Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hunger by Jackie Kessler

Hunger by Jackie Kessler
2010; Harcourt Graphia



Summary

“Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons? (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

"Issue" books are very common in the young adult world. Death, drugs, depression, eating disorders...you name it. It gives the author an easy plot arc - start down in the depths and build yourself up to recovery in some fashion.

Hunger is an "issue" book in the sense that the main character Lisa has a severe case of anorexia. It does follow the familiar plot arc, but does so in a unique manner - by incorporating fantasy. Lisa is chosen to be one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Appropriately, she is chosen to be Hunger.

Lisa's anorexia is the dominant theme of this book. Her life revolves around it. She dropped friends who questioned her health and attached herself to bulimic Tammy, who eggs her on. While the reader hates manipulative Tammy, I definitely see why Lisa is friends with her - it's comforting to have someone who understands the way you think and the way you eat. Lisa's inner voice is her constant nemesis. Always telling her that she's not thin enough. To everyone else she looks gaunt, but Lisa's voice points out all her flaws, real and imaginary. The author portrayed the inner voice well, showing just what kept Lisa from eating or changing. I thought it was an accurate reflection of the anorexic frame of mind.

The fantasy aspect - the Horsemen - is quite strange. Lisa wonders around on her horse making people starve to death. It was interesting, although a bit of a stretch. Some fantasies are so well-described that I almost believe it's true no matter how magical it is. Although Hunger is well-written, I never came close to believing it.

I loved Death. He seems like a sensitive thinker who's taken on the image of Kurt Cobain. While I don't want to get close to Death, Death as a person seems pretty cool. Pestilence was creepy, but good for Lisa. He helped her understand that her role as Hunger can either be a force for evil or a force for good. War is evil. Out for herself and full of hatred.

It was interesting how having the power to determine whether people starved or thrived helped Lisa come to terms with her anorexia. While the plot itself is a bit odd, I really liked the path Lisa took to discovering the value of her body and her health. She discovered the meaning of friends and family.

Definitely an interesting novel.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, May 30, 2011

Manga Mondays (52): Vampire Knight vol. 10 - Matsuri Hino

Vampire Knight vol. 10 - Matsuri Hino


Summary

Cross Adademy is attended by two groups of students: the Day Class and the Night Class. At twilight, when the students of the Day Class return to their dorm, they cross paths with the Night Class on their way to school. Yuki Cross and Zero Kiryu are the Guardians of the school, protecting the Day Class from the Academy's dark secret: the Night Class is full of vampires!

Zero contemplates his relationship with Yuki and eventually tells her that he wouldn't have minded if she had killed him. Meanwhile, Maria Kurenai spies on Kaname and witnesses his destruction of the Vampire Senate. She notifies her parents, who informs the rest of vampire society. At the academy, the Headmaster battles the Vampire Hunters and kills the Association President. He is then arrested. At the fallen Senate building, the Pureblood Sara Shirabuki arrives to find an unconscious Takuma Ichijo, and she apprehends him to find out more about Kaname. Meanwhile, Kaname arrives back at the academy and gets into a fight with Zero, but Yuki stops it before Kaname could deliver the final blow to Zero. (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.

I'm still nonplussed about Vampire Knight, because it keeps getting stranger and stranger. But there are still some nice moments in this volume.

We begin just after Zero kills Rido and Kaname kills the entire Senate. This series certainly doesn't refrain from killing. Zero has pledged to kill all pureblood vampires, including Yuki. He ends volume 9 and starts Volume 10 pointing his gun at Yuki, but he can't do it. Yuki has always been there to protect and love him, even knowing all his flaws. When Kaname comes back and sees Zero about to kill Yuki, he's understandably furious. He would have killed Zero if Yuki hadn't stopped him.

Meanwhile, the Vampire Hunter Society has decided to destroy the entire Night class of the Academy. Headmaster Cross will not stand for that. He kills the president of the Society.

Inside the school, the Day students are no longer in the dark. They know that the Night students are vampires. To their credit, school loyalty prevails on both sides. The Night students pledge to protect the Day students and the Day students remain loyal to the Night students.

Like the last several volumes, Volume 10 is very confusing. A lot of things aren't properly or clearly explained. For example, Zero's body has been surrounded by brambles or the "Bloody Rose" for the last few volumes. There is some reason for this, but I haven't caught it yet. It just looks weird.

I'm curious to see where Vampire Knight goes, but I'm getting more and more frustrated.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Armchair BEA How to Write a Review

Today's theme for Armchair BEA focuses on the nitty gritty of blogging. I wish I knew enough Html to come up with an interesting tech-themed post, but alas... I'm going to focus on the most basic element of a book blog - the book reviews.

On a side note, I did a big advice post a few weeks ago about increasing followers. Check it out:
Blogger Advice: How to Gain Followers

My comments about how to write a book review is by no means the only way to do things. There are a million ways to write a great review. I've tried many of them. It's just a few thoughts that come to mind...

How to Write a Review

1. Review Elements: Most reviews have three parts - Cover photo, summary, and review. I think the majority of people paste the Goodreads/Amazon summary onto their reviews. That's what I do. I admire the people who come up with their own summaries, but I'd rather focus on the review (I'm lazy). Then there's the review itself.

2. Time: First off, how long after reading the book should you wait before writing the review? I think my reviews are best 2 days to a week after I've read the book. Too soon and the review is gushy or angry. Too late and I have trouble remembering the book. Lately, I've been waiting several weeks before writing reviews. I don't recommend this. It takes extra long, because I have to comb my brain to remember the book.
Second, how long should you spend writing the review? However long it takes you to write a review you're pleased with. I typically spend 20-40 minutes per review, which is the main reason I procrastinate in writing them. I've spent as long as 2 hours! (for the Twilight Official Guide, which was a super long, detailed review).

3. Style: Here's the big one. How do you write a review? Obviously there's no answer to this. The only "must" is content. You should say something other than just summarizing the book.

Here are some things to think about:

Pacing - Slow start, slow middle, consistent, page-turner?
Prose - Simple, complex, beautiful, lyrical, too wordy, clunky?
Characters - Likeable, relatable, smart, funny, strong, swooning type, agressive, etc.
Plot - Believable, engrossing, confusing, complex, fun?
Romance - Hot, not believable, otherworldly, realistic?

How do you put this down? In traditional five paragraph essay form? That's how the majority of my reviews are. But for books that I really love or have a lot to say about, I often break it down into an outline - splitting elements up by numbers or separating the good from the bad. I think this format is easier to read, but not so much so that I write all my reviews that way.

Here are a few examples of my review styles

Standard Paragraphs: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Numbered Outline: Die For Me by Amy Plum
Good v. Bad: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

4. Consistency: Here's where I don't follow my own advice. I think the best blog has a standard format for reviews, so the reader knows what to expect when she looks at your blog. My reviews are definitely not consistent. As I said above, my reviews range from multi-paragraph essays to numbered outlines to good v. bad. How I write my review depends on what comes to me in the moment.

5. Length: There's an ideal here, although I'm not sure what it is. It's possible to do a good review in a paragraph, but pretty difficult. I think a review should be at least 2 to 3 paragraphs. Probably not too much longer. Here's another "do as I say, not as I do." Many of my reviews are quite lengthy. I don't purposely write them long, but once I get going it's hard to stop. Ultimately, I think the ideal length is however long it takes you to give a thorough discussion of the book.

6. Prose: My only "must" on this front is proper grammar and spelling. I'll excuse one or two mistakes, because we all make them, but people don't want to waste their time trying to decipher poor writing. Now that doesn't mean each review needs to be a masterpiece. Most of my reviews are readable, but certainly not pretty. I have a conversational tone. I admire bloggers whose reviews read like a piece of art, but if I tried to do that it would sound stupid. Each person has her style. I just write in the same style that I would talk about a book with a friend.

7. Negative Reviews: Another tough one. My main suggestion on negative reviews is to be kind and be fair. If you hate a book, you should explain your reasons. In a way that does not turn into a personal insult of the author (e.g. My pet rock could write better than AUTHOR.) I think a good negative review highlights good things about the book as well as bad. After all, if you hated the entire story, would you really finish it? If I can't stand a book, I put it down and then don't review it. If I've finished the story, there are definitely elements I liked, even if my overall reaction was bad.

Conclusion

The most important part of a review is conveying your feelings for the book. There's no right or wrong. If your readers come away from your review having learned something new or gaining a different perspective on a book they're interested in, then you've succeeded. It doesn't matter whether the review is long or short, written in flowery prose or with laugh-out-loud humor. You should write a review in whatever style allows you to best describe your thoughts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blog Hops

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 eleven months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

On the blog:

This week is a little different in that my posts have all been for Armchair BEA. Best thing next to actually being at BEA!

Armchair BEA Introduction
Armchair BEA Best of 2011
Armchair BEA Favorite Blogs
Armchair BEA Nurturing Relationships: Memes

Manga Mondays

Vampire Knight vol. 9 by Matsuri Hino

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: What book-to-movie adaption have you most liked? Which have you disliked?

Good: Pride and Prejudice (BBC); To Kill A Mockingbird; Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea

-I can't think of any bad ones right now although there are obviously tons.

Twilight: The Twilight movies get a lot of grief. I like all of them. Are they perfect? Clearly not. However, I think each movie has gotten better as the budgets have grown larger and the actors have gained experience. I love the first Twilight for Catherine Hardwicke's edge indie feel to the movie. I like the emotions of the second movie. I like the action and improved acting of the third movie.

The best thing about the Twilight movies, particularly the first one, is that they take the books seriously. It would be so easy to mock the novels or deviate vastly from the books' plots. If anything, the movies stick too closely to the books - some things are hard to translate well on screen. I really credit Catherine Hardwicke and Melissa Rosenberg for being so passionate about the novels and the movie. I think the movies are about as good as they could be with the source material they have to draw from.

Follow Friday: How many books do you read in a week? And in what format do you read them, or listen to them?

Hmmm...Well, in the past week, I read 7 books. But that's a bit more than usual (plus, one was manga). I'd say 3-4 on a normal week. A mixture of e-books and print books.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Armchair BEA Nurturing Relationships: Memes

Today's Armchair BEA topic is Nurturing Relationships.

I've met so many great people through blogging: authors, publishers, and most importantly bloggers. I don't want to place one relationship above another so I'm going to focus this post on the main way that I have found other blog friends: Memes.

*I suppose my post is a combo of networking/nurturing relationships, but it's a rather amorphous topic and this is what I was inspired to write (hmmm...inspired makes it sound a little more grand than it is. Rather, it's what popped into my head and subsequently onto the blog).

What is a meme?

A meme is a theme, usually weekly, that multiple blogs post about. It is hosted by one blogger who usually has a spot on his or her blog where each participating blogger posts the link to her blog post. Then you visit as many other blogs participating in the meme and comment on their post.

Why do I participate in memes?

I participate in the three big memes: Parajunkee's Follow Friday, Crazy For Books' Book Blogger Hop, and The Story Siren's In My Mailbox.

As much as I love memes, I don't want them to take over my site. My blog is primarily to review and discuss books. Memes are one way to do that, but it's not original content. Armchair BEA week is unusual for me in that I have only done Armchair BEA posts - no reviews this week aside from Manga Mondays. Normally, I have 2-4 reviews and/or a discussion post plus Manga Mondays.

I participate in memes for two reasons:

1. Fun. I love the blog hops, especially the weekly questions. I love seeing what books everyone got in In My Mailbox, even though it makes me jealous. There are lots of other cool memes, but the lack of time factor outweighs the fun factor for all but my favorites.

2. Networking. When I first started blogging, I only knew about the big blogs like The Story Siren, Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf, The Book Scout, Steph Su Reads, etc. You can find other blogs through directories and blog rolls, but it's hard to get a feel for them. Memes are a great way to find all sorts of blogs you'd never encounter otherwise. Plus, limiting the post to a single topic or single question allows the unique characteristics of each blog to stand out. Seeing what books people received In Their Mailbox lets me know if we read the same things - would I be interested in their reviews? Reading how they answer the weekly question in the Blog Hops highlights the blogger's personality - are they funny, interesting, smart, grammatically correct, etc.?

I still read the "big blogs" that I mentioned above, but almost all of the other blogs that I love now came from memes, as did most of the people who read my blog.

I think consistently participating in memes is the best way to get your name out there and to meet a lot of great friends. It's what takes your blog to the next level - not just an Internet journal, but rather a place for virtual conversation and friendship.

Armchair BEA Favorite Blogs

Armchair BEA Day 3: Favorite Blogs

I didn't sign up in time to interview a blogger for Armchair BEA, so I'm featuring a few of my favorite blogs instead.

Here are just a few of my favorites. I have tons more. I'm sorry to all the people I left out.


Supernatural Snark



I Swim For Oceans






Small Review




Magnet4Books' Reviews






Emily's Reading Room

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Armchair BEA Best of 2011

Welcome to Day 2 of Armchair BEA!

Here are some of my favorite books from 2011.

Favorite Books I've Read in 2011

*Not all of these were published in 2011


Hush by Eishes Chayil


Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg


Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly


Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead


The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith




Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys


Die For Me by Amy Plum

Monday, May 23, 2011

Armchair BEA Introduction


Welcome to Armchair BEA!

I'm so excited to be participating in this event, even though I'm disappointed that I can't go to the real BEA this year.

Who Am I?

My name is Alison (as you might guess from the name of my blog). I've been blogging for almost a year now. My blog is mostly Young Adult, with a few Middle Grade novels and a weekly Manga feature. I read all kinds of books. Growing up, I read mostly contemporary and historical fiction. In recent years, my obsession with Twilight and Harry Potter have given rise to a love for fantasy and paranormal. I read tons of paranormal romance young adult novels. I'm starting to read adult paranormal romance novels as well, but I mostly limit my reviews on the blog to YA.

I love doing discussion posts on my blog. I usually have one every other week. Here are a few of my favorites:

I LOVE Twilight and I Am NOT ASHAMED!!!

Blogger Advice: Gaining Followers

How Do I Armchair

First off, why am I not going to BEA this year? Because I am moving from Minneapolis to Sacramento in 2 or 3 months. Moves are expensive and time consuming, so no trip to New York City. What's worse is that we need to get rid of our house, which is its own nightmare :-(

If by chance, you want to buy or rent a house in a Minneapolis suburb, I have the place for you!

While everyone is having fun at BEA this week, I will be working, going to yoga, fielding calls from prospective renters, and fitting in BEA blogging in between.

What Am I Looking Forward To

From the Armchair side, I'm looking forward to finding new bloggers and getting to know old ones better.

From the BEA side, I'm looking forward to living vicariously through the participants. I'm excited for the author discussions. I'm really excited to see what books people pick up, even though I'm afraid I'll turn permanently green from a high level of jealousy (which just might deter prospective renters or buyers, unless they're big Wicked fans)

Manga Mondays (51): Vampire Knight vol. 9 - Matsuri Hino

Vampire Knight vol. 9 - Matsuri Hino

Summary

Cross Adademy is attended by two groups of students: the Day Class and the Night Class. At twilight, when the students of the Day Class return to their dorm, they cross paths with the Night Class on their way to school. Yuki Cross and Zero Kiryu are the Guardians of the school, protecting the Day Class from the Academy's dark secret: the Night Class is full of vampires!

Zero is imprisoned as Rido begins to revive slowly, and his army of Level E vampires approach the academy. Ichiru, fatally wounded, shoots Zero, and it is revealed that Ichiru was on Zero's side all along, and that he was plotting to kill Rido, the one who made Shizuka Hio murder their parents. Ichiru tells Zero to eat him to become stronger... (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.

I'm not sure how I feel about where Vampire Knight is going. Volume 9 exemplifies my ambivalence. It is a rollicking adventure. Rido Kuran, Kaname and Yuki's uncle, has been awakened from a deep sleep. He was in love with Kaname and Yuki's mother and killed their father. He is now intent on killing Yuki.

Zero has been imprisoned. His brother Ichiru visits him and shoots him with the vampire-killing gun, but it doesn't kill Zero. It turns out that Ichiru is dying and Zero devours his twin to increase his own powers. This sounds really twisted and disgusting, but it actually makes sense with the vampire hunter mythology. Twins of vampire hunters usually devour themselves in the womb and only one child is born. Zero partially devoured Ichiru in the womb, so he was born as a sickly, weak child. Now Ichiru encourages Zero to finish what he once (unconsciously) started.

The Academy is in chaos with Rido's awakening. Evil vampires are popping up out of the woodwork and scaring the day students. The Night students are now protecting the Day students. Headmaster Cross was once a great vampire hunter. Yet he now insists that not all vampires are bad nor should they be killed. He is protecting his school.

Finally, you have the big battles: between Yuki, Zero, and Rido and between Kaname and the Senate. It's all very dramatic.

My problem with this volume and the way the series is going is that it's become so complex. There are so many characters who look so much alike that it's hard to tell what's going on. I had to read the summaries in Volume 10 and read Volume 9 twice to really understand what happened. I also still find the fact that Yuki and Kaname are both lovers and siblings rather uncomfortable. I'm curious to see where Vampire Knight goes, but I'm not enjoying it quite as much.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Weekly Blog Hops

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 eleven months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

On the blog:

Reviews

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson
Die For Me by Amy Plum

Manga Mondays

Vampire Knight vol. 8 by Matsuri Hino

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: If you were given the chance to spend one day in a fictional world (from a book), which book would it be from and what would that place be?

Well, probably Twilight if I could hang out with the Cullens (and they didn't try to kill me). Otherwise, Harry Potter. I love the Anna and the French Kiss world too. I recently read Die For Me and I'd love to get to know the revenants better.

Follow Friday: It's circle time. Time for us to open up and share. Can you tell us FIVE quirky habits or things about you? We all have them...

1. For all I consider myself a hip indie rock listener, I am a huge fan of the Hannah Montana and High School Musical albums and listen to them frequently.
2. When I lived in Phoenix, I owned 5 library cards - one for each city (in Minnesota, one library card works for the entire metro).
3. I'm obsessed with the number 7. I always set my alarm clock for some interval of 7 (like 6:07 AM).
4. I am horribly behind on my book reviews. I have about 10 books that I've read but haven't yet reviewed. The worst part of being a fast reader.
5. I was scared of escalators as a kid. Sometimes, I still get nervous going down (especially when carrying luggage) and stand at the top of the escalator for 30 seconds or more before I can get on.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
March 22, 2011; Philomel Books


Summary

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The idea of getting shipped off to Siberia is something I'd heard about most of my life. It's almost a cliche, a joke. In Between Shades of Gray, we are reminded that the horrors of the Stalin regime were no joke. They were raw, senseless, and beyond cruel.

Lina is a teenaged girl in Lithuania in 1940. She has a happy life. She's a talented artist and is close with her parents and little brother. This changes instantly when Soviets show up at their door at night and take the family away. Lina's father is taken to a prison camp and Lina, her mother, and little brother make the arduous journey from Lithuania to Siberia. Life becomes an endless struggle that seems to just get worse.

Between Shades of Gray is an exceptionally dark book. The author does not attempt to tamper the violence. Characters you grow to love become desperately ill. Some self-destruct. Some die. No one is spared. Despite the serious nature, I could not put this book down. It was extremely readable. The prose was fast and smooth. The outside world disappeared once you opened up the book. Lina's life in captivity was broken up by memories of happier times with family and friends. The flashbacks were the only thing I had an issue with. I loved how they made the book easier to take, but they also came so quickly and were not always connected to the present time. It was a bit confusing. Otherwise, the writing was close to perfect.

I loved Lina. She was strong and brave. She loved her family - she would do anything to help her mother and brother and to make sure that her father knew she was there. She is a gifted artist who sees life differently than most. She has great admiration for Edvard Munch (painter of The Scream). She loved his ability to portray raw terror with a paintbrush. Her art and view on life also shows things as they are - no sugar-coating. She has a tendency to jump to rash conclusions which sometimes has poor consequences, but she is capable of change and acceptance.

The secondary characters were all wonderful, even if some of them were awful. Lina's mother is a paragon of strength and forgiveness. She makes the best of their situation and retains her humanity and kindness towards everyone. By her example, her children and campmates try to do the same. Andrius, the young man in the camp, is a match for Lina in many ways. He is brave, devoted, and sometimes reckless. There are hints of romance, but this is definitely not that kind of book. It's more of a connection than a romance. The Bald Man was the other camper I found most intriguing. Invariably grumpy and pessimistic, he made others' lives miserable. It was fascinating to watch bits and pieces of his character fall in place as the story proceeded to understand his attitude. Even the Soviet guards were well-described. They were monsters; cruelty was a hobby. However, even they had individual personalities. I like that the author chose to humanize one guard, but also didn't make him an angel.

I hope Between Shades of Gray brings to light this horrible but forgotten time in history. This is a great book for teaching. Not only is it educational, but it is a fast, engrossing read that brings the Siberian workcamps to life.

Rating: 5 / 5

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson

Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson
May 1, 2011; Sourcebooks Fire

*I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Summary

The perfect book for the armchair traveler. See Italy without leaving home. Jessa goes on a school trip to Italy in Instructions for a Broken Heart. What should be the trip of a lifetime is horribly marred just before Jessa leaves. She catches her boyfriend making out with another girl. Worse yet, both the ex-boyfriend and the new girl are on the trip to Italy with Jessa. To break her out of her misery, Jessa's best friend sends along twenty reasons that Jessa is better off without Sean along with twenty (often vengeful) things that Jessa needs to do to get over him.

Review

Instructions for a Broken Heart is as much a journey of break-up recovery as it is through Italy.. Jessa is lost in her anger, humiliation, and grief throughout the book. She slowly comes out of her shell either because of or in spite of her friend's instructions.

A lot of Jessa's antics were hilarious. Stuff you always wish you'd done to an ex but never had the courage. Jessa doesn't have the courage either, but a mixture of anger and obligation toward her friend make her do some crazy things. Add to Jessa's heartbreak a young and cool teacher who sympathizes with Jessa a bit too much, another school group who seems to care nothing about Italian culture, a nice guy named Dylan Thomas (like the poet), and an interesting (although not really a big part of the story) Italian guy, and you have a strong set of subplots that break up the monotony of Jessa's moping. The book also does a great job describing Italian scenery, major landmarks, and art. I was uber-jealous of Jessa.

The book isn't exactly fast-paced. It's always moving - everything that happens to Jessa is important for plot development, but it happens slowly. Perhaps because I read this book on a car trip that lasted 2 hours long than I expected (Augusta, Georgia is a long ways from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina), this book felt like the school trip that would never end. Don't let that scare you away from the book though. It's quite enjoyable - just realize going in that it's slow-paced.

Jessa's grief and anger is so consuming that she is sometimes hard to like. There's only so much time you can bear being around a jilted girlfriend. But I got enough of an idea of who she normally is to think that I'd like her. She's extremely driven, a perfectionist, kind, and very smart. I love that she appreciated Italian culture. And her passion for Broadway musicals. She also grew a great deal throughout this book - learning that while Sean was a cheating jerk, she may not have been the best girlfriend either. The side characters were all interesting. I felt they functioned more as teachers for Jessa - helping her understand an element of herself - than characters of their own right.

Instructions for a Broken Heart is a great book for anyone who loves Italy and who likes stories where characters go from rock bottom to standing tall again. It's a little slow, but consistently interesting.

Rating: 3 / 5

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Die For Me by Amy Plum

Die For Me by Amy Plum
May 10, 2011; HarperTeen

*I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review

Summary

My life had always been blissfully, wonderfully normal. But it only took one moment to change everything.

Suddenly, my sister, Georgia, and I were orphans. We put our lives into storage and moved to Paris to live with my grandparents. And I knew my shattered heart, my shattered life, would never feel normal again. Then I met Vincent.

Mysterious, sexy, and unnervingly charming, Vincent Delacroix appeared out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. Just like that, I was in danger of losing my heart all over again. But I was ready to let it happen.

Of course, nothing is ever that easy. Because Vincent is no normal human. He has a terrifying destiny, one that puts his life at risk every day. He also has enemies . . . immortal, murderous enemies who are determined to destroy him and all of his kind.

While I'm fighting to piece together the remnants of my life, can I risk putting my heart—as well as my life and my family's—in jeopardy for a chance at love? (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

There are a million and one paranormal romances out there. What makes a particular book stand out from the crowded genre of overdone supernatural creatures and trite romances? I don't think there is one answer for this. I think it depends upon what each reader looks for in a book. What I do know is that Die For Me has now leaped to the top of my list of post-Twilight paranormal romances (excepting epic books like Vampire Academy and The Mortal Instruments). If you could write out a formula for what I look for in a paranormal romance book, Die For Me would be sitting next to the equal symbol.

What exactly does Die For Me have going for it?

1. Setting: Oooh...Paris. I've only spent 3 days in Paris, but I definitely want to spend more. The Paris in Die For Me is both mysterious and romantic. You have peaceful cafes (as long as nothing is falling from the sky), parks, the Seine, ornate architecture, dark clubs, dangerous catacombs - the contradiction of dark and light that is Paris.

2. Writing: I like books that are well-written. No surprise there. Who would say anything otherwise? As nice as it is to read books of literary quality, for paranormal romance, I'm looking for a balance. I like books that have richly described settings, characters, and mythology backgrounds, but the descriptions of which don't drag the book down. Die For Me does this perfectly. I got a strong impression of Kate and Vincent's world, but the writing was smooth and easy to read. I could lose myself in the plot instead of focusing on the intricacies of the prose.

3. Pacing: This is a subset of writing, but I thought it merited its own discussion. So often paranormals take forever to get going and then have heart-stopping action that has you flipping pages to get to the end. This isn't a bad thing, but often it feels like a chore. Like having to lick a Tootsie Pop a million times until you finally get to the candy. Die For Me had great pacing. It took awhile for the paranormal element to unfold, but the beginning plot and character development were interesting enough that I never felt like I was trudging through the novel. It got very tense toward the end, but wasn't such a page-turner that I wasn't able to slow down and enjoy myself. Well done.

4. Paranormal Element: There are only so many supernatural creatures to choose from if you're going to stick to traditional legends. Vampires, werewolves, demons, fairies, angels, shape-shifters, ghosts, zombies. Die For Me borrows from traditional paranormal elements, but manages to be unique. Revenants are not ghosts nor are they zombies. They are creatures who are immortal yet die and die again. I've never read anything like it. So refreshing to read something new.

5. Romance: Die For Me does have the other-worldly romance that I often dislike in YA novels. They don't fall instantly in love, but there is an immediate connection. I still fell in love with Kate and Vincent romance. The book occurs over a long enough time span that they actually have time to go on a few dates before being ready to die for each other. Vincent is such a good guy. A mixture of reserve, bravery, kindness, intelligence, and passion that fits my formula for a romantic hero. And good looks of course.

6. Supporting Characters: This is the big one for me. It's what really made Die For Me shine. The story isn't just about Kate and Vincent. There are numerous supporting characters all of whom have well-described, distinct personalities and play important roles in the story. Vincent's fellow revenants are not blood relatives, but they are a family for all intents and purposes. I loved funny Ambrose, boastful Jules, Alice Cullen-like Charlotte, nervous Gaspard, prickly Charles, patriarch Jean-Baptiste, and motherly Jeanne. I felt like a book could easily be written about each character. Much like the Cullens. Of course, you also have Kate's family: Georgia, Mamie, and Papy, but the revenant family was the what I most enjoyed.

Die For Me is not a perfect book. You could argue the romance is nothing new (although I liked it). I also thought it was odd that Kate was grieving her parents' deaths at the beginning of the book, but that theme practically disappeared as the book went on. Some have argued that it is too Twilight-ish. No book is flawless (and the common elements with Twilight are one of the main things I like about it). Die For Me had everything I want in a paranormal and for that reason, I can't recommend it enough.

Rating: 5 / 5

Monday, May 16, 2011

Manga Mondays (50): Vampire Knight vol. 8 - Matsuri Hino

Vampire Knight vol. 8 - Matsuri Hino

Summary

Cross Adademy is attended by two groups of students: the Day Class and the Night Class. At twilight, when the students of the Day Class return to their dorm, they cross paths with the Night Class on their way to school. Yuki Cross and Zero Kiryu are the Guardians of the school, protecting the Day Class from the Academy's dark secret: the Night Class is full of vampires!

After trying to recall her past, Yuki's hallucinations become more vivid and she tries to strangle Zero during a fit of madness. Locked in her room, all she can see is a world dyed in blood, but Kaname comes for her. He tells her it's time to wake up and sinks his fangs into her neck…. (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.

We finally get to learn about Yuki's past and it's a doozy!

Kaname sinks his fangs into Yuki's neck and turns her into a vampire. Only he's not exactly changing her into a vampire. It's more like resurrecting her. Zero drops by just as Yuki is waking and is understandably irate at smelling the blood of two vampires, not just one. He threatens to kill Kaname for turning Yuki, but Yuki stops him. Yuki isn't a new vampire. She's a resurrected vampire. And Kaname is her older brother!

Yuki is a pureblood vampire princess. She was much loved by her parents and older brother, but was in great danger. Her existence was hidden by her family. Finally, to protect her, her mother sacrificed herself to turn Yuki into a human, erasing all her memories.

Yuki was born to be Kaname's wife. Brother and sister marriage is pretty weird, but apparently is not uncommon for pureblood vampires. Yuki's parents were siblings. And as Kaname points out, they're not humans. They don't live by human standards of propriety. However, I get the feeling that Kaname isn't exactly her brother. He calls himself such but he's actually related to her in a different way. I don't entirely understand this from Volume 8 but hope it makes more sense later.

Yuki is different as a vampire: stronger, prettier, more confident. Yet she is still in grave danger. Rido has come to the Academy intent on destroying Yuki. He's inhabiting the body of his son Shiki but no one is fooled, Kaname least of all. He and Kaname finally clash, but it doesn't result in Rido's destruction. Instead Kaname gives his blood to resurrect his enemy. Kaname admits that he's the progenitor of the Kurans and Rido is the master who awakened him. Once again, I don't really get this. I hope to understand it as the series goes on.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In My Mailbox (38)

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

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for 11 months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

After my light book acquisition week, I followed it up with an over-enthusiastic one:

Library Stash


Please Ignore Vera Dietz - A.S. King


Demonglass - Rachel Hawkins


Bloodfever - Karen Moning


A Touch Mortal - Leah Clifford


Chibi Vampire vol. 1 - Yuna Kagesaki

1000 Followers! Yay!

I hit 1000 followers yesterday! So excited!

Thank you to all of you who have read this blog in the past year. As much as I enjoy spouting off on books, what I really love is all the new blogging friends I've made. It's so fun to have tons of people around who enjoy books as much as I do. Each of you make my day!

Thanks so much!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blog Hops

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 eleven months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

I missed the last Blog Hop because I was out of town, so my recap is extra long today.

On the blog the past two weeks -

Advice

Blogger Advice: Gaining Followers

Discussion

Families in YA

Reviews

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
The Espressologist by Kristina Springer
Royal Reviews: Bios of Kate and William; The King's Speech; Bio of Queen Elizabeth II

Manga Mondays

Vampire Knight vol. 6 by Matsuri Hino
Vampire Knight vol. 7 by Matsuri Hino

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: Are you going to Book Expo America (BEA) and/or the Book Blogger Convention (BBC) this year?

No. I would love to go, but I'm getting read to move to California in a few months, so all my money and time are being devoted to that endeavor. I'm doing Armchair BEA.

Follow Friday: The Blogger Apocalypse made me a little emotional. What is the most emotional scene in a book that you have read lately?

Hmmm...One of my favorite books so far this year is Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith. There are a few moments at the end of the book where the main characters express their love for each other that are so touching and sweet that they bring tears to my eyes no matter how often I read it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Families in YA

One of the most common elements of children or young adult novels is absent or neglectful parents. This is understandable. Without the presence of strong parental influence, the main characters have the freedom to be the heroes. Everything depends on the kids. It's why the orphan theme is so popular - think Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, and more.

Yet I love books with strong families. I particularly love books with a big, loving family full of diverse personalities. When a family is done well, it makes the book stands out.

Twilight comes to my mind first. While I am a fan of Bella and Edward, what really took my feelings for this series from mere like to complete obsession is the Cullens. I love that there is this big family who work together as a team to solve their problems. I love that each character has a distinct personality and history that unfolds throughout the series. (Twilight does have the typical absent parent types in Bella's parents).

More recently, I fell in love with the "family" in Die For Me by Amy Plum. I love the group of revenants who live together as a family. Like the Cullens, they are a big team and have all sorts of different personalities. You have fun-loving Jules and Ambrose, nervous Gaspard, lovable Charlotte, and more. That's not even including  Vincent, the handsome love interest. (Full review to come soon)

Other books with strong families that come to mind:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (the Weasleys)
Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta (actually almost all her books have family elements)

What books can you think of with well-developed family characters?

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
April 26, 2011; Atria

*Book provided free for honest review

Summary

A zombie who yearns for a better life ends up falling in love—with a human—in this astonishingly original debut novel.

R is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams. He doesn’t enjoy killing people; he enjoys riding escalators and listening to Frank Sinatra. He is a little different from his fellow Dead.

Not just another zombie novel, Warm Bodies is funny, scary, and deeply moving. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Warm Bodies is my first zombie book. If you're a fan of zombie books, Warm Bodies is definitely something to pick up. If you're not a fan of zombie books, don't pass this by. While the book doesn't skimp on the violence of zombie appetites, its most prominent features are beautiful prose, thought provoking philosophical questions, and a subtle, sweet love story.

Our hero, R, is a zombie. He can't remember how long he's been a zombie, what he did as a human, or even his name (aside from his first initial). He is more verbal and self-aware than most other zombies, but he still spends his life in a trance. He lives with a large group of zombies in an abandoned airport. They try to recreate their human lives to some degree. There are schools for children, churches, marriages, etc. The zombies really don't understand what they're doing, but some subconscious part of their mind craves the structure of a human life. Some zombies are not verbal at all while others like R can speak in halting, simple sentences. They spend most of their time groaning and shrugging.

There's plenty of death in Warm Bodies. R describes in great detail hunting humans and devouring their brains. Zombies don't need to eat brains, but they're drawn to them. When they consume a brain, they relive the person's life and memories - the zombies get to be alive for a short time. It's addicting. R goes on a hunting run and eats a teenaged boy name Perry. Perry's memories are particularly strong and become all consuming for R. He instinctively saves Julie from the other zombies and takes her back to his home at the zombies' airport.

Julie definitely does not fall instantly in love with R. She fears him, for one thing, but mostly she's angry. Julie has had a hard life. Her mother died when she was fairly young and her general father thinks only of security and fighting. Julie is hardened and quick to lash out. R is almost the exact opposite. Extremely patient. Protective. Slow to anger. While he basically holds Julie hostage, they form a reluctant friendship and then a stronger attachment. Their relationship is sweet. I love how R calmed Julie down and helped heal her in a way, while Julie showed R how to be more than a shrugging, groaning zombie.

What really sets Warm Bodies apart are the characters' thoughts. Both Julie and R have a tendency to pontificate about the meaning of life, the zombie curse, and the idea of love. I love how the author set out so many different ideas to ponder. Here's a little taste:

[Julie is looking through R's record collection]
"'There's nothing in here newer than like...1999. Is that when you died or something? ... Why the stunted musical growth?'
I start to shrug and then stop myself, with some difficulty. How can I possibly explain this to her in words? The slow death of Quixote. The abandoning of quests, the surrendering of desires, the settling in and settling down that is the inevitable fate of the Dead.
"'We don't...think...new things,' I begin, straining to kick through my short-sheeted diction....
'You don't think about new things? You don't 'seek'? What's that even mean? You don't seek what? Music? Music is life? It's physical emotion - you can touch it! It's neon ecto-energy sucked out of spirits and switched into sound waves for your ears to swallow.'" (p. 53-54)

The book is worth reading for no other reason than a philosophical exercise.

My main problem with this book is that so many things are not explained well. The zombie lifestyle is explained thoroughly and clearly. That was fascinating. What was lacking was the explanation of why the zombies existed in the first place. It says that there was some kind of curse, but it was basically left at that. Highly incomplete. Also, why are there so few humans? Is it just because the zombies have killed them or have they killed each other? How long has this been going on? The book indicates that things have gotten really bad in the last few years, but it also implies that zombies have been around for at least 50 or 60 years. I think the book would have benefited from a few pages of background slipped in throughout the story.

Despite a few world-building flaws, Warm Bodies is a lovely, thoughtful story. It is ultimately a romance between two unlikely beings, but it is also a book to read when you are in the mood to stop and think about the greater things in life.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, May 9, 2011

Manga Mondays (49): Vampire Knight vol. 7 - Matsuri Hino

Vampire Knight vol. 6 - Matsuri Hino



Summary

After the vacation ends, Yuki asks Kaname to tell her about her past, but he evades her questioning, and confesses his love for her. Zero, wanting to get some answers himself, goes to the Moon Dormitory and confronts Kaname. The two fight, and Zero ends up drinking Kaname's blood...
Yuki asks Kaname once more about her past, and he says that he will tell her if she becomes his lover (as in girlfriend). The Night Class follows Yuki around to protect her, and she has a picnic with Kaname. She demands, one last time, to know about her past, and she begins to have flashbacks... (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.

The seventh Vampire Knight volume is all about Yuki seeking her past. She was attacked by a vampire ten years ago and saved by Kaname. That's all she knows. Everything before that is a blank.

Yuki is sure that Kaname knows something about her past but is afraid to ask him. At first, she goes to ask but chickens out. She worships Kaname and is terrified that he'll think poorly of her

So trusty Zero goes to ask Kaname instead. Not being Kaname's biggest fan, his question sounds a lot like an accusation - "Did you erase Yuki's memories or not?" Pretty soon, Zero and Kaname come to blows. Zero points the vampire gun at Kaname and Kaname has his hand around Zero's neck. Kaname makes it clear that Zero is a tool for him - a means to an end - he has plans for Zero. In the meantime, Kaname offers Zero his blood. The blood of a pureblood vampire can help stave off Level E insanity and infuse Zero with strength. The contrast between guy taking blood from guy and guy taking blood from girl is amusing. The guy/girl blood connection is extremely sensual. The drawing of Zero taking blood from Kaname features a desperate-looking Zero and a bored, solemn Kaname.

Yuki finally works up the courage to ask Kaname about her past. He refuses to tell her. Instead, he asks her to be his lover. I sure hope something got lost in the translation. If someone said to me, "Will you be my lover?" I'd laugh in their face. Subtlety goes a long way. The drawings make up for the silly dialogue. Hino definitely knows how to portray passion in her art.

The volume ends with Kaname sneaking Yuki away from her dorm room. His jaw is at her neck...can't wait to see where this goes!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In My Mailbox (37)

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

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for 11 months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

It was a light week in book world for me. I chose to take mostly books I already had but hadn't yet read on vacation with me.

Bought


Harry Potter: Film Wizardry by Brian Sibley

Library Stash


Dark Lover by J. R. Ward

Vacation Reads

I tend to go a little crazy with books on vacation. Here are the books I took with me and finished on vacation this week:

1. Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson
2. Walk the Wild Road by Nigel Hinton
3. Exposure: A Novel by Therese Fowler
4. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
5. Darkfever (Fever #1) by Karen Marie Moning
6. Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #1) by J.R. Ward
7. Switched (Trylle Trilogy #1) by Amanda Hocking
8. Die for Me (Revenants #1) by Amy Plum
9. Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris (I still have about 60 pages of this - I'll finish it tomorrow)

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade

The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade
2010; Hyperion Book CH


Summary

Alona Dare–Senior in high school, co-captain of the cheerleading squad, Homecoming Queen three years in a row, voted most likely to marry a movie star… and newly dead.

I’m the girl you hated in high school. Is it my fault I was born with it all-good looks, silky blond hair, a hot bod, and a keen sense of what everyone else should not be wearing? But my life isn’t perfect, especially since I died. Run over by a bus of band geeks—is there anything more humiliating? As it turns out, yes—watching your boyfriend and friends move on with life, only days after your funeral. And you wouldn’t believe what they’re saying about me now that they think I can’t hear them. To top it off, I’m starting to disappear, flickering in and out of existence. I don’t know where I go when I’m gone, but it’s not good. Where is that freaking white light already?

Will Killian–Senior in high school, outcast, dubbed “Will Kill” by the popular crowd for the unearthly aura around him, voted most likely to rob a bank…and a ghost-talker.

I can see, hear, and touch the dead. Unfortunately, they can also see, hear and touch me. Yeah, because surviving high school isn’t hard enough already. I’ve done my best to hide my “gift.” After all, my dad, who shared my ability, killed himself because of it when I was fifteen. But lately, pretending to be normal has gotten a lot harder. A new ghost—an anonymous, seething cloud of negative energy with the capacity to throw me around—is pursuing me with a vengeance. My mom, who knows nothing about what I can do, is worrying about the increase in odd incidents, my shrink is tossing around terms like “temporary confinement for psychiatric evaluation,” and my principal, who thinks I’m a disruption and a faker, is searching for every way possible to get rid of me. How many weeks until graduation? (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Ghost And The Goth was just what I expected: a fun, light paranormal romance. Alona Dare, the most popular girl in school, just died in a freak accident. Will Killian, the school loser, is just trying to hang out for a few more weeks so he can graduate high school.

The book is told from alternating points of view of Alona and Will. Alona comes back to school as a ghost - something is preventing her from moving on. Will is the only person who can see and hear her. They become an unconventional team. Will helps Alona to move on and Alona helps Will to control all the ghosts that are vying for his time.

Alona's voice is the most difficult part of this book. As a stereotypical popular, mean girl, she is selfish, conceited, and shallow. Combine those qualities with a social-climber's ambition and you have one tough girl to like. Alona seems to hide her depth even from herself. It took a long time before I began to understand or sympathize with her. But by the end of the book, I admired her spunk and bold attitude.

I liked Will right away. He is the "goth" of the title, although his clothes are the only thing "goth" about him. He appears dark and depressed only because he is trying to escape from the hundreds of ghosts who try to monopolize his time. He truly hears voices and can survive only by shutting the world out. His quiet, thoughtful personality is a refreshing break from Alona, but his sarcastic viewpoint on life and his temper make his world fun to read.

The plot drags a bit in the middle. There's so much prep work to establish the world that it takes a long time for things to really get moving. This isn't as irritating as it often is. I enjoyed becoming familiar with Alona and Will's worlds, but I was definitely ready for the plot to move along.

I recommend The Ghost and the Goth to anyone looking for a funny, sarcastic twist on the typical paranormal romance. I'm looking forward to the next book (according to Stacey's website, there will be two more books).

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
2007; HarperCollins


Summary

In the self-contained world of young Gilded Age Manhattan socialites, Elizabeth and Diana Holland reign supreme. Or so it seems. Scratch the surface, though, and you can detect festering jealousies that threaten to topple them. Elizabeth suffers a more literal fall when her carriage overturns and she is carried away by the swift East River current. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Luxe is a turn of the century Gossip Girl - turn of the 20th century, that is. Life is more formal and class-based in 1899 New York City. The old class Dutch-American aristocracy is waging a cold war with the upstart nouveau-riche Industrialists. And beneath them both, the servants who work for them are struggling to break the barriers that separate the classes. We see all of these characters in The Luxe. Elizabeth, the paragon of virtue and blue blood, has to choose between her place in society and her secret passion. Diana, her little sister, who is in her sister's shadow. Penelope, filthy rich, ambitious, wants everything Elizabeth has and will drag her down to get it. Henry, a playboy who has to choose between family obligations and fun. Lina, the maid who hates her work and her mistress.

I quite enjoyed The Luxe, but it is not without flaws. The characters and plot were rather formulaic, but no more than most chick lit. I loved the rich descriptions of Victorian fashion and architecture. But the prose felt a little overdone at times - like a bad romance novel (e.g. "Elizabeth extended her long, slender neck...). Despite living 100 years earlier, the lifestyles of these characters were not very different from the Gossip Girl set. If you want to read about the sordid lives of the young and rich, The Luxe is a more tasteful way to go than Gossip Girl. The plot is nothing special, but it's still fun to read.

The book never really sucked me in, but it did grow on me. It was hard to get into the story, but once I did, I was just interested enough to keep going. I'd characterize the book as slow and steady. Never a page turner, but there's always enough there to make you want to continue.

I realize that my review has more criticism of the book than praise, but I really do think it's worth reading. It's never going to win any awards, but it's a good book. My reservations about the book are the same issues I have with most chick lit/Gossip-Girl-ish books. But I read them anyway. I would recommend The Luxe - as long as you go into it expecting a fun, gossipy read.

Rating: 3 / 5

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blogger Advice: Gaining Followers

*Warning: Monster advice post ahead! If it was epic poetry, it would probably rival Beowulf.

Also, I’m on vacation right now, so I may not be quick to comment back.


Who wants more followers?

I do!


Sometimes, I feel like actively trying to gain followers is a blogger’s dirty little secret, carefully hidden. Perhaps the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy works for some blogs and they magically gain thousands of followers, but that’s not the case for most people, including me. In reality, gaining followers requires a lot of time and hard work. Since I’ve gained a pretty respectable amount of followers in the past year (Come on…just 21 till 1000!), I thought I would offer a little advice for those of you who are interested.

Why try to gain followers?

Those who dismiss the idea of actively working to increase a blog’s readership have valid reasons. Blogging is about the community and about quality reviews/discussion of books. If your blog only does things that are geared towards garnering followers like host giveaways or meme posts rather than substantive content, your readership will suffer. I don’t think having lots of followers is worth it if you aren’t saying anything of value.

On the other hand, do you need lots of followers? Of course not. You can have a fabulous blog with well-written, thoughtful reviews and only a small number of devoted fans. Your blog will be just as worthy as the bigger guys.

I’m trying (rightly or wrongly) to be one of the big guys – to have quality content and lots of followers. Partly because being larger garners more attention from authors and publishers, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like review copies. But mostly because it enables me to be a bigger part of the blogging community. I love that my reviews now regularly get 10+ comments. I love that a lot of bloggers know me and I know them. I feel like part of something. And feeling like you belong is just about the best feeling in the world.

Here are a few ideas I think will help to increase the number of followers for your blog:

1) Blog Hops: I participate in Parajunkee and Crazy for Books’ Hops every week. This is where I’ve found most of my followers (along with In My Mailbox). On weekends when I don’t have much to do (which is most of the time), I allocate several hours to commenting on almost all of the people in the hops. This is a great way to say hi to old friends and to find tons of new blogs. I don’t just copy and paste a generic comment on each blog – I read every single post and try to create a unique response. It’s a lot of work, but I appreciate people who take the time to thoughtfully respond to my hop posts and I assume other bloggers do as well. I have a system down where I can do all this pretty efficiently. I can’t recommend enough the value of the Blog Hops for exposing your blog to the wider community.

2) Memes: This is a huge category. There are so many memes out there that you could do multiple ones every day and your blog could consist of nothing but. Memes are one of the best ways to get your blog out there. I recommend picking a few that you like, but not so many that they dominate your blog. Try to visit as many other blogs participating in the same meme as you can and comment on their posts. Also, don’t just do a meme because everyone else does or because you think it’s necessary to gain followers. I recently dropped Waiting on Wednesday from my blog. It had become a chore that I only did, because it was “expected” of book bloggers. On the other hand, I love In My Mailbox and the Hops and look forward to reading people’s posts all week.

3) Comments: Another big one. The more you comment, the more people will return your visit. And I mean a substantive comment. Not just “Hi, my blog is…” or “Great review.” Something that shows you read the post. Honestly, commenting is something I still need to work on. I try to return comments and to comment on a variety of blogs, but I still don’t get to nearly enough. That’s due to both lack of time and laziness. Another note, some people really dislike it when bloggers leave a link to their blog in a comment – it’s viewed as spam. The blog hops and meme posts are an exception to this. I actually would prefer that you leave a link to your blog in a comment – as long as you aren’t only advertising your blog. It’s a lot easier for me to get to your blog quickly that way.

4) Content: If you want devoted followers, the content has to be there. Memes are fine, but the majority of your blog should be devoted to reviews and discussion posts. The reviews should be thorough and well-written. As you can tell from this post, I have a tendency to be overly wordy. My reviews might be too long sometimes, but I try give a lot of information to my readers.

5) Unique Voice: I’m plus/minus about this. Having a unique blogging approach can either really attract people or really turn them off. I think blogs that are extremely well-written or are extremely funny without being insulting are special and highly attractive. But I don’t think that’s necessary to have a large readership. In fact, some of the biggest blogs have (in my opinion) very ordinary writing styles. The only must-haves for me are correct grammar and spelling (for the most post) and reviews that are thorough enough to tell me whether I should read the book.

6) Consistency: This is somewhat subjective, but you should have enough posts that people remember you. I post 5-6 times per week. I think 3 would suffice. You can do whatever works for you of course, but to have a major blog, I think you should have at least 3 posts per week. If you’re busy, you can schedule posts. I’m actually on vacation right now, but I have posts scheduled all week.

7) Blog Design Make sure your blog is legible! Use a standard font. A light background and dark text is easier to read than the opposite. I don’t think a professionally designed blog is necessary, but it helps. My blog got more attention and was more memorable when I had it re-designed. On another note, please put the GFC Follower widget at the top of your page – right or left side. Don’t make me have to work to follow you. Also, please, please no music! I love reading people’s playlists, but I don’t want to be forced to listen to them or flip through the entire blog to turn off the sound on the widget. I’d prefer that people didn’t put up book widgets with sound either (I’m so glad the Crescendo widget is finally gone). Just a pet-peeve of mine.

8) Blog Name: This isn’t a big deal, but it’s something to think of. I’m a moderator at the Book Blogger Directory. I’ve entered dozens of blog names onto the list. There are so many blogs that start with “Books” or “Read(ing)” for pretty obvious reasons. Nothing wrong with that, but they do start to bleed together after awhile. I even found two blog using the same name. My blog name is nothing special (and it does contain the word “read”), but it has the advantage of starting with an “A,” putting it at the top of an alphabetical list. I’d recommend a blog name that stands out, although nothing so weird that it sounds ridiculous.

9) Giveaways: Everyone loves free stuff. As fun as giveaways are, I would not rely on them to increase my follower count. I’ve never gotten more than a handful of new followers from a giveaway. Perhaps it would be different if I gave away really high-demand books though. I would do giveaways if you want to do them, but don’t rely on them as your ticket toward blog growth.

10) Author Interviews/Tours: These are loads of fun. They’re a great way to get your name out there and have people visit your blog who normally wouldn’t. That being said, I’ve never gained more than a few followers from an author feature. Like giveaways, it’s worth doing, but not for the purpose of gaining followers.

11) Reciprocity: I follow you, you follow me. Some people carefully select the blogs they follow. I follow pretty much everyone. Then I choose more carefully with of those blogs I regularly read. No right or wrong – just a personal choice.

12) Time: This one is fairly obvious. You’re not going to become a large blog overnight. Most publishers and tours won’t take you seriously until 6 months, regardless of follower count. There are very few blogs that can hit 1000+ followers in less than a year. It happens, but I can only think of one offhand. I’ll probably be right around the 12 month mark when I hit 1000.

13) Work: Gaining followers is a lot of work. I spent a lot of time – hours and hours – every week commenting and networking. Plus writing reviews and blog posts. It takes up the majority of my free time, actually. Unless you’re really well-organized or lucky, it’s going to take many hours of labor to become a larger blog. It’s worth it to me and I have the time, but a lot of people just don’t have a huge amount of time to dedicate to blogging.

14) Have Fun!: Ultimately, you should blog your way. Definitely try to have a large readership if you want to, but don’t make it the be all-end all. No one makes much money from book blogging, so you should focus on the fun aspect rather than the marketing aspect. If the effort to gain followers has you changing your blog in ways you don’t like or spending too much time blogging, then don’t do it. If there’s something on your blog that you love that isn’t very popular, keep doing it. For example, my Manga Mondays has much lower traffic and comments than other posts, but I love doing it and will take a few less readers on Mondays. Also, I definitely spend a huge amount of time blogging, but I have a great time. When that changes, the blog will either disappear or change.

What are your thoughts? What have you done to increase your blog’s readership? Is it important to you?

The Espressologist by Kristina Springer

The Espressologist by Kristina Springer
2009; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)


Summary

What’s your drink of choice? Is it a small pumpkin spice latte? Then you’re lots of fun and a bit sassy. Or a medium americano? You prefer simplicity in life. Or perhaps it’s a small decaf soy sugar-free hazelnut caffe latte? Some might call you a yuppie. Seventeen-year-old barista Jane Turner has this theory that you can tell a lot about a person by their regular coffee drink. She scribbles it all down in a notebook and calls it Espressology. So it’s not a totally crazy idea when Jane starts hooking up some of her friends based on their coffee orders. Like her best friend, Em, a medium hot chocolate, and Cam, a toffee nut latte. But when her boss, Derek, gets wind of Jane’s Espressology, he makes it an in-store holiday promotion, promising customers their perfect matches for the price of their favorite coffee. Things are going better than Derek could ever have hoped, so why is Jane so freaked out? Does it have anything to do with Em dating Cam? She’s the one who set them up! She should be happy for them, right?

With overtones of Jane Austen’s Emma and brimming with humor and heart, this sweet, frothy debut will be savored by readers. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

One sentence summary: Teenage Bridget Jones Diary in a Coffeeshop.

The Espressologist is nothing like Bridget Jones Diary in plot, but I saw a connection between Jane Turner and Bridget Jones's personalities. This is not such a good thing for me since I didn't like Bridget Jones Diary. Likewise, Jane drove me crazy throughout much of the book. She comes off as condescending and arrogant. Most of her personality summaries derived from a person's favorite drink are tinged with meanness (e.g. "Cocky sex-deprived butthead guy drink. Expect only the most stupidity to come out of his mouth.") I also thought it was weird that this senior in high school is smart enough to be taking college courses but keeps skipping school because it's irrelevant to her dreams to attend a fashion institute.

Jane's personality aside, The Espressologist is a fun read. Jane's little hobby of creating personality descriptions based on drink choices threatens to get her in trouble at work. But it turns out that her jerky boss sees a business opportunity in Jane's talent. The coffee shop starts a weekly espressology night where Jane makes matches for anyone who comes in. The matchmaking is a much greater success than anyone could imagine. People flock to Jane for predictions and loads of happy couples result.

But Jane's success with everyone else comes at the expense of her own life. She matches her best friend Em with Cam, a cute, college classmate. But as time goes by, she realizes that she's fallen for Cam. What should she do? Can she find a way to make herself happy without making everyone else miserable? The Espressologist gets better as it goes on. By the end, I was smiling at the sweet, fun, fluffy read.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, May 2, 2011

Manga Mondays (48): Vampire Knight vol. 6 - Matsuri Hino

Vampire Knight vol. 6 - Matsuri Hino



Summary

Yuki helps the little boy, and he leads her to an abandoned building. She sees that he has different colored eyes, one blue eye and one red eye, and he drains her energy. The Night Class discovers her unconscious, and takes her to safety. Ichijo explains that the abandoned building was being used for Vampire Banquet, hosted by Aido's father. Curious, she sneaks out, and sees all of the vampire parents introducing their daughters to Kaname. A female vampire, one of the last Purebloods named Sara Shirabuki, tells them to leave Kaname alone, and she and Kaname talk. Yuki gets jealous and runs back into the room, where she starts to cry. Kaname comes in and asks her if she wants to become a vampire, and she says yes. But he claims that he didn't mean it, and takes her back home. (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.

This volume starts out with a vampire party. Yuki happens upon a great vampire ball. The party itself isn't all that interesting. What is interesting is what happens between Yuki and Kaname when they meet. Kaname and Yuki lie together. Kaname's tongue laps at Yuki's neck and his fangs descend, almost but not quite taking her blood. It sounds weird but the art the essence of heart-stopping sensuality. Kaname asks Yuki to become a vampire - to spend eternity with him - and she agrees. You can imagine that Zero doesn't like that. He threatens to do anything he can to keep Yuki from being a vampire, including killing her if necessary.

Yuki has always been haunted by her past, or lack thereof, but it's now at the forefront of her mind. She needs to know. During school vacation, she looks at old vampire records in the library. When she's looking at a book about the Kuran family line (Kaname's family), the book burns up while she's reading it! Something or someone doesn't want her to learn about her past.

The last half of the volume features secondary characters, Aido and Shiki. We learn how Aido and Kaname became friends. He started out hating Kaname, mostly out of jealousy. That jealousy soon turned to love and admiration. He vowed to protect and serve Kaname forever.

Shiki learns that his father who he thought was dead is not entirely dead. He's in a half state, waiting to be resurrected. Poor Shiki is stuck sacrificing his body to his father. Now Rido can attend the Academy in the body of Shiki to do his evil deeds.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Royal Reads Reviews

In honor of the Royal Wedding, I'm posting a few brief reviews of books about the British monarchy that I've read in the past few months. I am fascinated by the royals and want to read more and more about them.

-BTW...I thought Kate Middleton's dress was one of the prettiest I've ever seen what did you think?

William and Harry by Katie Nicholl

Published just before William and Kate announced their engagement, this book chronicles the lives of the two princes. It details their childhood with stories such as Harry's practical jokes at Eton and their relationship with their parents. Lots of time is spent on their love lives - William and Kate and Chelsey and Harry. Plus, their respective exes. The writing's not the best - the author had an irritating habit of inserting herself into the story. Of the two biographies however, I preferred this one. It had a positive tenor. With both books I was left with the impression that William and Harry were very privileged young men who had lived hard lives in many ways. After reading this book, I felt that despite their royal statuses, their penchant for partying hard, and occasionally doing stupid things, they were fairly normal guys who I might like to spend time with (William at least).

William and Kate by Christopher Andersen

A thorough biography of William and Kate and their relationship. I read this after reading William and Harry. There wasn't a huge amount about William in there I didn't already know (except that he's a smoker!), but I loved the information about Kate. I'd also read a lot of it before, but there was more detail. It was an easy, page-turning read. I have two problems with it. First, it contains a lot of quotes that I assume Andersen creatively added (an annoying tendency of biographers). I highly doubt Andersen knew exactly what Kate said to her mom while they were watching Princess Diana's funeral. Secondly, it left a bad taste in my mouth. Much time was spent on Kate's mom's ambition to raise her family's status, as well as how Kate calculated to keep William. I'm sure the was some truth to this, but I don't think it was so simple or that her mom was so one-dimensional. There was also lots of focus on William's partying and his habit to paw random girls when he's stressed and really drunk. While I'm sure there's also truth to this and Andersen also points out lots of good points about William, I thought it was unbalanced toward salacious gossip. Overall, this is a fascinating read with a trove of information. Just take it with a grain of salt.

Lillibet: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth II by Carolly Erickson

Even though she's been queen for my entire life (and my mother's entire life), I know very little about Queen Elizabeth. Lillibet was a great read about a complicated person. The Queen had a charmed but very sheltered childhood with doting parents. Her adult life was much more difficult. Not only did she lose her father at a young age and become queen, but she also married her childhood crush, Prince Philip, who seems like a huge jerk. It was interesting how everyone in the Royal Family was against the marriage and young Elizabeth was the only one who didn't see his clear faults. I also was dismayed but not surprised to see how she ignored her children despite having very loving parents in King George and Queen Elizabeth. The book is quite soap-operish and gossipy, but that certainly keeps it interesting. On the whole, this is a very positive portrayal of the Queen. It doesn't ignore her mistakes and fault, but you can tell the author likes her. The Queen seems like a fun person to be around if you can ever get past her shell (and that's pretty hard to do).

The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

A companion book to one of the best movies I've seen in years. It is co-written by Lionel Logue's grandson and relies on a large stack of Lionel's journals and personal letters. The movie is definitely more for entertainment than reality, but the spirit of the friendship and devotion between the King and his speech therapist rings true in both works. We learn a great deal about the lives of both King George and Lionel Logue. Their relationship was much longer than indicated in the film. They began working together in 1926 in preparation for a big tour of Australis and the Duke saw results so quickly that he actually stopped treatment becaude he could do things on his own (instead of stopping treatment because of an argument as in the film). I was a little disappointed that their relationship was not as informal as in the film - I highly doubt Lionel ever called the King Bertie - but that did seem unrealistic. Regardless, their friendship was true. I developed a love for both men throughout the book and actually got teary when they passed away (within months of each other). Highly recommended.
 
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