Book Blast: Release of Of Breakable Things by A. Lynden Rolland


Welcome to the Release Day Blitz for

Of Breakable Things by A. Lynden Rolland

presented by Month9Books!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

A captivating debut about the fragility of life, love, and perspective.
Alex Ash was born broken. Living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is like living on death row, but she is willing to fight for her frail life as long as it includes the boy next door. Chase has always held the pieces of her together, but when he dies tragically, Alex’s unfavorable fate becomes a blessing in disguise.
Faced with a choice, she finds herself in a peculiar world where rooms can absorb emotions and secrets are buried six feet under. Among limitless minds, envious spirits, and soulless banshees, Alex hardly rests in peace

Of Breakable Things by A. Lynden Rolland
Publisher: Month9Books
Publication Date: April 29, 2014

Available for Purchase:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | The Book Depository | IndieBound

A. Lynden Rolland
A. Lynden Rolland was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland, a picturesque town obsessed with boats and blue crabs. She has always been intrigued by the dramatic and the broken, compiling her eccentric tales of tragic characters in a weathered notebook she began to carry in grade school. She is a sports fanatic, a coffee addict, and a lover of Sauvignon Blanc, thunderstorms and autumn leaves. When she isn’t hunched behind a laptop at her local bookstore, she can be found chasing her two vivacious children. She now resides just outside Annapolis with her husband and young sons.
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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Art: Marlyn from Dark Moon, pencil sketch


Say hello to Marlyn Cest!  She's a character you haven't met yet, who shows up in Dark Moon, the series of books I've been working on since approximately forever.  She's a once-minor character who has gained a lot more importance since I first invented her.  So, enjoy this quick sketch that I did while waiting for my client to show up.  :P  I didn't fill the hair in because I plan to colorize this with the tablet, so look out for version 2 soon!  Also I scanned it, hence the weird non-softness to the lines.  Okay, Imma shut up now.  


Waiting on Wednesday: Oblivion by Sasha Dawn

Waiting on Wednesday

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

sasha dawn


out may 27th, 2014

Lisa McMann's Dead to You meets Kate Ellison's The Butterfly Clues in a psychological thriller full of romance, intrigue, and mystery. 

One year ago, Callie was found in an abandoned apartment, scrawling words on the wall: "I KILLED HIM. His blood is on my hands. His heart is in my soul. I KILLED HIM." But she remembers nothing of that night or of the previous thirty-six hours. All she knows is that her father, the reverend at the Church of the Holy Promise, is missing, as is Hannah, a young girl from the parish. Their disappearances have to be connected and Callie knows that her father was not a righteous man.

Since that fateful night, she's been plagued by graphomania -- an unending and debilitating compulsion to write. The words that flow from Callie's mind and through her pen don't seem to make sense -- until now.

As the anniversary of Hannah's vanishing approaches, more words and memories bubble to the surface and a new guy in school might be the key to Callie putting together the puzzle. But digging up the secrets she's buried for so long might be her biggest mistake.

c.j.'s thoughts

Things I'm nervous about: "new guy in school".  Things I'm excited about: everything else.  I came across this yesterday on Twitter because the author posted pictures of the shiny new ARCs.  The cover intrigued me and the plot sold me.  I'm not sure how real graphomania is, but it's definitely a cool idea.  Also, come on.  Girl found in abandoned apartment claiming to have killed someone?  Yes yes yes.  It's like Criminal Minds in young adult book form.  I've become a big fan of murder mysteries in young adult and I've come across quite a few good ones, so I'm excited to add another gem to the collection.  I'm also wondering if the connection between Pastor and Hannah is what I think it is, or if Dawn will defy expectation and surprise us all.  I know nothing about her writing, so this'll be a new one for me.  Anyone else read anything by her?  


Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor


title:  Dreams of Gods and Monsters

author:  Laini Taylor

pages: 374

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-0316134071

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, Tamora Pierce, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, and mythology.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes, for sure.  
will i continue the series?:  Meeeh. Only the novella is left. 

My Ratings Explained

By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.

Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

take home message
A gorgeous tapestry of adventure, love, and violence on a cosmic scale.  An end to one of the best fantasy series of our generation, and the beginning of a brilliant career.   

the basics
I had to take a moment before I could properly review this book.  It's amazing how a series so lately in my life can leave such an imprint.  The first book, I found good.  Not great, but good.  Then I read the second recently, and I was completely won.  I almost feared to read the last because I feared that final page and the end it brought, but I also rushed to read it as soon as it arrived because I couldn't wait.  The finale is a perfect culmination of the series, an ending and a huge beginning, a raising of the stakes.  Our beloved characters grow and find their strengths in ways both believable and remarkable.  Tragedies occur.  Lovers are foiled and frustrated.  New characters become major players, somewhat unexpectedly.  And for a over 600-page book, the pacing is breakneck.  Taylor carefully flings you between narrators to set up suspense and, as she does best, foster cringing amounts of dramatic irony.  All the while, the atmosphere is one of wonder and also one of fear and brutal violence.  Taylor no more shirks the flaws of her characters than the consequences of their actions, which at times can be devastating.  Yet she gives us better than reality--she offers hope amidst turmoil, love amidst death.  It's a gorgeously written epic that could lend itself to half a dozen prequels and sequels.  It's also one of the books that has cemented for me more than ever why I must be a writer.  

plot . 4.5/5
I can't say that all of the revelations here were set up well in the previous books.  The history of Eretz becomes a crucial plot element, including the far-off Stelian angels, but they appeared so abruptly in books 1 and 2 that I would have preferred some early foreshadowing.  The same can be said for other revelations, such as the role of Eliza the graduate student and the origin story of Eretz.  The disconnect really separates book 1 from 2 and 3 for me and lends itself to a lot of rushed exposition.  That said, I devoured this book like Cthulu devouring Earth.  I lost sleep.  I made ultimatums--"You will stop at the end of this chapter!"  Taylor is a master of pageturning.  Her alternating narrators ensure a cliffhanger at almost every chapter's end.  Instead of being infuriating, it's suspenseful.  It raises the stakes.  It reminds you that no one else knows that's going on with the others either, and her little hints of "But it wasn't" and "She wished she'd known" heighten the dramatic irony to a knuckle-whitening burn.  

Content-wise, it's a brilliant mix of war, intrigue, and social justice.  We begin with the seraphim and chimaera in a tentative, volatile truce against evil emperor Jael.  Then there's Eliza, representative of Earth, hopelessly watching the seraphim invade.  The plot is intricately woven to leave you guessing until the last moments.  And always something is happening.  The allies create a plot.  The plot is foiled.  The Earthlings are rioting.  The chimaera are in danger of extinction.  The Stelians are out to kill someone very important.  People are betrayed and slaughtered.  By the end, your head is reeling from everything that's gone wrong, but there's a last, desperate cheer for what's gone right.  It's also one of the few books in which I appreciated an epilogue, because it provides just enough hope to offset the shocking ending.  

concept . 4/5
Again, I take off points here because I felt that the whole plotline with the Stelians, which is intricately connected to Eretz' origin story, arrives from very tenuous foundations.  In book 2, we know the Stelians exist and refuse Joram's war.  That a Stelian was Akiva's mother.  And...well.  That's it.  So much devastating and plot-changing information comes out of their inclusion that I was disappointed with the lack of earlier set-up.  Taylor could have integrated them much more.  However, I also loved the way she stretched the concept of her seraphim and chimaera world to something grander and more devastating.  I won't much away, only that the elements are somewhat Lovecraftian and it brings Eretz and Earth together in ways that make their twinedness more sensical.  Within the more proximal plot of the war and the races, Taylor also does a great job of dealing with prejudice, persecution, violence, and change.  Her characters aren't good or evil.  They're changed immutably by what they've suffered.  Their sacrifices are tangible and lasting.  It's a profound view of war and its cost.  (However, must we really perpetrate the ugly-evil-villain trope?  Honestly.)  

characters . 5/5
These characters will live with me forever.  Karou is at her most powerful in this book.  She's accepted her duty and sacrifice.  She's also grown deeply, learned that duty doesn't mean unhappiness, that forgiveness is possible, that she is strong and capable on her own but that it's okay to rely on friends.  She's also much more aware of where she belongs.  Akiva becomes less mopey, which is a plus, and also gains back much of the wit and verve lost in book 2.  I would have liked to see more Ziri, but we did get much more characterization of Liraz, who's a new favorite for me.  The best was the continuing growth of Mik and Zuzanna.  Now embroiled in the struggle, they're deeply affected by their role, with good and bad scars.  They also play an integral part in Karou's plans and show their own strengths beyond their chimaera-approved duties.  None of the characters in this series are flat; but moreover, they're dynamic and changing.  They're people I'll miss and think about.  People I can't but wish were out there somewhere beyond the tears in the sky.  

style . 5/5
Can I gush more about Taylor's style?  It possesses the kind of easy beauty of a Dali painting, magical and surreal and clever and funny.  There are words you'll never see elsewhere that so perfectly capture Taylor's meaning, and descriptions more gorgeous than a photograph.  There's dark humor and dry wit, a hint of sappiness made not too saccharine by context.  There's a hint of Victorian ornateness, loads of Tolkein-esque precision, and a breathtaking atmosphere that is Taylor's through and through.  I could read her quotes over and over, and will again.  And moreover, it feels magical.  There's the feel of cool Halloween air and firefly-lit meadows and foreboding winds.  It's an atmosphere that lingers.  

mechanics . 5/5
I've complained of foreshadowing, but that's my main problem.  The book is fantastically polished.  Nothing seems excessive or slow.  There are no obvious places for trimming.  Every word feels carefully and distinctly chosen.  It's a masterpiece.  

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

Giveaway: Fairy Tale Fortnight Hop (INT)

welcome to the fairy tale giveaway!

Hosted by I Am a Reader Not a Writer, The Book Rat, and A Backwards Story.
Enter to win a young adult book of your choice--as long as it has some kind of fairy tale theme.   

Need ideas?  Here are some favorites.  
Click on the covers to learn more.  

And while you're here, please consider checking out some of the other reviews and features on Sarcasm & Lemons.  Cheers! 

This giveaway will run until May 3rd. 

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!  

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Throwback Thursday: Before there was...Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (8.24.12)

throwback thursday

Throwback Thursday is a feature on Sarcasm & Lemons dedicated to what's been.  When your blogging count goes from months to years, posts start to pile up.  You forget about all those gems that came before.  Throwback Thursday (inspired by the Twitter tag, of course) is dedicated to dusting off some of your awesome old posts so that readers can enjoy something they might not have found.  

Want to join the fun?  Post your throwback in the comments or Linky! 

today's throwback

You'll notice that I have far more of these than I've had for the previous two.  It's because fantasy has been huge in YA longer than dystopian or vampires ... and because it's always been my first love.  

Oh, yeah.  And it's now edited with links. Because I am an idiot. 

If you haven't read Throne of Glass, read my review to find out why you'll love it! 

Before there was Throne of Glass 
by Sarah J. Maas, there was . . . 

 The first series I ever read from her, and arguably her best. Fourteen-year-old Daine Sarasri is an illegitimate child and an orphan.  Not the best start for a girl in the kingdom.  But Daine can also talk to animals.  She possesses Wild Magic, an unruly, powerful magic unlike that of the other mages.  Becoming mixed up with the famous mage Numair, the King's Champion Alanna, and the court, Daine becomes part of wars, intrigues, and dangers that ultimately lead her to the realms of the gods.  Well-written, with adventure, romance, and a kick-butt heroine, these books will appeal to anyone who loves Maas' Celaena.  Like all Pierce's work, these books are a blend of action, humor, and romance that has something for everyone.  

Set before The Immortals, this is the story of Alanna.  Protected by the Goddess, spunky Alanna doesn't want to be a lady.  She wants to be a knight.  So she cuts her hair, pretends to be a boy, and enrolls in knight training in the king's own guard.  Quickly becoming friends with Crown Prince Jonathan and a wily thief named George, she proves herself a worthy warrior and becomes the first female knighted.  Along the way, she falls in love--a few times--and does quite a bit of fighting.  All in service of her magical destiny.  I love Alanna.  She's powerful, petulant, and exciting.  Her adventures are full of magic and intrigue, with plenty of twists.  

This is Keladry's story, set after The Immortals.  Now Daine is a famous mage, Alanna the aging Champion, and girls are at last allowed to join the king's pages on the way to knighthood.  The books follow her from page to squire to knight, through all her tests: proving her worthiness as a girl knight, falling in and out of love, becoming squire to the realm's famous Lord Raoul, and managing a refugee camp during a dangerous war.  Kel is tough and scrappy.  You root for her on every page, want to be her.    

Tristran has a problem.  He's in love.  And his love wants him to go and catch her the star that fell into the meadows, outside of the town wall.  But no one goes outside of the town wall.  Tristran soon discovers why, as he finds the star, a young woman called Yvaine, and is sucked into a series of dangers.  Chased by a witch queen, the vicious men of Stormhold, and other dangers, Tristran must survive and bring the star back to his love.  Only it's not that simple.  Funny, snarky, witty--do I need more words to tell you that it's hysterical?  There's romance.  There's adventure.  There's whimsy.  What more could you want?  

A true epic, spanning hundreds of years.  Half parody of high fantasy but still true to the genre, with a world that is fully realized.  Spanning several generations, this masterful epic goes through the history of Dalemark and the people from different times who are all destined to save it.   

One of the best fantasy books of all time. Don't listen to the terrible movie adaptation! Ella is a strong, kickass heroine who saves her own life and sacrifices everything for her kingdom.  There's no evil uncle and she's not a ditz.  This is a story of girl power, determination, and funny, clever fantasy creatures. 

Click the book titles to find out more! 

What other older or obscure books 
remind you of Throne of Glass?

other throwbacks 


ARC Review: Witch Finder by Ruth Warburton


title:  Witch Finder 

author:  Ruth Warburton

pages: 374

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: 978-1444914467

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 3/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Jane Austen, Sharon Cameron (The Dark Unwinding), and Diana Wynne Jones.  Lovers of light fantasy and light romance with a historical bent.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes, for sure.  
will i continue the series?:  I will. I won't rush for it, but I'll definitely keep it on my TBR.  

My Ratings Explained

London. 1880. In the slums of Spitalfields apprentice blacksmith Luke is facing initiation into the Malleus Maleficorum, the fearsome brotherhood dedicated to hunting and killing witches.

Luke’s final test is to pick a name at random from the Book of Witches, a name he must track down and kill within a month, or face death himself. Luke knows that tonight will change his life forever. But when he picks out sixteen-year-old Rosa Greenwood, Luke has no idea that his task will be harder than he could ever imagine.

take home message
A fun, frivolous fantasy with light romance, British charm, and just enough intrigue and magic.  

the basics
A host of review on Goodreads looks pretty poorly on this little witchy book.  Read them, of course, but keep an open mind.  In my opinion, it was a fun read.  I'd even compare it to the great Diana Wynne Jones.  Warburton isn't quite polished enough to battle with the great one yet, but her work shows some of the characteristics I love in Jones.  Whimsical language and events.  Light romance that's more icing than cake.  Witty British humor and flavor.  Warburton also brings some hints of Jane Austen, with the plot focused around duty and marriage, the Victorian sensibilities, the historical detail, the ornate writing.  Some suspension of disbelief is required, but I did not have the same reaction to the plot as others did.  Some despised the sexism or found the plot languid or incoherent.  I actually really enjoyed this book, enough to cling to the pages many minutes after I meant to be asleep.  I found the plot a good mix of personal responsibilities and the larger witchy intrigue.  I enjoyed the characters, and perhaps read into them.  I also bought the romance entirely, particularly given the precursor of Austen and the other Victorians.  It's not the first such novel I'd recommend, but I think fans of light fantasy and historical works will enjoy it.  

plot . 3/5
Luke is a new member of a prestigious witch-hunting society.  To become a full member, he must kill a random witch from the book of names.  That witch is Rosa, a highbred girl from a family in financial decline, forced into courtship to save the family through a rich match.  As Rosa's family's new stablehand, Luke is poised to kill his quarry.  Maybe.  Eventually.  Many reviewers found the plot weak, but I found it entertaining.  We switch between Rosa and Luke and their different, changing problems.  Rosa is being given to the wealthy Sebastian, a match favored by her greedy brother and mother.  He terrifies her, but she knows that without wealth, her family will fall into disgrace and she will be a spinster under her brother's power.  Escape means choosing a different master.  Her growing, ambivalent relationship with Sebastian was a perfect Victorian plot.  

Then there was Luke, plotting various ways to dispatch his prey and, with each failure, inching closer to the choice between forfeiting his own life and doing a deed that seems more distasteful the more he comes to know his mistress.  I found their choices believable, the timing and pacing of plot points realistic and flowing.  What struck a bad chord was the end.  I love the idea as an idea, but I don't feel that the incident at the factory and all the intrigue there was well set-up earlier in the book.  It felt too harsh for what I knew of the players involved.  However, I did enjoy the mix of Rosa saving Luke, Luke saving Rosa, and the vague but hopeful ending.  My biggest issue was Luke's power.  I find it hard to believe that witch hunters would find a boy who can see magic and think of him as an ally, rather than a witch to be burned.  Other "witches" were killed for much less.  His power was also pretty superfluous.  As was his revenge quest with the witch who killed his parents.  There could have been much more elaboration around these events.  They just didn't seem important.  

concept . 4/5
I actually didn't mind the lack of clarity around the Malleus organization.  I just took it in stride, as I might a more middle grade plot.  Witch hunters.  Made sense to me, but I know this bothered others.  I also took issue with everyone ragging on the rampant sexism and oppression of women in the plot.  What do you expect in the 1800s!?  Rosa accepted her brother's tyranny because she had to.  As a single woman, she did not have her own money.  Her choice outside of the home would have been working as a governess at best, a factory worker at worst.  Her cousin Clemency is the best example of the worldview: marry so that you can run your own household and gain freedom that way.  And that's what Rosa sees in Sebastian.  She knows his flaws, but she also knows what his money will offer her.  A life of her own.  She doesn't rail against the sexism or the thought of herself as property because these are things expected in the world she lives in.  I actually find it refreshing to see a historical novel in which a woman may dislike her circumstances, but still acts like the average woman of her time.  I love the rioters too, but it's less believable.  And Warburton did a fantastic job of staying true to the sensibilities of the time.    

characters . 3/5
I love Rosa and Luke.  I found them to be quietly developed.  You had to take some liberties with Luke, but that didn't bother me.  He seems as much developed as your average contemporary "bad boy."  He's an orphan, he longs to join the Malleus to avenge his parents, he loves his uncle, he gives free smithing work to his needy friend.  At the Greenword manner, he's a little harsh and awkward; he avoids the flirty maid; he's clever in his lies and his plots to kill Rosa, but he's also obviously ambivalent from the start, and his kindness to Rosa becomes less ploy and more real as time goes on.  I had no trouble believing him--or Rosa, for that matter.  Her narratives and actions show her as a bright, kind girl who feels a duty towards her family, a kindness towards the downtrodden, and an insecurity towards herself.  Sebastian, Mrs. Greenwood, and Rosa's brother were the most difficult for me.  Sebastian was just comically evil, Rosa's brother took a quick sidestep, and Mrs. Greenwood had very promising attributes but never took enough of a role in the plot.  Sebastian's mother and father were other loose ends.  I felt like there were ripples of plots that could-have-been in these people.  And Sebastian was just a little too mad scientist towards the end; but his mix of care and cruelty in the beginning was perfect.  

style . 5/5
Warburton writes beautifully.  There were a few potential anachronisms I highlighted, but for the most part, she writes with a Victorian flair, only less ornate and thus more accessible than her truly Victorian forebears.  She reminds me in a nice way of Sharon Cameron.  Both avail themselves of Victorian phrases and words that may be unfamiliar to readers but are key in setting the stage.  She also writes cheeky dialogue and cutting descriptions that bring her world to life.  

mechanics . 4/5
As I said before, there seemed to be a disconnect between the first part of the book and the ending part.  There needed to be more foreshadowing to connect the two.  I would have been quite happy with both parts if they had been integrated more; I'd also have been happy with a less scandalous ending.  It felt like Warburton bit off a huge chunk of plot and could only chew parts of it.  They were good parts, but the loose endings felt frayed and made the plot seem less mature.  The title is also kind of anti-climactic.  "Witch Finder."  Ooh, spooky.  .... 

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.


Cover Love: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

cover love 
click the cover to learn more

check out Shae's Cover Love meme for more awesome art! 

WHOA.  I knew I had to read this book as soon a I saw the cover.  (Thankfully, the synopsis matched my expectations.)  For a book about slut-shaming and bullying, it's perfect.  Raw, edgy, objectifying.  It turns Alice into a sexualized silhouette surrounded by hate, suffocated by it.  I'm in love.  Not to mention the text art!  It reminds me of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I die for good text art.  It's so much cleaner and more powerful than your average picture-of-girl cover.  Rock on.  

x . x . x

You probably don't think of Phil Collins when you think of Disturbed.  You probably also don't think of quasi-political rock when you think of Phil Collins.  Let me expand your world!  This is one of my favorite Phil Collins (or Genesis?) songs and Disturbed faithfully replicates it with an edge and growl that only they can.  


Review: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor


title:  Days of Blood and Starlight

author:  Laini Taylor

pages: 517

format: Kindle

isbn/asin: 978-0316133975

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 The Lord of the Rings (and I don't say this lightly), The Chronicles of Narnia, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, and mythology.  

will i read this author again?:  Literally as soon as book 3 arrives at my doorstep.  
will i continue the series?:  A thousand times yes.  Don't make it end. :( 

My Ratings Explained

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

take home message
The best of contemporary fantasy. Taylor's artistic voice and meticulous presentation make for a book that reads like a legend yet-to-be. Gorgeously written, tightly plotted, atmospheric and devastating--an instant fantasy classic. No joke.  

the basics
I actually gave Daughter of Smoke and Bone a 4.  There was some insta-love.  The reincarnation dilemma bugged me.  I maybe had a tiny seizure.  Whatever happened between book 1 and book 2 turned my estimation from a clever, atmospheric fantasy to one of my favorite series on the market.  Blood and Starlight preserves what I loved in its predecessor while improving on points that concerned me.  Karou gains ground in her new role, displaying a vulnerability and indomitable strength that won my easy support.  She also (in a victory for feminists and people in touch with reality) reacts to Akiva's actions in book 1 not as a lovestruck starling, but with the rage and ambivalence one would expect.  A rage that fuels their tortured reactions throughout the book.  It's just one example of the tightly woven plot.  Secrets are twined through and revealed with punch and shock.  Mik and Zuzanna, far from being cast aside, become integral to the story.  The relatively halved viewpoint of angels and chimaera raises the stakes to epic proportions, to a cross-world struggle colored by genocide, bloodlust, and hapless civilians puppeted by their leaders.  And the ending?  Oh, just wait.  

plot . 5/5
The plot takes on a farflung scope compared to Smoke and Bone.  We open with Karou smuggled away in Morocco in an abandoned kasbah, secret home to several dozen chimaera soldiers hiding from angelic persecution.  Karou has taken up Brimstone's reincarnation work in penance for her role in the destruction of the chimaera  homeland.  But she begins to feel more like prisoner than participant; Thiago is keeping secrets, and their brutal answers leave Karou to wonder which side is victim, which brutalizer.  In Eretz, the few chimaera are enslaved and feeling.  Akiva and his siblings are party to the horrific war crimes of their fellow soldiers--but not everyone agrees with the angelic emperor's thirst for genocide, and there are some who long for their lives more than for the chimaeras' extinction.  And on the outside, Zuzanna and Mik forsake their comfort to join their lost friend.  These plotlines thread in and out, switching between viewpoints and giving both the narrow plots of Karou and Akiva as well as the larger scope of the war.  Taylor masterfully juggles a world of characters without the plot feeling overwhelming, choppy, or draggy.  The end becomes a little slow towards the final chapters, but for the most part, I had to force myself to close the pages.  

One part I will comment on is the violence.  This isn't your magical, Harry Potter fantasy.  Think more Chuck Palahniuk.  There are gutwrenching descriptions of shattered bones and pierced hands.  Glasgow smiles.  Messages in blood.  Perhaps the most evocative scenes in the book involve rape.  There are several instances in which sexual assault, imagined or threatened, is a tactic.  There is also one horrific scene that faces rape unflinchingly and brutally.  I'm still out on my verdict of rape in literature.  It can be well done.  It can also be exploitative and gratuitous.  My leaning with this scene is towards powerful, given the emphasis on the horror and yet, inevitably, survival and empowerment.  But I will issue a massive trigger warning up front.  

concept . 5/5
I miss the wishes.  That said, the truly brilliant fantasy world introduced in Smoke and Bone reaches a golden age here.  Taylor doles out more of the chimaera lore, much more angel lore, and as a bonus, some beautiful additions of North African culture and history.  The chimaera and their rituals are given more depth (though we still don't know, why teeth?).  The angels, however, truly come into their own.  While Akiva's chapters before gave us hints of the angelic life, here Taylor introduces us fully to the mad emperor and his harem, the Misbegotten army of imperial bastard children, the elite Dominion army and its sadistic ruler, the long-lost Stelians who fled the imperial fold.  Rarely does a world feel so realized and fluid with so few info-dumps and hitches.  And added to the mix is a beautifully nuanced exploration of war--from the soldiers at the front lines, the hapless civilians, and the leaders pulling the strings.  No simple good and evil for Taylor.   

characters . 5/5
I adore them even more than I did.  Karou has shed any of her Mary Sueness and becomes a flawed, changed, dynamic figure.  Her experiences have given her vulnerability and also persistence.  She's still snarky, snappish, and devilishly sarcastic.  She also proves her mettle both magically and emotionally.  Then there's Zuzanna, tiny and feisty, who won my heart all over again with her tenacity and loyalty in the face of strangeness, horror, and non-dead bodies.  (I almost died when the chimaera called her "neek neek!")  We also get more of Mik, who endeared himself to me with his mixture of sarcasm and romanticism, but without any of the unhealthy obsession that often comes along.   Then we get more of both the angels and chimaera.  Akiva gains some depth to temper his strong-and-silent image into something more real, and his siblings Liraz and Hazael both become multidimensional people rather than the avengers of Book 1.  On the other side, we have Thiago, the coldly manipulative warrior, Ziri the haplessly sweet Kirin, and a smattering of other chimaera.  One thread even follows two young chimaera escaping from the slave carts; I could have done without it, but it was also nice to see the happenings in Eretz from multiple perspectives.  Not all the side characters are given as much personality as I'd like, particularly the other chimaera soldiers and the imperial brothers.  

style . 5/5
Taylor's style makes me weep for beauty and jealousy all at once.  She writes like a poem, with precise word choices, metaphors I'd never dream, and breath-stoppingly gorgeous descriptions of people and places.  Her description of the kasbah alone was worth multiple highlights.  She manages to write in a way that's accessible for teens but also richly layered and more elevated than your usual young adult book.  It matches the fantasy perfectly, adding a layer of atmosphere as only language can.  At times, it's devastating.    

mechanics . 5/5
The shifts and flashbacks were much better this time.  Rather than huge flashback chunks, any flashbacks and point of view shifts were in smaller bites and rotated pretty regularly between speakers.  It was much easier to keep up with the actions, even though sometimes I tired through one chapter of a speaker I cared less about, eager to resolve the cliffhanger from the last chapter.  

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


Art: New tablet sketch, random redhead


My newest attempt at sketching straight from the tablet!  Unlike my picture of Celaena from Throne of Glass, this was entirely sketched digitally, rather than using an imported sketch.  I'm getting better at lines, yay!  But I got super lazy with the hair.  :P  Once I get the hang of this, I'll start doing some of the sketches I've wanted to do of book characters.  Top on the list right now are Celaena, Nyx from Cruel Beauty, Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Ana from Incarnate, Morpheus from Splintered, Cinder from Cinder, and we'll go from there. (: 


Musing: 20 years later, Kurt Cobain


february 20, 1967 - april 5, 1994

I was the fringe of the Nirvana craze.  I was four when he died.  The Kurt I knew was in photographs, songs in the radio that I slowly pieced together as belonging to the same voice, and a general aura of legend that shrouded his voice in whispers.  I knew him in the feedback and off-key chords of "Aneurysm."  The repressed self-hatred in "Lithium."  And, of course, the tortured growls of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  I can't claim Kurt like the 80s kids who moshed at his concerts and slammed to their knees after that most dreaded press release.  

But I can claim what he gave me.  Hours of peace to stave off the tumult.  Lines of comfort and devastating sad empathy.  An ear for troubled prayers.  Kurt and Nirvana were and are the anthem for internal chaos.  For pain and confusion.  For disillusionment and a subsiding ache.  Nirvana buoyed me through moments of deep depression and crippling self-doubt.  There will never be enough words to show gratitude for that debt.  I can only wish that, in the end, Kurt had found for himself what he has been to me.  

Peace, love, Nirvana. 


C.J.'s favorite Nirvana songs, 
in relative order 

Drain You 
Smells Like Teen Spirit
You Know You're Right 
Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle 
The Man Who Sold the World (even though it's a cover) 
Something in the Way 



ARC Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira


title:  Love Letters to the Dead

author:  Ava Dellaira

pages: 323

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0374346676

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 John Green (Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars), Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and Tess Sharpe (Far From You).  [Trigger warning] 

will i read this author again?:  Yes, can I have it now? 
will i continue the series?:  N/A

My Ratings Explained

It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path.

take home message
Love Letters heralds a new god in fiction.  Deeply poignant, reliant on interest in humans rather than mysteries or monsters, it follows one remarkable girl on a journey of healing, letting go, and learning to be herself.  And it manages to avoid the groaning cliches that often go alongside that.  

the basics
For some reason, it took me a beat to really mesh with this book.  I blame the hype.  When a book is touted by Stephen Chbosky, Jay Asher, Laurie Halse Anderson, Gayle Forman, and Lauren Myracle...well, I found myself clinging to each detail, expecting the same perfection as Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Then I let myself open up to the story, and Love Letters stole my breath.  In a collection of variously simple and starkly profound letters, Dellaira tells the story of a broken girl grasping for her shattered idols--inevitably discovering the cracks in the idols, and through this, finding her own strength.  Laurel's voice is a sweet mix of lingering naivete and too-soon maturity.  Her friends and family are captured as truly real in themselves, not props but players in a mad act.  And the letters themselves juxtapose the tragedies of idols past with the tragedy of May, both illuminating Laurel's idolatry of her sister and cleverly showing the progression of Laurel's understanding.  It's a book of tragedies and first loves.  Of the fears that slice between people.  Dellaira, in striking deep into the heart of tough issues and baring them bald, has created a truly real tale of heartache and redemption.  

Warning: This will be a long review.  

plot . 5/5
Write a letter to a dead person.  An easy assignment, charged with extra layers for Laurel.  We know that she's lost her sister.  That she's living between her dad's house and her aunt's; her mother has run off to California.  That she's starting over at a new school where memories can't touch her.  Or, that's the hope.  The plot lazes along between present day and flashbacks--not slow-paced or boring, but languid, as a dream.  Laurel meets Natalie and Hannah, Tristen and Kristen, people who accept her immediately despite her quietness and secrets.  People who also have their own problems, which get as much well-deserved space as Laurel's.  It's a life book.  A plot of normal things made extraordinary by Dellaira's writing.  Some events were maybe too Wallflower-esque (the letter burning), but Dellaira made them her own.  

The first layer of plot is simply Laurel and her friends learning how to be, by themselves and with each other.  Laurel's first shy romance with Sky.  Two of Laurels friends struggling between love and propriety.  Two others dealing with their own upcoming loss.  The other layer is family.  Laurel feeling her mother's abandonment, her father's devastation, her aunt's struggle to be strong when her own heart is breaking.  Then there is May.  The diary-like details of the present are interwoven with memories of Laurel's childhood, beginning with the fairy tale happiness and slowly winding towards the dark final days that lingered at the back of my mind and pulled me along with morbid fascination.  It's not an adventurous plot.  There's no murder mystery, no crazy happenings.  It's a series of events in the life of a troubled highschooler, and her slow progress towards peace.   

concept . 4/5
The epistolary is not new.  Chbosky did it.  I could probably name others once the ibuprofen kicks in.  It's a used concept.  Dellaira freshens it up by having Laurel write her letters to a variety of dead people--specifically, famous people, specifically famous people who died tragic and untimely deaths.  I mean, I'll admit.  I saw Kurt Cobain and a bit of my heart was already on Dellaira's side.  This format has two fantastic effects.  One, in writing to these people instead of to May, Laurel reveals her feelings for her sister more slowly, and also reveals her ambivalence about her sister long before she admits it.  Two, the tragic lives of these figures are a fitting comparison to May's, and it allows Laurel to first be angry at them and realize their faults before she's ready to recognize May's.  

Then, there were two pieces that didn't work.  One was the extensive exposition about each dead person; literally, Laurel telling them about their own lives.  Helpful if you weren't familiar with the person, but ultimately ripped me out of the story and became annoying.  Second problem was something I identified back when this book was a blurb.   Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, and Amy Winehouse work.  They're 27 Club.  They're modern and mixed-up and tragic.  They're druggies and misunderstood teen idols.  However, Amelia Earhart, Elizabeth Bishop, and Allen Lane don't work.  They're a different breed.  They seem to be convenient rather than strictly foils for May.  I definitely didn't feel as much power from their letters.  

characters . 5/5
The characters feel like real memories from Dellaira's head.  Laurel is half naive, half mature, clinging to childhood and forced into the future.  She's afraid to face her own fears, and this is a problem that drives her narrative and affects everyone around her.  She's also endearing from the start.  Her closest friends, Hannah and Natalie, are quirky in a way book characters can be, but not far off from someone you might have known in high school.  Burnouts.  Dreamers without a cause.  People with their own secrets.  Sky as love interest is very similar, with a bit of the mysterious bad boy appeal without all the cliched trappings.  He's also not afraid to stand his ground or call Laurel on her bullshit.  Then there's family.  Instead of being far-off parental figures, Laurel's mom and are given their own unique pain and plots.  Her dad, the lapsed jokester, bereft.  Her mom, fleeing her pain to the ocean.  Then Aunt Amy, lovelorn spinster struggling for meaning in God.  And May.  Beautiful, broken May.  Dellaira could easily have written a book about any of these people.  

style . 5/5
The style is a balm that eased most of my complaints.  Dellaira is just so damn talented.  She manages a rare feat, which is being poetic and poignant while still staying within the scope of what a teenager might say.  It requires her to be clever with her metaphors and musings.  In the end, some of those simpler statements feel as profound as anything more "adult."  She truly has a grasp of language and atmosphere that's often sought and rarely achieved.  I'd read her prose without a plot.  

mechanics . 5/5
Letters or diaries can be annoying.  You miss pieces in between.  You're starting over in every section.  Dellaira uses these features to her advantage.  You don't need to know everything that happened between letters.  Laurel gives you the important bits; your brain fills in the rest.  And for a book with an easy-moving plot, it feels fast.  Maybe some would be bored; I never was.  There's always something happening, some drama, some worry, even if it's not explosive.  My favorite?  The epilogue.  It's a clever and very necessary touch that wraps the whole story together.  

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.