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Wednesday, December 18, 2013
 Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights  eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I'm waiting on…

By Sara B. Larson
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: January 7, 2014

A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and a thrilling love triangle.

Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?

I like the "girl in disguise" trope and this story looks promising.




Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Top is a weekly meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic

Top 10 Authors Discovered This Year

1. Rae Carson - I'm a little late to the party, but I finally read and loved The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I need to finish this trilogy ASAP.



2. Marissa Meyer - I enjoyed Cinder a lot more than I expected, it had emotional resonance despite being a retelling of a very familiar story. Plus she was inspired by Sailor Moon! How cool is that?


3. Victoria Schwab - I read The Archived at the beginning of the year and loved it, leading me to pick up Vicious and enjoying that too. A new favorite.


4. Barry Lyga - I Hunt Killers and The Game are two of my favorite thrillers, evil cliffhanger aside.

5. Veronica Roth - I recently read the Divergent trilogy one after the other and I need to gather my thoughts on it, but on the whole feel positive, even towards Allegiant. Dystopians should have themes of societal criticism, and the trilogy delivered this, though in a flawed and messy way.


6. Alex Lidell - The Cadet of Tildor is an underrated debut novel I read back in February. I want it to get more attention. It read like Lidell was familiar with Tamora Pierce's work but chose to ask different questions about how such a fantasy world would operate. Very interesting.



7. Anne Bishop - I've heard this author's name come up in rec lists for good adult fantasy but hadn't read anything by her until Written in Red


8. Joe Hill - I read the first two volumes of Locke and Key when I decided to start getting into graphic novels  and found them fantastic, then I read NOS4A2, likewise good and very creepy.


9. Karen Russell - Considered an author of literary fiction, Karen Russell's writing has elements of the fantastic that go beyond magical realism. Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a short story collection that has some real gems. I have more mixed feelings about Swamplandia! but enjoyed the writing.


10. Ali Smith - I only read one book by this author but it may be one of the best books I read this year. Artful is part magical realism, part essay, part meditation on grief and loss, and all beautiful. It isn't in my normal comfort zone but the writing is clever and sharp. I found the essays within the overall narrative very informative, it was a book that made me think. 
Sunday, December 15, 2013

It's snowing, the holiday parties I was supposed to attend are cancelled, so I've been drinking tea, reading, and pondering my book reviews.

I’m still feeling my way to nailing down a specific review style- I waiver between sounding like I’m defending a thesis statement and THIS BOOKS ROCKS BECAUSE REASONS. Truly, I always want to have specific reasons for my ratings – sometimes the book isn’t the deepest or most complex but I was really entertained and/or it featured a trope I enjoy, sometimes a book is technically good but it leaves me cold. I find the hardest reviews to write are the 3-star ones. To me that isn’t a bad rating, it’s just one that edges toward the neutral. Usually it’s either: this novel was flawed but entertaining (usually a 3.5) or this novel is technically sound but I wasn’t affected in any way. 4 star books for me are books I really enjoyed but have nitpicks or didn’t affect me quite deeply enough. 5- star books are books I love or would re-read, they made me think or cry or change.

On the more negative side: 2 stars are for the severely flawed, either in story or prose. Lately I DNF the books I feel are in this category or I would have more of this kind of review, they are very easy to write, and I usually include one positive aspect of the novel. The reason for 2 stars tends to be boredom or annoyance at the writing. I choose all my books expecting to enjoy them but sometimes I’m mistaken. 1 star books are those I find severely problematic. I’ll finish reading a book that makes me angry out of fairness but I’ll be blunt in the review.

I know mileage may vary when it comes to bloggers' ratings so I like to be clear. What does a 5- star rating system mean to you?

Some more questions: should I add to my About Me Page some details about things I tend to enjoy and things that will make me angry? I feel like full disclosure of any biases will help any readers of my reviews.

Also, what is more helpful: conversational reviews about feelings/impressions (ex. This character could use a good throat punching, somebody call the whaaaaaambulance) or reviews with statement & defense (this book explores these themes of the human conditon, it exemplifies thingamabob , demonstrates this such and such well, it has these flaws, if you like such and such you would like this)? * What style do you feel you lean toward? 

*These questions brought to you by my reading Divergent, a book where I was really feeling the romance (wink* wink*) but was plagued by thoughts like WHY would a society be organized this way? IT’S NOT PRACTICAL.

P.S. I apologize for not replying to comments, I've been trying tweak my layout because Blogger is being a pain about the "reply to comments" option. I see them and they are always appreciated. 
Friday, December 13, 2013
Feature & Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View & Alison Can Read

Bookselling Time: Go to your biggest bookcases. Go to the second shelf from the top and pick out the sixth book from the left. Handsell that book to us - even if you haven’t read it or if you hated it. (if you don’t have bookcases, done have six books on one shelf, etc, pick a book at random)

By Sarah Rees Brennan

Do you enjoy...
-Awesome heroines
-Mystery
-Romance
-Lots of jokes
-Clever dialogue
-Multi-dimensional characters
-Magic
-Gothic novels

Have you ever read a paranormal romance and felt that having a soulmate know your every thought may not be all that wonderful? Would you like a story that explores this idea with emotional honesty and plenty of laughs? Does a smart, driven, intrepid reporter sound like the heroine for you?

You will love Unspoken, the first book in The Lynburn Legacy trilogy. A fun engaging mystery that will engages your emotions and will make you chuckle then make you question why you were given emotions. Why? Why?

It's a good book and you should read it.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Far Far Away
By Tom McNeal
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers 


It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings....

Review: Tom McNeal’s novel is a Grimm fairytale in the truest sense of the word.  No Disney story, but a quirky tale of good vs. evil in a small town setting with a very unusual narrator. The narrator in fact is the ghost of Jacob Grimm himself, unable to move on. Drifting around the world at loose ends, he finds himself in the present-day United States acting as tutor and guardian to Jeremy, a teenage boy faced with a mysterious threat. This ominous danger is not Jeremy’s only problem: he and his depressed father face eviction from their bookstore and Ginger, a popular girl from school, has finally started to notice him, dragging him on her adventures. Situations arise in which not even a ghost will be much help, despite his encyclopedic knowledge of fairytales and several languages.

My impressions of this novel will be vague, as I feel that it’s something that is best read with as few spoilers as possible. The writing is excellent: whimsical and wry in places, Jacob Grimm makes for a refreshingly different perspective, despite his frequent nagging of Jeremy. As for Jeremy himself, he’s a fairly straightforward character in that his main traits are being hardworking, honest, and kind, the traits one would associate with the hero of a Grimm tale. Ginger’s beautiful, but she’s also intelligent, has a sense of humor, and fondness for pranks. They are both likable enough, although Ginger’s lack of thought to consequences is frustrating in the beginning.

The story itself starts out like a straight contemporary novel (aside from the ghost narrator, of course) with issues such as bullying, Jeremy’s father’s depression, and the town’s rejection of anyone viewed as “different” all touched upon. In fact, it’s hard to see in what direction the narrative is going for much of the novel, something I appreciated as a novelty. In fact I only definitely clued in to what was really going on after a blatant allusion to a particular Grimm story was made. There’s a tonal shift in the second half of the novel that gives a feeling of unevenness, although the events were building all along.

That uneven tone, characters that were surprisingly passive, and some side characters that had a lot of page time for little reason all contributed to my not loving this novel, in spite of the many good qualities it has. It’s clearly written in the Grimm tradition: it contains violence and darkness, good vs. evil, and romance, with punishments and rewards distributed depending on where you fall on the good/evil spectrum. It’s maybe the use of these tropes that best explains my ambiguous feelings towards the book. The characters don’t feel like people, they lack depth. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting story, worth trying for anyone looking for something different from in their YA novels.

3 Stars

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: Defy by Sara B. Larson

 Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights  eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I'm waiting on…

By Sara B. Larson
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: January 7, 2014

A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and a thrilling love triangle.

Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?

I like the "girl in disguise" trope and this story looks promising.




Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 New to Me Authors in 2013

Top is a weekly meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic

Top 10 Authors Discovered This Year

1. Rae Carson - I'm a little late to the party, but I finally read and loved The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I need to finish this trilogy ASAP.



2. Marissa Meyer - I enjoyed Cinder a lot more than I expected, it had emotional resonance despite being a retelling of a very familiar story. Plus she was inspired by Sailor Moon! How cool is that?


3. Victoria Schwab - I read The Archived at the beginning of the year and loved it, leading me to pick up Vicious and enjoying that too. A new favorite.


4. Barry Lyga - I Hunt Killers and The Game are two of my favorite thrillers, evil cliffhanger aside.

5. Veronica Roth - I recently read the Divergent trilogy one after the other and I need to gather my thoughts on it, but on the whole feel positive, even towards Allegiant. Dystopians should have themes of societal criticism, and the trilogy delivered this, though in a flawed and messy way.


6. Alex Lidell - The Cadet of Tildor is an underrated debut novel I read back in February. I want it to get more attention. It read like Lidell was familiar with Tamora Pierce's work but chose to ask different questions about how such a fantasy world would operate. Very interesting.



7. Anne Bishop - I've heard this author's name come up in rec lists for good adult fantasy but hadn't read anything by her until Written in Red


8. Joe Hill - I read the first two volumes of Locke and Key when I decided to start getting into graphic novels  and found them fantastic, then I read NOS4A2, likewise good and very creepy.


9. Karen Russell - Considered an author of literary fiction, Karen Russell's writing has elements of the fantastic that go beyond magical realism. Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a short story collection that has some real gems. I have more mixed feelings about Swamplandia! but enjoyed the writing.


10. Ali Smith - I only read one book by this author but it may be one of the best books I read this year. Artful is part magical realism, part essay, part meditation on grief and loss, and all beautiful. It isn't in my normal comfort zone but the writing is clever and sharp. I found the essays within the overall narrative very informative, it was a book that made me think. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review Discussion Misc.


It's snowing, the holiday parties I was supposed to attend are cancelled, so I've been drinking tea, reading, and pondering my book reviews.

I’m still feeling my way to nailing down a specific review style- I waiver between sounding like I’m defending a thesis statement and THIS BOOKS ROCKS BECAUSE REASONS. Truly, I always want to have specific reasons for my ratings – sometimes the book isn’t the deepest or most complex but I was really entertained and/or it featured a trope I enjoy, sometimes a book is technically good but it leaves me cold. I find the hardest reviews to write are the 3-star ones. To me that isn’t a bad rating, it’s just one that edges toward the neutral. Usually it’s either: this novel was flawed but entertaining (usually a 3.5) or this novel is technically sound but I wasn’t affected in any way. 4 star books for me are books I really enjoyed but have nitpicks or didn’t affect me quite deeply enough. 5- star books are books I love or would re-read, they made me think or cry or change.

On the more negative side: 2 stars are for the severely flawed, either in story or prose. Lately I DNF the books I feel are in this category or I would have more of this kind of review, they are very easy to write, and I usually include one positive aspect of the novel. The reason for 2 stars tends to be boredom or annoyance at the writing. I choose all my books expecting to enjoy them but sometimes I’m mistaken. 1 star books are those I find severely problematic. I’ll finish reading a book that makes me angry out of fairness but I’ll be blunt in the review.

I know mileage may vary when it comes to bloggers' ratings so I like to be clear. What does a 5- star rating system mean to you?

Some more questions: should I add to my About Me Page some details about things I tend to enjoy and things that will make me angry? I feel like full disclosure of any biases will help any readers of my reviews.

Also, what is more helpful: conversational reviews about feelings/impressions (ex. This character could use a good throat punching, somebody call the whaaaaaambulance) or reviews with statement & defense (this book explores these themes of the human conditon, it exemplifies thingamabob , demonstrates this such and such well, it has these flaws, if you like such and such you would like this)? * What style do you feel you lean toward? 

*These questions brought to you by my reading Divergent, a book where I was really feeling the romance (wink* wink*) but was plagued by thoughts like WHY would a society be organized this way? IT’S NOT PRACTICAL.

P.S. I apologize for not replying to comments, I've been trying tweak my layout because Blogger is being a pain about the "reply to comments" option. I see them and they are always appreciated. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Feature & Follow Friday: Hand selling edition

Feature & Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View & Alison Can Read

Bookselling Time: Go to your biggest bookcases. Go to the second shelf from the top and pick out the sixth book from the left. Handsell that book to us - even if you haven’t read it or if you hated it. (if you don’t have bookcases, done have six books on one shelf, etc, pick a book at random)

By Sarah Rees Brennan

Do you enjoy...
-Awesome heroines
-Mystery
-Romance
-Lots of jokes
-Clever dialogue
-Multi-dimensional characters
-Magic
-Gothic novels

Have you ever read a paranormal romance and felt that having a soulmate know your every thought may not be all that wonderful? Would you like a story that explores this idea with emotional honesty and plenty of laughs? Does a smart, driven, intrepid reporter sound like the heroine for you?

You will love Unspoken, the first book in The Lynburn Legacy trilogy. A fun engaging mystery that will engages your emotions and will make you chuckle then make you question why you were given emotions. Why? Why?

It's a good book and you should read it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Far Far Away
By Tom McNeal
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers 


It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings....

Review: Tom McNeal’s novel is a Grimm fairytale in the truest sense of the word.  No Disney story, but a quirky tale of good vs. evil in a small town setting with a very unusual narrator. The narrator in fact is the ghost of Jacob Grimm himself, unable to move on. Drifting around the world at loose ends, he finds himself in the present-day United States acting as tutor and guardian to Jeremy, a teenage boy faced with a mysterious threat. This ominous danger is not Jeremy’s only problem: he and his depressed father face eviction from their bookstore and Ginger, a popular girl from school, has finally started to notice him, dragging him on her adventures. Situations arise in which not even a ghost will be much help, despite his encyclopedic knowledge of fairytales and several languages.

My impressions of this novel will be vague, as I feel that it’s something that is best read with as few spoilers as possible. The writing is excellent: whimsical and wry in places, Jacob Grimm makes for a refreshingly different perspective, despite his frequent nagging of Jeremy. As for Jeremy himself, he’s a fairly straightforward character in that his main traits are being hardworking, honest, and kind, the traits one would associate with the hero of a Grimm tale. Ginger’s beautiful, but she’s also intelligent, has a sense of humor, and fondness for pranks. They are both likable enough, although Ginger’s lack of thought to consequences is frustrating in the beginning.

The story itself starts out like a straight contemporary novel (aside from the ghost narrator, of course) with issues such as bullying, Jeremy’s father’s depression, and the town’s rejection of anyone viewed as “different” all touched upon. In fact, it’s hard to see in what direction the narrative is going for much of the novel, something I appreciated as a novelty. In fact I only definitely clued in to what was really going on after a blatant allusion to a particular Grimm story was made. There’s a tonal shift in the second half of the novel that gives a feeling of unevenness, although the events were building all along.

That uneven tone, characters that were surprisingly passive, and some side characters that had a lot of page time for little reason all contributed to my not loving this novel, in spite of the many good qualities it has. It’s clearly written in the Grimm tradition: it contains violence and darkness, good vs. evil, and romance, with punishments and rewards distributed depending on where you fall on the good/evil spectrum. It’s maybe the use of these tropes that best explains my ambiguous feelings towards the book. The characters don’t feel like people, they lack depth. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting story, worth trying for anyone looking for something different from in their YA novels.

3 Stars