Thursday, June 30, 2011

Weekly Blog Hops

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

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

On the blog this week:

Discussion Post:

-Leaving the link up for a second week.

The Case For Mind Candy

Reviews:

Glimmerglass by Jenna Black
Shadowspell by Jenna Black
Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

Manga Mondays

Chibi Vampire vol. 3 by Yuna Kagesaki

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: What keeps you reading beyond the first few pages of a book, and what makes you want to stop reading a book and put it back on the shelf?

It depends on the book. Sometimes books have weak starts but I keep with it because the synopsis sounds good or I've heard great reviews (actually, a lot of books have weak beginnings). Other books capture me right away. There's no tangible formula for what makes a great beginning. Sometimes it's writing that flows well. Other times, the book starts like a Viper (think Karen Marie Moning's Fever series) - 0 to 100 mph in 7.6 seconds. Or perhaps the book makes me laugh immediately. So many different ways to start a book well.

Follow Friday: Your favorite book/movie character (example Hermione Granger played by the Emma chick) just walked into the room! Who is it and what would be your first reaction? You get extra points if you include visual stimulation.

Okay - I sort of misunderstood this question. I'm re-interpreting it as "Which movie character bets fits with my visual idea of the character? (Although if I answered Rachel's question properly, I'd still be super thrilled if Anne and Gilbert walked in the room)

The first people that pop into mind are the cast of Anne of Green Gables, particularly Megan Follows as Anne and Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe. Jonathan is so handsome! And Megan went from an awkward redhead to an elegant auburn-haired beauty in Anne of Avonlea (not going to mention Anne: The continuing Story - not a fan).





Shadowspell by Jenna Black (Faeriewalker #2)

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

Shadowspell by Jenna Black
January 4, 2011; St. Martin's Press


Summary

On top of spending most of her time in a bunkerlike safe house and having her dates hijacked by a formidable Fae bodyguard, Faeriewalker Dana Hathaway is in for some more bad news: the Erlking and his pack of murderous minions known as the Wild Hunt have descended upon Avalon. With his homicidal appetite and immortal powers, the Erlking has long been the nightmare of the Fae realm. A fragile treaty with the Faerie Queen, sealed with a mysterious spell, is the one thing that keeps him from hunting unchecked in Avalon, the only place on Earth where humans and Fae live together. Which means Dana’s in trouble, since it’s common knowledge that the Faerie Queen wants her – and her rare Faeriewalker powers – dead. The smoldering, sexy Erlking’s got his sights set on Dana, but does he only seek to kill her, or does he have something much darker in mind? (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Dana is a hot commodity in Avalon. With her abilities as a faeriwalker, both the good and bad guys want a piece of her. For her safety, Dana is practically a prisoner in her dad's safe house. This definitely does not sit well with Dana. She gives her bodyguards the slip numerous times and encounters great danger and real consequences because of it. The biggest danger is the Erlking, the faery hunter who is loose in Avalon and apparently looking for Dana.

I go back and forth between admiring Dana and wanting to smack her. She is a strong, independent girl, probably a result of having to be the "adult" with her alcoholic mom. If someone tells her no, Dana finds a way to do it anyway, either by convincing the person to change his mind or simple defiance. This enables Dana to be brave and to save the day. It also causes her to do some really dumb things and people get hurt by her thoughtlessness. On the other hand, she's definitely a girl you want on your side. She'll fight to the death to defend her friends.

Shadowspell introduces a new concept in YA literature: A love rectangle (or square). There are now three hot, sex guys in this series. Of course, one of them is out to kill her...but little details. I'm not a huge Ethan fan, although I did feel a little better about him at the end of the book. For the most part, he's an arrogant, showy playboy. Dana should know better. We don't get to see his good side enough. There wasn't enough Keane in Shadowspell. I love Keane. The bad boy type who's really a good boy. He was around, but I didn't feel like his character went through much growth - or as much as I would have liked. The Erlking is intriguing. He's either evil or he's not. Or perhaps he's a bit of both. He is the biggest reason that I am foaming at the mouth for the third book.

It took me awhile to get hooked on Shadowspell, but once I was, the pages were flying. If you enjoyed Glimmerglass, you must read Shadowspell. It may suffer a little bit from second book syndrome, but it sets up everything perfectly for Sirensong.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers
July 5th 2011; Tor Teen

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



Summary

Luc Cain was born and raised in Hell, but he isn’t feeling as demonic as usual lately—thanks to Frannie Cavanaugh and the unique power she never realized she had. But you can’t desert Hell without consequences, and suddenly Frannie and Luc find themselves targeted by the same demons who used to be Luc’s allies.

Left with few options, Frannie and Luc accept the protection of Heaven and one of its most powerful angels, Gabe. Unfortunately, Luc isn’t the only one affected by Frannie, and it isn’t long before Gabe realizes that being around her is too…tempting. Rather than risk losing his wings, he leaves Frannie and Luc under the protection of her recently-acquired guardian angel.

Which would be fine, but Gabe is barely out the door before an assortment of demons appears—and they’re not leaving without dragging Luc back to Hell with them. Hell won’t give up and Heaven won’t give in. Frannie’s guardian exercises all the power he has to keep them away, but the demons are willing to hurt anyone close to Frannie in order to get what they want. It will take everything she has and then some to stay out of Hell’s grasp.

And not everyone will get out of it alive.

Review

I go back and forth on this series. The plot and characters are over the top and a bit silly at times - although not purposely so. I especially find the use of Hell cliches to be overdone and somewhat annoying. I also hate that Grandpa says "Ya" instead of "You." That being said, if I put my surface-level level frustrations aside, I really like this series. Personal Demons was a fast paced story with a steamy romance between Frannie and Luc and a potential one between Frannie and Gabriel. Original Sin is just as interesting and the romance goes up a notch.

Frannie has a new guardian angel, her brother Matt, who died as a child. Everyone is thrilled about this. Frannie gets to be with her brother for the first time in 10 years. Matt has a cush angel job. Gabriel and Luc know that Matt will watch Frannie like a hawk. Or will he? It seems that being in the human world is fraught with challenges for a newly-minted guardian angel. Matt can still hate, love, lust, and envy. Those combination of emotions make for a much more compromised guardian than anyone expected. I love how the author has created angels who are not always angelic. We see this somewhat with Gabriel who can barely keep himself away from Frannie. But the capacity for human emotions and mistakes is much more apparent with Matt. A nice twist on standard angel mythology.

Luc became human at the end of Personal Demons. Hell is less than thrilled about this. Hell bent on revenge, you might say (eek...even I'm starting to use the Hell cliches). We get to know the various demons better. We see just how devious they can be in enticing people to sin.

I love Luc. I do miss the arrogant demon, but as a human, he's such a sweet guy - so devoted to Frannie. Unfortunately, King Lucifer didn't become lord of Hell by being stupid, so he knows just how to concoct a scenario that has the potential to bring down Luc and destroy his relationship with Frannie.

And then there's Gabriel. I like that he's an angel, but seems human as well. I wish they'd explored the history between Luc and Gabe better. I hope future books do that. Gabriel is actually gone for much of this book. The love triangle was more of a straight line. This was different from many second novels, which is where love triangles often develop or strengthen. I like that the author did something different. I also like that this isn't exactly a love triangle. Frannie isn't torn between Luc and Gabe, but there's still something there. More intriguing.

I'm not a huge fan of Frannie. I'm not sure why. I like that she's a forthright, take-charge girl in most parts of her life. She does what she feels to be right and isn't purely stuck on a guy. At the same time, she seems so wishy washy in her feelings for Luc and Gabe. This is understandable, but still annoying.

Overall, Original Sin is just as fun as Personal Demons. It moves the plot of the series along nicely. It does drag at times, but mostly it's a good pace. I really like how the book diverges from the typical paranormal path in many areas. It shows the importance of choice as well as the consequences. I was also pleased that the book answered some of my questions about Frannie's family - quite interesting. The ending leaves us chomping at the bit for Book 3.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Glimmerglass by Jenna Black

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

Glimmerglass by Jenna Black
2010; St. Martin's Griffin


Summary

It’s all she’s ever wanted to be, but it couldn’t be further from her grasp…

Dana Hathaway doesn’t know it yet, but she’s in big trouble. When her alcoholic mom shows up at her voice recital drunk, again, Dana decides she’s had enough and runs away to find her mysterious father in Avalon: the only place on Earth where the regular, everyday world and the captivating, magical world of Faerie intersect. But from the moment Dana sets foot in Avalon, everything goes wrong, for it turns out she isn't just an ordinary teenage girl—she's a Faeriewalker, a rare individual who can travel between both worlds, and the only person who can bring magic into the human world and technology into Faerie.

Soon, Dana finds herself tangled up in a cutthroat game of Fae politics. Someone's trying to kill her, and everyone seems to want something from her, from her newfound friends and family to Ethan, the hot Fae guy Dana figures she’ll never have a chance with… until she does. Caught between two worlds, Dana isn’t sure where she’ll ever fit in and who can be trusted, not to mention if her world will ever be normal again… (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Glimmerglass takes place in a slightly altered world. Unlike most faerie stories, the existence of faeries is widely known in the Glimmerglass world. However, faeries and humans only interact in Avalon, a mountainous area just outside of London. It's a country within a country, like the Vatican, complete with its own immigration. That's where the interaction stops: humans cannot enter the faerie realm and faeries cannot enter the human realm.

Dana Hathaway has always known she was half faerie, but she's never met her father. Her mother hid Dana's existence from her father and never set foot in Avalon with Dana. But after one too many drunken embarassments by her mother, Dana runs away to Avalon to find her father. As soon as she does, she finds herself at the center of a family and political war. Dana is a Faeriewalker, the first one in 75 years. She can exist in both worlds and any faerie that has Dana on its side will have a huge amount of power.

Dana makes a lot of fast friends and enemies in Avalon. There's her aunt, who is either trying to lock her up or protect her. There's Ethan and Kimber, who are either trying to protect her or use her for political gains. There's her father, who either needs her for political gains or loves her. Lots of politics here. Ethan and Kimber are great characters. Ethan is the typical hot, arrogant guy who seems to have some substance underneath his bravado shell, but the plot has him doing so many things that are questionable that it's hard for Dana or the reader to know if he's good or bad for much of the story. There's also Kimber, who comes off as a real ice princess, but then seems like a cute fun best friend too. Dana's father has a hard shell, but you also see his love for his daughter. I also really liked the characters of Finn and Keane, Dana's bodyguard and his son. Especially Keane.

I love how the characters are all three dimensional, for the most part. They all have flaws - realistic flaws - and you also can understand their motivations. The set of interesting characters made the story for me. The only character aspect of the story that bothered me was at the main climax at the end, when I thought some of the bad-guy dialogue was a bit too fake. Like a B-grade movie. Other than that, Jenna Black did a great job with the characters.

I would like to understand the fantasy world a little better. We learn about magic, the faerie realm, and Avalon as the book goes on, but I still felt like there were big gaps in the world building. Part of the problem with this is that the faerie world is not a complete surprise to Dana. While there's much she learns throughout the book, she has known about faeries her entire life. It's easier to introduce a fantasy world to readers when it's new to the character as well. That way, you have an excuse to include lots of background. I think the world will be better developed as the series goes on, but I still felt more confused than I would have like at times.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, June 27, 2011

Manga Mondays (56): Chibi Vampire vol. 3 - Yuna Kagesaki

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

Chibi Vampire vol. 3 - Yuna Kagesaki


Summary

As Kenta helps Karin study for her school exam, the two start becoming closer. But when Maki catches sight of them and asks if they are going out, Karin protests! She needs time, especially when she feels like she's starting to overcome her blood issues around Kenta. But a new problem is about to surface...and the odor is enough to make a vampire run to daylight! (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.

Kenta knows that Karin is a vampire! He's pledged to keep her secret...not that he really had a choice. It decreases some of the awkwardness between them. Unfortunately, the awkwardness quickly comes back when people start speculating that they're dating.

But let's forget about Kenta and Karin. They're the least interesting part of this volume. There are two big subplots in volume 3. Both are really strange - continuing with a theme.

Subplot one: Kenta's mother is a maid at a Love Hotel (hourly rate hotels that are quite common in Japan). She finds Miharu, a high school girl, living there as a prostitute. Kenta's mom tries to convince Miharu to return home to her father and stepmother or at least to help her out.

Subplot two: Anju left her talking doll Boogie in a park when she rescued Karin. One of her classmates picked it up and refused to return it. Turns out karma is on Anju's side. Boogie-kun comes to life and attacks the little girl's mother with a knife. Then he goes after the little girl because she refused to give him back to Anju. Anju gets there just in time to keep Boogie from killing her classmate. Boogie-kun the doll is the embodiment of the ghost of a guy who killed 13 people with a kitchen knife. See what I mean about weird and creepy? Yet oddly intriguing.

One thing (well, one of numerous things) that irritated me about this volume was that Karin's chest looked huge. It wasn't a focus of the previous volumes. It's hugely disproportionate to the rest of her body. Looks more silly than sexy.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

In My Mailbox (41)

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

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

I'm Alison. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

For Review


Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik
*Thanks to Teen Book Scene blog tour

Library Stash

I got a bit overzealous at the library this week.


Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard


The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney


Vampire Knight vol. 12 by Matsuri Hino


Sand Chronicles vol. 1 by Hinako Ashihara


Between Expectations: Lessons from a Pediatric Residency by Meghan MacLean Weir


The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz

CD Stash


Build a Rocket Boys! by Elbow

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blog Hops

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

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

On the blog this week:

GIVEAWAY:

Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

Discussion Post:

The Case For Mind Candy

Reviews:

Exposure by Therese Fowler
Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

Manga Mondays

Chibi Vampire vol. 2 by Yuna Kagesaki

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: When did you realize reading was your passion and a truly important part of your life?

Books have been an important part of my life since I was in second grade, but in middle and high school it was just an enjoyment, not a passion. I didn't really get back into the reading obsession until I was in college. It's just grown from there. Every year, it seems like I read more books and get more excited about them.

Follow Friday: In light of the Summer Solstice. Also known as Midsummer...let's talk about fairies. What is your favorite fairy tale or story that revolves around the fae?

Probably my favorite is Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series. I also really enjoyed Lament by Maggie Stiefvater. I'm almost done with the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning and that's lots of fun too. Oh, I also really like the Wings series by Aprilynne Pike - irritated that Miley Cyrus is signed for the movie version.

The Case for Mind Candy

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton

There are two types of books out there: Mind Candy and Literature.

Mind Candy: Ranges from light, humorous fun to stomach-clenching suspense to dark, life-depends-upon-it melodrama. Either features lots of romance or spies and explosions. Happy endings. Easy reading.

Literature: Thinking required. Complicated, flawed characters. Often dysfunctional families. Prose is as important as plot. Satire. Social commentary. Fewer happy endings.

(I realize this stark separation is unfair and unrealistic. You can't truly paint the world of books with such a broad brush, but it is a convenient characterization that has a ring of truth.)

There is a large contingent of people who believe that we should be reading only Literature...the Good Books...the Classics (capitalization on purpose). As a country (be it the U.S., Canada, Australia, the UK, etc) we seem to be growing more ignorant by the day. What does it say about us if we flock to news articles about Lindsey Lohan's latest mishaps and skip over the ones about Syria and Libya? ({{{{Guilty}}}}) We should read to learn and grow. Books shouldn't be easy. Flowery high-brow prose will open our minds to the wonders of fine literature and improve our vocabulary and writing. Social commentary will make us more aware of the world around us. Flawed characters and imperfect endings will teach us about the human condition. Mind Candy will rot your brain as surely as M&Ms will rot your teeth.

I don't think anyone is going to argue that Literature is inherently bad, but many will make the case that Mind Candy novels are worth a share of a reader's time. We all have complicated lives. It's nice to be able to escape with an effortless read. It may be a book that paints a happy brush on life. Think chick lit. Or a book that, no matter how bad your life is, makes you happy that your life isn't as awful as these characters' lives (think (some) paranormal/urban fantasy or "issue" books). Most Mind Candy books resolve all the characters' issues in a few hundred pages. It's so comforting to think that things can work out...that happy endings are possible.

Common Complaints About Mind Candy and Rebuttals:

1. Lack of Educational Value:

There's this idea that we learn more from Literature. While that may be true with a book like Huckleberry Finn or The Grapes of Wrath, I don't think it is so with every literary novel. Other than being thought-provoking, what do you learn from a book like Freedom by Jonathan Franzen or even Catcher in the Rye?

Then again, any book can be educational, be it Literature or Mind Candy. Some books just wear their educational value on their sleeve more than others. Let's take Twilight for example, since as an obsessed fan, it's always on my mind. On the surface, you wouldn't think a melodramatic romance would teach you much...but does it? Think of the Cullens' vegetarian lifestyle. You learn the value of standing by your beliefs even when it's incredibly hard and none of your peers are doing it. Another example - Secrets of My Hollywood Life, the fluffy, fun series by Jen Calonita, teaches readers about a few ins and outs of Hollywood - nothing you need to know, but interesting nonetheless.

2. Bad Messages:

As much as the author of that Wall Street Journal blog post crowed about the abhorrent darkness of YA books today, I think she was mainly complaining that books today teach teens the wrong things.

While I disagree with her blog post as a whole, she raises an interesting issue. Has a book ever changed your life for the better? I think most passionate readers can point to at least one book that did. If a book can positively affect your life, isn't it reasonable to think that a book is also powerful enough to negatively affect your life? Let's examine Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (although I'd argue that the quality of Laurie's writing places all her books in the YA Literature category). If you've ever had a problem with anorexia and want a book to trigger you further down eating disorder lane, Wintergirls will do that.

Does that mean that books like Wintergirls that deal with painful, dark subjects shouldn't be published? Absolutely not. In fact, I think people with eating disorders cherish Wintergirls more than anyone else. It is so nice to realize that someone is battling the same monsters as you, that the same thoughts run through other people's heads. You don't feel so alone. Dark books can bring pain to readers, but comfort as well.

To explore this further...Why should YA save?

I read to be entertained. Mind Candy is often simply more fun than Literature. As a reader, I don't necessarily want to be "saved," or helped by a book. It would be nice, but I'm more interested in a good story. And if I write something, it's because I think the plot is interesting and I like the characters. I don't think it's the purpose of YA authors to save anyone. But I digress...

One last rebuttal to the Bad Messages argument is that Literature is no stranger to dark, moral quagmires. Mind Candy can be dark, but it's also the genre where virtually all of the cheery, squeaky-clean novels reside. In fact, I defy you to find a work of Literature that is hippity-happity perfect (aside from something like Jane Austen).

3. Bad Writing:

Literature lovers say that Mind Candy is poorly written. An author's prose should almost be a character unto itself. The writing should be such that you step back from the plot and simply enjoy various quotes and phrases. I agree that a well-written novel is a wonderful thing. I treasure books like Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta where even a brief sentence at the beginning of the novel has enormous meaning later on - where the prose is a puzzle, slowly fitting itself together. And books like Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan where I repeatedly stopped reading to mark touching, thought-provoking quotes.

Mind Candy may not be known for high-fallutin' prose, but that doesn't mean that many books aren't well written. They're just well-written in different ways. The first book that comes to mind is Matched by Ally Condie. Her writing makes reading effortless. It's like watching a movie play out on the page. I so admire her ability to make you forget that you're even reading.

Swim The Fly by Don Calame is another skillfully written Mind Candy novel. It is distinguishable for its humor. Being able to make readers laugh is really difficult, and Swim the Fly does it better than any book I've read in years. I literally had tears rolling down my cheeks multiple times. A truly funny book is a testament to a writer's ability just as much as philosophical, complicated prose.

Even I, the unapologetic Twilight fan, cannot argue that the Saga is well-written. But...like many paranormal and fantasy novels, the books create a rich alternate universe with one-of-a-kind vampires who have their own history, culture, and politics. Stephenie Meyer also did a wonderful job of creating characters who evoke strong feelings of love or hate from readers. Even where the prose isn't that great, many Mind Candy novels stand-out for excellent world-building and interesting characters.

Some Mind Candy novels feature prose on par with or superior to Literature. Take Maggie Stiefvater's books. In her blog yesterday, she said "I write mainstream fiction, not literary." I was ready to disagree with her. Her prose is beautiful, atmospheric. With a few words, she manages to convince me that I'm in a stark, snow-covered Minnesota winter in her Wolves of Mercy Falls books even if it's 100 degrees outside. Not only that, she incorporate poetry and lyrics into her stories that turn her books into works of art. Her writing is just as good as many of the kings and queens of YA Literature. Yet, Maggie's right. Because her books are paranormal romance, they are pigeon-holed into the world of Mind Candy. Lovers of Mind Candy know that our supposed "light-reading" genre is chock-full of truly talented writers.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Mind Candy? How would you characterize Mind Candy v. Literature?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

GIVEAWAY: Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton: Author Interview and Review

Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton
January 1, 2011; Sourcebooks, Inc.

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

Summary

Leo took one step forward and then stopped. This was it-the road away from everything he knew. He could turn back. But then who would save his family from starvation? No, Leo was their last hope. He must go on...

The journey is not easy-he'll have to sleep on the streets, steal food, and even fight off greedy soldiers. Along the way, Leo discovers the kindness of strangers and the loyalty of friends. But he also learns there are some people you just can't trust, especially when you're on the wild road to America. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Interview

Please welcome Nigel Hinton to Alison Can Read!

1. Can you briefly describe Walk the Wild Road?

Walk the Wild Road is a story of adventure and courage which takes as its starting point what happened to my grandfather. He lived in a poor family in Poland and in 1870, when he was eleven, he decided to ease the family’s poverty by leaving home to make his way alone in the world. My young hero, Leo, similarly leaves the safety of home and sets off to try to get to the sea in the hope of catching a boat to the USA. On the way he meets up with another boy, Tomasz,
who also dreams of finding his fortune in America. Together, they face dangers and challenges as they cross a country at war.

2. You've written books for children, young adult, and adult readers. How do you shape your writing for each age group?

It is less that I consciously make decisions in the shaping of the writing, than that the material itself seems to set the tone of the writing. The characters and the plot seem to demand to be written in a particular style. Of course, I am aware of the target audience and that must influence the tone and the vocabulary that I use but the sentences which arrive in my mind from my subconscious (or wherever such things come from) generally arrive in an appropriate form. The conscious part is when something arrives which doesn’t seem right; at that point my logical, critical faculties can spot it and say, “Oh no, you can’t put it like that” or “No, that sentence is too long and complicated”. Then it’s up to the creative, unconscious part of my brain to offer an alternative for my consideration. In fact it is scary even thinking about this because, in the end, you realize that you don’t know how or why a sentence with those words in that order actually comes into the light. All you know is that no one else will write this or that paragraph like you will. I can’t write JK Rowling’s books (if only!) and she can’t write mine.

3. I always admire authors who do historical fiction. It requires a lot of prep work. Can you describe your research process?

First of all, I tried to find out as much as I could about my grandfather’s life. He was born in 1869. My father was born in 1892. I was born in 1941. When I came to ask about his life, my grandfather had been dead for over fifty years, and my father had also died. I was amazed and saddened by how little I could find out. It was barebones stuff – poor family, left home at eleven, crossed Poland to the sea, got on a boat and went round the world as a cabin boy. I had a few clues about where his village was but since Poland did not really exist, at that time, having been partitioned by Prussia, Austria and Russia, even place names were different from today. After a lot of research on the internet, I finally found the small hamlet where he had lived and its current Polish name.

I then found a map from that time and was able to guess at the most likely route he would have taken for his walk to the sea – with all the Prussian names of the towns and villages he would have passed and all the geographical features such as rivers he would have encountered.

I began reading all the histories of Poland I could find, relying most heavily on Norman Davis’ great work: God's Playground. I also read the four volumes of the novel The Peasants (Chłopi) by Władysław Reymont to give me a taste of Polish peasant life.

It became more and more urgent for me to visit Poland and make the journey he had made. In April 2005 I set out and found the house my young grandfather had lived in, then retraced the steps he had made down the Vistula to Gdansk (Danzig) to find that boat which would carry him away from his homeland. In the process I visited every museum I could find, looking at artefacts, photographs and maps of the period, absorbing it all until I felt that I could create an authentic background against which my young boys’ adventures would take place. A detailed account of the journey I made can be found on my blog: http://nigelhinton.blogspot.com/

4. What were some books that you enjoyed when you were a teen and what are some books you've enjoyed recently?

There were far fewer books for teenagers when I was that age – it was barely a market back then, although Teen-oriented films and music were beginning to emerge with James Dean and Elvis Presley leading the way. So, I pretty much moved from books aimed at children – principally school stories – straight to adult books. Between 12 and 14 I was obsessed with stories about the Second World War, especially memoirs of soldiers and escapees from Prison Camps. Then I moved on to comic fiction for a year– I devoured PG Wodehouse books. By the age of 15 I was reading general fiction – classic and contemporary. I read indiscrimately, moving unjudgmentally from Dickens to Gone With The Wind and Forever Amber and Tolstoy and Thomas Hardy. I was hungry for stories.

The last twelve months has been a great time for books – almost everything I have picked up has been excellent. Highlights have been: Love and Summer by William Trevor, A Season in Sinji and A Month in the Country by JL Carr, Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada , The Radetsky March by Joseph Roth, One Day by David Nicholls, A House in Flanders by Michael Jenkins, Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow. I also re-read Dombey and Son.

5. Can you offer one piece of writing advice aside from the ubiquitous read and write often?

Read and write often! Practice visualization. If you are writing about someone in a room, encourage your brain to get into creative mode by visualizing the room. You need not feel you have describe anything you see, unless it is obviously going to be useful and appropriate, but I believe that the more real you can make that room, the more inventive your brain becomes and the more real your character will become, living in a known environment. If you find it hard to do this at first, encourage your brain by asking questions – what is on the floor: carpet, linoleum, wood? what is on the walls? what can be seen from the window? Make the settings and details real inside your mind: THAT garden, THAT road, THAT motorbike, THAT hill, rather than some vague garden, road, motorbike or hill.

The more you practice this, the more your brain will automatically ‘see’ this stuff when you are writing.

Review

Walk The Wild Road takes us to a world that most of us can barely imagine. Where class is everything and the aristocracy can essentially sentence someone to death for petty wrongs and grudges. Where drought and famine force loving parents to sell their children to keep the whole family from starving. Where the hope of a better life in America is worth risking you life for.

Leo is a young boy (about 12) in Prussia (now Poland) in 1870. He is the oldest child of a large family of poor farmers. Years of bad harvests leave his parents with no choice but to put the oldest children to work. Leo quickly makes a grave, albeit well-intentioned, mistake that has him fleeing the Baron's house to escape imprisonment and death. He decides to head for America where he can make his fortune as a free boy.

If only he can survive the journey out of Poland. The book takes Leo through one danger after another. He's too young to do this on his own, so he has to rely largely on luck and the kindness of others. the author does a good job of showing how many people can be cruel, but even more are kind and helpful. Leo is lucky to find a plucky friend in Tomas. As lighthearted as Leo is serious, Tomasz pushes him to take chances and Tomasz's confident front opens doors Leo would otherwise never find.

This would be a great book for middle school boys. The story moves quickly. Danger is not sugar-coated. Leo faces real risks and people he knows get hurt. With Tomasz, the book has some light, funny moments that break up the tense, serious plot. There's no romance in this book, which is a pleasant chance. It's a classic boy's adventure story.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

GIVEAWAY!


I am giving my copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton away to one of you. The book has been read, but is in excellent condition.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Exposure by Therese Fowler

Exposure by Therese Fowler
May 3, 2011; Ballantine Books

*I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Summary

In Exposure, Therese Fowler has written her most gripping novel to date—a ripped-from-the-headlines story of ardent young love and a nightmarish legal maelstrom that threatens to destroy two families.
Amelia Wilkes’s strict father does not allow her to date, but that doesn’t stop the talented, winsome high school senior from carrying on a secret romance with her classmate Anthony Winter. Desperately in love, the two envision a life together and plan to tell Amelia’s parents only after she turns eighteen and is legally an adult. Anthony’s mother, Kim, who teaches at their school, knows—and keeps—their secret. But the couple’s passion is exposed sooner than planned: Amelia’s father, Harlan, is shocked and infuriated to find naked pictures of Anthony on his daughter’s computer. Just hours later, Anthony is arrested.

Despite Amelia’s frantic protests, Harlan uses his wealth and influence with local law enforcement and the media to label Anthony a deviant who preyed on his innocent daughter. Spearheaded by a zealous prosecutor anxious to turn the case into a public crusade against “sexting,” the investigation soon takes an even more disturbing and destructive turn.

As events spiral wildly out of control and the scandalous story makes national news, Amelia and Anthony risk everything in a bold and dangerous attempt to clear their names and end the madness once and for all. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

I started Exposure telling myself I would read 50 pages and then pick up another book I wanted to read. 50 pages quickly turned into 100. I did put the book down at that point only to pick it up a few hours later intending to read another 100 pages. That 100 turned into 300 pages as I tore through the rest of the book. I actually had to force myself to lower the book from my eyes as I was walking across a busy street.

Exposure is a harrowing tale. It shows the horrible consequences that can occur when normal teenagers in love act like normal teenagers in love, but whose actions run afoul of overzealous parents and prosecutors.

Amelia and Tony are thoughtful teens and are head over heels for each other. They both dream of being on Broadway and are romantic enough to sigh over the tragic love of Romeo and Juliet. Quite appropriate since their story resembles Romeo and Juliet, especially at the beginning when Amelia has to hide her relationship with Tony from her overprotective parents.

Amelia's fear of her father discovering her relationship is well-founded. When he finds some nude pictures that Tony emailed Amelia, her dad has the boy arrested for violating his innocent little girl. When it turns out that Amelia texted Tony nude pictures of herself, she is also arrested. The local prosecutor, eyeing a run for governor, sets out to make examples of the teenage "sexting" scandal.

The book is told from the perspectives of Amelia Tony, Tony's mom, and Amelia's dad. I like stories with alternating points of view. It's helpful to understand different characters' thoughts. Especially Amelia's dad. It would be so easy to paint him as a one-dimensional enemy who ruined two kids' lives. While that may be the result of his overreaction and stubborn refusal to believe Amelia is anything other than his little girl, we do see that he honestly believes he is protecting his daughter. He thought he was doing the right thing, but it exploded in his face.

I sympathized with and liked Amelia and Tony. I did, however, think they were hopelessly naive. Their naivete quite annoyed me at times. First off, I think texting or emailing naked pictures of yourself is really dumb and not art as these kids thought. Secondly, even as a teen, I always figured teenage relationship were just a temporary thing. I didn't expect to find my eternal soulmate and didn't think anything was a life or death matter. So while I sympathized with these characters, it was hard to empathize with them.

Exposure is definitely a page-turner. Something is always happening - mostly getting worse. When potential solutions do come, the show up fast and you won't be able to stop reading. The overaching plot is a bit predictable, but there are plenty of twists to keep you interested. The characters are also a bit stereotypical, especially Amelia's wealthy, good-old-Southern-boy dad, but I was looking for a good story, not richly developed characters. If you want a quick, quasi-thriller reader, I highly recommend Exposure.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, June 20, 2011

Manga Mondays (55): Chibi Vampire vol. 2 - Yuna Kagesaki

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a signed galley of Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

Chibi Vampire vol. 2 - Yuna Kagesaki


Summary

Kenta sees Karin at work and school, each day serving as a reminder that something about the girl with the oft-bloody nose just isn't right! He's suspicious...and he's not exactly subtle about it. Fearing that he might discover her secret, Karin decides to kill this potential problem--with kindness! She goes out of her way to do all kinds of nice things for him. But when Kenta catches her "feeding" yet again, the gig may be up. So what's a vampire girl to do? Why, take the boy home to meet her parents, of course!(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 left Volume 1 when Karin bit Kenta's mother, which Kenta just happened to witness. Kenta still has no idea what Karin did to his mother, but he knows that she's different. Better, in fact. She's never been so cheerful or had so much energy. Kenta is in the odd position of liking his mother's new attitude and also wishing she was acting normally.

Meanwhile, Karin is still drawn to Kenta's blood. And since she is most drawn to people who are unhappy, she figures that the best way to keep from biting Kenta is to make his life as joyous as possible. So she's super nice to him, offers him her lunch, etc. But still they keep having awkward collisions where Kenta witnesses Karin's vampiric oddities.

The highlight of this volume - and I imagine this series - is Anju, Karin's little sister. She is a stereotypical goth at 11 years old. Even though she is younger than Karin and hasn't grown into her vampire powers, she always gets her sister out of scrapes. She is always drawn as thin, dark, and serious, and always carrying one of her creepy talking dolls.

This is such a weird series. It is just interesting enough to keep me wanting more. It's not really a "cool" weird, but rather an "urgh...what was that?" weird. At times it is cheesy and at other times it's rather creepy (there's a high school prostitution subplot line). I don't know if I'd recommend it, but since I've started it, I want to keep going for at least a little while.

Blog Tour: Author Guest Post: The Royal Treatment by Lindsey Leavitt

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a signed galley of Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

Lindsey Leavitt is here today! I'm so excited to host Lindsey as part of The Royal Treatment blog tour. See the full schedule for the tour here.


Read my review of The Royal Treatment and its prequel Princess for Hire.

Welcome to Lindsey!

Below are some of my favorite books, all of which I have recommended/bought for friends. I love being a book matchmaker, love sharing a book and having that reader fall in love. I am mindful, however, when I recommend something of the reader's POV and maturity (especially with some older YA). In another life, I would love to be a librarian, minus organization and administration. So really, I just want to stand in a bookstore and make people buy certain things. Book stalker, not stocker.

So, here we go...

Favorite Books: Classics

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Anything Jane Austen, but especially Sense and Sensibility

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut




Favorite Books: YA

Hunger Games triology by Suzanne Collins

The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

Audrey Wait! by Robin Benway

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins











Favorite Books: MG

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart


Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Royal Treatment by Lindsey Leavitt

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a signed galley of Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

The Royal Treatment by Lindsey Leavitt
May 3rd 2011; Disney-Hyperion

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

Summary

Desi Bascomb's job as a princess substitute has gotten a whole lot more glamorous now that she's advanced to Level 2 within the Facade Agency. Magical make-up, roller-skating celebrities, and the chance to see Prince Karl again are just some of the major perks. Not to mention, she's landed the role of Fairy Queen in her school's production of Midsummer's Night Dream (opposite her best friend's crush. Which is a little weird, but at least he wears a donkey head during their kissing scene). Life should be perfect, but Desi can't seem to shake the feeling that there is more going on with the agency's magic than she's told. Like why is this mind-bending power exclusive to royals? Is it possible that there could be a bigger way to make an impact in both parts of her life? (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Royal Treatment is a great follow up to Princess for Hire. In the first book, Desi showed Facade Agency that her unique approach to princess subbing really helped the princesses. She wasn't just a look-alike, act-alike substitute. Rather, she used her MP (magic potential) to feel out what the princesses really wanted and needed and made decisions that they weren't brave enough to make on their own. Unconventional for Facade, but it ended up being enough to promote Desi to Level 2.

This book alternates between Desi's life as a Sub and her real life. In real life, she is trying out for the school play and dealing with the awkwardness of school crushes (her own and her friend's). It is clear that Desi has grown as a person from the first book. Knowing that you can successfully change other people's lives really builds self-confidence. While she is quite comfortable in the Subbing world, she is gradually learning to import that self-confidence into real life. Her biggest problem is that she's 14 and just doesn't have the life experience to really navigate crushes and school drama all that well. But she's getting better. And she realizes that her MP can help even in real life.

Life as a Level 2 sub is both more glamorous and more challenging. I always like reading about the crazy, fancy lives of the princesses. What was most interesting about The Royal Treatment was Facade Agency itself. Desi starts to question whether Facade and its leaders really have her best interests in mind. What exactly is Magic Potential? How powerful is it? Why is Facade so possessive about it? I liked seeing Desi argue out whether it's better to go with the flow of Facade or stick to what feels right to her.

Once again, certain elements of this plot are fairly predictable. Especially the romance element. But that's not a big deal. It's rather fun to see Desi work out what the reader has known for a hundred pages.

Another fun book from Lindsey Leavitt.

Rating: 4 / 5

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In My Mailbox (40)

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a signed galley of Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

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

I'm Alison. I review mainly YA with a few MG books and a weekly manga feature.

For Review





The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
-Thanks to NetGalley

Won

-Boy, have I been lucky lately!

From The Unread Reader:


Zombies Don't Cry by Rusty Fischer

From Magnet For Books:


Between the Lines by Tammara Webber

From Eve's Fan Garden:


The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard

From Small Review:


Tighter by Adele Griffin


The Julian Game by Adele Griffin

Library Stash

-It's an adult library stash this week.


Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning


The Final Storm by Jeff Shaara

CD Stash


Codes and Keys by Death Cab for Cutie


Paper Airplane by Alison Krauss and Union Station

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blog Hops

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a signed galley of Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

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

On the blog this week:

GIVEAWAY/Interview:

Character Interview with Gabe; Signed Galley of Original Sin by Lisa Resrochers

Reviews:

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt
Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt

Manga Mondays

Chibi Vampire vol. 1 by Yuna Kagesaki

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: How many books are currently on your TBR pile?

I don't keep a specific TBR list. I have probably about 10-15 books that I own that I still need to read. But my general TBR is much larger. It basically consists of every book I hear about that sounds even vaguely interesting :-)

Follow Friday: Genre Wars! What's your favorite genre and which book in that genre made it your favorite?

I don't have one genre that I prefer over another. I love contemporary fiction. That's always been my traditional go-to.

I also love historical fiction. As a kid, I devoured Ann Rinaldi's books. Now, my favorite author is Jeff Shaara (I just got his new one from the library. Yay!)

I increasingly enjoy fantasy and paranormal. I first got turned onto fantasy by...surprise, surprise...Harry Potter. I hated fantasy as a kid. If it had a supernatural element, I wouldn't touch it. I only picked up Harry Potter, because I was working at B&N at the time and everyone was asking about it. I am also a new paranormal lover. Twilight (big shocker, right?) introduced me to that genre. I wouldn't have gotten nearer than a cross's width to a vampire prior to Twilight. Now I can't stay away...be they werewolves, vampires, witches, etc (although vampires are my first love).

Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a signed galley of Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
2010; Disney-Hyperion


Summary

When Desi Bascomb gets discovered by the elite Facade Agency–royalty surrogates extraordinaire–her life goes from glamour-starved to spectacular in a blink. As her new agent, Meredith, explains, Desi has a rare magical ability: when she applies the ancient Egyptian formula “Royal Rouge,” she can transform temporarily into the exact lookalike of any princess who needs her subbing services. Dream come true, right?

Well, Desi soon discovers that subbing involves a lot more than wearing a tiara and waving at cameras. Like, what do you do when a bullying older sister puts you on a heinous crash diet? Or when the tribal villagers gather to watch you perform a ceremonial dance you don’t know? Or when a princess’s conflicted sweetheart shows up to break things off–and you know she would want you to change his mind?

In this hilarious series debut, one girl’s dream of glamour transforms into something bigger: the desire to make a positive impact. And an impact Desi makes, one royal fiasco at a time. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Princess For Hire is 240 pages of pure, unadulterated cuteness. If you want a book that will bring a smile to your face and brighten up a tough day, you need to pick up this book.

Desi Bascomb is a nobody. First off, she lives in nowheres-ville Idaho. She's not the beauty queen her mom wishes her to be. Her former best friend hates her because Desi's dad got her dad sent to prison. Her crush, the handsome, most popular boy in school doesn't know she exists. And to add insult to injury, she has to dress up in a groundhog costume for her job at the pet store.

It's understandable that Desi jumps at the opportunity to be someone when Meredith shows up, tells her she has Magic Potential, and offers her the opportunity to be a substitute princess.

Desi really makes this book. Despite having the typical low self-esteem of a normal teenager, Desi is independent, brave, and outspoken. She always has a question in mind and is willing to speak up when something isn't right (except around her classmates). I also loved her hobbies - classic movies and designing T-shirts - refreshingly different for YA characters.

The plot is adorable. Being able to magically transform into a princess look-alike just with the application of "Royal Rouge" sounds like it would be stupid, but Leavitt makes it work. She establishes a world where the idea of Royal Rouge seems believable - or at least has a well thought out creation story. I loved meeting all the different princes and princesses, seeing their different personalities, and their different lives.

It was great seeing how Desi reacted to her princess' lives. Not content to just play pretend, Desi tries to make things better. It's totally in keeping with her personality, but perhaps not what Facade Academy has in mind for its Subs. Creates conflict. It was also nice to see how Desi changed as a girl through living her princess's lives. If you can stick up for yourself when you're pretending to be someone else, maybe you can stick up for yourself too.

While the plot itself is original, the direction of the story isn't overly surprising. Also, a few characters such as Meredith and Lilith were a bit too cardboard for me. The flaws aren't a big deal though. When I started Princess for Hire, I expected a cute, sweet book that would follow a relatively predictable path and that's what I got. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

Current Giveaway on Alison Can Read 

GIVEAWAY: Win a signed galley of Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt
March 1, 2011; Bloomsbury USA Children's Books


Summary

According to her guidance counselor, fifteen-year-old Payton Gritas needs a focus object-an item to concentrate her emotions on. It's supposed to be something inanimate, but Payton decides to use the thing she stares at during class: Sean Griswold's head. They've been linked since third grade (Griswold-Gritas-it's an alphabetical order thing), but she's never really known him.

The focus object is intended to help Payton deal with her father's newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis. And it's working. With the help of her boy-crazy best friend Jac, Payton starts stalking-er, focusing on-Sean Griswold . . . all of him! He's cute, he shares her Seinfeld obsession (nobody else gets it!) and he may have a secret or two of his own.

In this sweet story of first love, Lindsey Leavitt seamlessly balances heartfelt family moments, spot-on sarcastic humor, and a budding young romance. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Payton Gritas is a Type-A, uber-organized perfectionist. Her world is black and white. It either is or it isn't. Payton's life is easy. She goes to school. She loves her best friend Jac and her family. She works hard and everything goes right. Until it doesn't. When she discovers that her dad has multiple sclerosis and her parents hid it from her for six months, her world goes upside down. And being the perfectionist that she is, she manages to "perfect" breaking down. I think that hardships hit people who are accustomed to a good life and are very high strung particularly hard. Payton definitely fits that description. She gives her parents the silent treatment, lashes out at her friends, loses interest in basketball, school, and life in general.

Enter Sean Griswold. His head unwittingly becomes Payton's focus object in response to an assignment from the school guidance counselor. Even though they've sat by each other at school for years, Payton knows nothing about him. In true Payton style, she overdoes her focus object assignment. Sean Griswold's head becomes an obsession. She is fascinated with every hair, every scar, every bump. Then she gets curious about the person within. Turns out Sean's a pretty cool guy. For all her eccentricities, Payton's a pretty cool girl. Put the two of them together and sparks start to fly.

As crazy and somewhat irritating as Payton was, I loved her character. Leavitt created a character who acted just like someone with her personality should. I didn't always like Payton's choices or reactions, but they always felt right. She goes through enormous growth in this book. She begins to understand that the world is not black and white. Things won't collapse if they don't go just the way she wants them too. People can still be good even if push you too far.

Sean was also a fabulous character. I liked that he was a boy. So many YA love interests are mature beyond their years, quasi-men. Sean was sweet, smart, funny, and more, but he was clearly still a kid. It's nice to have a character in a novel who could conceivably exist - a boy who I might have known as a teenager.

I loved Payton and Sean's relationship. Their introduction is predicated on Payton's new obsession with Sean's head, but it soon becomes a lot more. They both love Seinfeld. Sean is really into biking and gets Payton into it too. Sean did a good job of pushing Payton to look at the world through someone's perspective other than her own, even if Payton didn't always appreciate Sean's effort. It was a great story of a realistic romance.

The side characters were interesting. I loved the portrayal of Payton's family. Even though she hates them throughout most of this book, it is so nice to see a YA novel where the parents not only exist, but are actually normal, well-meaning, loving parents. Grady the Goth, Sean's friend who terrified Payton was a useful character. Useful in the sense that he exemplified Payton's one-dimensional view of the world and her eventual transition into a three-dimensional view. Unlike many reviewers, I was not a big friend of Payton's boy-crazy bestie Jac. I thought she was annoying and pushed Payton too far. But the boy-crazy best friend is a stereotypical YA character that generally annoys me, so I was already biased.

At times, Sean Griswold is hard to read. Not because the plot is uninteresting - it's definitely not - and not because the characters are bad - they're all quite loveable. Dealing with multiple sclerosis is not easy and neither are the effects on the person's family. Payton is very hard on people - her family and her friends. I got frustrated with how she overreacted at times, but as I said, it felt entirely appropriate.

Sean Griswold's Head is a touching story of family, friends, romance and the hardships and growth that you experience when the floor falls out from underneath you.

Rating: 4 / 5

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Original Sin Blog Tour: Character Interview with Gabriel


Welcome Lisa Desrochers of Personal Demons and the upcoming Original Sin. She's brought Gabriel with her today to answer a few questions.


Alison: Welcome to my blog Gabriel. I'm so grateful you could take a few minutes away from your busy life as an angel to answer a few questions.

1. You've lived for thousands of years. What was your favorite time period?

Picking a favorite is tough. My least favorites are easy: the world wars, the Crusades, the witch trials, both in Europe and America. But my favorite…? The Renaissance was fun. And there’s always Woodstock.

2. How did you and Luc meet?

Hmm… I believe we first met in Pompeii after Vesuvius …but it could have been the Colosseum. It all blurs together after a few eons. No…It was Vesuvius…I remember because, Luc show up all cocky, thinking he’s all that. Going to collect all these souls after the eruption. He was an Acquisitions rookie then and didn’t know how to tell when someone was tagged for Heaven. It was a riot watching him try to wrangle Heaven-bound souls to Hell…and falling flat on his face.

3. In some cultures, white is considered the color of death. Do you radiate a different color for those people (along with a different decorating scheme for your house)?

Mortals are limited by self-imposed parameters. Just like any celestial of the upper spheres, I am not finite. Everything about me is a reflection of the observer. If Frannie describes me as radiating white, that’s because that’s her perception. As far as my decorating preferences, white coordinates with everything. So, that’s basic laziness.

4. What is your favorite part of Heaven?

I’m not sure if you mean literally, as in a physical location, or figuratively, as in a certain aspect. So, since there are very few physical locations inside the Kingdom—no beaches or nightclubs—I’ll go with the aspect I enjoy most…and that would be witnessing the instant just before someone is tagged for Heaven. There’s a shift. It’s fun to watch. Also, I like the coffee. It’s really good.

5. What was the first thing you thought when you met Frannie?

First thing…? She’d grown up a lot. I first Shielded her when she was seven — when we realized she was special. The Shield worked until Luc showed up, so I hadn’t been back. She was…bigger.

Lisa was kind enough to offer Alison Can Read readers a signed galley of Original Sin. Enter to win!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Manga Mondays (54): Chibi Vampire vol. 1 - Yuna Kagesaki

Chibi Vampire vol. 1 - Yuna Kagesaki


Summary

Karin is a cute little girl who also happens to be a vampire...with a twist. Once a month, she experiences intense bleeding from her nose--we're talking gushers! In other words, she's a vamp with blood to spare, so rather than stealing blood from humans she actually gives her blood to them. If done right, this can be an extremely positive experience that benefits the "victim" as much as the vampire. The problem is that Karin never seems to do things right!(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.

Intriguing but weird. That's my reaction to the first volume of Chibi Vampire. I love how popular vampires are in manga. Vampires are a universally loved paranormal creature. Quite ironic.

There's a lot about this first volume that is very typical teenager. Girl meets new boy. Attracted and confused by boy. Girl doesn't fit in. Especially not with her family. Girl faced with adversity. Has to make hard choices.

The vampire thing adds quite a twist. Karin isn't a traditional vampire. She is more analogous to a psychic vampire, one who feeds off human energy. Each member of Karin's family feeds off of a different aspect of a human's mental state. Karin is even more unusual in that she has too much blood and gives people blood rather than taking it. This volume explores what Karin craves.

Karin is drawn to Kenta. She tries to fight it and stay away, but they keep running into each other. Kenta is completely puzzled by Karin. He sees her in a compromising position and makes the wrong assumption. He is also drawn to her, although I think it is curiosity as much as attraction.

I'm interested in Karin's family dynamics. She's the only one who doesn't totally accept her vampire nature. Or at least the dark side of it. I love her goth baby sister. I do think it's odd that her mom looks European and her dad looks more Eurasian while Karin and her siblings looks very Japanese.

The manga moves very quickly. Each page is split into multiple segments - more than I usually see with manga. There's not a whole lots of dialogue. it was surprisingly easy to follow despite coming in short little spurts.

I don't know if I love Chibi Vampire, but I'm definitely going to keep trying.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hopping for the Weekend

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

On the blog this week:

Discussion:

Blogger Advice: Part 2

Reviews:

Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Manga Mondays

Vampire Knight vol. 11 by Matsuri Hino

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop:

Follow Friday: The magic book fairy pops out of your cereal box and says "you and your favorite character (from a book of course) can switch places!" Who are you going to switch with?

I sound like a broken record in all of these types of questions. I'm going to go with Twilight yet again. I would switch places with Alice. Especially if I could be psychic, but mostly because I am in love with Jasper.

The second one is also a broken record. Harry Potter. I would switch places with Hermione. She's in the center of the action, but not in quite as much danger as Harry. I don't know if I'd want to marry Ron though.

Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade

Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade
May 31, 2011; Hyperion Book CH


Summary

After being sent back from the light, Alona Dare - former homecoming queen, current Queen of the Dead - finds herself doing something she never expected: working. Instead of spending days perfecting her tan by the pool (her typical summer routine when she was, you know, alive), Alona must now cater to the needs of other lost spirits. By her side for all of this - ugh - “helping of others” is Will Killian: social outcast, seer of the dead, and someone Alona cares about more than she’d like.

Before Alona can make a final ruling on Will’s “friend” or “more” status, though, she discovers trouble at home. Her mom is tossing out Alona’s most valuable possessions, and her dad is expecting a new daughter with his wicked wife. Is it possible her family is already moving on? Hello! She’s only been dead for two months! Thankfully, Alona knows just the guy who can put a stop to this mess.

Unfortunately for Alona, Will has other stuff on his mind, and Mina, a young (and beautiful) seer, is at the top of the list. She’s the first ghost-talker Will’s ever met—aside from his father—and she may hold answers to Will’s troubled past. But can she be trusted? Alona immediately puts a check mark in the “clearly not” column. But Will is - ahem - willing to find out, even if it means leaving a hurt and angry Alona to her own devices, which is never a good idea.

Packed with romance, lovable characters, and a killer cliffhanger, Queen of the Dead is the out-of-this-world sequel to The Ghost and the Goth. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

I really liked The Ghost and the Goth and was excited to for Queen of the Dead. Luckily, I liked Queen of the Dead just as much as the first book. It took the series' plot in a completely different direction than I expected, which , for the most part, I like.

I expected two things from Queen of the Dead. First, it would focus a lot Alona and Will's romantic relationship, which would be tested and ultimately grow stronger. Second, Alona and Will would be a ghostly team and would solve all the local ghosts' problems. These things sort of happened, but not really. The book focused a lot on the characters as individuals. They had different challenges and largely faced them alone.

Alona is a hard character to like and yet I do. She spends much of this book in a tizzy, because her parents are starting to recover from her death. Her mom throws away some of the things in Alona's room and her dad's wife is pregnant. Alona freaks out and nags Will to convince her parents to leave all her stuff alone and honor her memory. Alona seems so shallow and selfish to bemoan the fact that her parents are not eternally miserable. But then again, it would be awful to have to watch life go on without you - to feel like you're forgotten. So while her actions were irritating, I could sympathize. And deep down, her intentions are good.

Will is once again the more approachable, likable character. Even more likable than in the first book. Alona levels Will's darkness, just like Will dampens her shallowness. Will is still a guy of few words and a dry wit, but he no longer feels so isolated. Alona knows the real Will and also helps control the ghosts. Then Will meets something who throws his entire identity into question. What does it mean to be able to see ghosts? Should he use it to help ghosts or humans? He discovers he's not alone in his ability to sense ghosts and has to decide who's more important: Alona or the humans?

As I mentioned the plot was totally unexpected. I would have liked a book where Alona and Will just went around being ghostly heroes, but I admire the author for taking the series down a different path. Will is intrigued when he meets Mina, another seer. She opens his eyes to a seer world he didn't know existed. One where the ghosts are the bad guys. Meanwhile, Alona is losing everyone - her parents don't care about her and maybe Will doesn't need her anymore. She makes a desperate plea for attention which has drastic consequences.

The plot moves smoothly until the end when it flies. It ends at a great point. Not exactly a cliffhanger, but with an open plot arc that makes me super excited for the third book. As annoying as Alona can be, she and Will play off one another perfectly. The two points of view make for a fun series.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Blogger Advice Part 2

Last month, I did a very long post with tips about gaining followers and increasing your presence in the blogging world. There were a few things that I forgot to include in that post and thought people might find interesting.

Here is the previous post: Blogger Advice: Gaining Followers

1. Captcha Codes: Boo...Hiss...Grr... I hate Captcha Codes with every fiber of my being, as do most bloggers. Also known as Word Verification, these are the letters/numbers that you're required to enter in order to post a comment. Please, please get rid of them! In the year that I've been blogging, I have only received 3 or 4 spam comments that slipped through. You don't need Captcha Codes. Trust me. Give it a try and if you get tons of spam, you can switch it back. It will make it much easier for people to comment on your blog.

A lot of people may not even realize that they have Captcha Codes on their blog, if they don't comment on their own posts. If you want to see if you have Capcha Codes and how to get rid of them, here are some easy steps:

Go to Blogger and then click on Settings.


Scroll down until you find "Show Word Verification for Comments." Click No.


2. Music: I said this last time, but I'm going to say it again. No music! It's incredibly irritating. And I'd prefer if you don't post book promoting widgets that have sound. It's personal preference, but I think most people share my preference of silence.

Okay ranting part of post over.

3. Timing of Hops/Memes: If you're a new blogger and even if you're not, the weekly blog hops and memes are the best way for new people to find your blog. While it would be nice to expect that every participant will visit all 300 blogs, that's pretty unrealistic. I often get through all the blogs on the Hops/IMM, but there are many weekends when I have to stop after 100 or 200 because I'm afraid I'm going to lose my mind. 

Anyway...if you want to get maximum exposure for your blog, your best bet is to be one of the first bloggers listed on the Hops/Memes. It's much more likely that random people will visit your blog and comment. The memes generally aren't posted at exactly the same time each week, but here are some approximates:

Parajunkee Friday Follow: Usually about 8 or 9 PM, Central Time Thursday night
Crazy for Books Book Blogger Hop: The posting time on this meme no longer matters. A few months ago, the linky switched to a random order. So each time you load the page, the links appear in a different order. Makes it fair for everyone (except the people who get there first, I suppose)
Breaking the Spine Waiting on Wednesday: This is always posted as 12 AM Central Time Wednesday
The Story Siren In My Mailbox: This also varies. It is usually posted Sunday morning, but it can be Saturday night.

I tried to figure out when Top Ten Tuesdays (an increasingly popular meme) posts, but it's really sporadic. I also had trouble figuring out Teaser Tuesdays, because I couldn't tell the time zone. If you know any times that popular memes tend to post, please let me know and I'll edit this list.

Also, follow these bloggers on Twitter. They will generally Tweet the link to the Hop/Meme as soon as it posts.

4. Finding New Blogs Through Hops/Memes: This is a twist on the previous comment. Just like people find you through the Hops/Memes, you find new blogs. After awhile, you see the same blogs linked every week. How do you find new ones? I often wait until the Hop/Meme has been up for a day or so and then start clicking on blogs - starting from the bottom. New people don't know the Hops/Meme well enough to time when it's going to post, so they often arrive late. You are much more likely to find new blogs at the bottom of the list.

5. E-Mail/Tweet Experienced Bloggers:  A way to become known by experienced bloggers and to gain loyal readers is to personally reach out to them. The first review I posted was Swim the Fly by Don Calame (if you haven't read this, you must get it right away! It's one of the funniest books I've ever read). I read it after Steph Su Reads recommended it. I e-mailed her to tell her that she inspired me to read this great book and included the link to my review. She became my first follower. 

Since that time, I've had a few new bloggers e-mail me with questions about blogging. Talk about a surefire way to get me to become a frequent visitor. I'm always so flattered that anyone takes the time to specifically contact me that I seek out their blogs. I really like to support new blogs, but there are so many that it's hard for me to keep track of them on a daily basis. E-mailing a blogger that you like definitely keeps you in her mind.

These are just a few thoughts about ways to promote your blog and make it more reader-friendly. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions (alisoncanread at gmail dot com or @alisoncanread on Twitter). I rather like doing these advice posts. I may make it a semi-regular feature. I don't want to usurp on the fabulous advice features of other bloggers, specifically Parajunkee's Book Blogging 101, but I have lots of thoughts about blogging that I enjoy sharing. Let me know if you have any specific questions in mind.
 
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