Announcement: Guest Posts and Reviews Wanted!


So, one person, namely me, has a lot on her plate.  That means fewer books can be read and fewer reviews and quasi-interesting tips and musings can be purveyed.  That's where YOU lovely readers come in!  Fellow bloggers, booksellers, authors, fans....lend me your keyboards!  I'm interested in people who want to get their name to a new audience or maybe try their hand at something new.  I'm looking for reviews, interesting posts on writing tips or topics, book news, features, and more.  Books should be young adult or middle grade, but that's the only stipulation.  

If you're interested, please email me at sarcasmandlemons (at) gmail (dot) com!  


Review: The Murmurings by Carly Anne West


title:  The Murmurings

author:  Carly Anne West

pages: 384

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-1442441798

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 The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee, ghost stories and hauntings, psychological thrillers, Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson, or The Ring. 

My Ratings Explained

Everyone thinks Sophie’s sister, Nell, went crazy. After all, she heard strange voices that drove her to commit suicide. But Sophie doesn’t believe that Nell would take her own life, and she’s convinced that Nell’s doctor knows more than he’s letting on.

As Sophie starts to piece together Nell’s last days, every lead ends in a web of lies. And the deeper Sophie digs, the more danger she’s in—because now she’s hearing the same haunting whispers. Sophie’s starting to think she’s going crazy too. Or worse, that maybe she’s not….

the basics
I wanted to love this book.  I did like it, a lot, but there were a few bits that kept me from loving it.  That said, I know I'm picky and if you like a good psychological thriller with some ghosts and ghouls thrown in, this is definitely your kind of book.  Like Garseen's The Unquiet, West takes a girl who thinks she's going crazy--but the truth might be far worse.  I was left wondering between reality and mental illness to the end, so it was a great thriller and twist.  She sets up the foreshadowing well so I was constantly forcing myself not to peek ahead.  I also liked Sophie a lot.  She's smart and a little edgier than your typical young adult character.  But like many horror leads, I also wanted to punch her several times for being stupid and impulsive.  Despite that, I was really drawn into the world, the story, and the atmosphere.  What kept this from being a 5 was that I thought the supernatural elements could have been developed more, and some parts of the plot felt a little contrived.  Overall though, it was an enjoyable read. 

plot . 3/5
The plot felt pretty standard as far as young adult horror goes.  You have the dead sister's secrets, the girl thinking she's going crazy, the weird happenings, the girl being stupid and running into the arms of death, the obsessive  and cruel doctor.  It wasn't bad by any means. Just not overly original, which is why the lowered score.  I was waiting for West to do more with the Takers and other supernatural elements.  Waiting for more sordid secrets about what had happened to Nell.  There was also a twist that I wish had gone a different way, so I admit, I'm a little bitter that it didn't because I thought it would have been really cool.  It's definitely a thrilling and compelling plot, though.  Also, thank you, Ms. West, for not letting the romance overshadow the plot! 

concept . 5/5
Very cool concept.  It's been done before, but West does it in a very different way.  You have real supernatural abilities masquerading as craziness (or are they?) and underground conspiracy theories of dangerous spirits and the unlucky ones they're drawn to.  The theories about the hallucinations / spirits were pretty cool, especially the soul splitting part.  It was also interesting having the mental hospital turned creepy experiment center.  I wish there had been more about Sophie's experiences being tortured there, because it really would have amped up the horror, but that's plot stuff.  The concept was very old-school asylum horror movie and I loved it.  

characters . 4/5
The characters were pretty good but some of the side ones fell a little flat.  I really liked Sophie.  She was a nice change from the quiet, bookish types populating young adult novels these days.  She was edgy, a little rebellious, and impulsive, which made me slightly forget her later horror movie-esque stupidity.  I also connected with her well.  Nell was also a great character, despite being dead.  She came alive through her journals and Sophie's recollections.  Evan was okay.  I felt like he could have been developed more past the jocky sweet hero, and given some more face time.  Same with Aunt Becky and mom.  They were useful for characterizing Sophie's life, but could have gotten deeper treatment.  

style . 4/5
West's style is good for a thriller-type horror novel of the young adult variety.  She doesn't get hung up on fancy words or flowery descriptions.  Instead, she lets the story doing the talking.  A great example of "show, not tell."  She was very good at building atmosphere.  When Sophie was trekking into the creepy abandoned basement or the weird old town, I felt a building sense of dread and eeriness, which is key for a good horror novel.  I only dock points because I feel that some of the dialogue was a little forced and some of the scenes a little rushed and uncut, which is a pet issue of mine.  

mechanics . 5/5
It was well-polished and the presentation was good.  I liked the interspersed journal entries with the action.  They were always paired appropriately and added a lot to what was going on, both by building suspense and foreshadowing some of the later surprises.  

take home message
The Murmurings is an exciting young adult horror novel with psychological flair, a thrilling plot, and just a touch of romance.   

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


Musing: Slow posting until further notice


Hey there.  Sorry for the lack of posts.  I'm ready to review The Murmurings by Carly Anne West and I'm trucking through Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and I have a few other posts in the works, but my academic life is sort of falling apart right now, so I'm taking some time to get that on track and that means (a) doing academic stuff and (b) relaxing.  So I'm planning to get a post up this weekend and schedule things will stay scheduled, but if you're waiting on an email reply, stay tuned!  I'm getting to the backlog slowly.  


Waiting on Wednesday: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Waiting on Wednesday

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

matthew quick

Learn more

coming august 13, 2013

In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I'm sorry I couldn't be more than I was—that I couldn't stick around—and that what's going to happen today isn't their fault.

Today is Leonard Peacock's birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather's P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school's class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

c.j.'s thoughts

So, apparently I like issue books, after having read a slew of them last year when I was having a dark moment.  I think what I like most is what this blurb promises to be "unflinching."  I love the books that go where others are afraid to go.  The ones that talk about what everyone else keeps hushed up.  It's like they teach you when you're learning to be a therapist.  When you talk about abuse, rape, violence, sex, drugs--you need to do it in a way that's open and honest.  A way that says, "these are real things and it's okay to talk about them."  That's what I'm hoping from this book.  I'm hoping for a view of the moments before a suicide, a view that is both authentic and not maudlin or preachy.  Something that really expresses the pain and ambivalence and fatalism.  Can't wait for this one.  


Writing Tips: From the Pros #1

Writing Tips
                     from the pros

So I love giving writer tips from a readerly perspective.  I love reading them too.  They're useful because the readers are your market, and you want to know what that market is thinking and what it loves and loathes.  That said, it's also insanely helpful to get advice from people who have been through the great publishing journey:  the published writers.  They have a different perspective because they've, worked with editors, publishers, agents, etc. and know the innards of the business.  So once a week or so, I'm going to gather the best articles I've found from both readers and writers on writing.  Hopefully in the process, all you writing hopefuls will find a few gems that give you some new perspective.  

From the Writers, Agents, and Publisher 

Marketing Dos and Don'ts for Self Publishing
Going the self-publishing route?  Author and PR exec has tips on how to market yourself and traps to avoid. 

Write the Stand-Alone Book with Series Potential
Selling a series can be tricky.  For agents and authors, it's a gamble.  But they still want to see that you have a lot of books in you.  Middle-grade author Kurtis Scaletta talks about how to write a book that can stand by itself but give you room to grow.  

What Novelists Should Know About Short Fiction 
Author Susannah Winsdor Freeman talks about short stories and how reading and writing more of them can help novelists hone their craft.  

What Not to Do When Beginning Your Novel 
Literary agents from some big names talk about what they hate to see in novel beginnings.  This is important for those of you sending out those first 10 pages! 

From the Readers and Reviewers

What Makes a Blurb Sort of Effective to Me
Blogger and reviewer Oh, Chrys talks about what bits of book blurbs (that back of the cover piece) make her want to grab the book, and what keeps her away. 

What I Look for in Books: A Checklist 
Blogger and reviewer Renae at Respiring Reviews gives her two cents on what turns an okay or good book into a great book.  

What I Want to See More of in YA
Christina Reads YA talks about some annoying fiction stereotypes and some topics and characters are are missing from the genre--perfect for an author looking to do something fresh and new! 


Cover Love: Silber by Kerstin Gier

cover love 

So I wish I could find this in English, because the cover looks fan-freaking-tastic.  It's like Beetlejuice meets Neil Gaiman meets crazy fairy tale nightmare.  Aka, you can imagine why I'm in love with it.  Now if only I could figure out what's it about.  Anyone know German?  

x . x . x

To add to a creepy pretty cover is a creepy pretty song.  So, I know Korn isn't the first band you think of when you think of "pretty", but I actually love this cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall."  They add a nice, eerie flavor to it.  


Release: Frostwalker by Brandon Luffman

New Release Announcement

Frostwalker, By Brandon R. Luffman

A Survival Horror Novel
Title Artwork
There’s something in the woods behind Jake Marsden’s house – and someone wants him to find it. A strange dream shatters his sleep, night after night, and a compulsion to find the dark presence in the forest wars with his logical and ordered nature. What’s a geek to do?
When his small hometown of Wynn, North Carolina falls under an ancient curse, Jake will find himself in a battle against creatures worse than any he’s faced in a game. Playing for keeps, it will be geek versus god in the fight to stop an evil force bent on destroying everything he holds dear.

The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth – If They Live Long Enough.
Front Cover Art

Read the first third of the book for free at the Smashwords link above!

Grab Your Copy Today!

Paperback - $7.99:

Ebook/Kindle - $3.99:

More Retailers To Come! About Brandon R. Luffman
Brandon Luffman
Born in Statesboro, Georgia in 1976, Brandon Luffman was raised in rural North Carolina from the time he was old enough to walk. In the sixth grade he discovered “The Chronicles Of Narnia”. Soon after that, he was on to Stephen King and Arthur C. Clarke. At the same time, he was making his first forays into writing fiction. After creating a series of short fantasy pieces for a class assignment that were received with praise, he was hooked on writing fiction for the entertainment of others. Now Brandon writes supernatural horror as well as fantasy, science fiction, and other genres. His short fiction is available online in various formats. Brandon still lives on the family farm in northwestern North Carolina with his wife and family. Taking inspiration from his homeland, he brings southern sensibilities and a modern flair to these classic genre themes. His first novel, Frostwalker, was released in May of 2013.
Find Brandon Online


Giveaway: May New Release 2013 (INT)

welcome to the may new release giveaway! 

In collaboration with Book Twirps, I'm giving away a May new young adult release from the Book Depository or Amazon!  

Don't forget to go to the rest of the hop for more great prizes! 

International as long as TBD ships to your country! 

This giveaway will run until May 31st 

This giveaway is open to anyone whom Book Depository ships to.  

The winner of the giveaway must respond to my winner e-mail within 48 hours to claim the prize. 

Thanks for stopping by!  

Waiting on Wednesday: The Pirate's Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Waiting on Wednesday

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

cassandra rose clarke

Learn more

coming june 4, 2013

After setting out to break the curse that binds them together, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island in the north with nothing but a sword, their wits, and the secret to breaking the curse: complete three impossible tasks. With the help of their friend Marjani and a rather unusual ally, Ananna and Naji make their way south again, seeking what seems to be beyond their reach.

Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must still face the repercussions of going up against the Pirate Confederation. Together, Naji and Ananna must break the curse, escape their enemies — and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.

c.j.'s thoughts

The Assassin's Curse was one of my favorite recent reads, and also one I thought was absolutely underrated.  Ananna is such a dynamic, strong main character, Naji is adorable, the romance is slow building and far from instant, the curse thing is clever, the magic system is original, the world was reminiscent of Tamora Pierce and Narnia, and the plot was thrilling and twisty.  I mean, I really have very little bad to say about that book.  So when I realized like two seconds ago that the sequel I've been anticipating IS COMING OUT IN LESS THAN A MONTH, I went and pre-ordered it immediately.  So I'm waiting on this one, but not for long.  SQUEEMUSTREADNOWOMG.  Yeah, okay, I'm really excited.  


Blogger Spotlight: Writer Unboxed

blogger spotlight
                writer unboxed

If you haven't found it yet, you must check out Writer Unboxed.  It's an addictive domain for all things writing and publishing, with fantastic guides on how to write a query letter or book synopsis, what to look for in an editor, what literary agents think about book starts, and more!  Seriously, every time I go on there to read one article, I end up spending an hour in a link labyrinth because the info is so good!  Chuck Sambuchino, who has his own freelance editing service, has some of the best articles--so look out for him!  

But basically, if you're a writer (indie or traditional-hopeful) looking for some guidance, this place has everything.  

Some recent favorites:  

How NOT to begin your novel
Flog a Pro: 50 Shades of Grey 
(Which gives one agent/editor's impressions of the first page, whether they'd take it on, how they'd edit it, etc. Very cool!) 

Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green


title:  Looking for Alaska

author:  John Green

pages: 256

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-0142402511

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

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

recommended for:  Fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, teen issues, good writing, nerdy characters, and high school coming-of-age stories.  Lovers of stories that go beyond the story. 

My Ratings Explained

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (Fran├žois Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

the basics
My love of John Green is no secret.  I fell for his writing in The Fault in Our Stars, which might be one of my favorite young adult books of all time, and confirmed my first suspicions of his greatness with An Abundance of Katherines.  Looking for Alaska was Green's debut.  It has all the bittersweetness of Stars and the over-the-top humor of Katherines, with a depth and authenticity of emotion that made it impossible for me to put down.  The story was all it's own.  Miles/Pudge is a quirky nerd with dreams of a great unknown and real, devastating flaws.  That's what really made this book stick for me.  Like Perks of Being a Wallflower, it explores the way mistakes can shape us, and the way we can shape ourselves. I was stunned by it.  Honestly, I think it should be on every high school reading list.  It was a hard read in the best way possible.  I nearly cried reading it--but I couldn't stop.  There are some gimmicks, some flaws, but all in all, it's a remarkable story.  

plot . 4/5
Some of it was expected, based on Green's other novels.  The insta-friends with quirky names and bizarre interests.  The ManicPixieDreamGirl (ala Tom Leveen et al.).  The over-the-top adventures that you're never going to have at your high school.  Or maybe you will.  Green's book have an air of whimsy to them.  It's crazy to think that all the things that happened in this book could have happened at your average high school, at least not without certain expulsion.  What Green does well is making it feel real anyway.  He takes all the craziest adventures you and your friends have ever had and spins them into a great story.  I know the plot is a little far-fetched, but I could still see myself in parts of it.  And despite being a bit episodic, it's a fast-paced read that strings you along towards something you can feel building.  The twist was simultaneously expected and totally shocking, and the amount of attention given to the aftermath was a really different and cool approach.  

concept . 4/5
A dozen books, maybe a hundred, have been written about teens coming of age, finding themselves, going through tough times.  Green just does it better.  I thought the idea of exploring someone from the outside was a clever way to go.  I can't say much without totally ruining the twist, but suffice to say, the second part of the book takes it from being your average high school adventure story to something that makes you think a lot about your own life, in the least cliched way possible.  It takes a good hard look at those moments that could go one way or the other, and the what-ifs after it tips.  It's just a solid concept overall.  What I felt was lacking were some of the half-explored issues, like the rich-poor balance at school and the war with the Weekend Warriors.  Green tried to do a lot in this book; there were a few bits I wanted more of by the end.  

characters . 5/5
Miles is one of those characters that I both loved and wanted to strangle.  He's an adorable, quirky nerd, but he's also kind of callous and self-centered in the way that teenagers (myself at that age included) can be.  Which means that he's very real despite his over-the-top quirks, like memorizing Famous Last Words.  You get a similar feel from the rest of the cast. They're part caricature, but they all feel very authentic anyway.  The Colonel is pretty delightful.  Alaska was another love-hate character.  She waxed a little too ManicPixie for me at times, which made me fear for how the book would turn, but through the book's twist, she became something much more.  I wish Lara and Takumi had gotten more of a presence. And they smoke. A lot.  

style . 5/5
The style fits the characters and plot perfectly.  It too is a bit over the top, but also remarkably insightful and at times, so beautiful that I had to reread lines.  It's not quite as polished as Fault in Our Stars, but I can forgive it, being an earlier work.  You can still see all the very Green-ish elements here.  The constant repetition of and elaboration on key phrases and themes.  The literary allusions.  The snappy dialogue and hysterical, why-didn't-I-think-of-that wit.  The story is essential, but the style turns it from a good story into a great one.  

mechanics . 5/5
The chapters titles are insanely clever.  You start around 174 days before.  Let's call it that, anyway.  So we have that chapter.  "174 days before."  And then we start counting down.  And by the time I got to "the day before", I'd sort of forgotten about the titles.  They were just there.  And then the big black page printed with "After" showed up, and it hit me all at once.  It was one of the cleverest things in that it foreshadowed the twist from the first page, and was there so sneakily that when you got there, you knew what was going to happen, but you didn't even realize you were supposed to be dreading it.  I sort of felt like Miles in that way.  In retrospect, it was obvious.  At the time, it was devastating.  

take home message
Looking for Alaska is a whimsically witty take on life, love, and tragedy, at the same time thrilling and thought-provoking.  

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


Book News: Sarah J. Maas Sells a Second Series!

Book News
              new series

A Court of Thorns and Roses
            sarah j. maas

If you've been on my blog for a while, you know that I take every opportunity that I can to bring up Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, which for me, revitalized the long-dormant genre of high fantasy in young adult fiction.   I couldn't stop gushing about it in my review and I even made a list of similar, older books for people who loved it and wanted more.  I seriously don't know why I don't see it around as much as other young adult series.  Talk about underrated gems!  For those of you who have had the joy of reading it, you'll know that the sequel, Crown of Midnight, comes out in the fall.  

What you may not know, because it was literally just announced, is that Sarah J. Maas just sold a second series to Bloomsbury!  She announced it on her blog along with a lot of neat information about the series and an ARC giveaway for Crown of Midnight.  The new series will be A Court of Thorns and Roses and is a fairytale retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Tam Lin, and East of the Sun, West of the Moon.  I adore fairy tales, so I can't wait to see what Sarah does with them.  Not to mention, her writing is thrilling and adventurous, so I'm sure if it's near as good as Throne of Glass, it'll be an instant favorite.  

Giveaway: Children's Book Week 2013 (INT)

welcome to the children's book week giveaway! 

In collaboration with I Am a Reader Not a Writer, I'm giving away a $10ish children's or young adult book from the Book Depository or Amazon!  

Don't forget to go to the rest of the hop for more great prizes! 

International as long as TBD ships to your country! 

This giveaway will run until May 19th. 

This giveaway is open to anyone whom Book Depository ships to.  

The winner of the giveaway must respond to my winner e-mail within 48 hours to claim the prize. 

Thanks for stopping by!  


Books by Theme: Best Books from my Shelf Vol. 2

It's that time again.  So, that TBR?  Sitting on my floor?  Collecting dust?  Yeah.  Well, it's right here, ready to go.  Until I get around to all of them, check them out.  Maybe you'll find a new one to sit on your floor.  Or maybe, unlike someone, you have enough proper shelving.  

For more like this, check out Best Books from my Shelf Vol. 1 (I should have named it Best of the Bookshelf!).  Or maybe you're looking for underrated young adult books?  More underrated young adult books? How about something contemporary?  I'm always on the lookout for themes, so if you have one, shoot it my way!  

Reads from the shelf

Splintered by A.G. Howard
Alice in Wonderland is amazing, A.G. Howard is a sweetie, and I'm in love with the cover.  What more could you ask for?  And by "you", I mean "me."  But probably also "you", because I've heard nothing but good about this book and it does the brilliant job of taking an old classic and doing a spin-off without punning the original.  Splintered's heroine is a descendant of Alice Liddell with a mad mother and the same possible madness in her own brain.  It's a very cool concept and a great, fresh take on Wonderland.  Not that Alice in Zombieland isn't a cool idea, but this one seems a little truer to the original.  Or so I hope. I'm banking on a lot of whimsy in this one.

Few books are brave enough to scream "chosen one!" anymore.  Carson does it, with style.  This isn't a cushy hero job.  Her heroine is thrust into a marriage, a war, a revolution.  None of which she's prepared for.  I'm hoping for a fresh look at destiny, with a lot hinging on that last line, "If she doesn't die young. Most of the chosen do."  There's a lot of potential in that for exploring the downsides of destiny, which is always so ignored and glorified in other fantasy.  Plus, it is fantasy, high fantasy, which is my favorite thing of all time and something I don't get enough of in young adult. 

Panic by Sharon M. Draper
This was an impulse buy from a place deep in my heart that loves CSI: and Crime Library.  Yes, okay, I have a weird collection of serial killer books.  Dance around making fun of the creepy morbid girl.  Anyhoo, the idea of a kidnapping is old school, so I'm not expecting anything earth-shattering.  What I am hoping for is a solid read with some psychological realism in the tradition of Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Weiss and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott.  The second of which is better, if you're craving some crime fiction.  It's a window into horror, and how mere humans can overcome it.  So I'm excited to add Panic to that list.   

And All the Stars by Andrew K. Host
It's a perfect storm of science-fiction and dystopian, with hints of something alien and something beautiful.  The cover drew me in.  Honestly, I thought it was going to be something more WWII, but I stayed for the subject matter.  The main character is a young artist, which I have a soft spot for to begin with, and the plot revolves around being trapped after some weird worldwide attack by these weird, sparkly Spires.  It's enough mystery to make me want to read.  I'm hoping for a more cerebral sci-fi, like Loopers or I am Legend or Warm Bodies.

The Game of Triumphs by Laura Powell
I actually saw the sequel, The Master of Misrule, first, and then demanded to read this one.  And by that, I mean, purchased on a whim from Amazon.  The idea is some kind of otherworld, alternate dimensional game ruled by mysterious game masters.  It sounds like just my kind of thing:  creepy, twisty, and full of weird, deadly challenges.  It reminds me oddly of a sequel to The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale, about another gaming world.  I'm excited to see if it lives up to my hopes for something fastpaced and clever.  

What books on your shelf have you been itching to get to? 


Musing: Hyperbole and a Half is back!


So this isn't really a musing.  It's more of an announcement.  Basically, Hyperbole and a Half has a new post after SO MANY MONTHS of not having posts, and I want you all to read it because Ali is the funniest, most delightful human and also has incredibly spot-on insights about depression and life.  So, um, 

Retro Review: The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale


title:  The Merchant of Death

author:  D.J. MacHale

pages: 384

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-1416936251

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

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

recommended for:  Fans of Diana Wynne Jones (especially Howl's Moving Castle), anything by Scott Westerfeld (like Pretties, Leviathan), The Hunger Games, or Divergent.  

My Ratings Explained

Bobby Pendragon is a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy. He has a family, a home, and even Marley, his beloved dog. But there is something very special about Bobby. He is going to save the world.

And not just Earth as we know it. Bobby is slowly starting to realize that life in the cosmos isn't quite what he thought it was. And before he can object, he is swept off to an alternate dimension known as Denduron, a territory inhabited by strange beings, ruled by a magical tyrant, and plagued by dangerous revolution.

If Bobby wants to see his family again, he's going to have to accept his role as savior, and accept it wholeheartedly. Because, as he is about to discover, Denduron is only the beginning...

the basics
The Pendragon series is an old and beloved favorite of mine.  It has everything you could want from the fantasy and sci-fi camps, mushed together with some flavors of dystopian, romance, and adventure.  Very basically, it's a young adult science-fiction.  Digging deeper, it's a beautifully written series with detailed world building, twisty plots, and characters you can really stand behind.  The first book is still one of my favorites.  It's the moment Bobby finds out his world has disappeared, leaving him with a mission on another planet and a life that will never be the same.  The atmosphere is very Hunger Games but with a much bigger scope.  MacHale plays out the old good and evil battle with much more gray area than your typical young adult novel.  He gives you one of the most delightfully insane villains and a hero worthy of Harry Potter all in one.  Merchant of Death is a fast read that keeps you on your toes.  I was never comfortable, because I knew that just when I thought I had a hang of what was happening, MacHale was going to pull out the rug.  The final twist blew me away, and the cliffhanger had me clawing for the next book.  Not to mention, I spent my early teen years half in love with Bobby Pendragon, who's an adorable, heroic, admirable main character with enough flaws to keep him real.  The supporting cast is just as great.  You get to know Bobby's best friends a lot through their interludes, so it's like having a Ron and Hermione who are just as important as Harry.  I cannot overstate how magical, breathtaking, and creative this book is.  

plot . 5/5
I'm rarely surprised in books.  Call me narcissistic, but I just have a knack for guessing what will happen.  Drives my friends nuts in the theater.  But MacHale surprised me.  Shocked me, in fact, more than almost any young adult writer ever has.  Shocked me in the way that when I got to the twist, I had a small heart attack--but as I thought more about it, all the pieces started to make sense, and I wondered how I hadn't seen it coming.  That's the kind of writing you can expect here.  It's fast-paced and thrilling, always something going on from the first page.  But you're still given plenty of time to savor the new world he puts you in.  

concept . 5/5
Read this book and you'll want to be a Traveler as much as you ever wanted that Hogwarts letter on your eleventh birthday.  The idea of people keeping the universe in line is insanely cool.  Not overly new, but the way that MacHale writes it makes it feel fresh.  Then there's Saint Dane, the baddie, a total sadistic crazy person who brings villainy to a whole new level.  He's the Joker for young adult science-fiction, only much, much more terrifying.  The world in Merchant is also great on its own.  I've seen a lot of half-done worlds in young adults science-fiction and fantasy.  MacHale doesn't settle for that.  Denduron feels real--both new and familiar, like something out of The Time Machine with its own special twist.  It's not even his most creative world, but you'll have to read the rest of the series to get to those.  Just writing this makes me want to go read it again! 

characters . 5/5
Can I give it a six?  I rarely come across a book where I love all the characters so much.  Even the ones I hate.  Bobby is the perfect Arthurian hero, but not in an annoying way.  He's the guy you want to be, or date, and half of what makes him so admirable is that he's so well-adjusted.  No tormented bad-boy here.  He's a normal guy, confident in some ways, scared to talk to his long-time crush, devastated over what's happened to his life but also curious and gracious about the opportunity he's been given.  Don't worry--he's got enough flaws that you don't have to hate him for being perfect.  His Uncle Press is a fantastic mentor figure and reminds me a lot of Merry in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence, another favorite.  Then there's Mark, his nerdy best friend, and Courtney, his crush, the only two people who seem to remember that he existed.  You get their perspective in alternating chapters, which means that they become as real to you as Bobby.  Their perspective on his adventures adds a whole other layer.  Oh, and Saint Dane.  Can I say three times in one review that he's the perfect villain?  

style . 5/5
The style is typical young adult science-fiction with a little more prettiness to it.  MacHale makes you feel like you're on Denduron, in the mines, or swishing through the crystal flume, or watching the effects of the explosive tak.  Reading this book, I felt transported to a magical world in a way that few books can do.  Honestly, I'd put him right up there with J.K. Rowling and I think it's a shame that he doesn't have a bigger fan base, because he's just as clever and polished.  

mechanics . 5/5
The way the book is set up is really, amazingly clever.  Basically, half the chapters are Mark and Courtney on Earth, and half are Bobby describing his adventures.  Only the Bobby chapters are journals, sent via wormhole.  At various times.  Which means that when you're reading a Mark and Courtney chapter and they get a journal, that's already happened, and they have no idea what Bobby is doing now.  Sometimes journals will come one after the other.  It's such a clever structure for a story and it makes it feel even more urgent, because you are Mark and Courtney.  I was just as much on the edge of my seat as they were and I had a hard time not skipping ahead.  

take home message
Merchant of Death is a masterful science-fiction and fantasy hybrid with an atmosphere worthy of Harry Potter and a story that will keep you nail-biting until the last page.  

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


Musing: Every day things that make me want to destroy the planet


So I know that my daily irritations are of prime importance to you.  Therefore, why deprive you any longer?  (And if you're here looking for something other than my inane rantings, go check out Waiting on Wednesday and my series on book cover design for self-published authors.)  But if you actually enjoy that kind of thing, then come take a journey with me through this week's special annoyances.  

people who drop forks and ask for new ones 
So your fork was on the floor for a grand total of 5 seconds.  It barely had time to leave a dent in the carpet, let alone acquire dangerous microbes.  Not to mention that bacteria need more than 30 seconds to invade a tasty Skittle, so your newly-cleaned, taste-less fork probably has a grand total of one bacterium by the time you scoop it up.  So sure, freak out.  Demand a new fork.  Force the restaurant to use extra water to make your perfectly clean fork about .0005% cleaner for the next person to drop it.  And you wonder why kids have no immune resistance anymore.  

pop psychology 
Did you know that there's a God Gene?  And that going to church causes happiness?  And Zoloft is the cure for depression?  And autism is caused by vaccines?  And that we only use 10% of our brains?  I hate you all and I will smite you with science!  These stupid statements come from a few different places, not least of all everyone's obsession with factoids and total ignorance of the difference between correlation (read: association, A and B occur together a lot) and causation (aka, A causes B).  My favorite is when people go bonkers over a neat new finding only to have that finding debunked two weeks later because 50 other researchers did that study and it didn't replicate.  Check your facts, people!  Because what you think is real could actually be harmful to your health.  

turn signals 
Use them.  Seriously.  How the hell am I supposed to know that you're turning left?  Am I a mind reader?  Because I'm sorry, but I left my psychic powers in my other coat.  

Why does everyone suddenly crochet?  This is less of an annoyance and more of a curiosity.  Did I miss the boat somewhere?  Am I the only girl in the world who doesn't make fashionable knit winterwear?  

Waiting on Wednesday: A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron

Waiting on Wednesday

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

sharon cameron

Learn more

coming september 24, 2013

The thrilling sequel to Sharon Cameron's blockbuster gothic steampunk romance, THE DARK UNWINDING, will captivate readers anew with mystery and intrigue aplenty.

When Katharine Tulman wakes in the middle of the night and accidentally foils a kidnapping attempt on her uncle, she realizes Stranwyne Keep is no longer safe for Uncle Tully and his genius inventions. She flees to Paris, where she hopes to remain undetected and also find the mysterious and handsome Lane, who is suspected to be dead.

But the search for Lane is not easy, and Katharine soon finds herself embroiled in a labyrinth of political intrigue. And with unexpected enemies and allies at every turn, Katharine will have to figure out whom she can trust--if anyone--to protect her uncle from danger once and for all.

Filled with deadly twists, whispering romance, and heart-stopping suspense, this sequel to THE DARK UNWINDING whisks readers off on another thrilling adventure.

c.j.'s thoughts

I haven't done this in a while, but this is a very special book.  It's the sequel to The Dark Unwinding, the first ARC I got approved for from Scholastic and also one of the best books I've read all year.  Seriously.  Read my review.  If you're a fan of Jane Austen, history, steampunk, or good old fashioned romance (I crack myself up), then why haven't you read this book yet!?  The writing is phenomenal, the plot is fast-paced, the love interest is sweet and slow building, there is NO (I repeat: not a single) love triangle, and Katharine herself is smart and admirable.  I'm dying to read A Spark Unseen.  If I can't get a hold of an ARC, I'm just going to have to live on excerpts and the reviews of luckier people until my pre-order comes.    

Writing Tips: Using Pre-Made Cover Art (Guest Post by N.R. Wick)

Guest Post
                      n.r. wick

Today, N.R. Wick talks about using pre-made cover art for your book covers.  It's something I never even knew was an option, so I found it really useful.  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! 

Using Pre-made Cover Art

One of my favorite parts of self publishing, besides having control of my own career, is preparing the cover for each book. Depending on my needs, I have different approaches and use a combination of creating my own covers, working with artists, and buying premade cover art. No matter which route I choose, it's still a tremendous amount of fun. Covers are usually the first thing a reader sees, and when I'm deciding on a book to buy, they are the first things I notice. I've even bought books solely because their covers were so awesome.

Right now, though, I'm obsessed with premade covers. I'm a premade cover hoarder. Seriously, there needs to be a PCHA (Premade Cover Hoarders Anonymous) because I know I'm not alone in this. Not only are there hundreds upon hundreds of premade covers to choose from, it's a simple and fast way to have the perfect cover for your book. There are up sides and down sides to using a premade cover, but for the right project, a premade cover can do wonders! I dare you to browse BookKoOp and not walk away needing the PCHA.

The great thing about premades is that they are quick and easy because they are pretty much finished. Usually, the only things that need to be changed are the title and the author name. This means that the artist can have the finished cover to you in 1-3 days after you have purchased it. Some will even make minor alterations, but be sure to check with your artist first.

Even though the ease of purchasing a premade cover can be great for the busy writer, it's always best to use the same safe practices that are used when hiring an artist to create a custom cover. Always work out delivery time before you purchase the cover, and don't forget to ask about rights to the artwork (who owns them, no royalty, what is the preferred method of credit given, etc.). Make sure you feel comfortable with the payment method. For example, I won't work with artists who don't use paypal.

Don't be alarmed if you are asked to pay up front. Generally, I have a rule where I will not pay full price up front for cover art. I'll agree to half up front and half on delivery, or all before the final draft is sent to me. That is my personal philosophy, but may not work for everyone. However, this won't work for premade covers, generally, because that is not an option and premades are so much cheaper. If you are worried about trustworthiness, ask other writers who have worked with the desired artist. Another benefit to using a premade cover is the price. Writers on a strict budget may have a lot more luck with a premade cover rather than a custom or self-made one. Not only will they have the professional look and brand of a skilled cover artist, but they will also have a great price point. Many artists have premades for as little as $20, though I have seen (and purchased) some as high as $150. It really depends on the skill level and price point of the artist.

By now you might be thinking, "What's the downside?" Really, there is very little to complain about if you use these premade covers well. One problem that can occur, though, is incompatibility with print. Most premades are high enough resolution for iPads, and some even for print, but using them may be problematic when trying to fit a rigid edge into a wrap around book cover for print. Hard line edges can be bad for print. There is also an additional cost to have someone turn your premade digital cover into a wrap around print ready version. My rule of thumb to avoid this is that I only use premade book covers for short stories and novellas, in other words, projects that will only be available in the digital format.

Overall, premade covers are an amazing resource, not only for publishing but for inspiration. I suggest checking out the mass amounts of cover artists who have added premade covers to their websites. You may just find the perfect cover for your next book!

Here are some recommendations for artists that I have worked with, who also have premade covers in their galleries.

about the author

N.R. Wick writes fiction for young adults and children. She loves everything magical, fantastical, and supernatural, especially if it's dark. N.R. Wick has a Bachelor of Arts in Pictorial Arts from San Jose State University, where she studied Illustration and Digital Media, and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She currently teaches college level writing and lives in the Kansas City area with her husband and two cats.