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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

There are some things you can’t leave behind…

A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

Emily Murdoch's If You Find Me is unique in that it has a slow burning intensity that pulls the reader in until they've completely fallen in love with Carey and Jenessa without even realizing it was happening.

If You Find Me tells the heartbreaking story of Carey and her little sister, Jenessa, who have been kept away from people and civilization - and often completely alone in the wilderness - by their addict mother. The girls often fend for themselves, as their mother regularly disappears for long stretches of time, but, as the novel opens, they're nearing the end of their food stores and Carey is starting to worry about what will happen if their mother doesn't reappear. Things take a turn when a social worker and Carey's estranged father find the girls, as directed in a letter by Carey's mother, and take them back to live with him. The girls are thankful that they're still together and that they're warm and fed, but things are still complicated. Jenessa still refuses to speak (she's been selectively mute since something happened to the girls during their time in the wilderness) and Carey finds that, while she isn't behind academically, socially she's an entirely different wavelength from her peers. She's either too mature or too naive and she often struggles to adjust to the new world she's so suddenly entered.

Carey and Jenessa are two of my absolute favorite characters. They felt so real to me that I often forgot that they weren't real people. I was so caught up in their story that I found myself telling anyone who would listen about what was happening to them as the story progressed and I often referred to them as if they were real people. 

I loved Carey's complexity. I think part of the reason that she felt so realistic was that she was complicated and unsure and often contradicted herself, as I imagine someone who grew up like she did would. At different points in the novel, she either hated, felt love for, or missed her mother. As an outside observer, I had no love for Carey's mother and what she put the girls through, but I could definitely see how things wouldn't be so easily black and white for Carey. After all, though she knew on an intellectual level that what her mother did was wrong, it's often extremely difficult for an individual, especially a young person, to completely hate their parent, especially when that parent is one of the only people they've ever had contact with.

I really enjoyed the novel's secondary characters as well, especially Carey's father. He's definitely an important character, but he never really says much nor does Carey talk about him extensively, but every time he is mentioned or appears in the book, the passage had weight and meaning. 

Even if I hadn't been tied to the novel by my love of Carey and her sister, the mystery element - which is directly tied to Jenessa's selective mutism - would have made it hard for me to set If You Find Me aside. I had to know what happened to the girls that had affected their lives so deeply, especially when their lives were already so difficult and unusual. I felt that I had to know, yet I was afraid to find out because I was so emotionally invested in the characters.

Lastly, I have to mention the romantic aspects of this novel. It might seem that their is no place for romance in If You Find Me next to the novel's premise and emotional weight, but that isn't the case. The romance in this novel isn't at all random or an attempt to appease or attract romance readers - it has meaning and fits beautifully. 

I highly recommend Murdoch's If You Find Me and will definitely be reading her future offerings. This is a book that I'll no doubt be constantly pushing on my fellow readers!

St. Martin's Griffin, March 2013, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781250021526, 256 pgs.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Defiance by C.J. Redwine

Defiance by C. J. Redwine is rich postapocalyptic YA fantasy perfect for fans of Graceling and Tamora Pierce.

While the other girls in the walled city-state of Baalboden learn to sew and dance, Rachel Adams learns to track and hunt. While they bend like reeds to the will of their male Protectors, she uses hers for sparring practice.

When Rachel's father fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the city's brutal Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector: her father's apprentice, Logan--the boy she declared her love to and who turned her down two years before. Left with nothing but fierce belief in her father's survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can't be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

Though I really wanted to like Defiance - especially after falling in love with that gorgeous cover - I was ultimately disappointed by this debut offering from C.J. Redwine.

For me, the lack of world building in Defiance was the leading cause of my negative feelings. There are plenty of fantasy books that have gotten away with successfully with avoiding much world building (Poison by Bridget Zinn comes to mind), but I felt there were too many events and motivations in Defiance that didn't make sense due to the lack of world building. Things simply happened with no explanation... things that didn't seem to fit the other information I'd already been given or the world I thought was taking shape and I had no explanation as to why these things were possible. The setting in Defiance seems pretty old-fashioned, perhaps bordering medieval, yet Rachel and James have access to some rather advanced technology... technology that no body else seemed to have access to. 

Additionally, the characters seemed to get quite worked up things - everything was very dramatic - but I couldn't help but think they were overacting or feel that the solutions were a bit too simple for how dire things were supposed to be.

I'm not against violence in YA by any means because I find that it usually has a point, but the violence in Defiance sometimes bordered on gratuitous. I really didn't understand Rachel's willingness to kill anything and anyone that stood in her way. She seemed to have so much anger all the time and truly could not see any other solution to her problems other than aggression. This was very odd to me, especially when I felt that there were definitely other options to explore. Instead of coming across as headstrong and determined, she came across as rather daft. I wanted her to think with her head, not with her fists!

Though I didn't particularly like Rachel's violent tendencies, I did appreciate that Redwine wasn't afraid to kill off characters when it benefited the plot. There are a couple characters that I really liked and was sad to see go, but I could see the necessity of their deaths. 

Defiance didn't work for me, but I've read multiple positive reviews, so, if you're intrigued by the premise and can overlook the gaps in the world building, I think it could be worth a read. Readers who are concerned with world building and a prefer more complex fantasy worlds, however, would be better off reading something by Juliet Marillier, Kristin Cashore, Alexandra Bracken, or Tamora Pierce.

Balzer & Bray, August 2012, Hardcover, ISBN:9780062117182, 403 pgs.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

On Writing and Responding to Negative Reviews

I really, really dislike writing negative reviews. One of the main reasons I write The Hiding Spot is to connect readers to books and to encourage reading, so writing a negative review always feels like I'm doing the opposite. As a book blogger, one of the greatest feelings ever is the rush of happiness when a reader leaves a comment saying that, after reading my review, they bought or read the book themselves. These comments make me feel like I'm actually achieving my goal, which is fantastic! On the other hand, one of the worst things to see, on my blog, someone else's blog, or on GoodReads is a comment saying "Thanks for your review, I'll definitely be avoiding this book now!" I've been thinking a lot about whether I should write reviews for books I didn't enjoy or couldn't bring myself to finish and how frustrating it can be to see a negative review of a book I personally loved (and the comments that follow) and I realized a few things:

On Writing Negative Reviews
Luckily, I don't often come across books that I strongly dislike. To me, this isn't because I'm not discerning or picky about what I read, it's more that I've become better at selecting books that fit my reading personality, but more on that later. Ultimately, I've decided that if I dislike a book, even if I wasn't able to finish it completely, I'll still review it. 
Here's why: negative reviews have value too. I'm not talking about the reviews that bash a book or attack the author or don't give constructive and meaningful reasons as to why the reviewer didn't like the book - I find little value in these reviews - but a well written review, whether it is positive or negative, is always worth it. 
When I write a negative review, I'm careful to explain why it didn't work for me. I hope, that by being clear about why I didn't personally enjoy the book, those who read my reviews will gain something from it. For example, maybe the issues I had with the book wouldn't bother you as a reader and, therefore, you might still want to read it. In contrast, maybe the things that bothered me are also things that will make or break a book for you as well, so you'll pick up something else to read for the time being.  
The thing is, reviews are opinions. I don't ever want someone to read a negative review and  just blindly assume that they won't like the book either. Be an informed reader - do some research and read a couple reviews. If you took the time to read a negative review I'm sure you have time to read a few positive reviews as well. I hate the idea that someone might miss out on a book that they might have loved just because of a negative review. 
Another, perhaps overlooked consequence of negative reviews, is, as I mentioned earlier, reading and reviewing more books you actually enjoy. Part of the reason that I end up picking so many books I do enjoy is because I read so many reviews, both good and bad. If I picked up every book based on how good the jacket description sounds, I'd probably end up reading many more books that don't fit my reading personality, but reading reviews helps me narrow down my reading list. If I didn't do this and ended up reading more of these ill-fitting books I would, of course, feel somewhat obligated to write a review, which would be negative. I write so many positive reviews because I so rarely end up reading books I don't like. 
On Responding to Negative Reviews
I cannot tell you how many times I've read a negative review of a book I love or the comments that follow and ended up disappointed and defensive of said book. I've found that the best way (and really the only way) to respond to negative reviews of a book you love is to write a positive review. It is completely pointless to get upset, comment that the review/er is wrong, etc. The review is out there and there will always be people who don't think your favorite books is all that great, plus they're as entitled to their negative opinion as you are to your positive one. 
If there's a point in the negative review that you particularly disagree with or felt differently about, use it to your advantage. Addressing that aspect of the story (and explaining why you loved it) is a great way to differentiate and add detail to your review. I'm not at all telling you to reference or call this negative review, just remember to incorporate that you liked that aspect of the novel in your own review. I've done this many times and it's these reviews that seem to garner the most comments and readers... a win/win! 
I know that negative reviews can be scary, make reviewers feel guilty, or upset authors, but there will never not be negative reviews or opinions about even the best books. Instead of dwelling on the upsetting things surrounding these reviews, I'm trying to focus on the positive consequences... and, though I'm obviously biased, I think you should too!
As a blogger and/or author, what's your opinion regarding negative reviews?

Review: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

In this gripping exploration of a futuristic afterlife, a teen discovers that death is just the beginning.

Since her untimely death the day before her eighteenth birthday, Felicia Ward has been trapped in Level 2, a stark white afterlife located between our world and the next. Along with her fellow drones, Felicia passes the endless hours reliving memories of her time on Earth and mourning what she’s lost-family, friends, and Neil, the boy she loved.

Then a girl in a neighboring chamber is found dead, and nobody but Felicia recalls that she existed in the first place. When Julian-a dangerously charming guy Felicia knew in life-comes to offer Felicia a way out, Felicia learns the truth: If she joins the rebellion to overthrow the Morati, the angel guardians of Level 2, she can be with Neil again.

Suspended between Heaven and Earth, Felicia finds herself at the center of an age-old struggle between good and evil. As memories from her life come back to haunt her, and as the Morati hunt her down, Felicia will discover it’s not just her own redemption at stake… but the salvation of all mankind.

My feelings about Lenore Appelhans' Level 2 are divided... although I felt like this first book in The Memory Chronicles was interesting (enough so that I'll be reading the second book), I also felt that the pace was sometimes too slow or that nothing much was actually happening.

Level 2 focuses on Felicia, who is, as far as she knows, dead and resides in hive-like structure populated by countless more drones (as these dead call themselves) who rarely interact, instead spending their days reliving their memories and the memories of the other drones. The memories are accessed via a pod and are categorized with tags, comparable to the shelf tagging system on GoodReads. In the hives, memories are both the currency and the product. Felicia and her fellow drones have no idea how they've come to be in this place after their deaths, nor do they know what their purpose is... and no one seems all that driven to find any answers.

All this changes, however, when Julian, a boy from Felicia's life, shows up in her hive. It's clear to the reader that Felicia and Julian's past is complicated - and perhaps not all that positive - but Felicia leaves with him after he promises to reunite her with her boyfriend, Neil, who she misses terribly and thinks of constantly. While the readers know very little about Julian, they are well aware of how Felicia feels for Neil, as her favorite and most accessed memories all feature Neil.

I really liked how Appelhans used the memories and tagging system to give the reader more information about Felicia. I felt this was a really creative execution of "show not tell" and allowed the author to give character history and detail while simultaneously explaining the world of Level 2

One of the only reasons that I didn't love, love Level 2 was the pacing. As I read, I sometimes felt like there was detail where it wasn't necessary. I could be remembering incorrectly, but I really felt that there were too many scenes of Julian and Felicia running and fleeing and describing the many hives they passed. There were times when I thought to myself: when is something going to happen?? 

Other than the pacing, I found Level 2 really interesting. I'm especially curious about Julian, who Felicia appears to think so little of, but I can't help but wonder about. Appelhans did a great job of giving just enough information about characters and events that the reader is left curious and hungry for more detail, so I'm hoping the second book answers some of my questions!

Simon & Schuster BFYR, January 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:9781442441859, 281 pgs.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Top Ten Book Covers of Books I've Read

This week's topic: Top Ten Book Covers of Books I've Read

This week's topic is super fun... I know everyone always says "don't judge a book by its cover," but it's okay if it's a positive judgment, right?? Since I feel most of these covers speak for themselves, I'm not really going to offer much commentary on this post, but I'm curious to hear what you think of my picks! 

Link your TTT post in the comments and I'll stop by your blog as well!

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the fabulous blog The Broke and the Bookish!

1. Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night. 

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. 

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
3. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn't help it - Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn't fit anywhere else. 

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it's never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack's heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it's up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she's read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn't the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

4. The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

It starts with an itch you just can't shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you'll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in. 
And then you're dead.
When sixteen-year-old Kaelyn lets her best friend leave for school without saying goodbye, she never dreams that she might not see him again. But then a strange virus begins to sweep through her small island community, infecting young and old alike. As the dead pile up, the government quarantines the island: no one can leave, and no one can come back.
Those still healthy must fight for the island’s dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of friends and family, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save the people she holds dearest.
Because how will she go on if there isn't?
Poignant and dizzying, The Way We Fall is the heart-wrenching story of one girl's bravery and unbeatable spirit as she challenges not just her fears, but her sense of what makes life worth living.

5. Where the Truth Lies by Jessica Warman

On the surface, Emily Meckler leads the perfect life. She has three best friends, two loving parents, and the ideal setup at the Connecticut prep school where her father is the headmaster. But Emily also suffers from devastating nightmares about fire and water, and nobody knows why. Then the enigmatic Del Sugar enters her life, and Emily is immediately swept away—but her passionate relationship with Del is just the first of many things that aren't quite what they seem in Emily's life. As the lies she's been told start to unravel, Emily must set out to discover the truth regarding her nightmare; on a journey that will lead her to question everything she thought she knew about love, family, and her own idyllic past.

This companion novel to Warman's critically acclaimed Breathless proves that sometimes the biggest lies are told to the people you love the most.

6. Reboot by Amy Tintera

Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).

Wren’s favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie is the worst she’s ever seen. As a 22, Callum Reyes is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he’s always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet there’s something about him she can’t ignore. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she’ll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows if she does, she’ll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum.

The perfect soldier is done taking orders.

7. A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler
Fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose has been hiding a secret. Her mother, a talented artist and art teacher, is slowly being consumed by schizophrenia, and Aura has been her sole caretaker ever since Aura's dad left them. Convinced that "creative" equals crazy, Aura shuns her own artistic talent. But as her mother sinks deeper into the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet draws Aura toward the depths of her imagination. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, Aura discovers that art, love, and family are profoundly linked—and together may offer an escape from her fears.

8. Freefall by Mindi Scott

How do you come back from the point of no return?

Seth McCoy was the last person to see his best friend Isaac alive, and the first to find him dead. It was just another night, just another party, just another time where Isaac drank too much and passed out on the lawn. Only this time, Isaac didn’t wake up.

Convinced that his own actions led to his friend’s death, Seth is torn between turning his life around . . . or losing himself completely.

Then he meets Rosetta: so beautiful and so different from everything and everyone he’s ever known. But Rosetta has secrets of her own, and Seth will soon realize he isn’t the only one who needs saving . . .
9. Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Your mother hollers that you’re going to miss the bus. She can see it coming down the street. You don’t stop and hug her and tell her you love her. You don’t thank her for being a good, kind, patient mother. Of course not—you launch yourself down the stairs and make a run for the corner.

Only, if it’s the last time you’ll ever see your mother, you sort of start to wish you’d stopped and did those things. Maybe even missed the bus.

But the bus was barreling down our street, so I ran.

Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong. 

In Emmy Laybourne’s action-packed debut novel, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.
10. This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bout of Books Wrap Up Post

Bout of Books

I'm fairly certain that Bout of Books 7.0 was the most productive readathon I've ever participated in, even if I didn't reach my goal of 12 books. I did end up finishing 7 books and even participated in one challenge, which is more than I've ever done before! It doesn't seem like much, but baby steps are better than no steps! :)

Books Read

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
Unremembered by Jessica Brody
The Frog Who Croaked by Jarret K. Krosoczka
Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle
Written in Blood by Anne Bishop
Rush by Eve Silver


Number of books I've read today: 2
Total number of books I've read: 2
Books: Second Chance Summer, Unremembered

Number of books I've read today: 2
Total number of books I've read: 4
Books: Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked, Wild Awake

Number of books I've read today: 1
Total number of books I've read: 5
Books: You Look Different in Real Life

Number of books I've read today: 0
Total number of books I've read: 5
Books: -

Number of books I've read today: 0
Total number of books I've read: 5
Books: -

Number of books I've read today: 1
Total number of books I've read: 6
Books: Written in Red (The Others #1)

Number of books I've read today: 1
Total number of books I've read: 7
Books: Rush

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Week in Review (1)

I've seen quite a few blogs doing a Weekly Roundup or other sorts of Sunday posts to wrap up their blogging weeks and I can't help but agree that it's a good idea. I'll be trying this type of post out for a couple of weeks and seeing if it's helpful and/or worthwhile. :)

This week was interesting... I didn't write near as many reviews as I normally do (because I was focusing on the Readathon) and I experimented with a few memes I've never done before. Yay for new things!

This Week

 GIVEAWAY Oh, the things my mom will do... by Marianne Richmond

READATHON GOALS & PROGRESS Partipated in the 7th Bout of Books Readathon 

CHALLENGE Bout of Books Challenge - Book Spine Poetry 

LIST Top Ten Books Dealing with Tough Subjects 

REVIEW Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier 

MEME Throwback Thursday featuring The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

MEME Favorite Summer Read featuring Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols 

BLOG TOUR The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy 

REVIEW Written in Red (Others Bk #1) by Anne Bishop 

Notable News
  • The Redhead Reviewer, Andrea, is Calling All Bloggers to participate in the Bookstore Bookblogger Connection. This project is a great way for book bloggers and book stores to work together to get good books into the hands of readers - now that's a worthy endeavor if I ever saw one!
  • This week I discovered the International Geek Girls Pen Pal Club (IGGPPC). Dedicated to "reviving the lost art of letter writing," this project pairs participants (pen pals) by age and interests. I love this idea because letter writing is awesome and who doesn't need another similarly geeky friend? I know I do! Pop over to the website and sign up to receive a pen pal or just to chat on the forums. 
  • My primary motivation for writing The Hiding Spot has always been to encourage people to read and connect them to books they might have otherwise overlooked - simply put, to make sure good books make it into the hands of readers. Because of this goal, I'm always on the look out for new places to post reviews and promote books. This week I stumbled upon BookLikes, a new-ish site where readers, reviewers, etc can set up blogs and share what they've read. I'm just starting to explore the site, but I like what I see so far!
  • In the last month, quite a lot has changed in my personal life. I quite both of my jobs, wrapped up the school semester, and moved back to my hometown in Northern Michigan. This week, I was offered two new jobs (thank goodness - I get antsy when I'm not working), one of which is at my local library. It's going to be an interesting experience working at the library where I spent so many hours when I was kid, but I'm super excited. Working with books and people has never felt like a job to me, so I'm so happy to be back where I feel I belong! 

Review: Written in Red (Others #1) by Anne Bishop

No one creates realms like New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop. Now in a thrilling new fantasy series, enter a world inhabited by the Others, unearthly entities—vampires and shape-shifters among them—who rule the Earth and whose prey are humans.

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

I've been a huge fan of Anne Bishop for years, starting from when I read the first three books in her Black Jewels series. Written in Blood, the first in her new Others series, has only deepened my love for her writing and storytelling.

All of the other books I've read by Bishop have had a fantasy vibe to them, but Written in Blood stands out, at least for me, as distinctly paranormal. Admittedly, I haven't read very much paranormal fiction - and most of that experience was with novels by Laurell K. Hamilton - but to me, paranormal fiction has always been synonymous with paranormal romance/erotica. While Written in Blood feels like it the series will eventually have some sexy bits, the reader never sees any and I never it never felt that the romantic threads were forced or overdone like I sometimes felt happened in other paranormal fiction I've read. Instead, the relationships in Bishop's novel - romantic or otherwise - develop organically and are quite refreshing.

I loved the variety of paranormal elements in Written in Blood. There are the standard shapeshifters and vampires, plus many more. I was especially intrigued by the characters that were "elemental." As their name implies, these characters control the elements... and turn out to be just as terrifying as the paranormal individuals that readers would traditionally assume should be feared. It was also great to see that the "standard" paranormal creatures in this book, like werewolves and vampires, were refreshed and had some interesting and unique abilities.

Adding to this book's charm is the main character and her mythology. The main character, Meg, is a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet. Simply put, blood prophets have prophetic visions when their skin is cut. Early on, the reader learns that Meg, like many other blood prophets, is considered property and her ability is used for profit. Meg, having escaped from her captors, has sought safety with the Others, who consider her in ways, kin  and in others, human (and therefore untrustworthy). I loved the interactions between Meg and the Others. It was interesting to see who accepted her right away and who did not (and, in addition, why the did or didn't).

I thoroughly enjoyed this paranormal offering from Bishop. The next book, Murder of Crows, isn't due out until 2014 (too long!!), so I'll have to get my Bishop writing and character fix by rereading other books (something I'm definitely looking forward to)!

NAL Trade, March 2013, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780451464965, 448 pgs.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy {Blog Tour & Giveaway}

The second League of Princes book, The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, has finally hit shelves, much to the joy of fans everywhere. Today at The Hiding Spot, I'm hosting a blog tour stop with more information about this hilarious sequel to The Hero's Guide to Saving the Kingdom and a chance to win your own copy of the book or a $200 gift card to the bookstore of your choice (SCORE!). Keep reading to meet Lord Rundark, one of the characters from Healy's books, find out more about the League of Princes books, and how to enter for your chance to win these great prizes!

Getting to Know Lord Rundark

Occupation: Warlord

Affiliation: Supreme Ruler of the Armies of Dar

Kingdom of Origin: Dar (which, being ruled by a warlord, is technically not a kingdom)

Current Residence: The burnt out, ransacked fortress of Dar’s previous warlord

Parentage: Unknown

Longtime Foe: Anyone who stands in his way

Likes: Death, destruction, power… Absolute POWER!

Dislikes: Laziness, cowardice, villains who don’t take their evil seriously

Signature Move: The Raging Backbreaker

Quote: “Pray that the armies of Dar do not pass through your town, for wherever I tread, I leave in my wake wagons reduced to splinters, houses burned to nothing but mere cinders, bottles of milk left uncapped and free to go sour in the warm air.” 

Little Known Fact: Likes ducklings. 

About the Book

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You remember them, don't you? They're the Princes Charming who finally got some credit after they stepped out of the shadows of their princesses - Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Briar Rose - to defeat an evil witch bent on destroying all their kingdoms. 
But alas, such fame and recognition only last so long. And when the princes discover that an object of great power might fall into any number of wrong hands, they are going to have to once again band together to stop it from happening - even if no one will ever know it was they who did it. 
Christopher Healy, author of the acclaimed The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, takes us back to the hilariously fractured fairy-tale world he created for another tale of medieval mischief. Magical gemstones, bladejaw eels, a mysterious Gray Phantom, and two maniacal warlords bent on world domination - it's all in a day's work for the League of Princes.

Upcoming Fun!

Twitter Chat: Join New York Times Bestselling author Marissa Meyer and Christopher Healy for a Twitter Chat on fractured fairy tales on Monday, June 3rd at 9pm ET. 
Hashtag #talesretold. There will be giveaways!

Win It! 

The first THREE entrants today will receive signed copies of THE HERO’S GUIDE TO STORMING THE CASTLE and EVERYONE who enters is eligible to win a $200 gift card to the bookstore of his or her choice. 

You will need this SECRET CODE to enter the giveaway: Prince Charming. 

Enter here.

Feature & Follow Friday (1)

I've never done any type of hop like this, but, since I'm doing the Bout of Books Readathon this week (and I'm not organized enough to have lots of posts done ahead of time), I figured this week is as a good a time as any to try out some new memes. Plus, since I just started using Networked Blogs, Bloglovin, and BookLikes and I've been out of the loop with the blogging community for awhile, I'd like to see what new blogs have popped up and what everyone's talking about! Yay for interactive memes like this one!! :)

Q. Schools out! What is your favorite Summer Reading book?

All Meg has ever wanted is to get away. Away from high school. Away from her backwater town. Away from her parents who seem determined to keep her imprisoned in their dead-end lives. But one crazy evening involving a dare and forbidden railroad tracks, she goes way too far...and almost doesn't make it back.
John made a choice to stay. To enforce the rules. To serve and protect. He has nothing but contempt for what he sees as childish rebellion, and he wants to teach Meg a lesson she won't soon forget. But Meg pushes him to the limit by questioning everything he learned at the police academy. And when he pushes back, demanding to know why she won't be tied down, they will drive each other to the edge -- and over....
A. Jennifer Echols' Going Too Far! I reread it every year, usually during the summer, because, no matter how many times I read it, I always fall in love with it all over again. John After, the book's love interest, makes me all too aware of why women love a man in uniform. He is seriously amazing... one of those good guys that make your heart beat just as fast as those dangerous bad boys that we all seem to like even though we know how bad they are for us. Don't get me wrong, I love Going Too Far for lots of reasons, but it's mostly because of John After... and I'm not ashamed to admit it! 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Throwback Thursday (1): The Looking Glass Wars

It’s the nature of book blogging to focus mainly on new releases, but there are thousands of great books out there that haven’t seen the “New Releases” shelf in years. We hope to be able to bring attention to some older titles that may not be at the top of the current bestseller list, but still deserve a spot in your To-Be-Read pile.

And a big thanks to Janita at Book Interrupted because I'd never heard of this meme before seeing it on her blog! :)

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Alyss of Wonderland?

When Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, must flee through the Pool of Tears to escape the murderous aunt Redd, she finds herself lost and alone in Victorian London. Befriended by an aspiring author named Lewis Carrol, Alyss tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Alyss trusts this author to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere will find her and bring her home. But he gets the story all wrong. He even spells her name incorrectly!

Fortunately, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan knows all too well the awful truth of Alyss' story and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may eventually battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

The Looking Glass Wars unabashedly challenges our Wonderland assumptions surrounding mad tea parties, grinning Cheshire cats, and a curious little blond girl to reveal an epic battle in the endless war for Imagination.
I've always loved Alice in Wonderland stories, but I've had even more Alice on the brain that usual since I heard that ABC's ONCE UPON A TIME is doing a Wonderland spin-off. The show, which starts in September, looks like it's going to be AMAZING. Well, judging from the trailer that is.

The first book in Frank Beddor's Alyss series, THE LOOKING GLASS WARS, was released in 2006. I first read it in 2009 and fell completely in love with the world and characters. This isn't the Wonderland Disney showed us. This Wonderland is full of much more sinister danger and evil and romance. I love, love, love these books. If you haven't read them, make time because it's definitely worth it!

Here's the ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND trailer that I mentioned above... SO GOOD.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill--a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk--Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec. 
During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death--but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban's release from Keldec's rule. Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.

Juliet Marillier has been one of my go-to favorites for epic fantasy for years, but this is my first experience with her YA marketed writing. Unsurprisingly, Shadowfell is just as strong as her adult fantasy titles; setting a high bar for other YA fantasy titles. There are only a small number of YA fantasy titles that I've been truly impressed by, often causing me to wonder if perhaps the YA genre isn't built to sustain the type of world building and epic scope that I've come to prefer after years of reading adult fantasy. Shadowfell completely proves this hypothesis false, while simultaneously making it very likely that I'll be even pickier and judgmental about future YA fantasy I choose to read. I haven't decided yet if this consequence is positive or negative...

Shadowfell centers around Neryn, who has lost her entire family and her home under the reign of the dark, violent King Keldec. Like her grandmother before her, Neryn is gifted with a canny skill, or magical ability, which is outlawed any where but in King Keldec's court, where he uses  individuals with magical ability to carry out his nefarious plots and evil deeds. Constantly fearing for her life and unable to trust anyone, not even the Good Folk who are, themselves, magical and persecuted by Keldec, Neryn sets out on a journey to find Shadowfell and the secret rebel group that resides there, though she can't be sure it even exists. The journey pushes Neryn to her limits and brings unexpected people - and creatures - into her life; individuals that teach her about trust, love, friendship, and, most importantly of all, who she truly is.

Like all good epic fantasy, Shadowfell's premise centers around the universal, recurring struggle of good versus evil. Though the reader never truly meets Keldec in Shadowfell, it's clear from Neryn's scrapes with his minions that he epitomizes evil. I'm really hoping to learn more about Keldec and his past in the next Shadowfell novel. As the reader learns in this first book, Neryn is a complex, layered character and I feel it's only fitting that the reader have clear understanding of her nemesis as well.

I've always had a soft spot for the romance in epic fantasy. These romantic plot lines are usually slow building and filled with tension and complications. I honestly feel that if the romantic relationship between characters in epic fantasy develops easily, the author is doing something wrong. Marillier's romance in particular has always been a favorite of mine, so I wasn't surprised by the hurdles and difficulties placed between Neryn and Flint, who is an obviously perfect match for Neryn. 

As the first novel in the Shadowfell trilogy, readers can expect quite a bit of world building and character development. For me, epic fantasy requires trust from the reader and a willingness to embark on a multiple book journey. There are slower sections of Shadowfell, but they are not, at least in my opinion, boring. These sections that are slow in action feature heavy character development, which is just as important as a high-paced action sequence.

I cannot recommend Shadowfell highly enough. Marillier is an extremely gifted storyteller and I'm always impressed by the depth and beauty of her writing. I have a strong suspicion Neryn and her journey will become one of my lasting favorites.

Random House, September 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780375869549, 410 pgs.