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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Books of February 2012

Yowza, look how short that list is!! And I can't even blame it on a short month because I know I wouldn't be able to finish another book even if I had an extra 2 days. So what have I been doing? Writing. Yes, writing. Which I suppose is a good thing. I'm about 75% done with my first draft of Rum Runners (new title!!) and hope to finish it by the end of next month. Then it will be revising and sending off to beta readers and more revising. Hopefully by summer I can start querying again. Hopefully. Until then I think my reading lists are going to suffer a bit, but I'm going to make an extra effort to post more reviews so I hope you stay tuned for those!

12. The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab* This is a very different sort of witch story, told in a simpler time and setting. Given all the contemporary-setting witch stories out there, I appreciated that change of pace. I loved the flow, the prose, and the heroine is pretty tough. I thought the romance came a little too quickly and for little reason, but overall it was a fine read.
13. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater* For those of you who've read Stiefvater's Shiver series, this is VERY different though it still has the rich description and slower pace of MS's works. I personally loved the concept of the water horses and the love interest kept me sighing, but I know that others have been just luke warm to it.
14. Miles From Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams Okay, I read this about 3 weeks ago and looking at the title now, I can barely recall what it was about. Obviously it left a big impression. :( ..... Oh, okay, now it's coming back to me. *sigh* I really loved CLW's The Chosen One, but this story doesn't pack that same edge of your seat pow as that one did. It's basically about a girl whose mother is a bit crazy and she's left on her own to deal with it. Some of the prose is lovely, but the overall story just didn't do it for me. Still, I will probably check out more from this author.

15. Babe In Boyland by Jody Gehrman* This was such a fun read! It's about a girl who decides to dress up as a boy and enter an all boy's school so that she can write a first hand account of what boys really mean when they say things like "I'll call you". The plot was fairly predictable, but the voice really snagged me. I loved some of the awkward scenes, like when the MC describes how she felt going into a boy's bathroom and having to pretend that she was all cool with some urinal small talk. I seriously lol'd sometimes. Awesome, fun read.
16. Twin Cities Prohibition, Minnesota's Blind Pigs and Bootleggers by Elizabeth Johanneck Another book for my research that showcased many things I already knew. I appreciated learning a few new things though, like about the Federal Reserve and some early, early MN history (pre-20th century), but overall, I thought it was quite repetitive of what's already out there.  I do appreciate the author's enthusiasm for MN history though and she seems to have a pretty awesome website that I will be frequenting.
17. Crossed by Ally Condie* The sequel to Matched is very much a middle book. Our heroine shows more of her strength and we learn a bit more about the dystopian society outside the city. The ending was the biggest surprise to me, but I won't say why unless you ask. Still planning to read the last book.

18. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson ** Wow, is this my only double star book this month? Hmm... didn't even realize that til just now. I LOVED the main character of this book. I felt like I could relate to her despite the fact that she was a princess, and I admired her strength. I LOVED the setting and the description, and I LOVED the messages about religion and  wars that trickle through. My full review is here.
19. The Weepers by Susanne Winnacker This one had a pretty huge creep factor going for it, but overall it just wasn't for me.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review - The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

I had intended to read this one slowly, but last night I found myself reading past 8 pm, past 10 pm, then I just thought, what the hell, I only have 100 pages left. Might as well finish it. And what a finish!! Rae Carlson delivered an ending that was both exhilarating and poignant. As the story is about a war, it was true to life. But I get ahead of myself.

Elisa is a character that I warmed to right away. She may have been a pampered princess, but I liked her personality. She was kind and sweet, but she also had fire and determination. Married off to a king she's never met, Elisa doesn't quite know what's expected of her. But her own expectations, of being treated like a queen, quickly vanish when her husband asks her to keep their marriage a secret. Elisa's confusion and humiliation are quick. It was so easy to imagine what this young girl was going through, even though, you know, I'm not a princess or anything. :)  Elisa let's us see thought that she's not someone to underestimate, even while she has her own doubts. As the story progresses, Elisa's strength of character grows and the book really becomes a coming of age story as well as an exciting fantasy adventure.

The secondary characters in the story were also well done, especially the character of Cosette. Aside: oh how I want to write a book with a character named Cosette!! :) Cosette comes to us first as Elisa's maid, but we soon learn there is much more to this young lady. She's also a travel guide, spy, doctor, and eventually... well, I don't want to give too many spoilers. I liked Cosette's toughness and how Elisa eventually breaks into that toughness to find a friend. Then there's Cosette's brother, Humberto who eventually becomes a love interest. Humberto seems less complex than his sister, and even somewhat more of a friend than suitor at times, but I still enjoyed him. King Alejandro - gosh how I wanted to like him. He seemed so nice at times and I don't quite blame Elisa for wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt. I can see how a sixteen year old girl, naive to the ways of the world, could find herself falling for him; I probably would too.

It's not mentioned in the summary above, but there's an element of religion in this book that is profound while at the same time being understated, if that means any sense. There are no judgments, lessons etc., but there are some very clear messages presented that rang true for me. At one point, Elisa ponders how it is that everyone has their own clear "interpretation" of the holy words, yet she, as the bearer of the Godstone, has no idea what God means for her or her people. She also questions whether some of the enemy may have at one point been "chosen" as well, thereby acknowledging that they might not be as evil as everyone thinks. She contends that even in the midst of war, when there are those who are using God's gifts to conquer and expand their wealth, that the lives of the enemy are also a great loss.  There was so much to relate to here without feeling that over-bearing push you get with some authors who are trying to sell their religion. It's not what I expected with a fantasy, but it didn't feel at all out of place either.

As far as the writing, while I wasn't swooning over sentences, the author does an excellent job with visuals. The book feels like it's set in some part of Mexico, what with the names and descriptions, and it often gave me that sense of being transported to another world. The book was long, but I can't say that I was ever bored at any point - the plot moves along at a quick pace with twists and turns and many outcomes that I really didn't expect. 

Overall, this story is a win for me and I look forward to reading more of this series.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cover reveal of My Heart Be Damned by Chanelle Gray

Isn't it gorgeous? I love the graveyard setting - and the knife! Read on to see what this book is about and then follow this link to enter some cool contests with lots of free swag like books and agent critiques!!

If you're a Hunter, there are only three things you must know about the Damned. The Damned can't lie, can't live without a body, and can't leave you alone.

Amerie Carter has the blood of a Hunter, unfortunately. She is one of a rare line of women who, upon her sixteenth birthday, will come into extraordinary powers used to hunt the Damned; escaped souls from Hell who take up residence in human bodies. It's supposed to be her sweet sixteen, but Amerie has never dreaded a day more, and her worst fears are confirmed as the celebration turns tragic when her mother is killed.

Grief-stricken, Amerie vows to never hunt a day in her life. She's determined to hide behind normalcy, attending school, hanging out with her friends and working an after-school job at The Hut. All Amerie wants is to be left alone. But try telling the Damned that. The harder Amerie tries to ignore her powers, the more the Damned come looking for her.

When an attack leaves one of Amerie's friends in the hospital, and endangers the lives of her fellow students, she knows she has no choice: Hunt or Be Hunted. Thankfully, the gorgeous, secretive, and so-off-limits Marshall offers to train Amerie to take out her supernatural enemies. But training with Marshall means leading lying to her friends, her family, and confronting the mysterious circumstances surrounding her mother’s death.

Amerie soon discovers she’s not the only one with something to hide, Marshall’s secrets might kill her before the Damned get the chance.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Empowerment project - from author Alina Klein

I have an amazing friend, guys. Her name is Alina B. Klein - @AlinaBKlein for you those of you who are twitter-pated. She's an author, a mother, and a gardening guru who feels completely at home holding a goat. But that's not what makes her amazing - even though those things in themselves put her pretty high on my list, especially the goat! What makes her amazing is that she's not afraid to talk about a truly awful thing that happened to her when she was a teen. She was raped. And she pressed charges. And she won a conviction. If that doesn't tell you something about her, then how about this? She's written a young adult book called RAPE GIRL, and in lieu of it's debut, she's started an empowerment project on her blog where rape survivors can write in and share their stories. The series will run weekly, so there are many chances to post and spread the word!  Please visit Alina at her blog, Tip Tap Typing on the Lunatic Fringe, if you're interested, or know someone who is interested, or even if you just know a teen because everyone ought to hear these stories, not for their tragic value but for how they show the strength of the human spirit.


Now how's that for a turn on words?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hey, all, the US version of Graffiti Moon comes out TOMORROW!!! Thought that I'd repost the review that I did several months ago. I LOVE this book. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!! 

(btw - continue to ignore the mess that is the blog). I am under construction. :)

"Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers."

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

My review: When I saw this book on Netgally, I did a little snoopy dance in my seat. I've been waiting forever to read this. It's been out in Australia for awhile (and been very well received), but it's scheduled for release in the US in February. But I didn't have to wait! I was so excited. Then I read the first page, and I did another Snoopy dance. First page = AMAZING. Indulge me for a minute.

I pedal fast. Down Rose Drive, where houses swim in pools of orange streetlight. Where people sit on verandas, hoping to catch a breeze. Let me make it in time. Please let me make it in time.  

Just arrived at the studio. Your graffiti guys Shadow and Poet are here, Al texted, and I took off across the night. Took off under a sky bleeding out and turning black. Left Dad sitting outside his shed yelling, "I thought you weren't meeting Jazz till later. Where's the fire, Lucy Dervish?"

In me. Under my skin. 

In me. Under my skin. At those words, I was hooked. And of course it just gets better from there. Lucy is the kind of character who's a little naive, a little of a romantic, and a little neurotic. I can relate. Ed is the kind of guy your heart aches for - brilliantly talented, misunderstood, and in desperate need of someone who will believe in him. I cheered for them both from the first page. I wanted them to get together in the worst way, and I can honestly say that I didn't know if that was going to happen or not. AND of course, I won't tell you if it does. That would break all the suspense, and Crowley does create a lot of suspense with her simple premise.  It just goes to show that you don't need car chases (although there is a bike chase in the book) and complex plots to make a good story.

There was more to this book than romance though. The story is told in alternating POV, and while I was sometimes thinking that Crowley spent too much time rehashing what had just happened, I thought it was generally well done. I did enjoy Ed's POV just a touch more. He's more angsty than Lucy, more at odds with the world, and I kind of felt like it was his story rather than theirs. I appreciated the somewhat darker themes that the book addresses, about kids who are sitting on the sidelines waiting for their lives to happen while others around them seem to have the world at their feet. Crowley reminds us that everyone has something to offer. The message isn't a hit you over the head type of thing - it just is what it is. I love books that can set you down in the real world while offering up a fun quirky story. Hats off to Crowley for accomplishing this with elegant, effortless prose.

One final observation. I'm usually not big on books that include snippets of poetry. Aside from the occasional poem by Maya Angelou, I'm just not that into verse. But I did like the way Crowley uses Poet's poems in this book to let us see into his character. It was a creative way to introduce his side plot without spending a lot of time on it or letting it get in the way of Ed and Lucy's story.

Thanks to Random House Children's Books for providing me with this ARC.
You can read the first pages here.
 I will be buying my own copy when it comes out in February. There's just too much good writing here to walk away with a single reading. :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Books of January

Why hello February, you sneaky little groundhog. How did you manage to get here so fast??

Okay aside from it being unseasonably warm (hello? 30-40's for most of January IN MINNESOTA!!!), this month has been fairly average for me. I clocked in 11 books, and even though I said I was going to read less and write more, I still haven't quite gotten hold of my addiction yet. Though to be honest, I don't mind so much because it DOES give me something to talk about (if nothing else, I'll have at least 12 posts this year based on this blog meme alone). Read some really great stuff this month, only one super big dud and one so-so dud. The rest really knocked my socks off. Did you get any good books read this month? Would love to know!!

Also: please do not laugh at the mess that is my blog. I'm trying to clean house and I've got a few ghosts hanging around that don't seem to want to go away (ahem, like double titles). Will hopefully have things back to normal in a few days. :)

 1. Chime by Franny Billingsley** Wow, this is a book that I can honestly say I wish I had read sooner. I was so in love with the dark, creepy voice of the main character. She may be very depressing to some and well, negative, but I loved her. I knew that she didn't WANT to be that way and the way she cared for her sister was endearing. I loved how the friendship between Briony and Eldric grew over time and the funny lines that the sister had, but more than anything I loved the prose. Every line was perfection, and there were so so many lines that I had to just sit and digest. Awww, bliss...
2. Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan* Oh, RR you slay me! I love Percy Jackson and all I can really say about this one is that I wish there had been more of Percy and less of the other characters. I know, I know, what more can we really learn about Percy? But come on, the book is called Son of Neptune!! Not Son of Mars or Daughter of Pluto. At 513 pages it just felt too dragged down by all the complicated backstory of these other characters, and really I just didn't care about them as much. Though, I will say that I'm looking forward to the next adventure when I get Annabeth back. *covers son's ears* Yes, it's a MG book, but I need to see these two kiss a bit more.
3. You Are My Only by Beth Kephart* A story about a baby who's kidnapped told from the mother's POV and the kidnapped baby years later (as a teen).  It was a slow starter, but I did eventually get into the story and was really rooting for the perfect ending, which I got.
4. The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler First let me tell you that I loved 13 Reasons Why by JA and The Earth My Butt and Other Round Things by CM. I think they're both extremely talented writers, but this book just... fizzled out. The premise was very cool, but it was too darn predictable. I knew almost from the very first page what was going to happen, and so I had to slog through chapter after chapter of Emma (who was annoying) and Josh (who I wanted to whack upside the head) trying to figure it out themselves. This one goes to the library book recommendations.
5. You Against Me by Jenny Downham** Loved, loved, loved this!!!! Jenny Downham you now have a fan in this reader. I read almost the entire thing (400 pages) in one night - it was unputdownable. I loved all the Britishisms, the sparse writing, and the characters who were so raw and perfectly flawed. It is an issues book, but it's brilliantly done. Clearly one of my favorites so far this year.
6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green** Overall, I really enjoyed JG's new book, though I can say that I the beginning dragged a little bit and the voice wasn't as perfect as it is in his other books. I did weep a little at the end. Oh, and Prufrock! I hadn't heard that poem in years. It gave me all these lovely feelings of nostalgia for my AP English Lit class.
7. What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones* A novel in verse told from a boy's POV. It was so honest and funny!! Imagine a 14 year old boy taking art classes at Harvard and discovering that he's painting nudes! It was too much fun. Will definitely be looking for the other books in this series - and sharing with my son when he's a little older. :)
8. Forever by Maggie Steifvater** I wish that I hadn't taken so long to read the third book in this trilogy, and my reason? Cole St. Clair. God, I love that boy. Never have I crushed so hard on a secondary character. I did still love Sam and Grace, but Cole, Cole, Cole. I shall dream of him next time I'm up at my parent's cabin. (Yes, they live not far from the fictional setting of Mercy Falls).

9. Wildefire by Karsten Knight So I go from several rocketing reads to one that I wanted to throw in the trashbin (don't worry, I didn't, but only because it was a library book). There is so much nastiness and snark I can say about this book, but I won't. Though I will say that if you pick it up, you have been warned.
10. Stopping the Presses, The Murder of Walter W. Liggett by Marda Liggett Woodbury** Historical non-fiction. Told by his daughter, Marda Woodbury, this is the life story of newspaper reporter Walter Liggett who was murdered in 1936 for attempting to report the truth about corruption and misdeeds in Minnesota government. I read this as research for a book that I'm writing, and it's inspired me to write an outline of yet another book based on Liggett's story. Even if you're not a big fan of the prohibition era, I highly recommend this book as it illustrates the importance of freedom of the press. And I promise you, while the beginning is a little slow, it's not boring!!
11. Winter Rose by Rachel A. Marks  Self-pubbed novella. 1. The writing is beautiful. 2. The beginning was a little depressing and bleak, for me. 3. The story does become more uplifting as it goes on, and as I said, the writing is just gorgeous. I think Ms. Marks has a special thing going on and I look forward to reading more from her! 



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