metaphors. 

Amy’s personality shines through in the choice of every word. I lost a lot of sleep over this book—because I had to force myself to put it down. If it doesn’t make you say “Just one more page,” you can come tell me what a ninny I am. But give Amy a chance. Maybe she’ll teach you a few things.

I leave you with a favorite excerpt: “Lila did act like a bride at a wedding that never ended. She always had to be the most beautiful, the most interesting, and in this case, the least likely to be mistaken for a blind prostitute.”

(Thanks to Lisa Burstein and her agent Heather Riccio for allowing me access to the galley!) 


Excerpt: DARK MOON the first, a short battle scene

In honor of finally having recut and numbered all the chapters in Dark Moon: The Ward of Shadow (there are 38, if you're curious), I offer to you a short excerpt from somewhere in the middle of the book.  Lena and her friends have stumbled upon some creepy beasties...and cue spotlight:


Lena heard Shadow whimper.  The creature was pressed to him with its spindly legs wrapped around him like a vice, squeezing bulges into his flesh.  Lena aimed a clumsy stroke at the tough hide but it held fast.  Shadow’s eyes rolled back into his skull and he began to convulse.  With a roar, Lena grabbed hold of the creature’s slick wormlike body and pulled as tightly as she could.  Spitting from its red-toothed maw, it loosed Shadow and threw itself at her, squeezing until she choked.  Its skin attached to her like Velcro.  She could feel blood draining from her body like from a thousand doctor’s needles, until she could no longer see, or even hear herself scream. 
As her eyes blacked, she heard a sickening squish and the creature peeled away.  The earth tilted and twisted.  She sunk drunkenly to the ground.  There was a shriek and a weight collapsed on top of her.  Just before losing consciousness altogether, she heard a sickening crunch, like teeth cracking through bone.

Enjoy!  And tell me what you think, of course.  (: 
Next stop:  Review of Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein.  The book comes out May 15th, so get pumped!  I'm loving it.  


Indie Review: Hunting by S.M. Hineline

TITLE: Hunting
AUTHOR: S.M. Hineline
PAGES: 146
FORMAT: Kindle
ISBN: B0070P98W4
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 3/5 [in the genre] or 5.5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
FOR: People who would have liked Twilight if Bella had a personality and the vampires actually drank blood. Teen fans of L.J. Smith and Charlaine Harris. People looking for a fun, quick read.

In the war between humans and vampires... a child will turn the tide.

Thousands of years ago a goddess cursed a family, every 500 years a child of their bloodline would be born a vampire. This child would mean the survival or destruction of the vampire race. And each would do anything to find the child first.

Jade knew nothing of the curse, but when a vampire princess calls, you answer. Now she must do her best to help find the child and save it from the humans who would see it dead. And if that weren't enough, the princess' cousin, in an effort to show her unworthy to lead their people, is doing everything in his power to stop them. Even if that means killing them all.

If it’s not obvious after reading a few of my reviews, I’m picky. I’m not that blogger who gives something five stars just because I liked reading it. I even made a dual rating system to reflect the fact that, when I read a book, I’m comparing it to other books in the same genre that do similar things (my five star rating) and I’m also, consciously or not, comparing it to every other book I’ve ever read (my ten star rating). Why both? Well, because if you love Vampire Diaries and want something similar, you probably don’t care that I didn’t find it as compelling and life-changing as Crime and Punishment. But if I did feel compelled to give it an 8 out of 10 of every book I’ve ever read, that probably tells you that it’s a really damn good book. Says your self-absorbed reviewer, anyway.

I preface this because Hunting is the kind of book you might overlook, seeing a 3 star review. The writing is simplistic and a little clunky in places, which would is the main part that dragged down my rating. Because I’m a bit of a snob. And I like tight writing. But damn, does Hineline know atmosphere. She took a subject so saturated in the market that I cringe (vampires, in case you’ve been hiding out in a bunker for the last five years) and turned it into something new, clever, and pretty well thought out. Going back into Egyptian mythology, she crafts a creation myth ala Anne Rice (yep, I invoked the Vampire Queen). Her vampires are out in the human world in their own kingdom. They’re strong. They drink blood. They’re born from other vampires and have a hierarchy based on creation, with born vampires being stronger and more elite than vampires made from humans—a cool new concept that I loved. And they’re tied to this neat ancient curse that requires sharing blood, every 500 years, with a child born of the cursed Egyptian line.

See why I thought it was nifty yet? Even though the writing was muddy in places and the plot took a little too long to take off, I really enjoyed it. Even the slow parts. Hineline has this way of describing things that reminds me of the way they used to write old fairy tales or legends. Which may not work for everyone, but for me, it gave the book such a shiny mystical atmosphere that I didn’t feel bored. The characters are admirable, the ending twist is cute, and the sequel has a lot of promise, especially if Hineline tightens up her writing. A cool new take on vampires. Definitely worth checking out.

In fact, now that you’ve read this, why don’t you try it? For FREE! Hineline herself has been so kind as to donate two free copies of her book. Just enter the giveaway below and take a chance on this indie horror single! And check out the author on twitter at @Xean007. She’s super sweet. 

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Review: Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

(Now that finals are over and I can breathe, eat, and sleep again, it's time to blog!) 

TITLE: Zombie
AUTHOR: Joyce Carol Oates
PAGES: 192
FORMAT: Kindle
ISBN: 978-0452275003
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve read].
FOR: Adults or older teens who like character-driven literary novels heavy in the macabre. Fans of Criminal Minds and American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis).

It depicts the career of Quentin P., a convicted young sex offender on probation who has turned to serial killing without being caught, despite the worried scrutiny of his family and of his psychiatrist. Convincingly presented as Quentin's diary of his pursuit of the perfect "zombie" (a handsome young man to be rendered compliant and devoted through Quentin's lobotomizing him with an ice pick), the narrative incorporates crude drawings and typographic play to evoke the hermetic imagination of a psychopath; the reader examines the killer's sketches of weapons and staring eyes, and hears him say, "I lost it & screamed at him & shook him BUT I DID NOT HURT HIM I SWEAR."

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of an obsession with serial killers. So after a conversation about Jeffrey Dahmer the other day (yes, the glamorous life of a psych grad student), I recalled a former lit professor having mentioned this evilly wonderful novel by Joyce Carol Oates, one of the underappreciated literary greats. The novel’s protagonist happens to be based heavily on Dahmer, who had similar zombie-making inclinations. I read it in about two days flat. And wish it had been longer so I didn’t have to stop reading.

Don’t let the “literary” scare you. It’s not flowery. It’s not that Victorian stuff your teacher made you read in high school. Oates writes in a vocabulary accessible to any reader. Except children. Because it would scar them. Like American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, it takes you into the mind of a killer. Only this killer is no suave Patrick Bateman. He’s sometimes grandiose, sometimes naïve, sometimes childish—to the point that you find yourself cheering him on halfway through only to catch yourself and say, Wait. Bad C.J. Stop supporting the serial killer. But that’s the power of Oates’ empathic portrait. You can hate him, fear him, and feel for him at the same time. Not many books can do that, eh?

Plot-wise, it’s not going to be your average crime novel. It jumps around a bit and keeps you guessing. It’s not a blood-and-guts sort of story. But Oates’ descriptions are so perfect (for example, "My whole body is a numb tongue.") that you feel every sensation, from Quentin’s queer psychopathic glee to the sharp point of that ice pick. The ending was less satisfying, but it left the chills it was no doubt intended to.  If you have a strong stomach, read it. It’s beautifully horrifying.