Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Ghost and the Goth

Author: Stacey Kade 
Publisher: Hyperion
Released: June 29, 2010
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Author's Website:

Alona tragically dies one morning, but for some reason she's stuck here, apparently to take care of unfinished business. But the only person who can see her is Will Killian, a strange boy with few friends, definitely lower on the social ladder than cheerleader Alona. But Will has his own problems - he's always been able to see ghosts, only now they know he sees them and they want his help. Will just wants to have a normal life. Alona can help Will. Will can help Alona. But can they set aside their differences and work together?

Talk about a perfect book. Stacey Kade achieves the perfect blend of humor, emotion, character growth, and romance. The plot flows seamlessly along, and the entire book sounds so natural - organic, almost, not as if someone consciously wrote it. It's like it created itself, it's so perfect. Part of that is the voices of the two characters. I love how alternating chapters are narrated by Will and Alona, how we get to see each one's side of it at each step. Their voices are distinct, and the way they change reflects the changes the characters actually go through.

The characters are amazing, the main part of the book. Will and Alona are different, yes, and they each have their own imperfections, but their interactions are so real. And they develop, individually and together as a couple, slowly and naturally. Their character growth fits exactly into the events, and the events fit with their growth, one influencing the other. The side-product of the book is showing how we're all people, no matter which "group" we belong to - but it's not pushed through the story at all, it's simply an effect of what goes on.

I love seeing their relationship and romance bloom. It's subtle, but when they finally do kiss, it makes perfect sense. That's what I mean by organic - the events and development happens gradually, so that you hardly notice it happening, but when something's different, you accept how it fits, because the little stuff led up to it. That's a real skill in writing!

The pacing of the story is so so amazing. Never a dull moment, something is always happening, and by the time I got to the end of the book, I was turning pages faster and faster, waiting with bated breath to see what was going on. I love how the ending tapers off, after most things are resolved, but I was kept wondering how the romance could be resolved, if the whole point of Will helping Alona was so that she could move on - where does that leave him? And I love the way that's taken care of!

Sometimes I wish I had a rating system for books, just so I could say - this one blows the rating system up, it's so good!!

In My Mailbox 16

In My Mailbox is a meme started by Kristi of The Story Siren, with inspiration from Alea of Pop Culture Junkie, in which bloggers post any new books they have on their shelves that week - received, bought, begged, borrowed, or - no. Not that.

From the library:

The Ghost and the GothThe Year My Sister Got LuckySea ChangeAs Sure As the Sun 
The Ghost and the Goth, Stacey Kade (Amazon / Goodreads)
The Year My Sister Got Lucky, Aimee Friedman (Amazon / Goodreads)
Sea Change, Aimee Friedman (Amazon / Goodreads)
As Sure as the Sun, Anna McPartlin (Amazon / Goodreads)
I picked up The Ghost and the Goth and Sea Change because of last week's IMM posts. And you know what happens - an author is recommended, so when I went to pick up that book, I got the one next to it on the shelf, by the same author!

Nobody's Princess (Princesses
 of Myth)Nobody's Prize (Princesses of
Nobody's Princess, Esther Friesner (Amazon / Goodreads)
Nobody's Prize, Esther Friesner (Amazon / Goodreads)
These books are about Helen of Troy before she became the reason for the devastating war. She's about twelve in the first book, and from flipping through the books, I see that there's a lot of Greek history and myth involved - sounds interesting!

FallenBefore I FallFixing DelilahNightshade: Book 1
Fallen, Lauren Kate (Amazon / Goodreads)
Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver (Amazon / Goodreads)
Fixing Delilah, Sarah Ockler (Amazon / Goodreads)
Nightshade, Andrea Cremer (Amazon / Goodreads)
I've been wanting to read Nightshade for so long now, because I've been seeing it all over the place! But it's thick!! I really hope it's as good as everyone is making it out to be.
Before I Fall and Fixing Delilah are both by authors I've read before, so I'm excited to read their other works.
Fallen - I honestly can't remember why I got it. I do know that the next book, Torment, will be released in June, so maybe I decided to read the first one before the second comes out. Who knows!

For review:

The Scent of Jade
The Scent of Jade, Dee DeTarsio (Amazon / Goodreads)
This is about a woman who gets lost in the Costa Rican rainforest, holding a jade idol which may be the key to global warming. It sounds like the perfect mix of action and emotion, so I'm really excited to read this. Besides, Dee is a TV writer, and I know that writing for the screen necessitates a strong skill of visualizing, so I'm expecting the scenes to be very vivid!

From NetGalley:

Everything I Was (Carolrhoda YA)Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer (Twisted Tales)Cinderella: Ninja Warrior (Twisted Tales)
Everything I Was, Corrine Demas (Goodreads)
Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, Maureen McGowan (Goodreads)
Cinderella: Ninja Warrior, Maureen McGowan (Goodreads)
Everything I Was is about a girl starting over, re-discovering herself. A sort of coming-of-age, it sounds like.
The other two here are part of the Twisted Fairy Tales series - intriguing! I can't wait to see how the author tackles this brilliant idea!

So that's it for my mailbox this week. Quite enough, I'd say! What's in your mailbox?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Bards of Bone Plain

Author: Patricia A. McKillip
Publisher: Ace / Berkley (Penguin)
Released: December 7, 2010
Genre: YA Fantasy

Bone Plain is a myth. But it's a much-talked-about myth, and scholars of the school have written final papers on Bone Plain for centuries. So Phelan doesn't think he's doing anything ground-breaking by researching this tires old topic. But when Princess Beatrice, in her un-princess-like activities of excavating ruins of the city for Phelan's father, Jonah, finds a strange coin with ancient inscriptions, and then Phelan makes startling discoveries in his research, and then a very strange bard who incites strange reactions from everyone shows up, ancient secrets begin to be revealed and old history is played out again.

I love Patricia McKillip's style. There's something so magical about it, a way of pulling you into this alternate world and immersing you so completely in it. She writes sort of matter-of-factly, about preposterous ideas, about things which even the people who inhabit these imaginary lands find strange and unbelievable.

McKillip's books are more about character than plot, and I think that's very evident in The Bards of Bone Plain. It was very easy to follow the plot, because not much happens. I was able to skim whole pages because I didn't feel like I'd be missing out on any important facts or details. It's more about the unraveling of secrets and how people react to them. The technique she uses so often, of combining straight storytelling with "excerpts" from various sources, makes up much of the style and contributes to the feeling of discovering and uncovering ancient secrets.

I love this research and exploration aspect of the book. There are a few passages about digging into the past and finding out about ancient stories, from Beatrice and her physical digging, to scholars talking about old songs and poems, and about the lost magic of the ancient language. There's something so compelling about the feeling of having a glimpse into a lost world - even when that world is imaginary, and the world it's lost to is also imaginary!

My overall opinion about the book is ambivalent. I love the style, but I felt like lots more could have happened. Alphabet of Thorn, another of McKillip's books, is very similar to this one in style and tone, and has the same feeling of discovering ancient secrets, and even uses the same technique of including bits of the characters' research as part of the story. But Alphabet has so much more to it. I've read Alphabet many times, and I expect I will read many more, but Bards, although a book I will probably not be re-visiting, is entertaining and interesting.

Wicked Lovely

Author: Melissa Marr
Publisher: HarperTeen
Released: May 1, 2008
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Author's Website:

Aislinn has always been able to see faeries - vicious, vindictive creatures who would gouge her eyes out if they knew she saw them. She's learned how to behave so that they have no idea she sees, hears, and feels them, unlike other humans. But when a powerful faery approaches her, every rule her grandmother taught her goes up in smoke, and Aislinn finds herself entangled in a centuries-old battle between the faery Winter Queen and Summer King, swept up in events beyond her control. With help from her friend-who's-no-more-than-a-friend Seth, Aislinn has to make a choice, a difficult choice that will impact not just herself but faeries and mortals as well.

I was drawn into the story almost from the very first page, as soon as Aislinn reacted to the faeries that no one else could see. Partly because I approached the story expecting little winged creatures spreading light, I was intrigued by the presentation of faeries as dangerous, nasty creatures to be avoided at all costs. Melissa Marr portrays both sides of the equation really well, though - so that as the reader, I felt Aislinn's dread for faeries and saw them as she did, but when the story is told from Keenan's or Donia's point of view, I saw that maybe it's not as simple as Aislinn's grandmother has led her to believe.

What drew me into the story was not only the vivid writing style that brings every part of it to life. The plot is really compelling as well, and just enough information is revealed at just the right moments to make the pages turn faster and faster. It's interesting,because there's not a lot of action, and at the same time there's not a lot of downtime. But the pacing is awesome, and I never felt slowed down.

So when I put down the book, I sighed and thought - I can't wait to start the next book. But here's the funny thing - after a few hours, thinking about Wicked Lovely, I realized that I wanted to know more about the characters. The story follows four characters, each one equally important, and I didn't feel satisfied with the ending, with how everything turned out. I can't say much about that without spoiling it, but I will say this: From the description Melissa gives of Ink Exchange, the second book (in the bonus material at the back of the book), I think my concerns with how Wicked Lovely ends are addressed in the following books. Melissa says that each book follows different characters, so I hope that the loose ends are tied up. Now I'm wondering - maybe that was the point!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Added Stuff!!

I've been spending a crazy amount of time in Design mode for Reader's Dialogue. But I'm really excited about the things I've been adding, so it's all good!

I've added two things to the sidebar:

1) HOT OFF THE PRESS: A list of the books I've reviewed that were published within the past month or will be released in the following month, along with the release date. I realized that I've reviewed some books that won't be released until August 2011, so this is to keep the titles current, letting you know what's on the market now.

2) WAITING ON THE SEQUEL: SERIES IN PROGRESS: This is more for me than for my followers! But it's good for everyone to have this, I guess. It's just that so many books I'm reading lately are trilogies, or at least have sequels. So this is to keep track of "first books" I've read so I'll be on the lookout for the sequels as they come out. I wanted to add the expected publication date for the sequels, but I'm not finding any info on that.

Plus, did you notice the new banner? It's drawn by Daiana Munoz. Check out her website - she has a few stories going on!

And I've played around with the fonts, colors, sizes, etc. Just having fun!

So tell me what you think of the new stuff. Any comments, criticism, suggestions - I'd love to hear them all!

The Kiss Test

Author: Shannon McKelden
Publisher: Carina (Harlequin)
Released: October 11, 2010
Genre: Romance

Margo's life is falling apart. She lost her job, her boyfriend asked her to marry him - the horror - and then dumped her when she refused, her mother is getting married for the eleventh time and wants her daughter there, and then she falls and hits her head so badly that she can't stand up for a week. The only thing going for her is an award that she is traveling across the country to get. Her best friend, Chris, insists that he accompany her as she is still woozy, and feelings Margo hadn't known existed bloom and develop between her and Chris.

To be perfectly fair: objectively, I can say this is a good book. It moves fast, it has just the right amount of romance and a bit of a plot holding it together. It's a perfect Harlequin romance. I guess my mistake was thinking that I like romance. I do, but I like romance novels that have more plot and more intricate character development. So while this didn't do much for me, if you like fluffy romances, this fits the bill very well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Author: Courtney Allison Moulton
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Genre: YA Paranormal

Ellie is in for a shock when, on her seventeenth birthday, a boy she'd never seen before introduces himself to her as "just Will," and promptly awakens powers in her she didn't know she had. She is the Preliator, a being who's been in existence for longer than anyone knows, and she fights demonic reapers, sometimes dying but always being reborn and continuing to fight. But the last time the Preliator died, she wasn't reborn for twenty years, and now that she has her powers back and is beginning to remember bits and pieces of her past five thousand years, it seems the demonic beings are gathering for a Second War with God, and they're after something called the Enshi which can kill the Preliator for good. Ellie is determined to continue fighting, but is it enough?

A heroine who seriously kicks ass, a raging battle between good and evil, a sweet romance - what else could you ask for? Angelfire has it all, from crazy fights to tender moments, balanced perfectly so that the pacing of the book as a whole is amazing and the pages just turn themselves. The way Moulton transitions from the action-packed, fast-paced scenes to the beautiful interactions between Ellie and Will is so great - you have those seconds to catch your breath between battles, and it also gives so much more humanity to both of them (haha - humanity).

Even before the romance between Ellie and Will starts, their interactions are fun to read. Their banter made me laugh out loud a few times, and I love how easy it sounds, really as if it's just two teens poking at each other. It's so natural, the way topics change a thousand times within the space of one five-minute conversation.

On the other side, there's the action part of the book. And that is equally as amazing, if not more. The richness of detail in every battle scene is breathtaking, as I felt like I was experiencing every blow, every strike and swipe. It's so easy to visualize the way the battles play out, where each player is at each moment of the battle, what's happening to the surroundings while they fight. In so many other battle scenes, it's easy to get lost and just know - there's loads of fighting going on now. Not here - in Angelfire, I followed every step of the battle, and each fight is unique and terrifying on its own.

I love the way the battles happen during, between, and around Ellie's normal life. Instead of being removed to an alternate reality when her true powers are revealed, Ellie has to continue living her normal life, and the way it intertwines with her superpowers is so great. Like the way she has to deal with her mother, and her car - I love what happens with her car. In a way, it makes the paranormal so much realer, to have it grounded in firm reality.

Ellie's personal development is also very interesting to watch. I love how she doesn't know who or what she is, and how she doubts herself, because I was kept guessing until the end about who she is. And I can't wait to see how she deals with it in the next book!

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperTeen for providing a digital copy for review.

2011 Fantasy Reading Challenge

OK, so here's a challenge I should have no problem completing! It's a pretty broad category - any fantasy book - and I read so much fantasy that I might even finish this by June, forget about December!

The Fantasy Reading Challenge is hosted by Darlyn and Books this year. I'm joining as "Obsessed," committing to read 20 Fantasy Fiction novels.

I'll be listing the books I read that fulfill this challenge on the "Challenges" page of this blog, so check it out!

Monday, January 24, 2011

In My Mailbox 15

In My Mailbox is a meme started by The Story Siren, where bloggers post any new books they bought, received, borrowed, etc.

I've missed quite a few weeks of IMM, and books have come and gone from my shelves in that time. Here's what's currently on my shelf:
A whole slew of Nora Roberts books: 
Key of Light
Blood Brothers
The Pagan Stone
Carnal Innocence
Western Skies 

This one I got after watching the movie. My friend's been trying to get me to read it for quite some time now, and after seeing the movie, I had no choice - I must read this. I'm not sure I'll be reviewing this one, but my 13-year-old sister already read it and we've had some interesting conversations about it:
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne

The first book I read by Patricia A. McKillip was The Alphabet of Thorn, and I absolutely loved it. I also read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, which I loved as well. So now I've got
The Bards of Bone Plain.

And I don't know where my head was buried that I didn't hear of the Wicked Lovely series before, but now that I've been reading about the fifth and final book of the series, I'm finally starting with the first one. Apparently it's a "fun, edgy series about faeries," and I like fun, and I like edgy, and I like faeries, so what's not to like? Besides, I visited Melisa Marr's website, and I love her style. So now I've got:
Wicked Lovely
Ink Exchange
Fragile Eternity
Radiant Shadows
by Melissa Marr

I also got one book from NetGalley today that I've been trying to get for a while. When I got the email saying I finally got it, I was so excited I opened it and started reading right away, and I could tell right away why there's such a big to-do about this. It starts off in a classroom, but the heroine's voice is so engaging that even though nothing much is happening, I felt in the story already!
Angelfire, Courtney Allison Moulton

And I want to mention books that have been returned to the library already, but which I've read and want to have a record of. I've reviewed some of them already, but here are the ones that stayed with me:
Troubled Waters, Sharon Shinn
The Dream-Maker's Magic, Sharon Shinn
Remember Me? Sophie Kinsella
The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley
The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley
Vanished, Meg Cabot
Matched, Ally Condie

(This is upsetting, but after I got images for ALL these books, something went wrong and they started showing up as words, not images. So I deleted them. Ah, well.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Debut Author 2011 Challenge

I've been thinking about joining the 2011 Debut YA Author Challenge, but I've been scared that with my crazy school schedule piling up, I won't have time to do it. Then I decided - what's wrong with me??? This is the perfect way to force myself to keep my head in the YA world, because even though I truly love the work I'm doing for school, every time I read a good YA book, I feel like I've come up for air and I'm so refreshed that I can dive back in and swim swim swim for a while - until the next break. And I love feeling like I know what's going on in the YA publishing world. So, so what if I don't complete the challenge? I'm joining!

So far I've read one book that qualifies for the challenge: Here Lies Bridget, by Paige Harbison. I've read other YA 2011 debuts, like Delirium, but they don't qualify because I read ARCs in 2010, and one of the rules of the DAC is that it has to be read in 2011. Which means that I'll have to read more - not a hardship!

Read about the DAC, hosted by the Story Siren.

Here Lies Bridget

Author: Paige Harbison
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Released: January 18, 2011
Genre: YA
Author's Website:

Bridget is happy with her life - she thinks. She's the most popular girl in school, everyone wants to be her or be her friend, she throws great parties - she has it all. Her only problems are an annoying teacher and her impossible stepmother, but she deals. Until she goes overboard in her crazy manipulations of others all in an effort to keep herself on top. And she begins to realize that it is all an effort - that she's never herself anymore, she wears a mask all the time - and she's not even sure she likes herself all that much anymore. When her life seems to be falling to pieces, and she recklessly drives her car into a crash, Bridget is given a second chance, to see things as they really are, and maybe to make a difference to her own life and to others'.

Paige Harbison introduces Bridget brilliantly, because at first I hated her for being such a bitch, but I couldn't stop myself from reading to find out what happens to her, and then I began to truly care about her and what happens to her. The reader has to care about the main character, and as horrible as Bridget is, Paige gives us just enough of a glimpse into Bridget's real, hidden by crusts and crusts of bitchiness, self so that we want that faintly crying bit to surface and take charge again.

The concept of what happens when Bridget "dies" (I won't give away too much) is not a new one, but here is executed perfectly. What helps is that it's not the first time Bridget sees things properly, as she does start seeing things before she crashes. So what happens affirms, strengthens, and amplifies what she's been discovering, but most of what she finds out could be her own psyche filling in the blanks.

This book is really good in exploring the way a person could wake up to what she's become and how people react to the persona and to the awakened person. The one thing that bothered me was Liam's reaction to Bridget's epiphany. I expected Liam to react the way Michelle does, which to me felt more realistic, but then Bridget would be left with nothing other than her feeling of satisfaction at having straightened out everything. Which may not be so bad! But at least I expected Liam to need a few days of proof of her change before he accepts her back. He did start seeing some changes before she "crashes" so maybe the stage was already set for this.

In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, the journey of self-discovery, the way Bridget's thoughts, feelings, motives, etc., are shown so clearly and in a way that makes you think about your own choices. Hopefully none are as bad as Bridget's! But still, it's a great thought-provoking book for teens who face social choices every day.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for providing a digital copy for review!

The Blue Sword & The Hero and the Crown

Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Penguin
Released: 1982, 1984
Genre: YA Fantasy
Author's Blog:
Author's Website:

In Damar, the royal family is blessed - or cursed - with the Gift, or kelar. Aerin is a legend by the time Harry, an Outlander, becomes part of the world of magic, and Harry has some sort of connection to this legend. With Aerin's guidance, and the flowering of her own Gift, Harry, or Harimad-sol as she comes to be known to the Damarians, comes to terms with and embraces her fate and does all she can to fully serve her new people and their king. Aerin had faced a similar dilemma of not knowing exactly what her place was, as the daughter of the king and a witchwoman whom most of the citizens had hated and feared. Both heroines take their fates in their own hands and carve out names for themselves, winning fame, glory, and love, and their own self-image.

This is the umpteenth time I read these books, and each time I read them they get richer and richer. I never fail to be sucked into this world, not only for the amazing magical landscape but for the spunky yet sensitive, fiery yet vulnerable heroines. Robin McKinley has said that she can't stand whiny heroines, and I love her heroines because they are always strong and take-charge, but they still never lose their humanity. One of the scenes that really stand out to me is when Harry and Corlath are sleeping in the tent on the way to the City after Corlath kidnapped Harry. The image etched in my mind is of Harry biting the pillow as she cries herself to sleep and Corlath propped on one elbow listening to her cry, aching himself for her pain. Even more than the fierce battle scenes, these quiet moments of raw emotion speak to me, and that, I think, is what really makes up the books and their power. They're about people with greater destinies, with world-changing fates, but these people are still people, still ordinary people. The battle scenes are terrifying and amazing, but what stays with me is how these girls are just girls - thrust into situations where fates of whole countries rest on them, but they remain ordinary girls with ordinary feelings, pain of rejection, exhaustion, the need to be loved. It reminds me of a line from the movie Notting Hill, as Julia Roberts' character, the movie star, says: "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her." The way these heroines are still really ordinary girls is wonderful. That's a balance that's sometimes hard to achieve, but Robin does it seemingly effortlessly.

Robin mentioned this once, I forget where, in connection to what order the books should be read. Although Arein's story in The Hero and the Crown happens long before Harry's in The Blue Sword, Robin wrote Sword first and intends for readers to read that first. Part of the reason, she said, is for readers to first hear of Aerin as a legend, as larger than life, as Harry sees her as a formidable older sister, kind but someone you're in awe of. And then you see Aerin in her own story, and you realize that even legendary heroines are still just girls, with their own problems, flaws, and obstacles. I love how that works, because as a reader, it made me feel that much more connected to the two heroines, as they muddle through and stumble across their destinies and then take those destinies firmly in hand and mold them to the way they can now that they've become stronger.

Aside from all that, I want to quote a reviewer's sentence about The Blue Sword: "McKinley knows her geography of fantasy, the nuances of the language, the atmosphere of magic" (The Washington Post). It's something I love about all of Robin's books as well. The magic is in no way forced, and it's very obvious that Robin knows her worlds inside and out. When you're reading, you don't even notice it because everything just flows so smoothly, but when I think of it after I've finished the book, I see how deeply I've been involved in the world, and how much detail I can recall about how this world works - and all of it is incorporated so seamlessly into the story. And the atmosphere - each book and each world has its own atmosphere, but it's true that they all have that "atmosphere of magic" that transport you to another reality for some time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

First Impressions & The Gift

Author: Nora Roberts
Publisher: Silhouette Books
Genre: Romance
First Impressions: 1984
The Gift: 2004
(Home for Christmas: 1986,  
All I Want for Christmas: 1994)

If you can't tell by looking around this blog, I'll tell you - I love Nora Roberts. OK, so that's an understatement. I'm a bit obsessed with her books. But here's the thing. After I had read some of her books - the first one I read was Birthright -  I thought I really like romance, and so I tried out some other authors of romance, mostly Harlequin books. I found very quickly that I much prefer Nora's style and the way she has an actual plot to her books, not just an unlikely pairing and a lot of hot kissing. So I find it interesting to see Nora's early work, where she does stick to the basic romance formula. More fascinating is that even when her books don't have the complexity of her later books, the characters are still real, believable people, not stock, cardboard figures. And the emotion - that's the best part of all her books, and that's a part of her books from before she fully developed as a writer as well. I love this glimpse into her past, and sort of seeing her progress from simple romance writer to a best-selling, writing ten books a year, beloved by millions author.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Remember Me?

Author: Sophie Kinsella
Publisher: Dial Press (Random House)
Released: September 29, 2009
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Author's Website:

Lexi has a crap life, but good friends to help her through it. When she falls after a drunk night and wakes up to find herself three years in the future after a car crash, in a body she hardly recognizes because of all the work done on it, with a husband who is a stranger to her, with an executive position, with alienated friends and a reputation of being a "bitch-boss-from-hell," Lexi is lost. She tries to get a handle on her new life, on who she's become, but it turns out she doesn't particularly like who she's become.

I read this book a while ago, but I'd forgotten most of it. That added an interesting factor to the way I read the book - about a girl with amnesia! It was so much fun as new characters came onto the scene and I was like "oh, I remember you!" Knowing vaguely the way things turn out but not having a clear picture of what was going on was great.

Sophie Kinsella's style is amazing. It's crisp, funny, and sharp - like Lexi. She has a way of describing things so that they jump off the page and are so vivid that they almost become real. There's humor, sure - she's a comedy writer, after all. But there's also emotion and depth, as her characters feel deeply about things, as Lexi struggles to find herself. It's a real story, not just a fun ride.

It's a really great way to ponder choices and paths in life - what would my now-self say to my three-years-from-now-self about my choices? For that matter, what would my three-years-ago-self say to my now-self? The drastic change from nice-girl Lexi to the Cobra, and the way she wakes up into the life of the Cobra with the attitudes of nice-girl, showcase what a person could do to himself without realizing it. Sophie Kinsella presents this with a real understanding of what could happen. She seamlessly fits the old Lexi into a high-powered, unfamiliar life, and I love the way everyone's reactions are spot-on to the way they would have known her, whether they are from her old or new life.

For the second time around, I really love this book. It's a wonderful book to curl up with, and it also leaves you thinking - a winning combo!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Dream-Maker's Magic

Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Released: March
Genre: YA Fantasy

Kellen's mother is convinced that Kellen was a boy right after she was born, and she insists on treating her daughter like a son. Kellen doesn't particularly mind this, as she finds out that she gets to have advantages of being both a girl and a boy. When the teacher convinces her mother to let Kellen go to school, Kellen meets Gryffin, a boy who, like her, is not accepted by the rest of the village. They become fast friends, growing up together and eventually working together and meeting fascinating people. But that changes when the Dream-Maker loses her power and names another Dream-Maker - a declaration that will change Kellen's and Gryffin's lives and challenge their friendship. Both of them have to look deep within themselves to find out who they are, and who they want to be.

As coming-of-age stories go, this one is really good. We follow Kellen from ten years old to sixteen, seeing her slowly realize what she wants and accept who she is. Both Kellen's and Gryffin's development is full of depth and color, and flows so smoothly. The way they grow into themselves is real and true-to-life - well, except for the magic part!

The feel and texture of the narrative struck me as so fitting, because I actually felt like I was in this tiny village, with ignorant, uncultured people, and when the story took us into the capital city, I felt the difference in sophistication. I think it takes a great deal of talent to create the effect of that movement from country bumpkin to city slick, and Sharon Shinn does that beautifully.

The plot kept me guessing for a good part of the book. I have to say, I was shocked when I found out who was the new Dream-Maker! I expected someone different entirely. One thing I'd say, though, is that although I didn't feel dissatisfied when reading the book, I did notice that there didn't seem to be a clear motivation or goal that the characters were working toward, and the ending was a big surprise because I didn't know the story was even heading in that direction.

Still, I like the book, the way I was drawn into the characters' lives, the weirdness of it all, and the way Kellen and Gryffin make lives for themselves.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vanished: Books 1 & 2

Books: When Lightning Strikes (2007), Code Name Cassandra (2007)
Author: Meg Cabot
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Released: September 7, 2010
Genre: YA Paranormal

When Jess is hit by lightning, she gains the ability to know exactly where a missing person is just from looking at their pictures. At first, she thinks this is great, that she can help lost kids get back home. But when the FBI starts taking an interest in her, and then the army gets involved, and then one kid she saved turns out not to have wanted to be saved in that way, things just go haywire. Along with her friend Ruth and not-boyfriend Rob, Jess takes matters into her own hands in her trademark blazing manner.

Meg Cabot has such a great writing style. Like Jess, it's sassy and kick-ass, smart and funny, sarcastic and biting. Time flew when I was reading Vanished, because one thing after another happens and the pages seem to just turn themselves - the pacing is amazing, easing into the story a bit and then just taking off!! The funny things is that even when ridiculous things that don't seem very plausible happen, everything still feels so real.

I love Jess. With all her "issues." Nothing is ever boring around her, and that's even before she gets psychic powers. I love that she has no friends besides Ruth and she's still so confident. Maybe a bit overconfident, but that's part of her charm (ha).And all the characters in the story are so interesting. Even the Special Agents! I love the relationship that Jess builds with them, teasing them and watching them get riled up, how Agent Smith seems to like her even when Jess is being a pain.

I can't believe I missed reading these when they first came out, but now I've just got to get my hands on the next books!

Monday, January 10, 2011


Author: Ally Condie
Publisher: Penguin
Released: November 30, 2010
Genre: Dystopian YA

Cassia is looking forward to her Matching Banquet when she'll learn who the Society Matched her with. Her belief that the Society knows what it's doing is confirmed when she's Matched with her best friend. Xander. But when she gets home and pulls up the information on the microcard they've given her, another boy's face flashes on the screen before it goes blank - Ky, another boy she knows. An Official comes to her to give her the correct card, but Cassia is now in turmoil - she's falling in love with Ky, someone she could never be seen having a "fling" with, and besides that lots of things are happening to make her doubt the perfection of the Society. She begins thinking for herself, wanting a choice in her life, something unheard of in the improved, regulated Society.

Matched is a book that really makes you think. It touches on many issues worth thinking about - love, censorship, choices, freedom. Many parts of the book remind me of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, with constant supervision and even dream-tracking, and the way only a select few works of art, literature, and poetry are allowed to survive. And I think Ally Condie does a really good job of exploring these topics for teens the way those books do for adults. I love that the book is open-ended, that there is no neat resolution, because that is a mark of a book that really is meant to make you think.

But even so, it was great to have compelling characters. Cassia, Ky, and Xander are all interesting in their own ways, and the other smaller characters add to the construction of what's accepted and what's considered breaking out in this dystopian society. I love that Cassia is not at all passive, that she's a thinker and can think for herself even before everything starts to change, before Ky starts to affect her. This book is very like Delirium in its concept, and that was the one thing that bothered me about Delirium - that Lena seemed a bit weak until Alex started bending the way she thought about things. Cassia is a strong girl in her own right, and the choices she makes are all her own.

I love the writing style, too. The story speeds along, slowing down at fitting moments, speeding up when confusion abounds. I felt completely involved in the new Society, and I actually physically felt fear when Cassia faced choices or was called out by Officials!

This is a really great book - thought-provoking and a great love story at the same time.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Black Hills

Author: Nora Roberts
Publisher: G.P. Putnam (Penguin)
Released: July 2009
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Coop and Lil have been best friends since Coop first visited his grandparents in South Dakota's Black Hills for a summer. And when Lil acted on the love that was growing between them when they were teenagers, everything seemed perfect. But Coop broke Lil's heart when he calmly told her a few years later that he thought it bets they not see each other again. Now Coop has come back to Black Hills to live there and take care of his grandfather and Lil has to learn to deal with that. Complicating things for her is how Coop treats her - as if he wants to take her to bed. Lil still loves Coop, but can she forgive him for breaking her heart and trust him again? Even worse, a killer is hiding in the hills around Lil's beloved refuge and is targeting Lil. Coop will do anything to save her - but will that be enough to win back her trust?

I love when stories go deeper and farther than two adults who met. When childhood is a factor, when there is already a relationship, tangled and mangled as it is, it adds so much more to the story of their love. Nora manages to get inside the heads of every single one of her characters. In all her books, it's obvious that she can get inside the heads of both men and women, and in her romantic suspense novels, including the In Death series, she gets inside the killers' heads. But in stories like this, you can see her skill in getting inside the heads of little kids and teenagers and presenting them realistically, down to the tone of voice and turn of phrase they would use.

I loved both Lil and Coop. Coop is so exasperating, but he's a great guy, and he can't be blamed for wanting the best for Lil, even if he does go about achieving that in a heartbreaking way. And Lil is so dedicated, so fierce, but so vulnerable. I love that mix because it makes her so much realer. As always, the minor characters are also real, likable characters - and I love the subplot of Tansy and Farley's romance - it's so sweet!

Once in a Full Moon

Author: Ellen Schreiber
Publisher: HarperCollins
Released: January 1, 2011
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance

Celeste Parker lives in a town where Eastsiders and Westsiders don't mix. But when mysterious Brandon Maddox moves into the wrong side of town, Celeste is intrigued by him and attracted to him. When he saves her from wolves and is bitten in the process, Celeste feels obligated to him. And when she witnesses him turn into a werewolf, she wants to help him and will do anything to cure him, because she loves him.

The reason I picked this book is because I've read Ellen Schreiber before and I loved Vampire Kisses. But I was really disappointed with Once in a Full Moon. Everything was just so unnatural and didn't flow at all. The plot points seemed to be just that - points, not a smooth flow of a plot. The characters are also like that, and the dialogue was unnatural as well. At one point, the class is talking and laughing, and they are "glaring" at Brandon. The two - laughing and glaring - just don't fit together. The whole book was like that. I just couldn't get into it because because nothing seemed real. Very disappointing from an author I like.

Troubled Waters

Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Berkley, Penguin
Released: October 5, 2010
Genre: Fantasy (Romance)

Zoe has spent the last ten years in exile with her father, an Ardelay, one of the Five Families, who had fallen out of favor with the king. But right after her father's death, Darien Serlast, the king's closest adviser, comes to the little village where they had lived in exile and takes Zoe to Chialto where she is to marry the king. In a daze of grief, feeling numb, Zoe goes along, but once they get to Chialto, she slips out of the vehicle and makes her way to the river flats where she hides for as long as she can, making friends and keeping busy. But when the water responds to her and protects her in unnatural ways, Zoe is forced to realize that she is actually the coru prime, the head of the Lalindar water family. When she steps forward to claim her title, Zoe is thrown into the palace world of intrigue, dealing with the pettiness of day-to-day life with the queens and the huge scale of international relations. Hardly knowing whom to trust and where to turn, Zoe navigates this new world with the help of her river friends, and she begrudgingly accepts Darien Serlast's help, but as long-hidden secrets are shockingly revealed to the coru prime, Zoe's constant blessing of change comes true again and again.

Wow. All I felt for a while after I finished Troubled Waters was - wow. Sharon Shinn knows how to take you on a journey and immerse you completely in the world she creates through a skilled weaving of language, suspense, and emotion. Every time I had to put down the book, I wanted to get back to it as soon as possible, and every time I did, I was immediately engulfed in the world ruled by the five elements.

Zoe is a great character to experience this world through. She's a strong heroine, one who has to learn her strengths and also learn how to control them and use them properly. But she's troubled, an ordinary young woman when it comes to regular life, wanting friends, wanting love, shocked, confused, bewildered by what she learns. Darien is a bit harder to describe, because for so much of the book Zoe doesn't know what to think of him. But I have to admit that I liked him only a few pages after he was introduced. He's actually a great fit for Zoe, complementing her turbulent personality with his hunti, wood and bone, immovability.

The plot is so intricate that it never stops moving for a single page, and the action just flows from one thing into the next. At the same time, it was very easy to follow what was going on, because everything was so clear. There are many characters, but each one is so distinctive that again it was very easy to keep track of who was what. Drawing on the elements to characterize the people was a bit confusing to me at first, but once I got a handle on which element was what, it made keeping track of people and families that much easier. I love the balance of having so much going on but being so smooth and flowing that it doesn't slow anything down.

I think this book is one I'll be revisiting in the future, because it's so rich and inviting. Definitely I'm going to read more of Sharon Shinn and her amazing writing!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bride Quartet, Books 1 & 2

Books: Vision in White, Bed of Roses
Author: Nora Roberts
Publisher: Berkley, Penguin
Released: April 28, 2009, October 27, 2009
Genre: Romance
Author's Website:

These are the first two books about a group of four friends who created a wedding planning business, complete with a planner, florist, photographer, and baker. Vision in White is the story of Mac, the photographer, and Carter, the shy and clumsy teacher she falls for. Bed of Roses is the story of Emma, the florist, and Jack, her longtime friend whom she's always loved and who has been interested in her for a long time.

I love Nora Roberts quartets, because you really get to know each of the characters as you follow them along each one's journey to love. I actually read Savor the Moment, the third book, first, so I was thrown into their world in the middle of their stories, but that's another good thing about Nora Roberts quartets - she gives enough information in each one to make it great as a stand-alone book as well as part of a series. But spending so much time with all the characters ovr the course of four books really makes you know them very well. Which is why I'm really looking forward to reading Happy Ever After, Parker's story. I feel like I've come to know Parker really well by seeing her on the side of the other three's love stories, and I've seen the tiny buds of the beginnings of her relationship with Mal, so I'm eager to see how that plays out.

The tone of these stories has a similar quality marking it as its own quartet, but at the same time, each character's book reflects the heroine's personality in the tone of the writing. I love how that works. There's romance, always - of course - but to varying degrees based on what the heroin thinks of romance. In Emma's story, the romance is extremely strong, because she's the one with romantic ideas, dreaming of perfect love and dancing in the garden under the moonlight since she was a little kid. I can't wait to see what organized, no-nonsense Parker's book will sound like!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Author: Elise Allen
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: August 1, 2011
Genre: Young Adult
Author's Website:

Cara is moving to a new town, away from her best - and only - friend. According to Claudia, this is the year everything will change for Cara, because she now has the opportunity to work the social ladder to her benefit and climb from the rungs from Cubby Crew to Supreme Populazzi. Cara agrees to the plan and begins manipulating her new classmates, and she does climb from one rung to the next - but along the way, she encounters obstacles from her family, her "victims," and even from Claudia herself. When everything seems to be blowing up in her face, regardless of the successes and amount of boyfriends Cara managed to have over the course of the year, Cara has a choice to make that could launch her to unparalleled Supreme Populazzi status or send her plummeting to Happy Hopeless status. Through a year of lying, manipulating, fame and despair, Cara learns the true meaning of friendship.

I love love love  this book! I sat down to read it and didn't stop for three and half hours straight, and was surprised to look up and find so much time had passed. The story is so gripping and compelling that I was totally swept along with it and I was completely immersed in Cara's world.

Cara is such a likable character. She's flawed - tremendously - and at times I wanted to slap her and scream at her to wake up and see what's going on, but at all times I just wanted everything to work out for her. All the characters are real, none of them are "stock characters" or stereotypes, and I think it's amazing the way I was able to tell from the moment each character is introduced whether he/she is one of the "good guys" or "bad guys." Aside from the fact that the good guys are all in the lower levels of the Popularity Tower, I genuinely liked Archer and the Happy Hopeless guys the second I "saw" them.

As for Archer - he's the character I liked most at first sight. I love the banter that Archer and Cara have right when they meet, and their conversations throughout are always entertaining. His personality is really great, and the way he stands by Cara as she goes a bit crazy in her scheme is wonderful. The romantic component kept me guessing right till the end, and it adds delicious tension to all their interactions.

The style of the writing is another great factor. It's breezy and fast-paced, and it gets slower and heavier when events do. It reflects the way a high school junior thinks and talks, which adds to the immersion effect, of being totally in Cara's world - and in her mind as well.

This is a fun read, with a great message, brilliantly portrayed!

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for providing a digital copy for review.