ARC Review: Shadows by Robin McKinley


title:  Shadows

author:  Robin McKinley

pages: 368

format: Paperback 

isbn/asin: 978-0399165795

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Diana Wynne Jones (Howl's Moving Castle), Poison by Bridget Zinn, Divergent by Veronica Roth, or good original fantasy hybrids.  

My Ratings Explained

A compelling and inventive novel set in a world where science and magic are at odds, by Robin McKinley, the Newbery-winning author of The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, as well as the classic titles Beauty, Chalice, Spindle’s End, Pegasus and Sunshine

Maggie knows something’s off about Val, her mom’s new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won’t have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But—more importantly—what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie’s great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago.

Then Maggie meets Casimir, the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. He’s from Oldworld too—and he’s heard of Maggie’s stepfather, and has a guess about Val’s shadows. Maggie doesn’t want to know . . . until earth-shattering events force her to depend on Val and his shadows. And perhaps on her own heritage.

In this dangerously unstable world, neither science nor magic has the necessary answers, but a truce between them is impossible. And although the two are supposed to be incompatible, Maggie’s discovering the world will need both to survive.

the basics
I was in love with this book from the dedication page: "To Diana Wynne Jones."  Who happens to be one of my favorite authors of all time.  (Check my review for Howl's Moving Castle and how I mention her 50,000 times every post.)  Then I started reading and got a little bored with it.  Not bored, so much, but frustrated.  It's wordy and that took me a while to get into.  Once I did get into it, I couldn't get back out.  It's a whimsical mix of pure fantasy and a shot of dystopian sci-fi, which works splendidly to create something very unique.  The worldbuilding is worthy of Diana.  From the first page, with the strange lingo and shadowy backstory, you feel like you're there.  There's mystery, a little romance, and a fun assortment of magical creatures never-before-seen.  Add some mangy dogs and origami and you have an unforgettable magical adventure.  

plot . 5/5
McKinley draws you in masterfully by not telling you a lot up front.  She throws around words like "cobey" and "Oldworld" and "silverbug".  Instead of fully explaining, she lets you find out as you go along.  This makes for an instant mystery in addition to the bigger mystery:  what are all those dreeping shadows around stepfather Val?  It takes a little setup, but you're quickly thrust into an intrigue of magical creatures, secret wizards hiding from the government gene-choppers, and rifts in space and time that threaten the world as they know it.  Speed up to Maggie battling a world rift with origami and you're incapable of putting it down.  That's how I felt.  There were plenty of twists and turns, adventure, mysteries, puzzles, and a sweet romance that didn't make me want to hurl.  Every time you turn the corner, something new is happening.  It all leads up to a crazy, satisfying ending.   

concept . 5/5
Did I mention high fantasy / sci-fi / dystopian?  Seriously.  It works.  Here's a world where rifts abound, changing landscapes and messing with how things work.  Half the world uses its magic to combat these rifts.  Then there's Newworld, where people became convince that magic was the problem.  So a company called GeneCor helped them stomp out magic by deleting the "magic gene" in every new child.  Only, guess what?  It didn't totally work.  Tell me that's not a compelling set-up and I will smite you.  

characters . 4/5
Maggie was a hard sell at first, but only because of how much she talked.  That was my main problem when I started the book, honestly.  She rambles about everything.  Fine, whatever, character trait.  Cool.  Only McKinley goes overboard showing that (see below).  Otherwise, I loved her.  She's spunky, fierce, a little annoying, but in a way where you really root to see her change.  Her best friend, Jill, doesn't get enough screen time but is a strong supporting role.  I think my main issue was Casimir.  He pops in and you expect him to be a big huge deal, and then he's AWOL for like 50 pages.  I wasn't sure if his character needed to be a separate person.  That said, Val is great and so sweetly tragic, Takahiro is swoonworthy in a nerdy kind of way, and Maggie's mom really comes to surprise you.  What I liked to was that there wasn't one cackling ubervillain.  It was the motley adventurers against a faceless government, an idea, and that made it work for me.   

style . 3/5
I almost thought I wouldn't like this book.  Because, as I mentioned, Maggie rambles (and uses parentheticals every five seconds, you know, like this, only way more often).  It's like the Spoon Scene in Twilight.  You know.  Bella eats cereal.  Meyer describes Bella meticulously washing bowl.  Here, we get a lot of excessive info on dog training, school, pretty much everything Maggie does.  Cut out half of it and you'd get the idea of her character without wanting to strangle her.  That said, I got over it by the end because the rest of the book was so great, I forgave it this flaw.   On the good side, McKinley has a way with making you feel part of the world.  She inserts cool slang like "dreeping" and "dead battery" right away without explaining, so you get a feel for the world.  She also has Diana's touch of giving a book atmosphere.  There's something immediately whimsical and magical and squee-worthy about the world in Shadows.  Compare it to Labyrinth (the movie) or Harry Potter.  

mechanics . 3/5
Cut out about 50 pages and it'd be perfect.      

take home message
A whimsical magical adventure that crosses genre boundaries for something explosive and new.   

Note: I received this copy through Around the World ARC Tours.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

Teaser Tuesday: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

teaser tuesday
             mini excerpts

"Teaser Tuesday" is a weekly feature hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  

great book so far. i have my fights with it, but the story is hella compelling. yes, i said 'hella.'  enjoy these two quotes, because i couldn't pick. 

(note: this is an uncorrected proof, so quotes may not reflect the final version.) 

sarah j. maas

"Are you still acting like the 
King's Champion, or are you 
back to being Celaena?"  
In the torchlight, 
his eyes glittered.   

books are an escape. they put into words what we can't. if you're suffering in silence, you're not alone. 


Guest Post: Saying Smackdown by Samantha Durante, Author of Stitch and Shudder

guest post 

Today, we have a very special post from Samantha Durante, author of the dystopian sci-fi romances Stitch and Shudder.  Not familiar?  Check out my review of Stitch and look to the links below for more information.  Don't forget to enter the giveaway, too.  Enjoy!  

Haven’t read the first book in the series? Check it out on Amazon and Goodreads.  Just $0.99!

Guest Post: Sayings SMACKDOWN with Isaac & Alessa by Samantha Durante, author of the Stitch Trilogy

Welcome everyone to today’s exciting edition of Sayings SMACKDOWN featuring Isaac and Alessa from the Stitch Trilogy!

“What is Sayings Smackdown?” you ask?  Well, ladies and gents, you’re in for a treat.  Sayings Smackdown is a fun, quick game where your favorite characters will weigh in with their opinions on common idioms and proverbs.  You just never know what they’re going to say next!

Okay, let’s get started!

Round 1: All is fair in love and war.
Alessa: Love?  Maybe…  But war – definitely not.  If you lived in Paragon, trust me, you’d agree.
Isaac: I’m with Less here.  You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do when it comes to love.  But there’s a line you don’t cross when it comes to war.  Some things are just atrocities, plain and simple.

Round 2: You are what you eat.
Isaac: So true!  If I don’t get a good breakfast in me, the day is totally shot.
Alessa: Agreed.  We’ve gone hungry before, and it’s way harder to think clearly on an empty stomach.  Good nutrition is key.

Round 3: Nothing is certain but death and taxes.
Alessa: Hmm, well I guess one upside of living in Paragon is the lack of taxes…
Isaac: Death, on the other hand… well, that’s plenty easy to come by here, if you’re not careful that is.

Round 4: The early bird catches the worm.
Isaac: Umm, I’m not a morning person…
Alessa: Isaac, you turd, it’s not literally about waking up early, it’s about being prepared.  And I totally agree with that – if you’re on top of things, you’re absolutely more likely to get what you’re working toward.

Well said!  Thanks to Alessa and Isaac for joining us for this edition of Sayings SMACKDOWN.  And stay tuned to the Shudder Blog Tour all summer long for future episodes featuring more of your favorite characters from the Stitch Trilogy!
Enter the Giveaway HERE!!!


Review: Foreign Identity by Becca J. Campbell


title:  Foreign Identity

author:  Becca J. Campbell

pages: 244

format: Kindle

isbn/asin: 978-1475217766

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 3.5/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of H.G. Wells (The Time Machine), Doctor Who, or clever, character-focused science-fiction.  

My Ratings Explained

Cold. Confusion. Fear. This is how it all begins. Waking up without your memory in a cell and bound by chains is terrifying. Two nameless strangers, a man and a woman, find themselves imprisoned together. With no memories of their own identities, let alone their captor and tormentor, escape is the only option. The pair faces a bizarre labyrinth of rooms and clues that confuse more than they explain. Every discovery only brings more questions. Who captured them? Why were they taken? What does their captor want from them? What can the riddles mean?

Who are they? Lacking allies and options, the duo must learn to trust one another. Mazes, puzzles, and even strange, lurking creatures force them to rely on their wits--and each other--for survival. But survival isn’t enough. They need answers. Will the answers be enough? Will the truth bring them closer together, or drive them forever apart? Will discovering their identities finally bring them home?

the basics
This felt at times like reading two books.  The first part felt a little rushed.  It was good, entertaining, but not great.  The second part was pretty great.  Once you hit the twist (which made me go OH MY GOD THAT'S SO COOL AND CLEVER) you can really see the genius that made Gateway to Reality such a unique read.  When it comes to sci-fi, Campbell has a mind fit to write Doctor Who.  What I wanted more of was characterization and building-up.  The first part goes so fast that I'm left to assume a lot of things about the characters and take their word for what they say they feel, rather than watching it develop.  When Campbell slows down in the second half, I felt much more involved and could really feel connected.  Overall, it's a light read with a pretty awesome concept.  

plot . 3/5
Again, there was a split for me.  The first few chapters were great.  I liked watching the Jax and Kel figure out their weird prison and encounter all of the creepy rooms.  I thought they were a little thin, though, as it went on.  A lot of time went out the window.  Two weeks were gone.  I didn't get to see them interacting, bonding, developing the feelings that are so strongly portrayed later.  Then comes the turning point.  Once we hit the twist, it's strong, tight pacing and some really exciting twists and turns.  There's plenty to love about this book and it's a quick, fun read, but I wish Campbell had slowed down in the beginning and established the characters more firmly.  

concept . 5/5
I honestly love the concept.  It was the selling-point of this book, for me.  Campbell may need to grow in some areas, but she kills when it comes to unique sci-fi concepts.  I don't want to give it all away, but let's say it's a blow-your-mind twist.  It has flavors of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine but I can honestly say I've never encountered something like it before.  

characters . 3/5
I wasn't thrilled about the characters, at least at times.  What bothered me was that Jax was incredibly capable and had a variety of useful talents, while Kel seemed pretty stereotypical damsel-in-distress.  Your typical savior-man, weak woman.  This wasn't always the case, to be fair.  There were times when Kel felt stronger and I could see Jax's flaws, especially in the second half.  I liked them more as I got to know them, which is important because you really need to care about them to appreciate this story.  Like my comments on other aspects, I think they were more strongly portrayed in the second part.  However, I do think I'm nitpicky on this and I can see other readers connecting with them immediately.  What didn't work for me was how quickly they developed certain feelings and traits and how quickly their confusion dissipated.  I wanted more in that first part to make them feel as real as they did in the second part.  

style . 4/5
Clean and concise, for the most part.  Campbell has a way of creating lush descriptions that stick you right into the story.  What I didn't like was the character voice.  Campbell's use of voice in Gateway to Reality was so spot-on that I found myself wanting more here.  Jax and Kel seemed pretty generic at times as far as voice, and some of their dialogue and internal monologue struck me as typical.  Typical stock phrases, especially with the romantic scenes.  However, get into the sci-fi part with the wave creatures and suddenly it's vibrant.  I think Kel's diary was some of her strongest voice.  

mechanics . 4/5
The polishing was great.  Nothing to complain about.  The length was my only issue.  As mentioned, I would have liked much more meat in the first part to support the very cool second part.  

take home message
A clever science-fiction that draws from H.G. Wells and your classic thriller/mystery.   

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


Waiting on Wednesday: Unhinged by A.G. Howard

Waiting on Wednesday

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

a.g. howard

Learn more

coming january 7, 2014

Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she's always dreamed of.

That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.

As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.

If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she'll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.

c.j.'s thoughts

This week has a theme, and it's A.G. Howard.  Some of you may have read my overwhelmingly positive review of Splintered, her fantastically creepy debut novel.  Okay, not ghost-story creepy but there's an aspect of eeriness to the flavor she gives Wonderland that really made her retelling special.  Not to mention a strong main character, delightfully devilish (and potentially loony) mentor, and the deeper issues of mental illness and belonging gluing it all together.  So yes, I'm absolutely dying to read the next one.  Right now I'm living on sample chapters from Netgalley and suffering heroin-like cravings for more.  Or something like that.  Besides having a beautiful cover, Unhinged promises a lot more madcap adventure and some continuation of the darker stuff that we got from Splintered.  If anyone gets an ARC and is willing to share, I will GLADLY pay shipping both ways and eternal gratitude and maybe my firstborn.  

Blogger Book Fair: Perfection Unleashed by Jade Kerrion

Perfection Unleashed

Six-time award-winner
“A breakout piece of science fiction.”—RPLA Judge
2011 Royal Palm Literary Award Winner 2012 Reader Views Literary Award - Science Fiction First Place 2012 Reader Views Literary Awards - South-East Regional Winner 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist 2012 Hollywood Book Festival Honorable Mention 2013 Readers' Favorites Finalist
Two men… One face… One seeks to embrace destiny, and the other to escape it.

Danyael Sabre spent sixteen years clawing out of the ruins of his childhood and finally has everything he wanted—a career, a home, and a trusted friend. To hold on to them, he keeps his head down and plays by the rules. An alpha empath, he is powerful in a world transformed by the Genetic Revolution, yet his experience has taught him to avoid attention. When the perfect human being, Galahad, escapes from Pioneer Laboratories, the illusory peace between humans and their derivatives—the in vitros, clones, and mutants—collapses into social upheaval. The abominations, deformed and distorted mirrors of humanity, created unintentionally in Pioneer Lab's search for perfection, descend upon Washington D.C. The first era of the Genetic Revolution was peaceful. The second is headed for open war. Although the genetic future of the human race pivots on Galahad, Danyael does not feel compelled to get involved and risk his cover of anonymity, until he finds out that the perfect human being looks just like him.

 E-books available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Apple / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords
 Paperbacks available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository

What readers are saying about PERFECTION UNLEASHED:

  "Ms. Kerrion has done something pretty great- she's created a really interesting story. It's not something you've read a thousands times before with different names and locations attached. It is truly a thing in and of itself, and for that I was surprised and delighted."Cristobal, Amazon reviewer 
"'Perfection Unleashed' is a highly-enjoyable, brainy guilty pleasure of a novel: a perfect mixture of non-stop action, gripping plot, thought-provoking philosophy, and beautiful visuals...a feast for the eyes."—A.L., Amazon reviewer

  "The story was gripping right to the end, and the characters well imagined to keep us wanting to read more about them. The writing style of this book reminded me a lot of the excellent Idlewild Trilogy by Nick Sagan - and that should be enough to warrant you buying this, to be honest."—Simon, Vine Voice Amazon UK reviewer

  "The best aspect of the book, though, is that it is engrossing. I kept reading anxiously wanting to find out what was going to happen. If a story can capture the reader like that, if it can invest the reader in it, then you can't ask for much more than that."—Jonathan B, Amazon reviewer

  "The best part of this story had to be that it presented some very deep questions, presented in a clear fashion within the story. It opened up questions about our world even as it is now (despite the book being set 50 years in the future), our state of morals, our emotions, and even about our governments. I also loved the author's imagination for the storyline, which was vivid and alive."—Miranda Stork, author of supernatural fantasy novels

  "Take some of the excitement you find in many graphic novels and flesh that out with some outstanding characterization and stellar action scenes and you've got this book."—Dena Martin, Amazon reviewer

  "If you enjoyed watching Alphas and Heroes, or you're into comic books, then you will enjoy this...Strong characterization and well developed world building."—Noor Jahangir, author of The Changeling King.

 E-books available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Apple / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords
 Paperbacks available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository   


Teaser Tuesday: Shadows by Robin McKinley

teaser tuesday
             mini excerpts

"Teaser Tuesday" is a weekly feature hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  

great book so far. i have my fights with it, but the story is hella compelling. yes, i said 'hella.'  enjoy these two quotes, because i couldn't pick. 

(note: this is an uncorrected proof, so quotes may not reflect the final version.) 

robin mckinley

I knew the double R of course--Run and Report--
because that was drummed into you from the beginning, 
with "please" and "thank you" and "don't throw your 
oatmeal on the floor if you want to go on living."  
But exactly what you were supposed to run 
and report was always left a little vague. 

books are an escape. they put into words what we can't. if you're suffering in silence, you're not alone. 

Books by Theme: Underrated and Amazing Young Adult Books Vol. 3

Another installation of a great series!  I noticed this was sort of a theme for the last Tell Me Something Tuesday, so look that up too.  For more unsung heroes, check out volumes 1 and 2. 

Underrated YA Books Vol. 1
Underrated YA Books Vol. 2

Underrated YA Books

Reality Boy by A.S. King
This book is the reason I made a volume 3.  I got an email from ARCs Around the World.  I'd never heard of it, but the blurb sounded cool.  The book was everything I'd expected and so much more.  Like something Palahniuk wrote for teens, John Green's evil twin, or something straight from the mind of a troubled kid.  I connected with Gerald instantly.  His voice is raw and authentic; his story will make you frustrated, make you cry, make you think twice about what you watch on TV.  It was one of the most powerful books I've read and it'll be making my top 10 of 2013, mark me.  I'm shocked I haven't seen it on more blogs.  King has a way of bringing the darkness of the world to light, and giving you an ending that's real, not fairytale.  An absolute must-read. 
Learn more

The Riddles of Epsilon by Christine Morton-Shaw
I came across this when I was packing for Germany.  It's older and I haven't seen it around.  It didn't get huge press, but it certainly made an impression.  It's a fun book, part mystery, part ghost story, part paranormal fantasy something else.  There's a little bit of romance and a lot of suspense.  It's been a while since I've read it, but I really enjoyed it at the time.  It keeps you on your toes.  It's great for a fun, scary read.  Check it out if you liked Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake.

The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher
I've seen this around the web, but not nearly as much as it deserves.  This book was unputdownable.  Angela is relatable, pitiable, frustrating and raw.  Sometimes you want to shake her, other times you want to hug her until the tears stop.  Her quest for revenge parallels the tragic mystery of her best friend's death, and brings out a ton of important issues:  rape, suicide, depression, bullying, betrayal, the overwhelming force of guilt, and the cost of revenge.  Watching Angie struggle with her own guilt and her desire for answers was both powerful and compelling.  The ending will leave you speechless.

The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale
This is one of my favorite series' from when I was younger, shockingly one I haven't finished.  This book still shines as one of the best in the series.  It's a cool take on a sci-fi / fantasy blend, with Travelers who hop worlds to fight a menacing otherworldly villain and acolytes who aid and anchor them.  Bobby Pendragon is your typical All-American Boy who loses his life to become something greater.  It's amazing to watch him grow and change, to watch him wade through the darkness.  The supporting cast is fully realized and the worlds are breathtaking.  Each book a new world, a new little universe.  This first book exemplifies the series with its twisty plot, unique world, and earth-shattering ending.
Learn More

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
Probably a little more middle grade, but undeniably awesome.  Loved Narnia?  You'll die for Cooper.  The series is a King Arthur retelling like no other, with two warring secret societies, old deep magic, and a cast of adorable British youths who are both charming and utterly admirable.  The books breathe new life into old legends in a way that's true to the original but so much more.  I wouldn't hesitate to compare the epicness to Harry Potter or Tolkien.  The first book is a fitting beginning, setting up the mystery and showing off the evil these kids and young teens are up against.  It's short and more exciting with every page.  And it only gets more epic.  Read Meg Cabot's Avalon High?  Now pretend C.S. Lewis rewrote it, and you'll get a hint of this series' atmosphere.

Click the book titles to find out more! 

What are some YA books that you think deserve more press and more reads?  


Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard


title:  Splintered

author:  A.G. Howard

pages: 384

format: Hardcover 

isbn/asin: 978-1419704284

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Alice in Wonderland (obviously), Tim Burton, Some Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton, and whimsical adventure.  

My Ratings Explained

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

the basics
I was in love with this book the instant I read the blurb.  Alice in Wonderland is a particular obsession of mine (enjoy these photos of my Mad Hatter and American McGee's Alice costumes if you want a taste of how obsessed) and so I'm eager to snap up anything Wonderland-related.  Still haven't gotten to Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter, but Splintered was a must-read.  Why?  It takes a fantastically clever spin on the Alice-remake by making Alyssa not Alice herself, but a descendant of a real person--Alice Liddell--and adding the twist of the Liddell curse of madness.  Pretty cool.  While some of the details were a little too close to Tim Burton's remake for my taste, Howard impressed me by taking her own spin on Wonderland's myths and creatures.  She uses Alice's youth as a mirror to put her own spin on Wonderland; in Alice's childlike eyes, the bizarre skeletal Rabid White becomes the White Rabbit, and so on.  Put it all together and you get a breakneck plot that oozes adventure, terror, and a surprise ending that blew me away.  

plot . 5/5
Howard knows how to keep you reading.  It starts right in the middle of a mystery--Alyssa who can hear bugs and flowers talking, her mad mother who did something terrible, the strange moth following her around.  Then we're down the metaphorical rabbit hole and in a strange world where some things are very familiar, and some things not as Alyssa would expect.  It's also important that her friend Jeb comes along, because it creates some complications for Alyssa, who is torn between the world she feels is her own and the world she's lived in.  And of course a love triangle.  However, it was not as annoying as your typical triangle because Alyssa didn't spend half the book angsting over it.  The romance was a product of the plot, not a replacement.  And the plot was breathtaking.  One adventure after another, but it all felt like one big thing building up.  The twist ending was shocking.  I won't even hint to spoil it.  I left the book starving for the sequel.  

concept . 5/5
Howard's remake is what a remake should be--an extension and reimagining of the original, not just a blow-by-blow appropriation of the old material.  She takes Carroll's world and imagines: what if young Alice wasn't right about everything she saw?  What if a part of Wonderland stayed with her?  And, what happened to Wonderland after she left?  Those questions give us a new kind of Wonderland.  A Wonderland where some of the creatures are a little darker.  Where the Red Queen is dead but usurped.  Where the caterpillar is all grown up (and sizzling hot).  Where Alice's descendants are still feeling the backlash of her strange encounter.  It's thrilling and exciting and makes up for all the bits that stray a little too close to Tim Burton.   

characters . 5/5
Alyssa was an instant win for me.  She's a skater girl but she's not that good.  She gets picked on but doesn't angst (too much) over it.  She's got a hopeless crush but it doesn't control her life.  She has a "crazy" mother but doesn't use her as an excuse to be tragic.  She could have been Mary Sue, but Howard made her real instead.   I did find her a little Sue-ish considering how badly the other kids made fun of her for being Alice's descendant, considering I'm pretty sure most middle schoolers and even high schoolers wouldn't care that much, but I let it go.  Jeb and Taylor were meh.  I felt they made Alyssa a little more Sueish than she should have been.  Taylor had it out for Alyssa for unknown reasons, and Jeb's romantic confession was a bit over-the-top for me.  Not enough to ruin the book, but enough to notice.  Morpheus was a win.  He's your typical seductive, snarky bad-boy type, but the best part is that Alyssa sees that and doesn't entirely fall for it.  You never know whose side Morpheus is on, and that gives him some depth.  The supporting cast (mom, dad, etc.) were all fleshed enough to give the story spice.  

style . 5/5
Beautiful but not overdone.  Howard can turn a phrase like the best of them, but she doesn't bog you down in flowers either.  I enjoyed some of her descriptions immensely.  She gives you a great pictures of not only what Wonderland looks like but what it feels like.  She also gives Alyssa her own voice, which feels authentic and not too old for her years.  I felt immersed.  

mechanics . 5/5
Everything was well polished.  I can't really think of anything to complain about.     

take home message
A dark Alice in Wonderland that goes way beyond remake and tells its own, thrilling story.  

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


Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake


title:  Anna Dressed in Blood

author:  Kendare Blake

pages: 320

format: Hardcover 

isbn/asin: 0765328658

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Jeannine Garsee (The Unquiet), the TV show Supernatural, old fashioned ghost stories, and light romance.  

My Ratings Explained

Cas Lowood, armed with his late father's athame knife, kills ghosts. In Thunder Bay, Anna, forever 16, drips blood on her white dress from throat slit in 1958, and rips apart anyone who enters her house - except Cas. He makes new friends - high school queen Carmel, jock Will, admiring nerd Thomas and Tom's voodoo grandpa Morfran - to fight this demon.

the basics
I was fantastically excited about this book.  It didn't quite meet my exuberant expectations, but it delivered plenty.  The story is a fun, Supernatural -style ghost hunt.  Boy's father hunted ghosts.  Boy's father is killed by ghost.  Boy takes up the mantle and hunts ghosts.  You start right in the action, and Blake doesn't waste any time getting you into Cas' world--or the Anna plot.  Cas wants to kill Anna.  Then it gets more complicated, in ways that I didn't expect.  Cas can be an annoying, self-absorbed I-go-alone guy, but what was fun for me was seeing him change and grow.  There's a romance that isn't insta, friendships that felt genuine and relatable, and Cas' mom gets involved too, which is a far cry from the I-must-leave-all-loved-ones plots I'm used to.  The coolest part is Blake's ghost and demon mythology.  You get voodoo, Wicca, and a sort of dark blood magic that combine for some neat baddies.  Not a perfect book, but very enjoyable.  I will be reading the sequel.  

plot . 5/5
The plot starts you right in the action with a ghost and doesn't let up.  Even when there's not a lot of ghost hunting, everything is moving forward.  Either something is happening with Cas' investigation into Anna or his relationships are developing in important ways.  Blake doesn't show mercy, either.  Plenty of blood is spilt.  It makes it realistic, rather than the dumbed-down horror stories where people miraculously escape because the hero never screws up.  Cas screws up plenty, and it adds to his character.  The ending was also great for a first novel in a series.  Satisfying on its own, but also promising more.  

concept . 4/5
Ghost hunters: not super original.  Yeah, we know that.  Blake takes it a step farther with the magical element.  She adds in voodoo and Wicca to add color and depth to her supernatural world.  I really enjoyed reading about the rituals and some of the demon creatures.  There's also a mystery.  Your typical find-out-how-the-ghost-was-killed mystery--but it becomes much less typical when you find out how.  I won't spoil it, but it was a great surprise and I thought it turned a typical plot into something more unique.  

characters . 4/5
Cas was a hard sell for me.  He was just so arrogant, a trait that hits me the wrong way.  However, he wasn't a badly written character.  You can dislike a character but still find them realistic.  That's the way I felt about Cas.  As the story progressed, my feelings for him changed as I saw him change.  What Blake did well with the other characters was give them roles that weren't flimsy or merely supporting, and twist some expectations.  Carmel was not the prissy cheerleader I was fearing.  Thomas was deeper than your average nerd.  Cas' mom was Wiccan, not only an underrepresented role but also one that enriched her personality.  It clearly wasn't thrown in just to make her interesting.  

style . 4/5
There's nothing particularly beautiful or special about the style.  It was polished, succinct, and clear.  It's told in Cas' voice, which means that you get a lot of teenage-boy speak.  I thought it was done well, but I don't have much to gush over either.  

mechanics . 5/5
Everything was well polished.  You don't get a lot of extra passages or unnecessary language.   

take home message
A fun ghost hunt with extra layers of magic, romance, and strong friendships.  

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


Announcement: I'm back in das States! Aka, posting resumes


Hey, friends.  As you may have noticed, I have been posting sporadically lately.  That is because I have been in Germany for a week and a half!  However, I have returned home and am ready to offer you up many reviews to make up for my absence.  Which reviews, you ask?  Well, well.  Here are the books I've read that are waiting in my review backlog:  

Splintered by A.G. Howard
The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher
Some Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton
The Pirate's Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke 
Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Also, I just got approved for a Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas ARC (ya know, sequel to the brilliant Throne of Glass) and I'm SO EXCITED GAH HAPPY DANCE COFFEE.  Look for that soon, because I'll be reading it as soon as I finish Dare You To by Katie McGarry.  



Waiting on Wednesday: Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Waiting on Wednesday

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

madeleine roux

Learn more

coming august 20, 2013

Asylum is a thrilling and creepy photo-novel perfect for fans of the New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it's a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.

As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it's no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.

Featuring found photos of unsettling history and real abandoned asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Madeleine Roux's teen debut, Asylum, is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity.

c.j.'s thoughts

This novel contains (1) asylums, (2) photos of asylums, (3) horror, and (4) no direct mention of romance.  Aka, I took one look and TBRed it immediately.  I adore classic horror, such as your ghost story The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee, but psychological horror is my absolute favorite.  Think Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk.  Think Psycho and Silence of the Lambs and The Butterfly Effect and Stephen King.  Plus, I love photo novels and look forward to seeing this medium used more often.  I haven't read Miss Peregrine yet, but that's also at the top of my list.  Also, anything to do with creepiness and psychology and murder and the macabre is pretty much my heaven.  So now that you know I'm morbid, go check out this book!