Musing: Random Acts of Kindness Day, Free Book to First Commenter

                            books are great!

Everyone deserves a free book sometime.  

I'm having kind of a bad day (month...), so, I'm giving away a free book today to the first person to comment on this post.  All you have to do is say hi and tell me what book you want.  Any book.  New book, old book, preorder, e-book, etc.  (Though I ask you try to keep it in the under $20 range just because $50 books start to stretch the budget...)  

I wish I could do more than one, but I'm a grad student and my earnings after rent are about enough for me food and cat food.  But once in a while, I'll be able to do this again. 

So, cheers.  Spread some kindness and read some books. 

Reviews to come, once my sinuses stop attacking me. 



ARC Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard


title:  And We Stay 

author:  Jenny Hubbard

pages: 240

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: 978-0385740579

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 Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, anything John Green, and Emily Dickinson herself.  

My Ratings Explained

When high school senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school library with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend Emily Beam, then takes his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry and guilt-ridden Emily is shipped off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she encounters a ghostly presence who shares her name. The spirit of Emily Dickinson and two quirky girls offer helping hands, but it is up to Emily to heal her own damaged self.

This inventive story, told in verse and in prose, paints the aftermath of tragedy as a landscape where there is good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow.

the basics
It's no mistake you're seeing this book on more blogs and lists.  It's a compelling mix of narrative and poetry that snuck up on me.  A quarter of the way through, I was ready to give it a three.  At a third, I was beginning to waver.  You can see where I ended up.  The slow beginning, for me, was a combination of style and character.  I took a minute to warm up to Emily and her voice, perhaps because the beginning jumps liberally between Emily-now and Emily-then.  It makes Emily-of-any-time-point difficult to get a handle on.  Once her focus turned more to the present, I was more drawn into her world.  The past became a lens of viewing the present instead of a block between me and her voice.  That voice is trite or melodramatic at times, but is otherwise imaginative, lyrical, and captivatingly emotive.  Emily's is a world inside her head slowly turning outward.  Her poetry shows the early stabbings of youth with a maturity that comes from experiencing great pain.  It also adds a layer of extra emotional power to an already poignant story.  I'll remember and come back to Emily's poems, and though I may not reread her story, the feeling will stay.  

plot . 4/5
The plot creaks off to a clumsy start.  Perhaps this is a matter of preference for me, but I don't like a lot of quick back-and-forth between past and present.  It's a very Victorian feature that depends heavily on compelling prose, and I just wasn't compelled enough when I started this book.  Instead of getting the chance to settle with Emily in her new Amherst boarding school, I felt jerked between that present and her tidbits of what happened with Paul.  Maybe the flashbacks could have come later, or been shorter, or something.  It makes for a very retrospective, languishing start.  

I really became invested when the focus turned more to Emily's life at Amherst, with K.T. and Amber.  More of this throughout would have made for a more coherent story.  I enjoy the boarding-school drama.  The compassionate Madame Colche.  Emily's exploration of Emily Dickinson.  The nervous friendship between K.T. and Emily.  I would have loved to know Amber more, because what little we get of her is quirky and pushes Emily's comfort zone.  It's not that the second half is filled with action; instead, the past and present become integrated more fluidly.  We learn the deeper parts of what happened with Paul, the library, and the gun, and come to know Emily through her recollections.  The ending is abrupt, too much so, but at least leaves off with hopeful uncertainty.  

Also, don't get excited about ghost stories.  The "ghostly presence" is much more metaphor than supernatural reality.  

concept . 5/5
Poetry gives this book a different lens than similar works.  The story of a girl starting over, a girl with a dark past and a dead boyfriend, isn't new.  Hubbard simply tells it in a new way.  Emily's experience of (and to her, role in) Paul's suicide is told as much through her poetic imagery as it is through her direct discussion of what happened.  It's the best of Ellen Hopkins and Laurie Halse Anderson in one narrative structure.  You get the quiet atmosphere and the clever lyricism, although Hubbard's poetry is much more Dickinson than slam.  Which worked wonders for me.  It's also a very tangible way of showing the things that Emily is too afraid to say.  

characters . 5/5
Emily was a prickly character at first.  I found her to be distant, self-absorbed.  I think this was partially because the excess of past-narration in the first part of the story made her distant.  When she came back to the present, her character became clearer and more sympathetic.  I was able to appreciate her somberness, her quietness, her hidden streak of ferocity.  I did want to smack her when she first met Amber and was so judgey about it, but it's a flaw I forgot, if not forgave.  Her juxtaposition with K.T. is perfect.  K.T. is loud and seemingly outgoing, but no less insecure.  You learn that Emily is her closest and nearly only friend.  At times, I liked her more than Emily.  In the end, she brought back Emily's humanity and spark.  Amber was a wasted character, arrived too late.  I would have loved more of her quirks.  Another key player was Paul.  He's dead on page one, but we come to know him and his stormy personality through Emily's flashbacks.  He's complex, which gives Emily some vicarious complexity.  

style . 4/5
You may be surprised to find a four here, given my gushing about the narrative form.  This is true, but it wasn't always as strong as I could have hoped.  There were many times where the writing style felt clunky or unrealistic.  The dialogue caught a few groans and there were descriptions that just felt "too much."  Also, I love third person, but there's no reason to refer constantly to your narrator by both her names--except to annoy your readers.  What I did like was the obvious poetic atmosphere.  Emily's love of poetry comes through in the way she describes and takes in her world, giving her voice clarity.  Her poems are also beautiful, but not too polished.  They're believable as the poems of a precocious high schooler.  They're also concrete and expressionistic, too qualities I favor in the poetry I enjoy.  

mechanics . 4/5
Like a road with several branches unexplored, this book meanders from path to path and doesn't always find a clear exit.  The beginning is slow and some of the middle is too unexplored--like the "trip" to Chicago or the mystery of the Dickinson house.  Details that would have been fully realized with more page time.  The pacing definitely improves after the first bit of text, but I could see a reader giving up and never reaching the good parts.  

take home message
A beautiful drama about the powers of self-expression in making sense of a tragic world.     

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.


Art: Celaena Sketch, from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas


I don't know if you know this, but sometimes I do artsy things.  Today's subject is Celaena, the badass heroine of Throne of Glass.  She's just as comfortable with blades as she is with fancy dresses, and that's really how I best envision her.  This isn't from any particular scene, just inspired by the series.  I'm not sure what she's looking at so fiercely, but my guess is that it's not long for this world.  

So why is the wind blowing her dress but not her hair?  It's magical hair.  Obviously.  

And look, you can see all my smudge marks! :P Just a quick thing I did while watching Game of Thrones with some friends.  Might color it later, we'll see.  


Musing: Dark Moon: Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2014

                            books are great!

So, in keeping with my resolution to actually do things with my novel instead of letting it languish on my hard drive, I decided to enter Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award this year.  If you're unpublished and have a manuscript you believe in, I'd recommend it.  The entry period ends March 2nd and it's FREE to enter.  

So, yeah.  Probably nothing will come of it, but I feel super excited that I'm actually working towards it again.  Also, major shout out to Christina of Christina Reads YA for giving me an absolutely crazy-detailed and weirdly prompt crit, and also to Kayleigh Grian, Rob Zimmerman, and S.M. Hineline for their amazing crits.  And if I forgot anyone, I'm a bad person and I'm sorry.  Because what I have now is so much better than where it started.  

Along those lines, if you're interested in what this mystery project is, here's the pitch I submitted with my entry.  I'd best compare it to The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke in tone (sort of quirky, sort of mystical, sort of clueless main character) and Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas in epic scope and type of world.  If you're curious.  

Go forth and write!  


Dark Moon 
The Ward of Shadow 

“You don’t belong here.  I can offer you an escape.” 

Lena’s used to feeling like a misfit.  Her teachers think she’s a slacker.  Her brother thinks she’s depressed.  After she gets caught shoplifting, everyone seems to think she’s a juvenile delinquent.  When a ghostly man offers her a way out, she’s not sure if she’s hallucinating or being visited by an angel—but she’s desperate enough to follow him. 

Right into a portal across the universe.  What she finds on the other side is world of magic, talking horses, and creepy immortals who call themselves Watchers.  The Watchers want her to become their secret soldier against a centuries-old organization of magical terrorists.  And they aren’t going to take no for an answer.  Lena’s only choice is to make the best of the otherworld.  She finds friends in other soldiers: Ayla, Carmella, and a snarky horse called Darkmoon.  She learns how to use magic.  She finds her way around a sword.  For the first time in her life, she doesn’t feel like a compete screw-up.

That is, until she accidentally steals a treasure map from the very terrorists she’s supposed to be fighting.  If she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to find the treasure, an ancient weapon, before they do.  Because if the terrorists get a hold of the weapon, her life won’t be the only one lost. 

Along the way, Lena will have to race across an exiled country and battle monsters, thievery, betrayal, and her own crippling self-doubt.  What she doesn’t realize is that she and her friends are just pawns in an ancient war between two immortals, with humanity’s free will as the prize.  It’s a war they won’t stop fighting—even if it means bringing the world to the brink of destruction.  


Giveaway Winner: Book and Swag Pack from A.G. Howard

we have a winner! 

Thanks to everyone who participated in the giveaway!  I appreciate each and every one of my readers and I hope that some of you will stick around and enjoy these awesome books with me. 

Didn't win?  Look no further than the Giveaway Page or Calendar for more chances to win great prizes! 

                     congratulations to
shivani s.! you won a copy of either splintered or unhinged!

congratulations to
candy h.! you won an a.g. howard swag pack!

( the winner has 48 hours to respond to the winning e-mail, otherwise a new winner will be chosen ) 

look out for the next giveaways and more reviews coming soon!  

we have a ton this month and next month, including gateway to reality by becca campbell and manicpixiedreamgirl by tom leveen (coming april 23)! 


ARC Review: The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke


title:  The Mad Scientist's Daughter

author:  Cassandra Rose Clarke

pages: 391

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: 978-10857662651

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 Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Nicholas Sparks (I'd imagine), and light science-fiction.  Mature teens or adults who are okay with sexual scenes.    

My Ratings Explained

Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task is now to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion...and more. But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world, and in Cat's heart.

the basics
The blurb is misleading.  Finn is a key player in this book, but it's much more about Cat.  She's more complex than your average leading lady--selfish, petulant, feisty, resigned, a dreamer, afraid.  She reminds me very much of Catherine in Wuthering Heights, making Finn a quieter, obedient version of Heathcliff.  Their story is a love story but I wouldn't call it a romance.  Much more of the plot is absorbed with Cat growing from a carefree little girl into a wayward teenager into a deeply unhappy adult.  Her evolving relationship with Finn is a constant thread throughout, pulling and pushing but not defining her.  With hints of Bret Easton Ellis' tragedy of middle class malaise, this novel fully explores what it means to love and be loved in a heartless and changing world.  All of this is bolstered by Clarke's staggeringly gorgeous prose.  I knew her whimsical side from The Assassin's Curse, but this novel shows a different side, rife with poetry and heartbreaking beauty.  Though the sprawling timeline was not what I expected, I ended up losing myself in this book and coming out on the other side touched.  

plot . 4/5
My main contention with the plot was the timeline.  What the blurb doesn't tell you is that Cat is a mere thirteen when Finn begins to tutor her.  By the book's end, she's middle aged.  It's a generation style I've grown used to in Victorian literature, but I didn't expect to find it here.  So it jarred me at first.  It means that you get a more sweeping view of Cat, rather than an in-depth exploration of one age, and as a result the style has to be a little more distant and storytelling.  If you don't mind that, it works.  Tracing the threads of Cat's life is fascinating, from her first romance to her attempts at independence to her ill-defined marriage, with tragedies along the way.  There isn't a huge adventure here or a dystopian exploration of android rights (although Clarke certainly touches on that).  Much of the plot frustrated me because of Cat's impulsive choices.  Other parts nearly brought me to tears.  It's the story of Cat learning to be Cat--and clumsily figuring out where her interminable love for Finn fits in, whether it means calling to space or traveling to the restricted desert beyond America's borders.   

concept . 5/5
This is a sort of Wuthering Heights more than I realized when I was reading it.  Cat reminds me so much of Catherine, and also plays the privileged daughter role.  Finn, like Heathcliff, is orphaned and different, and thus reviled by many.  What makes him different isn't his unusual skin, but the fact that most of his body is metal.  The key to the difficulty of their love story is Finn's differentness.  He's metal.  He's unchanging.  He may or may not be capable of human emotions.  Cat struggles for a long time with whether she's in love with a man or a projection of her own desire.  Not to mention loving an android is madness in a society where androids are property, not people.  This problem adds layers to this love story.  Perhaps the science-fiction aspect could have been explored more, but it's really more of a given here.  The story isn't androids; it's Cat and Finn coexisting.  

characters . 5/5
The characters were compelling enough to sweep aside any bothers of the plot for me.  Cat is a multifaceted, ever-evolving human.  She feels completely real every step of the way and reacts to her environment realistically, not just to create an interesting story.  She's capable of great coldness and also great love, depending on who's asking.  Her friends could have been better explored, but the real key players here are Finn, her boyfriend, and her parents.  With all of them, her relationships are a mix of sweet and sour.  There's nothing clearcut about this book.  Finn himself is complex in his foreignness.  Finn struggles with his personhood just as much as the world seems to.  Does he deserve freedom?  Is he capable of love?  Is he Cat's to be used, or does he deserve something more than her fickleness?  He's also incredibly attractive by all description, not least because he has that quiet sarcasm going on.  Then there's Cat's boyfriend.  Did I mention what a colossal jerk he is?  But not in an obvious way.  He's the kind of guy you can imagine a wayward girl being drawn to.  Confident, successful, almost puppy-like.  The fatal vulnerabilities come later.  It's a rich main cast ripped straight from life.  

style . 6/5
Yes, six is larger than five.  A five just doesn't encompass it.  I'm a sucker for beautiful prose, and Clarke sucked me right in.  Her writing has all the best qualities of literary writing without the obscurity that people criticize it for.  It's poetic and deeply emotional.  It's precise and full of concrete descriptions and carefully placed metaphors.  It's rich where it needs to be and skims where it needs to.  I ended up highlighting half the pages because Clarke nailed something so perfectly.  Good prose is what can take a good book to a great book, and Clarke's is great.  

mechanics . 5/5
Like I said, the pacing is pretty sprawling.  You have to be prepared to live a lot of life in one book.  There are also slow moments where we drift too much into Cat's head, or perhaps some of that is my impatience.  I can't really complain much, though.  This is the definition of polished.  

take home message
A haunting drama of life, love, and what it means to be human--even if, physically, you aren't.    

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.

Book Blast: Giveaway: Now That I'm Stronger by Valina Randolph

A Novel

What Would You Do If, In One Moment, You Learned Your Entire Life Was A Lie? 

"I did it." These three words, uttered by Brianna's father, changed her life forever. Confident in her father's innocence, Brianna had been convinced that the jury had made a mistake. Instead, with her father's admission of guilt, everything she believed to be true is suddenly called in to question. 
Heartbroken and confused, Brianna sets out to find out the truth about her past. But what she discovers is more than she could have ever imagined. From the aunt who helped raise her to the new love in her life, it seems as though everyone in her life has a secret agenda. Shattered a little more by each revelation, Brianna finds herself alone with no one to trust. 

Now That I'm Stronger invites you along on Brianna's journey as she courageously uncovers the truth about her past and finds the strength to embrace her future.


Valina Rudolph knew two things from a very young age: she wanted to be a lawyer and she loved to write fiction. She attended John Jay College in New York City, where she majored in Legal Studies and English and she received her law degree from Hofstra Law School. Rudolph currently works as an attorney in New York City. Her love of fiction writing has never waned and Now That I’mStronger is her debut novel. Rudolph lives in Far Rockaway, New York with her husband.

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Book Blurb Breakdown: Dangerous by Shannon Hale

book blurb breakdown

Book Blurb Breakdown is a Sarcasm & Lemons feature where your anal English degree-holding author rips apart (gently) jacket blurbs to pin down what makes her want to pick up the book instantly--and what makes her want to throw it at the wall.  See the original post for more detail.  

today's blurb
Status:  Unread

the blurb: as is 
from Goodreads

Maisie Danger Brown just wanted to get away from home for a bit, see something new. She never intended to fall in love. And she never imagined stumbling into a frightening plot that kills her friends and just might kill her, too. A plot that is already changing life on Earth as we know it. There's no going back. She is the only thing standing between danger and annihilation.

From NY Times bestselling author Shannon Hale comes a novel that asks, How far would you go to save the ones you love? And how far would you go to save everyone else?

the blurb:  shredded 

Maisie Danger Brown just wanted to get away from home for a bit, see something new. She never intended to fall in love.  (Okay, you're already kind of losing me.  I've read this line 50 times in other blurbs.  And no one ever intends to fall in love, anyway.)  And she never imagined stumbling into a frightening plot that kills her friends and just might kill her, too. (Well this sounds cool.  What friends, though?  Are these new friends?  Old friends?  She's away from home, right?) A plot that is already changing life on Earth as we know it.  (Compelling.  I like this bit.) There's no going back. She is the only thing standing between danger and annihilation.  (Wait, really?  That's all I get?  I don't know anything about the book yet!  Is this history?  Fantasy?  Science-fiction?  Where is this plot even taking place?  Who are these people she's befriending and falling in love with?  This might be the most generic description I've ever read.)  

From NY Times bestselling author Shannon Hale comes a novel that asks, How far would you go to save the ones you love? And how far would you go to save everyone else? (I've heard these questions before.  This is not unique.)

the blurb: as is 
from Amazon

How far would you go to save the world?

When Maisie Danger Brown nabbed a spot at a NASA-like summer boot camp, she never expected to uncover a conspiracy that would change her life forever.

And she definitely didn't plan to fall in love.

But now there's no going back—Maisie's the only thing standing between the Earth and annihilation. She must become the hero the world needs. The only problem is: how does a regular girl from Salt Lake City do that, exactly? It's not as though there's a handbook for this sort of thing. It's up to Maisie to come up with a plan—and find the courage to carry it out—before she loses her heart . . . and her life.

Equal parts romance and action-adventure, this explosive story is sure to leave both longtime Shannon Hale fans and avid science fiction readers completely breathless.
How far would you go to save the world?

the blurb:  shredded 

When Maisie Danger Brown nabbed a spot at a NASA-like summer boot camp, she never expected to uncover a conspiracy that would change her life forever.  (Okay, now we're talking.  Science-fiction.  Something with space.  This grabs me a lot more than the one above.) 

And she definitely didn't plan to fall in love.  (Blah blah blah.)  

But now there's no going back—Maisie's the only thing standing between the Earth and annihilation.  (Why?  There's no one else?)  She must become the hero the world needs.  (Why?  Also Dark Knight.) The only problem is:  (Really?  That's the only problem?) how does a regular girl from Salt Lake City do that, exactly? It's not as though there's a handbook for this sort of thing.  (Good question, but this is a trope in tons of books.  It's something that should come out in the story.  Maybe it's just the way it's worded here.  The tone doesn't fit with the rest of the blurb at all.) It's up to Maisie to come up with a plan—and find the courage to carry it out—before she loses her heart . . . and her life.  (Somehow, I'm not buying that losing her heart is really relevant to the whole annihilation problem.)  

Equal parts romance and action-adventure  (Okay, so I have a sort of idea), this explosive story is sure to leave both longtime Shannon Hale fans and avid science fiction readers completely breathless.

the verdict 
1/5 stars
2/5 stars

You get two blurbs this time because the one from Goodreads (also the one on the author page) was so vague that I thought there must be more information somewhere.  (Not much.)  So, the verdict.  Blurb #1 could go on the cover of pretty much any evil plot book.  Just change the character name.  It's full of stock phrases and vague descriptions that are probably aimed to create mystery.  Instead, they create confusion and make me wary of picking it up.  What's it even about!?  The second blurb provides more clarity.  This is science-fiction, obviously, so we know what to expect there.  And....that's about it.  Both blurbs try to stick the romance in there like it's just as important as SAVING THE EARTH, which worries me.  It feels forced.  I also really need to know why this chick is the only hope.  Is she the only one who knows about it?  Does she have some special ability?  Why do we need to know that she's from Salt Lake City?  Is that the spawning ground of "regular" girls?  I admit, I'm being harsh, but I just don't understand how marketing copy like this get out.  For all I know (and given the glowing pre-reviews and author testimonials), this could be one of the best books of the year.  I'll be waiting to read reviews on other blogs because I'm wary to spend $15.99 on a story that, for all I know, could be about a plague of unruly mecha-rabbits.  

your thoughts

Does this blurb grab you?  
Do you agree with my thoughts?  If not, how so?  
Do you have any recommendations for blurbs I should shred?  

previous breakdowns 

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Red Rising by Pierce Brown


Waiting on Wednesday: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Waiting on Wednesday

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

leslye walton


out march 25th, 2014

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga. 

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and na├»ve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. 

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

c.j.'s thoughts

I came across this book a long time ago and recently rediscovered it.  I'll admit, I'm still not sure what it's about.  Love, perhaps.  Family.  I do know that we have a girl born with wings, which is obviously unusual, and a potentially creepy young man obsessed with her.  Which could be pretty cool.  Tragic love?  Something is definitely going on in here.  I usually pass up on books I can't understand, but there's enough here to make me wonder.  What's this world?  What's the Solstice celebration?  What are these twisted motives?  This book could be either brilliant or terrible, but I'm willing to give it a try.  I do like me some lyrical prose.  If anyone knows anything else about what this book is about, I'd love to hear it.  Honestly, I can't say much more because all I have right now is a feeling and an atmosphere--and a compelling one at that.  


Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs


title:  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

author:  Ransom Riggs

pages: 352

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-1594744761

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 Insomnia by J.R. Johansson, Asylum by Madeleine Roux, Doctor Who, and genre-bending young adult fiction.  And X-men.  

My Ratings Explained

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

the basics
I was improbably excited for this book.  It lived up to the hype but not in the way I'd expected.  You're in for so much more than a ghost story here.  There's magic, history, superpowers, time travel, ghosts, ghouls.   We open on Jacob, normal and unassuming until he witnesses his grandfather's murderer.  His grandfather, who used to tell him bizarre stories until Jacob decided he was lying.  The family narrative is sweet and spurs a slapdash trip to Wales to find the truth behind grandpa's stories.  What Jacob finds is so much weirder than I'd expected.  (I apologize for the vagueness of this review.  I'll be tiptoeing carefully so I don't spoil it.)  The first part of Jacob's exploration is a strange sort of ghost story, with creaky old houses and cracked pictures.  When he finally finds the children, he stumbles into a large, darker war than the one his grandfather fought in.  Riggs offers a good mix of sci-fi/fantasy without sacrificing character development.  Jacob forms complex, deep relationships with the residents of the house, particularly the fiery, cynical Emma.  Everything comes to a head at the end, when disaster after disaster culminates in a huge surprise and a chilling choice.  I wish I could tell you more; you'll just have to read (and love) it for yourself.  

plot . 5/5
A lot goes on in this book and Riggs has excellent control over when to pause and when to race.  Parts remind me of Insomnia by J.R. Johannson.  Jacob is relatively normal but not terribly happy.  He has a best friend by convenience, a clueless and laissez faire mother, a wayward father, a grandfather whose lies have come between them.  It's a compelling set-up.  Lots of people harp on the "outcast" as young adult hero, but I find the trope hopeful.  And appropriate here.  The spark is the death of Jacob's grandfather--grisly, sudden, and mysterious.  Suddenly, Jacob doesn't think his grandfather was lying before.  I liked that first, Jacob spiraled into depression.  I'm not a sadist; I just thought it was so realistic.  Too many books have loss + immediate action, with no time to mourn.  Jacob's devastation showed his deep feeling for his grandfather and made his later spur-of-the-moment trip make sense.  

Scene two, we're in Wales.  A dark, isolated island perfect for a creaky old war-torn house.  Riggs is careful to strew the pages with mystery and clues long before you find out the truth.  The whole time, I felt like I was building up to something.  A ghost.  A demon.  Something dark and strange.  What Jacob actually discovers is so much cooler.  We get a little peaceful time to ooh and aah over the peculiar children and indulge in the fantasy.  These children and teens have strange abilities and odd appearances, like a new kind of circus freak.  I was also happy to see Jacob forming friendships and even a crush--a surprisingly normal, age-appropriate crush.  Then everything goes to hell.  Riggs is certainly not easy on his characters.  He forces Jacob into a choice with no good answer and danger on both sides.  Riggs left me gaping in the aftermath, hungry for book two.  

concept . 5/5
Okay, so Riggs kind of had me at old photographs and World War II.  Then there's the ghost stories.  The premise:  Jacob's grandfather was a war orphan who ended up in an orphanage full of strange children.  Children who could throw fire, become invisible, animate the dead.  Children who are somehow still hiding in that orphanage in Wales, long after the war is over.  How?  Let's say there's some pretty fantastic fantasy involved.  Love Celtic mythology?  You get layers of this too.  If you're expecting a standard ghost story, you may be disappointed.  Or, like me, you'll love the alternative Riggs gives, with dashes of fantasy, science-fiction, and the paranormal.  It's just a really cool concept that shows the depth of Riggs' imagination.  I wish I could say more.  

characters . 5/5
The characters really make this book.  Obviously the plot is exciting and the style is beautiful, but the characters made me care.  Jacob is a little broken.  He's brash, arrogant, and also deeply vulnerable.  When his partly estranged grandfather dies, he falls to pieces--but finds a kernel of hope that if he can only understand, he'll be redeemed for his doubt and disbelief.  He's also just a normal teenage boy.  I totally bought him.  His parents actually get more play than most young adult parents, and for good reason.  They don't get him.  They're selfish.  They're also loving in a clumsy kind of way.  I particularly loved Jacob's father, a writer who's written dozens of unfinished books, who never really figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up.  Who loves his son but is jealous that his son connected with his father in way that he never could.  The family drama piece alone is fascinating.  

Then we meet the residents of the orphanage.  How can I say I love them?  Let me count the ways.  Emma is a weird sort of love interest (you'll see) and also kind of a bitch.  In the best way.  She doesn't mind being abrasive.  She also has a hidden whimsical side that softens her.  She kicks ass without Jacob's help, but she's willing to let him in--eventually.  Miss Peregrine is the darling head mistress, and pretty damn terrifying.  She's obviously loving towards her wards, and she'll also peck your head off if you dare put them at risk.  I wish I could remember more names, but my head is a sieve these days.  There was a side character I particularly enjoyed who an turn himself invisible, and who is a lovely nerdy know-it-all.  

style . 5/5
Now I get to gush.  Riggs has a beautiful writing style.  It's rich, eerie, lush, chilling.  There are places that remind me of poetry, others that deeply horrified me, others that made me laugh actually out loud.  There's also a lot of sarcastic, bantery dialogue.  I mean, have I mentioned enough times that I'm a sucker for snarky banter?  And the dialogue!  It reads like it should!  Like actual teens!  It's surprising how hard that is to find.  There are also some highly evocative descriptions of scenes and places that you could have drawn a postcard of in your head.  I dog-eared at least ten pages, which is a sign of some really excellent quotables.  Just beautiful.  I can see why he's married to Tahereh Mafi.  

mechanics . 5/5
Old photographs!  I fell in love with the photo narrative in In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters and Riggs uses it to equal effect.  For Riggs, the photos illustrate some of the bizarre characters we meet.  I can just imagine Riggs going through old photographs, finding the strangest ones, and inventing an even stranger character around them.  I only wish there were more photos, because I'm a junkie.  

take home message
A genre-bending novel with deeply lovable characters, a unique fantastical plot, and a chilling accompaniment of vintage photographs.     

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


ARC Review: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan


title:  Uninvited

author:  Sophie Jordan

pages: 384

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0062233653

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4.5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Red Rising by Pierce Brown, light science fiction, kickass girls, and Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson.

My Ratings Explained

The Scarlet Letter meets Minority Report in bestselling author Sophie Jordan's chilling new novel about a teenage girl who is ostracized when her genetic test proves she's destined to become a murderer.

When Davy Hamilton's tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS)-aka the kill gene-she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Juilliard. Davy doesn't feel any different, but genes don't lie. One day she will kill someone.

Only Sean, a fellow HTS carrier, can relate to her new life. Davy wants to trust him; maybe he's not as dangerous as he seems. Or maybe Davy is just as deadly.

The first in a two-book series, Uninvited tackles intriguing questions about free will, identity, and human nature. Steeped in New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan's trademark mix of gripping action and breathless romance, this suspenseful tale is perfect for fans of James Patterson, Michelle Hodkin, and Lisa McMann.

the basics
I wasn't sure how Jordan, author of the romantic Firelight (which I liked, though not as much as this early review suggests), would do with a grittier, edgier topic.  She proved my doubts wrong.  Where Firelight struggled with growing pains, Uninvited shows marks of writerly maturity.  The writing is cleaner, the concept better developed.  Set in a near-future world where crime is rampant and radicals are ready for any solution, this story capitalizes on the dangers of genetic determinism--and, if you're not into that, of any kind of stereotypes and labeling.  It's also a prime example of self-fulfilling prophecies.  Formerly popular Davy learns this hard lesson when she tests positive for the Homicide gene.  First abandoned by friends who fear her, expelled from school, and rattled by parents who give up on her, she's then roped into a secret quasi-military training camp--the only alternative to internment.  The characters were compelling enough to worry me over their futures, the romance sweet and slow-moving.  Despite a few rough bits and missed opportunities, this was an exciting, thought-provoking read that amped me up instantly for the sequel.  

plot . 4/5
Davy's life is perfect.  Until she's diagnosed with the kill gene.  Suddenly, her school can no longer house her, her college-of-choice no longer has available slots, and even her best friend and boyfriend are lured by the fearmongering.  The friend/boyfriend turning on Davy so quickly was a bit unrealistic.  I didn't quite buy it.  At least it did show how extensively society has come to fear this condition.  So extensively that in her new public school, Davy is teacherless and freedomless, completing self-study assignments in a chain-link cage with other HTS unfortunates.  You can't help but feel for her and her classmates.  As you meet more carriers, you wonder: were they always like this? Or did poor treatment make them this way?  It's a compelling theme expounded upon when the branding is no longer enough and carriers all over the country are forced into prison camps.  Only a lucky few, like Davy, are set aside to be trained--but it's a mixed blessing, for chilling reasons I won't spoil.  Suffice to say, it reminded me a little of Red Rising.  Besides the carrier intrigue, two parts of the plot were most compelling.  First was Davy's struggle to integrate this new view of herself.  Her future is gone.  Her past is ruined.  Her relationships are strained.  Part of her journey is learning to live in this new world.  Then there's the romance.  It's instant attraction but not insta-love, and the connection between Davy and Sean is anything but quick and easy.  

concept . 5/5
I liked that Jordan opens the book on Davy's near-perfect life.  She's a Julliard shoe-in.  Her boyfriend is one of he hottest athletes in school.  Her future is golden.  It makes the contrast even more stark when she learns that she bears a dangerous gene linked to murderous tendencies.  It doesn't matter that she seems harmless.  Widespread fear of crime ensures that even her friends become wary of her potential.  It also puts Davy into the odd position of knowing she has the gene while also believing that others who have the gene are dangerous.  That she's "different" from the other characters.  This is a belief that wasn't fully dismantled by the end (which disappointed me; she really becomes friends with only the people who seem nice, "mistaken" carrier, rather than finding the good in the seemingly "bad" carriers), but which emphasized how strongly institutionalized fear can override our reason.  Jordan's HTS gene is an allegory for racism, classism, other dangerous stereotypes.  It's an incisive exploration of what happens when we treat people like animals--how even a tame dog can become a vicious fighter.  Jordan could have amped up Davy's self-awareness later on, but overall, it's an engaging premise that, given my research, I feel very close to.  

But don't believe the comparison to The Scarlet Letter in the blurb.  Both books feature ostracized characters.  Wow, publisher, great connection...  The Minority Report is a much more accurate comparison.  

characters . 4/5
Davy was a pretty compelling heroine.  Rather than your typical outcast, she's pretty.  Popular.  Loved.  Talented.  It's important, because she suddenly becomes everything she fears.  Her lack of insight ("I'm different from them") was irritating in that it held on too long, but she also showed surprising adaptability.  So much that she surprised herself.  The situations in which Davy finds herself bring out new aspects of her character, such that Davy is learning who she is at the same time we are.  Then there's Sean--adorable, brooding bad boy.  He's not the most unique love interest, but his tightrope walk between protecting others and protecting himself adds a layer to his character.  

I wish some of the other Cage students and training school students had gotten more page time, because I would have liked to see Davy grow to know them.  Gilbert (who can also relate to her new life!) and Sabine were well-drawn, but Coco, Addy, and many others were skimmed over or flat.  Zac and Tori, too, seem more like plot devices than friends.  Jordan makes up for that with Davy's family; though only present for some of the book, they become deeply human and pitiable in their reactions to Davy's new status.  Her brother, especially, delinquent and furious, was a favorite.  In the end, I think the main fault here was that the characters Davy befriended were all those who seemed good from the outset (Sean barely counts as a counterexample), whereas a deeper exploration of stereotypes could have been made if Davy were to become close to some of the people who seemed bad or evil at first.  It's a missed chance to make a statement.  What we do get more of is the opposite: that basically normal people can be pushed to do evil things.  

style . 5/5
Jordan's style here showed a lot of maturity in her writing.  Everything was clean and tight, without too much in the way of unnecessary frills.  Davy's voice felt real to me, which is one of my top criteria for good style.  Moreover, there were some deeply poignant moments, especially around some of the plot twists, that were handled beautifully.   

mechanics . 5/5
Between each chapter is a conversation.  A memo.  A series of texts.  It was a clever way to show some of the world outside Davy's head and also to foreshadow later plot devices.  I honestly loved this feature of the book.  There were several great instances of dramatic irony that kept me flipping pages because I knew something bad was going to happen and Davy didn't, and I had to know how she would react.  Clever, Ms. Jordan.  Well played.  

take home message
A chilling near-future thriller about love, identity, and the devastating fear of the different.   

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.