Review: Poison by Bridget Zinn


title:  Poison

author:  Bridget Zinn

pages: 288

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-1423139935

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 3.5/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Diana Wynne Jones (especially Howl's Moving Castle), Throne of Glass, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, Susan Cooper, Tamora Pierce, and high fantasy in general, particularly if you're sick of the dark gritty stuff and want something fun and light. 

My Ratings Explained

Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.

About the Author 

Bridget tragically died of cancer before she could see her dream realized.  Learn more about Bridget from her website and help spread the word about her wonderful book.  

the basics
This is the kind of fantasy I really needed during a bad, horrible week.  It brings me back to my childhood, of devouring Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, and Tamora Pierce.  It has a childlike streak but it's not really childish.  It won't satisfy devotees of the dark, gritty kind of young adult that's smattered the scene these days.  You won't find tortured heroines or brooding bad boys falling in deep, tormented love.  No doom and gloom and dystopian flair.  No deep psychological issues.  This is a high fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously, and I love it for that.  It's The Hobbit to the Lord of the Rings of the darker young adults.  The light romance is adorable, there's plenty of adventure and mystery, Kyra is capable and admirable, and there are all sorts of silly elements (like the piglet) that I found humorous and endearing.  To be fair, it can get episodic and the writing lacks some of the sophistication of a Sarah J. Maas or Victoria Schwab.  Was it deep and lasting?  No.  Would I demand everyone read it?  Not really.  Did I enjoy it?  Quite a lot.  This book was pure fun, and I think that's something that young adult forgets about sometimes.  I only regret that Bridget will never get to see the smiles on many readers faces.  

plot . 4/5
Like I said, it's a little episodic.  You're thrown between accidental run-ins with cute boys named Fred, evil witch ensnarements, scrapes with the castle guard and the King of Criminals.  Some of the escapes are a little far-fetched, and the reveals at the end are a bit fairy tale.  But that's not all a bad thing.  Because it did feel like a fairy tale.  Like an Ella Enchanted, although not quite as brilliant as that particular high fantasy.  On the plus side, there was always plenty of excitement.  I constantly craved to know what was going to happen next.  There were also some pretty clever twists.  Again, a little far-fetched, but if you suspend disbelief and accept the silliness, it was really a fun read.    

concept . 5/5
It's very much a fairy tale sort of high fantasy--and, as I said, devoid of the gloomy seriousness of most modern young adult books.  Which is perhaps why so many have said it reads like a middle grade, which I can see.   It doesn't go as deep as other books, but it got a lot of traction with me for its pure whimsy.  In the vein of a traditional high fantasy, it takes murder, treason, poisoning, and other dastardly deeds and intrigue and casts them as a grand adventure.  A little bit Disneyfied, but no less entertaining.  It certainly could be enjoyed by middle grade readers, but as an adult and a firm fan of young adult, I still found much to enjoy from it.  And so I didn't expect to see extensive world building or deeply psychological characters.  I expected kings and queens and witches and spunky heroines and that's what I got.  It delves a bit into the more psychological side of things, but in the end, it's all about the thrill.  And you get all the fun silly bits, like potions that turn you to wood, hunting pigs, and frilly underwear.  

characters . 4/5
Like I said, we aren't getting incisive psychological portrayals here.  They feel real, but like everything else, they're on the silly side.  Which meant I enjoyed them immensely, but they didn't necessarily stick with me as deeply as another approach would.  Kyra had her superficial moments, but I liked her.  She was spunky but not annoyingly so and she was very capable.  Fred was adorable, that sort of silly sarcastic kind of adorable.  Like a real boy you might want to date, not a brooding antihero whom you want equally to save and love.  The princess Ariana was a bit cliche on the defiant princess end, but she wasn't a huge part of the story and I still enjoyed her.  

style . 4/5
It does read a bit young, but there's also that irresistible whimsy that kept me going page after page.  There were elements that could have been tightened or that made me grit my teeth a bit.  Must every book have the heroine go on for lines about how she's absolutely positively not at all bothered by the apparent disinterest of the boy she absolutely positively has no romantic interest in whatsoever, not at all?  Seriously.  Are all heroines that transparently dense?  Now that I've got that out of my system, I thought the style was very simple but had a good atmosphere to it.  I felt sort of giddy and pleasant reading it.  Like I knew that everything would turn out fine in the end and I was being gently pulled along on this grand adventure.  Nothing I'd gush over writing-wise, but solid anyway. 

mechanics . 5/5
Nicely polished, not much to say here.  I think the dialogue got a little crossed between whether it wanted to be old-fashioned or modern sounding which made for some awkward moments.  

take home message
A whimsical high fantasy that brings some cheer and lightheartedness to the young adult genre.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


Writing Tips: Judging a Book by its Cover (Guest post by Beck Sherman)

Guest Post
                 beck sherman

Today, I'm happy to host Beck Sherman, author of the clever and humorous vampire novel Revamp.  Which has, I must say, one of the most delightful covers--both the original and the re-re-vamp.  Yeah, I'm hysterical.  Check out her take on judging books by their covers, and come back Wednesday for some thoughts on covers by author Elizabeth Barone.  For the rest of the series, look below.  And if you're a reader or author interested in giving your two cents on cover design, shoot me an email! 

Judge A Book By Its Cover

Oh right, it’s don’t judge a book by its cover. I wonder where that saying comes from? Where do any sayings come from? I heard it’s some guy in Alabama who’s, like, five hundred years old. He sure is busy. And smart.

I like this particular idiom, and agree with it, but in practice it’s a whole different story. As humans, “judging a book by its cover” is what we do. Since outward appearance is what we’re first presented with, and people don’t walk around with their insides out (except in my books), the “cover” is what helps us form our initial opinion, however uninformed that opinion may be.

As a reader, I’ve experienced love at first sight across a crowded bookstore. Oh, those pleasingly perfect proportions! The confidence! The boldness! The mystery! I picked it up ─ don’t judge me. We spent a minute or so getting to know each other before going our separate ways. Too young for me. As an indie author, it’s all about creating a cover that’s pleasing to the eye, but also one that attracts the right readers by visually telling them what they can expect inside those pages.

Revamp was my first novel and my first book cover. As an indie author, I appreciate having control of all aspects of the publishing, including the cover art. I had the idea that I wanted to find a black and white fifties photograph of a boy dressed up as a vampire. After an extensive internet search brought up nothing, I decided to take the cover photograph myself. After the shoot, a friend of mine worked on the design, and I loved what he came back with. The vampire boy and the color red say horror. The boldness of the font and the saturation of the red say youth/new adult. The font and its placement say quirky.

My advice to indie authors creating covers: be a font whore. Fonts are important.

Today, I’m in the throes of creating the cover for my second book, which will be out in August of this year. I’ve sent the photograph to my friend and am looking forward to seeing what he does with it. Second only to the writing, cover-creating is one of my favorite parts of the whole self-publishing process. No one knows your book better than you, so if you are artistically inclined, I advise going ahead and playing some role in the making of your own cover.

And then, when all is done, be sure you feel confident enough saying, “Go ahead. Do judge my book by its cover.”     

stalk the author 

Beck Sherman was born and raised in Massachusetts. Beck attended Syracuse University undergrad, has a master’s degree in photojournalism from the University of Westminster, London, and when not writing, enjoys exploring abandoned insane asylums and photo-documenting the things that go bump in the night, when they’re kind enough to pose.  Beck's second book, Goodbye Nothing, will be out in the summer of 2013. 


Author Interview: Robert Jacoby, Author of There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes (and U.S. Giveaway)

I'm excited today to host Robert Jacoby, author of the clever new novel There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes.  The book features a troubled teen who finds himself in an inpatient unit after a terrible overdose.  It's a neat, experimental book on a topic very important to me. You'll get a review from me next week.  Until then, Robert has some great things to tell you about the book and writing!  And he's also generously giving away a copy of the book, so don't forget to enter!  

goodreads  .  amazon .  author page  .  B&N 

You need your eyes, don't you?

So does Richard Issych. Two weeks ago he overdosed. Now he's fighting for his life, finding threatening notes like that one on his nightstand.

"There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes" is the story of 19-year-old Richard Issych, who wakes to a harsh new reality inside an inpatient unit. Now Richard's journey turns into one of revelations and struggling through his own reasons for being as he discovers new meanings for redemption, sacrifice, hope, love-and the will to live.

In the end, what are the reasons Noah packed no clothes? Richard can only imagine. But it has something to do with a size 3XL bowling shirt with the name "Noah" stitched over the pocket.

There are reasons . . . everyone uses his own dictionary.

There are reasons . . . some new heavens come from some new hells.

There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes

Author Interview 
              with Robert Jacoby

So, let’s start with a bit about you.  What was your favorite childhood read, and what is your favorite adult read?

It's impossible to choose "favorite". Let me say:

Childhood: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It was a world like no other I had ever imagined. I cried when I finished that book; I didn't want that world I'd entered to end. 

Adult: The Iliad, Alexander Pope's translation. I read it in my mid-20s, and I had never read anything like it before. I did not understand what "epic" meant until I finished this book.

What contemporary authors do you enjoy?  

Of living authors some that immediately come to mind are Don DeLillo, David Plante, Cormac McCarthy, and Jonathan Franzen. I recently discovered Richard Powers, too.

Now let's talk about Noah.  What scene from Noah did you most enjoy writing?  

I had the most fun when the four young men are on the beach discussing what they want to do for their day out. It was something about the "freedom" they each were feeling there, and that nearly anything could happen. I was feeling it, too, and I wanted to let them all loose, just be who they are. 

Tell us a little bit about the process of publishing Noah and what choices you made along the way.

I worked very hard at the agent/publishing house route first. For a couple of years I went to workshops, conferences, sent letters and book proposals. At the start I knew my chances were slim to none because "Noah" is literary fiction, not genre fiction. When your first novel is "literary fiction" and you're not from an MFA program, I think it's nearly impossible to be taken seriously. I did get some interest, though. 

At one conference I showed the first few pages to the agents. Now, at the time, I understood that you were, under no circumstances, supposed to do that. Agents, we were all told by the conference organizers, did NOT want to see your written work. They wanted you, the writer, to explain to them what your book was, why they should be interested in it, why you were special and should be published, what was your platform, etc etc. Platform? I looked around me at all the other writers, mostly women, and I thought about all their books, the romances, the werewolves, the teenage vampires and magicians, and I thought: I'm sunk. It sounded all wrong to me. I thought: I'm a writer; I could care less about "platform"; you should want to read what I've written to see if you want to publish it. (I'd been writing for years by this point and had poems and a short story published--and I'd also been accepted to two creative writing MFA programs [but could not go; that's another story]--so I knew my writing was worth publishing; so it was not, to me, a matter of wondering if my work was "good enough" to publish, I already knew it was. It was "merely" a matter of finding the right publisher.) I had printed the first few pages of the novel and brought it with me. When I sat down with the agents I stumbled through my explanations of what the story was about and could see the disappointment in their faces: Oh. No dystopian future, no zombies, no romance in outer space. I reached for my pages, and they hesitated, but relented, in both cases, to read.

The one agent read the first page, flipped the next page, read, flipped the next page, read, flipped and read some more. She put it down. I asked her what she thought. She said the writing was “remarkable” and said, “It’s one of the most powerful opening paragraphs I’ve read in a very long time.” She gave me the name of another agent to send the book to, because she said she wasn't representing literary fiction.

When I sat down with the other agent, the owner of his own literary agency, and did the same thing, he looked pissed, almost like he was going to call over one of the conference organizers. But he took the pages, very grudgingly. And he read down the opening page, all the while kind of looking down his nose at me and the page, almost holding it at a distance. When he was done with the first page he looked up over it at me and said, "You have a full manuscript of this? Is the book done?" When I nodded and said "yes" he set the pages down on the table and said, "I'm going to give you the name of someone at my agency. I want you to send the entire book to her." Then he handed me a card with one of his agent's names on it. 

In both cases I was thrilled. Over the moon. My work (this novel) had been vindicated. Even, for the one guy, on the basis of just the opening paragraphs! I floated out of that conference.

But it all ended the same: "Good writing; but there's no market for it, and we can't take the chance."

So, I decided to take my own chance and do it myself.

What inspired you to write about mental illness?  

I think American society has a lot to learn still about depression and mental illness. We pride ourselves on our knowledge, but depression and mental illness are still very misunderstood, generally. I think this is partly because it seems frightening. And what people can't always understand frightens them. I think this is because in some ways it's intangible. It does not seem real because there is no "in your face" symptoms. Consider a physical problem like a broken arm. We can see it, feel it, fix it, and then be done with it. The pain the patient exhibits is understood by all. And there's something we can do about it. But depression and many other mental illnesses don't always work so neatly. Many times you can't see the symptoms, and, sometimes, even the person suffering the symptoms doesn't know (or won't admit) he or she needs help. In other words, it's easy to see when the body is hurt, but it's not so easy to see when the mind is hurt. 

I wanted to write a novel to show this. I wanted to write a novel that explored how someone thinks in this ill manner, how it affects his worldview, and how it affects his life. I wanted people reading to feel that life, to feel as if they were actually in it.

I also wanted to reach people who might be suffering, too, just to say, "It's OK. I get it. You're not alone." I think there's a great alone-ness, a shunning, that comes with what our society has deemed to be mental illness, and I wanted to write a story that might begin to break down some of those walls. And that could be by just starting a conversation at a book club, or between friends.

What was it like writing from the point of view of a severely depressed person?  

It was very difficult. Sometimes it was really quite uncomfortable. Very often it was like channeling those emotions onto the page, as I was writing, so at times it was exhausting and even depressing my own mood. At times I had to choose to work on "lighter" parts of the novel just to avoid the "heavier" parts.

What do you hope people will come away with after reading Noah?  

I hope people will have a new understanding of what depression and "mental illness" is. I hope those suffering from depression might see a bit of themselves in the story and know that paths to wellness exist in many different forms. The ending of the novel has confused some people. Without giving anything away I'll just say: I wrote the ending to be true to the entire story of what had gone before. And I wanted the ending to be true to the violence and disorientation that often accompanies a spiritual awakening (a re-birthing). 

So you're working on another novel, Dusk and Ember.  What can you tell us about it? 

Very little, sorry. It may take another title. Generally, now, it's a prequel to "There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes." I don't want to talk too much about it because that would diminish its power and hold within me and lessen my abilities to let it form within me the way it should.

It's a risk to take unusual forms, like poetry, and apply them to fiction.  How does your style mesh with Richard's story?

You're right, it is a risk.

I hope it's worked well with Richard's story. The reader will have to judge that for himself. 

As I was writing certain sections of this novel it felt that there literally were no words in regular sentence format to express what he was feeling. I experimented with a number of ways of showing this to the reader. In the end, what felt right and natural was for me to let my poetic instincts take over and to simply try to form feelings from words. Certain sections of the book went through many revisions. I lost count of how many times I revised the last 3 or 4 pages. I have an image in my head of a woodcarver sitting and working on a piece of fine wood in his hand, carving and sanding and smoothing and polishing until it is just so. My grandfather carved wood. Maybe that's where that image is coming from.

The obligatory last question:  what advice do you have for aspiring authors?  

Be a student of life. Read and write, a lot, and carefully. 

If you're looking for a good teacher of serious writing, start with John Gardner and his two books, On Moral Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist. 

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Discussion: Point of view and tense in young adult fiction

                     point of view

So, I was trawling the blogoverse the other day and hit on something that stuck me.  In a review, a fellow blogger stated that the third person point of view in the book she was reading "grew on her", and that normally she finds it very jarring.  Which jarred me.  What?  Third person POV is jarring?  I regrettably can't remember the name of the blogger or book to give credit, but the line stuck with me for a couple of reasons.  

(a) Firstly and selfishly, my in-progress series of young adult fantasy novels is written in third person limited point of view, past tense.  

(b) Second, I've always found first person to be jarring.  I've long been quoted (if anyone cared to quote) as saying that first person POV in books is less appealing to me, particularly the first person present tense that's spread like wildfire in the last few years.  

(c) Most importantly, the third person limited and third person omniscient points of view (largely past tense) are traditionally associated with and used in fantasy literature.  Think Tolkien, Harry Potter, oldies and goodies like Tamora Pierce, Neil Gaiman, and Diana Wynne Jones.  Okay, they're not all so old.  But all these rely very successfully on third person POV.  

So it stuck with me, because third person POV is like baseline for me, and first person is what's weird.  Until I started to reflect back on the young adult books I've read in the past year and hit on the stark reality that nearly every single one of them was written in first person.  So apparently that doesn't jar me as much as it used to.  But how would those books have been different in third person?  How would my reading experience have changed?  And what is the norm for readers these days?  Is third person limited as jarring for young YA readers as first person is (or used to be) for me?  

In the interest of compiling some of these thoughts and putting them into a more formal Writing Tips post, I'm very curious to hear how other readers (and writiers!) approach the point of view (and related, the tense) problem.  All genres and levels (adult, new adult, young adult) are welcome to comment, but I'm especially interested in young adult books.  You know, given what I review here mostly and the special features of this genre.  

And please, tell your friends!  I'd love to get a lot of ideas generated here to put into a post--and will of course quote and link back to original commenters.  (:  And if anyone wants to write a guest post about this topic, shoot me an email (see pretty little email icon on the sidebar).  

Discussion Points 

(a)  As a reader, what is your favorite POV and tense?  Do you prefer first person or third person?  How about second person?  Limited or omniscient?  

(b) What about past tense or present tense?  

(c) As a writer, how do you decide what tense and POV to use in each individual work?  

(d) How does the POV and tense of a story affect your reading experience?  Does it impact the way you perceive the characters, your engagement in the story, the sense of urgency you feel, etc.?  

(e) Do you even think about POV and tense when you're reading?  Is this a moot point?  

(f) What are some other issues around POV and tense that your friendly blogger here hasn't even thought of?  


ARC Review: Manicpixiedreamgirl by Tom Leveen


title:  Manicpixiedreamgirl 

author:  Tom Leveen

pages: 256

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-0375870057

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of 500 Days of Summer, Garden State, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Zooey Deschanel movies, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, and romance that will challenge you. 

My Ratings Explained

Sometimes the most dramatic scenes in a high school theater club are the ones that happen between the actors and crew off stage.

Seventeen-year-old Tyler Darcy's dream of being a writer is starting to feel very real now that he's sold his first short story to a literary journal. He should be celebrating its publication with his two best friends who've always had his back, but on this night, a steady stream of texts from his girlfriend Sidney keep intruding. So do the memories of his dream girl, Becky, who's been on his mind a little too much since the first day of high school. Before the night is over, Ty might just find the nerve to stop all the obsessing and finally take action. 

the basics
You know the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  She's Natalie Portman in Garden State.  She's Summer in 500 Days of Summer, for a while.  Ramona in Scott Pilgrim.  Eccentric, adorably quirky savior of the brooding bad boy.  She's the girl (or guy) you watched from afar in high school, invented daydreams about, held on a pedestal.  Leveen plays with this most common of experiences in an authentic and clever way, creating the brooding boy Tyler and the dream girl, Becky, perfect and magical and unattainable.  Only unlike the typical MPDG, Becky is more shattered than the guy who wants her to save him.  It makes for a bittersweet tale of high school love and the problems with idealizing real people.  Tyler's journey is often frustrating, often nervewrecking, and even the ending shows just how enmeshed people can be in their ideals.  To the point of losing what's real and good.  My occasionally extreme animosity towards Tyler knocked down my enjoyment of this a bit, but it was still a beautifully done book that feels so genuinely high school romance.  It made a lasting impression, and left me curious about more of Leveen's work.    

plot . 4/5
Alternating between the events of one night and the backstory of several years can get a little jarring.  It took me a few segments before I had a good handle of the story.  That said, Leveen does a good job of referring back to things and building the plot slowly with little dangled teasers, so you're always kept wanting more.  Even though there was a lot of telling in the backstory pieces, Tyler's voice and descriptions were descriptive enough to make me feel like I was there.  Imagine a friend of yours talking about something that happened to them at school the other day, only they're a really good storyteller.  It stayed compelling to the end.  Which made me angry, because I felt that there was such a great opportunity for Tyler to realize all the stupid, hurtful things he'd done.  To be fair, it was a realistic ending and I did see some change in Tyler.  It just leaves you wanting to slap him a little bit.  But given the timeline, it's also probably more realistic than the big epiphany I secretly wanted.   

concept . 5/5
The MPDG is not new.  The fall of the MPDG makes this fresh.  I watched wringing my hands as Tyler built up this fantasy image of Becky, creating a perfect dream girl that never could be.  And watched as he missed hint after hint that the dream and the reality didn't mix.  It says a lot about high school romance and the persistence of romantic delusions--how powerful infatuation can be.  It's also something I've experienced before to a much lesser degree.  That high school crush you idolize, only to discover later that they're a twit.  Very relatable and well presented.  

characters . 4/5
Tyler was endearing, partly because he was a dorky writer and partly because he just has no impulse control.  You feel a little bad for him, living in his head like he does.  You also want to strangle him for being such a jerk half the time and ignoring the totally awesome, way-too-forgiving girl in front of him.  But deep down he's a good guy.  He just annoyed me for the way he'd realize he was a jerk and still fall into the same bad traps.  But even though I didn't always like him, I still found his story very compelling and, as a high school boy, he was extremely realistic.  The supporting cast is also great.  Sydney is way-too-patient and shockingly honest.  I respected her for it, and also felt a lot for her, chasing someone she knew was just using her as a substitute and vainly hoping he'd get the picture.  Then there was Robby, who was hysterical and just a delightful human being.  Becky, I kind of hated.  I felt bad for her, but I also felt like she was too tragic.  Also she just rubbed me the wrong way for reasons I can't articulate.  But again, you don't have to like the character to like the book, and I thought she fit well in her role.  

style . 5/5
Leveen's style reminds me of Bret Easton Ellis for young adults.  Nihilistic, snarky, with hints of idealism that you just know are going to get shattered.  Tyler sees the world as a writer, and so offers up a lot of very uniquely stated descriptions.  I made a lot of highlights because there were so many ideas, common ideas, stated in such an unusual way that they felt completely new.  And like I said, he's a fantastic storyteller.  I hung off every word.  The style did a lot to make up for my frustration with Tyler.  It's an impressive command of language not often seen in young adult romance.  

mechanics . 4/5
Like I said, the switch between past and present is a little jarring.  I lost track of the story sometimes and got a little confused.  However, it became easier to follow as I went along, and so I didn't find that it dampened my reading experience very much.  Just made it challenging at the beginning.  

take home message
A clever high school romance that takes old stereotypes and turns them around, ending up with something fresh and gritty and authentic.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


Discussion: What do you think about the new layout for Sarcasm and Lemons?

             new layout

So you may have noticed that Sarcasm and Lemons got a fancy new layout about a month ago.  Hurrah!  'Bout time, and I tried to incorporate as many comments from the Reader Survey as possible, plus ideas from pro bloggers like Parajunkee who have great tips for what your layout needs.  Now that it's been live for a while, I'd love to hear your thoughts!  I know lots of you have great blogging experience and have tricks I've never even thought of.  

(a) What are your general thoughts about the layout?  

(b) What parts do you find unhelpful that could go away?  

(c) Is there anything missing from the layout (sidebar, page links, etc.) that you would find useful?  

(d) Other thoughts? 

I appreciate each and every comment!  I'm committed to making Sarcasm & Lemons as user-friendly and inviting as possible.  

Writing Tips: Rules for naming young adult characters

Rules for naming
                              young adult characters

If you want to make it in the market these days, you need to know what the market is saying.  You need to grab people's attention.  So what's the market saying about names?  Here are a few rules for picking a popular name for your character.  And in case you can't tell, I think a lot of these are wtf-holy-cow-ridiculous.  But as with any annoying or cliche element, you can use it and get away with it.  Half of these books are ones that I love.  But that doesn't mean I can't poke a bit of affectionate fun.  So please don't flame me if "Aspen" is your absolute favorite OMGHAPPYRAINBOWS favorite male lead's name, please? 

The Echo Emerson Rule

Heroines must have mysterious, unusual, or questionably-gendered names.  If it was popular during the character's probable time of birth or if you have a classmate, friend, or mail carrier with that name, then it's off limits.  

Pushing the Limits, Katie McGarry: Echo 
Houglass, Myra McEntire:  Emerson
Wither, Lauren DeStefano:  Rhine 
Fallen, Lauren Kate:  Lucinda 
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith:  Hadley 
Unremembered, Jessica Brody:  Seraphina 
How We Broke Up, Daniel Handler:  Minerva 

Who Breaks It:  
City of Bones, Cassandra Clare:  Clarissa "Clary" 
Everneath, Brodi Ashton:  Nikki 
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green:  Hazel 
Across the Universe, Beth Revis:  Amy 
Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater:  Grace 

The Aspen Rule

Love interests needs to have sexy, unusual, questionably-gendered names.  Completely old-fashioned names that weren't popular since 1942 are also acceptable.  

City of Bones, Cassandra Clare:  Jace
Lola and the Boy Next Door, Stephanie Perkins:  Cricket 
Hush, Hush, Becca Fitzpatrick:  Patch 
The Selection, Kiera Cass:  Aspen 
The Summer I Turned Pretty, Jenny Han:  Jeremiah, Conrad 

Who Breaks It:  
Everneath, Brodi Ashton:  Jack 
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer:  Edward, Jasper, James  (since these characters were born in an earlier time, they get a pass on the 1942 sub-clause) 

The Vampire Diaries Rule
Sexy, brooding bad boys must be named Damon.   

The Vampire Diaries, L.J. Smith:  Damon 
Obsidian, Jennifer L. Armentrout:  Daemon 
Evermore, Alyson Noel:  Damen 
Marked, P.C. Cast & Kristen Cast:  Damien 

Who Breaks It:  
Any book with a sexy bad boy not named Damon or a reasonable proxy 

The Hunger Games Rule
Dystopian characters must have unpronounceable versions of modern-day names or excessively historical names.  Names must not match or appear to follow any reasonable patterns. 

Matched, Ally Condie:  Cassia, Ky, Aida, Abraham, Molly, Abran, Bram 
Across the Universe, Beth Revis:  Amy, Elder, Orion, Doc, Harley 

Who Breaks It:  
Scott Westerfeld, Uglies:  Tally, Zane, David, Peris, Dr. Cable
Veronica Wroth, Divergent:  Beatrice (Tris), Drew, Tobias, Eric, Albert 

The Harry Potter Rule 
Urban fantasy characters should have magical-sounding names derived from plants, stars, mythical creatures, and other ethereal entities.  Even if they were once human, or still live in the human world.  

Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling:  Albus, Sirius, Draco, Lucius, Hermione, Luna, Rubeus, Minerva
Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl:  Artemis 
Cirque du Freak, Darren Shan:  Larten, Murlough, Peris, Corma, Evra, Hibernius, Kurda, Harkat 

Who Breaks It:  
Ironically, J.K. Rowling:  Harry, Ron, Molly, Ginny, Bill, Charlie

The WTF That's Not a Name Rule 

Twilight, Stephenie Meyer:  Renesmee Carlie

Who Breaks It:  
Like, everyone else.  Okay, not everyone, but at least "Aspen" could be a name.  

More Name Talk

What naming trends have you noticed in Young Adult books?  What are your favorites?  The ones that make you groan?  


Sunday Showcase #11

Showcase Sunday is a meme to show off all the books you've collected this week!  

Again with the kindle happy.  Also, I got some RAK gifts which is delightful and amazing and wonderful!  I might be missing some kindle downloads too.  Gah.  TBR much? 

acquired this week-ish 

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff {kindle}{gift from Jane}
The Diviners by Libby Bray {kindle}{gift from Jane}
InterWorld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves {kindle}
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell {kindle} 
The Game by Shane Scollins {kindle} 
The Fall (Rapha Chronicles #1)) by Chana Keefer {kindle} 
Wool by Hugh Howey {kindle} 
Variant by Robison Wells {kindle} 
Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris {kindle} 
Necromancer: A Novella by Lish McBridge {kindle} 
The Guardian of Threshold by A.A. Volts {kindle} 
Invincible: The Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon {kindle} 
Send by Patty Blount {kindle} 
Illumine (The Illumine Series) by Alivia Anders {kindle} 
Forbidden Mind (Forbidden #1) by Kimberly Kinrade {kindle} 
The Selection by Kiera Cass {kindle} 
Oz: The Complete Collection by Frank L. Baum {kindle} 


Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab


title:  The Archived

author:  Victoria Schwab

pages: 336

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-1423157311

buy it: AmazonGoodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Alice in Wonderland, The Librarian (a cult classic that I adore), Labyrinth (yes, the one with David Bowie), Everneath by Brodi Ashton, ghost stories, or worlds within worlds.  It's like John Green wrote urban fantasy.  Or the next Neil Gaiman.  

My Ratings Explained

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

the basics
It took me a few tics to get into The Archived; but by page 30 or so, I was trapped.  In the realm of young adult urban fantasy, it offers something unique (dead people, "Histories", shelved like books and the Keepers who hunt the escapees) embedded in something familiar (an old-timey ghost mystery), with a twist of romance that defies the insta-love trend.  And is only a twist, because our focus is not on some teenage love drama, but the badassery of Mackenzie.  I connected with her immediately and stayed deeply invested in her to the end, even when she was being horrendously stupid.  Because she was also clever, resourceful, compassionate to a fault.  And empowering.  She drove the plot, from choosing to confide in Wesley and the Librarians (band name?) to investigating traces of an old murder to allowing the mysterious Owen a free pass from getting shelved.  Her mistakes had huge consequences, but at least they were her mistakes and not something simply happening to her.  I was breathless watching the mysteries fit together and unravel, sullen on the last page because I had to have more, and excited because Mac ultimately saves herself.  

plot . 5/5
The start is enigmatic.  I felt thrown into a story midway through, knowing there were details I had yet to find.  It made it take a minute to latch onto the plot, but in the end it worked for me.  There was no lag time.  From the start, I was running through the Narrows with Mackenzie hunting Histories.  But the plot goes much deeper than that.  There are layers that seem set in the Archive world, layers only in the real world, but more and more the story becomes mixed up between the two.  It's a clear demonstration of how impossible it is for Mac to keep her two lives separate, and also a thrilling mystery that gets twistier every page-turn.  We have the increasingly violent Histories, Mac's dead brother and her family's grief, the walls that speak of old murders, the mysterious friendly History Owen, the new Keeper Wesley, the enigmatic Librarians.  I also appreciated the very unconventional play on a love triangle that's not really a love triangle.  As I read, things that seemed unconnected became connected and everything built towards a conclusion that was partly shocking and partly satisfyingly expected.  And it left me wanting the sequel right now.  

concept . 5/5
So there's young adult urban fantasy, and then there's The Archived.  No vampire, fairies, demons, or other beasties here.  Schwab has concocted a fascinating and entirely new other-world.  You can see the inspiration from a mausoleum, but the Archive is much more than that.  It's full of people.  Histories, like ghosts but not a ghost you've ever encountered before.  Keepers who coax and coerce them back to their shelves when they escape into the space between worlds.  Crew who hunt down the violent ones who reach the real world.  My absolute favorite part was the ability of the Keepers to read.  Just by touch, they can absorb the impressions in everything--stories imprinted into objects and walls by the people who once touched them, stories in the heads of living people jumbled and disorienting.  Mac's reading ability is not only cool as hell, but it features highly in the plot.  It's dangerous and seductive, and it causes just as much trouble as it provides help.  

characters . 5/5
Schwab has a particularly strong cast of characters, a cut above the usual young adult set.  Mackenzie is a little younger than a lot of young adult fantasy heroines, so there's less brooding over bad boys and more being a teenager.  Sort of.  She's mature to start with and her job, and the untimely death of her little brother, have made her an elder in a kid's body.  You can see it in the way that she sees through her mother's "light bulb" cheerfulness and her father's silence, ways they try to hide their grief from her.  The way she's attracted to Wesley but keeps her distance, because she knows the cost of getting too close.  But she's vulnerable too.  She breaks the rules to sit at her brother's shelf, and her lenience towards an unusual History becomes crucial and damaging.  But that vulnerability doesn't stop her from fighting back.  In the end, she kicks ass all on her own.  No insta-love backup needed.  And Wesley?  If he were older, I'd marry him.  He's the perfect blend of snarky and perceptive, a little foolhardy but with a surprising poetic soul.  I won't gush too much over the rest of the cast, but even those with less screen time, like Roland and Mac's parents, feel fully developed.  Then there's Da.  We see him only in memories, and yet I felt like he was one of the strongest portrayals in the book.  

style . 5/5
There were so many pages I wanted to dog-ear.  I'm a broken record when it comes to whining about the quality of writing in young adult fiction, urban fantasy or otherwise.  With The Archived, there's nothing to whine about--except maybe that Schwab can't possibly write enough books to satisfy my craving for her prose.  It's a bit Gaimanesque.  Not as snarkily playful, but there's a magical quality to even the mundane scenes that makes you feel excited.  And it can go magical to mournful in an instant, without feeling forced.  The emotion is deep, the deeper meanings are there without beating you over the head, and the descriptions are downright gorgeous.  I could picture every scene but still let my imagination fill in the blanks.  It's a rare gift and Schwab's got it.   

mechanics . 5/5
The interweaving of memories and the current narrative is an increasing trend in young adult fantasy (Everneath and Everbound do it quite well) and no less effective here.  I was able to jump right into the action without the "WTF is going on?" problem.  But it does more. Schwab uses the memories with Da to support what's going on in the present, creating important comparisons and clarifications and dropping clues.  It makes for a much richer narrative than if she had presented the background all at once.  It also factors into The Archived's rather brilliant foreshadowing.  

take home message
A masterful urban fantasy that plays with the ideas of life, love, and death in the context of a thrilling plot and endearing characters.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.