Monday, December 17, 2012

OBSIDIAN by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Lux: Book 1)

I just read and reviewed Jennifer L. Armentrout's prequel novella, SHADOWS. And pretty much immediately vaulted into OBSIDIAN, Book 1 of the Lux series.

On goodreads

The Blurb:

Starting over sucks. 
When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I'd pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring.... until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.
And then he opened his mouth.
 
Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something...unexpected happens. 
The hot alien living next door marks me. 
You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon's touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I'm getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades. 
If I don't kill him first, that is.


The Afterglow:

Knowing all the background from the prequel novella SHADOWS really saved me from wanting to strangle or punch or otherwise shank Daemon in OBSIDIAN. He is a world-class jerk from the word go. But you get it if you read the prequel first. If you don't, well, you'll probably still love the tension between Katy and Daemon... even though your heart will break for Katy half a dozen times first.

The story is told entirely from Katy's perspective, which makes for some confusing overheard bits. If you like being a detective-reader, you'll love that. As a paranormal romance, it also has a very satisfying ending - not gushy, not devastating.

I'm actually in the middle of Book 2, ONYX, now, so that tells you how good OBSIDIAN was! It's candy for the mind. The love, the passion, the humiliation, the terror. It's all told in emotive detail.

Oh, and the main character has a book review blog! Gotta love that, right? Right?

Warning:  If you start this series, you may not be able to stop.

Friday, December 14, 2012

SHADOWS by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Lux 0.5)

On goodreads

THE BLURB: 
The last thing Dawson Black expected was Bethany Williams. As a Luxen, an alien life form on Earth, human girls are…well, fun. But since the Luxen have to keep their true identities a secret, falling for one would be insane. 
Dangerous. Tempting. Undeniable. 
Bethany can’t deny the immediate connection between her and Dawson. And even though boys aren’t a complication she wants, she can’t stay away from him. Still, whenever they lock eyes, she’s drawn in.
Captivated. Lured. Loved. 
Dawson is keeping a secret that will change her existence...and put her life in jeopardy. But even he can’t stop risking everything for one human girl. Or from a fate that is as unavoidable as love itself.

THE AFTERGLOW:

I just put this down with the tranquil feeling of inevitability, fate, and romantic tragedy. This is a prequel novella to the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout. It's the first book I've read of hers, recommended by a passionate reader on twitter.

I can see what the hullabaloo is about!

I didn't want to put this novella down. The voice was interesting and active, never a dull moment. The love story was so fated and beautiful... and melodramatic. Right up my alley! I'd say Twilight fans will easily adapt to Armentrout's world of aliens made of light and capable of human love.

My initial impression of SHADOWS wasn't good. There's a split infinitive in the very first line:

"A shadow glided over the frozen hills, moving too quick to likely be cast by something of this Earth."

I had to tell my grammar police to stand down and just enjoy the story. But I was happy to see there were few grammar offenses after that, and the story itself is so tense, fun, exciting, and moving, that I didn't bother bringing the police out again. Afterglow Book Reviews is for books that move us, that make us fall in love and roll with the tragedy and triumph of the characters. SHADOWS did that. I will definitely be reading Book 1, OBSIDIAN to continue with the series.

Have you read Jennifer L. Armentrout? She has quite a collection of novels, including the Lux series and the Covenant series.

*happy sigh*

Always wonderful to discover a new favorite author.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New breath for THE CLEARING in SHADOWS OF THE HIDDEN by Anne Riley

Find it on goodreads

I am beyond stoked that Anne Riley's book, formerly titled THE CLEARING, has been given new life and a gorgeous new cover by Compass Press. SHADOWS OF THE HIDDEN now has the cover I pictured when reading it for the first time. Okay, so I didn't picture it exactly, but this was basically it. I love it! 

Here's my original afterglowing review:

The short version: Just finished reading The Clearing by Anne Riley and it was a very satisfying read! The twists and emotional intensity really got me. It dealt with the reality of bereavement very well in the midst of a supernatural plot, and made me cry more than once.  

The self-indulgent version: 
*Happy sigh* 
Yeah, I liked this book that much. 
After I read the author's blog--and liked her so much I snagged her for a guest post over at The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog--I started to worry about the inevitable moment of truth: What if I read her book and didn't like it? After all, there are no guarantees about any given book, even those published by the big houses and buzzed all over the place as the next HP or Twilight! So what would I do if I didn't like THE CLEARING? This anxiety kept me from reading it at first, even when I had the lovely paperback sitting on my night stand. It waited patiently for me to grow a spine, which I did, thankfully. 
All my stress, it turns out, was for naught. In fact, Riley's debut novel is right up there with the best in the urban fantasy genre. THE CLEARING boasts a suspenseful, spooky plot and relatable, tortured characters. I thought about it for days afterward. I wished for a sequel or companion novel to continue in the unique world Anne Riley created. I cried multiple times as the protagonist Natalie dealt with such serious issues as bullying at school and her parents' deaths. The twists are sublimely surprising, and the magical escapism enchanted me. Doesn't every girl hope deep down that she's special? Especially those of us who were bullied relentlessly in school! 
And that is as specific as I'll be with the spoilers. :)  
My one complaint, which I repeated on goodreads, is that I really wish the publishers that courted Anne had completed the sale. She ended up self-publishing with the blessing of her agent after multiple near-successes (which I think is admirable), and her book has received very positive reviews on goodreads, amazon, and smashwords. However, after reading it, I felt a bit of righteous indignation on Riley's behalf. I wanted THE CLEARING to get the royal treatment of comparable books! I wished it had been covered in the beautiful art that made me pick up Mistwood or any of Cassandra Clare's books. It needed something spooky and Druidish, ancient and compelling. I don't mean to insult the author's current cover, but it doesn't dress for the occasion. One might very well believe he's picking up a literary novel rather than a YA urban fantasy with commercial, mainstream appeal. 
So I advise my readers not to believe what the cover is telling you. Imagine ancient symbols and a Druid cross encrusted with jewels or a girl and a boy embracing in a forest clearing with a spooky light glowing around them. Imagine Anne Riley's name in a script-and-scroll font, disappearing into the darkness on the bottom. 
And once you've done all that, crack open this pleasure read and enjoy! It gets FIVE STARS from me. Well done, Anne! I hope to enjoy many more books with your name on them.
You'll notice above that the new cover goes above and beyond my original hopes for it! Covers aside, the content of this book is deep, moving, and wonderful. I've been recommending it to my friends for over a year, and now I have a reason to talk about it some more! 

The new edition comes out December 10, 2012. Merry Christmas!

Visit Anne at her website/blog, on twitterfacebook, and look for her as a featured author at Operation Awesome's free, online New Year's Revisions Conference January 4-6, 2013. 


Sunday, September 16, 2012

THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS by Claire Legrand

THE BLURB:
Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster—lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does too.)

But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out…different. Or they don’t come out at all.

If anyone can sort this out, it’s Victoria—even if it means getting a little messy.



THE REVIEW:

Oh. My gosh. Y'all.

I make no secret of the fact that I love creepy things. So when I saw the CAVENDISH pitch making the rounds in various contests last year, I pretty much wanted to launch myself through the computer screen and read it right that second. And when I looked at PM one day and saw the deal announcement, I may have done a little happy dance.

I finally picked up CAVENDISH yesterday afternoon, and I am thrilled to say that it lived up to my expectations completely. The voice grabbed me from the first page, and the gradual build of dread was perfectly executed. I fell in love with Victoria and Lawrence, and couldn't wait to see what would happen to them next.

Also, as much as I love horror, I have pretty much seen it all at this point, so CAVENDISH was an extremely pleasant surprise. The horror aspects were thoroughly original and just so much fun. The visuals were just skin-crawlingly eerie and had me cackling with glee. And the titular Home... well, I won't spoil anything, so I will just say this: WELL PLAYED, MS. LEGRAND.

The Amazon page for CAVENDISH recommends it to fans of Neil Gaiman's CORALINE, and as a huge fan of CORALINE, I can confidently say that CAVENDISH will be joining it on the list of my favorite middle-grade horror novels. If you're looking for a fast-paced, atmospheric read for October, you might want to snatch this one up.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5/5

Summary from Goodreads:

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Afterglow:

Not since Walk Two Moons or The Tale of Despereaux has a MG book so healed me.

Interspersed with illustrations and unique patterns, A Monster Calls will pull tears from you throughout the book until the very end, when a cathartic downpour issues forth.

This is a book to make you brave.

To make you tell the truth.

And to make you know it's okay.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Endlessly (Paranormalcy #3) by Kiersten White

Add it on goodreads

Ta-da!! It's out!

The blurb:

Evie's paranormal past keeps coming back to haunt her. A new director at the International Paranormal Containment Agency wants to drag her back to headquarters. The Dark Faerie Queen is torturing humans in her poisonous realm. And supernatural creatures keep insisting that Evie is the only one who can save them from a mysterious, perilous fate. 
The clock is ticking on the entire paranormal world. And its fate rests solely in Evie's hands. 
So much for normal.


The Afterglow:

HarperTeen does this thing where they let people read the first seventy-or-so pages of an upcoming new release online -- in order to whet our appetites and boost sales. When I first get notice in my email about these deals, I LOVE HarperTeen.

But when I hit the end of the sample... Boo HarperTeen! It's almost torture to get so far into a story only to have to wait for release day! Because I'm such a Kiersten White fan girl, I've begun all of her books this way. So last week some time I was exactly 80 pages into Endlessly, the third and final book in the Paranormalcy trilogy, and craving more. Needless to say, when my book arrived the afternoon of July24th (Happy Pioneer Day to me!), I gobbled it up.

The first book redefined my expectations for the paranormal genre. The middle book served its purpose as a bridge, but left me wanting so much more of Lend, Reth, and Evie. But this last book...

It fulfilled all the promises of the story. It's superb! It's exciting and epic and well-crafted. I never could have imagined it would end the way it did. Somehow all the loose ends I'd been worrying about throughout the series got tied off in a gorgeous, complicated bow.


It's one of those endings that delivers exactly what you didn't know you were hoping for all along.

As in the first and second books, Evie's voice is endearing and funny. The theme of being true to yourself and not allowing yourself to be absorbed in someone else was as striking as ever as Reth - the gorgeous golden trickster - continues to guide Evie as best he can toward the choice he believes is best. In a moment of exasperation, he says, "You take a tremendous amount of leading to make the correct choices."

Reth's story arc was surprising to me, as we are given to understand the fey are eternal and changeless. Shallow, scary Jack's transformation, too, was unexpected and satisfying.

Reading this last book was for me like spending time with old friends. The humor, sarcasm, and wit in each character's unique voice made this book a pleasure, and the spot-on pacing made it unputdownable.

I highly recommend this trilogy to anyone, but especially teen readers who love all things paranormal. They'll find a feast of magic in Paranormalcy, Supernaturally, and now Endlessly.

Happy Reading! 

Have you read any of this trilogy yet? Join my lovefest in the comments.


(p.s. For Operation Awesome readers, Kell Andrews just posted her COVER REVEAL for DEADWOOD!!!!!)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse

The Forsaken (The Forsaken, #1)The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Loved this book! It's sort of a cross between Hunger Games, Divergent, and Lord of the Flies. Great characters, plenty of twists, and a satisfying ending that still leaves me dying with impatience for the sequel. I didn't love the cover, and the romance in the book could have been played out a little better, but over all, it was a very enjoyable reading experience. If you liked any of the books I mentioned above, you'll enjoy The Forsaken. (Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher.)

Here's the Amazon blurb:

As an obedient orphan of the U.N.A. (the super-country that was once Mexico, the U.S., and Canada), Alenna learned at an early age to blend in and be quiet—having your parents taken by the police will do that to a girl. But Alenna can’t help but stand out when she fails a test that all sixteen-year-olds have to take: The test says she has a high capacity for brutal violence, and so she is sent to The Wheel, an island where all would-be criminals end up.

The life expectancy of prisoners on The Wheel is just two years, but with dirty, violent, and chaotic conditions, the time seems a lot longer as Alenna is forced to deal with civil wars for land ownership and machines that snatch kids out of their makeshift homes. Desperate, she and the other prisoners concoct a potentially fatal plan to flee the island. Survival may seem impossible, but Alenna is determined to achieve it anyway.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Grasping at Eternity, by Karen Amanda Hooper


I just finished this book last night, so I technically can't tell you exactly how long the afterglow lasts, but I was so surprised by how much I liked this book, I wanted to write about it right away. That sounds weird, so let me clarify. Karen is a friend of mine. We blog together at YA Confidential. I went into this book knowing I would at least enjoy it a little bit, because I know Karen's a fine writer, but to be honest, I was under the assumption that I wasn't going to like it as much as her last book, Tangled Tides. I don't know why, exactly, but I expect it had to do with my own preference for Fantasy over Paranormal/Supernatural.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that either of these books fits neatly into those categories, because they don't, but I will admit that I started reading Grasping at Eternity with the misguided assumption that I wasn't going to like it as much as I had liked Tangled Tides.

So, now that I've gone on rambling for a few hundred words about all the hang-ups I brought into reading this book, let me just say: I really enjoyed it. I don't know what the marketing experts would call it, but they might say it's a YA Paranormal Romance, and while I wouldn't completely agree, I also wouldn't be able to prove them wrong.

What I really loved about this book was the unique scenario Karen set up to provide the utmost tension between her two main (which are also both POV) characters. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice to say both Nathan and Maryah are more than just your average human teenagers. But, the cool thing is that Karen created a dynamic in which Nathan is aware of their ... special status, and Maryah is not. I can see how this could have easily led to some cringe worthy writing (and I don't mean awkward moments between characters), but it was done so well it left me rooting for both of them the entire way.

Sure, Maryah makes some poor decisions, but you can't even begin to blame her because she is basically 95% ignorant of the truth for 80% of the book. Anyway, I could go on in more detail, but it's easier to just recommend this book as a great YA PNR.

Both Karen Hooper's novels are the first in a series, so be sure to keep an eye on her as her career continues. You can find more of Karen:

At her blog
On Twitter
At her website
On Goodreads

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson


The Blurb:

For fans of Tina Fey and David Sedaris—Internet star Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, makes her literary debut.

Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.

The Afterglow:

Expect unbreathable, pee a little, hysterical laughter when you open this book.

You've been warned.

Though I implore you to dig into the world of Jenny Lawson. Not many have so many weird moments in their life (without a few white lies) but I can assure you, this shit is real... or, at least I think it is. Then again she does warn you it's a 'mostly true' memoir.

I enjoyed every page of fabulous goodness that Jenny Lawson delivered and I only hope more crazy crap happens so that there is a part two to all this madness.

The Deliciousness:

If you want to see if this book is for you and don't want to make the leap of faith stop by her amazing blog... The Bloggess. You won't regret me introducing you to the INSANITY she calls a life.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Hollow City by Dan Wells

If you know me at all, you know I'm a big Dan Wells fan (his I Am Not a Serial Killer series and recent YA Partials are brilliant.) And lucky for me, one of my crit partners is his assistant, and I managed to snag and ARC of his next book. So ladies and gents, I give you: The Hollow City.

"Michael Shipman is paranoid schizophrenic; he suffers from hallucinations, delusions, and complex fantasies of persecution and horror. That’s bad enough. But what can he do when some of the monsters he sees turn out to be real?


Who can you trust if you can't even trust yourself? The Hollow City is a mesmerizing journey into madness, where the greatest enemy of all is your own mind."

I read the entire thing in one sitting. I mean, did you read that cover copy with that brilliant premise? How could I not keep reading? The murder mystery angle gives the story a familiar base to start from, and from there it twists off into one of the freshest reads I've had in a while. Dan has a real talent for taking slightly twisted characters (like John Cleaver in I Am Not a Serial Killer) and making them sympathetic and engaging. Michael, the main character, was one of the most brilliant unreliable narrators I've ever read-- and one that I loved. I spent half the book questioning what was real, and the other half of the book constantly going OH MY GOSH, WHAT?? Seriously, people, I cannot recommend this book enough.

This book completely blew my mind with its engaging premise, twisty plot, and brilliant characters. I can't recommend it enough! It comes out July 3rd, so less than a month to wait!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

From Goodreads:

***

It all begins with a stupid question:

Are you a Global Vagabond?

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria's a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan's a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they've got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.

But Bria comes to realize she can't run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

Kirsten Hubbard lends her artistry to this ultimate backpacker novel, weaving her drawings into the text. Her career as a travel writer and her experiences as a real-life vagabond backpacking Central America are deeply seeded in this inspiring story.


***

Ok, I'll be honest. I'm not much of a traveler. As a Sagittarius, I've always read my horoscopes about what a natural traveler I am. It's why horoscopes don't hold much stock for me. 

IF I were a traveler, I'd be exactly like Bria. Which is why I love this book so much. She's trying soooo hard to be a backpacker. She wants it so bad. She wants to take risks. She wants to forgot the loser boyfriend back home. But she just can't break her true nature. She just can't be who she's not. 

In the end, it's the experience of traveling that changes her. She learns from it, and she doesn't have to be someone else.


Great book, great character arc, great ending. LOVED IT.


Disclaimer: This review is cross-posted on my personal blog.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Winds of Khalakovo, by Bradley P. Beaulieu


I started reading the paperback I bought at World Fantasy Convention 2011, but I soon switched to Kindle, when that edition was offered up for free (as a promotion, not the author's gift to me for review). In the interest of full disclosure, I will also point out that I know Brad, a little. I met him at WFC because we have some mutual friends, and I first fell in love with his writing after hearing him read from the sequel to this novel.

Now, all that being said, none of it affected my enjoyment of this book, which is one of the best fantasy debuts I've ever come across. Before I share my take, let me give you the blurb, from Amazon:

Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo's eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo's future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo...


Now, I have to say, it's been about two weeks since I finished this book, and I needed that time, because it was a lot to absorb. I was a huge fan of epic fantasy when I was young--Tolkien was my first love, but authors like Eddings, Jordan, Brooks and others filled my shelves as a teen--but of late I've read very little of it. George Martin is really the only fantasy I've read this decade, and I can't even call A Song of Ice and Fire, High or True Fantasy (not that I mean that as a slight, George's books are phenomenal, just very untraditional, in a good way). Bradley's book is incredibly similar in its inability to fit into a tidy little box.

There were some things that struck me about this novel as the levels through which I was introduced to it expanded.
  • The cover. It's a steampunk-ish, alternate world, air-ship orgasm of a cover, and yet it's painted with such an air of mystery, it's clear this is no juvenile manga-style tale of another world (not that I don't love those too, but I digress)
  • Brad's reading from what was then probably a third stage draft of the sequel. Brad's voice, tone, diction, and resonance probably played a part, but for me it was really the richness of language and culture that drew me in. I heard him read from the sequel before I read the original, but it gave me enough of a taste for the world that I knew I would have to return.
  • The cultures. I don't want to attribute every fantasy I ever read to Tolkien, because as much as I wish it did, it doesn't work that way, and another thing that makes Winds stand out to me is the fact that is does not borrow Orcs, or Elves, or Dwarves. It includes the landed of the great duchies, who are only very loosely based on Tsarist Russia, who I thought were mostly pretty cool, except for amazing standout characters like Nikandr, Atiana, and Victania, but more importantly it included the fascinating Aramahn, a culture that was part Indian Hindi, part Arabic Muslim, and part Japanese Buddhist, whose religion, or more specifically, spiritual system of beliefs, was what really drove this story for me. It's key characters were the morally conflicted Rehada, the vaguely autistic Nasim, his guide and elder Ashan, and the clearly devout, confused, radical, and yet still sympathetic Soroush. The Aramahn really made this book for me, and I look forward to the subsequent volumes in which I hope they will explored even more deeply.
If I had to make one complaint, it would be that the pacing dragged a bit for me in the middle third. However, I suspect this was only due to the fact that I'd been reading so many 60,000 word YA novels lately, and I doubt that most fantasy readers would take issue. People who read a lot of high fantasy understand that a world this rich takes time to build, and you can't just dump it all on the reader. Regardless, the final third of the novel made it all worth it. There were almost sort of two separate climactic moments, both of which I thought were done very well and I thoroughly enjoyed.

I would recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys fantasy, but also for anyone who is looking for something truly new and unique. Before I let you go, allow me to point you to a few places you can find Brad on the web, and read some other opinions on this book:

Brad's website: Quillings.com
Brad's blog
Brad on Facebook
Brad on Twitter: @BBeaulieu

An awesome cross interview between Brad and Rob Ziegler, at Fantasy Book Critic.
Brad on moral ambiguity, at John Scalzi's blog

Pat's Fantasy Hotlist - reviews Khalakovo much better than I
A review at Bookwork Blues
A review at Black Gate

That's it for today. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan - Not An Ordinary Ghost Story

I am so excited to be talking about Andrea J. Buchanan's GIFT, a special enhanced ebook (And be sure to scroll down for a fab interview with Andrea Buchanan)


Release Date: 3/27/2012


Basic Blurb: (from Amazon)

High school sophomore Daisy Jones is just trying to get by unnoticed. It doesn’t help that she’s the new girl at school, lives in a trailer park, and doesn’t even own a cell phone. But there’s a good reason for all that: Daisy has a secret, unpredictable power—one only her best friend, Danielle, knows about.
Despite her “gift” (or is it a curse?), Daisy’s doing a good job of fitting in—and a cute senior named Kevin even seems interested in her! But when Daisy tries to help Vivi, a mysterious classmate in a crisis, she soon discovers that her new friend has a secret of her own. Now Daisy and her friends must deal with chilling dreams and messages from the beyond. Can Daisy channel the power she’s always tried to hide—before it’s too late?
Extra features include:
•   A short graphic novel illustrated by Alexis Seabrook, telling Vivi’s story
•   Danielle’s journal, revealing her deepest thoughts
Why I liked it: 
I was excited to read this book from the minute I heard that it was an enhanced ebook. In fact, the enhancements intrigued me so much, that I bought the book after I read the arc, just to check it out and experience the book for myself. And man, that was the right choice. The story is fab without the enhancements, yes - but the extras really makes this something to EXPERIENCE. Just watch the trailer and image what it would be like to experience some of the hauntings as you read the story. EPIC, I'll tell you...
truly EPIC.



To find out more about GIFT and the Andrea J Buchanan - just check out her interview: 


About the Book:
  • Give me the blurb for the book in 140 characters or less: Four friends must work together to untangle a ghostly mystery. Can Daisy channel the power she’s always tried to hide—before it’s too late? 

  • Why an enhanced ebook?    Reading on an iPad brought to fruition my childhood dream to be able to read in bed, in the dark, without a flashlight -- but more than that, it brought the realization that I was reading books on a platform that was not just a book reader, but also a video player, a music maker, a gaming device. I was just beginning to work on a ghost story about a high school student and her friend who have the same dream when I thought: How cool would it be to read a spooky story on a tablet or e-reader capable of sounds and art and special effects like that?
  • What was the hardest part of doing the enhanced ebook?  Waiting for technology to catch up with my ideas! 
About the Author:
  • What inspires you?  Everyday life. But also: still moments, silent places.
  • What drew you to your story, "Gift"?    A very long time ago, a friend and I had the same dream. Although nothing more came of it (we didn't, for instance, have to battle an evil ghost or anything), I always thought it would be fun to explore the "what if"s of a premise like that in a story.
  • Who is your writing hero? Oh, that's a tough one! I have so many! I learn so much from each book I read, good or bad, that I feel like each and every one of them is a kind of teacher.
  • Randomness:
o   Sweet or salty? Salty!
o   Beach or mountains? Mountains (although I love a deserted beach on a cloudy day)
o   Online or in person? Online!
o   Ebook or print? BOTH!

 About the Future:
  • What’s next for you?   I have a lot of things in process at the moment, and right now I'm not sure exactly which one of them will become the thing I do next. But whatever it is, I'm really excited to explore the possibilities at the intersection of reading and technology.
  • One outrageous goal for the future?   This may sound boring, but I try not to look too far ahead -- there's so much that's amazing right here and now, all around us, and I don't want to miss a minute of it! .
 Isn't she great? I think so! Do yourself a favor and check out GIFT and the future of enhanced ebooks! Add it to your Goodreads TBR list today. Or better yet, buy it here on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.


What have you read lately?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King


When we first meet Vera, she's lost her best friend, Charlie - twice. Once, to the tragic drama that is high school, and the sad politics of social status. Then, again, to death.

Vera's story jumps back and forth through time, sometimes including POVs that you would never expect, like her dad's, Charlie's, and even the wise old Pagoda that sits on the hill above the town where she lives.

It is a lonely, sad, but ultimately uplifting tale of one girl's struggle to find herself, and to stand up for truth in the face of grief. This is the last of A.S. King's books I read, and so far, my favorite.

Let me explain what I mean. I do not mean that it is somehow better than the others. If you read the un-reviews I wrote for Everybody Sees the Ants, and The Dust of 100 Dogs, you know I really loved those books, but this one, and Vera's tale, touched me in a way that only great books can. Having experienced loss in my life similar to Vera's, and also really being able to relate to Vera's father's situation, this book moved me deeply. It really was a unique reading experience for me, because normally in YA novels, parents and children are at odds, and Vera and her dad certainly have their disagreements, but being able to relate to, and sympathize with, them both, made for quite a powerful read.

Anyway, I could go on, but here is the blurb:

Michael L. Printz Honor Book 2011, A Junior Library Guild selection for Fall 2010, An Edgar Allen Poe Award nominee, YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, Indie Next List Pick for Teens, Kirkus Reviews Best Books for Teens 2010, Cooperative Children's Book Center's CCBC Choices 2011. . .

Eighteen-year-old Vera's spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she's kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, or even the police. But will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

An edgy, gripping story, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.


So that's it. If you're like me, and you like extremely human characters whose lives are not perfect, you will really enjoy this book. I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Dust of 100 Dogs, by A.S. King


This book is so awesome! So much fun. There are some hard moments, but mostly it's very smart, very clever, and lots of fun to read.

The trouble is, it's almost impossible to describe, without giving everything away. Here's the blurb:

In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with "the dust of one hundred dogs," dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body-with her memories intact.

Now she's a contemporary American teenager and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.


However, that really doesn't do it justice. Reincarnation, piracy, jewels, escape, defiance, canine psychology, true love, devotion, patois, roots, rock, reggae ... I could go on. There are a hundred amazing things that make this book great, but with the interwoven plot lines, and the vast stretch of history that is covered, it's difficult to talk about what happens, or why you should love it.

I suppose I can only say this: sometimes it's a bit tough to keep track of where our character, Emer/Saffron/100 Dogs is at, but never once does she leave you bored, or uninspired. She endures such harsh cruelty, and such apathy, that you can easily imagine her giving up countless times, but she has this determination, this knowledge of self, and the greatness of courage, that she simply cannot give up, and does whatever it takes, throughout the centuries, to achieve her goals. I rooted for our multifaceted protagonist every step of the way, even when she was being slightly, albeit gloriously, evil.

Monday, March 5, 2012

THE PRICKER BOY by Reade Scott Whinnem

THE BLURB:

He was human once, or so they say. The son of a fur trapper, he was taunted by his peers and tricked into one of his own father's traps. By the time anybody found it, the trap's vicious teeth were empty, pried open and overgrown. It was said the brambles themselves had reached out and taken pity on that boy; that his skin had hardened to bark as thorns grew over every inch of his body.

Maybe it's true and maybe it isn't. But anyone who knows anything stays out of the woods beyond the Widow's Stone.

That used to be enough. But this is the summer everything changes, as Stucks Cumberland and his friends find a mysterious package containing mementos of their childhood: baseball cards, a worn paperback, a locket. Offerings left in the woods years ago, meant to keep the Pricker Boy at bay. Offerings that have been rejected.

THE REVIEW: 

So basically, I am terrible, and I have a very long queue of books I need to review at Afterglow! But THE PRICKER BOY is the kind of book where you just have to climb to the rooftops and shout about how good it is. Oh. My. Goodness. Y'all. I can't even tell you how much I enjoyed this. I am an insatiable horror fan, and I have a particular interest in the rich tradition behind scary campfire stories, so as soon as I read the blurb, I pounced.

I grew up in New England, so I know this setting well: the protagonist, Stucks, lives in the Northeast, in a community that's the perfect vacation spot in the summer and a cold, unforgiving place in the winter. Most of his friends, except for his best friend Pete, are only there for the warm weather, and as the story begins, they are just old enough that they're beginning to outgrow the monsters in the woods. And the way those monsters draw them back in is deliciously creepy. There's something so psychologically terrifying about the dark forest, and Whinnem taps into those primal fears effortlessly. There were a few times when I had to look over my shoulder, just to make sure there was nothing lurking there!

But the character interplay was the reason the book exceeded my expectations. Like all the best horror stories, Whinnem juxtaposes the supernatural with horrors that are all too real: is the Pricker Boy stalking the group, or are the cracks in their friendship just beginning to take shape? Stucks is a wonderfully unreliable narrator, and the way the group dynamic develops packs a huge emotional punch. There's a revelation about three quarters of the way through that made me gasp.

All that, and it's incredibly well-written, too.

So what are you waiting for? Go read it! Read it noooow!

Monday, February 27, 2012

NIGHT SKY—Jolene Perry


The Blurb

After losing Sarah, the friend he’s loved, to some other guy, Jameson meets Sky. Her Native American roots, fluid movements, and need for brutal honesty become addictive fast. This is good. Jameson needs distraction – his dad leaves for another woman, his mom’s walking around like a zombie, and Sarah’s new boyfriend can’t keep his hands off of her. 

As he spends time with Sky and learns about her village, her totems, and her friends with drums - she's way more than distraction. Jameson's falling for her fast. 

But Sky’s need for honestly somehow doesn’t extend to her life story – and Jameson just may need more than his new girl to keep him distracted from the disaster of his senior year.


The Afterglow

A YA Contemporary story told from a male POV, how can you not love that? Jameson was incredible—real, raw, flawed, sweet, perfect. I hung on his every word, his every emotion.

Jolene said that she got the idea for the story from Duckie in Pretty in Pink. What happens to the guy left behind? The guy who loses the girl? You can find out here, and Night Sky is WAY better than anything I could have dreamed up.

Oh, and the kissing scenes rocked my world!

A bit of  awesomeness right out of the book…

They’re opposites. Sky is all tall, dark and angles. Sarah is all smooth, short and soft curves. And now I know I’m a prick because I’ve just checked them both out in less than ten seconds.

What’s ironic here is that Sky knows who Sarah is and I’ve known her for days. Sarah doesn’t know who Sky is and I’ve known her for years. How did that happen? The s’s get tangled around in my head and on my tongue. I’m in deep . . . (Night Sky by Jolene Perry)





Friday, February 24, 2012

DIES IRAE by Christine Fonseca

THE BLURB:

Some sacrifices should never be made—even for love.

Mikayel lives by one rule—obey the orders of the angelic Council at all costs. That is, until he and his friends, Azza and Demi, are sent to Earth. Assigned as Watchers while they await their decision of which angelic order to serve, the three assume the bodies of teenagers and experience life as human.

The sensations are overwhelming as the angels experience a host of human emotions—rage, terror, love—and come ever closer to breaking one of the unbreakable rules—never fall in love.

But being human isn’t the only problem facing the three angels. Unbeknownst to the Council, demonic activity is on the rise, threatening to break a tenuous peace that has existed for a millennia; a peace Azza seems bent on destroying.

Caught in a struggle for power with unseen demonic forces and Azza, and fighting against his rising emotional attachment to Demi, Mikayel must now decide how much he is willing to sacrifice for his new found love—a decision that could reignite an ancient war and will threaten the only thing that matters to the angels, the survival of humanity.

WHAT I THOUGHT:

I know I have the advantage of having read LACRIMOSA, the first full-length novel in the Requiem series, but take my word for it DIES IRAE is the perfect introduction to the Requiem world. I would have loved to have spent more time in the ancient world that Christine weaves around her characters. As a novella, that is necessarily limited. But Christine packs so much emotion into her pages that you are instantly drawn to these characters and their epically tragic story.

The story explores a lot of very intense themes; forbidden love, friends who become mortal enemies, how there is good and evil in everyone, how choices can tip the scales one way or the other, sacrifice, duty, honor, loyalty, betrayal, and the heart pounding (and breaking) of true love. There is a LOT of story packed into these pages.

If you’ve read LACRIMOSA, you’ll love getting to see what started everything and getting an insight into Mikayel and Azza. And if you haven’t read it yet (you won’t have to wait long – it comes out on March 21 - just a few weeks!) then this is a wonderful way to start immersing yourself in the Requiem world.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

WAKE by Lisa McMann

From Goodreads:

For seventeen-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people's dreams is getting old. Especially the falling dreams, the naked-but-nobody-notices dreams, and the sex-crazed dreams. Janie's seen enough fantasy booty to last her a lifetime.

She can't tell anybody about what she does they'd never believe her, or worse, they'd think she's a freak. So Janie lives on the fringe, cursed with an ability she doesn't want and can’t control.

Then she falls into a gruesome nightmare, one that chills her to the bone. For the first time, Janie is more than a witness to someone else's twisted psyche. She is a participant.

The Afterglow:

I won WAKE from a book blogger who was giving away books she disliked.  So I went into it fearing the worst.  Instead, I picked it up and didn't put it back down until 3 hours later when I finished it.

That's right, I held my copy in the bathtub, through my 1 a.m. meal (ravioli), then while shivering on the couch downstairs with only my dog for warmth.

Things I like about it:
  1. Cursing.  I grew up in NY.  I can't imagine a teenage(or child)hood without cursing.  
  2. Caleb.  This is the first YA hero I actually found attractive in at least a year.  It might help that he's of legal age.  I liked him whether he was the first thing he is or another thing.  Sorry for the anti-spoiler vagueness.
  3. Twists and turns.  
  4. How it ends.
  5. Hormones.  Again, more realistic.
The moral of the story is: people need to stop hyping books and start hating on them more.

No wait.

It's: WAKE is fast and fun!

Bonus: The jacket flap apparently is taken almost verbatim from Lisa's query!  Although the end of the flap copy is a bit misleading.  I like how the plot actually turned out.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ashfall by Mike Mullin


From Goodreads:
Under the bubbling hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Most people don't know it's there. The caldera is so large that it can only be seen from a plane or satellite. It just could be overdue for an eruption, which would change the landscape and climate of our planet.

Ashfall is the story of Alex, a teenage boy left alone for the weekend while his parents visit relatives. When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts unexpectedly, Alex is determined to reach his parents. He must travel over a hundred miles in a landscape transformed by a foot of ash and the destruction of every modern convenience that he has ever known, and through a new world in which disaster has brought out both the best and worst in people desperate for food, water, and warmth. With a combination of nonstop action, a little romance, and very real science, this is a story that is difficult to stop reading and even more difficult to forget.

***

I'd call the feeling I had upon finishing this book less Afterglow and more Aftermath. The goodreads blurb ends with "even more difficult to forget" and I find that very true. I find myself thinking about how any of us would survive the ordeals that Alex overcomes. The book is amazingly well-researched, the science feels very real. I love the way Alex grows from a spoiled, attitude-ridden teenager who fights with his mother into a mature adult, fighting to protect the people he loves.

It's part dystopian, part post-apocolyptical, and part contemporary. If you like any of those YA genres, I urge you to read Ashfall, by Mike Mullin.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S. King


I just finished this novel the other day, and I'm still basking in the afterglow. I'm a little ticked I got it on my Kindle, because while I love the convenience of just grabbing the e-book in an instant, I would love to own the hardcover. I wouldn't call this cover beautiful, or shiny, and I wouldn't squee over it, but I do think it's compelling, and incredibly apt.

On the surface, this may seem like a simple story about bullying, or dysfunction in the family, but it's really so much more. Lucky Linderman is a character you can fall for in an instant. His situation isn't much different from hundreds of real kids his age. My own teenage years we're just as awkward, and filled with fear, apathy, and confusion. But Lucky's outlook, his intelligence, and his wit, draw you into his story with a power not many books can wield.

His opinions, and his total lack of fear to tell the truth about them (at least to the reader) set this book apart from most other young adult novels, in the sense that it truly feels like it was written by the character, rather than the author.

After getting in trouble for doing a survey about suicide, Lucky tells us:

Three hours after my meeting with the principal, I was sitting in the guidance office. Six days later, I was in the conference room with my parents, surrounded by the school district’s “experts” who watched my every move and scribbled notes about my behavior. In the end they recommended family therapy, suggested medications and further professional testing for disorders like depression, ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome. Professional testing! For asking a dumb question about how you’d off yourself if you were going to off yourself.

It’s as if they’d never known one single teenager in their whole lives.


In that moment, I felt like I was right inside Lucky's mind, and I knew exactly how he felt, for I'd felt that way countless times in my own life.

From there the story gets much stranger, and I won't give the plot away, because it's full of lush surprises, but I will say that when a tale blends metaphor and possible fantasy (or not) with the harsh reality of life, it does everything I love about stories and storytelling.

King also gets points from me for quoting Robert Nesta Marley, and for dedicating the book to everyone who sees the ants, which, if we can admit it, is really all of us.

Aren't we all bleeding, a little?

EDIT: I completely forgot to mention where else you can find A.S. King. She has a blog, and a website, but there is also an amazing interview with her and Paolo Bacigalupi, if you scroll down from the Amazon page for Ants.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley

I have been wanting to share this review for MONTHS! And finally, I got it written. Let me start with a little background info about the author and this book ~

About the Author: John Corey Whaley

Here is the official bio from Amazon:
John Corey Whaley is an American Young Adult author from Louisiana. His first novel, WHERE THINGS COME BACK is a finalist for the 2012 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. 
Whaley was named a Spring 2011 Flying Start Author by Publishers Weekly as well as a Top Ten New Voice for Teens by the ABC Children's Group at ALA and a Spring 2011 Okra Pick from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.
 WHERE THINGS COME BACK has also been nominated for the American Library Association's Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012. 
Whaley was recently selected by the National Book Foundation as a Top 5 Under 35 author, making him the first YA author to be awarded the honor. 
Whaley studied English and writing at Louisiana Tech University and later earned a Master's in English Education. 
To learn more about John Corey Whaley and WHERE THINGS COME BACK, visit www.johncoreywhaley.com
Now, my unofficial 4-1-1...
I had the opportunity to meet and "hang out" with Corey for a couple of days when he came to do some school visits with Elana Johnson and Jessi Kirby. Let me tell you - he is FABULOUS! Smart, funny, talented - all words I would use to describe him. Needless to say, I was so excited to read his book...especially after meeting him.

About the Book: Where Things Come Back

Here's the "official" blurb on Amazon:

In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town vanishes. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.
As Cullen navigates a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young, disillusioned missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. Through masterful plotting, these two stories are brought face-to-face in a surprising and harrowing climax that is tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, and above all, hope.
My thoughts:

This is a wonderfully crafted book that explores death...and life. His characterizations are rich, as is his use of setting. I found both plots interesting as I kept reading to find out how and when they would intersect. The ending, while I certainly predicted it, was exciting and satisfying.

Whaley does a fabulous job in his debut novel and I sincerely can NOT wait for more from him. Do yourself a favor and check it out!