Monday, January 31, 2011

How Do You Comment?

I spent some time strolling through the blogs I follow tonight commenting on posts. And it led me to ponder commenting in general.

As much as I would love to comment on each and every blog I follow, it is impossible. I follow hundreds of blogs. I just can't get to all of them without it taking over my life.

I don't have a set commenting regime. I try to comment as much as possible, aside from the Blog Hops, Waiting on Wednesday, and IMM comments, but I know I could do better. It's a hard thing to balance. Commenting takes away time that I otherwise would be reading or writing reviews (I have about 10 that I need to write after my vacation reading binge and other procrastinating) or writing my own fictional pieces. Blogging will only be fun for me when it's a hobby. If it turns into a chore or a task to complete, the magic will disappear. But I love getting comments - any blogger does. And I like interacting with other blogs. I get excited to read reviews. Comments that I intend to be short quips often turn into multi-line statements when some thought leaps into my head that I just have to share.

I have a group of blogs that I read and comment on pretty much every day. Other blogs I comment on when I can. I like to go through my Dashboard and randomly click on blogs and then comment on posts I find interesting. I wish that the Dashboard could be organized by the number of followers each blog has, because I like visiting smaller blogs. People who don't have as many followers logically don't get as many comments, and I know how much I appreciated anyone reading my blog when I was starting out (I still do).

I also think it's important to leave substantive comments. I'm not 100% perfect at this, but I like to say something other than "Great review." Not that there's anything really wrong with that - hey, a comment is a comment - but I like to show that I've actually read the post and thought about it at least a little bit. The problem with this is that it takes more time. It's easy to hit blog after blog with a quick "hi there" comment, but individualized comments just can't be pasted in. I prefer quality over quantity...but I still wish there was a way to easily get in both. :-)

How do you comment on blogs? Do you spend a set amount of time each day commenting? Do you try to comment on all the blogs you follow?

Manga Mondays (35): Fruits Basket vol. 12 by Natsuki Takaya

Fruits Basket vol. 12 by Natsuki Takaya




Summary

With the beginning of the school year approaching, the gang returns from summer break--and what a vacation indeed! A new student council has been assembled, with two new secretaries: Naohito, who has declared himself Yuki's rival, and Kimi, who is known as a devil woman--and a thief of men's hearts. Later, when Tohru goes to see her grandfather, he brings up a part of Tohru's past that she had tried to shut away. And with parent-teacher conferences on the horizon, Mayuko gives Shigure some good advice. (courtesy of Amazon)

Review*


*My "reviews" of manga are a combination of a summary and a review. It's hard for me to really talk about a volume of manga without going in depth with the plot. So if you're really concerned about spoilers, beware.

Summer vacation is finally over. It's fun seeing the Tohru and the Sohma kids back at school. I'm glad to see Hana-chan and Uo-chan back in the story, although I would have liked to see more of them.

Each Fruits Basket volume goes into depth on one character's story. This time it's Kagura's turn. We know her as the girl who is obsessed with Kyo. As her character summary says, she is "determined to marry Kyo, even if it kills him." Now we see how their relationship developed. They were great buddies as kids - two misfits happy to be together. But when Kagura saw Kyo's true form one day, she couldn't take it and ran. Kagura's guilt at fleeing her friend somehow turned into a stalkerish kind of love. Kagura realizes this now and is ready to convey her feelins to Kyo and move on. I liked seeing an unsympathetic character be turned into someone with substance.

We also learn more about Rin, who will feature prominently in the next few books. I think Rin with her long, straight black hair is the prettiest of all the Sohmas. And like the other Sohmas, she is troubled. She recently broke up with Haru and is devastated. She expresses her grief by lashing out at Haru and Yuki. Even though she seems like a jerk, you can tell she is desperately sad.

There is a fun moment at the end of the volume with Shigure and Tohru. Shigure goes to Tohru's parent teacher conference in place of her bedridden grandfather. Unbeknownst to Tohru, her teacher is Hatori's ex-girlfriend. She may also be Shigure's ex-girlfriend too - that was a story line that confused me. There's a lot of flirting and sexual tension between them. A light ending to another heavy volume.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Back From My Cruise!!!

I'm back!!!!

Our wonderful Caribbean cruise sadly came to a close this morning. We left sunny Florida and flew back to chilly Minnesota just in time for a big snow storm tomorrow.

I'm pleased to see that all my blog posts posted appropriately. Nice to know that Blogger works correctly.

I had a wonderful time on the cruise. We did a western Caribbean cruise on Freedom of the Seas with Royal Caribbean. We went to Labadee, Haiti (RC's private island); Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Grand Cayman; and Cozumel Mexico. I've done quite a few cruises (this was my 7th cruise) - if you have any questions about cruising, let me know!

Here are a few pictures from the cruise... I will post pictures from my day at Harry Potter-land later.

In the ocean in Labadee, Haiti (Royal Caribbean's private island)
Labadee, Haiti
The inside of a cocoa pod - doesn't look as appetizing as a chocolate bar
View of my ship (Freedom of the Seas) from Jamaica
Me and the hubby at the top of a lighthouse in Cozumel
Punta Sur in Cozumel
Reading on my stateroom balcony

Friday, January 28, 2011

White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat by Holly Black
2010; Margaret K. McElderry


*I'm currently on vacation in the sunny Caribbean! This is a scheduled post (I sure hope it actually posts). I don't have Internet access so I won't be able to comment back as I usually try to do. Thanks for visiting though and hope you enjoy the review!

Summary

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love — or death — and your dreams might be more real than your memories. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Holly Black creates a fascinating world in White Cat. Most fantasies or paranormal fiction create an entirely new world or a hidden magical world that the ignorant humans know nothing about. Holly's world is much more interesting. This is a world where certain people are born with magic - either to do good or evil. The dark curseworkers function as criminals - an alternate universe mafia. On the surface, the world looks and feels just like modern-day America. Only subtle hints tell you that it's something else. For example, we learn in history class that the ban on curseworkers was put in place in 1929, nine years after prohibition and right before the stock market crashed. People also wear gloves constantly since cursework can only be done with bare hands. I loved seeing how Holly could create an alternate universe by only changing the things necessary for the story.

Cassel is an interesting character. He's the only non-magic member in a family of dark curse-workers. A disfunctional family of curse-workers. His meddling mother is in prison, his father is dead, his grandfather tries to take care of him, his brothers alternate between being bullies and looking after Cassel. Worst of all, Cassel lives with the knowledge that he killed his best friend Lila. He doesn't remember what happened - only holding a bloody knife over her dead body and grinning. Cassel does not come off as an extremely likable character but I grew to like him as I understood him better. He's arrogant, a loner, a minor con artist...but he actually is as smart as he thinks he is, is on a journey of self-discovery, and tries to do good in a big-picture way.

The story begins with a crazy sleepwalking episode that nearly gets Cassel killed. He's suspended from school temporarily and sent home to his crazy family. There goes Cassel's chance at normalcy. Things begin to happen quickly at this point. Cassel's brothers and sister-in-law are acting very strangely. And even weirder, a white cat is randomly following him around. As Cassel investigates his brothers and the cat, he realizes that he's at the center of one of the biggest cons ever. He faces a huge obstacle: who should he protect? Himself? His family? His friends? Should he choose not to protect some?

I enjoyed every page of White Cat. The plot unraveled slowly. There were new twists and revealing information in every chapter to keep my interesting. The beginning, often the weakest area of a book, drew me in quickly, and the middle never dragged. The big ending wasn't particularly surprising after I'd learned a certain amount of information but there was a little twist that totally surprised me. White Cat was my first Holly Black read. I can't wait to go back and read her other books.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Waiting On Wednesday (34): Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine spotlighting upcoming releases.

*I'm currently on vacation in the sunny Caribbean! This is a scheduled post (I sure hope it actually posts). I don't have Internet access so I won't be able to comment back as I usually try to do. Thanks for visiting though and hope you enjoy the review!

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
August 23, 2011; Little, Brown


SWEETLY is a modernization of Hansel and Gretel and a companion book to SISTERS RED.

Twelve years ago, Gretchen, her twin sister, and her brother went looking for a witch in the forest. They found something. Maybe it was a witch, maybe a monster, they aren’t sure—they were running too fast to tell. Either way, Gretchen’s twin sister was never seen again.

Years later, after being thrown out of their house, Gretchen and Ansel find themselves in Live Oak, South Carolina, a place on the verge of becoming a ghost town. They move in with Sophia Kelly, a young and beautiful chocolatier owner who opens not only her home, but her heart to Gretchen and Ansel.

Yet the witch isn’t gone—it’s here, lurking in the forests of Live Oak, preying on Live Oak girls every year after Sophia Kelly’s infamous chocolate festival. But Gretchen is determined to stop running from witches in the forest, and start fighting back. Alongside Samuel Reynolds, a boy as quick with a gun as he is a sarcastic remark, Gretchen digs deeper into the mystery of not only what the witch is, but how it chooses its victims. Yet the further she investigates, the more she finds herself wondering who the real monster is, and if love can be as deadly as it is beautiful. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
2010, Dutton Juvenile

*I'm currently on vacation in the sunny Caribbean! This is a scheduled post (I sure hope it actually posts). I don't have Internet access so I won't be able to comment back as I usually try to do. Thanks for visiting though and hope you enjoy the review!

Summary

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them legions of faithful fans. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

One line review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson was a fabulous book, but...

The Good: Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a book that will stay in my head for a long time. John Green and David Levithan created two boys I related to, felt for, and liked. John's Will Grayson is a pretty typical teenage boy. He's prefers to be in the background, stay as detached from people as possible, and is unsure of who he is or what he wants. David's Will Grayson is a depressed, in-the-closet gay teenager for whom nothing seems to go quite right. The Will Graysons meet randomly one night in Chicago and their lives become quickly linked. The link becomes Tiny Cooper, John's Will's best friend, a physically gigantic, joyful, emotion-ful, gay teenager. Tiny brings David's Will out of the closet with a whirlwind romance. Tiny tries to bring John's Will more into the center of life - hooking him up with girls, making him a vaguely disguised character in Tiny's musical, etc.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is the first book in awhile where I wanted to write down quotes because they were just so insightful or meaningful Most of these quotes come from John's Will, my favorite character. He is basically a male version of myself. One paragraph that particularly affected me: "The part I enjoy most is not the doing, but the noticing...I just want the pleasure of noticing these things at a safe distance - I don't want to have to acknowledge that I am noticing. I don't want to talk about it or do stuff about it." David's Will is also a great character. I didn't always like being in his head, because he's always so miserable. I liked him in spite of himself. His feelings are so raw throughout the book that I kept wanting to reach into the pages and hug him. And slap anyone who hurt him in any way. Many reviewers thought Tiny Cooper was the best character in the book. Tiny is a fabulous literary character - he basically functions as the back-bone of the book - but if he was real, he would drive me up the wall. He is a fixer - he constantly meddles in people's lives and tries to make them happy. He seemingly loves people's "need" more than he loves people themselves.

Another thing I loved about Will Grayson, Will Grayson are the parents. John's Will comes from a unique family in the YA realm: he has two happy, mentally-healthy parents who adore him. The stereotypical "traditional family" is quite the minority in YA lit; it's nice to see it represented occasionally. I love that John's Will's parents spend time with him and try to understand him. When he has a bad day at school, his dad comes home from work just to be with him. And the mother of David's Will is just as wonderful. She loves her son and hates seeing him so unhappy. She is someone that Will can and does rely upon for advice and consolation. When he comes out to her, she doesn't even blink. Instead, she welcomes Tiny into their home and cook dinner.

The bad: I had so much trouble getting through this book. This happens sometimes with more literary novels: I appreciate the book but don't always enjoy it. I actually did enjoy this book. Every page made me stop and think, smile and laugh, or cry and despair. But despite that, I had to force myself to read each chapter for the first half of the book. The second half was, thankfully, much harder to put down. Part of the difficulty, I think, was due to David's Will. He's in so much pain and is so bitter that his chapters were hard to read. But I can't completely put a finger on why I struggled so much. I am very happy that I stuck with the book. It was a memorable, enjoyable, thoughtful read.

Rating: 4 / 5 (I'm rating this a 4 because it stuck with me and has grown on me since I've read it, despite being a hard read)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Manga Mondays (34): Vampire Knight vol. 4 by Matsuri Hino

Vampire Knight vol. 4 - Matsuri Hino

*I'm currently on vacation in the sunny Caribbean! This is a scheduled post (I sure hope it actually posts). I don't have Internet access so I won't be able to comment back as I usually try to do. Thanks for visiting though and hope you enjoy the review!

Summary

Zero warns Yuki to stay away from Maria Kurenai, the new Night Class transfer student, although he won't tell Yuki why. Kaname is also wary, and he sends Ichijo to watch Maria so she doesn't start trouble. Who is this girl, and why does she have the entire Night Class on edge. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

*Warning: Potential spoilers. My manga reviews tend to be more of a summary than a review. I find it hard to review manga in the same way I do regular books.


Maria, the new student, has set Zero and Kaname on edge, for different reasons. Both are desperate to keep Yuki away from Maria. But Yuki is tired of being protected - she even deigns to scold Kaname. Maria is definitely not at Cross Academy for academic ambitions. She wants to get rid of Kaname and use Zero and Yuki as puppets. There are some great action scenes towards the end of this book as things begin to play out between Zero and Maria.

Yuki demonstrates once again how daring and selfless she is. She is willing to sacrifice a great deal to save Zero. There are some beautiful scenes between them, as Yuki really begins to understand what she means to Zero. I don't think she knows how she feels about him yet, but she knows that she will do anything to save him from becoming a Level E vampire, doomed to death.

On a side note, we learn that Yuki's guardian duties really cut into her schoolwork. Her classmates are furious that she, as usual, gets poor grades on exams. As a result of her performance, her class scores the lowest in the school and has to be the volunteers for the school ball.

As the volume ends, Zero's family is introduced in greater detail. It is interesting to understand his background as a child of vampire hunters and his life before his family was killed. I'm curious to see what role his family plays in future volumes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In My Mailbox (25)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for seven months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

*I'm currently on vacation in the sunny Caribbean! This is a scheduled post (I sure hope it actually posts). I don't have Internet access so I won't be able to comment back as I usually try to do. Thanks for visiting though and hope you enjoy the review!

For Review

I cleaned up with Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab this week. I actually got the monthly newsletter a while back, but I'm just now getting to downloading the books. Nice vacation reading.


Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann


Red Glove by Holly Black (I can hardly contain my excitement for this one!)


Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell


Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis


Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Library Stash


Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (Getting back to my history buff roots. Interesting but a little dry so far)

CD Stash


The King Is Dead by The Decemberists

-Probably my favorite band. I had to buy this as soon as it came out.
-Next week is the new Iron & Wine record! One of my other favorites. I'll be buying that one as soon as I get back from vacation.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry

Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry
2010, Bloomsbury USA Children's Books


*I'm currently on vacation in the sunny Caribbean! This is a scheduled post (I sure hope it actually posts). I don't have Internet access so I won't be able to comment back as I usually try to do. Thanks for visiting though and hope you enjoy the review!

Summary

In a secluded village, magic sparkles on the edges of the forest. There, a young girl named Evie possesses unusually strong powers as a healer. A gypsy's charms—no more than trinkets when worn by others—are remarkably potent when Evie ties them around her neck. Her talents, and charms, have not escaped the notice of the shy stonemason's apprentice. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next-door. When the young king's carriage arrives one day, and his footman has fallen ill, Evie might just get her chance after all . . . (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Secondhand Charm is a fun, sweet, rollicking adventure fantasy story that instantly evokes comparisons to Gail Carson Levine and Shannon Hale. Evie is a poor girl from a rural town, but she has dreams of going to university in the capital and becoming a doctor like her parents. She unexpectedly wins a scholarship to the university when the king visits town. Now, she has to travel to the capital to begin her studies. Her journey there becomes much more complicated and dangerous than she ever expected.

To her great surprise, Evie discovers that everything she knows about herself is a life. She is a serpentina; she comes from a great legacy of serpentinas. She has her own leviathan, a sea-monster companion, and also has great magical powers. The story twists and turns as Evie learns and accept who she really is and learns who to trust and who to love.

I love that the characters in this book are not black and white. Evie's serpent is a loyal companion, yet also sees humans as nothing more than food. Annalise, Evie's long-lost cousin and cousin, is manipulative and cunning, but also honestly cares for Evie and helps her adjust to her heritage. Aidan, Evie's childhood friend who is becoming something more, is kind, genuine, and loyal, but also not above jealousy and hurt feelings. It is hard to pinpoint from one scene to the next who is really "good" and "bad," although it's pretty clear by the end of the book.

Evie is a lovely girl. Intelligent, kind, loyal, cunning, and brave. In discovering her true nature, she undergoes a great shock. She is not too quick to believe in this new reality, yet also not so stubborn that she ignores what becomes blatantly obvious. The speed with which she became accustomed to her status as a serpentina felt believable. I liked that Evie's basic personality - her sense of right and wrong and her courage in defending those in need of help - did not change when her world shifted.

Secondhand Charm is an enjoyable story. It has a sense of innocence and magic that makes it feel younger than a lot of YA high fantasy, but is not so cut and dry as most middle grade fantasy. Julie Berry did a fabulous job creating a unique mythology. I have never heard of serpentinas and love the concept. The only real strike I have against this book is that it's fun but not overly memorable. I've struggled to write this review. I had a lot of fun reading the book, but never felt like I had to shout my love for it from the rooftops. It was rather difficult to put together a decent review that is as complimentary as this book deserves, yet not unrealistically so.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blog Hop Friday

It's time for the weekly book blogger hops again! A great opportunity to meet new bloggers and say hi to old.

Crazy For Books' Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop

Parajunkee's Follow My Book Blog Friday.






I'm Alison. I've been blogging for seven months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

*I'll be hopping by blogs Thursday night and Friday morning. I leave Friday night for Florida for vacation! We'll be going to Harry Potter land on Saturday and then a 7-day Caribbean cruise starting Sunday. Goodbye freezing Minnesota!

I will still be posting regularly on my blog while I'm gone through posts I have scheduled. Hopefully, they work. But I won't be commenting, since I won't have Internet access.

This Week's Reviews


Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
Trickster's Girl by Hilary Mantel

Check out my What Books? Feature this week:
Favorite Books To Re-Read

Manga Mondays: Vampire Knight vol. 3 by Matsuri Hino

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: No Blog Hop this week :-( (according to @crazybookblog)


Follow Friday: Who Do You Root For?

Well, no one really. The only sport I enjoy is gymnastics, but I haven't been following it much since the 2010 Olympics. If I had to pick some teams that I like, I'd say the Minnesota teams: Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, and Wild. I'm from Phoenix, so I'm also a Suns fan. I hate the Arizona Cardinals on principle. They had one exceptional year, but generally they've been an embarrassment to the state, and we wasted a lot of money on a new stadium when ASU's Sun Devil Stadium was perfectly fine and was a source of money for ASU. Enough ranting...

For the Super Bowl, I'm rooting for the Packers just because it's the closest team to Minnesota.

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
HarperTeen, January 4, 2011

Summary

In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees . . . .

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

It's nice to find books that shoot down my own idea that I don't like angel books. Unearthly is a great demonstration of how an angel paranormal can be done well. It's also another example of why I prefer paranormals told from the perspective of a supernatural character.

The angel mythology in Unearthly is complex, but presented in such a manner that it was easily understood. Since Clara is part angel, we begin learning about angel mythology from the book's first pages. We learn that angels have a purpose - to save or help a human. We also learn that they are unearthly beautiful, strong, and smart. Angels can procreate. Angels can be good or bad. Angels, or at least part angels, are a lot more common than you'd expect. The angel mythology was different from what I've read in previous angel books. I liked that it was explained clearly and matter-of-factly. Sometimes, angel mythology is so shrouded in mystery that I feel like the author is trying to hard to create a sexy, eerie atmosphere. Cynthia Hand managed to create a romantic, suspenseful story that could hold its own with the paranormal element.

Clara is mostly a typical teen. She's only known she was part angel for a few years, but it seems like it's just part of her life - no big deal. Sure everything comes easy for her and she uproots her life as soon as she learns of her promise, but that's just the way things go. Clara's experience follows that of most new students. She makes some good friends, a mean girl enemy, and meets both cute and frustrating guys. The school situation is pretty par for the course for YA. I'm rather tired of reading about nice girls getting targeted by the school's prettiest and most popular girl in every novel that I read. It's not such a ubiquitous experience for teens that every novel needs to include such a plot arc. That aside, I really loved Clara's girlfriends Wendy and Angela. Angela is arguably more important to the story, but she got on my nerves a little. I especially loved Wendy. She was so normal, welcoming, and nice.

The guy situation is much more interesting than I would have expected. You have jerky, cute Tucker and sweet, enigmatic Christian. I love how the plot included a love triangle that wasn't exactly so. A bit of a twist on an over-used plot arc.

I only have two significant criticisms of the book. First is that I felt like I had to suspend belief at times - there were just a few too many coincidences. An ideal paranormal book is one where you really forget that the supernatural elements don't actually exist, and I could easily remember that this was a made-up fantasy world. I also thought that several significant pieces of information were left unresolved in this book. Of course, this sets things up for sequels, but I prefer feeling like each book in a series can sort-of stand on its own, with the exception of cliff-hangers.

All in all, a fun series and an angel paranormal that I actually enjoyed.

Rating: 4 / 5

Source: NetGalley

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Waiting On Wednesday (33): Illusions by Aprilynne Pike

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine spotlighting upcoming releases.

Illusions by Aprilynne Pike
May 3, 2011; HarperCollins

-I loved Wings and like Spells well enough. I can't wait for the third book!

Laurel hasn't seen Tamani since she begged him to let her go last year. Though her heart still aches, Laurel is confident that David was the right choice.

But just as life is returning to normal, Laurel discovers that a hidden enemy lies in wait. Once again, Laurel must turn to Tamani to protect and guide her, for the danger that now threatens Avalon is one that no faerie thought would ever be possible. And for the first time, Laurel cannot be sure that her side will prevail.

What Books? Favorite Books to Re-Read

What Books? Favorite Books to Re-Read

It's time to get back to my "What Books?" feature. I stepped away from it for a month or so, because I was so busy posting my 2010 Book Lists.

What is the "What Books?" feature?

I have so many book memories from my childhood. Different books touched me in different ways and had came to me at important times. I plan on running this feature every other week and featuring books that I love(d) for different reasons.

A lot of the topics and books that come to mind feature books that I liked when I was in elementary and middle school more than books I liked in high school and later. So there is more of a middle-grade focus. But this particular post will feature books that I loved as a child and that I love now.

See prior editions of What Books? here:

Favorite Not-Super-Popular Book Series
Favorite Ghost/Scary Stories
The Movie Is Better Than The Book - Check out this post for lots of fabulous comments
Favorite Obscure Childhood Book

Please feel free to contribute your own favorite books in the comments or post similarly on your blog and link to this. If people like this feature as it gets going, I think it might be a fun meme.

What Books Do You Love To Re-Read?

Like most kids, I was a perpetual re-reader. In between every new Babysitter's Club and Sweet Valley Twins book, I would invariably re-read the books I had several times.

I occasionally read other books than Babysitter's Club and Sweet Valley Twins - although I was so obsessed with these, that it's hard to believe I had time for anything else.  Here are a few books that I've read countless times:
With You And Without You by Ann M. Martin
Just As Long As We're Together by Judy Blume
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Giver by Lois Lowry

I don't re-read many book now as an adult. There are just too many books that I want to read. But there are still a few I come back to time and time again...
Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
-I read this book every December. For the past three years, I've read the Annotated Edition, edited by David Shapard. But for Christmas this year, I received a new coffee-table covered Annotated Edition, edited by . I'm excited to read it!

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
-On a whim three years ago, I re-read the entire series at once. It was the first time I'd read all of the books in one go, since previously not all the books had been out. Reading all 7 books at once makes such a difference. I was a big Harry Potter fan before, but reading all the books in a row was wonderfully all-consuming. I resolved to do it every year and for the past three years, I have. It usually takes me about 4 weeks, although it took me 6 weeks this year, since I was trying to read other books at the same time.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
-Now this one is a little different from the prior two. I have re-read each book a few times, but typically I don't sit down and read an entire book. Instead, I pick up one of the books and turn to a particular section that interests me. As many times as I have read the parts of each book that I like best (i.e. Jasper's back story in Eclipse or the Volturi scene in New Moon), each time I pick up these books, I become completely lost. For example, I grabbed New Moon off the shelf at Barnes & Noble on Friday and opened it to the part where Alice and Bella leave for Italy. Immediately, the world disappeared around me and all I knew was Twilight - as usual, I ended up reading the book for a lot longer than I planned.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Manga Mondays (33): Vampire Knight vol. 3 by Matsuri Hino

Vampire Knight vol. 3 - Matsuri Hino


Summary

Kaname, the pureblood vampire, has kept to his room since learning of Yuki and Zero's forbidden act. However, the arrival of Ichijo's grandfather brings the entire Night Class together to greet one of the oldest vampires on the senate. Ichijo's grandfather says he's there merely to visit his grandson, but he's out for Kaname's blood. (Courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The third volume at Vampire Knight features Kaname and Zero equally. I really do think the Kaname should have gotten full billing in this volume since Volume 2 was primarily about Zero, but hopefully we'll get more Kaname in future volumes.

The book begins with Kaname depressed after learning that Yuki freely gave her blood to ease Zero's pain. We get an idea of just how special Yuki and Kaname are to one another. We already know that Kaname saved Yuki from a vampire when she was a little girl. But now we find out that they kept in contact all throughout Yuki's childhood. She saw Kaname as something between a big brother and a savior worthy of worship. Kaname meanwhile grew to love Yuki as a sweet child and, I think, something more as she grew older.

We learn that Kaname is part of the inaugural class of Night School vampires. Because of his pure blood status, he is highly respected and influential amongst vampires. It was his presence that encouraged other young vampires to join the school.

The volume ends with the introduction of a new character, Maria. She comes off as this sweet innocent vampire who is nervous and excited about starting a new school. But Zero she is something else...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Blog Tour: Interview with Hilary Bell

Trickster's Girl by Hilari Bell
Houghton Mifflin Books For Children, January 3, 2011
Source: NetGalley; ARC provided by Teen Book Scene's booktour




About Hilari

As far as writing is concerned, I call myself the poster child for persistence. Songs of Power, the first novel I sold, was the 5th novel I'd written. When it sold I was working on novel #13. The next to sell, Navohar, was #12, and the next, A Matter of Profit, was #9. The Goblin Wood was #6, Fall of a Kingdom was #15. You get the picture.

My personal life? I was born in Denver in 1958—you can do the math. I'm single and live with my mother, brother and sister-in-law. I used to be a part time reference librarian for a mid-sized public library, but in the beginning of ’05 I achieved a writer’s dream and quit the day job. Librarian turned writer is a very schizophrenic state—when I try to urge people to buy my books, I have to beat down a lifetime of professional reflexes demanding that I tell them to check them out at the library instead.

I enjoy board gaming and fantasy gaming, both table top and live. But my favorite thing to do is the decadent version of camping my mom and I practice. We have a pop-up trailer with a fridge, a sink, a stove and (if electrical hookups are available) a space heater, heating pads and a toaster. Our motto is "No unnecessary work." We don't cook, we don't wash dishes, we don't...you name it. What we do is spend all day, every day, reading and hiking and reading some more. Camping is the only time I can get in enough reading. Well, I take that back—when it comes to reading, there's no such thing as enough. (Taken from Hilari's website)

Interview

1. I noticed that a lot of your books are geared more toward middle grade or young teens, and a lot of your protagonists are boys. How was the experience of writing a YA book with a female protagonist different than your previous books?

It's not different--that's the trick of it. I haven't counted, but I think I have about 2 male protagonists for every female, and I can write either with no problem. The place where writers get into trouble with characters of the opposite gender is that they start worrying about making them a "believable woman" or a "typical teenage boy" and they end up with a stereotype that falls flat on the page. The secret is not to try to make your main character a typical whatever, but to make them a person that's different from every other person of their age and gender. Don't ask, What's a teenage boy like? Ask, How is my teenage male protagonist different from every other person in the world? Make him or her a character, make them an individual with their own goals, passions and desires. Make them atypical, and uniquely themselves. And then their gender just falls into place as part of who they are.

2. Your Amazon profile says you drove from Utah to Alaska doing research for this book. In your drive, what was your favorite site to see?

Oh my gosh! I saw so many fabulous things and places. The weirdest and most bizarre place was Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. Everything was black. It was just wild. And Flathead Lake (also Idaho) really is the most beautiful lake I've ever seen. But one of the things that stands out most in my memory was the grizzly bears. Grazing right beside the road, and they didn’t even move away when you pulled up right beside them and started snapping photos. (With my heart pounding, even though I was in the van with the window closed.) A ranger on one of the ferries said that black bears evolved in the woods, so when they feel threatened their first instinct is to climb a tree, but grizzlies evolved on the plains, so when they feel uneasy their instinct is to stand their ground. Which explains a number of really great, close up photos. Taken through the window of the van, because I'm not crazy.

3. Was there any point in writing this book when Kelsa or any other character took the plot in a direction you weren't expecting?

There are two types of writers--the outliners, who figure out where their plot is going before they start writing the book, and the seat-of-the-pants writers, who sit down and start writing with no clue what's going to happen next. I'm an outliner, so no, my characters do what they're told. Not because I'm bossy and they're wimps, but because I know where my plot is going and how it's going to get there. I think it's the pantsers who get surprised. And it's also the pantsers who end up having to throw out half their book and rewrite the beginning because they end up somewhere that makes huge chunks of what they've written irrelevant to the finished story. Both processes do work, but I think pantsers have to do a lot more rewriting than outliners do. That's why I prefer to outline. I don't much like rewriting, and even die-hard pantsers admit they have to put in a more time and effort than the outliners do.

4. What is a piece of writing advice that you don't think gets said often enough (something other than the ubiquitous "practice" or "read.")?

Truly, aside practice and read there's not much that is universal to writing, because every writer works out a process that works for them. I once came up with Bell's Rewrite of Heinlein's Three Rules of Writing: You must write. You must finish what you write. You must submit what you've written to someone who's likely to buy it until someone does. Everything else really is optional. The one thing I will add is: Take joy in the writing itself. There is no greater rush than the feeling you get when you're writing the first draft and the story is coming alive. And though you may not realize how important that is when you're desperately trying to sell your first, or fourth, or twelfth novel, that joy in the story is what matters most.

5. What were some books that influenced you most as a teen?

Boy, I read so much all the time I was growing up. As a teen... Oddly enough, I think it would be Georgette Heyer's regency romances. Though calling them "regency romances" really isn't fair. Did you know that the World Science Fiction Convention which meets every year, always includes a regency ball? Because many of those die-hard science fiction fans are also Georgette Heyer fans. And the reason for that is that Georgette Heyer's novels are less regency romances than incredibly sharp and witty comedies of manners. And I think I'd add Anne McCaffrey, whose books got me into reading science fiction as well as fantasy. And probably a billion others, but those were some books that defined part of my reading--and writing--tastes, so I'd have to give them top billing in terms of "influence."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In My Mailbox (24)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for seven months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

Last week, in response to the weekly question on Crazy-For-Books' Blog Hop, a lot of people listed Twilight as a book that influenced or changed their life. Many of these people were embarrassed to admit this. I was dismayed to see anyone feel the need to feel ashamed to like Twilight, or any book for that matter. In response, I wrote the following post:
I LOVE Twilight and I Am NOT ASHAMED!
It's gotten a lot of great comments. Check it out and weigh in!

Library Stash
-I was a good library customer this week.


Beat The Band by Dan Calame (Finished it today. Loved it!)


Hush by Eishes Chayil (Finished. Very powerful and interesting)


Inconvenient by Margie Gelbwasser (Been looking forward to this for months)


Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto (Picked this up after seeing the author's name in Anna And The French Kiss)

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer (This was highly recommended to me, so I picked it up)


Midnight Alley by Rachel Caine (Morganville Vampires #3)


Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires #2)

CD Stash


The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

Trickster's Girl by Hilari Bell: Blog Tour and Review

Trickster's Girl by Hilari Bell
Houghton Mifflin Books For Children, January 3, 2011
Source: NetGalley; ARC provided by Teen Book Scene's booktour




Summary

In the year 2098 America isn't so different from the USA of today. But, in a post-9/11 security-obssessed world, "secured" doesn't just refer to borders between countries, it also refer to borders between states. Teenagers still think they know everything, but there is no cure for cancer, as Kelsa knows first-hand from watching her father die.

The night Kelsa buries her father, a boy appears. He claims magic is responsible for the health of Earth, but human damage disrupts its flow. The planet is dying.

Kelsa has the power to reverse the damage, but first she must accept that magic exists and see beyond her own pain in order to heal the planet. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Trickster's Girl is an environmental dystopian sci fi/fantasy set around the year 2100. Kelsa is mourning the death of her father from cancer. She runs into a handsome, but very strange boy who convinces her that the leys, underground rivers of energy, have been damaged and that Kelsa is the person to fix them - by spreading magic dust at the nexus points. It sounds really weird, and I never did fully understand it, but basically, trees worldwide are being destroyed by humans. They have unknowingly messed with the energy that keeps nature going. Since humans broke it, only humans can fix it. Kelsa agrees to help fix the leys.

Raven turns out to be an Indian shape-shifting spirit. A rather arrogant one at that. Kelsa and Raven set off on a journey that takes them from Provo to Montana, Idaho, Canada, and Alaska. Kelsa has to find the perfect nexus points to heal the damaged energy. Unfortunately, there are those who do not want the leys fixed. Kelsa not only has to save the world, so to speak, but make sure she doesn't get killed in the process.

The plot is unusual, and as I said, I never totally "got it," but I was oddly drawn to this book. Kelsa and Raven slowly build a relationship. They start out as a reluctant partnership. Neither trusts the other, and they don't refrain from sniping at each other. But gradually, a friendship builds. It was interesting to see them work together. This book is not a romance. They form a friendship. I was expecting to see this turn into a romance and was a bit disappointed when it never did. The synopsis never indicates that it is a romance, but I just assumed. So don't expect one.

A highlight of Trickster's Girl is the beautiful nature descriptions. In doing research for this book, Hilari Bell traveled from Utah from Alaska. Glaciers, forests, and lakes are all described in a way that I could see them vividly in my mind. I also liked the futuristic setting. The world was just different enough to be interesting (electronic ID cards that everyone carries, flying vehicles), but not so different as to be unrecognizable.

I enjoyed Trickster's Girl. I would have liked it better if the plot had been more understandable and more relatable, but the story was still interesting. I never felt like I was forcing myself to read. The journey that Kelsa and Raven take, as well as their burgeoning friendship made the book a lot of fun, regardless of the plot. I'd recommend Trickster's Girl to anyone who is interested in the environment, futuristic settings, and the outdoors.

Rating: 3 / 5

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hopping Friday

It's time for the weekly book blogger hops again! A great opportunity to meet new bloggers and say hi to old.

Crazy For Books' Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop

Parajunkee's Follow My Book Blog Friday.




I'm Alison. I've been blogging for seven months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

Last week, a lot of people listed Twilight as a book that influenced or changed their life. Many of these people were embarrassed to admit this. I was sad to see anyone feel the need to feel ashamed to like Twilight, or any book for that matter. In response, I wrote the following post:
I LOVE Twilight and I Am NOT ASHAMED!
It's gotten a lot of great comments. Check it out and weigh in!

2010 Book Lists:

For the end of the year, I put together an extensive list of the books I've read in 2010 separated into categories. Last week, I accidentally posted broken links for all of these. They're fixed this week. Check out the posts:

Introductory Post
Part 1: Contemporary Fiction
Part 2: Best Writing, Twilight Lovers; Edgy Fiction; Foodie Fiction
Part 3: Boy POV; Middle Grade; Something Different; Kick-Butt Girls
Part 4: Paranormal Day
Part 5: Cross-Over Adult; High Fantasy; Makes You Think; Historical Fiction
Part 6: Gossipy; Romance; POC; Sobbing; Fluff
Part 7: Top Tens: Books, Cover, Albums, Songs

Review

Prom And Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Manga Mondays: Emma vol. 10 by Kaoru Mori

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: Why do you read the genre that you do? What draws you to it?

I read books from nearly every genre, but in the past few years most of my reading has been YA. I love reading about characters at an age when everything is ripe with possibilities. Even characters who have horrible, nightmarish lives have a sense of hopefulness to them - even if the don't realize it - their lives are just beginning. I love how important everything seems, how intense. Your first love is all-consuming. The family dynamics of being a child in a flawed family are often fascinating. Whether paranormal or contemporary fiction, YA always has fascinating characters in interesting situations.

Follow Friday: What makes up your non-human family??

My non-human family is comprised of two creatures:

My beloved dog Snowbird (he's half basset hound and half labrador)

My cute, irritable kitty Ahwatukee
-Side note for literary lovers. When I was in college I had a betta fish named Atticus Fish. I usually called him Atti.
 
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