Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Book review: Loud Awake and Lost by Adele Griffin

Recently I've noticed an uptick in the Girl Almost Dies and Wakes Up with No Memory trope in YA... and nothing about that has struck me as particularly interesting. Main character has amnesia, must uncover the deep dark truths of her fractured past. Must drag reader along through the bumbling, emotional journey. For the most part, no thanks, but the publisher of Loud Awake and Lost graciously provided me with a complimentary Advanced Reader Copy, so I decided to give at least this one amnesia book a shot.

Ember's returning home after months of rehabilitation after an almost fatal car accident. After multiple surgeries, morphine drips, physical therapy, and work with a counselor to help her grapple with her body (and mind's) recovering wounds, Ember is thrown back into her high school life. But who was she before the accident? Everything at home is familiar--same best friend, boyfriend, teachers--but what's missing are the six weeks leading up to her accident... and apparently those were defining weeks for her, a time when she had begun to cast aside the people she's now become reunited with. But why? Much to Ember's family and friends' chagrin, Ember begins to seek out the triggers that might help her to regain those lost memories.

Adele Griffin's Loud Awake and Lost wasn't bad. I'd probably classify it as a beach read, a nice in-between read when you need something "light" and "fast-paced", both of which are good adjectives to describe this book. I zipped along through this book pretty quickly and was interested enough in the story and satisfied with the quality of writing.

The only problem with this book was the big "twist" at the end, which was painfully obvious from the beginning. It was a tad tedious to read the entire story knowing what the big reveal would be... and having nothing else in the story built up other than that one thread. Everything else going on was two-dimensional and felt like filler-detail. By the time I got to the reveal at the end (and I was hoping that perhaps there'd be some additional element that I hadn't guessed) it felt anti-climactic and limp.

I actually don't mind predictable books, in fact I prefer them (I'm really not a big Mystery genre fan, except when the occasional mood strikes me), but if a book's predictable there needs to be something else to the story that adds some meaning for the reader who has already figured out what will happen. Some passionate, tense romance (not really here, except some moments of insta-love), some impressive character development that bonds the reader to the protagonist (I liked Ember, but her passion for cooking wasn't as played up as it could have been), or a strong friendship (Ember spends most of the book acknowledging that Rachel's her bestie... but the story's too wrapped up in Ember's personal journey to spend time highlighting that bond).

Overall, Loud Awake and Lost was an okay book. It's a quick read and if you don't pick up on what's really going on until the end it will probably blow you away. But if, like me, you pin down what Ember's past was from the get-go... there really isn't much more to the story.

Rating: *** (3)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book review: Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

I loved A Great and Terrible Beauty and I was in the mood for a little Libba Bray last week so I picked up a copy of Rebel Angels. While it was a little slower in the beginning and there were some plot twists that seemed a bit contrived, overall it picked up and was engaging and propelled the characters' story arc along enough for me to want to read the next book in the trilogy.

The holidays are upon Gemma and her friends Felicity and Ann and soon they'll be able to escape Spence Academy for some much needed vacation time to spend with families and attend holiday balls. Yet the girls still struggle with the loss of Pippa and Gemma in particular feels the pang of guilt for Ms. Moore's dismissal from the Academy. There's also a mysterious replacement for Ms. Moore who Gemma doesn't quite trust, a new suitor that would mean a boost in society for Gemma, mysterious visions, and a newfound source of information on The Order. The girls must juggle obstacles both at home and in the Realms in order to bind the magic and undermine Circe.

I liked that much of the book took place outside of Spence. We get to see Gemma's interaction with her father, brother, and the social circle in London and we get more background on Felicity and Ann and why their personalities are the way they are. While the beginning was a bit slow I felt the story really started to pick up once Gemma was home in London and had more freedom to research The Order and touch base with Kartik. However I did feel like there were some holes in the story, promises were made in the Realms and then never acted upon and characters were introduced but then didn't seem to function for anything other than a plot twist at the end that made them a moot point... But perhaps those characters will play a larger role in the next book, The Sweet Far Thing, and if this book and the one before it are any indication, then it won't disappoint!

Rating: **** (4)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Book review: Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs

Modern day descendants of Medusa here in San Francisco? YES.

I'm not much for Urban Fantasy usually, but this Urban Fantasy YA had such awesome character development I really couldn't set it aside. As I've mentioned before in previous reviews, in my opinion, one of the hardest things to do as a writer is to develop more than one main character that's distinct enough in its point of view to carry its own portions of the story, but even harder is making those layered, distinct characters interesting enough that the reader won't start flipping through any of their chapters in order to get back to the one they actually care about. Tera Lynn Childs pulls this technique off quite well--and not with just two main characters--but three!

Grace moves to San Francisco, ready for a fresh start at a new school and a chance to reinvent herself. She doesn't realize just how much reinventing she'll be doing though until she comes face-to-face with a minotaur. But perhaps just as startling as said minotaur wrecking havoc: a twin minotaur-fighting sister. Enter Gretchen.

While Grace is a misfit girl in the city just trying to make everyone (including herself) happy, Grace is a misanthropic Buffy-type who fights monsters at night and can barely keep her eyes propped open in her classes during the day. She's been flying solo for a while so the introductions with Grace are anything but warm.

Did I say twin? I meant triplet. Lastly, Greer is discovered. She's a preppy girl who wants nothing to do with her monster-fighting, lunatic sisters. But something's not right lately, suddenly there are more monsters than usual roaming the city and the girls realize that perhaps now is not the time for sibling rivalry.

While the writing isn't great (it's pretty simplistic) and I felt the plot was minimal (a lot of set-up without any real plot twists), the characters were interesting enough to carry the story along. By the end you're curious as to what exactly the girls have gotten themselves into. If you're looking for an Urban Fantasy series to latch onto, look no further.

Rating: *** (3)


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Blog Tour: Q&A with Michaela MacColl & Nobody's Secret excerpt!

I am excited to be participating in the blog tour for Michaela MacColl's new book, Nobody's Secret, which is a fabulous YA book that I highly recommend. A very quick read!




About the Book
By Michaela MacColl
$16.99
Ages 12 and Up
April 2013


One day, fifteen-year-old Emily Dickinson meets a mysterious, handsome young man. Surprisingly, he doesn’t seem to know who she or her family is. And even more surprisingly, he playfully refuses to divulge his name. Emily enjoys her secret flirtation with Mr. “Nobody” until he turns up dead in her family’s pond. She’s stricken with guilt. Only Emily can discover who this enigmatic stranger was before he’s condemned to be buried in an anonymous grave. Her investigation takes her deep into town secrets, blossoming romance, and deadly danger. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, this novel celebrates Emily Dickinson’s intellect and spunk in a page-turner of a book that will excite fans of mystery, romance, and poetry alike.

"MacColl skillfully draws from Dickenson’s life to create a vision of the young poet as sharp-thinking, nature-obsessed, and determinedly curious..." --Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"A suspenseful, often humorous historical novel... MacColl demonstrates how accessible Dickinson's poetry was." --Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review

“This imaginative take on the young poet... will find a wide audience for both classroom connections and personal reading.” --Booklist

“MacColl takes a character that most people do not really know much about and brings her to life... fun, interesting reading” --VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates


   

About Michaela MacColl
Michaela MacColl studied multi-disciplinary history at Vassar College and Yale University, which turns out to be the perfect degree for writing historical fiction. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and three extremely large cats in Connecticut









Also by Michaela MacColl:

































Q&A with Michaela MacColl
1. What inspired you to write Nobody’s Secret? Was it an idea that had been marinating for a while or did it come to you all at once?
I love historical mysteries and I wanted to write one.  For preference about the childhood of a famous writer.  I’ve always liked Emily Dickinson and she seemed to fit the bill – particularly since her reclusive adult life is so famous – I wanted to show a different side to Emily. 
Once I had chosen Emily, I needed a murder victim. For that I turned to her poetry. One of my favorite poems is “I’m Nobody, Who are You? / Are you Nobody too?”  The poem is about Emily’s need for anonymity and solitude – but still she’s speaking to someone! Who? Who inspired the poem? Might she have cared for him? Perhaps we have no record of him because something happened to him?  What ifs and Perhaps are the way I design a book.

2. What was the process writing Nobody’s Secret like? Did you plot out the whole book first and then write? Or did the story and characters come to you as you wrote? Some combination?

For me the mystery is the hard part. I play with a lot of ideas and write out lots of little descriptions (like when the detective at the end reveals all). Then I start to write. For me the hardest part is the first chapter. Once I write that and have the tone and character’s voice --- then I outline the rest.  I find that writing the outline enough – I usually don’t look at it again. 

I do a lot of reading about my character and I’m always looking for interested characters I can use. In Nobody’s Secret, there’s a quirky Doctor and an impressive clergyman who were friends of the Dickinson family in real life.  Then I need to invent other characters to forward my plot.  Somehow it all comes together!


3. What made you decide to build a character around someone that existed in real life? Was this limiting at all? Or did you feel like it prompted creativity?
So far all my books have been about the adolescence of famous women.  I love melding factual details about real people with a story that I get to make up.  I read diaries, letters, poetry – anything I can find to hear my character’s voice.  It is limiting in the sense that I can’t have my protagonist do anything anachronistic or out of her real character. On the other hand, I think I’ve got a flair for introducing kids to these famous people in an accessible and engaging way.  

4. How many revisions of the manuscript did you go through?
I pride myself on very tight plotting so when I deliver the manuscript the story is pretty set.  My editor and I did three revisions, none of them major, before we delivered the book to the copy editor. 

5. How did you come to be published by Chronicle Books? 
Victoria Rock is my editor at Chronicle. She bought my first and second books (Prisoners in the Palace (2011) and Promise the Night (2011)).  We worked well together and I loved the final results. The designers and marketing/publicity team at Chronicle are great to work with too. So it was an easy decision to pitch my literary mystery series to Chronicle. Fortunately, they liked the idea.

6. What was it like working with your editor on this project? Was it collaborative? 
Victoria is a super-respectful editor. She suggests changes or just highlights areas that she feels don’t quite work.  A few times I’ve stubbornly dug in my heels and fought her on something (for four revisions!) until I gave in and tried her way. She was absolutely right! So I’ve learned to trust her. I think she trusts me – so collaborative is a good word.

7. What advice would you give to YA writers? 
Read. Read everything. But especially read in your genre.  It’s hard enough to publish a book. Why hurt your chances by writing a book that’s too similar to other books out there? You want to make it easy for your editor or agent to pitch your book as special. 

8. What is your favorite scene in Nobody’s Secret?
I’m partial to the first chapter – it’s a romantic start and for me it set Emily’s personality immediately.  She’s playing hooky from chores and lying in a meadow hoping a bee will land on her nose. You see, she wants to know how it feels.  When she meets a handsome stranger, not only does he understand what she’s doing, he dabs a bit of honey on her nose to help a bee find its way to her nose.  (The honey becomes a clue!)

9. What book is sitting on your nightstand right now?
I’m reading Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Laurie’s a friend and I’m blown away at how she nails the voice of a young black slave during the American Revolution.

10. Where is your favorite reading spot?
My living room has the comfiest couch on the planet and big picture windows that look out into the woods. It’s a peaceful place. (And there’s usually at least one cat sleeping next to me)

Nobody's Secret Book Trailer:



Interested? Read an excerpt!:



Thirsty for more? Check out the next tour stop!


Now BUY it online!


Friday, April 12, 2013

Book review: Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

Why are you even reading this review? If you know me at all you know it's just going to be a major gush-fest over Cassandra Clare and how much I love her books. This trilogy has been the first thing that has filled the void left by Harry Potter. The writing is witty, the world building is awesome and detailed, scenes are haunting, characters are fleshed out and tangible, and when I read these books I feel like I want to jump into them physically and I have major book-hangovers whenever I finish one.

Clockwork Princess of course did not disappoint and rounded out the prequel trilogy perfectly and set me up ready to continue on with the series proper: The Mortal Instruments. Mortmain abducts Tessa. Jem and Will fight for her (and over her of course). And Tessa grows as an individual and meets her enemies head-on. I couldn't put this book down.

If you haven't read this series: do so. Now.

Rating: ***** (5)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book review: Lean In, Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

I cannot sing the praises of this book enough. If you are woman: read this book. If you are a man: read this book. If you are a robot: buy this book for all your human friends. This book is so, so important right now, whether you agree with everything Sandberg says about women, our society, career-building, misogyny, men, etc. or not... you need to absolutely read this book regardless, it's going to be one of those classic non-fiction books that defines the era.

I'm very selective about the non-fiction I read. I'm primarily a fiction reader, but I have that short internal list of topics that just never get old for me to read about. In history it's the Salem Witch trials and Victorian era. In self-help it's anything career-oriented, elitist, or those narcissistic psychology topics (you know the ones that tell you why you have certain personality traits, why you like certain ice cream flavors, what mental illnesses you have that are undiagnosed, and what your learning style is). And feminism. I just love feminist books, it's one of the most intricate, complicated, interesting topics to read about. What is feminism exactly? Everyone has a different definition and everyone has a different perspective, and feminism applies to just about every aspect of our lives and is different in every culture. Thus making it some of the most interesting reading material. You could read anything from biographies of feminist lady political leaders around the world to a book that debates the societal pressures on mothers deciding between breast-feeding and bottle-feeding their newborns.

And now I'm going to go off on a personal tangent so if you want to skip this paragraph and get on with reading my review, do so now. I had a circuitous path to becoming a feminist. Honestly, I never, ever would have labeled myself as such growing up, clear into high school. I'd always been a strong-willed person in school and since nobody had ever literally slapped a "No Girls Allowed" sign on the door of something I wanted to participate in, I never understood what all these women were complaining about. What do you mean women's rights? We can vote. We can go to school. We can do all the same things men can do if we really want to. Sounds like a bunch of bitching to me. And that's probably the impression most people who don't read a single book on feminism or take a single Women's Studies class have. Or worse, they have the anti-bra, anti-hygiene image burned into their mind. Huh? That's really not what feminism is about at all. Perhaps on the surface those things fall under the heading. But, at least as much as I've discovered, feminism is a MUCH more nuanced area of study and is much more involved with how hegemonic perceptions and preconceived notions affect women and often hinder if not stifle their ability to compete. And once I got to college I started noticing feminist issues popping up everywhere and I started seeing threads of feminism in literature that I read and I started taking classes and reading articles and realizing there was much, much more to it than I'd ever realized. Why did my dad never explain the rules of football to me until I explicitly asked? Why was it that when I planned a romantic surprise birthday dinner for my boyfriend, he refused to let me pay at the end of the meal? What compelled me to bring cookies to work to win the favor of my co-workers? Why did I always have a nagging voice at the back of my head asking me how X decision was going to affect my chances of meeting someone with husband-potential? Why was I in such a hurry to graduate early and start my career as quickly as possible? Why did I keep a list of baby names I like in the back of the Moleskine wallet I carried everywhere even though I'd never liked children? How come every time I went to a family function my relatives tried to get me to hold a baby? Why did my mother push so many goddamn Babysitter's Club books and Nancy Drew mysteries in my direction despite my finding them mind-numbingly boring? Why do people call Anna Wintour a bitch, but Steve Jobs is a visionary? What was going on in all of these situations? There are so many aspects of our lives that misogyny has seeped into and it's so, so much more complicated and frankly sneaky-covert that much of it flies right under the radar of those who haven't trained themselves to stop and ask again: what is really going on here? Why does baking cookies for my co-workers strike me as a good way to impress people, but never dawns on Bob, Mike, or Joe as something they should do?

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is a wonderful, sharp, quick read that tackles one aspect of the feminist issue: what we can do as individual women, what are the subtle changes we can make in our daily lives, that will help us succeed and help our society turn over a new leaf eventually? Sandberg offers anecdotes (some of them her personal stories, some of them from other women) about the subtle ways women have learned to hold themselves back without even realizing it. Behavior that we don't even realize we're engaging in most the time and behavior that many men see no problem in reinforcing with us instead of addressing head on. Many of the things Sandberg pointed out were little, miniscule-seeming things that I'd even done time and time again without thinking. But they build up over time. She points them out, points out how they're really perceived (yoohoo! Baking cookies doesn't prove anything about your business acumen, unless you're working in a bakery) and how making decisions that curb your career progress early on (maybe you don't take that job clear across the country or take that promotion that requires longer working hours because you're afraid it'll impact your ability to start a family later on) will only make it harder for you when you actually do start a family. You often have a lot more flexibility with your job the higher up you are (I mean, if anything, you should be racing to the top of the corporate ladder so you can afford child care and that designer baby bag later on). Or maybe you should really ask yourself why you want kids. And you shouldn't be turning your nose up at stay-at-home moms or dads either because we're all in this together and everyone should be able to choose the life they want and be respected for it.

I could go on and on about all the interesting points brought up in this book (wait, what?! I never thought about it that way... but yeah, I guess doing that DOES make me look wishy-washy instead of dedicated...) But regardless of what I think, pick up a copy and go read it for yourself.

Rating: ***** (5) 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Under Shifting Glass by Nicky Singer

Nicky Singer seems to be one of those authors that writes BEAUTIFUL prose... but has no idea what to do with it...

In the midst of family emergency and heartache Jess discovers a mysterious glass flask that seems to have a life of its own.

I'm going to keep this review brief. Like I said, beautiful, beautiful prose that touches your emotions and all five of your senses, but honestly... the story and the characters fell very flat for me. There was nothing about this story that compelled me to keep reading other than to enjoy the way she wrote. Not necessarily what she was writing about. The mysterious flask was just not mysterious enough for me. And while I felt for Jess and her family, I didn't feel connected to her emotionally, nor any of the other characters.

Rating: *** (3)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan


I had mixed feelings when reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth. It was both what I expected, and different than how I expected. The first half of the story, about a village isolated and fenced off from zombies, barely hovering in existence through strict prayer and encouragement of procreation was as I expected. The tones (solemn) and the pace (you can't tear your eyes away from the page) were what I expected from The Forest of Hands and Teeth as well. What surprised me was the lack of character development, and in some places just wishy-washy character development, and of course, the intense melodramatic narration throughout.

Mary lives in a secluded village surrounded by a fence that keeps encroaching zombies at bay and is reigned over by the wisdom and strict religious fervor of The Sisterhood and The Guardians. Mary's mother has always taught her that before there were zombies there were skyscraper buildings and the ocean, a vast expanse of salt water. Mary grows up believing in these tales and clinging to them with more faith than she does to God. When Mary's mother is infected and cast out among the Unconsecrated zombies, Mary's world crumbles and she is adopted into The Sisterhood when nobody steps forward to claim her as a betrothed. But The Sisterhood has many secrets, and between falling in love with her best friend's betrothed and discovering that perhaps she's not meant to live a life in the village--that perhaps she's meant to seek the ocean--Mary begins to question everything she has grown up being told was true about her world. 

Most of the time I was reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth I was gripping the edge of some nearby piece of furniture and shouting "what are you doing Mary?!" She is definitely the girl in horror-slasher movies that decides to go up the stairs to find out what that chainsaw sound was instead of running out the front door screaming bloody murder. Too many times Mary "no longer cared" who could hear her, or would toss herself into danger's way because she was emotionally distraught or fed up with the way of the world, etc. My disappointment with The Forest of Hands and Teeth, aside from being a little over-the-top in the drama department, was the character development. There isn't a whole lot of it and at times the characters' personalities flip-flip around and seem superficial. All-in-all, The Forest of Hands and Teeth is one of those books I would recommend reading on a long plane ride because the pacing is so breakneck that it makes the time reading it fly by, but the story is simple and straightforward enough that if the person next to you has a screaming infant and the flight attendants use the intercom as Open Mic Night, you're still able to keep focus on where the plot is going. 

Rating: *** (3)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Feature & Follow #135

Q: Happy Mardi Gras! If they were throwing the HOTTEST books off of a Mardi Gras float--what would you do to have them throw to you…?


A: Cassandra Clare books! All the books in both The Mortal Instruments series and The Infernal Devices series! Woo!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #6: Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike



"Waiting on Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where we all feature upcoming books we're eagerly anticipating.

Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

Release date: April 30, 2013


"Moving to a new high school sucks. Especially a rich-kid private school. With uniforms. But nothing is worse than finding out the first girl you meet is dead. And a klepto. 

No one can see or hear Kimberlee except Jeff, so--in hopes of bringing an end to the snarkiest haunting in history--he agrees to help her complete her "unfinished business." But when the enmity between Kimberlee and Jeff's new crush, Sera, manages to continue posthumously, Jeff wonders if he's made the right choice.

Clash meets sass in this uproarious modern-day retelling of Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel." from Goodreads


I love it already! This book sounds unique (I love retellings!), light, and fun. What a perfect fit for a nice refreshing Springtime read.