Friday, October 30, 2009

Winter's End by Jean-Claude Mourlevat (translated by Anthea Bell)

THIS BOOK WILL BE AVAILABLE ON NOVEMBER 10th, 2009.

Synopsis:

Four teenagers escape from their prison-like boarding schools to take up the fight against the tyrannical government that murdered their parents fifteen years earlier. But only three of the friends make it safely to Jahn's restaurant, the headquarters of a secret resistance movement, where they discover the astonishing power that one voice can have in the fight for freedom.

As the battle rages, the three friends are in a race against time to save their companion, who has been forced to participate in a deadly, ancient game for the amusement of his captors. Will this new generation prevail, or are they destined to meet the same grisly fate as their parents?

Ratings:

Character Development: 6/10
Originality: 8/10
Overall Enjoyment: 9/10
Ending: 10/10
Setting: 9/10
Recommendation: 8/10
Total Score: 50/70

Grade: B (though bordering on an A)

Age Appropriate?

Cussing: Very little.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: A limited amount of drinking, lots of smoking.
Sexual Content: One scene; the rest is implied. Not very gruesome.
Disturbing Images/Violence: A LOT of bloody images and graphic murders, deaths, and torture stuff. None of it was extremely affecting, but beware.

Review:

Winter's End is such a strange book. I have a feeling that this has something to do with the fact that it's originally French. :-P Being a student of the French language, I can see how the writing style fits the cadence of that tongue, and the culture resembles theirs. In some ways, I could tell that it was aimed at a much different audience than the American one, but in others I was amazed at the beauty and universality of the tale.

'Weird' is a good word to describe the setting. It was...disconcerting. Though I had no trouble imagining the actual physical surroundings of the characters, the time period and the atmosphere were a little askew. Reading it felt like being in a mixture of an Anastasia-and-the-Russian-Revolution story, eighteenth-century London, and modern-day Europe. I could never decide how I felt about the setting, whether it fit or it didn't. At some points I was wrinkling my nose in distaste; at others I was pining for it. Make of that what you will.

The characters were another bizarre aspect. While the rest of the novel was down-to-earth and almost melancholy, the four main characters seemed to have walked out of a fairy tale. Or a 1940s movie. They were naive and immature for seventeen-year-olds, at least at first. From the start, I hated them. I never warmed up to Helen or Milena, and only began to like Bartolomeo slightly by the end. In fact, the only main character who gained my love by the end was Milos, and he was my least favorite at first. Of the four of them, he was the only one I believed was actually in love with his counterpart. While Milena and Bart's relationship was more believable, they were flat characters and not really likeable.

If you have trouble with tedious stories, beware. While quite engrossing, the pace is slow and the book is a lot longer than it looks. At some points, I wanted to fall asleep and just stop reading, but at others, I was eagerly turning pages. It took me a while, so if you're a slow reader, maybe this isn't the best option. On the plus side, the book was very imaginative and freakishly, almost outlandishly, different. The plot was invigorating and intense, and the third-person omniscient perspective gave it an ethereal, mysterious air. This is an excellent read for brave, determined, and diligent readers.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Little Black Lies CONTEST WINNERS!



CONGRATULATIONS to
Lindsay's Photographys
and
Sab H.
for winning a copy of Tish Cohen's Little Black Lies!

I hope you enjoy the book!
(here is my review)

Thanks to Random.org for selecting a winner.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vampire's Assistant Winner

The winner of The Vampire's Assistant Movie Giveaway is...
Shadowofwonder47
Congratulations!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

GONE by Michael Grant

Synopsis:

In the blink of an eye. Everyone disappears. GONE.

Except for the young: Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not a single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. And just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to figure out what's happened. And no way to get help.

Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents--unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers--that grow stronger by the day.

It's a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your birthday, you will disappear just like everyone else.

Rating:

Character Development: 8/10
Originality: 9/10
Overall Enjoyment: 10/10
Ending: 10/10
Voice: 10/10
Setting: 10/10!
Recommendation: 10/10
Total Score: 67/70

Grade: A+

Age Appropriate?

Cussing: None for the most part.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: Teen drinking and alcoholism, teen smoking, overuse of medication.
Sexual Content: Vague mention, but no actual content.
Disturbing Images/Violence: The entire concept is rather creepy--graphic murder of children; children murdering; lots of child-against-child violence and bloody stuff; intense sadism and psychopathic characteristics of one teen; teen bulimia; mentions child abuse.

Review:

This book is quite an intense adventure. Told with a startling believability and ease, Michael Grant's GONE is a twisted tale of terrifying catastrophe. Complete with everything from a carefully realistic hero to heartwarming yet convincing romance and an abundance of drama, action, and all the crises of a teenage world in turmoil.

GONE has a hypnotizing cast of characters, from the true-to-form heroic Sam to the creepily psycopathic Drake and the all-powerful and frightening Caine. I connected with them effortlessly! Each character, no matter how small, got their say in this book, and the effect was perfect. Just intimate enough to be real, just real enough to be eerie. And that's the thing--they were all eerily real. Even those despicable antagonists were abundantly human and easily fourteen. I didn't find them too mature or too childish, but just right.

And the story--phew! There's a lot of thought and consideration behind this one. It's so strange and perplexing and awry. What on earth is the point of all this? What exactly is going on? Even after 558 pages of fascinating (yet quick) reading, I still don't know. The end was just mysterious enough to intrigue, but resolved enough to satisfy. But that's the best part: The series still has five more books to go!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a year-long coma and she's still recovering from the terrible accident that caused it. Her parents show her home movies of her life, her memories, but she has no recollection. Is she really the same girl she sees on the screen?

Little by little, Jenna begins to remember. Along with the memories come questions--questions no one wants to answer for her. What really happened after the accident?

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality: 10/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 8/10
Voice: 9/10
Setting: 10/10
Recommendation: 10/10
Total Score: 65/70

Grade: A+

Age Appropriate?

Cussing: Some, but not very much.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: One scene of teen drinking (though it is special circumstances...not necessarily a negative part of the plot...) several mentions of teen drug use/drinking/smoking.
Sexual Content: Not much.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Conversation surrounding a graphic fight.

Review:

The power in these pages is astounding! Mary E. Pearson surprised me--her distinctive voice is quite present, but the plot and the themes and the meaning behind her words was so heavy and terrifying, I was in awe.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is an artful novel that follows the thought process, pausing occasionally for semi-poetic psychological breaks and quoting Thoreau's Walden throughout. Jenna must have been a difficult character to take on, what with her unique situation and her history, but Pearson's writing makes it seem almost effortless. Told in first person, the progression of her character as she recovers memories and makes discoveries about herself was flawless. No, beyond flawless--amazing. This strange and twisted future world Pearson has created, of medical-political tension where ethical principles are tested, was fascinating and intriguing. Thinking back on it, I wonder, Why?

While it was a frustrating and enlightening emotional journey, this book left me with more questions than answers. But that's the point. Jenna's real journey--her recovery and discovery, etc--left a few loose ends hanging to wonder over. However, her actual journey, the one beneath the physical reality of the plot, the emotional stuff--that was where the true story was. It's an important, curious story indeed, that will leave you asking, Where is the line between what is Human and what is not? And what does that make us?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo!



Do you fancy yourself to be an aspiring author?

BUT are you unmotivated to write?

Do you want to complete a full-length novel in under a month?

NOVEMBER

is National Novel Writing Month

and if these things apply to YOU

I challenge YOU to participate in NaNoWriMo's
ANNUAL NOVEMBER CHALLENGE

CHALLENGE: Write a novel in thirty days.

Interested?

Visit www.NaNoWriMo.org and sign up to begin!
If you are under 17, you can join the NaNoWriMo Young Writers program here.


More details (from the site):

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen

Synopsis:

Sara Black might as well be wearing a scarlet letter on her school uniform when she walks into Anton High for the first time. Anton is no ordinary public school--you can't even get in after freshman year (unless, like Sara, your dad is the janitor). But when nobody knows your past, you can become a whole new person.

For Sara, being new is the perfect escape from being everything she's avoiding--like the fact that her mother has run off with her science teacher, and that her father's OCD is only barely under control. But when one of the most popular girls at Anton starts looking into Sara's past, her little lies could come back to haunt her...

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality: 6/10
Overall Enjoyment: 7/10
Ending: 9/10
Voice: 8/10
Setting: 8/10
Recommendation: 7/10
Total Score: 55/70

Grade: A

Age Appropriate?

Cussing: Some, but not too much.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: Several scenes of teen drinking and drunkenness, some mentions of drug abuse and several smoking scenes, though not of main characters.
Sexual Content: A lot of discussion, some speculation, not much action. Sort of teen pregnancy (though not exactly...)
Disturbing Images/Violence: Some creepy-crazy OCD stuff, a scene of near-suicide.

Review:

A pleasant, interesting read, Little Black Lies was definitely worth the time I put into it. While I was expecting something a bit more wonky, this book was actually quite level-headed and straightforward--not that that's a bad thing, mind. I enjoyed the steady pace of the novel, as well as the detailed and natural voice of Sara. Her deliberation and decisions coincide very well with her character, a mixture of a nerdy adult girl and an insecure American teenager.

I was never wholly immersed in this novel, and I think that may be mostly because I didn't particularly like Sara. Her story and her "adventures" at Anton were captivating and serious, but the girl herself bothered me. She was...naive. She did improve as the story progressed, and by the end (which was a perfect conclusion, by the way) I cared about her a great deal. Also, though, the "bizarre" school didn't turn out to be so bizarre at all. it was just a regular (albeit genius) school with regular school drama. That was a tad bit disappointing. Just a tad.

One of my favorite things about Little Black Lies is something I've seen that many others have noticed in this book as well--the realistic consequences of her actions. In a Disney Channel movie, a girl in Sara's situation, who has made her decisions, would receive some kind of horrible punishment and come out of it feeling teary-eyed and regretful. Unfortunately, things in real life aren't always so clean. Sara's resolution--while suitably just--wasn't nearly as cheesy. It was simple, believable, and hopeful.

The characters carefully defied stereotypes while filling the roles of "popular girl" and "hot guy" and "nerd". These people, particularly the fascinating Carling Burnack, kept the story interesting and unpredictable. This book isn't just an every day high school drama--it's a story about love and family and acceptance and the lengths we are willing to go to fit in. Effectively scattered with extended metaphors and allusions to Crime and Punishment, Little Black Lies is a book with brains and spunk.

Girl in the Arena trailer

Here is the (rather hilarious) official trailer for Lise Haine's new release
GIRL IN THE ARENA
(my review here)
Hope you enjoy!



Interested?



During the week, Lyn lives in a big house in Cambridge, and hangs out with friends in Harvard Square. But over the weekends she cheers her father on when he gears up for neo-gladiator competition—a high-profile televised blood sport that rivals the NFL. Lyn’s father is the top player in the league, and the paparazzi that have always swarmed him have started to dog Lyn’s every move. All this fame comes with an even higher price. Lyn’s family lives with the constant presence of violence, uncertainty, and a strict cultural code set by the Gladiator Sports Association. When a skilled young fighter slays Lyn’s father, the GSA imposes an unthinkable sentence—Lyn must marry her father’s murderer. Though her mother has made a career out of marrying into Glad culture, Lyn is prepared to do whatever it takes to claim her independence. Even if it means going into the arena herself…. Lise Haines’s debut novel, a dark satire for our time, is a mesmerizing look at a modern world addicted to violence, fame, and greed—a world eerily close to our own.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS trilogy by Cassandra Clare



Age Appropriate?

Cussing: Yes, frequent throughout.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: Some drinking, some teen drinking, but not much at all.
Sexual Content: Just your typical discussion/narration/joking teenage stuff. Some euphemisms.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Some plot stuff that regards incest, a scene or two involving a homosexual relationship (which, incidentally, didn't bother me at all, on the contrary in fact, but I know that some people have a problem with it).

Review (or something):

This "review" is different for several reasons. 1) I don't want to give away anything from the last two books to anyone who hasn't yet read them. 2) My ratings from the first book, City of Bones, apply pretty consistently to the rest of the series. 3) I read them back-to-back as if it were all just one book, and it seemed pretty pointless to review them both separately in that case. So, I hope you don't mind. Here you go!

Wow. What a storyline! This series is EPIC. It has all the twists and turns and shocks of a great action movie, while telling a beautiful tale of love and acceptance and conquering evil. Told with natural, easy-to-read writing, The Mortal Instruments was a trilogy to remember. These are the kind of books that get under your skin and invade your dreams.

A lot of people have read them, and for good reason. They appeal to a variety of audiences. Male and female readers alike can relate to the characters, and whether you like dangerous, adventurous, supernatural, modern, old-timey, otherworldly, biblical, unique, or romantic, there's something here for you.

EDIT 10/16:

I have received word that there will be a FOURTH BOOK in this series for release in March 2011, titled CITY OF FALLEN ANGELS! Also, a prequel series to Mortal Instruments, called INFERNAL DEVICES trilogy, is also underway. The first book, THE CLOCKWORK ANGEL, will be available September 7, 2010. The following books will be titled The Clockwork Prince and The Clockwork Princess. Oh boy! This means we still have FOUR BOOKS to look forward to from Cassandra Clare!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Winner of CHALICE

The winner of CHALICE by Robin McKinley is...
throuthehaze
I will be emailing you shortly for your address.
Thank you to everyone who entered!
Stay tuned for other contests.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Little Black Lies CONTEST


Two lucky winners
(selected by the ever-faithful Random Number Generator of Random.org)

will receive copies of Tish Cohen's new release,

LITTLE BLACK LIES
sent by the author.


Interested?

COMMENT or EMAIL ME(shakespearesmuse.tbc@gmail.com)

If you are a follower, become one, or post about this somewhere, you can have one extra entry.

OPEN TO RESIDENTS OF USA and CANADA ONLY.

CONTEST ENDS OCTOBER 29th!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Interview with author Tish Cohen


TISH COHEN
author of the newly released YA novel LITTLE BLACK LIES
Sara and her father are moving to Boston from small-town Lundun, Massachusetts. She is going to attend the very prestigious Anton High School—crowned “North America’s Most Elite and Most Bizarre” by TIME magazine, and harder to get into than Harvard. As the new girl, Sara doesn’t know anyone; better yet, no one knows her. This means she can escape her family’s checkered past, and her father can be a surgeon instead of “Crazy Charlie,” the school janitor.

What’s the harm in a few little black lies? Especially if they transform Sara into Anton’s latest “It” girl . . . .But then one of the popular girls at school starts looking into Sara’s past, and her father’s obsessive-compulsive disorder takes a turn for the worse. Soon, the whole charade just might come crashing down . . .

Here is the INTERVIEW:

What originally inspired you to write?

I’ve loved books since I was quite small. Being somewhat of a loner, I was drawn to other worlds, happier families, different lives. The heroine of each book became my best friend, or sometimes I’d imagine myself to be the heroine. I can remember having a hat with long woolen braids and I wore it for months pretending I was Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. So stories were in my blood but I wouldn’t have the confidence to try writing my own novesl for many years.

How did your childhood inspire or affect your writing?

I was a strange kid. I spent my early years imagining I was a dog, racing around the house on all fours, barking at my siblings. I curled up on the sunny spot on the living room rug and pretended to be Lassie by the hearth. Kind of weird. I think being an oddball gave me a different perspective on life – I watched others to a large degree. Plus it gave me a strong sense about people who are underdogs, they’ll always draw me in over the heroes.

What was your experience like as an editor, and what advice can you give to someone who wants to be an editor (like me!)?

Read constantly. Read widely. Read cereal boxes and newspapers and novels and biographies. And let yourself fall in love with words.

Why did you decide to set your latest novel, Little Black Lies, in a prestigious high school like Anton?

I had read a great article about Stuyvesant High School in New York and the whole scenario intrigued me – these kids who are the gifted of the gifted and what their lives might be like, the kinds of pressure they might feel.

How do you decide on names for your characters?

I find them in baby name books! Also magazine mastheads and film credits. I love naming characters and am always on the lookout for good ones. Then I try to match them up somehow with the characters I am creating.

What was it like to attend a French nursery school in Montreal?

It’s funny; there are three things I remember about that school. It was very dark, down in a church basement, I believe. It seems we did nothing but read French books (which was fine by me!). And I fell in love with a little French boy named Guy. We spoke on the phone at night – only in French because Guy couldn’t speak English. But our crush, it seems, was doomed. There came a day when Guy threw up in the school bus aisle and I had to climb over the seats to get off or risk soiling my shoes. It was no easy task to climb over all those seats without exposing my underwear. Sadly, the mortification meant the end of our relationship (I was shallow when I was five).

What are some of your favorite YA authors/books?

Jenny O’Connell’s Plan B is great. I also love Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s Crazy Beautiful, Adrienne Kress’s Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, and Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange.

What is your writing process?

First I have a loose idea, then I stretch the idea into a chapter by chapter outline, then I start to write.

Who/What most inspired you to write?

I started writing children’s stories – picture books – when my first son was born because reading was such a huge part of our lives and I fell in love with so many books from my own childhood – Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, etc.

What advice can you give to writers who want to be published but aren't?

Read widely. Write as often as you can. And try to develop a strong voice in your writing, a voice that stands out as your very own.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

City of Bones, Mortal Instruments Book 1 by Cassandra Clare

Synopsis:

When Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder. Much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered by odd markings. The is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons--and keeping the odd werewolves and vampires in line. It's also her first meeting with gorgeous, golden-haird Jace. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in an ordinary mundane like Clary? And how did she suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know...

Rating:

Character Development: 8/10
Originality: 9/10
Overall Enjoyment: 10/10
Ending: 7/10
Voice: 10/10
Setting: 10/10
Recommendation: 10/10
Total Score: 64/70

Grade: A+

Age Appropriate?

Cussing: Yep, there is some. Not that much, though.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: Short mention of teen use of the drug ecstasy, but nothing beyond that. One teen character gets dunk briefly, as well.
Sexual Content: Sexual and crude humor, etc.
Disturbing Images/Violence: A lot of head-chopping, stabbing, etc, but mostly not of human creatures.

Review:

Wow. This is quite a book. I admit I was skeptical when picking it up. The synopsis makes it sound...predictable. Normal. Ha! I have never been so wrong.

City of Bones is a thrilling, action-packed read. The characters are interesting and the plot is very well developed. This is a good guy/bad guy kind of story, but unlike how you would think because the villains aren't wholly evil, just twisted. And perhaps some of them aren't bad at all...

Written with a dark wit and a sarcastic sense of humor, I instantly fell in love with it. At first, I disliked Clary, for she seemed childish and stupid. But that faded quickly, and I have come to love her. And Jace--don't even get me started on Jace. He's mysterious and sexy and hilarious, but made all the more endearing by the fact that he isn't perfect. He's as human as Clary, and that makes for a much more realistic relationship.

Cassandra Clare really has created a hair-raising, dramatic, spine-tingling thrill ride of a book. It will keep you up late at night, make you laugh, make you cry, freak the heck out of you--and all of it leads up to a hugely massive twist that will make you scream in shock!! If you've waited this long to read it, get going!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Vampires Assistant Movie Giveaway

Two winners will receive:
-Cirque du Freak book Set
-Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant Locker Mirror

Shipping Guidelines: The Vampire’s Assistant giveaway is open to legal US residents who are at least 13 years of age as of October 1st. Prizing is only available to United States mailing address only. (International readers can enter if they have a friend in the States who can accept their prizes by mail.)

You must complete two tasks to be entered:
-Vote on the poll at the bottom of this post
-Leave a comment with an email

This giveaway will end on October 27, 2009.

DETAILS ON THE BOOK RELEASE:

THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT and Other Tales from the Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan
3 Titles: A LIVING NIGHTMARE * THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT * TUNNELS OF BLOOD

Do you love to be scared? Then don't miss the terrifying adventure that begins when Darren and his best friend, Steve, get tickets to the CIRQUE DU FREAK, a wonderfully bizarre and creepy freak show. Brace yourself for thrills and chills as the boys witness a parade of grotesque creatures and face their deepest fears by entering the darkest world of the vampire. In the blood-curdling tradition of Anne Rice and Stephen King, CIRQUE DU FREAK will have you shrieking for the next horror show!

FILM SYNOPSIS:
In theaters October 23rd Cirque Du Freak:
The Vampire’s Assistant, based on the popular series of books by Darren Shan, is a fantasy-adventure about a teenager who unknowingly breaks a 200-year-old truce between two warring factions of vampires. Pulled into a fantastic life of misunderstood sideshow freaks and grotesque creatures of the night, one teen will vanish from the safety of a boring existence and fulfill his destiny in a place drawn from nightmares.

The Vampire's Assistant Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/TheVampiresAssistant
THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE:http://vampiresassistant.net/

CIRQUE DU FREAK has been rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13) for sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language.

TRAILER:

VOTE:





Sunday, October 11, 2009

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Synopsis:

BEFORE.

Miles "Pudge" Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole existence has been one long nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the Great Perhaps (Francois Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

AFTER.

Nothing is ever the same.

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality: 10/10
Overall Enjoyment: 10/10
Ending: 10/10
Voice: 10/10
Setting: 10/10
Recommendation: 10/10
Total Score: 70/70*
(*NOTE: as I'm considering each category, I'm shaking my head in awed exasperation, because John Green really does deserve these scores for this masterpiece of a novel; I admire him.)


Grade: A+



Age Appropriate?

Cussing: Very frequent throughout.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: A lot of teen smoking and drinking. Talks about drug use.
Sexual Content: A lot of talk and narration/discussion and speculation; some graphic imagery; contains one scene of oral sex.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Some discussion of child abuse.

Review:

Such a brilliantly crafted novel in the style I have come to associate exclusively with John Green--quirky, philosophical, and deeply meaningful. Again, he displays his passion for the bizarre and the slightly messed-up. With an illustrious cast of characters who are delightfully badass even in their nerdiness, Green tells a massively cathartic story of loss, and grief, and acceptance.

Through the endlessly fascinating Alaska Young, along with the tender narration of Pudge Halter, a story emerges that is both terribly tragic and wonderfully uplifting. Love, friendship, youth--these things are important, and Green has a way of showing this through writing that can make even the most mundane things sound poetic.

Wow, what a beautiful, carefully wrought plot line. I admire John Green forever for his work here, for the perfect build-up, for the surprising "after" that is a shock even if I was half expecting it. And, naturally, for the ending, a flawless conclusion to an important book, one that anyone should read who has ever asked themselves "How do I escape from this labyrinth of suffering?" or pursued the Great Perhaps.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Witch from the Sea by Lisa Jensen

Synopsis:

In 1823, Tory Lightfoot runs away from Boston's soul-stifling Worthen Academy for Women, seeking freedom that she knows she'll never find there - only to be captured by pirates! She quickly takes to the life of an outlaw, joining the buccaneers as they plunder ships and dodge the pirate-hunting American "West India Squadron." But it is her heart that tests her character and ability to survive. First there is Matt, a handsome gentleman's-son-turned-pirate out to prove himself on his own terms. There's also Jack, her mentor, who reluctantly helps her adapt to the brigand's life.

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originaliy: 8/10
Overall Enjoyment: 10/10
Ending: 10/10
Voice: 10/10
Setting: 9/10
Recommendation: 9/10
Total Score: 66/70

Grade: A+

Age Appropriate?

Cussing: Frequent throughout, though no extremely bad words.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: Quite a bit of drinking, drunkedness, and alcoholism. But it didn't play a very big part of the story.
Sexual Content: For mature audiences only. Several very detailed/graphic scenes, lots of ribald talk and such, detailed accounts of nudity, both male and female, and many mentions of whoring and rape.
Disturbing images/Violence: Relatively little violence for a pirate book. Just your average beatings and combat.

Review:

I am in love with this book.

No, seriously. It was awesome. Such an adventure, it was, full of romance and piracy and danger in the most stimulating, brilliant way possible! The author writes with a deep respect for all people--white, black, Spanish--and a feminist voice. Her seafaring knowledge was astounding, though the writing was not so full of marine terms that it took away from the beautiful flow of the voice.

Tory was a character whose strength, determination, and tenacity I envy. She truly is a woman to be reckoned with. Her decisions, whether wise or not, are nothing if not believable. And the pirates--wow. Each one is unique, a fully developed character, and each has their own essential role in the plot. While the romance takes a while to develop, don't give up! It is most certainly worth it in the end. :-)

The most powerful part of this novel is most definitely the truth with which it was written. Adventure and romance are one thing, but the emotion-provoking prose contained in these pages is an altogether different story. If you crave an epic journey on the high seas full of every kind of historical woe imaginable, pick up this book, where every page is imbibed with danger, suspense, and excitement!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interview with Author Cyn Balog

author of FAIRY TALE and the upcoming book SLEEPLESS (2010)


(click on the pics to learn more!)

Here is the INTERVIEW:

You say you were an almost entirely silent child. What affect did this have on your writing?

Yeah, I barely spoke at all when I was a kid, I was so shy. I found that I'd much rather stay inside, writing, than running around playing freeze tag and red rover with the other kids. So I got absolutely none of the fresh air that experts tell you is so important for a growing child, but what I did was spend a lot of time learning the craft of writing. I wrote book after book as a kid, just the things that I liked to read, so I started with picture books and then graduated into mid-grades, and then YA novels. I experimented with all sorts of voices. None of them were publishable, sadly. I didn't have any mentors in school who inspired me to write, so I really just learned everything on my own. I think those silent years, the years I spent inside, writing, were very important in helping shape who I am today as a writer.

Did the novel you wrote when you were fifteen become anything you have published or might publish in the future?

I wrote this novel when I was 15 that was called DEADLY SECRETS. It was my first real attempt at a full-length YA novel, but reading it over now, it's pretty hilarious. A mother lets her three young kids go and move into a house that was left abandoned when their grandparents died. She does this because she's too busy to go with them, and despite the fact that she knows the grandparents were murdered in the house and the murderer never found. Strangely enough, the murderer is the next-door neighbor, who still lives next door, and Duh Duh Duhhhhhh... turns his sights on the three kids!!!! So no, it will never be published. Ever.

Have you always wanted to be writer?

Oh yeah, ever since I knew how to write. I didn't even really know there was a profession called "writer"; I just did it because I thought that was what everybody did. And I liked to read, so I wrote the stories I would want to read.

How have your various interesting jobs influenced your writing?

None of the jobs I've had since graduating from college have influenced my writing, because they're pretty boring, cubicle jobs. Well, maybe in being so boring they made me eager to get home and do something interesting... writing! The ones I've had as a teen have become great fodder for my novels, though. My first job was working at the Park Bakery in Seaside Park, and one of my upcoming novels is set in a similar bakery.

Why did you decide to get a degree in Communications, and how did that translate into becoming an author?

Not at all. Communication is the degree you get when you go to college and don't know what to major in, sadly. Because everyone communicates, and I can't say that my degree makes me really good at it. It's like going to college to get a degree in Breathing or Eating.

What did it feel like when you realized you were going to be published?

I think in the moment right after I got the call, I flashed back to when I was 5 years old, sitting in my bedroom, writing stories, dreaming that one day my books would be bound and on bookshelves. I just couldn't believe that dream, after so many years, was about to come true. The first people I called were my parents because they always had though of me as "the writer" and they knew how much it meant to me. I was sobbing, and my parents were like, "Why are you crying then?" and I had to explain that it was not because I was sad, it was because I was so happy!

Why is Cinderella your favorite fairy tale?

Before I got married my first name with my maiden name sounded a lot like Cinderella, so a lot of people called me that. And that was the first VHS tape I ever bought.

Is there any meaning behind the names you chose for your characters?

Hmmmm... a few of them. The last name "Sparks" is because she is a psychic and feisty and it just seemed right for her. I chose Pip Merriweather's last name as a cross between Great Expectations and the feisty little good fairy in Sleeping Beauty.

What do you love most to write about, for example, have you always been drawn to the supernatural and fairy stories?

I have tried writing just about everything, and really, writing paranormals is something I just fell into. FAIRY TALE started as a love triangle with no fairy element at all, but obviously, it needed something. When I was writing FAIRY TALE, I was surprised at how easy it was-- it just wrote itself. So I discovered that I have an abundance of interesting paranormal ideas that I can't wait to explore. I like putting ordinary teens in extraordinary circumstances.

Are any of your characters like you at all?

One of the great things about being a writer is that you get to live vicariously through your characters. So they might be the me I wish I could be. :)

CYN BALOG was interviewed by READING ROCKS on October 6th, 2009.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor (with illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo)

Synopsis:

A girl who's always lived in the shadows finds herself pursued by the unbelievably attractive new boy at school, who may or may not be the death of her. Another girl grows up mute because of a curse placed on her by a vindictive spirit, and later must decide whether to utter her first words to the boy she loves and risk killing everyone who hears her if the curse is real. And a third girl discovers that the real reason for her transient life with her mother has to do with belonging--literally belonging--to another world entirely, full of dreaded creatures who can transform into animals, and whose queen keeps little girls as personal pets until they grow to childbearing age.

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality: 10/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 8/10
Voice: 10/10
Setting: 7/10
Recommendation: 8/10
Total Score: 60/70

Grade: A (but very, veerrrryyy close to an A+!)

Age Appropriate? (Rated R)

Cussing: Part One: Quite a bit in parts, but not consistent throughout and not very bad words. Parts Two and Three: None.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: Part One: Teen smoking. Parts Two and Three: None.
Sexual Content: Part One: Some crude narration. Part Two: One kinda-sorta scene, but it wasn't at all explicit. Part Three: BEWARE - some very disturbing things in this area - forced child "breeding" and then your average discussion/speculation/etc
Disturbing Content: Part One: a few bloody or gory images. Part Two: War-time images, but not too bad. Part Three: child pregnancy and abuse and some other unexplainable things...but watch out in this story.

Review:

What a ride! Lips Touch Three Times is a collection of three topsy-turvy tales that will leave your head spinning! Laini Taylor deserves a round of applause for this strange book, with such imagination and smooth writing. With three seemingly unrelated stories (are they unrelated...? Hmmm) she weaves a bizarrely touching novel that will at once delight, horrify, and confuse you, but will be impossible to put down!

As each story is punctuated by beautiful, mysterious drawings that tell a story of their own, it is hard not to be intrigued from the very start. The medley of superstitions, historical fact, religious belief, and ancient language present throughout the novel add an element of mystique, of curiousity. The variation in characters and the plots of the individual stories was fascinating--you will never ceased to be surprised!

Now, Part One: This one was probably my least favorite of the three. Set in modern times, the main character is an annoying girl with a miserable life. However, the build-up to the end, and the twist, is wonderfully executed.

Part Two: I think this one was my favorite. Set in the World War II era, Ana was my favorite of the heroines. Her plight was just fascinating, and the added ingredients of India and an Indian Hell that was unlike anything I'd ever heard of--well, it made for a fantastic story. The most awe-inspiring part of this particular tale, though, was the intense detail involved in characterizing Ana. How easy can it be to create a character who is silent all her life because of the deadly power of her beautiful voice? What motivates such a character? Well, today, I found out. Taylor captured her perfectly, and it was so believable as to be almost scary.

Part Three: Wow. An intense concluding story. This one is much more mature than the others, and it has a darker, more serious feel to it. We come to know a greater variety of the characters on a much deeper level here than we did in any of the other parts. One of the main differences here is that the story hardly forcuses on the heroine at all--it's mostly about everyone involved, from the girl to her mother to the Queen and Mihai. It's a love story on so many levels, but it's also a strange fairy-tale that is so far from being fairy-tale-ish that it's almost wrong to call it that. The story line is definitely its strong point, and believe me, it was spellbinding. Wow. Shiver, shiver, shiver!!!

Overall, it was quite an incredible journey. The themes and thin threads that brought the three stories together in a beautiful, complimentary way were certainly an integral part of it. Each story is so distant from the others, so unique, yet they fit comfortably together between in the pages of the same book. If you're looking for some classic romance here--look again. If you want some not-too-pretty trippiness with a strange mixture of elements, well then, this is your book!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fire by Kristin Cashore (AGAIN!)

This book will be available October 5th, 2009.

This review was originally posted in April, but to celebrate the upcoming release of FIRE, we have decided to repost it!


Summary:

It is not a perfect time in the Dells.

Young King Nash clings to the throne, while rebel lords, in the north and south, build armies to unseat him. War is coming. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves.

This is where Fire lives, a girl whose startling appearance is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.

Everyone...except Prince Brigan.

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10!!!

Originality: 10/10!!!

Overall Enjoyment: 12/10!!! (Not joking. If I could, I would give it a 324/10)

Voice: 10/10!!!

Ending: 10/10!

Recommendation: 10/10!!!!!!

Total Score: 61/60

Grade: A++

Age Apropriate?

Cussing: No

Drugs, Alcohol, etc: Some drug references, nothing too severe, and there is drinking, but not offensively

Sexual Content: Yes. Several scenes. Nothing too graphic. Very mature. And many mentions of rape.

Review: This book is a prequel to one of my favorite books of all time--Cashore's Graceling. I had high expectations for this book from the moment I first discovered it, and let me say this: my expectations have never been so wildly surpassed.

Fire evoked such raw emotion in me that I was astonished at myself. I have never been so empathetic to a character as I was to Fire, the beautiful and cursed girl whose story is thought-provoking and deeply moving. Cashore's writing is natural and hypnotic, with the kind of perfect, earthly voice that I find myself unconsciously using for days afterward. Her imagery is clear and easy to create mentally, thus making the story as a whole more intimate and believable.

The Dells, for me, are as real as the Seven Kingdoms of Graceling, or the factual countries of today. All of them have cruelty, corruption, politics, and war as well as beauty, peace, and humanity.

In both of Cashore's books, she explores the complications, joys, and pains of love, providing situations and feelings that are far from perfect, and so heartfelt and human. Fire is a welcome contrast to Graceling in this way, although the raw passion and purity of love is equal in both novels. Also in Fire, Cashore furthers her exploration of the human mind and its strength that she began in Graceling, giving the reader an amazing insight into humanity as a whole. She also repeats the theme of the exploitation of women, magnified in Fire to a major point of focus.

But aside from these more academic aspects, Fire is truly an amazing piece of literature. A happy, welcome addiction that I hardly realized I had refused to let go of until long after I had finished. It was an experience that both traumatized and refreshed me, and I will not soon forget it. Trust me on this, readers--Kristin Cashore is an artist of a higher caliber.



FIRE is the prequel to GRACELING, both are equally magnificent and can be read in either order.

Here's a look at GRACELING:

Synopsis:

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

She never expects to fall in love with beautiful Prince Po.

She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.

Here is the book trailer for GRACELING:


There is also a sequel to GRACELING in writing called BITTERBLUE. It takes place 6 years after GRACELING, and yes, Bitterblue is the protagonist.

You can visit Kristin Cashore's blog here.

Unclaimed Heart by Kim Wilkins

Synopsis:

In 18th century Britain, what a young lady wants isn't always what she gets--unless she's willing to pay a price.

Constance has it all--except the one ting she wants most: her mother. So she sneaks aboard her father's merchant ship, defying all rules and--more importantly--betraying her father's invaluable trust. What she doesn't expect to find is Alexandre, a handsome stowaway with a sinister past.

An irresistible force draws Constance to Alexandre, despite her attempts to tear herself away. Loving him would be scandal, but Constance is bound to Alexandre by more that passion; the valuable pearl she hides for him represents his only chance at freedom.

Alexandre doesn't just lay claim to Constance's heart. He's also the one person who can solve the mystery behind her mother's disappearance.

Rating:

Character Development: 8/10
Originality: 6/10
Overall Enjoyment: 9/10
Ending: 9/10
Voice: 10/10
Setting: 10/10
Recommendation: 9/10
Total Score: 61/70

Grade: A+

Age Appropriate?

Cussing: None.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: A few drinking scenes, but not unappropriate.
Sexual Content: Maybe just a little bit of speculation...?
Disturbing Images/Violence: One brief scene of child abuse.

Review:

I think I've discovered that I really enjoy pirate/seafaring love stories. Unclaimed Heart was a satisfying, easy read full of adventure and romance. I was afraid that it would be cheesy, like so many other similar stories, but it definitely was not. The characters were likable and believable, and Constance and Alexandre's relationship was sweet and well-developed.

Kim Wilkins writes with exciting foreshadowing and many twists of plot that keeps this story unique and alive. The alternating perspective of all the major characters gives it layers and depth and understanding. It was nice to get to know characters who were not the two main lovers. The careful construction of each of them made it not only plausible, but also made it ring true to me.

Full of heightened emotion, dazzling ocean settings, and startling romance, Unclaimed Heart is a lovely read for fans of historical nautical love stories.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Trailers Galore

Persnally, I love watching book trailers. So here's for your viewing pleasure, and hopefully to introduce you to some books you didn't know about:
LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfield

NEED by Carrie Jones

SONG OF THE SPARROW by Lisa Ann Sandell


LIPS TOUCH THREE TIMES by Laini Taylor

CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER by Michelle Moran

The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner

Synopsis:

As the French Revolution descends into nightmare, Yann Margoza, a mysterious and extraordinary practitioner of magic, uses his skills to hlep spirit refugees out of France. If he fails, their fates lie under the blade of the guillotine. But the question of Yann's true identity and the kidnapping of his true love, Sido, expose him to dangers that threaten to destroy him. With Paris on the verge of collapse, Yann must summon all his strength and courage to rescue his beloved Sido and outwit the devil's own--this time for good.

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality: 10/10
Overall Enjoyment: 10/10
Ending: 10/10
Voice: 9/10
Setting: 10/10
Recommendation: 9/10
Total Score: 68/70

Grade: A+

Age Appropriate?

Cussing: Small amount.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: Some drinking and drunkenness.
Sexual Content: Some narration/speculation and one implied scene.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Many, many murders via guillotine and other...ahem...methods. Some violence.

Review:

I loved The Red Necklace, but this sequel was even more exciting, even more invigorating, even more romantic and adventurous and thrilling! Gardner's omniscient third-person narrative is as enthralling and not-quite-fairy-tail-ish as the prequel. The Silver Blade, which follows the story of Yann, is altogether more dark and hopeless, yet the beloved characters are stronger and more grown-up. Believe me, even if you didn't particularly like The Red Necklace, you will love The Silver Blade.

Yann is such a great character in this book--he's assured and mysterious and brave. His love for Sido is heart-melting and alive in this installment, more so than it ever was in the previous one. They encounter obstacles--as every good pair of lovers must--that strengthens their bond. In addition to this, there were many surprising and bone-chilling twists and turns to the well-developed plot line that completely disillusioned me about the horrors of the French Revolution.

Sally Gardner has once again created a topsy-turvy historical piece with a brilliant design and a dark setting. The Silver Blade will make you shiver, chill, and tingle from the beginning to the end!