A Brief Theatrical Interlude

Hi, folks.

Just wanted to let you all know that from Thursday through Saturday I will be unavailable.  I will be performing at and attending my state's International Thespian Society (ITS) conference.  If any of you are there give me a holler.  It's my first year going and I am quite thrilled to see what the other performances and workshops will be like.  This means that I won't be around for internet-y things, so if you need to contact me via email, you won't get a response until Sunday or Monday.  By then I will also be on break from theater stuff for the rest of the month, so I should have more time to blog.  Yay!

~  John

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Review: Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman



Title:  Want to Go Private?

Author:  Sarah Darer Littman

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

Series:  None

Other Reviews for This Author:  Purge

Last year, I was wildly impressed with my first read from Sarah Darer Littman.  She's one of the authors still going strong with a contemporary backlist in YA, and it seems like each year she's coming up with another great concept that hits you hard as a reader.  With Purge it was eating disorders.  With Want to Go Private?, it's internet predators.  Reading a book by Littman will yield a host of emotions.  She captures things in a way that shows you the cold hard reality of the situation.  Want to Go Private? is a great example of her writing skills at work - an in-depth story with thoughtful writing that may make the reader acutely uncomfortable, but in a very important way.

There are so many things that come from starting high school for the first time.  For Abby's friend Faith, it means that she finally feels just a bit more mature - a bit more ready to enter the adult world.  Abby doesn't see it that way.  To her, high school seems like a scarier version of middle school.  Cliques and mean girls running rampant.  And boys.  Everything just doesn't seem like it will be fun anymore.  No one understands, either.  Faith is far too excited to get why Abby doesn't feel comfortable moving up in the academic world.  As far as Faith's concerned, they've been waiting their whole lives to get to high school. 

One person in Abby's live understands.  Luke.  A faceless guy that she met in a chatroom online.  No one else seems to pay attention to Abby's worries and insecurities, but Luke does.  Luke listens to her.  Luke cares about her.  Luke isn't like the other guys in school.  He's not immature - and he cares about Abby.  He even thinks she's pretty.  Abby's never felt pretty the way she does when talking to Luke.  The only problem is that she's never known Luke outside the computer.  As Abby starts high school, she realizes just how hard and frustrating people can be.  The only person that she can go to with he problems is - you guessed it - Luke. 

That's when Abby's life really starts to get confusing.  The more she starts talking to Luke, the more she wants to just talk with him.  Her frustrations with her parents and her friends only make her turn to Luke more and more.  She doesn't even realize that his actions start taking a turn for the possessive.  He starts treating her like his girlfriend - asking for pictures, video, phone calls.  He wants her to give herself up for him because he supposedly cares about her.  Abby feels hesitant, but figures that it's what she's supposed to do.  Because Luke really cares for her.  She doesn't realize that Luke isn't the slightly older guy that he claims to be until it's too late.

With a main character like Abby, you're bound to deal with a lot of heart-break, head shaking, and general feelings of remorse.  Littman has made her the prime character for dealing with this particular issue.  She's just old enough to have some sense and some maturity, but she's still young enough to be caught up in something so horrific without realizing that she's being groomed by a pedophile.  People of all ages could invariably be caught up in this web, but Abby is the kind of person that is the prime candidate for people like this.  Her awkardness and worry about moving up to high school are relative to many people that don't feel comfortable in their setting.  Her narrative opens with those feelings just emanating from Abby.  The loneliness and the inability to feel connected to anyone in her life.  Meeting Luke is her way of finding a new friend - something many people do when they start high school, but usually not in this respect.  To Abby, Luke represents a type of security.  When no one else will truly listen to her, he does it just enough to gain her trust.  As the story progresses, Abby's growth really doesn't come until the latter half.  The first half of the book is more so her complete reaction to the grooming process that pedophiles go through.  In that regard, as a character it's hard to fully feel like her journey is complete.  Most of her character growth occurs so late that you don't necessarily feel like that portion of the story was explored completely.  However, Abby is still very, very real.  She represents the key feelings of loneliness and insecurity that plague kids and teenagers across the globe, and in that regard Littman couldn't have done better with her character.


The side characters are also very integral to the story that Littman wants to tell her readers.  In what was a surprising twist (to me), she writes Part II (of three parts) in the viewpoint of characters that aren't Abby.  The characters range from her younger sister to her best friend and the guy at school that has a crush on her.  It's all very scattered and goes through just how many different reactions and realizations there are when one of these cyber-predator incidents occurs.  It gives the sense that this story is more than just about Abby, and Littman thus uses this as a way to expand her storyline.  I found most of the side characters to be very well developed once this came along.  Littman manages to make their voices sound fairly unique.  I mostly enjoyed the voice of Abby's younger sister, as she seemed to be the most complicated reaction to the event.  Faith was also a very interesting mind to look at.  Littman thankfully doesn't take the easy way out with these characters.  They all share a mixture of sympathy, judgement, and a struggle to understand how this person in their lives was able to get caught up in the web created by "Luke".  What Littman also does in these pages is show how Abby can feel this way.  We get glimpses at how she's feeling alienated from her friends (Faith) because they are branching out beyond their friendship with Abby.  We also get glimpses at how Abby's parents aren't taking the time to actively listen to her and discuss things with her.  I did feel that Littman could have further explored the psychology behind these characters.  She spent so much time accurately showing the grooming process, but because Abby escapes into it to get away from her problems...there were some missed opportunities for interaction.  The way the viewpoints branch off during the second half of the book offered up the opportunity, but I still didn't feel like things were completely explored. 


Littman's writing is extremely evocative and studied, and it really makes the book stand out as being well-researched and well-written.  Littman depicts the grooming process in graphic detail and shows just how far it goes - and how scary it can be.  I know many readers (my self included) felt icky while reading those parts because of how realistic they were.  To really capture the horrific reality of the situation takes a skilled writer, and I really admired how Littman didn't pull any punches in that section of the book.  My one problem with the narrative involved the split that I described in Part II.  Part II and Part III use viewpoints other than Abby's, and Abby's viewpoint returns in Part III.  I thought that a few key things got lost in that process.  While it would have been very difficult and traumatizing to show Abby's viewpoint beyond the grooming process, I felt like it lost the complete punch that it had.  I can't accurately describe what I think we lost beyond her view of what would probably have been a very difficult scene to read, but I felt like we needed it.  The story was primarily about Abby.  Having Abby return and basically giving a second-hand account in Part III really didn't feel right, either.  Part III shows a lot of good stuff character-wise, but the overall effect is that everything feels very tied up.  The absence of Abby's voice in Part II is partially why the story is able to do this.  As a reader, I felt the reality of the situation was something that would be able to end hopefully, but not necessarily as quickly as it did in the final portions of the book.  It all comes back to her loss of voice.  I can understand why Littman did it, but I felt like that changed the narrative in a way that I didn't completely agree with.

The overall effect of Want to Go Private? is a shocking one.  This book is not an easy read.  It will make you queasy, and while it ends on a hopeful note...it deals with a lot of darkness to get there.  It's scary, but it's real.  The characters feel three-dimensional and show a breadth of the grooming process and how something like that goes beyond the character in question.  I didn't agree with some of the narrative choices, but the resulting read was still powerful and well-done overall.  This is the kind of book that parents need to read with their teens.  It offers up so much discussion on teenage feelings and safety, and I feel like that's more than enough reason to read through it - even if it will make you uncomfortable.

Cover:  This cover is so perfect.  It's creepy and telling but so wonderfully minimalistic.  Very striking.

Rating:  4.5 Stars

Copy:  Received from publisher/publicist for review  (Thank you, Becky and Scholastic!)

Bonus:  Scholastic and the author created a site based off of one in the book, Chez Teen, that gives advice about internet safety and other very important things.  It really helps send home the message.

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Review: Vanish by Sophie Jordan



Title:  Vanish

Author:  Sophie Jordan

Publisher:  Harper

Series:  Firelight #2

Other Reviews for This Author:  Firelight

The first book in this series was good, but the flaws in it did catch up to me and bogged it down from being very excellent.  The similarities to the tried-and-true comparison, Twilight, did cause me to raise my eyebrows, but there was enough differentiation between the two by the end of the first book for me to continue on.  Vanish, the second book in the series, continues Jordan's stellar writing and interesting world with an emotional and improved turn to Jacinda's story.  This was a sequel that I found myself thinking an improvement on the original, and it really made me like the series as a result.

The Drake family was living on the run before they were re-captured by members of their Draki pride.  Jacinda, her sister Tamra, and her mother were living on the run - finally free from the pride.  Living outside of the Draki environment was difficult, but the freedom gave the family hope.  Jacinda herself was able to escape her duty as the pride's sole firebreather, and thus was able to finally feel normal.  She also fell in love with Will - a member of a family of dragon hunters that saved her life when she was caught on one of her sanctioned flights when she was still living with the pride.  It wasn't long before Jacinda aroused suspicion with Will's family.  She barely missed getting captured by them before getting snatched by Cassian, a member of the dragon pride, and being whisked back with her mother and sister in tow.

Jacinda is now separated from Will.  The love of her life.  He knows more about dragons that anyone else in his family because of Jacinda, and the problems that could occur leave Jacinda isolated and alone in the pride.  Her status as the firebreather makes no difference now that she's betrayed her people for a dragon hunter.  Love has nothing to do with it.  Jacinda endangered her people by running off and falling in love, and she has to pay the price.  Her mother has to pay as well.  After letting her wings wither and die after the death of Jacinda's father, Jacinda's mother was already questioned by the other Draki.  Her blatant disregard for the pride's rules makes her perhaps even more of an outcast than her daughter.

What throws Jacinda off even more involves her sister's new-found abilities.  When Jacinda least expected it, her sister finally showed her promise as a Draki.  It turns out that Tamra is an even rarer breed than Jacinda - a shader.  Tamra's mist-making abilities make her a successor to a very high position.  With Tamra being back in the pride, the attention suddenly shifts to her.  Cassian even begins courting her, which leaves Jacinda with mixed feelings.  As intense as Cassian is, the feeling of losing his attention mixes up Jacinda's emotions.  It also seems like there is no chance of Will returning to rescue her or see her again.  Jacinda's life is going down hill, and she is more determined than ever to find a way to get out of it - and attempting to figure out where her heart lies in the process.

The first book of this series had me enjoying the heroine, and through Vanish I was able to safely say that I like her.  Second-series books are always tricky because of how they deal with character development.  Some seem to do a reversal and make the characters worse, which is never pretty.  Vanish shows a step in the right direction for Jacinda.  The first book had some emotional sizzle and angst, but a lot of it was taken up by the insta-love romance that occurred between Jacinda and Will.  A lot was left unexplored because of the romance, and I felt like it was missing from her character.  In taking Jacinda back to the pride, Jordan shows us that the events in her life have emotional significance and cause her to grow as a character.  We see the complexity that evolves from her change in social status.  Jacinda was in many ways unaware of how it effected her life in the pride at the beginning of this book, but throughout the novel she is forced to slum it with the rest of the Draki and realize how her placement in the pride was overblown.  We also see a great and deeper relationship forming between her and Tamra.  The relationship in Firelight was shallow, so I was surprised at Jordan's addition of depth based on Tamra's new abilities.  She really shows the rivalry and jealousy that can form between two siblings on a grander scale, and I found the overall relationship much stronger and very interesting to read about as a result.  What ultimately works is that Jacinda becomes someone that is more emotionally complex.  She has to figure out whether or not Will is worth waiting for, and whether or not Cassian's misguided aggression and affections for her could lead to a better relationship.  I still feel that her decisions can be too rash or hard to understand, but Jacinda's motives have at least expanded to how she's treated by the Draki and her feelings toward the oppression the pride bestows on her when she returns.  It's not just about her love for Will - though it certainly is a big part of her decision making.

This is where I had my biggest problems with book one - the hero.  Not necessarily in Will's attitude.  He is by all accounts a heroic character that truly cares for Jacinda.  He's also very kind and has treated her well throughout the books.  My problem was that book one dealt with insta-love that I felt was a cop-out for deeper characterization.  What I've found is that a second book can really help you avoid that initial  hurdle.  Since the characters were already established, I was able to take the sequel at face-value as a continuation, so I was already accepting of the love between Will and Jacinda.  Will thus became a much more tolerable character.  He attempts to rescue Jacinda and help her out of her predicament, and I do love a good hero.  I would love to see more between them, however, as this book took place chiefly among the Draki or on the road.  There wasn't a lot of time for interaction between the two characters.  Cassian, surprisingly enough, is not a character I hate anymore.  I know, it shocked me as well.  I really disliked him in book one because he was creepy, overbearing, and seemed almost abusive in how animalistic he was towards Jacinda.  I could buy some of it coming from the dragon attitude, but it went above and beyond appropriate for me - especially considering he was foiling Will, who is very well behaved.  Seeing Cassian in this new light, however, shows a startling depth of character.  I still don't prefer him as a romantic interest, but I considered him.  He shows his true feelings and calms down, and you really get to see just how manipulated he is by his father and the supposed needs of the pride. Tamra was still my favorite character of this new book, though.  I found her progression very well-done, and I loved how it changed and affected Jacinda.  Sibling situations aren't explored as often as I would like in YA PNR, and I definitely liked seeing Tamra come to terms with her new powers and balancing her feeling of triumph over her sister with sympathy.

What really makes this series connect with readers is the writing.  Sophie Jordan is an accomplished author of historical romance, and her sexual tension and internal monologues are thus very refined and good at getting the job done in terms of emotional development.  We really get a sense of who Jacinda is and why she's having problems determining whether she likes Cassian or Will - and for what reasons she likes the boys in question.  The emotional focus of this second book thus makes her writing really stand out.  She's also really good at writing romantic relationships, and seeing the interactions between Jacinda and her two boys makes it pretty clear as to why this is a compelling read.  If you like YA PNR, then you'll find the romantic focus without it feeling childish or too derivative.  There's also a lot of angst within the text because of the character's situations, and it really adds something extra to the initial romantic problems.  Jordan also has the added bonus of having created a world that is really interesting.  I was happy about the inclusion of dragons in the YA PNR canon, and in this book she's really examined and shown the depth of her Draki and their world view.  You see more of the day-to-day life of them and their thoughts and feelings.  I was so interested in this with the last book that I was very happy with the book and would have read it just for those sections.  Seeing the inner workings of the pride and how the problems with it go far deeper than Jacinda realizes makes the book really stand-out.  The secrets that we learn about dragon hunters are also really enticing, and they'll make you want the final book in the trilogy like you wouldn't believe.  My major beef was that the action was not very present, and at times the internal monologues felt redundant while reading because the same thought-process had already been taken before without a change in the results or ideas of the character.

Vanish did what I always hoped it would do - made me really like this series.  Without the insta-love between the characters being the driving force of the narrative, it really stood out and showed their motivations and reasoning.  I felt like the characters became more complex and morally ambiguous - as people tend to be - and that the world building got some great time to shine.  While the romantic aspects of the story moved along with some great developments, the plot itself was slow and felt redundant at times.  These aspects didn't impede the reading process, but did remind me of some parts of Firelight that didn't work with me entirely.  Vanish is a great second book, and it ends on a really bad cliffhanger that will have you dying for the final book to be released. 

Cover:  This cover doesn't work with me as well as Firelight.  I still like it, but the paleness of it doesn't strike me the same way the scales and red of the first cover did.

Rating:  4.0 reviews

Copy:  Received from publisher/publicist for review  (Thank you, Heather and Harper Collins!) 

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Holiday Season Giveaway: The Goddess Test + Swag

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday - and the beginning of the holiday season - I'm giving away a book that an author graciously gifted to me in order to give away to my readers.  This book was a wonderful read from Harlequin Teen this year - The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter.


The best part?  It's a signed copy!

I'm also including some other treats of the swag-variety in with this giveaway.  Including, but not limited to: a pack of UnRequired Reading playing cards, signed bookmarks, unsigned bookmarks, buttons...and some awesome kick-ass samplers from Penguin's Breathless Reads and their 2011 NAL releases.  I know samplers aren't huge, but they include excerpts from excellent books that I would love more people to check out.

If all of that fails, I may even include an ARC or finished copy of a book...or something else (such as more swag.)  Just depends on whether or not I can fit it into the package.  :)


Giveaway Ends December 4th

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Giving Thanks

Since my family does not have relatives over for Thanksgiving, I'm able to take the time to write out a little post for the holiday while dinner is cooking. 

My school's multiple-act drama this year is Our Town, an iconic play that is very genius in how it is written and constructed.  By the end of the play, the audience is in tears because of the realization that the first two acts, while seemingly dull and pointless, are a large representation of daily life.  The play - told in three full acts - explains life, marriage, and death, and shows how our day-to-day lives are lived in an unappreciative haze. 

Today, I think of how that relates to the holiday season.  Thanksgiving to Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of year.  I was born on Christmas Eve.  I grew up loving the old Rankin and Bass Christmas cartoons.  With all of the corporate hoo-hah that seems to go on each and every year, I try to remember why I like this holiday season.

Acting in our town has allowed me to pin down at least one important reason: the holidays are our way of combating life's ignorance.  Eternal hope and joy may seem more ignorant than the rest of the year, but in actuality it goes along with Our Town's message.  We see through the play that one needs to appreciate their day-to-day life.  The people and love that come from it need to be soaked in; memories treasured with the care one would give to a priceless family heirloom.  This holiday season is all about making those memories, and attempting to give a positive meaning to our lives.

This Thanksgiving, I have a lot of memories to be thankful for.  This past year has been brutal and wonderful at the same time.  Life rarely gives good without giving bad, and though I wasn't prepared for the entirety of it, I still appreciate all the good that's been going on.

So, thank you.  Thank you for reading my blog.  Thank you for taking the time to give me constructive thoughts and conversation.  A big thanks to the authors and publishers I've met - Wendy, Catherine, Beth, Sarah, Hayden, Heidi, Heather, Natashya, and so many more - and to the bloggers and other friends that I've been making along the way - Audry, Emma, Maggie, Kristi, and so many other people in the book blogging community.  Everyone at Dear Author.  Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. 

Seriously, this list would be huge.  Even at Christmastime I don't think I'll have enough links to show you all just how many people I'm thankful for. 

That also goes for the people in my life.  Everywhere that I've been and everywhere that I'm going to be.  I appreciate it.  You all have made a mark on my life.  I'll no doubt be spending a good portion of my day today thinking about the meaning behind it, and just how lucky I really am.

Happy Thanksgiving.  I hope everyone - even my non-US readers - has a wonderful day filled with memories, family, and joy.

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Review: Frost by Wendy Delsol



Title:  Frost

Author:  Wendy Delsol

Publisher:  Candlewick Press

Series:  Stork #2

Other Reviews for This Author:  Stork

My history with Wendy's writing has been an interesting one.  I was first interested in Stork ages ago - when all I knew of it was a stunning image file on The Story Siren.  It captured me.  The premise sounded wonderful.  I was a naive little blogger and decided to ask about review copies.  Stork went on to be one of my first ARCs, and one of my favorite releases of 2010.  Frost is the second in Wendy's planned trilogy, and to say that I've been waiting a while for this book is a bit of an understatement.  I loved the world she showed in her first novel, and I'm so happy to say that Frost lives up to its prequel and continues to expand upon a very unique Nordic-inspired world.

The group of Storks has finally become a bit of a normality for Katla.  Since moving to Norse Falls to live with her mother and step-father, Katla has come into her own.  She has become the second-chair in the town's group of Storks - women with Nordic heritages that help guide souls into appropriate vessels - and started dating a wonderful guy named Jack.  Jack just so happens to be a modern-day descendent of Jack Frost.  Between the two of them, they managed to fall in love and discovered that Norse mythology played a pivotal role in their lives beyond their status as people with paranormal powers and destinies.

Christmas has come around to Norse Falls, and with it Katla is beginning to move beyond her initial problems with Stork-dom.  Her mother is pregnant with the baby that Katla helped shepherd into the world.  All the while, Katla just wants there to be a white Christmas.  Jack, being the loving boyfriend that he is, has been honing his skills with the weather in order to give Katla the gift that she wants so dearly.  The holiday seems to be more than what either of them expected.  The snowstorm quickly goes out of control, and the end result involves a life being lost within the sight-obscuring winds.  Fault and guilt quickly take over Katla and Jack.  While they came out of it alive, they could only think of how they led to someone's death.

The lack of control in Jack's powers seems to foreshadow more than a difficulty in his relationship with Katla.  A researcher by the name of Brigid comes into Norse Falls.  The Stork leader Hulda also falls into a mysterious coma around the same time that Brigid comes to town.  Katla has to lead the Storks and deal with the aftermath of Brigid's appearance in her life.  This woman is much more than she seems to be.  She charms everyone that she speaks to, and manages to be an expert on climate as well as stage acting.  While Katla isn't taken in by her charms, her father and Jack both seem to be getting more and more inclined to put things in terms of Brigid.  Katla has a sneaking suspicion that the icy woman has more than climate patterns on her mind, and the truth is something that reaches back into the realms of Norse fairy-tale and spells looming trouble for Katla and Jack.

Katla's voice has been solidly entertaining in this series, and Frost continues that trend.  Katla's personality is that of a fashion-centric girl that has a head on her shoulders.  Delsol is able to make her a complex teenage character that isn't stupid.  She enjoys being fashionable and trendy, but she doesn't get the air-headed shallowness one expects from a character with those traits because of stereotypes.  Katla is actually a very grounded character who can at times be juvenile, but for the most part remains understanding of how to deal with people outside of her supernatural powers - which are a minefield of trouble and gray area.  Her relationship with Jack is surprising in how it can be well-formed while still being a YA relationship.  The two of them are impossibly sweet and charming together, and what's awesome is that Katla doesn't rely on Jack in order to identify herself as a character.  She knows who she is and has a lot of plot points that don't involve his being around - or even saving him in some cases.  Katla also grows throughout the novels, and in Frost she becomes more and more independent as a person.  This is shown through the growth of her independence in dealing with things from Norse Falls on her own and having to rely on her own decisions and thoughts because everyone else is either incapacitated or blinded.  While this may not sound completely original, I love that this is the focus of the novel.  What Delsol shows is that her heroine can be independent and self-sufficent.  She is a heroine in the best sense of the word.  She is heroic and strong.  She messes up at times, but she can save herself and save the people that she cares about. 

The other characters found in Frost are really quite memorable as well.  I have to say that I love that I remember so many of them and their personalities on the vivid level that I do.  It didn't take long for me to recall the people and their histories with Katla, and Delsol really succeeds at making them complex with room for flexibility within the plot.  Jack, as always, is one of my favorite YA heroes.  This novel sees him in a completely different light, however, and I think readers will have a hard time accepting him in this book because of the plot.  The book is based on The Snow Queen, and it is no spoiler that the myth involves a boy becoming completely infatuated with this mysterious woman - in a completely out of character fashion.  Jack's attraction to Brigid and his continued douchery because of it got on my nerves, but I was very much looking forward to the payoff at the end.  He still had some inkling of his relationship with Katla in the beginning, but because of later events in the story, I don't feel like we get a strong sense of his return as the Jack that we know and love.  He grows some because of the experience, but the book hints at seeing that in the third novel more so than this one.  Brigid herself is a very intriguing villain.  She is quite villainous as the book goes on, and a lot of that is in relation to the myth that she stems from, but I love the type of villain that she is.  She is very cold, calculating, and manipulative.  There's just something about that in a monumental antagonist that is attractive to the story.  I also really appreciated the greater appreciation that I got for the characters in Katla's family.  Katla has very strong family ties, which is unusual for the YA world.  Katla's family and Jack's family are both present and integral to the character's lives, and Katla's family shows up quite frequently in the text.  It all ties in with the themes and world that Delsol builds, which makes it very cool.   The Storks still take the cake for most outrageous characters, though.  I love the women - Hulda and Grimilla in particular strike me as being enjoyable.  They are precise yet lovably eccentric in their systems and ways, and there's something about them that just really connects.

The world of Stork and Frost is in itself a huge character, and that's one of the things that makes me love this series.  I have a deep love for the characters themselves, but Delsol has created a world that I love just as much.  When I opened up Frost I was reminded of that.  YA rarely sees the likes of Norse mythology these days - and it's such a shame considering how unique it is in its construction and the people that inhabit it.  The first book dealt with it to varying degrees, but also had a lot of focus on the role of the Stork and the moral/personal challenges that the mythology would present.  Frost is Delsol's way of saying, "But wait, there's more."  Her world is not as simple as this random band of Nordic women choosing where babies go.  There's an entire wellspring of connections made to Norse mythology and heritage that she connects to.  Katla and her grandfather even go as far as going up to Iceland and seeing the culture from there.  I loved the integration of The Snow Queen, too.  Hans Christian Anderson is one of my favorite authors of fairy tales.  His are of a dark and brooding nature that is more magical than the Western European counterparts found via the Brother's Grimm.  Delsol channels that way by making a parallel with the tale an adding in some hints at great things to come for the series.  The overall idea she suggests at the end is major, but she also further fleshes out the importance of Katla's lineage.  The overarching theme of lineage throughout this book - and indeed, throughout the series - is really one that strikes me as being unusual and important in YA.  In a genre so parent-empty, Katla's story deeply expresses the importance and impact that one's family and culture can change their lives and viewpoints.  Katla grows because of her experience with the Storks and her heritage, and the world building just expresses that so well.

To tie up the nice little package that is Frost, I would like to take a moment and express my love for Delsol's writing.  Yes, at times Katla's voice can feel mature.  At times I feel like swearing was avoided in such a way that felt out of character for a teenager.  These came up very infrequently throughout the text.  What I love about Delsol's writing is that it felt natural despite the problems.  The writing flowed.  Katla has humor.  She references funky fashions and makes some metaphors and similes that are very much from the mind of a teenager in how they reference pop culture.  I've always enjoyed the way Delsol constructs her sentences.  She knows how to open her books with a capturing sentence, and what's nice is that she blends a great balance of description and action.  The book's pacing in general is slower, but the overall character growth and level of development within the plot really allowed me to enjoy the pacing anyway.  I was sad that I couldn't spend more time with the characters and the writing, and that's a good feeling to leave the novel with in general.  Delsol's writing is unique and has a voice in the YA market, and combined with the world building it shows that Delsol has identity as a writer.

Frost is a strong follow-up to its prequel novel in so many ways.  The characters and the world remain vibrant.  The story is strong and unique.  The writing is top-notch.  I felt like pacing problems and occasional lapses in voice (such as the random swearing/no swearing and the occasional off-sounding sentence) kept it from being a perfect book from me, but this series is in my top five because of how awesome it is for me.  The unusual aspects and the lovely writing/characters just make it a book series that connects with me as a reader, and I encourage anyone that wants YA paranormal that is out of the box and full of excellent ideas and execution to check out this series by a vastly under-represented YA author.

Cover:  I love the covers for this series so much.  This feels like Brigid, and it just blends together quite nicely.

Rating:  4.5  Stars

Copy:  Received from publisher/author for review  (Thank you, Wendy and Candlewick Press!)

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Review: Supernaturally by Kiersten White



Title:  Supernaturally

Author:  Kiersten White

Publisher:  Harper Teen

Series:  Paranormalcy #2

Other Reviews for This Author:  Paranormalcy

It's really hard to say how much I loved the first book in this series.  It filled me with that fluffy feeling you get after reading a really stellar book that is just so darn good.  Kiersten White can craft a really amusing story that has depth without being overdone - probably a reason why she's so popular as a YA author - and I was quite excited to read the second book in her debut trilogy.  Supernaturally follows in vein similar to its predecessor, but the balances shift ever so slightly away from the action that White established in the first book.  I loved the reading experience and what she did with the character, and I think she sets herself up quite nicely for the concluding novel within the series.

Evie had a wild ride when she finally got to leave the IPCA - International Paranormal Containment Agency - and get an idea of what normal life was like.  She had been so caught up in the movements of IPCA that she hadn't been able to experience the thrills of simply being a teenage girl in high school.  That all changed when Lend came on the scene and paranormal creatures started coming up missing.  The resulting problems that occurred changed Evie's life forever.  She found out that she had a twin sister, and that said sister and her shared a unique ability that could bring destruction to paranormals everywhere.  With the help of Lend, his family, and other rogue paranormals, Evie was able to stop her sister Vivian from stealing the very life essence from the paranormal community.

Now, Evie's life is much different.  She still is surrounded by paranormals every day.  Her roommate Arianna is a vampire that she's become best friends with - although not the same kind of "best friends" that she was with Lish.  She argues a lot more with Arianna than she ever did with Lish.  Her relationship with Lend is slowly heating up.  Everything seems fairly normal.  Evie herself is anything but, and it isn't long before her life starts to reflect that again.  The Faerie folk are starting to interfere once again in direction relation to their connection between Evie and Vivian.  IPCA and one of its workers, Raquel, is also calling on her once again for her unique ability to track down paranormals.

Life just isn't meant to be easy.  Evie's fear of the Fae continues to stay strong, and her disdain for Reth only grows as he continuously tries to meddle in her life.  The connection between her and the Fae is still vague and daunting, and her inability to handle it could be a problem.  Seeing Raquel stop by so much just reminds Evie of the conflicts she had with IPCA, and with Raquel doing everything to make sure Evie comes back and works with them - using a new messenger named Jack instead of a Faerie - Evie just can't refuse to stop helping.  She also still holds on to a secret about Lend that could end their relationship should he go on a certain train of thought...and all the while, Evie still doesn't really know who she is.  As the conflicts between Evie, the Fae, and the rest of the paranormal heat up, life seems like it could explode at any moment.

I started off my review of Paranormalcy with an implosion of fanboyishness over the main character, and I can't seem to get enough of Evie.  Kiersten White is good at characterization, and in this novel we get to see a lot of what makes Evie tick.  Evie's established voice is just as strong, but in this book we see the effects that came from Paranormalcy's high emotion and action.  White isn't afraid to give the reader some hard things to deal with - the death of Lish, for instance - and she doesn't ignore that kind of lasting thing with her main character.  Supernaturally is very much the story of how Evie learns to adjust to the lasting problems that IPCA and Vivian's appearance helped start.  She responds with a lot of subtle grief over her best friend, all the while struggling to maintain the very relationships she's gained because of how she's unused to everything that's going on.  Evie continually attempts to work and busy herself, but in the end she can't run away from the issues that she has to face regarding her relationship and the loss of her best friend.  Evie doesn't constantly mourn in this book, but White took a turn for the more character-driven in this installment, and it really helps Evie start to realize more about herself than in the previous book.  She's no longer this girl looking for a normal life, but a girl who begins to understand that there is no such thing as a "normal" life, and that problems will always arise in a variety of ways.  She still keeps her trademark humor and sparkle, and the reader never feels bogged down by excessive angst in the process of the character exploration.

Arianna is one of my favorite secondary characters.  I'm still mourning Lish myself - she's such a wonderful character, and I still hate White just a little bit for killing her off - but Arianna adds her own level of depth and friendship to Evie's journey.  She is more of a challenging character, and White really takes the time to flesh her out and give her a backstory in this one.  You really sympathize with where her character is coming from, and it makes Evie's own problems with keeping up her relationships all the more complicated because of how you know she's effecting Arianna.  Raquel also became more complicated as her motives started to blur more with Evie's issues regarding IPCA, and I like that White can really show the issues and oddities that come from reunited friends that aren't so friendly anymore.  Lend had some depth added to him as well, and I continued to really enjoy him as Evie's love interest.  I think his dynamic with her and his status as a supernatural being raised in a different way adds a lot of depth.  He isn't just some hot vampire or something - he has a lot of important traits and has been raised in such a way that he, like Evie, almost needs their relationship in order to cope with the fact that his mother is absent due to being an elemental...and his father's continual decline because of his mother's absence.

The biggest draw (for me) that ties this series together is Kiersten's writing.  She's fabulous.  Absolutely fabulous.  There's something that I love about an author that can put a smile on my face while putting a decently constructed story in front of me.  I respond well to humor that works for me.  Kiersten White is not the humor-focused Louise Rennison, and she also isn't the satirical Heather Cocks/Jessica Morgan duo of Spoiled fame, but her humor is a very strong vein in her writing.  The blend of humor with action and characterization makes the narrative really strong.  There's just something about it that works.  The action sequences are not so action-based that I get bored (this is the reason I don't read "boy" books - I don't read for a whole bunch of fight/war scenes), but they still run really well.  They aren't wooden and they capture your attention.  The character scenes run very strongly in Supernaturally as well, and I enjoyed the character exploration that went on throughout.  I felt like the balance between character and plot was too uneven compared to the previous installment, however.  The plot moved more than usual for a second book, but there were still some parts that did not move things forward enough to feel directly useful to the book's direction.  It all ties up very nicely (although it leaves you wanting the third book - especially if you are a fan of the series) and feels like there was a purpose for the characterization issues.  I really like the ideas and world that White presents, and I feel like it's infinitely interesting.

If you have read Paranormalcy, then you have no reason not to pick up Supernaturally.  It is wonderful.  There is so much character movement and plot innovation - you learn a lot about Vivian, the Fae, and IPCA - and everything just glows with White's wonderful writing.  She can write a very strong story out of the gate, and I found this book just as entertaining as the first book, but for different reasons.  White has made a great MC in Evie, and I hope that her final book can match these first two in terms of quality.  There are still so many unanswered questions about IPCA and Evie, and I just can't wait to see how it all ties up.  If you haven't started this series, then I have to urge you to.  It's so not the usual paranormal song and dance, and if you like humor it will be a great fit.

Cover:  I love the covers for this series.  They are a little too romantic for the urban fantasy edge, but the photographs are stunning and take my breath away.

Rating:  5.0  Stars

Copy:  Received from publisher/publicist for review  (Thanks, Heather and Harper Teen!)

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Review: Starstruck by Cyn Balog



Title:  Starstruck

Author:  Cyn Balog

Publisher:  Delacorte Press

Series:  None

Other Reviews for This Author:  Fairy Tale

My first read of Cyn Balog's was a mixed bag.  While I liked her voice and the ideas she was using in her debut novel, Fairy Tale, I felt like it was a bit of a mess and that the paranormal aspect was too thin to work effectively.  I did enjoy her voice enough to read more of her work, and when I got Starstruck in my possession I was immediately taken in by the concept.  True, it sounded very much like the other Cyn Balog book I read in terms of the paranormal aspect, but the idea of an overweight character finding love was what attracted me.  I'm happy to say that the book worked much better for me than the last one without losing the good parts of Balog's writing style.

Gwendolyn "Dough" and Philip Wishman, aka "Wish", have been dating for the past few years.  Kind of.  Gwen and Wish were childhood friends, and good ones at that.  When the time came that Wish had to move to California when he was 13...the only natural recourse seemed to involve keeping in touch.  Gwen was more than a little surprised when he started speaking of his love for her in their emails, and one thing led to another.  Gwen and Wish can talk about anything, and she's always treasured her relationship with him.  What Wish doesn't know is that Gwen isn't as pretty as she sounds in her emails.  On the contrary, she's overweight and not happy about it.

Luckily for Gwen, Wish doesn't have to know that as far as their email correspondence goes.  In the realm of email she doesn't have to show that she's overweight or unpopular.  She can just be Wish's girlfriend.  Wish, unlike Gwen, seems to be doing quite well in California based on what he posts on the internet.  Somehow he transformed into a popular guy with celebrity looks.  The irony of the situation isn't lost on Gwen - especially when Wish drops a huge bomb on her:  he's coming back.  Her popular boyfriend is finally moving back home.

Crap.  Gwen can't even begin to fathom what it will be like to have Wish back - and to have Wish see what she really is.  She's more than a little surprised when he treats her like she's pretty.  How could the hot popular guy love the overweight nobody?  And how is Wish so popular, anyway, when people barely knew of his existence before he moved back from California?  Gwen has questions upon questions as she struggles to come to terms with her body image and with Wish's image as this suddenly popular person.  A new worker in her mother's bakery also leads to more mysterious questions that could provide an almost supernatural explanation for Wish and his sudden popularity.

Balog's main character in the first book was appealing enough to me despite the lack of fleshing out that Balog used, and Gwen is a departure in the angst-factor Balog has used in the past.  Gwen's weight issues are very strongly enforced in this book - I've read many complaints about them.  My bias as someone who is overweight, however, made her an extremely relative character.  Balog is very good at mixing in contemporary issues in with her fantastical ones (think along the likes of Janni Lee Simner's Thief Eyes) and making those contemporary issues stand out.  However, they can catch a reader off guard because of how her books are chiefly marketed as paranormal works.  While the paranormal is indeed an important part to Gwen's story, her struggles with body image are very real.  They are also very true.  Gwen does think of her body almost excessively, but her problems with Wish do bring a fairly good reason for that in some of the text.  While you don't think about your weight twenty-four-seven, it is something you are always aware of on some level.  It's not the same as, in my instance, being gay, because I know very well that has no relevance.  However, our society puts a lot of (pardon the pun) weight on issues like body image and looking "beautiful", so it's very natural for someone who is overweight to feel self-conscious in high school.  It's hard not to be.  I'm not ragging on anyone who felt the character overly complained, but I do want to make it clear why it felt realistic to me.  I identified with Gwen and her problems, and I understood her character arc very well.  Having a boyfriend doesn't fix her problems - on the contrary, it makes her even more aware of herself for a while - but her ultimate character growth at the end of the story is so excellently done and worth the trouble.  She really gains a sense of self-acceptance that comes from realizing that the people that judge you for it don't matter - and that people who love you don't give a crap. 

I didn't connect as strongly with the secondary characters, however.  Wish is certainly an interesting character - he reminded me a lot of the hero from Fairy Tale.  Balog likes to use a lot of contrast with her heroes.  She makes them seem more perfect than they are, and throughout the course of the book they become more realistic and still fall in love with the girl at the end.  Wish is much the same way.  I felt like his elongated period of deception was hard to swallow despite its purposes, and I wanted him to confess sooner than he did to allow for more reconciliation with Gwen.  Christian, the guy who works at the bakery, was more my style.  He's darker and kind of a loner, and I generally like that kind of under appreciated sensitive guy.  In some ways I would have preferred him to Wish.  He generally comes across as more of an honest character, and though he doesn't do much in the first half, in the latter half he's very dynamic and does some great stuff for the plot and for Gwen as a character.  I think his past (which is revealed later) really made me more attached to him as well.  Both of these guys are great characters, and they make me really glad that Balog writes singular (as in non-series) works.  There's no feeling of loss at the end because their relationships with Gwen actually have a stopping point for the story.  I also really liked Gwen's family - her positive mother and her sister.  Balog writes some good relationships in her books that don't feel like stock relationships. 

The writing in Balog's books is a style that I like with an execution that I don't very much like.  Her first book followed the pattern of this one - albeit in a worse way.  Her style is very funny and makes the characters very appealing.  This time around her characters felt more original and less basic (for instance - in Fairy Tale the main character's family was funny, but they basically acted like cliche Italians) in terms of how they came across in the narrative.  The humor, snark, and characters generally shine through the best in Balog's books.  Starstruck had more of a sensible track to the narrative, too, and that made me like it more than the previous book by Balog that I read.  I still don't like how she goes about the paranormal aspects, though.  The paranormal aspects are often foreshadowed and built up, but the actual execution leaves a lot to be desired.  It always feels like she scratches the surface but left something important behind in the process.  The paranormal often feels like an afterthought because of its placement in the plot, and while it was tied off better than in previous books, I still wasn't that happy with it.  I do have to say that I love Balog's originality in terms of her paranormal worlds, and voice-wise she is quite developed in that respect despite the flaws in her storytelling method.

Starstruck is one of those lucky books in which I think the author improves.  I was hesitant because of how Fairy Tale had some issues, but I dove into Starstruck anyway and was impressed by what I found.  Balog really invested me in the characters and their actions, and as with last time I enjoyed her unique take on the supernatural and how it tied into the character's contemporary problems with body image and popularity (any more would spoil it - but it does tie in very nicely.)  I did still have problems with her plotting - and I don't think that will change in the future - but I just genuinely enjoyed this so much that I wasn't as annoyed with it as last time.  If you want a paranormal that has a lot of contemporary, snark, and deviates a lot from the norm, then you'll be satisfied with this latest novel from Cyn Balog.

Cover:  I always enjoy her covers.  This one really captures the attention - although I actually preferred the original with the doughnut, as it was more plot-oriented (although stars do play a part as well.)

Rating:  4.0  Stars

Copy:  Received from publicist/publisher for review  (Thanks, Random House!) 

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Review: Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw



Title:  Shadowcry

Author:  Jenna Burtenshaw

Publisher:  Greenwillow Books

Series:  Shadowcry #1

Other Reviews for This Author:  None

YA fantasy is so rare these days, and I do love a good fantasy read.  Greenwillow is a division of Harper Collins that publishes a lot of fantasy compared to most, and I've really enjoyed some of their fantasy offerings like Cindy Pon's Sliver Phoenix and Heather Dixon's Entwined. Shadowcry seemed to be a read that would be in the same type of 'fun fantasy' vein - and for the most part, it is.  While darker than the stories selected, it has a similar type of worldbuilding that will capture readers - although it unfortunately doesn't hold up in relation to the narrative like the other stories mentioned. 

Kate Winters has never thought herself to be unusual.  She's lived with her uncle and helped run his used bookstore in Morvane, a city in the land of Albion.  Her parents were long ago killed by wardens who came into Morvane long ago to recruit warriors and search for the Skilled - people who can cross over the Veil and experience the land of the dead.  Kate is fifteen and hasn't imagined herself to be special.  She has never thought of the possibility that there was something unique about her in that way.  Kate realizes all too soon that she isn't as common as she believes herself to be.

The Winters family has kept a special book in its possession as well.  One day, the fate of this book and Kate's inherent abilities intertwine when the wardens make a return to Morvane.  Kate's latent abilities are no longer so latent, and the book that her uncle has protected since her parents death could possibly end up in the hands of the wardens.  Kate and her friend Edgar are soon on the run from one warden in particular.  Silas Dane.  With a dark reputation and an equally dark raven companion, the warden fully lives up to rumor as he hunts down Kate and her friend. 

Discovering her power as one of the Skilled leads Kate on a journey filled with darkness and politics.  The world of Albion has more going on than she can imagine, and her power as one of the Skilled could be something that keeps it from going further into the darkness.  The chase between her and Silas leads to the city of Fume.  A city where death and life intermingle and the border between the two blurs.  Kate soon learns the real importance of the book that her parents worked so hard to protect - and why she can't let Silas's higher ups get their hands on it.

Burtenshaw starts off her debut novel with a main character that is certainly interesting, but at times hard to relate to.  Kate Winters is by no means a bad heroine - she is not stupid, and she has good qualities that make for a great storyline without the random "TSTL" moments that can ruin a serious book.  Her intelligence and her cunning get her out of many scary situations in Shadowcry, and in that respect I really enjoyed Kate.  She's smart and thinks on her feet.  You have to enjoy a character that is able to get themselves out of bad situations and eventually learns to harness the powers they realize they have.  The problem I had with Kate was a lack of an immediate connection with her character.  I have connected to third person past narrative before, and know from experience that it can be a very effective writing style that allows someone to invest their emotions into a main character just the same as first person perspective.  Burtenshaw also has a fairly polished writing style, and I don't feel like that was the main culprit behind my lack of a connection to Kate.  Kate herself is a character I enjoyed, but the connection came too late in the plot for me to really appreciate her or the book as a whole the way I have with previous fantasy reads.  In that respect, Shadowcry disappointed me in terms of what my expectations were.

The secondary characters offered up a surprising amount of depth and insight compared to the protagonist.  Silas Dane seems to be the noted favorite, and for good reason.  He starts out as an antagonist, but the terrifying warden soon becomes a much more complex character.  Burtenshaw delves into his past and gives a lot of great insight as to what leads him to his dark motivations involved Kate and her family's book - and in turn introduces a greater antagonist, Da'ru.  Silas is a character that really makes you shiver.  Not because he is pure evil.  That would be too easy.  Instead, he makes you shiver because he is so real.  When the reader sympathizes with the supposed villain, the reader begins to really get scared.  It makes the darkness all the more tense.  However, the shift slowly went off of Silas in terms of antagonism, and the final half or so of  the book was focused more on a simpler villainy than the first bit.  Edgar was a surprising love interest who felt a lot simpler next to Kate - but in a good way.  Edgar isn't a dark and brooding guy, and it was nice to see a beta hero next to the heroine.  He was first and foremost her friend, and I tend to really really love that kind of character - the one that is as much friends with the love interest as they are partner.  Burtenshaw also introduces some really fascinating groups of people - as fantasy is wont to do - and I think the cultural aspect of her characters really brightens the book.

Burtenshaw's writing is really quite spectacular for a debut novel.  Aside from the initial disconnect of the first half, there was a lot to be praised.  Burtenshaw's style is simple but at times quite lyrical, and she describes some really stand-out scenes in regards to her world building.  At times I felt the world building was fractured by the disconnect, but she would eventually weave it all back into place as I continued with the story.  The world itself is extremely bleak and sombre.  I couldn't think of anything but a European city at its darkest - especially when it came to Fume.  The use of the Skilled and the crossing of the Veil was also surprisingly original and much more than the concept suggested.  A lot of groundwork was being explored for future books, and I could tell that this book was just breaking the surface of the world's potential.  At times I felt Burtenshaw needed to explore it more, but for the most part her exemplary prose more than did justice to the picture she was trying to paint for the reader.  My biggest problem was the first half of the plot.  While many great things are explored, the initial events that take place involve a lot chase and capture between Kate and Silas, and while it played out fairly well, the problem was that it got repetitive quickly.  I felt like it got old and wasn't necessarily needed in order to progress the plot - although it did lead to some really interesting observations in some sections.  The book was at its best when the focus from that shifted and we got more of the world and the more complex politics.  That being said, the book is luckily not too long and feels well paced and surprisingly quite whole as a storyline despite the many directions it could go in at its end. 

Shadowcry, as a whole, is a very unique debut novel that has a well-voiced writing style with atmosphere.  Its secondary characters are marvelous and do a great job of adding some personality to the voice.  A large disconnect throughout the first two thirds of the novel made it hard for me to connect to the main character, and the plot of said parts did not resonate with me, either.  The novel ended with a bang, however, and managed to leave a good impression on me.  The flaws make it apparent that this is Burtenshaw's first novel, but there are still some really, really good things working, and as a fantasy fan I'm anxious to see how they develop throughout Burtenshaw's series.  This one won't be for everyone, but if you want a read that is fantastical - but not overly so - with a bleak atmosphere and adventure, then Shadowcry is up your alley.

Cover:  I love this cover to bits.  It fits the book so well in terms of expressing the feeling and the setting.

Rating:  3.5  Stars

Copy:  Received from publisher/publicist for review  (Thanks Heather and Harper Collins!)

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Review: Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan



Title:  Spoiled

Authors:  Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Publisher:  Poppy

Series:  Spoiled #1

Other Reviews for These Authors:  None

A policy I have on books:  If they make me laugh out loud every chapter, then they are wonderful and I will keep them forever.  I find many books funny, but getting me to laugh out loud is another story.  I laugh often in real life, but when it comes to reading I'm often just engrossed enough to remain silent.  The side effect is that I'm usually not into it on that extreme level that has me keeling over at every joke.  Laughter, like crying, comes from a very large emotional investment and connection to the writing.  Spoiled doesn't sound like a book that warrants this type of investment on the surface.  True, many readers will probably pick it up for the story presented at face value: girl discovers she is the daughter of a celebrity and clashes with her bitchy half-sister.  What Cocks and Morgan do with Spoiled is take it into a realm that YA doesn't know too well: satire.  (I will permit you readers, just once, to laugh at the fact that her last name is Cocks - because it matches her wonderful humor and we all need to get that inner fifth-grader out now.)  Spoiled is an excellent and fun read on the surface, but the tongue-in-cheek nature and characterization show that this book is more fleshed out than one would initially perceive.

Brooke Berlin is daughter to one of America's hottest movie stars.  Brick Berlin has starred in countless movies.  His face is constantly plastered over the Hollywood magazines.  The press knows everything he does (and some things that he doesn't, but goes along with anyway.)  To say Brooke cashes in on her father's success is an understatement.  She's one of the more popular students at her school - naturally one attended by the students of the wealthy and famous - and is a constant plate for fashion and partying.  One of the things she loves most is the little bits of attention she can get from her dense but well meaning dad.  She just can't handle sharing the spotlight of beloved daughter with anyone.

Molly Dix has always been the daughter of  a small-town seamstress and a man that she's never met before.  It's been that way for as long as she can remember.  It isn't until her mother passes away that Molly discovers the truth about her father: he's Brick Berlin, famous movie star.  With her mother gone and this new dad suddenly appearing into her life, Molly is completely uprooted to California from her tiny small town, leaving behind her boyfriend and her quiet life.  Her best friend is excited for her, but she can't help but be nervous - and excited - about the prospect of living with a celebrity.  Brooke's cattiness wasn't supposed to enter the equation.

The two girls have no idea what they're in for.  Brooke's selfish attitude has never had to share space with another sister.  Molly has never had to deal with someone like Brooke before.  Entering a world of celebrity parties, Brick Berlin's quotes to live by, and dealing with long-distance relationships has made Molly question coming down to California.  Brick welcomes her with open arms, but the experiences (and terrors) that come from living with Brooke are almost too hard to handle.  Brooke's own problems don't help, either.  Her arch nemesis starts to befriend Molly, and what little grip she has on her father slips away as he starts paying attention to his new daughter...seeming to all but forget about his old one.

It's really hard to say exactly why reading about a character like Brooke is fun.  Not because of the context of the story or the plotline, but because she's just such a hard person to like in real life.  Brooke's character is immediately presented as being defined by more selfish and shallow standards.  She has insights, but she is mostly dealing with her negative reaction to Molly's sudden appearance in her life.  Some readers will immediately feel repelled by a character like Brooke, but she is so much more than the shallow little rich girl.  While she still has her main personality and character traits, she really grows throughout the novel and comes into her own.  As it progresses, the reader really gets a sense for her feelings of abandonment during Molly's stay, and the reader gets the sense of what it could be like to be the child of a celebrity.  Cocks and Morgan really thought about what they were trying to tell with their character.  In Brooke's character progression we see the selfish girl calling for attention slowly morph into someone with a bit more maturity and a bit of a hard realization about her relationship with her father.  Brooke is not a static character in a Private novel - love them though I do, she grows and doesn't regress throughout the book in order to satisfy the plotline.  That's what works for me.  She changes and becomes a better person, and it helps to make her character fun to invest in during the reading experience.

More readers will take with Molly's sections, though I like her and Brooke equally well.  Molly is more of the character that readers will insert themselves into.  She's the average girl coming from a small town that ends up becoming the daughter of a rich and famous person.  That has the makings of several Disney Channel Original Movies, and probably at least one television show.  Casual readers would thus be led to assume that Molly would immediately get caught up in the glitz and glam and get carried away, showing a simple moral progression that would result in her learning a valuable lesson (but really learning nothing so a sequel could be written.)  Readers, Spoiled is better than that.  Molly does learn things and certainly enjoys her fame, but her issues come more from normal girl issues than the ones of a celebrity.  She does have to learn how to handle parties and tabloids, but the authors don't throw her in and turn her into a fluffy party girl character.  They show her as battling image issues because she hasn't been in the limelight like Brooke has, and they show the feud between the sisters as they attempt to sort out their feelings for each other and the reality of their situation.  Molly even has a cute little romance that doesn't progress too much, but is certainly cute and aw-worthy.  I love when a character like Molly comes along in these books.  I feel like the authors really understand that they can make a character that has the fun qualities of these starlet books while still giving  a sense of depth and roundness to said character.  Molly still stays true to herself while learning the ropes of Hollywood, and her growing relationships with her friends, her love interests, and her sister really help the book glow.

Writing-wise, I can see where Cocks and Morgan get such a loyal following for their website Go Fug Yourself.  I never read the site prior to reading Spoiled, but it adds a surprising amount of depth to what the reader can gain from the book.  These two authors see the world of celebrities every day and observe them in a way most people don't.  I think that allows them to really get to the heart of the type of book Spoiled is, and to make it a really great read on the surface as well as a way to say something about the celebrity culture - and to poke a lot of fun at it in the process.  That kind of humor, snark, and observation makes its way into Spoiled like you wouldn't believe.  Brick Berlin's lines alone are enough to make you laugh yourself to death.  I swear, I had to put the book down in places because it was so funny.  Also - come on, there is a character named Arugula.  That just wins.  Aside from all of that, the things I talked about above - characterization and depth - are very much present.  Spoiled is a great example of the power of creating a fun book that still gives something more.  There are a lot of surprisingly serious and emotional sections within the text, and readers get invested in the characters because they have problems that are fairly relative to teenagers outside of the celebrity culture sector.  The book also moves along at a good pace due to the narration and the balance of emotional issues with plot issues.  This is something that is very well constructed - it leaves enough room for sequels, but it feels satisfying on its own.

There's just no end to the good qualities of Spoiled.  This is the kind of thing I want to see more of - YA fluff that is more than fluff.  It reads smoothly and has a lot of humor, but the underneath is brimming with interesting things to explore and analyze.  Brooke and Molly have a great character dynamic, and with characters like Arugula and Brick in the background, you really can't stop turning the pages.  I'm eagerly awaiting the second book, and until then I'll just have to find all of Brick Berlin's quotes so I can laugh at them all over again. 

Cover:  I LOVE this cover.  Great design, not too crowded, and it really captures the eye.

Rating:  5.0  Stars

Copy:  Received from publicist/publisher for review  (Thank you Faye and Little & Brown!) 

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Review: The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa



Title:  The Iron Knight

Author:  Julie Kagawa

Publisher:  Harlequin Teen

Series:  The Iron Fey #4

Other Reviews for This Author:  The Iron King, The Iron Daughter, The Iron Queen

As a reader, I would be hard pressed to find a series that sucks me in with such force and pure amazement with each installment.  I unwittingly got The Iron King for Easter in 2010, and it wasn't until I started blogging and seeing the love for it that I decided to pick up it up and finally give it a go.  Now four books in and I'm a dedicated Kagawa fan girl (guy? doesn't really matter to me) that has read everything from her save her two novellas (which are going to be read over one school break or another.)  The Iron Knight is the culmination of my reading adventure that began in The Iron King.  I've waited a long time for this - I was overjoyed at the start of each book, and the end of The Iron Queen made me cry in the way a truly special book makes you cry.  My view on this book is thus extremely personal and probably more biased than Fox News, but the fact remains that I loved it and want to recommend this series to every reader who loves YA fantasy and romance.

*Note*  Summary and review will contain spoilers for the first three books in the series.  Ye' be warned.

Ash and Meghan have long been in love.  Since the half-daughter of Oberon met the icy prince of the Winter court, they had an undeniable attraction to each other.  That attraction crossed every boundary Faerieland had put up.  Summer and Winter were never supposed to unify, but in the young couple they did.  Ash and Meghan worked through banishment, politics, and the rise of the Iron Fey together - admitting their true feelings in the process.  Nothing was supposed to tear them apart.  They were supposed to be the saviors of the Fae world and defeat the Iron King.  While the tale concluded with their goal being reached, the process made it impossible for the two to be together.

Ash, a true blooded Fae, could never see Meghan again.  She became the Iron Queen and administered a sense of peace and order to the Iron Fey.  No longer an enemy of Faerieland, the Iron Fey would harmonize with it.  Ash is distraught.  To go through the trouble of finding the love of his life only to be unable to see her is too much to bear.  Ash also made a promise to her - a promise to be her knight and to be by her side.  His love and his Fae nature would never let him go back on that promise.  Only one solution left within the mythology of the Fae offers him the opportunity to live up to his promise and to see the girl that he loves again. 

To see Meghan, Ash wishes to become human.  The only living son of Queen Mab wishes to shed his Fae lineage and gain the one piece that separates the Fae from humanity - a soul.  Doing so means venturing across the wyldwood to the End of the World.  The Fae joker, Puck, and the cait sith Grimalkin join him on his quest to find humanity.  The Ice Prince needs all the help he can get, and soon discovers that the journey will take a lot more than physical ability to complete.  He'll have to confront his past on the harshest of levels, deal with locked away emotions, reconcile old enemies...and friends.  The Iron Knight concludes the tale of the Iron Fey by delving into the depths of its hero in the name of love and honor. 

There's something really frightening yet exciting about an author changing their narrative direction in order to tell a story.  Not all authors change the narrative direction in a series just because the focus deviates from the narrator, but Kagawa really didn't have a way of telling this story otherwise.  The end of The Iron Queen forced a very large separation between Meghan and Ash, and I was honestly very surprised and even a little bit apprehensive about the decision to continue the tale in Ash's perspective.  Kagawa wrote her female first person with a nice skill, and I was interested to see if she could write Ash's point of view while changing up the style just enough to feel like it's a different gender/character.  Ash as a character has a voice that does change up Kagawa's traditional style in some sense while still keeping the emotion and the action of the original three books.  Ash is more direct with his storytelling in some senses, and the raw power and aloofness are very present within the narrative.  Meghan lacked these startlingly "Ash" features, and it really helped to separate the narrative styles.  Ash himself is a character that I've come to love throughout Meghan's three books.  He's kind and gentle despite his initial icy exterior, and there's something about him that screams "bad boy" without being creepy.  The Iron Knight takes a completely new road with him, and Kagawa uses this to really dig into his character and the mentality.  We see so much more behind his former love and the lingering feelings for her, and we also see the frenemy relationship he has with Puck in a new light.  The perspective change really helps give a new view on who Ash is.  The latter part of the novel especially deals with his character growth, and it really presents the reader with the challenges that Ash has to endure.  It also causes the reader to really think about how Ash differs from Meghan as a full-fledged Fae who grew up in Faerieland.  Kagawa has always impressed me with how layered she can get with her stories, and The Iron Knight is no exception.  It's hard to take a character that you love and do adequate justice to them, but Kagawa really steps up to the plate and uses this book to expand Ash and let him come into his own. 

It will interest a lot of readers to know that Meghan is not among the characters that pepper this journey.  Yes, she is present in some of the narrative and discussed several times, but she is not focused on the way the other characters are.  Returning characters like Grimalkin remain their continual Fae selves - never changing, but growing slightly more ambiguous in their goodness with how they handle the constant stream of adventurous situations - and the Big Bad Wolf (who I believe was a character in Winter's Passage, an Iron Fey novella) comes in the narrative and presents a very scary type of Fae character that builds on the concept of storytelling as one way of living on forever.  Puck gets some really heavy page time, and I appreciated how his relationship with Ash was able to mend and grow from the journey in the book.  Puck is such a complicated character, and watching him reconcile his feelings with Ash and show some sensitivity in the matter really won me over in the long run.  Puck, the jokester of the bunch, doesn't like to show his feelings, but the way he would open up to Ash on occasions really impressed me.  The characterization in him has really become fleshed out.  Another character makes an appearance - a character that has only been discussed in previous novels - and they present their own challenges and uses throughout the novel.  Their inclusion will shock you and cause some distress, but their overall placement in the text is well-done and provides some much needed tying of loose ends within the series. 

As I mentioned previously, I was quite impressed with how Kagawa changed her writing style up just enough to show the narrator switch without losing what the original series has to it.  Kagawa's writing is extremely descriptive and emotional.  The reader gets an excellent sense of what the world looks like and what they are dealing with.  She also writes a lot of action and adventure into the story, and the fantasy aspect plays off of that nicely.  The resulting stories are usually more on the episodic side, but it's filled with so much emotional connection that it still feels tied together in the long run.  I've also discussed her influences before, and here in The Iron Knight we see them at their best.  Kagawa takes a lot of influence from video games, anime, and the like, and the episodic format she uses is a part of that.  She isn't afraid to bring in a lot of different types of faeries, concepts, and action sequences tie to the story but are just as fun in the moment of reading.  There are lots of action sequences and quest-like tasks that come out of the realms of video games and anime, but there is a reason the format works so well for those mediums - it provides entertainment and allows for the journey to be more than an emotional one.  Not every reader will appreciate this style of writing, but I extremely enjoy it because of how memorable and pleasurable it is for me to read it. 

The Iron Knight is a conclusion worthy of this series.  It presents a new style in an old character while retaining all of the important stylistic and narrative aspects of Julie Kagawa's great writing.  She uses the time to provide a great amount of characterization to Ash, and the ultimate effect of the book is one of wonderful - and sad - closure.  Where The Iron Queen rips your heart out, this book will put it back together again.  It speaks to the idea of the ultimate sacrifice for love.  It also speaks to the idea that everything comes back with a purpose.  Kagawa has ended this particular timeline with grace and style, and I so look forward to what she has coming up as a writer. 

Cover:  I love this cover because...well, it's just as stunning as the others, and the dual Ash/Puck on the front and back just makes me want to squee.

Rating:  5.0  Stars

Copy:  Received from publisher/publicist for review  (Thanks to Erin, Media Muscle, and Harlequin Teen!) 

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Blog Tour: Excerpt from The Iron Knight

All of you know that I love Julie Kagawa's Iron Fae series published by Harlequin Teen.  Today, I'm playing host to the blog tour of the book by giving an excerpt from the first chapter of The Iron Knight, a continuation of the original trilogy told through the eyes of Prince Ash as he quests to become human.



The excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Iron Knight:


Fate brought us together, and despite everything I did to shield my emotions, despite the laws of our people and the war with the Iron fey and the threat of eternal banishment from my home, I still found myself falling for her. Our paths were woven together, our fates intertwined, and before the last battle I swore I would follow her to the end of the world, to protect her from all threats, including my own kin, and to die for her if called to do so. I became her knight, and would have gladly served this girl, this mortal who had captured my heart, until the last breath left my body.


Check back later for a review of The Iron Knight, which stunningly concludes the series that began with Meghan Chase and her quest to save her brother...and turned into something so much more.  I love this series with all of my heart, and I encourage everyone who loves fun fantasy and romance to pick it up.

For tomorrow's excerpt, go to Books and Other Creative Adventures.  :) 

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