Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

April 19, 2011; Harlequin
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Summary

It's always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate's going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won't live past the fall.

Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld—and if she accepts his bargain, he'll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.

Kate is sure he's crazy—until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she'll become Henry's future bride, and a goddess. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Goddess Test was a surprisingly enjoyable book. I thought it was rather overdone and unrealistic at the beginning, but I kept going. As the pages turned, the story and the characters began to get under my skin and my annoyance turned to affection. By the end of the book, I was very happy to have read it and eagerly anticipating the next installment.

My main problem with the book and the beginning plot was Kate. She is miserable because her dying mother wants to spend her last days in her rural hometown. Kate is devastated that her mother is dying, although mostly in denial, and doesn't like having to establish herself in a new school. But she doesn't outwardly complain. Certainly not. She is incredibly selfless. It's Kate's self-sacrificial nature that I had a problem with. The plot gets going when Kate takes on a huge burden and abandons her mother, almost without thought, to save the life of a person she doesn't even like. This is certainly admirable, but it just didn't ring true to me. Who would really give up that much? Perhaps lots of people would...I'm just not a nice person.

Regardless, the plot moves on and Kate is now stuck in Hades' mansion for the next six months. Not only does she have to stick it out, but she has to pass unnamed tests. With the house comes Henry, aka Hades, who if she passes said tests will become her husband! Kate understandably is skeptical about this young man's claim to be a Greek god, but slowly his explanation is the one that makes the most sense.

This is where the story starts to improve. I loved how mysterious everything was. And coming from someone who hates being in the dark, this is high praise. Neither Kate nor the reader knows what the tests are. Also, Kate supposedly has enemies who don't want her to succeed in her trial period - all the previous candidates died before the tests were complete. We have no idea who these enemies are. People who seem friendly may not be while openly hostile characters may be completely harmless. I liked how our eyes were slowly opened to the truth.

Henry and Kate's relationship gradually builds. Kate starts out feeling hostile towards Henry, for obvious reasons, while he is very cautious about his potential bride. The walls crumble down between them one piece at a time. I never felt like I really cracked the mystery behind Henry, but I was happy with what I saw. They are both kind people who are seeking to do good and be happy. They mesh well.

The book picks up speed toward the end as the veil is opened and we discover Kate's enemies and the results of her test. I was truly surprised by how the story ended and quite pleased.

The Goddess Test is Greek mythology light. You don't have to know or really care anything about mythology to like this book. It was a pleasant read. While I didn't fall in love with the characters, I did grow to respect and like them. Same with the story. Definitely a series that I want to continue reading.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

April 5, 2011; Atheneum

Summary

Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she's inherited her mother's magical talents, and despite Stepmama's stern objections, she's determined to learn how to use them. But with her eldest sister Elissa's intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat's magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat's reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost. If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love? (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Do you like historical fiction? Do you like fantasy? If the answer to either or both of these is yes, then you'll love Kat, Incorrigible. Mixing historical fiction and fantasy seems to be a trend as of late. This is the third book I've read in the past few months that features both genres.

The book is set in early 19th century England and centers on a family that is just outside the cusp of wealth (actually they're pretty broke) but still mingles in good society. Quite reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice. But the book draws much more from the Gothic tradition of books like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. It's not similar in plot in any way to either of these books, but it hearkens back to the darkness and melodrama of the classic Gothic novels.

Kat is the star of this book, both as the book's main character and its strongest selling point. She is a spunky, headstrong, tomboy 12 year old. She's impulsive (she starts out the book by cutting off her hair and trying to run away), stubborn (no one can keep her from getting her hands on her mother's magic books), loyal (she'll do anything to help her sisters), brave (battles head-on with her enemies, perceived or real), and more. She reminds me a bit of Flavia de Luce of Alan Bradley's mystery series. Like Flavia, she is a delight to read about, but I think she might be a tad irritating if I had to deal with her in real life.

Since the family is desperate for money (to pay off Kat's brother's gambling arrears), Elissa the oldest sister is going to marry the horrible (but rich) Sir Neville. Kat is bound and determined to stop this. In a parallel plot line, Kat finds her deceased mother's magic book and ends up being thrust into a world of magic that she couldn't have imagined. The two plot arcs intertwine as Kat has to get her sister away from Sir Neville while also juggling magical powers and magical politics.

The plot toes the line between melodrama and silliness at times and occasionally crosses that line, but mostly it is great fun. I wouldn't say the book is predictable, because there are many twists and turns, but once you are on a straight path, you can usually see where it's going. Some of the book's immaturity may be due to the fact that it's marketed toward MG rather than YA. Similarly, the early novels of Harry Potter were much more childish than the later books.

Regardless, I quite enjoyed Kat, Incorrigible. I recommend it for anyone who likes strong, bold characters and history with a touch of magic.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, August 29, 2011

Manga Mondays (65): Sand Chronicles vol. 4 - Hinaki Asihara

Sand Chronicles vol. 4 - Hinaki Asihara


Summary

Can the sands of time bury the pain of the past?
Ann and Daigo's LD (long-distance) relationship is put to the test as time goes by and they find themselves spending more and more time with their childhood friends--aristocratic brother and sister Fuji and Shika--than each other. Is it just due to proximity or are deeper feelings at play...?

Twelve-year-old Ann and her divorced mother move from big city Tokyo to her mother's rural hometown. How will Ann survive her exile from civilization? Then, when her mother commits suicide, Ann has to grow up fast. As the years pass, Ann learns to trust and depend on her new friends--Daigo and aristocratic siblings Fuji and Shika. But when Ann moves back to Tokyo to be with her father, will she be able to maintain a long-distance relationship with Daigo? And do Fuji and Shika harbor romantic feelings of their own that might rip their childhood friendships apart...? (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 is a mixture. You have normal teenage antics, love, sadness, anger, betrayal, and more. The volume starts of with Fuji's disappearance. He hasn't been seen in days, then weeks, then months. There's an undercurrent of worry. Then you have some innocent, fun playtime when Ann comes home for the holidays. The old group of friends get together for Christmas parties and even a failed attempt at dogsledding. It's a rare influx of levity and humor into the series.

Most of the volume focuses on Daigo and Ann's relationship. It's rocky, as most long distance relationships are. Daigo worries about how close Ann and Fuji are. Ann realizes just how much Shika likes Daigo. But most of all, we see how much Ann relies on Daigo. He masks the intense pain she has about her mother's death. "You're my snow cave. Like if there was a blizzard...but I was with you, I'd be all right. You comfort me. I can almost forget all the painful memories." These are bittersweet words. It's touching how Ann cares for Daigo. But the reader also sees just how damaged she is. Daigo is merely a stopper in bottle that's about to explode.

As the volume continues, we see more cracks in the windshield. Fuji returns. Ann tries to save him, but he ends up helping her as much as she does him. The more time they spend together, the more troubled her relationship with Daigo becomes. Daigo is jealous of Fuji. But Daigo also is scared and perhaps angry about Ann's fragility. They fight more and more. It feels like their relationship is on a downward spiral.

One of the coolest thing about this manga series is the Glossary at the end of each volume. It not only defines words, but gives cultural tidbits. For example, it explains the origin of warm, canned coffee from Japanese vending machines. Or it explains how certain phrases were translated. Some things, like jokes or proverbs, are significantly different when translated because a literal translation would make no sense.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In My Mailbox (48)

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

I'm Alison (on the off chance you couldn't guess that from the name of my blog). I review Young Adult novels with a few Middle Grade books and a weekly manga feature.

For Review


Home for the Holidays (Mother Daughter Book Club #5) by Heather Vogel Frederick
*I'm a huge Mother Daughter Book Club fan. I already finished this. Loved it.
*Thanks to S&S Galley Grab


Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
*Thanks to S&S Galley Grab

Library Stash


Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
*A re-read for me. Loved it even more the second time around.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Feature & Follow Friday #60

Welcome to Feature & Follow Friday (err Thursday) on Parajunkee.com

If you are new to the #FF fun, Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that expands your blog following by a joint effort between bloggers. Feature & Follow Friday is now hosted by TWO hosts, Rachel of Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

*Thanks so much to Rachel for allowing me to be part of the Follow Friday fun. Parajunkee is one of the best blogs out there and FF is a highlight of the blogging community. The FF has been one of my favorite parts of my week for over a year and I'm so excited to help my fellow book bloggers get to know each other better.

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you! Now to make this #FF interesting we do a FEATURE blogger.

If you are interested in becoming a Feature click on the link here for Follow Friday Feature or go to Parajunkee and click the drop down link above FEATURES > Feature & Follow Friday and get on the waiting list!

It is also required, that if you participate you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) and the two Feature blogs.


Our Feature - Jenni Elyse



I started blogging four years ago because I wanted to talk about my life and interests. I did that for about three years. Then, about a year ago, I transformed my blog into a book blog because I was posting mostly about books anyway (reviews, author parties, book releases, etc.). I love gushing about my favorite books and sharing them with others. I read mostly YA, but I'll usually try anything as long as it sounds interesting. My favorite books are the Harry Potter series, the Twilight Saga, the Mortal Instruments series, The Hunger Games trilogy, Anna and the French Kiss, Clockwork Angel, Graceling, Fire, Shiver, The Dark Divine, The Lost Saint, Dune, You Are Special, and Fox in Socks.

I also enjoy writing, listening to music, watching movies and TV, going to school, playing any type of game (especially anything related to Zelda and Mario), aimlessly surfing the Internet, crocheting, knitting, playing the piano, learning and speaking foreign languages, doing origami, and hanging out with my family, cats, and friends.

Q. In some books like the Sookie Stackhouse series the paranormal creature in question "comes out of the closet" and makes itself known to the world. Which mythical creature do you wish this would happen with in real life?



The Vampire Academy vampires. They're pretty harmless. Well, the Strigoi aren't, but they're super dangerous whether or not they're "out of the closet." I don't think I want the Twilight vampires to be real. While they may sparkle, Stephenie created one of the most dangerous versions of vampires out there - if you really think about her vampire lore. They're the only vampires I've read about that absolutely cannot be destroyed by humans. And they only feed to kill.

I'd love the Harry Potter witch/wizards to be real. I'd also love if the fairies in Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series to come out of the closet. Oh, and it would be wonderful if the Revenants in Amy Plum's Die For Me series to be real. They're all about saving others.

Now for the Follow Fun!













RULES To join the fun and make new book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:

  1. (Required) Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts {Parajunkee & Alison Can Read}
  2. (Required) Follow our Featured Bloggers - We Fancy Books & The Little Book Blog
  3. Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing. You can also grab the code if you would like to insert it into your posts.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say "hi" in your comments and that they are now following you.
  5. Follow Follow Follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "HI"
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the Love...and the followers
  7. If you're new to the follow friday hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
Happy Follow Friday! Follow it up with your twitter address if you want to get that one out!
*********

Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

October 12, 2010; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Read my review of Beautiful Creatures!


Summary

Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen.

Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

I loved Beautiful Creatures. I loved the huge fantasy world that Garcia and Stohl created. I loved the slow, meandering Southern Gothic style. I loved that it was told from a guy's point of view. I loved the unique paranormal creations - I've never read about witches or vampires/demons like these. Beautiful Darkness starts out just where Beautiful Creatures finished and continues with the wonderfulness.

The Caster world only becomes more complicated in the second book. Ethan is thrust further into the fantasy world as Lena as pulling away from him. Luckily, even if he doesn't have Lena, he has his trusty sidekick Link and a new, young, pretty keeper-in-training named Liv. Lena is haunted by Macon's death and this new burden to choose between light and dark at the cost of her family. In handling her grief, she has essentially abandoned Ethan and taken up with a new creature named John, who seems like an Incubus but has a Caster's green eyes. Visions are coming to Ethan alone now - about Macon's past. It's up to Ethan to discover whatever Macon wanted him to know and save Lena.

I continue to love Ethan. He's the guy every girls wants. Kind, gentle, and thoughtful without being too emo. It's nice reading a paranormal romance where the narrator isn't a lovesick girl. Even at the height of Ethan and Lena's troubles, he doesn't seem mopey. Lena on the other hand, is very emo. But the darkness in her character is so strong that her struggles and worries seem interesting rather than overdone.

Link is a highlight of the series. While he is a goofball, he rises above the stereotypical crazy best friend. He's always there for Ethan. If Ethan says jump, Link will shrug his shoulders, crack a joke, and ask "how high?" He provides levity for the series but the authors give him an important role. He isn't there simply for the sake of humor.

Even though the pace of the book is slow, there are so many twists and turns that it never gets boring. All the characters from the first book play a role in Beautiful Darkness along with new ones. I loved learning more about the Caster world, especially the tunnels. I realized that Amma is even smarter and more powerful than I assumed from the first book. And the connection between Ethan's family and the Caster world just grows more complicated as Ethan learns more about the past and the present.

Beautiful Darkness took me awhile to get into. I enjoyed it the whole time, but I was rather confused at first. The book gets right into new content rather than spending the first 50 pages summarizing the previous book. It was refreshing not to read a regurgitated plot, but I also had to go back and almost re-read Beautiful Creatures, because I'd forgotten so much and the new book didn't bring me up to speed. Overall, I prefer having to go back to the first book over wasting words with summarization in the second book...I just finished re-reading Beautiful Darkness a second time, starting it immediately after Beautiful Creatures. Not having any lag time makes a huge difference in continuity and minimizing confusion.

The only other big complaint I have with this book comes right at the end. A huge plot twist felt like it was handled too casually, like it just wasn't that big of a deal. This is going to be a huge part of the third book (at least I presume so) and I am so excited for it; it's a great twist. I just wish it had been introduced better.

Beautiful Darkness was a great addition to the Caster Chronicles. If you liked Beautiful Creatures, you'll definitely like this one. And by the end, you'll be dying for the third book to come out.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

August 23, 2011; Razorbill

Summary

When alchemist Sydney is ordered into hiding to protect the life of Moroi princess Jill Dragomir, the last place she expects to be sent is a human private school in Palm Springs, California. But at their new school, the drama is only just beginning.

Populated with new faces as well as familiar ones, Bloodlines explores all the friendship, romance, battles and betrayals that made the #1 New York Times bestselling Vampire Academy series so addictive - this time in a part-vampire, part-human setting where the stakes are even higher and everyone's out for blood. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Wow! That's my review of Bloodlines. As a huge Vampire Academy fan, I was eagerly awaiting the release of the first book of the companion series. Not only do I think Bloodlines lives up to Vampire Academy, but I think it may be better!

The chief reason for that is Sydney. I love Rose as a narrator. I love her boldness, her aggressiveness, her passion, her loyalty. But those qualities make her difficult to relate to. Sydney is a lot more like me. Cautious, thoughtful, ambitious, responsible, subdued, self-conscious. The little we learned of Sydney in Vampire Academy makes much more sense now. She is the product of an overbearing father and can never measure up to his unrealistic expectations. But she still wants to live up to them. I wanted to shake her low self-esteem out of her at times, but her inferiority complex fit perfectly with her upbringing. I loved how Sydney was cautiously open-minded. She's been taught her whole life that dhampirs and moroi are an abomination. Knowing these people in real life, she's willing to change her views but it's a gradual process. She's also proud, stubborn, and holds grudges (when justified). She places other's needs above her own. That's an alchemist's job, but it's also Sydney's personality.

Another main reason is Adrian. Yay Adrian! If you liked Adrian in Vampire Academy (and who didn't?), you will adore him in Bloodlines. He's irresponsible, impulsive, reckless. It would be easy to hate him if he wasn't also thoughtful, intuitive, hilariously sarcastic, and generally swoon-worthy. It is so wonderful to see him away from Rose. Like Sydney, Adrian needs the opportunity to escape from the image and pressure his family and friends have always foisted upon him. Adrian grows in this book toward a person who is not just a fun guy but to someone who is becoming a truly good, solid man. I can't wait to see where he goes from here.

Bloodlines is not as chock-full of fighting and action as most of the Vampire Academy novels. I didn't miss the action at all. Mead manages to keep the novel flowing smoothly. There's a lot of background information to learn. I felt like the world-building of Alchemist society was a bit underdone, although there was enough information for a first book. I don't entirely get the society. On the bright side, there was never an info dump. Even without action, there were plot devices and character developments that left me gasping. Some in horror, some in shock, and some in delight. The book ended at a fabulous point. Bloodlines formed a complete book whose main plot was summed up at its end. But there were interesting bits introduced in the book that will surely be explained more in later books and the novel ended not with a cliffhanger per se, but at a point that left me dying to read the next book.

Unlike most of Mead's books, there is very little romance in Bloodlines. But what is there is done perfectly. I wish more authors understood how sexy even the most subtle possibilities of a relationship can be if written well.

Bloodlines is a companion series to Vampire Academy. Can you read Bloodlines if you haven't read Vampire Academy? I hesitantly answer yes, but you shouldn't. Bloodlines is a story unto itself. If you're new to the Vampire Academy universe, you'll learn enough about the vampire lore and the individual characters to mostly follow the book. However, Bloodlines assumes that you are already familiar with the entire Vampire Academy series. It begins soon after Last Sacrifice ends. It fully reveals the conclusion to the last book. While it does give some background information, the reader isn't coddled. You'll know what's going on, but you won't really get it unless you've read Vampire Academy. Plus, you won't form the relationships with the characters that are essential to appreciating these books.

If you enjoyed the Vampire Academy books, you must read Bloodlines. It is a perfect start to a new series. Perhaps better than its sister series! If you haven't read Vampire Academy yet, read the entire series and then pick up Bloodlines.

Rating: 5/ 5

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What Books? Books That Totally Freaked You Out

What Books? Books That Totally Freaked You Out


What is the What Books? Feature?

It's time for another edition of my periodic What Books feature! It's been awhile. I have so many book memories from my childhood. Different books touched me in different ways and had came to me at important times. So with this feature, I'm highlighting books that affected me for various reasons.

See prior editions of What Books? here:

Favorite Not-Super-Popular Book Series
Favorite Ghost/Scary Stories
The Movie Is Better Than The Book - Check out this post for lots of fabulous comments
Favorite Obscure Childhood Book
Favorite Books to Re-Read
Favorite Books That You Didn't Love At First
Favorite Cry Your Eyes Out Books

What Books? Books That Totally Freaked You Out

Have you ever read a book that seriously disturbed you? A book that you couldn't stop thinking about. I'm not thinking of horror so much as a book that shocked you or threatened a deeply held belief. Books that freak me out are not the ones that creep up on you and shout "Boo!" but rather the subtle psychological thrillers that stick with you long after you finish them.

I'm highlighting three books that disturbed me so much that I refused to ever read another book by the respective authors. It's not that I disliked the books. The opposite, in fact. They were so skillfully written and upset me so much that I can never think of the authors or their books without a slight shudder.



I read this in my 7th grade English class. Specifically, I read it in the backseat of the car on the way home from a weekend trip to Flagstaff, Arizona. The ending was so freaky that I wanted nothing more to do with this book. Cormier takes the reader on a literary ride down a dark and twisty path. Then he ends with a proverbial car crash.



One of Australia's great YA authors. It's unfortunate that this has kept me from reading more of his books. I recognize Marsden's talent. Looking back, I am impressed at the quiet switch from normalcy to dysfunction in this book that kept building and building until ending with a BANG! I was completely shocked with the twist at the end of the book (ironic that Cormier blurbs the book on the front cover). My 13 year old mind couldn't handle it.



The Handmaid's Tale is a prime example of why I don't like dystopia very much. The book was interesting and reflective, in an extreme way, of what stereotypes and prejudices that exist today can lead to. I'd rather read about fluffy bunnies or sparkly vampires than contemplate a dark and dreary life with little chance of redemption. The Handmaid's Tale was too disturbing for me.

What book seriously disturbed you? Did you continue reading books by that author?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Manga Mondays (64): Sand Chronicles vol. 3 - Hinaki Asihara

Sand Chronicles vol. 3 - Hinaki Asihara


Summary

Sweet 16-year-old Ann returns to rural Shimane from Tokyo for the summer, eager to reconnect with her boyfriend Daigo. But will the allure of their close friends--wealthy brother and sister Fuji and Shika--sunder the romantic ties that have bound Ann and Daigo since they were 12?(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.

Wow, this volume is all about drama. Each of the four main characters have major issues. The characters' difficulties are ironic considering that this is set mostly in summer - which should be idyllic, simple, and happy. It is anything but.

The volume starts with Ann and Fuji heading back to Shimane from Tokyo for summer break. At the end of volume 2, Fuji surprised Ann by kissing her and declaring his love for her. Ann is loyal to Daigo, upset, and doesn't know what to do. She confronts Fuji about it in Shimane, and guess who happens to overhear? Poor Daigo.

Meanwhile Fuji is tormenting himself over his belief that he is the product of an affair his mother had with a common laborer. He asks his grandmother for more information. She confesses the truth to Fuji. His mother did have an affair, but the product of that affair was Shika, not Fuji! Unfortunately, Shika was the one who heard grandma say this, not Fuji - mistaken identity. So Shika knows the nasty truth and Fuji still believes the nasty truth is about him. See the drama?

As summer fades into fall, Shika and Fuji are relying on Daigo and Ann more and more for friendship. They're both desperate - one knowing the awful truth and the other believing a horrible lie. Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures...

The drama in this volume is a tad overdone. Veering away from realistic fiction toward soap opera. I can't say I mind though. Like any good soap opera, the outrageous story lines keep me glued to the page to find out what's going to happen next.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feature & Follow Friday #59

Welcome to Feature & Follow Friday (err Thursday) on Parajunkee.com

If you are new to the #FF fun, Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that expands your blog following by a joint effort between bloggers. Feature & Follow Friday is now hosted by TWO hosts, Rachel of Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

*Thanks so much to Rachel for allowing me to be part of the Follow Friday fun. Parajunkee is one of the best blogs out there and FF is a highlight of the blogging community. The FF has been one of my favorite parts of my week for over a year and I'm so excited to help my fellow book bloggers get to know each other better.

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you! Now to make this #FF interesting we do a FEATURE blogger. If you are interested in becoming a Feature click on the drop down link above FEATURES > Feature & Follow Friday and get on the waiting list! It is also required, that if you participate you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) and the two Feature blogs.

Our Feature - Stuck In Books

Stuck in Books


I'm a middle school math teacher. My eighth graders frequently carry around the books they are reading and I found myself picking up their books as I walked around the room. As I asked them about the books they read, I became interested in them. Soon I was reading the same books as my students. The library at school wasn't enough, so the public library became my best friend. Then last summer I read 75 books in 3 months. My husband teased me all the time that I would get stuck in my books. Sometimes it took me a while to respond to him when he'd come to find me.

When school started, I was so excited to tell my new students about the books that I read over the summer. I wasn't prepared for their questions though. What did I read? Which ones were my favorite? What was I reading now? It seemed like a good idea to find a way to share that kind of information. So in January of 2011, I started StuckInBooks. I named the site after my husbands teasing. I find that I love sharing what I've read as much as I love reading the books themselves. In a short six months, my blog has grown a lot. Now I'm facing a new school year and a new group of students. I know just what to answer when they ask what I did this summer.

Q. If you could write yourself a part in a book, what book would it be and what role would you play in that book?

Hmmm...I always wanted to be a member of The Babysitter's Club. And of course, I'd love to be a Cullen or go to Hogwarts or be a Shadowhunter. I'd love to be Mr. Darcy's second sister (so I could wear fabulous clothes, be really rich, have a great older brother and sister-in-law, and have Mr. Darcy introduce me to a rich, handsome British guy). I'd also happily steal Etienne St. Clair away from Anna.

Now for the Follow Fun!







RULES To join the fun and make new book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:

  1. (Required) Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts {Parajunkee & Alison Can Read}
  2. (Required) Follow our Featured Bloggers - We Fancy Books & The Little Book Blog
  3. Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing. You can also grab the code if you would like to insert it into your posts.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say "hi" in your comments and that they are now following you.
  5. Follow Follow Follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "HI"
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the Love...and the followers
  7. If you're new to the follow friday hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
Happy Follow Friday! Follow it up with your twitter address if you want to get that one out!
*********

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

April 26, 2011; HarperTeen
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Summary

Ginny Blackstone thought that the biggest adventure of her life was behind her. She spent last summer traveling around Europe, following the tasks her aunt Peg laid out in a series of letters before she died. When someone stole Ginny's backpack—and the last little blue envelope inside—she resigned herself to never knowing how it was supposed to end.

Months later, a mysterious boy contacts Ginny from London, saying he's found her bag. Finally, Ginny can finish what she started. But instead of ending her journey, the last letter starts a new adventure—one filled with old friends, new loves, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Ginny finds she must hold on to her wits . . . and her heart. This time, there are no instructions.

Review

I have a confession to make. I read 13 Little Blue Envelopes a few years ago. I was enjoying it so much and was so curious to see what was going to happen that I flipped to the end of the story. This is almost always a bad idea and 13 Little Blue Envelopes was no exception. Knowing the ending took away the book's magic and I soon lost interest. I just skimmed the last third of the book. Still, I remembered it positively enough that I picked up The Last Little Blue Envelope.  I was reading an e-copy of this book, which thankfully makes it much more difficult to skip to the end. I'm so happy I gave the sequel a chance. I loved it! Love, love, loved it!

The Last Little Blue Envelope had all the elements that you want in a book: a great setting (all over Europe), well-developed characters, consistently moving plot, romance (especially romantic tension), and more.

I began this book in a blind rage. A boy (Oliver) found the thirteenth envelope that Ginny lost at the end of 13 Little Blue Envelopes. When Ginny flew to London to reclaim it, everything becomes really complicated. I love that the book instantly evoked such emotion. I was ready to strangle Oliver. I actually had to put the book down for awhile - I was so upset. Ginny ends up going on a trip around Europe over Christmas break with three other people, one of whom is Keith - her sort-of boyfriend.

I loved the character development in this book. Ginny is still sort of a blah character, although she has much more courage and backbone after her experience the previous summer (well, maybe not that much more backbone). It's the boys who really intrigued me. Keith becomes a much more layered person, in ways both good and bad, as Ginny spends more time with him. Until now, the reader saw Keith through the same rose-colored glasses as Ginny. Now it becomes more complicated. Oliver, the boy who found the note, also starts out as a very one-dimensional character - at least in Ginny's eyes - and slowly evolves into something more.

It's hard to say much about the plot of this book, because I don't want to reveal too much. I even worry that the little I've said thus far about Ginny, Keith, and Oliver is too much. Usually, I'm not that worried about discussing the basic plot, but even the beginning of this book is very important to the overall story. I love that the story moves so quickly. The group travels around Europe once again, but it feels much different than in the last book. Different things happen in each location, so it doesn't feel like it's repeating itself. It's not just the different activities that the group is doing that's interesting. My favorite part of the book was seeing how the characters' actions increasingly revealed their flaws and strengths. Relationships strengthened and weakened. While it's a very plot-driven story, I think it's the characters that really make it fantastic.

You could argue that the end was a little...not unrealistic, per se...perhaps contrived. That's not quite right either. I can't put it into words, but some of the things the characters did at the end were a little too cleaned up and perfected. Otherwise, I don't have any problems with this book.

I highly recommend The Last Little Blue Envelope. It moves so quickly and you become to attached to the characters, that you won't be able to put it down. I want to go and re-read 13 Little Blue Envelopes now. I just adored this book.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

December 1, 2009; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

I read Beautiful Creatures a year and a half ago and adored it. In anticipation of the release of Beautiful Chaos, the third book in the Caster Chronicles series, I'm re-reading the first two books. Beautiful Creatures was not only as good the second time around, but I loved it even more. The story has everything that I consider essential in a good book: a likable narrator, heart-stopping romance, well-developed secondary characters, strong villains, a complex yet understandable paranormal element, and a good balance between character development and plotting. It is a mixture southern traditions: charm, history, and Gothic storytelling.

A highlight of the series is Ethan, our narrator and main character. It is always refreshing to have a male narrator and Ethan is particularly pleasant. He is smart, sensitive, and thoughtful. While he is extremely passionate about those he cares about, he manages to hold to his beliefs during times of turmoil without the inner angst of a typical female narrator.

Lena is Ethan's opposite in many ways. Angst to the extreme. And who wouldn't be if they thought they were cursed? Lena is a Caster - a witch. In her family, Casters turn light or dark at the age of 16. They have no choice in the matter. Lena is terrified that she will turn dark and is counting the days down to her sixteenth birthday like a prisoner ticking off days leading to his execution. Lena is an eternal pessimist. She is an emo poet. On the surface, she seems insufferably sullen. But the reader can't help but empathize with her fears and love Lena for her underlying kindness and intelligence. I loved that she had an edge - whether dark or light - she had the gall to get some revenge on those who wrong her.

My favorite part of Beautiful Creatures is the strongly developed parental figures. Both Ethan and Lena are your stereotypical orphans. Lena's parents died when she was young. Ethan's mother died last year and his father is so distraught that he might as well be dead. Ethan is essentially raised by his housekeeper Amma and Lena is raised by her uncle Macon. Both Amma and Macon play crucial roles in the story. I adored Amma's fierce love for "her boy," her crossword hobby, her cooking talent, and her role as intercessor between the Spirits, the Casters, and Mortals . I became extremely attached to Macon as I came to understand his particular mixture of elegance, arrogance, strength, and love for Lena. Amma and Macon serve as foils for Ethan and Lena as they strive to keep them apart and hinder their attempts to learn more about the Caster curse. Their actions are frustrating but the reader can tell they are done out of love.

Beautiful Creatures is a long book - 563 pages. I thought the plot flowed smoothly and rarely dragged. However, some reviews disagree. The book admittedly covers a lot of material. Here are the various major plot points of the novel: Ethan and Lena's romance, Ethan's family problems, Lena's family dynamics, the Civil War element of the Duchannes Caster curse, the "witch-hunt" Lena faces from the cruel, ignorant students and townspeople, Lena's struggle between dark and light, Ethan's friendship with Link, the explanation of what a Caster is, and more. Clearly, this is not a simple book. The story was a little easier to comprehend the second time around, but I remember being nearly as captivated on the first read.

I highly recommend Beautiful Creatures. It's one of the best paranormal romance series I've read. Ethan and Lena are two of the most endearing YA characters, the side characters are very strongly written, and the world of the Casters is absolutely fascinating. While the story is long and not overly speedy, if you're willing to be patient and take the time to absorb the myriad of things going on in Beautiful Creatures, it is a rich and satisfying book.

Rating: 5 / 5

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

August 1, 2011; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Summary

The adventures of Tam and Gabriel continue with more time travel, Talents, spy work, and of course, the evil Knights.

Since the gripping conclusion of Once A Witch, Tamsin Greene has been haunted by her grandmother's prophecy that she will soon be forced to make a crucial decision—one so terrible that it could harm her family forever. When she discovers that her enemy, Alistair Knight, went back in time to Victorian-era New York in order to destroy her family, Tamsin is forced to follow him into the past. Stranded all alone in the nineteenth century, Tamsin soon finds herself disguised as a lady's maid in the terrifying mansion of the evil Knight family, avoiding the watchful eye of the vicious matron, La Spider, and fending off the advances of Liam Knight. As time runs out, both families square off in a thrilling display of magic. And to her horror, Tamsin finally understands the nature of her fateful choice. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Once A Witch and Always A Witch are two of the best paranormal/fantasy books I've read in quite awhile. Always A Witch begins just where Once A Witch left off. Alistair Knight has traveled back in time to prevent the creation of the Domani and the loss of the Knight family's power. For awhile, it looks like he is going to prevail. The future in the Greene family's book of prophecy is changing, or rather, disappearing. When a strange man travels forward in time to the Greene home and recognizes Tamsin, she knows that she needs to go back to 1887 and stop Alistair from destroying her family's future existence.

Tamsin travels back to 1887 and poses as a maid for the Knight family. I love how the fantasy world expands in this book. We see a whole new range of talents, and also see just how they can be used for evil as opposed to good. We understand why it was necessary for the creation of the Domani. The story is consistently interesting. This isn't one of those books that has you plodding through the first 3/4 and then glued to every page for the last 1/4. Instead, the entire book reads at a steady pace, with new plot twists, character development, and world-building that keeps you fascinated.

I love Tamsin. She was a strong character in Once A Witch, but is even stronger in Always A Witch. I liked seeing how her personality changed once she realized that she is, in many ways, the most Talented member of her entire family. It's given her a lot of self-confidence. But she still has some humility and insecurities that came from thinking she was a failure in a family of successes for most of her life. The mixture of qualities is actually a good thing for Tamsin. I love how courageous and smart she is. She isn't afraid of standing up to anyone - the Knights, her family, or the 1887 Greenes. But instead of just charging at them and losing, she positions herself to approach people at the time when she is most likely to get what she needs from them.

The romance between Gabriel and Tamsin is still here. I love Gabriel. He is handsome and loves teasing Tamsin by turning anything she says into a double entendre. He has a very useful Talent, but his family problems have kept him humble. The two of them are made for one another. I love how Gabriel wants to help Tamsin and Tamsin wants to protect Gabriel - rather than the other way around as most boy-girl stories go. I also like that the romance is not the most important thing to this story. It adds to it rather than defines it.

Always A Witch is a satisfactory conclusion to Once A Witch. The ending ties up the series nice - I loved how the book ended, even if it was bittersweet. The only thing that disappoints me is that there will not be another book.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, August 15, 2011

Manga Mondays (63): Sand Chronicles vol. 2 - Hinaki Asihara

Sand Chronicles vol. 2 - Hinaki Asihara


Summary

Just when Ann has adjusted to life in the countryside--and even has a boyfriend!--her father invites her to move back to Tokyo to live with him. Now she must choose between a father she hardly knows and a young man she is just beginning to know. But she soon discovers they aren't the only ones vying for her affections!(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 two volumes into Sand Chronicles, but I already think it's my favorite of all the manga series I've read thus far. Perhaps because it's realistic fiction. It seems reflective of a real teenager's life in Japan.

Everything is going well for Ann. She's adjusted to small town life, loves her boyfriend Daigo and her friends Fuji and Shika. Just when everything is perfect, Ann's father shows up to throw a wrench in things. He explains why he disappeared without a word years ago and does actually have a good reason. He asks Ann to come to Tokyo to live with him and go to high school. She agrees.

Ann is horribly lonely without Daigo. But she lucks out. Fuji also moves to Tokyo to attend a fancy prep school. And Ann's friends from elementary school are now at her high school. There is much to miss about Shimane but much to love in Tokyo.

Fear not, Daigo still appears in this volume. I love the moments between him and Ann. They are sweet and innocent together. Very much the feeling of first love. It's not an otherworldly, all consuming love. It feels real.

Fuji plays a larger role in this volume than in the first on. We get a few details on his life, which isn't as idyllic as it seems. And he's part of a huge surprise at the end of the volume.

On another bright note, I finally figured out how to tell apart Daigo and Fuji. Daigo's hair is drawn messy and light. Fuji's hair is straight and dark.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

In My Mailbox (47)

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

I'm Alison (on the off chance you couldn't guess that from the name of my blog). I review Young Adult novels with a few Middle Grade books and a weekly manga feature.

For Review

*I've had both of these for a few weeks and kept forgetting to post them on IMM.


Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa
*Already finished - It's wonderful!!!
*Thanks for NetGalley


Witchlanders by Lena Coakley
*Finished. Very enjoyable.
*Thanks to Galley Grab

Bought



Dream Dark by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
*Because I can't wait until Beautiful Chaos comes out!

Library Stash

My first Sarah Dessen novels!!!


Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
*Already finished and adored it!!!


The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen


Sand Chronicles vols. 4 - 10 by Hinako Asihara


Kekkaishi vols. 4 - 8 by Yellow Tanabe

CD Stash


Follow Me Down by Sarah Jarosz

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Feature & Follow Friday #58

Welcome to Feature & Follow Friday (err Thursday) on Parajunkee.com

If you are new to the #FF fun, Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that expands your blog following by a joint effort between bloggers. Feature & Follow Friday is now hosted by TWO hosts, Rachel of Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

*Thanks so much to Rachel for allowing me to be part of the Follow Friday fun. Parajunkee is one of the best blogs out there and FF is a highlight of the blogging community. The FF has been one of my favorite parts of my week for over a year and I'm so excited to help my fellow book bloggers get to know each other better.

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you! Now to make this #FF interesting we do a FEATURE blogger. If you are interested in becoming a Feature click on the drop down link above FEATURES > Feature & Follow Friday and get on the waiting list! It is also required, that if you participate you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) and the two Feature blogs.

Our Feature - StephLikesBooks

StephLikesBooks


Hi! I'm Steph :) I'm 18 and 3/4's. I live in the UK at the moment -I'd love to travel! I'm obviously very passionate about reading, I always have a book with me wherever I go. I'm one of those people that drags others into a bookstore just to have a peek at all the books :) (Yes, I am one of those people who smells books :D) I started blogging because I wanted to share my opinions and thoughts with other readers.

I have A LOT of favourite books e.g. The Hunger Games, Divergent, Harry Potter -ofc! :) The Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices, Vampire Academy, Blue Bloods, Poison Study novels etc. :) I'm currently reading a few books, Coexist by Julia Crane, Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead, Dead Beautiful. Something that makes me an interesting person is..... I can twist my hand all the way around :) I know, I know, gross! :D

Q. How has your reading habits changed since you were a teen? or If you are still a teen what new genres are you in love with currently?


I've always enjoyed reading. I never went anywhere without a book as a little kid. That slowed somewhat when I was a teen. I always had a book that I was reading, but I wasn't nearly as passionate about it as I had been when I was younger. I spent most of my free time watching TV. My reading habit picked back up around my sophomore year of college. By my junior year, I was completely obsessed and the amount of books I read has only increased since then. I went to law school after college. One handy trait gleaned from law school was a fast reading ability. I can now get through books much faster than I could when I was younger. Currently, I estimate that I'll read about 200 books this year.

Also, the types of books I read has changed a lot. As a teen, I read mostly non-fiction. I was really into politics. I read tons of Bob Woodward's books. Ironically, now I'm so jaded about politics that I don't know who my Congressman is. Sad. For fiction, I read almost solely contemporary fiction and historical fiction. Now I read a mixture of contemporary, historical fiction, paranormal romance, and high fantasy...plus non-fiction. I wouldn't have touched fantasy or paranormal with a ten foot pole when I was a kid.

Now for the Follow Fun!





RULES To join the fun and make new book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:

  1. (Required) Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts {Parajunkee & Alison Can Read}
  2. (Required) Follow our Featured Bloggers - We Fancy Books & The Little Book Blog
  3. Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing. You can also grab the code if you would like to insert it into your posts.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say "hi" in your comments and that they are now following you.
  5. Follow Follow Follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "HI"
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the Love...and the followers
  7. If you're new to the follow friday hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
Happy Follow Friday! Follow it up with your twitter address if you want to get that one out!
*********

Cascade (River of Time #2) by Lisa Bergren

Cascade by Lisa Bergren

June 1, 2011 by David C. Cook
*I was provided a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Read my review of Waterfall (River of Time #1)


Summary

Gabi knows she’s left her heart in the fourteenth century and she persuades Lia to help her to return, even though they know doing so will risk their very lives. When they arrive, weeks have passed and all of Siena longs to celebrate the heroines who turned the tide in the battle against Florence—while the Florentines will go to great lengths to see them dead.

But Marcello patiently awaits, and Gabi must decide if she’s willing to leave her family behind for good in order to give her heart to him forever. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

An excellent follow-up to Waterfall. Cascade escapes the pitfalls most second books fall into. There's no love triangle. It never drags. The happy couple remains, for the most part, together and happy. It's refreshing to see an author who didn't feel obligated to stick to the formula for a second book.

Lisa is a masterful plotter. There is never a lull in the action in Cascade. The She-Wolves of Siena return to a hero's welcome (with their mom in tow). But the opportunity to bask in happiness is short-lived. There's two enemies brewing against Siena: plague and the Firenzes (sp?). Gabi, Lia, Marcello, Luca, and the rest of the crew are soon in the middle of impending disaster. While Cascade is action packed, it also flows smoothly. Too many books either have long periods where nothing happens or shifts from adventure to adventure so quickly that it feels choppy. We ride the wave up to the action scene, but have enough (but not too much) time to recover before the next adventure arrives.

The romance between Marcello and Gabi is perfect. They're happy, incredibly passionate, and selfless. Marcello is wonderful in that he lets Gabi shine. Too many heroes are so terrified that their ladies will get hurt that say lock them away (*cough* Edward *cough*). Marcello tries to protect and shield Gabi from danger, but he is quick to realize that it's best if she stands up and fights alongside him. That said, their relationship doesn't do it for me. I like both characters, but I don't swoon at Marcello and I don't get googly eyed at their (well-written) passion scenes. I can't figure out why. It's everything I should love.

Now Luca and Lia...that I love even though there's only inklings of romance. Luca is always upbeat and good for a laugh. Lia plays a much bigger role in Cascade. I admire her precision and skill with the arrow and bow. I also like how she puts forth rational thought and caution to dampen down Gabi's tendency to act without considering the consequences. It's almost like she's the big sister.

Another intriguing new character is Lord Greco. I love the uncertainty and tension of a character who seems evil but may be good. I expect great things for Lord Greco in the next book.

I mentioned in my review for Waterfall how well Lisa established the medieval Italian scene. This continues in Cascade. We see the dark beauty of the castle as well as the color and vitality of Siena and Firenze. We even see the contrast between the wealthy and poor. Gabi and Lia do a wonderful job of cultural adaptation. They embrace the idea of "When in Rome"...except for the dainty ladylike parts. Lisa doesn't skimp over the violence and danger of this time. Gabi and Lia are willing to do things like kill, main, and impart justice that would be unimaginable in modern times. Similarly, both girls are subjected to terrifying, dangerous experiences. There's no skimping on the violence.

A few complaints. It bothers me that Marcello and Luca have a pronounced lack of curiosity. Call me crazy, but if two people showed up at my doorstep from 600 years in the future, I'd have a few questions for them. Marcello and Luca don't seem to wonder about the world that Gabi and Lia come from. Or if they do ask questions, it's off the page. Also, Gabi is a great kick-butt, passionate, act-and-think-later character. Kind of like Rose from Vampire Academy but without all the anger. It's exciting to view her from the outside, but rather boring having to sit inside her head throughout the whole book. Her thought process is dull and doesn't make me feel connected to her.

Cascade is not a perfect book, but it is thoroughly enjoyable. It has great plotting, great character, great references to history, and great issues of faith. Yes, the Christian aspect is still there. I like that it's more geared toward a gradual building of faith than any great miracle or endless prayer. I highly recommend Cascade.

Rating: 4 / 5



Check out the book trailer for Cascade

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stand-Alone Books vs. Series

Young adult authors can't stop with just one. It seems like every successful book out there nowadays is followed up with a sequel, then often more books after that. If there's not a straight sequel, then you often find companion novels (such as Stephanie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door or Leah Cypess' Mistwood and Nightspell). Stand-alone novels are becoming as rare as penguins in Florida.

Why So Many Series?

If you want to be cynical, and I often do, you can answer this question with one word: Money. If a book is successful, subsequent books with the same characters probably will also be successful. Ka-Ching for publishers, authors, and booksellers.

Of course, most of the authors I've met do enjoy eating. And with the dominance of Amazon and the rise of e-readers, it's harder and harder to earn enough off a book to put dinner on the table. Who can blame them for trying to make a living?

The temptation to write more than one book is motivated by more than money. Authors love their characters. It's hard to say goodbye after just one book. Plus, many authors are like me in that their intention to write three paragraph quickly turns into three pages. If they put their plot ideas into one book, it would be 2,000 pages. Better to break it up.

Series: Bad or Good?

A lot of bloggers note stand-alone books with admiration. They stand out due to their rarity. But being a series is not necessarily a bad thing.

On the Pro-Stand-Alone side, it is a talented author who can fully develop characters, build a world, and craft a plot from beginning to end in a single novel. Three or four hundred pages isn't that much to make readers fully understand the characters' world. Authors must be able to pack a lot of information into relatively few words.

Back to the "it doesn't really matter" side...As much respect as I have for a well-done stand-alone novel, for many story arcs it simply isn't practical. For example, could the Lord of the Rings be fully set out in one novel? Could Harry Potter? Could Twilight?

Pro-series: A series can be so much richer than a stand-alone novel. Assuming the plot and characters develop more with each novel, the reader becomes immersed in a world for a much longer period of time. Let's consider Maggie Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls series as an example. We got to know Sam, Grace, and the idea of the werewolves in Shiver. Alone, Shiver is a wonderful book. But it becomes so much more with Linger and Forever when Isabel and Cole become main characters and the idea of a cure for the werewolves becomes a possibility. Plus, the romance between Sam and Grace has time to be challenged and to grow stronger.

Too Much or Not Enough: The Challenge of Finding Just Right

So you're an author and you're going to write a series. Do you write two books...three...seven? The ideal number of books in a series is tricky. Write too few and you might as well snatch my slice of chocolate cake out from under me when I've only had one bite. Write too many and you've served more and more cake until I'm ready to throw up and swearing that I'll never eat cake again in my life.

I think three is the ideal number. At two books, the reader is just getting to know the world and the characters. You end the series just as I'm primed and ready for more. For example, I was particularly disappointed that Once A Witch and Always A Witch by Carolyn MacCullough was only two books. I loved the characters and wanted to hang out with them longer. On the other hand, more than three books risks over staying your welcome. Like a TV show after eight seasons. Every plot point has been done to death and there's nothing new to learn about the characters.

There are series that demand more than three books. Harry Potter could not logically have been concluded in less than seven novels since it followed Harry through each year of school. Another series that I love, The Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita stretched out to six books. Six books weren't necessary for character development, but it did have multiple story lines that made each of the six novels unique and interesting.

On the negative side, I don't really think Twilight needed to be four books. Breaking Dawn definitely has a strong plot line and lots of character development - and unlike many people, I like the book. But I think the story-line could have been adjusted so that Bella became a vampire and she and Edward lived happily ever after by the end of Eclipse, and readers would have been perfectly satisfied (or perhaps more satisfied given the controversy of Breaking Dawn).

In another realm, are the sitcom books. Think the Babysitter's Club or Goosebump series. There can be hundreds of books. These series are the Seinfeld's of the book world. While there is some character development throughout the series, each book is mostly a stand-alone novel. The authors have every reason to keep writing these books as long as people will read them, even if they have to recycle storylines.

Types of Books

Paranormal Series and Stand-Alone

Series are most prevalent with paranormal novels. I can hardly think of a single paranormal romance novel that doesn't have at least two books in the series. Most have three or more. The only stand-alone book that comes to mind is Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Can you think of others?

Stand-Alone: Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Series: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer; Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead; Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater; Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl; The Mortal Instrument series by Cassandra Clare; The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa; The Wings series by Aprilynne Pike

Fantasy Series and Stand-Alone

Fantasy also commonly has multiple books. The reason behind this is the same as paranormal - usually the author has created a detailed world and an evolving storyline and characters. One book won't do the plot justice.

Stand-Alone: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab; Princess Academy by Shannon Hale; Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine; Coraline by Neil Gaiman; Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Companion Books: Mistwood & Nightspell by Leah Cypess
Series: Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce; Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien; Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Contemporary Series and Stand-Alone

Contemporary is where you most commonly find stand-alone novels. This is understandable. We all know the world that a modern 16-year-old girl (or whatever he or she may be) lives in. We need to be introduced to her family, her friends, and all the various challenges she faces...but it doesn't take a map and a list of characters to familiarize ourselves with the world. Similarly, the plots typically aren't complex enough to require multiple books. When there is more than one book, it's often another episode in that character's life, rather than a continuation of an ongoing plot.

Stand-Alone: Sarah Dessen's books; Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard; Elizabeth Eulberg's books; Epic Fail by Claire LeZebnik; Justina Chen Headley's books; Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Companion Books: Anna and the French Kiss & Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins; If I Stay & Where She Went by Gayle Forman; Perfect Chemistry books by Simone Elkeles
Series: Dairy Queen books by Catherine Gilbert Murdock; President's Daughter books by Ellen Emerson White; Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita; The Daughters series by Joanna Philbin; The Mother Daughter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Frederick

Historical Fiction Series and Stand-Alone

Historical fiction also usually has stand-alone novels. The reason is similar to contemporary, although I think that multiple books might be required to adequately establish a historical setting. And many significant events in history have plot lines that need multiple books. But typically the books come one at a time, unless there is a paranormal element to the novel (think Libba Bray or Michelle Zink). Perhaps money is the reason that there aren't more historical series. Historical fiction doesn't usually sell as well as other genres.

Stand-Alone: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys; Number the Stars by Lois Lowry; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; Eva Ibbotson's books; Ann Rinaldi's books
Companion Books: The Upstairs Room & The Journey Back by Johanna Reiss
Series: The Royal Diaries series; The Dear America Series; The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen; The Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer

Do you prefer stand-alone novels or series? What are some of your favorite stand-alone books? What are some of your favorite series? Feel free to supplement my list

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

July 12, 2011: Scholastic, Inc.

Summary

In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. In Linger, they fought to be together. Now, in Forever, the stakes are even higher than before. Wolves are being hunted. Lives are being threatened. And love is harder and harder to hold on to as death comes closing in. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Whelmed. This word that's not a word is the best description for my feelings at the conclusion of Forever. Not overwhelmed. Not underwhelmed. Just whelmed.

I'll start with why I'm not raving about the book. It dragged. For the first 100 pages, nothing much happened. Sam sulked. Grace was a wolf and then a human and then a wolf. Isabel complained. Cole came up with risky experiments and tried them on himself. Isabel's father was trying to get authorization to shoot at the wolves from helicopters (which sounds crazy but has actually happened). With the exception of Cole, it was all talk.

The book picked up after page 150 or so - halfway through. The helicopter shoot was on and Isabel, Cole, Sam, and Grace had to race to save the wolves. Then lots happened. It wasn't a page turner, but there was a definable plot and finally some action. New characters become important. We revisited old ones. Relationships improved. Relationships broke down. The book is meant to tear at your emotions, to make you cry. To my surprise, I didn't sob at this book. There's one point were I was misty-eyed, but I never completely broke down.

The previous two paragraphs make you think that I didn't like the book. But that's not true. I loved Forever. When I finished Forever, I thought it deserved 4 out of 5 stars. But Forever is a slow-burning book. It gets its claws in you and doesn't let go. In the five days since finishing the book, I've thought about it again and again and re-read certain parts numerous times. It doesn't make me cry, but every time I think about it, my chest tightens and I can't focus on anything else. For all its slowness, it's captured my heart and I lean more towards 4.5 out of 5.

I can't quantify why exactly Forever touched me so much. Largely, I think it's Maggie's writing. It's cold and stark. Stand-offish in a way. But beautiful. Her prose doesn't just tell you what's going on. It makes you feel it. When Grace is a wolf, you're on four legs running alongside her. When Isabel is angry, you're furious too. There's very little humor in this book, except for the occasional sarcastic remark. I like that there was no attempt to inject levity into a situation that isn't funny at all. Yes, it's angsty, but that's what I'm expecting.

I love the four characters. I admire Maggie for creating Isabel, a very difficult character to love because she's always mean. Yet I do love her. I see the beautiful person within and understand why she puts up the hard shell. I love Cole for his intelligence, the crazy risks he took, his passionate soul, his rough edges, and his leadership ability. He was the rock upon which the other characters stood. I love Sam for his emo angst, his lyrics and poetry quotations, his sad and happy childhood memories, his passionate love for Grace. Even though Grace is now a full werewolf, we still see her black-and-white, rational thought-process, her love for Sam, her role as the responsible organizer. I especially love that we spend time in wolves' heads. Maggie did a wonderful job in describing how a wolf would actually think, act, and move. I really admire her for making the characters into actual wolves, not just human minds in wolf bodies. It makes the book feel more real.

Forever is a beautiful conclusion to the trilogy. It's not the most engaging read, but I connected to the characters in a way I haven't done in most recent books. I loved the ending - closure with a little room for imagination. Perhaps the reason I didn't adore Forever is that it's not Shiver. Shiver was something really special and none of Maggie's other books have achieved that level of excellence. But Forever is a powerful, emotional book in its own right and a must read for anyone who loved Shiver and Linger.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, August 8, 2011

Manga Mondays (62): Kekkaishi vol. 3 - Yellow Tanabe

Kekkaishi vol. 3 - Yellow Tanabe


Summary

By night, junior high student Yoshimori Sumimura is a "kekkaishi" - a demon-hunter who specializes in creating magical barriers around his prey. By day, Yoshimori's got some other demons to battle: an addiction to sweets and a seriously crotchety grandfather! Yoshimori's pretty 16-year-old neighbour and childhood friend, Tokine Yukimura, is also a kekkaishi, but their families are feuding over who is the true practitioner of the art. When he's unable to capture a particularly nasty foe, Yoshimori vows to improve himself, even if it means spending less time baking cakes! Then a spectre from the past visits Madarao, Yoshimori's loyal demon dog, and attempts to lure the canine away from Yoshimori forever. (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 becoming more fond of this series with each volume, which is natural I suppose, as the characters are becoming increasingly familiar. Yoshimori is starting to take his role as a demon-hunter more seriously. We see him struggling to create better kekkai, boxes that either trap demons or protect the demon-hunters. His family and friends are always quick to criticize his little errors, but behind his back, they're marveling. He has the potential to be incredibly powerful.

I love how Tokine and Yoshimori always work as a team. They may not intend to work together, but they are always looking out for the other person. We see Tokine looking out for Yoshimori in this volume, not because he's an annoying kid who screws up, but because she cares for him and wants to protect him.

The main plot of this volume centers on Madarao, Yoshimori's demon dog. We learn a little more about the origin of the demon dogs, the powerful watchdogs who help kekkaishi fight demons. Madarao becomes a main character when his former brother puppy arrives as an incredibly powerful demon.

As I'm getting used to with Tanabe's writing, we get emotional scenes describing the history between Madarao and Koya. The reader feels sorry for the demon and his painful past, yet also understands that Koya must be destroyed. I felt bad for the difficult choice Madarao had to make. I also liked seeing Yoshimori's demon-dog in a role other than the big brother role. In the first two volumes, he was always making sure Yoshimori did things right. Now it's Yoshimori who is helping him. He reminds me a bit of Grimalkin from Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series.

Yet another good volume of Kekkaishi. I like that we're learning more about the world of kekkaishi in each volume. Plus, we're getting to know and emphasize each character better. Tanabe does an excellent job of balancing character and plot.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Feature & Follow Friday #57

Welcome to Feature & Follow Friday (err Thursday) on Parajunkee.com

If you are new to the #FF fun, Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that expands your blog following by a joint effort between bloggers. Feature & Follow Friday is now hosted by TWO hosts, Rachel of Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

*Thanks so much to Rachel for allowing me to be part of the Follow Friday fun. Parajunkee is one of the best blogs out there and FF is a highlight of the blogging community. The FF has been one of my favorite parts of my week for over a year and I'm so excited to help my fellow book bloggers get to know each other better.

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you! Now to make this #FF interesting we do a FEATURE blogger. If you are interested in becoming a Feature click on the drop down link above FEATURES > Feature & Follow Friday and get on the waiting list! It is also required, that if you participate you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) and the two Feature blogs.

Our Feature - Amber @ Me My Shelf and I

Me, My Shelf and I


I am Amber of Me, My Shelf and I. Self Proclaimed cover snob, lover of all things pink and/or glittery. I will NOT share my coffee with you, but will share my wine ;0)

I started book blogging as a way to keep track of the 104 book challenge I joining at the beginning of 2011. When i realized people actually liked what I was writing I gave the blog a little face lift and a new name, hired a pal to help me and here I am today!

Q. Talk about the book that most changed or influenced your life (was it a book that turned you from an average to avid reader, did it help you deal with a particularly difficult situation, does it bring you comfort every time you read it?).



I have had several influential books at various points in my life. The first one was Mary Anne's Bad-Luck Mystery, the 17th Babysitter's Club book by Ann M. Martin. I read it in second grade and it transformed me from an okay reader into an obsessive, life-long book addict. The girls of the BSC were some of my best childhood friends.

The other highly influential books have been the Harry Potter series, Pride & Prejudice, and Twilight. And maybe a few others that I'll think of when I read other people's FF posts.

In light of today's question and the answers I've read on a lot of blogs, I think it's time to bring up one of my favorite posts again: I LOVE Twilight and I am NOT ASHAMED! Check it out and be a proud vampire lover.

Now for the Follow Fun!








RULES To join the fun and make new book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:

  1. (Required) Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts {Parajunkee & Alison Can Read}
  2. (Required) Follow our Featured Bloggers - We Fancy Books & The Little Book Blog
  3. Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing. You can also grab the code if you would like to insert it into your posts.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say "hi" in your comments and that they are now following you.
  5. Follow Follow Follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "HI"
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the Love...and the followers
  7. If you're new to the follow friday hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
Happy Follow Friday! Follow it up with your twitter address if you want to get that one out!
*********
 
Template: Blog Designs by Sheila