Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Pages: 416 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher through NetGalley
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men—thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the kings council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.


Review:


And now the moment of truth: Throne of Glass itself. I went for the novellas first and after seeing those slowly decline in quality, I was worried the novel itself would share those flaws. I suppose I worried for nothing; Throne of Glass was the lengthier version of everything I wish the novellas could have been. I still had a few problems with it, but I'm hooked well enough to stay around.

Maas writes a clear and very readable story with few to no narrative tripping points to knock me out of Celaena's world; it took me only two days to read the novel in its entirety. If it hadn't been for the pesky necessity known as sleep, I would have read it in one. About halfway through the novel, I exclaimed to myself, "Finally, someone gets that a woman can be a butt-kicker and still like clothes and jewelry and girly stuff!" Celaena was someone I loved reading about because of her bright yet hardened personality and the challenges she faces.

Celaena, Prince Dorian, Captain of the Guard Chaol Westfall, noblewoman Kaltain Rompier, and the king himself all take their turns as narrators and show the readers far more than just what's going on with the tournament. A secret scheme or two is hinted at and while they are not given much of a spotlight, there is the promise they will come to be very important. The grand mystery of this novel---who is killing the other potential champions?--may seem a bit obvious to some, but red herrings and small hints keep readers guessing. Believe me, I was happy to see improvement in the author's ability to write a mystery. The second novella The Assassin and the Desert also had a mystery as its central plot and it was a poorly written one, in my opinion.

When it comes to Celaena's clothes and how each of her two love interests feel about her (ah, love triangles: how I have not missed them), we get plenty of description. Concerning the all-important Tests that determine who stays in the competition and who gets knocked out, we get very little. I wanted to see more of the challenges Celaena had to go through. The focus on somewhat unnecessary details and the romance slowed down the pacing to the point where I had to force myself to keep reading until I hit a point where something of interest was finally happening.

There will be two more books in this series at the very least and that means at least two more books for the explanation of Celaena's world, but I wanted to know a little more about the magic and the history of it in their world. In a scene at the beginning of the novel, Celaena wakes up in a tent to find small footprints leading in and out of the tent, along with flowers at the foot of her cot. This is promptly dropped and never brought up again. It may have been small, but I really wanted to know about it.

My recommendation? Pick up the novel but think long and hard about whether or not you want to read the novellas. They're nothing compared to the book. As for me, I'll be patiently awaiting the second novel in the series so I can see where the scheme revealed at the end of the novel will go and what Celaena will do about it.

(But I will continue to ignore its marketing as Game of Thrones for teens or, more specifically, teenage girls. I'll tell you what Game of Thrones for teenage girls is: Game of Thrones. It really gets my goat when the marketing for a novel stereotypes it to "_____ for teenage girls" because it stars a girl and there's more romance. That's kinda sexist, don't you think? I had this same problem with the way Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini was marketed as Percy Jackson for teenage girls. Last time I checked, Percy Jackson for teenage girls was Percy Jackson.)

4 stars! (But more like 3.5 stars.)


What am I reading next?: Dearly, Beloved by Lia Habel

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young

Title: A Need So Beautiful
Author: Suzanne Young
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Pages: 267 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Read it on my Kindle
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: audiobook clip | book trailer | author website

A Need So Beautiful (A Need So Beautiful, #1)We all want to be remembered. Charlotte's destiny is to be Forgotten...

Charlotte’s best friend thinks Charlotte might be psychic. Her boyfriend thinks she’s cheating on him. But Charlotte knows what’s really wrong: She is one of the Forgotten, a kind of angel on earth, who feels the Need—a powerful, uncontrollable draw to help someone, usually a stranger.

But Charlotte never wanted this responsibility. What she wants is to help her best friend, whose life is spiraling out of control. She wants to lie in her boyfriend's arms forever. But as the Need grows stronger, it begins to take a dangerous toll on Charlotte. And who she was, is, and will become--her mark on this earth, her very existence--is in jeopardy of disappearing completely.

Charlotte will be forced to choose: Should she embrace her fate as a Forgotten, a fate that promises to rip her from the lives of those she loves forever? Or is she willing to fight against her destiny--no matter how dark the consequences.


Review:


Don't enter giveaways for sequels to books you haven't read. I hope that lesson isn't necessary for anyone reading this and I doubt that it is, but I'll say it anyway. A Need So Beautiful was never on my radar simply because I wasn't interested, but I stupidly entered a giveaway for its sequel A Want So Wicked and won, meaning I had to read the first book. It didn't feel right to win a sequel from the publisher and instantly get rid of it without reading it, so I got myself a copy of the first book and started reading.

I didn't expect terribly much from the novel and that's what I got: not terribly much. Not to say it's oatmeal in the YA supermarket, though--it's got some great highlights. Charlotte was sympathetic and I understood her conflict is written very well, as are all the scenes where she gives in to the Need and helps people. The climactic scene and the Need Charlotte fulfills just before then nearly made me cry! The other characters didn't quite get the same depth, but they weren't annoying caricatures either. I got the lesser of two evils.

A little more focus on the capricious nature of Charlotte's gift (why this person and not this person when both are equally deserving and in need of help?) would have been great. The length of the novel is perfect and I don't think it needs extra pages added to it just for that; cutting down on the huge focus on Harlin and replacing it with a little philosophical stuff would have worked. Their romance was a little cloying, especially because it didn't feel authentic to me and I didn't care about whether or not things worked out for them, and that reduction wouldn't have bothered me at all.

For most of the novel, I was bored. I skim-read at least eighty percent of the time and kept trying to wander away to something else. Only my determination to get this finished today got me through to the end. Charlotte's dilemma was well-drawn, but for the most part, I had no emotional investment in the novel and there wasn't much to keep me reading. Whether it was my YA expertise coming out or issues with the novel itself, I saw much of what was thrown at Charlotte/the reader coming and it lacked the impact it was supposed to have.

There's more I could say about both the positive and negative aspects of the novel, but I care so little about it that I keep forgetting what I want to say. Now that I have book one out of the way, I can start on book two... as soon as I get some other required reading out of the way first. If you want to write about angels and want books that adequately exhibit an angel character's conflict with who they are/what their higher purpose tells them they have to do, this is a good place to start. If this never seemed like your kind of book or reading this review has made you wonder whether or not you should read it, I suggest skipping it.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Heaven by Alexandra Adornetto

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fated by Alyson Noel

Title: Fated
Author: Alyson Noel
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: May 22, 2012
Pages: 3552 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: audiobook clip | book trailer | author website

Fated (Soul Seekers, #1)The first book in a magnificent new series about a girl who can navigate between the worlds of the living and the dead by #1 New York Times bestselling author Alyson Noël.

Lately strange things have been happening to Daire Santos. Animals follow her, crows mock her, and glowing people appear out of nowhere. Worried that Daire is having a nervous breakdown, her mother packs her off to stay in the dusty plains of Enchantment, New Mexico with a grandmother she’s never met.

There she crosses paths with Dace, a gorgeous guy with unearthly blue eyes who she’s encountered before...but only in her dreams. And she’ll get to know her grandmother—a woman who recognizes Daire’s bizarre episodes for what they are. A call to her true destiny as a Soul Seeker, one who can navigate between the worlds of the living and the dead. Her grandmother immediately begins teaching her to harness her powers—but it’s an art that must be mastered quickly. Because Dace’s brother is an evil shape-shifter who’s out to steal her powers. Now Daire must embrace her fate as a Soul Seeker and find out if Dace is one guy she’s meant to be with...or if he’s allied with the enemy she’s destined to destroy.


Review:


Most readers know this author for her Immortals series and opinions about it vary. Some call it the best thing since sliced bread. Others think it's decent. Still others think it's gut-wrenchingly terrible. Then there's that contingent who think it's hilariously bad, and that's where I am. I spent months thinking over whether or not I wanted to read Fated and a few weeks ago, I decided to go for it. (You may notice that means I made my decision at the same time the cover for the sequel came out. Shut up! Whatever you're thinking, just don't say it.) I can't say I'm entirely surprised that I disliked Fated.

When Fated gets good, it gets really, really good. I love each and every one of the ideas in this novel, even if they're executed a little weaker than I'd like. Creative, fresh, and fun--exactly what I expected and wanted from it. One thing I love about this author in particular is that she always uses names most authors wouldn't touch because they're so weird. Marliz, Jannika, Django, Daire... Such strange and lovely names. On occasion, the prose is perfect for the scene and the imagery is astounding.

The rest of the time, however, this does not read like this author's eighteenth published novel. That's right: eighteenth published novel. That's pretty impressive, but it reads more like someone's second attempt at writing a novel when they've never been published and they're still trying to learn the ropes. The way most of the novel is written in sentence fragments made me ache for some sentence variety and adherence to the rules of grammar. Fragmented sentences? They're alright with me as long as they're not overused because it's not like everyone speaks or thinks with perfect grammar--not even a stickler like me!--but this novel went wild with them.

Fated is sluggishly paced and feels at least twice as long as it is. I had to force myself to keep reading half the time and that was no easy feat, let me tell you. The lack of characterization and an over-reliance on stereotypes when someone decided it was time to make an attempt at characterization made all the characters start blending into one gray, oozing mass in my mind. The insta-love between Dace and Daire? So over it. I've got to hand it to this book: it made the all-too-common insta-love a little more memorable this time around. How many books have their characters practically in love with one another before they ever meet?

Quite honestly, I was in it for the Foe Yay between Daire and Cade for most of the novel. I will never be able to explain why I love it so much. I just do. Maybe I just like the tensions between protagonists and antagonists so much that I start shipping it? Is it the result of my natural aversion to shipping normal/canon couples? You are better off asking a rock what the meaning of life is than asking me why I love Foe Yay.

I sound really unhappy with this book, don't I? Like I wouldn't touch the next book of the series in a million years. Well, I'm going to. In fact, I'm looking forward to Echo's release November 13th. I think Noel is really onto something with this series and I want to support her because even when I'm ranting and raving about the myriad of problems both are permeated by, I love the publishing industry and YA.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: Scorch by Gina Damico

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Circle of Silence by Carol M. Tanzman

Title: Circle of Silence
Author: Carol M. Tanzman
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Pages: 304 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Circle of Silence (WiHi, #2)THE BIGGEST STORY OF MY LIFE COULD BE HOW IT ENDS 

It's my turn to run a "Campus News" crew, and I've put together a team that can break stories wide open. And Washington Irving High has a truly great one to cover, if only we can find a lead.

A secret society has formed in our school. It announced its presence with pranks: underwear on the flagpole, a toilet in the hallway, cryptic notes. A circle of silence keeps the society a mystery. No one knows its members, agenda or initiation secrets-until a student lands in the hospital under "strange" circumstances.

I "will" blow this story wide open and stop others from being hurt...or worse. And while my ex, Jagger, might want to help, I don't trust him yet. (And, no, not because of our past together. That is "not" important to this story.)

But whether you find me, Valerie Gaines, reporting in front of the camera, or a victim in the top story of the newscast...be sure to watch "Campus News" at 9:00 a.m. this Friday.


Review:


Ah, stories with elements of student journalism... There aren't nearly enough YA novels featuring student journalists. There need to be more! Utilizing the excitement of capturing a possibly-dangerous story rather than the suspense of a stalker as she did in dancergirl, Tanzman's new YA thriller keeps readers glued to their seats and unable to put the book down for very long. It has a few issues, though. Issues I really can't ignore.

As Valerie ran around trying to break the MP story wide open, I was reminded of my own days as a student journalist. Good times, I tell you. Good times. Working on a good story for an entire class period, editing the other students' articles (oh, the horrible articles one girl kept handing in...), spending an entire class period photographing the graffiti problem in the bathrooms (I think I still have all the pictures; pretty nasty stuff, the free time I got when I finished my articles early--and I always finished my articles early, the panicking about getting ads in on time so we could make our print deadline, the constant reminders that my alcoholic grandmother was once a journalist herself...

Okay, so all those times weren't good, but Valerie captures the best of them and because of that personal detail, I was more interested in where Circle of Silence went than I expected to be. She might be into television journalism while I preferred print journalism, but they share so many common elements that I can easily overlook it.

Overall, I wanted more development. More than anything, it wants to build suspense and be a thriller, which it does and which it is. At the cost of the well-built suspense and the utter readability of the novel, none of the characters really grow over the course of the novel and I didn't get to know any of them very well. Jagger's grand plan for infiltrating MP has too many holes in it from the beginning and seeing the characters take so long to catch on to those snags didn't do the novel any good. Toward the end, Valerie picks up the Idiot Ball and presumably beats herself with it to near-unconsciousness. It's the only explanation for how stupidly she acted just before and during the climactic scene.

And I admit, one star of this book's three-star rating comes solely because the love interest's name is Jagger. It's better if you don't ask.

I'm not sure if there will be more books in this series, but if there are, I'll surely read them! It's nice to be able to sit down and read a book straight through in one sitting.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Heaven by Alexandra Adornetto

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Title: Pushing the Limits
Author: Katie McGarry
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: July 31, 2012
Pages: 368 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.

But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.

Review:


Sometimes, an author's agent sells a book/series to an editor and that's that. Other times, multiple editors express interest in acquiring the book/series and then a book auction happens. Every time I hear that a book went to auction, I challenge myself to try and see what captured the interest of multiple editors; I feel like it's really got to be something to go to auction. I clearly see why Pushing the Limits went to auction--oh my, that chemisty! It nearly blew up my house!--and it's hard to stop reading, but it needs improvement on the pacing, the melodrama, and the details of Echo's insomnia.

McGarry's gift is creating chemistry between her characters, and not just romantic chemistry between Echo and Noah (though the chemistry there was pretty explosive too). The relationships between Echo/her parents and Noah/his brothers are similarly well-developed and just as powerful as the romantic storyline I never quite cried while I was reading, but my eyes misted over two or three times, occurring each time during scenes where Noah interacted with his brothers, who were in foster care with another family.

The book's pacing is a little uneven. At first, short chapters and developing storylines/chemistry make it hard to put Pushing the Limits down, but once Echo and Noah get together around halfway through the book, the pacing slows to a crawl and it was a struggle to keep going. Once we enter the last 50 to 100 pages, things speed back up again, but readers can easily be lost by that sluggish middle third. The melodrama the novel devolves into during that middle third doesn't help matters. True dramatic tension is a huge draw for me, but once it starts getting over-the-top, I want out.

The little details of Echo's trauma-related insomnia rang false to me. I have suffered from insomnia in the past for weeks or months at a time and with that personal experience in my arsenal, I know Echo should not be behaving like she gets a full night's sleep every night. I can count one or two occasions where we actually saw her insomnia affecting her by making her fall asleep in class and have a difficult time paying attention, but for the most part, she walks, talks, and behaves like someone getting all the rest they need. The telling-not-showing of insomnia and the way the disorder is glossed over is not cool with me. If a character is given a medical disorder, I want them to show signs they actually have it, but just be told so.

McGarry's next book, Dare You To, will center on Beth's life and from what little I saw of it during Pushing the Limits, it has the potential to be even more of a grabbing, intense story than this one was. Depending on what information comes out about it as the publication date comes closer, I may or may not pick it up. Fans of unique dual perspectives and people struggling to overcome the problems that plague their lives and psyches will surely enjoy Pushing the Limits.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Important Blog News: The YA Kitten

Within the next week, the name of this blog will change from The Screaming Nitpicker to The YA Kitten, and the URL of my blog will change to reflect this. Just giving all my beautiful readers some advance warning so no one will wonder, "Who the hell are they?" when they see they're following The YA Kitten and The Screaming Nitpicker is gone, or they type in the URL for one and get redirected to the latter.

Why the change after nearly 300 posts? Because I hate my blog's current name so much. You can't even know When I chose The Screaming Nitpicker, I wasn't thinking into its implications like I should have. I wanted it to be facetious, but it makes me look like an ass, and I don't want to look like an ass. I'm certain it's not helping me make friends in the blogging community (though my absolute failure at being social is a larger contributing factor), so a change is in order.

Right now, I'm working my ass off behind the scenes to get a new review archive page created with the proper URLs in place, redesign everything, and try and make this transition as smooth as possible. See you soon on my shiny new/old blog!


The Assassin and the Empire by Sarah J. Maas

Title: The Assassin and the Empire
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Release Date: July 20, 2012
Pages: ebook exclusive
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon
Promotional Materials and More: author website | my other Throne of Glass reviews

The Assassin and the Empire (Throne of Glass, #0.4)Celaena Sardothien is the assassin with everything: a place to call her own, the love of handsome Sam, and, best of all, freedom. Yet, she won’t be truly free until she is far away from her old master, Arobynn Hamel; Celaena must take one last daring assignment that will liberate her forever. But having it all, means you have a lot to lose . . .

This fourth fantastic e-novella gives readers an inside look at the characters who appear in the full-length novel Throne of Glass. Don’t miss out!

Review:


Now that's better.

While reading the first three novellas, I found myself liking each one less than the one before until I outright hated the third one. With The Assassin and the Empire, it makes improvements in leaps and bounds and creates the set-up for Maas's hyped-up debut novel.

Celaena realizing exactly how spoiled and entitled she is after she loses access to the endless supply of money she had while still under Arobynn's command was great, and I liked how the struggles she and Sam had to endure now that they were free were portrayed. I originally disliked they became lovers, but after seeing the imperfect yet likable way they worked together as a couple, I finally got won over by it. The twisted, abusive relationship between Celaena and her father figure/mentor Arobynn also showed that a relationship doesn't have to be romantic for it to be abusive and/or unhealthy. Well-written, that part was.

In a problem that has occurred multiple times throughout the novellas, there is a mystery that is no mystery at all because it's too easy to figure out. The big reveal of whodunnit is supposed to have some kind of impact, but when we see it coming a mile away, it loses that punch. Speaking of thing that lack punch, the most important event of the novella (which I can't detail because it spoils too much) that leads Celaena to make the decisions that seal her fate and put her in the Endovier salt mines she is plucked out of at the beginning of Throne of Glass left me surprisingly disinterested. It certainly impacts Celaena, but it doesn't make me feel anything at all.

I'm thinking I should give this three stars, but I'm feeling generous right now because this was such an improvement on the other novellas (and also on some of my recent reads, but that's another story altogether) that I'll round it up.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Two and Twenty Dark Tales edited by Georgina McBride and Michelle Zink

Monday, July 23, 2012

Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer

Title: Smart Girls Get What They Want
Author: Sarah Strohmeyer
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Pages: 352 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC via Amazon Vine
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Smart Girls Get What They WantGigi, Bea, and Neerja are best friends and total overachievers. Even if they aren't the most popular girls in school, they aren't too worried. They know their "real" lives will begin once they get to their Ivy League colleges. There will be ivy, and there will be cute guys in the libraries (hopefully with English accents) But when an unexpected event shows them they're missing out on the full high school experience, it's time to come out of the honors lounge and into the spotlight. They make a pact: They will each take on their greatest challenge--and they will totally "rock" it.

Gigi decides to run for student rep, but she'll have to get over her fear of public speaking--and go head-to-head with gorgeous California Will. Bea used to be one of the best skiers around, until she was derailed. It could be time for her to take the plunge again. And Neerja loves the drama club but has always stayed behind the scenes--until now.

These friends are determined to show the world that smart girls really can get what they want--but that could mean getting way more attention than they ever bargained for. . . .


Review:


After I just finished a book about the negative messages hidden in media we tend to think of as mindless entertainment, I'm not sure Smart Girls Get What They Want stood a chance.

I'm always endeavoring to be fair and I wanted to love this book. A novel about the smart girls getting everything they want? Oh yeah! My kind of book! But it turned out not to be. The first 130 pages nearly made me quit because our three "smart girls" were more like morons with straight As. Gigi's judgmental ways really got on my nerves and I just didn't care about the other two girls because they weren't given quite as much development as I wished they had been.

Throughout the book, I kept picking up a message that really angered me: that it's OMG TERRIBLE to not be well-known in your class and if you're a very smart girl with a small, close circle of friends but you're kind of invisible to everyone in your class, you don't have anything of worth. I never thought this book would go that way and personally offend me by doing so, but it did. I'm certain the author didn't mean to deliver that kind of message, but intent isn't magical like that.

So what changed? What made me finish this book and kinda-sorta like it?

Character development happened, thank goodness. Gigi stopped being judgmental of her seatmates, who liked to discuss dresses and shoes and jewelry each day in homeroom (which is one of the major things I side-eyed Gigi for; there's nothing wrong with people who like fashion). The skiing scenes where Gigi and Bea joined the ski team and raced were really, really fun to read. I never came to fully like the novel or care about what happened to its characters, but I went from hating it to being indifferent to it, and that was a pretty big step up. I give it that much.

The writing grated on me every now and then. The prologue was nothing but babbling info-dump about where their friendship began and Gigi rotated between talking in present tense and talking in past tense. I'd like to see the rampant tense confusions evened out, but Smart Girls Get What They Want is still an easy read. The romances are cute, but nothing I really cared about.

The first third is easily one-star material and the rest of the book is worth about three stars, I'll give it two. I wanted to be generous and give it three because it managed to crawl out of a pit I didn't think it could get out of, but messages that personally offend me ruin any chance of me being generous.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman

Title: Beautiful Lies
Author: Jessica Warman
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Pages: 432 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Rachel and Alice are an extremely rare kind of identical twins—so identical that even their aunt and uncle, whom they’ve lived with since their parents passed away, can’t tell them apart. But the sisters are connected in a way that goes well beyond their surfaces: when one experiences pain, the other exhibits the exact same signs of distress. So when one twin mysteriously disappears, the other immediately knows something is wrong—especially when she starts experiencing serious physical traumas, despite the fact that nobody has touched her. As the search commences to find her sister, the twin left behind must rely on their intense bond to uncover the truth. But is there anyone around her she can trust, when everyone could be a suspect? And ultimately, can she even trust herself

 Master storyteller Jessica Warman will keep readers guessing when everything they see—and everything they are told—suddenly becomes unreliable in this page-turning literary thriller.

Review:


The idea behind stigmatic twins, a concept central to Beautiful Lies and its plot, is that if one twin is hurt, the same injury will manifest itself on the other twin. Warman created well-rounded characters as she explored the relationships between stigmatic twins Rachel and Alice Foster and how they interact with the world around them and it's a shame such fantastic characterization is brought down by horrible pacing, glaring inconsistencies, and bloated writing.

The greatest strength Beautiful Lies has going for it is how well done its character relationships are. Alice and Rachel's relationship as sisters and as stigmatic twins who have only had each other for a large portion of their lives is believable, especially once Rachel's secrets start coming to light. Alice is a complex character herself--not fully explained or completely comprehensible, but she's someone people will want to read about. They might need a hint of what's to come to get them hooked, though. Their relationships with their aunt and uncle and also their friend Kimber were high points as well.

What really got me was how inconsistent the novel was. Remember the explanation I offered earlier about stigmatic twins? The way it's used in the novel doesn't always make sense. Alice doesn't notice she has two black eyes, a dog bite in her leg, or a big gash in the back of her head until someone else points it out and that strikes me as a little strange considering the injuries. When Rachel pulls out one of her teeth, Alice feels nothing and loses no tooth. The scene would have worked had Alice questioned why she didn't feel her sister's pain, but she takes it at face value and never questions why she didn't feel the pain of a tooth being pulled out if she suffers through her sister's injuries.

The scenario that let Rachel get kidnapped in the first place wasn't too logical either. Alice's phone got taken away with good reason, but her guardians still let Alice (or Rachel, since the girls switched identities) to go out with her friends on a Saturday night. Strange way of punishing a child, sending them out with their friends without their cell phone. It seems more sensible to ground her from going out. At the very least, it seems smarter to lift the cell phone ban for one night so Alice would have a way to communicate. But no, that's too inconvenient to the plot, so we get this nonsensical set-up.

None of this was helped by the novel's poor pacing. Alice and Rachel have a strong relationship with one another that gives Beautiful Lies the minimum amount of drive needed, but it isn't powerful enough to hold up a four-hundred thirty-two page novel, nor is the mystery of where Rachel is and who took her. With so little forward momentum to it, getting the novel read took much longer than it usually takes me to read novels just as long or longer. Toward the end, I started skimming.

I own Between, another of Warman's novels, but I'm a little more hesitant about it because part of the problem I had with Beautiful Lies was its prose and how the book felt twice as long as it was. That's more of a style problem than a content problem and there's not much you can do about that sort of problem. Still, Between is here and I might find myself happy with it if I decide to flip through it one day. Beautiful Lies requires a great deal of mental energy because it's the kind of novel where you'll have to reread passages to fully understand what's happening, but other readers may find such a novel more rewarding than I did.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Friday, July 20, 2012

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Title: Shut Out
Author: Kody Keplinger
Publisher: Poppy
Release Date: September 5, 2011
Pages: 273 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: audiobook clip | book trailer | author website

Shut OutMost high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it's a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part, Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy's car gas been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend's attention.

Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: she and the other players' girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won't get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace. What they don't count on is a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first. And Lissa never sees her own sexual tension with the leader of the boys, Cash Sterling, coming.

Inspired by Aristophanes' play Lysistrata, critically acclaimed author of The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) Kody Keplinger adds her own trademark humor in this fresh take on modern teenage romance, rivalry and sexuality.


Review:


Even though this is the first Kody Keplinger book I've read, she is one of my favorite authors. How? Because I love sex-positive authors who write sex-positive books. We need more ladies like her writing YA and I have serious respect for her. I was happy to finally buy a copy of Shut Out so I could see if she'd be a favorite author for the quality of her books and not just her open-minded way of writing about teens and sex.

Shut Out is an easy, breezy read I blew through while sitting poolside and Keplinger gets how real teenagers think, feel, and speak. I love that! I like most of the characters, though Lissa's boyfriend Randy being such a caricature irritated me. (Really, naming a sex-hungry boyfriend Randy? Those aware of British slang will see right through it.) Lissa fell a few notches when she kept referring to one girl as The Blonde even when she learned the girl's name (Autumn). Just no. It was silly and not like Lissa considering what she was preaching.

The approach to double standards and a woman's right to feel how she wants to feel about sex, whether she loves having it or wants to wait, is a little heavy-handed, though I agree with them whole-heartedly. I'm already thoroughly educated in feminism and the evils of sexual double standards that let men do whatever they want where women are prudes for not having sex and sluts for having it, so the way they are brought up and talked about bored me and felt like too much. For someone who hasn't thought about those double standards before or didn't even realize they were there, this head-on discussion might help or it might be too much. I've seen head-on approaches like that put people off and fail to get their entirely valid message across.

In addition, the way a contemporary spin is put on Lysistrata, where wives of warring nations go on their own sex strike in order to end the war (and win) is a teensy bit problematic. For these girls in the modern era to immediately decide they should go on a hookup strike, that implies the only way women can influence others even now is through their bodies. It's one thing in the source material, where that is unfortunately true, but it's another in Shut Out. I think an easy solution would have been mentioning earlier attempts to end the rivalry that failed, showing that they'd considered and tried to end the rivalry in other ways before deciding on a hookup strike as a last resort.

So I may not think Shut Out is the greatest and think the subject matter could have been handled better, but Keplinger remains one of my favorite authors. I still want to read more of her books and if I ever make it as an author, I soooooo want to be author-friends with her.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Cold Fury by T.M. Goeglein

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cold Fury by T.M. Goeglein

Title: Cold Fury
Author: T.M. Goeglein
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Pages: 313 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC received in a swap with a friend.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Cold Fury  Jason Bourne meets The Sopranos in this breathtaking adventure
Sara Jane Rispoli is a normal sixteen-year-old coping with school and a budding romance--until her parents and brother are kidnapped and she discovers her family is deeply embedded in the Chicago Outfit (aka the mob).

Now on the run from a masked assassin, rogue cops and her turncoat uncle, Sara Jane is chased and attacked at every turn, fighting back with cold fury as she searches for her family. It's a quest that takes her through concealed doors and forgotten speakeasies--a city hiding in plain sight. Though armed with a .45 and 96K in cash, an old tattered notebook might be her best defense--hidden in its pages the secret to "ultimate power." It's why she's being pursued, why her family was taken, and could be the key to saving all of their lives.

Action packed, with fresh, cinematic writing, Cold Fury is a riveting and imaginative adventure readers will devour.


Review:


If I keep seeing the exact same issues in YA over and over again like I have been lately, I am going to put down the books for a little while and start making buttons in Photoshop. Typing out the same complaints over and over again gets old very quickly and  if those buttons would create such a great shortcut for books like Cold Fury, whose problems I have all seen before and detailed my dislike of before. Negative portrayals of most women, spoilerific narrative choice, a badly developed heroine, and a slew of other issues made me happy to finish the book as quickly as I did.

On the bright side, I read this in a single day. Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger and it's easy to keep turning the pages. Maybe it was a little easier for me because I was trapped on a six-hour road trip and I wanted to get Cold Fury finished, but it stands that it was good enough for me to take only one day to read.

If a character is female in this book and their name is not Sara Jane Rispoli (and if they are not her mother; absent as she is, her mom doesn't get any characterization), they are almost certainly negatively portrayed. Uncle Buddy's wife Greta: cardboard character who is controlling, mean, and the implied reason the feud between Uncle Buddy and his brother got worse. Mandi Fishbaum: cardboard character who calls Sara Jane a slut and whose friends (all girls) join in to make fun of her. Gina: gossip. The major antagonist is also female.

What is that supposed to accomplish? Is Sara Jane supposed to look better in comparison with every other woman in the book? It doesn't work. It only makes me dislike the book more because that device is old and rather offensive to me. To be frank, Sara Jane could be genderswitched into a boy named Jack Rispoli and I would not know the difference. There is nothing authentically female about her voice or character.

Speaking of Sara Jane, I don't like action movies. This book, down to the hollow lead character who doesn't get any depth and just does what she needs to so the plot will advance and the lack of development, reminds me too much of the action movies that made me dislike the entire genre. Sara Jane had so many viable opportunities to show she has depth--a little bit of resentment toward her parents when she discovers how male children are prized over female children in Outfit families, for instance, because that's perfectly understandable--but she never takes them. She lives and breathes and moves, but inside, there is nothing complex going on. She's hollow.

Cold Fury has such an interesting, awesome storyline going on with the Chicago Outfit (better known as the mob), but the way in which it's executed and its history is explained is so droll that it becomes less interesting and awesome as a result. We learn the history of the Outfit and each family's place in it through pages and pages of infodumps by Sara Jane as she reads the notebook. I cared about what was being explained, but when delivered in such a dry way, I lost interest.

A few continuity issues range from mild, like when she first felt cold fury (we learn early on it happened during a boxing match; later, she says it happened after a girl called her a slut) to something more important like her birthday (her family's disappearance and the Spring Dance in late April/early May fall on her birthday, but it's an important detail that her birthday is November 23, 1996 because it opens an all-important suitcase). Because my copy was an ARC, I'd love for a friend with a finished copy to look through it and confirm whether or not those details are still there. If they aren't, that's fantastic and the continuity issues are nil. If they are still there, I may need to trim off another star.

My final complaint is the narrative choice. First-person past is what I prefer, but Sara Jane's reflections on her past tend to dole out spoilers like a card dealer in a Las Vegas casino. Spoilers aren't fun, especially when a book's own narrator is doing the spoiling. Though the jacket copy tells readers her family is involved in the Outfit, she herself doesn't learn this for at least half the book. Her reflections on the past make it so obvious what is about to happen or how important a moment is, but I don't want her to tell me this. I want to discover it and/or figure it out myself! Annoyance at this device made me put the book down multiple times.

Cold Fury is the first in a trilogy, but I'm unsure whether or not I will come back for book two. Hints at a possible love triangle between Max, Sarah Jane, and Tyler, a seventeen-year-old CEO who is an Outfit kid just like Sarah Jane, are scaring me away. Sara Jane already claimed she may love Max even though they barely interact during the novel--classically bad insta-love--and that doesn't give me much hope in any romance this series has to offer As I've learned, I really should stop saying never when it comes to sequels because sometimes, I break down and read them. This time, I'll say "maybe."

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Title: Something Strange and Deadly
Author: Susan Dennard
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Pages: 400 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC via Amazon Vine.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.


Review:


Something about the cover of this book always struck me as being off. The model's expression, maybe? The way her right eyebrow seems to dive straight into her eye? I'm not sure. Though I enjoyed Something Strange and Deadly for its first hundred pages, that same feeling of something being off came to me again, this time about the book's content. It took me less than half the book to figure out what's off this time: the predictability of the story and a few other details that ultimately made me dislike Dennard's debut novel.

The story was well-paced and well-plotted enough for me to read the majority of the novel in one day and the prose was quite nice. It wasn't a book I had to force myself to read by any means even when I lost the desire to keep reading. Though her character arc was not as great as I hoped it would be, what changes Eleanor went through did make me happy. These better facets of the novel keep it out of the zero-star range I save for terrible books, but they weren't enough to redeem what I considered book-breaking points.

What really broke Something Strange and Deadly was the fact that its mysteries--who the necromancer is and their motive, why certain people in Philadelphia are dying, who Elijah's bullies were, and more--were as subtle as a nuclear bomb going off.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not. All the small hints at the larger picture aren't really that small.The answers were so obvious that I thought they had to be red herrings, and I wasn't happy to discover that my predictions were, in fact, correct and none of the answers I'd come up with were wrong. I wanted to be surprised and enchanted and sadly, I was not either when it came to this novel.

The reliance on tropes that are becoming more common in YA novels didn't help either. Mothers using their daughters in an attempt to attain money for them/their family and heroines being motivated by their missing/in-danger brothers? I've seen enough of both of those tropes to last me a few years. Stock characters thrown in here and there (I have become a lot more sensitive to and annoyed by stock characters as of late due to some recent nonfiction reading), weak characterization for almost all the characters who weren't named Eleanor Fitt, and how inauthentic the 1876 Philadelphia setting felt were other weak points that kept me from enjoying myself more.

Yes, I disliked Something Strange and Deadly. Yes, I am giving it only one star. Strangely enough, I do have an interest in reading the sequel--not to laugh at it, but because I'm genuinely interested in where Dennard will take her characters next. I have a good feeling A Darkness Strange and Lovely will be a vast improvement over this book. It's very rare I feel this way after reading a book I dislike; only one other book, The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton, has ever gotten that reaction from me before and it's a very good sign.

1 star!


What am I reading next?: The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Assassin and the Underworld by Sarah J. Maas

Title: The Assassin and the Underworld
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Pages: ebook exclusive
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Promotional Materials and More: author website | my other Throne of Glass reviews

When the King of the Assassins gives Celaena Sardothien a special assignment that will help fight slavery in the kingdom, she jumps at the chance to strike a blow against an evil practice. The misson is a dark and deadly affair which takes Celaena from the rooftops of the city to the bottom of the sewer—and she doesn’t like what she finds there.

Review:


This novella made me wish it were in print so I could throw it across the room without hurting my e-reader. That should be a fine summary of its quality, but reviews are best when detailed and I always try my best when writing reviews. I liked the first novella and cared less for the second one, but this third one offended me a little with how it treated female characters whose names weren't Celaena Sardothien.

There was a little bit of merit to the novella and I will recognize that much. It's well-paced, smoothly written, and largely interesting. Readers can figure out the truth behind Celaena's mission if they pay attention, though. It appears Maas is not skilled at writing mysteries because this problem happened once before too. The build-up with Sam comes to a head and the attention to continuity is something I can respect. I'm sure the events of these novellas will play a part in the novel too.

Now then, what offended me. Throughout these first three novellas, four relevant female characters have been presented to the readers. Two were villains, one was a horribly characterized caricature, and one was Celaena. A large portion of Throne of Glass's hype rests on its strong female heroine, but weakly characterizing or demonizing all other female characters so Celaena will look good is not the way to go. She'll look worse, actually. I sure wouldn't recommend the series to girls if it took that route of characterization, so I'm hoping ToG won't go that way. (Post-reading ToG: It doesn't go that way, thank goodness. I am beyond happy about that.

As it was solely within this novella, the caricature girl, a courtesan named Lysandra, had no effort put into her characterization. The way Celaena looked upon her and the other courtesan girls carries a tone of implied slut shaming as she calls them all insipid. This also makes Celaena a hypocrite, since she uses her beauty to accomplish her goals exactly the way a courtesan might. I think the only courtesan looked kindly upon is Sam's mother and she's dead.

Reading more of this series right now would result in a blown gasket and considering what is going on at this point in time in my life, a blown gasket is not what I need right now. One of my friends absolutely loved Throne of Glass and she is often as sensitive to issues of female representation as I am, so I'm hoping these novellas are a fluke and the novel itself will bring me back and make me fall in love. What can I say? I give things chances even when people say I shouldn't anymore.

1 star!


What am I reading next?: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reality Bites Back by Jennifer L. Pozner

Title: Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV
Author: Jennifer L. Pozner
Publisher: Seal Press
Release Date: October 19, 2010
Pages: 392 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book website

Reality TV is intentionally cast and edited to get us to think less and buy more. In Reality Bites Back, journalist Jennifer L. Pozner takes a funny yet unflinching look at ho our favorite shows reinforce stereotypes and force-feed us messages about who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to want. For most of us, reality TV is a guilty pleasure we indulge in and give little thought to, but Pozner exposes the commercial and political agendas behind this influential genre, revealing how our favorite shows negatively impact women, people of color, and future generations.

Review:


I fancy myself a media critic, though I'm not always a good one. My focus is YA novels and though I can certainly sort out good subtext from bad and call out seriously problematic elements with ease, I'm nowhere near as sharp when it comes to movies and television. The premise of Pozner's book interested me after I finished another nonfiction novel last year, so I put this on my to-read list and finally jumped for it a few months ago. Wow. Just wow. I did not expect this book to open my eyes like this.

Though Pozner's book focuses on reality television, the criticism she makes of overall devices and character/casting choices can be made of all media, including my beloved YA novels. Where a woman might be cast specifically to play The Bitch on a reality show, writers create a character whose specific purpose is to be The Bitch. Someone who shouldn't be cast as a romantic interest in a reality show (like Rick Rockwell of Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, who had a history of abusing women before he was cast) is somehow cast; in YA novels, a guy who shouldn't be a viable romantic interest because he's a terrible person or a rapist somehow is.

Most significantly, she makes a point that all media must have social responsibility for the messages it sends through the magic of editing and backstage trickery (like tricking a contestant into saying something off-camera and then splicing that bit in as a voiceover). This is what I beg for YA to have because it can push some very negative messages on people who are susceptible to them.

Reality television (and most media, incidentally, including YA novels) rarely want to take responsibility for themselves and the messages they send. It's all in the name of "giving people what they want" (aka "what's most outrageous and/or will make us the most money"), "mindless entertainment" that is anything but mindless, and "reality" that is carefully scripted and edited. Heck, calling it reality is problematic in itself because people will think this kind of crock heavily edited for dramatic impact and full of anti-women, anti-POC, anti-LGBT messages is "reality." Its subtextual messages about what makes men and women worthy, their roles in relationships and in society, and how they should act are close to insidious.

Pozner never acts like people are mindless sheep who will be brainwashed by whatever they watch and I don't believe they are either. I can watch The Bachelor or Say Yes to the Dress without coming to think being desperate for a husband and a fairytale wedding day is what I should do because it's "normal" in even the smallest of ways. Her point is that while some people can let the subtext in reality TV shows slide right off them, some people are affected by them--like teenage girls who aspire to be on America's Next Top Model (arguably one of the most toxic of reality shows), diet for that purpose, and see nothing wrong with the show.

Not even its use of blackface multiple times, internalized racism by its producer Tyra Banks, romanticism of violence against women, and how it tears women apart, criticizing them for everything sounding too smart when they speak to looking too ethnic, are wrong in their eyes. Nope, nothing wrong there except everything.

Though Reality Bites Back is a little lacking in its discussion of LGBT people on reality televison, there is good reason for that: it's pretty hard to find any LGBT people on reality television. Why that is and the way reality TV seems to define "men" (hot, rich, white, straight) and "women" (skinny, insecure, white, straight, desperate, inept, evil... I really could go on; reality television by and large hates women) so narrowly is something she takes the time to discuss multiple times. The few significant LGBT people that made it onto reality television are examined very well.

Eventually, Pozner expands her point to include all media because the minds behind the reality shows have a hand in all our media. Disney, the owner of ABC, used its news programs and a special called Profiles from the Front Line to support going to war in Iraq and feed people's fears as it supported their agenda. On an episode of Wife Swap, a pro-war, pro-Bush mom was touted as pro-American; the peace activist mother she switched with was decried as un-American (and falsely labeled an atheist; she was actually a Quaker). Shows like Say Yes to the Dress are series-long product placements. "Mindless entertainment" is anything but; through subtext and product placement both subtle and blatant, they are influencing how we think, feel, buy, and live.

While I was in the middle of reading this book, I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with my two best friends and I found my attention more easily drawn to how it portrayed women and people of color. I couldn't help but notice that all women of note were villains, victims, or love interests; late in the movie, the love interest and a large group of predominately black and female house servants are referred to by the title character as his "contingency plan." That spells it out that they're not characters; they're a collective plot device used to make sure Lincoln's plan doesn't fail. That this movie takes place in an alternate history where vampires are real and Lincoln hunted them does not excuse lacking characterization for anyone that isn't white and male.

The above paragraph makes me feel incredibly proud of myself because before this book, I wouldn't have made that kind of criticism of a movie, I don't think. I wasn't even done with the book and I paid that much attention to those elements! If anyone desires to become a discerning media critic/activist and they haven't already read this book, they need to. I thought I knew a lot, but Reality Bites Back taught me even more.

5 stars!


What am I reading next?: Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (2), aka HOLY HELL LOTSA BOOKS

Stacking The Shelves, hosted by Tynga's Reviews, is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

 So... I went on a little spree. By little, I mean "over 24 books in two weeks". Oops. There go my chances of getting all my unread print books read before I move next month.


Graffiti MoonFor Darkness Shows the StarsFated (Soul Seekers, #1)GiltSweet Evil (The Sweet Trilogy, #1) The TemptationOppression (Children of the Gods, #1)Shadows (Lux, #0.5)Wings of the Wicked (Angelfire, #2)Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)Obsidian (Lux, #1)Obernewtyn (The Obernewtyn Chronicles, #1)

Bought:

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger
  • I've been waiting ages for a copy to show up at the used bookstore and one finally did! I snatched it up and hopefully, I'll be reading it soon.
 Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
  • This one is really short, but I know it's going to be a tough read because of the subject matter. Poor girl...
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  • Everyone says it's sad and you know what? I feel like reading a tear-jerker. Books about the Holocaust are always so powerful.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
  • One of my friends recommended it to me and it sounds very interesting. I liked the hardcover's cover more, though. The lighter with smoke coming from it was more of an eye-catcher than the girl walking into the woods.
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
  • I got the chance to review this when it was on NetGalley last year, but now I have a finished copy of my own and I iz happy. My review
For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
  • I really enjoyed her killer unicorn series and this one sounds like a lot of fun too! I've never read Persuasion (which this book is a sort of retelling of), but I'm sure I'll get by.
Fated by Alyson Noel
  • I hated her Evermore series, but I can give this one a fair shot. (To be honest, the dress on the cover of its sequel Echo hypnotized me and that's how I ended up with this book. I hate that it's so thick, though. 450 pages of Alyson Noel? Um, that might be hard.)
Gilt by Katherine Longshore
  • Impulse, pure and simple. No other reason I got it.
Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins
  • My best friend loved it, so why not? (Then again, as similar as the BFF's tastes are to mine sometimes, we can also differ wildly on books, and I've heard there might be some implicit slut shaming. If there is, this is not going to go well.)
The Temptation by Alisa Valdes
  • I actually don't know much about this one. I saw it, had a moment of "Fuck it, let's go for it", and ended up with this book. Me and my impulsive buys! Maybe this will be one of the few times my impulse buys are actually good ones.
Oppression by Jessica Thierren
  • I've heard very little about this book and what little I've heard isn't great, but I'll give it a try.
Shadows by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • I've taken to reading the short stories and prequels and things authors put out in their series, so when I grabbed Obsidian, I grabbed this one too.
Wings of the Wicked by Courtney Allison Moulton
  • I wasn't going to originally, but one of my hard-to-impress friends is currently being wowed by it and how much better it is than Angelfire. That led to me picking this one up.
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
  • When the price was rediced to $5.99 on Amazon (and Barnes and Noble too, if I remember correctly), how could I resist?
Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • Apparently, the author came to my town recently for the Daemon Invasion tour and I missed it. I didn't even know it was happening! ARGH! It seems like most of my other friends have read this, so it's time to jump on the bandwagon and give it a shot.
Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
  • I hoped this series would show up in one of the two bookstores I frequent, but they never did. I finally broke down and got an ebook of the first book instead. Alyzon Whitestarr, another novel of Carmody's, was such a fun read that I wanted to try the fantasy series that she's been working on for years.
Amazon Vine:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • Seriously, this book was fantastic. You don't have a copy? Go get one! My review
Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer
  • I read the prologue for this one and it really annoyed me (too infodumpy and a few other niggles), but I can't judge a book by its prologue! Fingers crossed it will turn out to be good after all.
Received in Swaps with Other Bloggers:

Cold Fury by T.M. Goeglein
  • This one sounds awesome, but I've heard mixed things.
Auracle by Gina Rosati
  • Pretty cover... -drools- I'm sorry, what?
Heaven by Alexandra Adornetto
  • Just don't say anything. I'm reading this to finish off the series and get back my peace of mind.
Received for Review:

Saving June by Hannah Harrington
  • I'm halfway through this one and I'm really enjoying it. Harlequin Teen books often tend to be misses for me, so I'm happy to see a book that gives me hope the publisher will put out more books I'll enjoy!
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
  • Just after I got approved for this on NetGalley, I got a physical copy. Weird! I keep hearing good things, so I'll be getting to it very soon.

Borrowed from a friend:

The Blessed by Tonya Hurley
  • My best friend happens to work in a bookstore and this was the only YA ARC the store had. We're both voracious YA readers, so she picked it up and loaned it to me. It was... not good. My review will post September 18th.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Saving June by Hannah Harrington

Title: Saving June
Author: Hannah Harrington
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: November 22, 2011
Pages: 322 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Received it from the publisher for review
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Harper Scott's older sister, June, took her own life a week before high school graduation, leaving Harper devastated. So when her divorcing parents decide to split up June's ashes, Harper steals the urn and takes off cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going--California.

Enter Jake Tolan, a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession... and an unknown connection to June. When he insists on joining them, Harper's just desperate enough to her him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanor and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what Harper needs. Except... Jake's keeping a secret that has the power to turn her life upside down--again.

Review:


Frankly, I'd never thought twice about Saving June before a copy of it showed up in my mailbox without warning. I get picky about which "family member dies and main character" stories I read because there are very few gems among the many stories along those lines. I wasn't sure Saving June would be a gem, but a few days and 322 pages later, I happily proclaim it so. Readers aren't always going to like these characters, but their compelling storylines and thorough characterization will make it almost unimportant.

Oh, Harper. Selfish and overly angsty as she was, I kind of wanted to scream some sense into her fictional little noggin, but .I'm the June of my family in terms of expectations put on me and brains, but I get how Harper feels because socially, I'm the Harper and my older brother is the June. It sucks to live in someone's shadow and it can really hurt you to be in that shadow for too long. Laney, Harper's best friend, and Jake, the guy who basically barges his way into the girls' trip to California with June's ashes, may be supporting characters, but they receive equally well-done characterization and character arcs.

Though music is in my genetics (my grandfather sings gospel, my dad and his brothers were once in that gospel group, and my brother is a drummer), I haven't got a musical bone in my body. I love music nonetheless and the way Harrington incorporates music into the novel is fantabulous. Though the novel is ultimately about Harper dealing with her sister's suicide and the road trip to California, the undercurrent of what music means to people and what it can do for them was weaved in beautifully. For anyone who wants to play along at home, the songs used are listed in the back of the book. If I ever have time to reread books, I'll want to reread this one while listening to all the mentioned songs at the appropriate moments so I can get the full experience.

Harper and Jake's slow-burn romance really worked for me because when they finally got together, I understood exactly why they liked each other. Over two-hundred pages of banter, occasional thoughtful conversation, and bonding over music culminated in a relationship that felt real and good. Though I wished the focus was less on their romance and more on Harper's relationship with her sister, I suppose it was better than it could have been. There are always those books where the romance completely possesses the novel like a demon.

My two problems with the novel were small, but I couldn't ignore them. The characterization of one-shot character Gwen annoyed me. She's portrayed as a jealous snob who is possessive over her ex-boyfriend Jake and she's almost made out to be a joke, which is a bit of a problem when I agree with some of her ideas. The second was some arbitrary slut shaming that happened in the novel. Was there really a need to call the cheerleader June's boyfriend Tyler cheated on her with a skank? No, there was not. Sex is overall handled positively in the novel and it's almost always objected to when someone else throws around the word "slut", but that one little piece made me make a very ugly face.

Seriously, don't slut shame in novels. One throwaway instance of calling someone a skank or a slut might turn out to be all that keeps the novel from getting a glowing five-star review from a young woman who isn't easily impressed.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Beautiful Disaster Acquired by Atria Books: My Thoughts

I hardly ever post anything on this blog that isn't a review or a meme, but I've got something to talk about today. Followers old and new can have a taste of some of my deeper bookish thoughts and a better sense of who I am. I hope I don't alienate anyone with this post, but this book news gave me thoughts I just couldn't hold in.

Beautiful Disaster (Beautiful #1)


Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. It's a pretty damn well-known self-published book for what appear to be three main reasons:

  1. A lot of people like it (I've seen many call it "a disaster they can't look away from") and a lot of people hate it (they tend to call it a flat-out disaster).
  2. The content is extremely problematic; the male lead flips the fuck out when the female lead leaves his apartment without telling him. He throws his stereo across the room, scares his roommates, trashes his apartment in various ways, and more that all appear to be items on the checklist for an unbalanced person [review I cite this from].
  3. The author can really wank up a storm.
This novel and its sequel (BD in Travis's point of view) Walking Disaster have been acquired by Atria Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. I have many feelings about this and none of them are good.

(But first, a quick summary of her wank. She has attacked a negative reviewer in a blog post made solely about that reviewer and their review. She let people call her books YA on Goodreads and asked them to vote for it as a YA novel in the Goodreads Awards without comment for months before she tried to say it's an adult novel. For liking a comment criticizing her about her contradictory statements concerning BD's genre, I got blocked from her Facebook page.)

(The reason I haven't linked to any "proof" in that previous paragraph, though I can certainly pull it up, is that I'm not concerned with proving my claims in this post; this is about how I feel about this book and the news it will be professionally published. If you want to think I'm lying to make the author look bad when you can tell this post is pretty serious thinking on my part, that's your problem. You obviously don't know me very well.)

It feels strange to criticize this book without having read it, but I have a very good reason for not reading it: I am aware it will trigger me. I am very sensitive to the nature of relationships in novels and when they're unhealthy, I get really uncomfortable. When it's as unhealthy as it is in Beautiful Disaster, I get triggered. I have difficulty breathing, all my thought processes slow down or stop, and I am basically a useless, hyperventilating ball until I can calm down. It's not pretty. I have read many summaries of the novel from many different people, both fans and critics, and I have been triggered a few times while reading more in-depth, graphic summaries.

I can take a lot of bullshit in books and I end up reading quite a few bad books whether or not I intend to, but reading Beautiful Disaster is something I cannot and will not do. Reading bad books is one thing. I'm not going to jeopardize my mental health with something I know will trigger me.

In my quest to become a discerning media critic who isn't afraid to call out problems in YA novels and won't miss anything, I recently started reading a nonfiction book about the social implications of reality TV's portrayal of women, people of color, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups. A statement made in the introduction rings true not just for reality TV, but for all consumable media, including books:

All media must have social responsibility.

Books are not just books. They are forms of media that shape people's ideas and feelings. People who tell me books are just books when I'm criticizing an element of it (like, say, if I'm calling out misogyny in the Halo series by Alexandra Adornetto) and I shouldn't get so worked up about it infuriate me because in that respect, books are not just books. When people tell a person they should slit their wrists, that's when it's appropriate to say that a book is just a book. No one should be told to kill themselves or be given death threats because they think Beautiful Disaster is a crock or they didn't like Wicked Lovely.

One of the chapters in that nonfiction book (Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Pozner) actually deals with how violence against women is romanticized/brushed off/played for laughs, discusses its effect on both genders, and makes it clear why this is a really bad thing. Beautiful Disaster and the way some fans want a Travis of their own when he is clearly unstable and a relationship with any man like him would end badly is a clear example of what happens when media doesn't take responsibility for the messages it sends.

I feel sorry for Jamie McGuire. I really do. Because the media she grew up with said "it's just entertainment" when someone made a valid criticism of it, thereby refusing to take social responsibility, she can't recognize that Abby and Travis's relationship as she has written it is unhealthy. She had denied it multiple times, but a rule I live by is that intent is not magical. Just because the author says so-and-so element of his/her novel is not problematic doesn't mean it's not problematic.

I may feel bad for her because she has normalized and possibly romanticized the traits of an unhealthy relationship in her mind, but I will continue to be critical of her novel and the ideas it perpetuates. The media she grew up with didn't take on its social responsibility, but I think the media she has produced must take on its social responsibility. When there are teenage girls saying they unironically love Travis and they want a boyfriend just like him, that is a problem. Books really can shape a person's romantic ideals. God knows they shaped mine when I got into reading at age thirteen (and thank goodness I found books that made me realize the romantic ideals I had for nearly three years were traits of unhealthy relationships).

If anyone thinks I'm being a jealous hater, I really don't care. In that case, I will take my delicious cherry-flavored haterade, sit out by the pool with my sunglasses and a stack of books that don't normalize/glorify rape culture and domestic abuse, and keep on truckin'. A media critic's work is never done, especially when her concentration is YA novels.