These Aren’t Your Disney Mermaids: Review of Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

Title: Lost Voices (Lost Voices Trilogy Book #1)

Author: Sarah Porter

Genre: YA fantasy

Where I Got It: Bought It

Score: 4 out of 5

This summer of big reading lists has gotten off to a good start. I ended the last couple days of finals week re-reading Chalice by Robin McKinley because I needed something short, light, and sweet to get me through grading.  Then I dove into The Hunger Games trilogy at the behest of my friend (which I reviewed here).  And now I’m beginning the long haul through all the books I’ve bought or received since the semester started.  Purely on a whim, I started with Lost Voices by Sarah Porter, which came out in July 2011 (but I didn’t buy it until it came out in paperback about a couple months ago), and which is the first in a forthcoming trilogy.

In Lost Voices, fourteen-year-old Luce is abused by her uncle and ignored by her classmates and other adults in the little town in Alaska she has been stuck in since her father (who was a thief, but still a good father), died in a shipwreck.  Finally, her heart grown cold by her uncle’s treatment, beaten and left for dead on a cliff over the sea, Luce falls into the water and transforms into a mermaid.  There she is gathered in by a tribe of mermaids, all young girls who were abused, abandoned, or unloved by the adults who were supposed to care for them, including their queen Catarina – the most beautiful and best singer of the tribe.  Luce loves being a mermaid, loves the beauty and the freedom and the joy of it, but she is tortured by the fact that mermaids feel a compulsion to sing to ships, causing them to wreck and then killing all those on board.  She loves her new-found voice, but she doesn’t want to use it to murder humans, no matter how badly they may have treated her and others like her.  As she struggles with this, things grow increasingly more tense and violent among the tribe, loyalties are questioned, and Luce must make choices about what she will follow: the rules of the tribe, or her own conscience.

What I Liked:

This was a very enjoyable book, and a fast read.  The premise is classic: a cross between the mermaid myth and the siren myth, in which beautiful unearthly mermaid-girls sing to men on passing ships and lead them to their deaths.  These mermaids are not the innocent, peaceful creatures from The Little Mermaid.  They are beautiful and unearthly, but they are also angry, bitter, and often violent.  The moral dilemma of the story is pretty gruesome, though Porter does not dwell in descriptions of gore or death (this is a YA novel after all), and the fact that even the main character participates in several of these murders makes the morality even more complicated and uncomfortable.

But Porter balances these elements fairly well in the character of Luce who realizes what she is doing is wrong but feels a physical compulsion to participate, and is desperate for some way to fight it.  And I like Luce as a character.  She’s sweet and intelligent, and she is at heart still a good person despite the things she does.  She’s also very naïve, and is pretty slow on the uptake when things start to go seriously south and others are plotting against her.  It was frustrating, because the reader sees it all coming and she never does, but it was also a believable trait in a girl who is barely fourteen, and did not have the best socialization before she became a mermaid, let alone after.

The most important secondary character, the mermaid queen Catarina, is also a very intriguing character.  Not likable, exactly, because she’s jealous of power, paranoid and suspicious, and a little unstable.  But she is also beautiful, powerful, protective, and passionate.  Catarina is a hard to pin down, and hard to like, but she was interesting to read, and her unpredictability kept both the other characters and the readers on their toes.

Almost all of the other mermaids, on the other hand, were just irritating.  Bitter and angry, for understandable reasons one-dimensional degrees; or whiny, selfish, and brainless.  Take your pick.  Except for one, who was also conniving and a text-book psychopath (but I won’t tell you about that one, you’ll see her coming if you read the book).

Parts of the novel where also beautifully written.  For instance, this bit right after Luce has changed into a mermaid and doesn’t yet understand what is happening:

“Up above, the moon was golden and wide-eyed, and it watched Luce tenderly.  Its light gleamed like floating coins all over the tops of the waves, and a slab of shining ice bobbed past.  A misty glow covered the smooth side of the cliffs just behind her, and then Luce realized that all those dreaming people were on a ship, and that the ship was coming toward her, and toward the cliffs, as fast as a train driving out of a tunnel.  Still the music throbbed on, coating the night with its bliss, while the ship’s sharp metal prow sped straight at her forehead.”

However, the writing is also uneven and inconsistent.  Parts of it are very lyrical and beautiful, and other parts are a little awkward and clunky.  This is a clear sign that this is Porter’s first novel (which it is).  But it’s not the end of the world, and doesn’t completely ruin the novel or anything like that.

What I Didn’t Like:

Okay, so the clunky prose isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but it’s not too big a problem.  The insert of dream sequences, on the other hand, bug me a bit.  They are, like all dream sequences (even the ones I occasionally find myself writing) unavoidably overdone, and in this case, don’t really do anything for the plot.  Yes, they are meant to show Luce’s state of mind, but her state of mind seems pretty well explained without the dream sequences.  Once in a blue moon, a dream sequence is either so well-written or so informative that it cannot nor needs to be avoided.  But in most cases, including in my own writing, they should usually be left on the cutting room floor at some point in the editing.

Again, most of the other mermaid characters were WAY one-dimensional, and REALLY irritating.  I imagine at least a couple of them should be fleshed out some more in the book #2, but only time will tell.

Also, the ending SUCKED.  Okay, this is the first of a trilogy.  I get that.  Really, I do.  And some kind of cliff-hanger is often unavoidable in a series.  But this ending was just plain ridiculous.  It just sort of STOPPED.  In the middle of nothing.  With no real point, no direction, and no hint at what might be coming next.  Drove me nuts!  It really did a lot to ruin the experience for me.  I still like the book, and I do recommend it.  It was fun.  But the ending really bothered me.

In conclusion: Yes, I recommend the book.  Especially if you like mermaids and don’t mind a darker twist in the premise.  And yes, I will be buying the sequel when it comes out.  I just want to make sure you’re all aware that this book is not perfect.  It has some flaws.  You’ll still enjoy it, though, I promise.

(For the curious, the next book on my agenda: Fool Moon, book 2 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher)

Fire is, in fact, catching: A Review of The Hunger Games Trilogy

Title: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Author: Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Dystopian

Where I Got It: Gift

Score: 5 out of 5

So, one of my best friends bought me The Hunger Games series boxset for Christmas, and because I didn’t have enough time to read it during the semester, I promised him that I would read it first thing when the summer started.  And I did.  I started the first book a couple weeks ago.  And I just finished Mockingjay (the 3rd book) last night, by which point I was seriously depressed, because the ending: Seriously depressing.

I thought, instead of doing separate reviews for each novel, I would do one review for the whole trilogy.  Partially because I think these books work best when you keep in mind the build up of the whole series, and partially because I simply don’t have the energy to write three separate reviews.  I will try my best not to give too much away, however: a) its hard to talk about a whole trilogy without at least spoiling parts of the first couple books, b) even if you haven’t read the book, you probably saw the movie, and c) I realize I’m seriously behind the curve and practically everyone else has read the books already, so it probably doesn’t matter much anyway.  In other words, yes, there will probably be spoilers.

Briefly: The Hunger Games is a YA dystopian about a girl named Katniss Everdeen, who in the first book volunteers for the Hunger Games (a brutal, televised bloodbath in which children are sacrificed for the entertainment of the Capital) in order to save her sister, and accidentally becomes a symbol of resistance to the government.  In the second book, Catching Fire, having survived the Hunger Games, Katniss is paraded around in attempt to calm the masses, and then is thrown into the Quarter Quell, which is essentially an uber-Hunger Games in which former winners are pitted against each other.  Finally, in the third book, Mockingjay, Katniss takes up an active role as the face of the resistance, as things get crazy and complicated.  In the midst of all the fighting, blood-letting, and political intrigue, there is a growing-up story (as Katniss tries to figure out who she is, what she wants, and what she believes in), and a love triangle.

Now, before I say anything, I would like to make it clear that I definitely enjoyed these books.  They were fun, (mostly) quick-paced reads.  That being said, I am a little baffled by some of the people I’ve heard talk about these books, or some of the comments I’ve read in various places online.  A lot of people rave about these books like they are the best thing ever, as if they are brilliant writing on par with some classic piece of literature like… I don’t know, Farewell to Arms or something.

Maybe I’m simply more critical than most people (I’m a PhD, so I can get away with that), but I’m sorry, these novels are NOT brilliant prose.  The prose itself is decent.  It’s clean, it’s simple, it keeps the focus on the story and does not get in its own way too often.  That’s the most that can be said for it.  But that’s OKAY.  Because I’m not reading a YA novel because I expect or even want beautiful, poetic, brilliant prose.  If I want that I’ll go read Rikki Ducornet or Margaret Atwood or something.  What I want from a YA novel is a fun, entertaining story, a quick plot, and likable (or at least relatable characters), and THAT The Hunger Games gave me, absolutely. Let’s just not pretend it’s the next great American classic or something like that, okay?

So, What I Liked: 

The story.  Now, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about how The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale.  And I’m not denying the similarities in theme and basic premise.  But the people who are angry and ranting about it (I could name names, but I won’t…) need to get over it and themselves.  The premises are similar, especially in the first book, but the basic premise also has similarities to Lord of the Flies, Ryan Gattis’ Kung Fu High School, a variety of Star Trek episodes, and of course reality television and ancient Roman gladiators (which Suzanne Collins cite as main influences).  Battle Royale can just as easily be seen to be a rip-off of Lord of the Flies and, as Stephen King once pointed out the similarity: the Survivors reality tv show.  The POINT is that all of them begin with a very common premise/theme that is a deep part of human culture, and go off into many different directions, with different end goals and messages in mind.

So yes, I liked the story.  I thought Collins took a common, oft-explored trope and made something interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining out of it.  The amount of thought that went into the world-building and the logic behind the government workings was impressive.  I think it was highly important that Collins made the resistance’s own possible corruption a part of the plot as well.  The love triangle sub-plot is not strictly necessary but is a common and accepted element of many (perhaps even MOST) YA novels that I just have to learn to deal with it.

And, of course, I loved the characters.  My friend who gave me the books prefaced the gift by telling me I would love the main character, Katniss Everdeen.  And I definitely like her.  She’s a complicated, strong-willed character who grows a lot throughout the series.  However, she’s not my favorite character.  Peeta, one of her two love interests, is by FAR my favorite character. BY FAR.

Now, let me make something clear: I like flawed characters.  I saw some complaint a while ago about how people don’t seem to like flawed female characters.  For me at least, that’s not true.  I like flawed female characters.  And Katniss is definitely flawed.  So flawed that it really started to frustrate me after awhile.  But not in a way that means I don’t like her as a character – her flaws are what drive the story, her flaws are necessary and fitting for both the story and character.  Her flaws did, however, often make me very frustrated with her as a PERSON.  There were many times I just wanted to SMACK HER.  HARD.

Peeta, on the other hand, though still flawed, was the real moral compass of the series.  The kindest, wisest, and most moral person in the whole series.  And I adored him for it.  Even though it got him screwed over several times over.

(A couple of my other favorite characters: Finnick and Johanna.)

Which brings me to, What I Didn’t Like: 

Starting with Gale, the other love interest in the triangle.  H really rubbed me the wrong way.  While he certainly had many good qualities, and Collins meant him to be likable (and he probably is to many others), I found him pushy and morally questionable.  He makes some very dubious moral choices.  And while Collins tries very hard to still make him sympathetic, to couch all these choices in the necessities of war and the understandable rage of recent loss, it was not enough for me.  I really REALLY disapproved of the character, and I don’t think Katniss (or Collins) does enough to demonstrate that Gale’s choices were WRONG and SHOULD be disapproved of.

In fact, Katniss’s inability to articulate the wrongness of many of the choices in the novels bothered me as well.  She often had a vague FEELING of their wrongness, but she could almost never actually say WHY they were wrong, or really confront anyone about them.  I get that its just one of those flaws in her character.  And I get that some people in real life often have trouble with things like that. But I feel that by the third book, after she’s been through SO MUCH, she would have be able to more clearly SEE what was wrong with some of things that are going on (and I’m trying very hard to be vague so as not to give too much away).  In her defense, she does rectify this in the end, but it still really bugged me.

(Also, Katniss’s mother really pissed me off. Like REALLY.  REALLY REALLY.)

Most of the other things I don’t like have to do with the writing itself.  For instance, at a number of places in all three books, Katniss is rendered unconscious or whatever and then when she awakens, both she and we as readers are gifted with an enormous info-dump, often with things that feel rather too deus ex machina for my liking.  This felt like lazy writing to me.  I feel that more of the info could and should have been incorporated into the action of the story, rather than as some kind of report giving to Katniss because she missed it all while she was sleeping.  On that same note, some times the descriptions of things often felt rather clunky to me, and I found myself skimming over whole sections of setting description without any problems or confusion later on.

AND all three books have excruciatingly slow beginnings.  Most “experts” will tell you that beginnings are IMPORTANT.  If you don’t hook someone quickly enough you could easily lose them completely.  Honestly, if I had just picked up The Hunger Games (the first book) in a store to skim through the first couple pages – without it’s having a reputation in the media or among readers, and without the recommendation from my friend – I probably would not have kept reading.  Obviously, I would have been missing out, because I did really enjoy the series after I got through the first few chapters of each book, but STILL.  When all three books have painfully slow openings, that’s a bit of a problem.

And then there’s the ending. Well, it’s not that I don’t like it exactly.  I mean, from an emotional standpoint, I DON’T like it; but from a narrative standpoint I think it’s appropriate.  I knew going in that with the subject matter and tone that there could not be a “happy” ending.  At least, not if Collins knew what she was doing.  A nice, everything-is-tied-in-bow, happily-ever-after ending would have been inappropriate, inauthentic, and an insult to the tone of the series as a whole.  STILL, the ending was DEPRESSING.  Good grief, was it depressing.  There was a war, of course there were going to be casualties, but some of the deaths surprised me, and some pissed me off, and some just did not seem necessary for the story.  I really do think the last really horrible death (if you’ve read it, you know which one I mean) was really only put there to resolve the love triangle, and I think that’s cheap.  In fact, now that I think about it more, I really DON’T like that part of the ending.  The rest of it, while depressing, was appropriate.  But that last important-character death felt like cheap writing to me, like it was the only way Collins could figure out to resolve who the hell Katniss would end up with – rather than letting it come out of the character development, she had to use a cheap plot device.

*deep breaths* Okay, I’m all right now.

In any case, while I definitely think there are some flaws in the writing, overall, I really enjoyed the series.  It was a blast to read, I was able to relate to many of the characters, and the story had a lot of interesting things to say about how and why governments function, the ability to humans to turn anything into entertainment, and become inured to violence, pain, depravity, etc.  It also says a lot about courage and duty and doing the right thing for the right reasons.

All in all, I highly recommend The Hunger Games – except, of course, that I’m probably the last person to actually get around to reading them so there’s no need for me to recommend them anyway. 😀

(Also, I apologize for the egregiously excessive use of capitalization in this post.)

My First Scathing Review: The Priest and the Peaches

My First Scathing Review: The Priest and the Peaches

So, here’s the next book for the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge.  It just came out in December, but I’d planned to read it over Winter break, and just now got around to it.  Boy, do I regret that…

Title: The Priest and the Peaches

Author: Larry Peterson

Release Date: December 2011

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Publisher: Tribute Books

Where I Got It: received an ebook copy from publisher in exchange for honest review

Score: 1 out of 5

The Priest and the Peaches has a premise with potential: set in the Bronx in the mid-1960s, in the story of five orphaned children who try to pick up the pieces after their alcoholic father dies (3 years after their mother and grandmother had died), leaving them with almost no one to turn to.  Except the local priest.   Throughout, the children see various “signs” that they take to be messages from their father, reminding them how he wants them to live their lives, with the basic motto of L-Y-N: “Love Your Neighbor.”  In the meantime, they must deal with pushy relatives, and busy-bodies who think the younger children should be split up and put into foster care.

This book tries to convey an uplifting message of hope and love and sticking-together-through-thick-and-thin, and all that fun stuff.  It is also heavily influenced by Catholicism (not a problem in and of itself as I am, myself, Catholic).

But.

But.  I couldn’t finish this book.  I couldn’t do it.  I got about 1/3 of the way through by sheer will power, having wanted to give up after the 3 chapter.  I don’t believe this has ever happened to me before, and I feel bad about it, but I honestly could not get through this book.  And I’ve been trying to for THREE WEEKS.  It is simply badly and amateurishly written.

There are many problems with this book.  The writing is stilted and clumsy, with awkward (sometimes flat-out incorrect) use of punctuation, that makes it difficult to decipher a sentence.  The dialogue is extremely awkward.  In several places it was just bad, and wholly unbelievable.  There is far too much head-hopping: in just the first few pages (and I mean pages on my Kindle, not even book-sized pages), we get a look inside Joanie, Teddy, Dancer, and a random doctor.  By the end of the 3rd chapter we’ve also jumped into Sarah’s head, Scratch’s head, and the Priest’s head.  I wanted to shake the author and tell him to PICK a perspective and STICK with it!  There was also a lot of really bad attempts of humor that were so forced and so NOT-funny, that I physically cringed on several occasions.

Worse yet, and by far the most annoying part, was the amount of info-dumping.  In Chapter 6 I made a note to myself: “oh look, info dump number 1 million!”  Obviously, a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  This book comes down to a series of badly-written info-dumps broken up with bits of badly-written dialogue.  I’m sorry, but I’m not kidding.  Rather than letting the characters grow, letting the readers slip into the world like slipping into a pool, the author simply keeps dumping buckets of water over ours heads: Look, here’s the entire life history of this character!  A couple pages later: look, here’s the entire life history of THIS character and this one isn’t even a main character, he’s a walk-on, walk-off drunk the dead father knew from a bar, but I’m going to tell you his whole life story anyway!  On and on and on.

On top of that, the narration telegraphs all over the place where the reader should be getting a message, or what should be foreshadowing, or “look, this is an ironic tie-in!” with things like: “they were about to find out how much they did not know…” and “little did they know that…” and “he would come to regret that choice in time…”  And these things are ALL OVER THE PLACE.

I kept going, hoping it would get better.  Hoping it would pick up.  Hoping the plot and/or characters would be interesting enough to keep me going.  But no.  A little over a third of the way through, and barely anything of note has happened, the characters are still just as flat and obvious as they were on the first page (the eldest brother who takes charge, the eldest sister who’s been playing mother for the last three years, etc, etc, etc).  I’m sorry, but if you’re a third of the way through a book and nothing has happened (excepting the father’s death right at the very beginning), well, then you’ve got a problem.

I tried, folks, I REALLY TRIED to give this book a chance.  I hate giving scathing reviews, and this is actually the first time I’ve had to do it, but I HAD to do it.  To be honest with myself, with the author, and with all of you, my readers who might have lynched me if I’d sugar-coated this review, and you went out and read the book and hated me for it.

So, in a nutshell, save yourself some pain and frustration, and don’t read this book.  If you’d rather see for yourself, you can find the book on Goodreads.

New Books Added to My TBR Pile

New Books Added to My TBR Pile

I got some new books in the mail today, that I ordered for Amazon.  Having a box of new books waiting for you on your doorstep at the end of a long day is one of these things that really lifts my spirits and makes me happy.  I never get tired of it.  And after a very long, brain-draining sort of day/week (and another such day awaiting me tomorrow), and after sitting in a traffic jam for 2 hrs, and not getting home until almost 8pm, and still needing to eat dinner, take a shower, etc etc etc…, it was REALLY nice to have these books waiting for me.  Here’s what I got:

I bought the Best New Poets 2011: 50 Poems from Emerging Writers because one of my friends and fellow graduate students is featured in it.  If you’re curious, her name is Janine Joseph, her poem featured in the anthology is called “Wreck,” and she is completely awesome.  I plan to get her to sign the book.  I fully expect her to be a huge famous poet some day (or at least as famous as poets get nowadays — speaking of, it’s so strange that poets were once practically the “rock stars” of American culture, and now only other poets and English majors know who they are).

I bought a YA historical fiction called My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson, which I bought pretty much on a whim.  It’s about the treatment of Eskimo and Native American tribes and the children sent to “white” Catholic boarding schools to essentially be brainwashed.  This novel takes place mainly in the 1960s, but this kind of thing had been going on since at least the 1800s, and continued until late into the 1960s or early 1970s.  It sounds like a really fascinating book, on a subject area I don’t know a LOT about, but am very interested in.

Next: I FINALLY got around to ordering a book I’ve been meaning to buy for about a year now.  It’s called Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, it’s by Emma Donoghue (now known as the author of Room), and it’s collection of re-imaginings of fairy tales (which, as I’ve mentioned a few times by now, I absolutely LOVE).  I cannot wait to sink my teeth into this book (possible literally… ^_^).

And last, I bought The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.  I cannot tell you how many amazing reviews I’ve read of this book!  I cannot tell you how amazing this book sounds to me!  I also cannot tell you how hard it was to get a hold of.  I got a couple Barnes & Noble gift cards for Christmas, and planned to buy this book with one of those gift cards.  But I went to TWO Barnes & Noble bookstores, and neither had this book.  So I finally just caved and ordered it on Amazon instead (yet another example of why brick and mortar bookstores are going to continue to suffer despite my own willingness to continue supporting them).  I absolutely cannot WAIT to read this book (though I will probably HAVE to wait, at least a month of two).

Emily Casey’s The Fairy Tale Trap Blog Tour

Emily Casey’s The Fairy Tale Trap Blog Tour!

Hello, folks, Emily Casey invited me to be one of the hosts for her blog tour, promoting her YA fantasy novel The Fairy Tale Trap, and I agreed to do a review for the occasion.  So, without further ado:

Title: The Fairy Tale Trap (Ivy Thorn #1)

Author: Emily Casey

Release Date: December 2011

Genre: YA Fantasy

Where I Got It: received ebook copy from author in exchange for honest review

Score: 4 out 5

(also, don’t you just LOVE the cover?)

I’ve said this before (and I’ve even mentioned it on my page about my book reviews), but I’ll say it again: I LOVE stories that re-imagine fairy tales.  I loved it when Robin McKinley did it in Beauty, Rose Daughter, and Deerskin.  I loved it when Anne Sexton did it in her poetry collection Transformations.  I love it in the tv show Once Upon a  Time.  I loved it in Kait Nolan’s YA fantasy novel, Red.  So when Emily Casey approached me with a synopsis of her book, asking for hosts for her blog tour and for reviews, I jumped on the chance.

The Fairy Tale Trap, book 1 in the Ivy Thorn series, introduces us to the main character, Ivy, a “military brat” who has just moved again with her mother, while waiting for her father to return from overseas.  Ivy has a strange phobia: she is scared of mirrors, she has even been taken to doctors because she believes she sees things moving in the mirror sometimes.  “It’s just stress,” her doctors tell her.  Then, while unpacking, Ivy happens to look into a mirror, and someone else smiles back at her.

Suddenly, she is pulled through the movie and into a forest, into a world of magic and fairy tales.  Pushed along by an obnoxious pixie who seems to know a lot more than he’s letting on, and trapped in a forest spelled to keep people inside, Ivy finds herself stuck right in the middle of the story of Beauty and the Beast.  The Beast, strangely kind at first, turns deadly due to a mistake on Ivy’s part.  Beauty, as beautiful as can be, seems a little to vapid to help herself.  And somehow, Ivy has to figure out how to fix the mess she’s made, and find her way home.

What I Liked:

So, like I said, I love stories that re-imagine fairy tales.  And this story is no exception.  I love the premise.  Emily Casey did her homework, researching many different variations on the Beauty and the Beast tale, drawing details from different versions to make the story and the world intricate and strange.  The amount of work she put into it is obvious and will be very appreciated by people like who me who are similarly obsessed with fairy tales and folklore.  I also loved the way the story is twisted because of Ivy’s involvement, as a plot that should be simple according to what we know about the tale becomes a bigger and bigger mess.

The main character, Ivy Thorn, is wonderful.  I really enjoyed this character.  She’s believable and easy to relate to.  I myself am a “military brat,” so I could appreciate that characterization.  I also liked the way Ivy’s love of running and track background contributed to her ability to survive in this fairy tale world without being eaten – literally.  And her intense fear of mirrors makes for a unique character trait that adds interest to an otherwise “normal” (though intelligent, and somewhat sarcastic), teenage girl.  The fact that we even get some explanation of WHY she’s afraid of mirrors makes it even better (but I won’t say anymore on that, you’ll just have to read and find out).

There are only a small handful of other characters: Beast, Beauty, the obnoxious pixie, and couple other very minor characters.  The pixie is a strange character with some very strange motives.  It was a smart choice on Casey’s part to reveal only little bits of his agenda, and I’ll definitely be reading the next book in the series, if only to better understand what the hell he’s up to and why.  The other characters, however, lead me into…

What I Didn’t Like:

I really wish the other characters, namely Beast and Beauty, had been developed a bit more.  Beauty got some development and characterization, essentially to save the character from becoming the flat cliché vapid princess type.  She does have a few chances to show some facets to her character, but I would have preferred more in-depth characterization.  The same definitely goes for the Beast.  We get a little characterization through a few journal entries that Ivy finds and reads, but these journal entries don’t really work well – the Beast character lacks a distinct voice, and the journal entries give us a little to go on about his personality except for self-pity.  I really wanted to feel something for that character, and I didn’t.

A lot of this, I think, comes down to the writing style.  It’s not bad.  It’s competent, let’s say.  But there is definitely room for development and maturity.  While there are some spots of wonderful description, and I enjoy the voice of the main character, the overall writing is perhaps overly-simplistic.  It doesn’t go deep enough – into the setting, into the characters, or into the complexities and implications of the situation.

Because Casey is so determined to stay truthful to the fairy tale, she misses the opportunity to go past the simplistic construction of the tale (because let’s face it, for all that we love them, most fairy tale plots are very simple), and delve deeper into how real people, with complex personalities, and real problems might respond in these situations.  For one example: in the fairy tale, we don’t really bother to question WHY Beauty would fall in love with the Beast, but in this novel, I would expect some kind of character development to explain the switch and attraction beyond the answer we get, which is: because that’s how the story goes.

This book was rather short, and could easily have been lengthened by at least another half, still keeping the plot and prose tight while also giving us more depth.

Over-all, I definitely enjoyed it.  It was a fun, light, quick read that I finished in only a three sittings, in between coursework and lesson plans.  I really like the premise and the main character, and I feel pretty confident that I will read the second book when it comes out.  So, if you’re looking for something fun and like fairy tales, I can definitely recommend The Fairy Tale Trap.

You can find it here, at Goodreads or on Amazon.

Please check out yesterday’s blog tour stop at Death By Chocolate.

Then check out Friday’s blog tour stop at E.J.’s Library.

And, for more information about the author and her books, go to Emily Casey’s blog.

A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1

Bookworm Wednesday: A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, sorry this post is a little later in the day than I’d planned on.  A) I’ve been trying to find the time to write this review for a WEEK now, and every time I sit down to do it, something else comes up.  B) It’s been storming on campus all day, with several tornado warnings, so I’ve been shuffled out of rooms and into windowless hallways, and dealing with intermittent internet, and all that fun stuff today.

Anyway, this review is the first for the 2012 To-Be-Read Pile Reading Challenge.  I’ve been meaning to read this book and review it since I won a free copy at the Twitter release party on Halloween.  I wasn’t beginning to think I’d NEVER get around to it.  But I finally have.  So here we go:

Title: Skeleton Lake (Book #1)

Author: Angela Kulig

Release Date: Oct 2011

Genre: YA Paranormal Romance

Where I Got It: won an ebook copy during the release party giveaways

Score: 3 out of 5

Let me start by saying that the premise of Skeleton Lake is absolutely fascinating.  Marlow is a normal high school girl who lives with her parents, has a boyfriend, has a very normal life.  But one night she sees her boyfriend cheating on her, and runs away, dashing through the woods and diving into a lake to drown herself.

And then she awakens, surrounded by people she knows only vaguely from school: Lena, Alex, and the suddenly inexplicably attractive Raiden.  Raiden tells her she died in the lake.  And now Marlow, like Raiden, Lena, and Alex, is a living skeleton.  Beneath her skin, which turns translucent in the water of Skeleton Lake where she drowned, her nearly-unbreakable bones glow bronze.

As if that weren’t enough, Marlow discovers she has inherited the soul of Raiden’s ex-girlfriend Cassandra, who killed herself; both Raiden and his brother Conrad are vying for her affections, and something is after her.  Now, Marlow finds herself caught in the middle of a secret life and a long-standing battle she could never have imagined.

What I Liked:

Let me repeat: the premise of this novel is absolutely fascinating.  How do you even come up with the idea of living skeletons, created when people are near death and dipped into Skeleton Lake?  Seriously!  It’s a very strange, very cool idea.  And it is definitely the main draw of this novel.  That’s not to say, however, that there’s nothing else good about it.

The writing is solid – with a first-person narration that gives the reader a good inside look into Marlow’s thoughts and personality, and also keeps the reader in suspense because we don’t know anymore than Marlow does.  Also, the dialogue was generally well-written, with some great back-and-forth exchanges between characters, and some fun bits of light humor.

The main characters are interesting and easy to relate to.  Marlow, of course, is the girl-next-door type – sweet, smart, but prone to the usual teenage mistakes and downfalls.  I do wish, however, that she had been a little tougher.  This is just a personal quirk of mine – I understand perfectly that not every female character needs to be or should be the “tough” character.  After all, it’s a simple fact that not every girl is like that in real life, and things would get boring if there weren’t some variety in characters.  It’s just that in a life where so many girls are anything BUT tough, I really prefer female characters who are.

I think my favorite character was actually Conrad, who was (in my opinion) the most complex and intriguing character in the bunch.  He was a bit of the “bad boy” type, but not overly-so, he was passionate and conflicted and angry.  And I think Conrad is the one who grew the most throughout the novel as well.

What I Didn’t Like:

Back to characters for a moment: the main male character and love interest, Raiden, while attractive and sweet and romantic and strong and intelligent and all that stuff, was a little too straight-laced and predictable for me taste.  He was a little too perfect, I guess, with few (if any) discernible flaws, quirks, etc to make him a complex character.

Some of the side characters – Lena and Alex in particular – definitely had potential to be interesting characters, but weren’t given enough face-time or development to really capture my attention or concern.  I realize they were side characters and it’s neither necessary nor usually advised to put too much detail into them, for fear of overloading the story and the readers with too many big characters to keep track of.  But I hope Lena and Alex are allowed to develop more in the next book and given more complexity and dimension.

However, my two biggest problems are this:

First: The romance. I cannot tell you how many books I’ve read or heard about in which the main female character meets a man/boy who she is suddenly, powerfully, inexplicably, uncontrollably irrevocably attracted to/in love with.  I’m not talking about instant attraction, which plenty of people experience, as in: “look at that really gorgeous man, he’s really hot I’d love to get to know him better.”  I’m talking: “I don’t know anything about you, but I feel like my soul is being sucked out of my body and I’m so completely and passionately drawn to you that I would probably have your babies right this instant if you ask me.”  I know, I know, it’s YA and this is pretty much par for the course in YA.  BUT WHY???

Now, Kulig does at least a decent job of explaining this away with the concept that Marlow has somehow inherited Raiden’s ex-girlfriend’s soul (and all her emotions, etc that go along with that), but that explanation is only really necessary because she first felt the need to write that instant, inexplicable passion into the plot to begin with.  And, of course, there’s a love triangle with Raiden’s brother Conrad (who was, of course, also in love with the dead ex-girlfriend, and who just can’t seem to help himself even though he knows Raiden has the prior claim – and don’t even get me started on that particular concept!).

I just don’t know why all YA romance plots have to be like this.  Whatever happened to developing relationships in a natural way over the course of a novel?  Why aren’t we given the opportunity to see how the characters develop and interact over time, until we come to understand (as the characters do) why they were just MEANT to be together.  Because, really, in these sorts of instant-love romance plots, there is no really justification, no development of the relationship, no reason to believe these two people are really compatible or meant to be together except that “there’s thing deep in their souls drawing them to each other! It’s fate, damn it!”, ie: because the author tells us so.  And honestly, that just doesn’t work for me.  It didn’t often work for me even when I was 15 or 16, let alone now that I’m 26.

My second big complaint is with the ending: Now, I like the idea of the ending, but I didn’t like the execution.  I don’t want to go into detail here because I don’t want to give too much away for those who might read (or are reading) this book.  But suffice it to say that there’s this huge build up from like the third-to-last chapter to the end: great tension, great feeling of insurmountable hardship as the good guys prepare to come face-to-face with one of the main bad guys who is touted as being cruel and devious and powerful, etc etc etc.  And then the actual confrontation is a total let down.  What could and should have been a huge epic confrontation, is over in like 3 pages (and I’m talking short little Kindle-sized pages, not usual paperback pages), in which very little happens, and the good guy barely breaks a sweat.  Total let down.

Now, for those of you who don’t mind, or even actively LIKE, the insta-romance plot device, I an definitely recommend Skeleton Lake.  The interesting premise, combined with that kind of romance should be right up many people’s alleys, who will love it for what is and not expect it to be anything else.

It just doesn’t do it for me.

And I feel bad saying that, because I know Angela Kulig from Twitter, and like her a lot, but I just get so tired of that particular brand romance plotting, and I am absolutely determined to be as honest and straight-forward as humanly possible in these reviews, no matter how I feel about the author.  So there it is.

For interested parties, the book can be found on Goodreads here: Skeleton Lake, Book 1.

Exciting Journey, Rough Ending: Review of Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Bookworm Wednesday: Review of Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Title: Mastiff: The Legend of Beka Cooper #3

Author: Tamora Pierce

Genre: YA Fantasy

Where I Got It: I bought this one (hard copy)

Score: 4 out of 5

Because Mastiff is the final installment in a trilogy, and I didn’t review the first two books here (having read them before I’d really started blogging), I should give you all a quick overview of the series:

Beka Cooper is a young woman living in the capital city of the kingdom of Tortall (a few generations before the bulk of Pierce’s Tortall series takes place).  In the first book, Terrier, Beka is beginning her training and work as one of the “Provost’s Dogs,” a kind of proto-police force that patrols the city streets, and hunts and captures criminals.  The system is filled with corruption, but most involved are well-intentioned, and Beka believes in the good the Dogs can do.  As she works with her trainers Tunstall and Goodwin – two of the best and most incorruptible Dogs in the city, Beka learns how to survive as a Dog and often serves as a moral compass for some of her less-than-reputable friends – including Rosto the Piper, a thief with whom she keeps up a harmless flirtation.  And, of course, Beka and her two partners solve a series of murders.

The second book, Bloodhound, finds Beka partnering with Goodwin alone on a mission to another city, to discover the source of a counterfeiting operation that could ruin the kingdom.  While the first book dealt with many social issues as well as the solving of murders, this second books focuses almost solely on the crime and Beka’s “Hunt” – her mission to find the counterfeiters.  But now, she has the help of Achoo, a scent hound she rescued from an abusive owner, who is well trained in tracking, and who could make all the difference in the Hunt.  In the course of this book, she meets Dale Rowan, a charmer banker she thinks she might be able to fall in love with, and a few other friends.  But the focus is on the Hunt, which Beka will, of course, triumph over.

Now we come to the third book, Mastiff.  In this, the final installment of the series, we suddenly jump ahead a couple years.  At the opening, Beka and her friends and mourning the death of fellow Dog Holborne, who was apparently Beka’s fiancé during the space between books 2 and 3.  But the mourning doesn’t last long as Beka and her partner Tunstall (Goodwin having retired at the end of the Bloodhound) are called out of the city on a secretive Hunt to find out who kidnapped the King’s son and track them down.  On this mission they are also joined by a mage named Farmer Cape, whose goofy exterior hides a shrewd mind and powerful magic, and Tunstall’s lover, the Lady Knight Sabine.  (And, of course, the famous scent hound Achoo is with them as well).  This Hunt leads both the characters and the readers to deal with the issue of slavery, an issue brought up in the first book as well, and how it affects both individuals and the country as a whole.  As these four track the King’s son and his slaver-captors, they must deal with betrayal and secrecy, and each other.

Now, let me just say that I adore Tamora Pierce.  And I own every book she has written, except the White Tiger graphic novel that she wrote for Marvel Comics (and I’ll get around to that one someday, no doubt).  In other words, Tamora Pierce can do very little wrong in my book, so it should come as no surprise that I liked Mastiff.  However, there were some problems with this installment.  While I can honestly say that I love The Legend of Beka Cooper series as a whole, and it may even be in contention as my second or third favorite out of Pierce’s six separate series, I honestly think Mastiff might be one of the weakest individual novels Pierce has yet written.

What I Liked:

All that is not to say I didn’t like it.  Because I certainly did.  For starters, I absolutely ADORE Beka.  All of Tamora Pierce’s main characters are intelligent, spunky young women (which is, of course, what first draws most female readers to her to begin with), but all Pierce’s female characters still succeed at begin unique and individual, rather than just reiterations of essentially the same character.  Beka is whip-smart and observant, she is deeply compassionate, but she is also more than a little prickly, excessively shy and hard to talk to, and her upstanding moral character makes her just a touch self-righteous at times (but never so much as to make her annoying to the readers).  One of the things that makes her unique in the books is her ability to talk to pigeons, which carry the souls of the dead, and to dust-spinners, which carry and repeat whatever bits of conversation are on the wind.  These two talents help her as she investigates crimes, and makes some people around her nervous, but these bits of magical ability are not especially integral to the plot.

Many of the other characters are also, of course, likable.  Tunstall and Sabine, who have been around since the first book, are likable as ever.  And Farmer Cape, the new addition for the book, is funny, a touch mysterious, and pretty damn cool, too.  Also, just to give something small away (though it’s pretty obvious from the get-go), he’s the new love interest as well.

The plot is intricate and exciting.  We follow Beka and company as the travel across quite a bit of the Tortall landscape, chasing down the slavers, fighting off ambush attacks and magical defenses, braving through swamps, and so forth.  And all the while there are many questions about how the slavers could get into the castle to kidnap the prince, who might have helped them and why, and how deep the betrayal might go.  Once I got into the meat of the story, I could not put the book down!  I was desperate to know what would happen next.

And Pierce’s writing is, as ever, wonderful.  Her attention to detail and ability to describe things so that the readers can really imagine them, are amazing.  Her pacing was strategic, and downright intense as you get into the second half of the book.

What I Didn’t Like:

However, as I have said, there were some problems with this novel.  First, the opening with the death of Holborne was strange and, in my opinion, completely unnecessary.  I think I vaguely remember a character named Holborne being briefly mentioned in book 1 or 2, but this is not someone we the readers know.  It’s not someone we care about it.  So we have absolutely no emotional investment in learning about his death at the beginning of the novel.  And, quite frankly, his apparent betrothal to Beka, which we never see and never care about (and which we learn near the beginning, Beka herself had stopped caring about before his death), seems out-of-place, out-of-character for Beka, and unnecessary for launching the story.  Nor does it play any real factor later on in the story.  People mention it, and Beka’s first-person-narration wallows in guilt for awhile, but none of it is important for the plot or much of the characterization.  One can only assume that it was meant to add some tension to Beka’s growing attraction to Farmer throughout the novel, but there are other things to fill that role – including the fact that she barely knows him, they’re in the middle of a Hunt, and Beka suspects someone has betrayed them and she doesn’t know who.  That addition of a dead fiancé she didn’t really love anyway just doesn’t actually add much.

My second big problem is the issue of slavery.  My problem is not that they talk about it, or that it is portrayed as a problem (as it obviously is), my problem is that none of the characters really wrestle with it.  Beka is opposed to it, but even she does not talk about the problems of anyone owning anyone else.  Her main problem is with the ways families will sell their children into slavery because they are too poor to support them.  And none of the other characters really seem to have much of a problem with it at all.  We all agree that slavery is wrong now, but in a medieval setting, it wouldn’t be so clear-cut and I would have liked to see the characters really thinking/talking about it.  Also, the way the slavery issue is resolved at the end, while nice and touchy-feely, is wholly unrealistic.

My third and biggest problem with this novel is something I have to talk about only vaguely with veiled references, otherwise I would ruin the biggest climax of the novel.  So, let me just say, that what Pierce does with one of the characters is just WRONG.  Flat out and completely WRONG.  And it comes out of NOWHERE.  Now, looking back and I can see where she was trying to maybe hint at something, sort of… but what happens is so completely out-of-character that I just can’t swallow it.  This is just an issue of readers not accepting that characters they like sometimes do bad things, because I get that.  It’s a problem of characterization.  Because Pierce does absolutely nothing to make me BELIEVE this character would do this thing for this reason under these circumstances.  It just doesn’t work.  Period.

So, while I loved most of the book, despite the flaw of Holborne at the beginning, the climax and ending were really marred for me. Which is something that I don’t think has ever happened to me in a Tamora Pierce book before.  That’s why it gets a 4 out of 5, when almost all of her others would either receive a 5 or even a 6.

It’s still a lot of fun to read, I assure you.  If you like Tamora Pierce, and have enjoyed any of her other novels, I DEFINITELY still recommend this book, and this series as a whole.  However, I will warn you that it is not the best one she’s ever written.  And if you’ve never read anything by Tamora Pierce before, I suggest you start with her two best series: The Song of the Lioness Quartet, and The Immortals Quartet.

And You Thought Your High School Years Sucked: A Review of Farsighted by Emlyn Chand

First off, my apologies for the lateness of this post — I’ve been sick the last couple days and I’ve been rushing to both write and post my review.

Second, if you missed the beginning of the Farsighted blog tour, please check out Monday’s post for an interview with author Emlyn Chand (who is also the president of PR firm Novel Publicity), and also check out all the information about the various events and prizes for this week’s blog tour.

And now, here’s my review of Farsighted:

Title: Farsighted

Author: Emlyn Chand

Genre: YA Fantasy

Where I Got It: A free ebook copy from the author in exchange for an honest review

Score: 5 out of 5

In Farsighted, the first of a series about main character Alex Kosmitoras, Alex’s sophomore year of high school might just kill him.  His parents are scraping to make ends meet.  His hard-working mother is loving but very overprotective, his unemployed father is distant and acting strange.  The high school bully is hell-bent on making Alex’s life miserable.  And to top it all off, Alex is blind. But that’s all par for the course, and his life is about to get a whole hell of a lot more complicated.

Just as Alex is making friends with the two new girls: Simmi, who is kind and smells like an Almond Joy bar, and Shapri, who is smart, blunt, and no-nonsense, he begins to “see” things — or rather, hear, feel, and smell things.  Things that seem to happen, and then happen again.  Things he can’t distinguish from reality.  Things, he soon learns, that mean he has developed the ability to “see” the future.  Stumbling through the school year, shouting at people who aren’t really there, and generally making a fool of himself, he attempts to ignore his new gifts.  Until he discovers that his new friend Simmi may be in danger, and only his powers can save her.  Now, with help from the psychic who just moved in next door to his mother’s shop, and his new friends who may have special gifts of their own, Alex must work hard to change Simmi’s future, and his own.

Yeah, and you thought YOUR high school years were difficult.

What I Liked:

Let’s start with the characters.

Alex is a well-written, believable blind teenage boy written by a not-blind married woman — not an easy thing to pull off.  Alex is a very typical teenage boy, in fact.  Alex loves his mother but is constantly embarrassed by her over-the-top affection and little-boy nicknames.  He desperately wants his father to love him, and fears that he will never be enough for his father.  His crush on Simmi leads him to do some cute and some stupid things in a very believable fashion, so that all we can do as readers is nod in understanding and say: “ah, hormones…”  And even when he does something REALLY stupid, it is still in character, understandable as something a teenage boy might do when he doesn’t quite understand how stupid his conclusions are — of course, when he does this stupid thing (I won’t spoil it for you), I just wanted to smack him in the back of the head and tell him to stop being an idiot.   Through all of this however, Alex remains smart and resourceful, doing the best he can to salvage a difficult situation in admirable fashion.  He is relatable, sympathetic, and likable.

The other characters are well-written as well.  Simmi and Shapri are both kind, smart teenager girls, but they are very much their own characters, with distinct and interesting character traits.  While Simmi is sweet and more on the quiet side, Shapri is out-spoken and blunt.  Admittedly, I sometimes thought Simmi was a little too good to be true, but sometimes you really do find that special girl is just so sweet and so patient, that you almost can’t believe it.  Of the two girls, I definitely prefer Shapri though.  You’ve probably noticed by now I have a thing for female characters who are strong and out-spoken (probably because I’m not particularly out-spoken myself).  It is amusing to watch how both girls turn Alex’s world upside down, and keep him in his toes.  That’s what teenage girls are for, isn’t it?

Of the parents, we don’t get as good a feel for the mother as we do for the father.  The mother is given some well-rounded characterization — she is strong and loving and patient, but prone on a few occasions to give in to depression and despair.  But she is not as dynamic a character as the father, who plays an important role in Alex’s life by virtue of Alex’s perception that he is distant from Alex’s life (does that make sense?).  And with the father acting strange throughout the novel, I had a lot of fun trying to guess what he was really up to.  I won’t spoil that for you either, but I will announce triumphantly that I guessed right.

As for the plot itself: it works much like a mystery (though it is also, obviously, a fantasy).  We the readers, like the characters, are fed bits and pieces, clues that we are trying to fit together just as Alex is trying to fit them together to understand how and why Simmi is in danger.  There is a shadowy bad guy and a wide variety of scenarios involved in Alex’s visions, but it remains unclear throughout the novel what is really going to happen, and why.  Now, I love mysteries.  And I love trying to figure out what the ending is going to be.  So I loved this method of feeding us little bits of information a little at a time.  I had a few guesses going into the final chapters.  And I’ll tell you what: I never saw the ending coming.  Part of me is annoyed with myself for missing the clues.  But the larger part of me is just impressed that the author managed to surprise me.  In all modesty, it doesn’t happen that often anymore.

What I Didn’t Like:

What didn’t I like?  Actually… honestly, I can’t think of anything.  Except maybe that I have to wait for the next installment.  There are some series that I prefer to wait to read until all the books (or at least several of them) have already been released.  I HATE to wait.  And I’m definitely not looking forward to this wait.

Other than that… um… Nope, can’t think of anything.  This book was just plain FUN.  The characters are relatable, resourceful, dynamic, and likable. The plot keeps you on your toes to the end.  The clues keep you actively involved.  And the ending, while decently satisfying, definitely leaves you wanting more.  What more can you ask for, really?

In other words: go read Farsighted.  NOW.

Remember, you can get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  And right now it’s only 99cents.

You can also currently vote for Farsighted in the Alternative Read Best Book Cover of the Year award: just click here.

Also:

To Win the Prizes

  1. Purchase your copy of Farsighted for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  2. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
  3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!
  4. BONUS: If you leave a comment on this blog post, you have another chance at $100!
  5. DOUBLE BONUS: If I receive more comments than any other blogger, *I* win $100.

…And I can win too!

Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

The Farsighted Social Media Whirlwind Tour

Good morning, everyone! For those of you who celebrate, I hope you had an absolutely wonderful Christmas.  For those who don’t, I hope you had an absolutely wonderful weekend! ^_^  As some of you may remember (once the Christmas dinner coma wears off…), I have spent the last two weeks participating in blog tours for Novel Publicity.  First for In Leah’s Wake by Terri Giuliano Long, and second for Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch.  Now it is time for the last Novel Publicity run blog tour.  This is one is extra-special because the book, Farsighted, happens to be written by the president of Novel Publicity herself, the impressive Emlyn Chand.

For today, we have an interview with Emlyn Chand herself.  On Wednesday, check back in my for review of Farsighted (which was fantastic, just to give you a small preview).  And now, without further ado:

Announcing the Farsighted Social Media Whirlwind Tour!

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Farsighted eBook edition is just 99 cents this week.

What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including lots of Amazon gift cards (up to $100 in amount) and 5 autographed copies of the book. Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, December 30th, so you don’t miss out.

To Win the Prizes

  1. Purchase your copy of Farsighted for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  2. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
  3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!
  4. BONUS: If you leave a comment on this blog post, you have another chance at $100!
  5. DOUBLE BONUS: If I receive more comments than any other blogger, *I* win $100.

…And I can win too!

Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

The Featured Events include:

Monday, a guest blog on Novel Publicity! Emlyn kicks off the tour on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog by discussing her brightly burning passion for books in a guest post entitled “My journey through the pages and toward a life-long love of reading.” One commenter will win an autographed copy of Farsighted. Don’t forget to enter for the other contest prizes while you’re over there!

Tuesday, Twitter sharing contest! A tweet is tiny, only 140 characters. But on Tuesday, it could win you $50. Send the following tweet across the twittersphere, and you just may win a $50 Amazon gift card. An autographed copy of Farsighted is also up for grabs. The winners will be announced Wednesday morning. Here’s the tweet: Looking for a fun read to round out your holiday break? The paranormal YA hit Farsighted is just 99 cents! http://ow.ly/81Dt1 #whirlwind

Wednesday, Google+ sharing contest! Yup, there’s yet another awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see the Stay Farsighted book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Farsighted is also up for grabs. Two chances to win with just one click! How about that?

Thursday, Facebook sharing contest! Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see the Farsighted book cover included with it). It’s ridiculously easy to win! On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Farsighted is also up for grabs.

Friday, special contest on the author’s site! Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Farsighted either in paperback or on an eReading device, then post it to Emlyn Chand’s Facebook page or email a copy to author@emlynchand.com. You just way win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the photo with the most interesting setting (so put your holiday travel time to work for you). Another $50 will go the funniest photo, and one more prize of $50 will go the scariest photo—this is a paranormal YA book after all. An autographed copy of Farsighted will go to one randomly selected entrant. For more details about this contest, please visit www.emlynchand.com.

Remember, it’s all about the books!

About Farsighted: Alex Kosmitoras may be blind, but he can still “see” things others can’t. When his unwanted visions of the future begin to suggest that the girl he likes could be in danger, he has no choice but to take on destiny and demand it reconsider. Farsighted is the winner of the 2011 Dragonfly eBook Awards. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the Author: Emlyn Chand has always loved to hear and tell stories, having emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). When she’s not writing, she runs a large book club in Ann Arbor and is the president of author PR firm, Novel Publicity. Emlyn loves to connect with readers and is available throughout the social media interweb. Visit her on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

Let’s get to know the author a little better through this rousing Q&A…

Q: What was it like writing from the viewpoint of a blind, teenage boy? Were there any parts of Alex’s personality/life you found hard to come up with?

A: You know, it wasn’t as hard to write blind as I initially thought it would be. It didn’t take long to begin “seeing” Alex’s world the way he does. I wrote the entire story without knowing what anyone or anything looked like (except for Alex himself). When it came time to shoot the book trailer, the directors were asking me questions about the scenes and which props they should bring, and I really, really didn’t know what to tell them!

As I got to know Alex better and better, it became easier to tune into his way of seeing things. I read books about coping with blindness in a school setting and spent a great deal of time pondering how I might behave if I couldn’t see. In the story, Alex has always been blind; he’s always known the world to be a certain way. Not everyone understands that, and they have trouble talking about it with him. I gave Alex a tendency to overcompensate. He knows who he is and what he’s capable of, and he wants the world to know it too, so sometimes he overdoes things a bit.

Q: Your cast of characters has international flavor? What’s behind that choice?

A: I don’t see why my characters all need to belong to the same culture or ethnicity. What fun is that? Culture shapes our characters in a big way, so by diversifying my cast, I was able to hit on more types of personalities and situations. Grandon is based on my hometown; it’s small and kind of boring. I couldn’t wait to escape and move on to bigger and better things. My home town was mostly Caucasian, but somehow I ended up with a very diverse set of friends even though they made up less than 1% of the student body. Fast forward a few years, and I end up marrying a man from India. He’s from New Delhi, like Simmi. I’ve always been fascinated by other cultures; I even decided to pursue my Master’s in Sociology for this very reason. I credit two early life influences for this attraction: 1) My adoration of A.C. Slater in Saved by the Bell, 2) Disney’s Aladdin being the best movie ever.

Q: What was the inspiration for Farsighted?

A: Everything started with a single image—my face in these tacky oversized sunglasses reflecting out at me from the car’s side mirror. I was daydreaming while my husband drove us across Michigan for my sister’s wedding. Something about my image really struck me in an almost horrific way. I felt the glasses made me look blind but found it so weird that there was still a clear image within them; it seemed so contradictory. At the time, my book club was reading The Odyssey, which features the blind Theban prophet, Tieresias. I started thinking about what it would be like to have non-visual visions of the future and began forming a modern Tieresias in my mind. Lo and behold, Alex Kosmitoras was born. I didn’t want him to be alone in his psychic subculture, so I found other characters with other powers to keep him company. Thank God for my poor fashion sense. 🙂

Q: What would you like readers to take away from Farsighted? Is there a different message for adults than for teens?

A: First and foremost, I hope that readers will enjoy themselves. My primary goal is to tell an interesting story that people will find entertaining and be glad they read. Secondly, I’d like to infuse contemporary Young Adult fiction with a bit more diversity and teach readers about the beauty of other cultures and other ways of life. I also hope that Farsighted is a book that leads to introspection—what would I do if put in Alex’s place? Did Alex ever have a choice or was this path his destiny? What would it be like to see the world the way he sees the world?

I like to think of anything I write as being kind of like a Disney movie, in that the primary audience will be children, but there are extra tidbits for the adults too. Farsighted has been infused with a great deal of research about runes, classic mythology, and Eastern spirituality, but you don’t need to understand any of that to be entertained by the story.

Q. There have been articles written this year about YA being too dark for teens. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I definitely agree. I want to get back to the core of the YA genre, and I attempted to do that with Farsighted. I also think that paranormal has gotten a bit too out there. One thing I hear from readers quite a bit is that the paranormal seems normal in Farsighted. They don’t question the existence of the powers, and it doesn’t seem out there like some other books of the genre do. That was important to me. I wanted my story to be run by the characters, not the fantastic elements. This is a story about Alex, not about a blind psychic.

Q: What motivated you to structure the book around the runes?

A: Remember how I said my Master’s degree is in Sociology? It’s actually Quantitative Sociology. I’m a numbers person as well as a word person. I love things to be organized just so. If you set a stack of papers in front of me; I’m going to fuss with them until they are lined up in a perfect stack. It’s just the way I am. Shaping each chapter around a rune gave the story order, which made me feel happy and comfortable. Whenever I got stuck and didn’t know what should happen next, I was able to learn more about that chapter’s rune and get the inspiration I needed to continue. The runes themselves tell a story, one that is successfully completed. I felt that boded well for Farsighted.

Q: What is your writing process like?

A: I begin with a seed of an idea and work out from there. With Farsighted, I started with Alex and created the rest of the story and characters to fit around him. Using the runes as a structural framework for this novel created an outline for me too. I’m a numbers person as well as a word person. I love things to be organized just so. If you set a stack of papers in front of me; I’m going to fuss with them until they are lined up in a perfect stack. It’s just the way I am. Shaping each chapter around a rune gave the story order, which made me feel happy and comfortable. Whenever I got stuck and didn’t know what should happen next, I was able to learn more about that chapter’s rune and get the inspiration I needed to continue. The runes themselves tell a story, one that is successfully completed. I felt that boded well for Farsighted.

Q: What do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?

A: I LOVE YA—I read it, write it, love it! My favorite author is JK Rowling. The more I read, the more I realize how brilliant she is as an author. If you remove the dialogue tags from Harry Potter, you still know which character is speaking, and Rowling managed to create an intricate beautiful world without allowing her character development to suffer, which is tremendously rare. I consider her literary God. Suzanne Collins, and JD Salinger are classic faves.

My all-time favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, definitely. The novel has so many layers and entertains on so many levels. Also the characters in that novel seem more real than those from any other I’ve ever read. It’s just beautiful—that’s the only word for it.

Q: If you had to be stuck on an island for a year with three literary characters, who would they be?

A: First up, we’d obviously take Robinson Crusoe. He knows what he’s doing, and he can be the provider. I’ll also take Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games—if we get in any kind of danger, she’d be a great protector. Lastly, I’d take Ron Weasley. Ron and I can live the good life, while the other two make sure we all stay safe and well-fed. I know I would never get bored with Ron around—he’s just 24/7 entertainment.

Q: You’ve taken a risk by going with an unconventional ending. Without spoiling the story for your readers, can you tell us why you made this choice? Are you glad you did this? Do you feel it’s been successful? Why or why not?

A: Yeah, I ended with a cliffhanger, which goes against traditional publishing wisdom. But you know what? I. AM. INDIE! Being indie means taking risks and breaking the mold and, boy, am I excited to do it. The ending is kind of polarizing, people either love it or wish there was more there. The joining thread is almost everyone mentions looking forward to the next book in the series. Farsighted demands a companion, and people see that. I think it was a good decision since this is the first in the series and since I enjoy toeing the line of convention. It’s fun to shake things up.

My LGBT YA Bookshelf

Bookworm Wednesday: My LGBT YA Bookshelf

Update: Please note that the agents discussed in the article by Brown and Smith have offered a rebuttal.  I have included the link to a Publishers Weekly post which contains both the rebuttal and a counter-rebuttal from the authors.  Please keep in mind that while there may be some question as to the validity of the authors specific claims, the overall discrimination issue remains entirely real.

On Monday a blog posted by Publishers Weekly began making the rounds on social media sites, especially Twitter.  The article, written by YA authors Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith and titled “Say Yes to Gay YA,” told a sobering story about how these two well-known authors attempted to find an agent for a post-apocalyptic YA novel they wrote together.  However, none of the agents they contacted were interested, though several said they would be if changes were made, and one agent stated point-blank that he would be interested only if the authors removed a gay pov character, or made him straight.

It is implied that this is a marketing concern rather than a personal problem with homosexuality (though one can never be sure).  The generally consensus seems to be that YA scifi/fantasy novels (or another kind of YA novel, no doubt) with gay characters (or other minorities ethnic, religious, disabled, etc) simply cannot sell books.  The authors refused to make their gay character straight or remove him, and have yet to find an agent for their novel.  But this is not the end of the story.

The authors are asking for everyone to get involved in changing this trend that implies that LGBT and minority characters in YA, and by extension LGBT and minority young adults, are at best not interesting enough to sell books, and at worst a social evil that is (and should be) subject to erasure.  Readers, writers, editors, and agents all need to bring this problem to the public’s attention.  And they need to show other agents, editors, and publishers that having a gay or minority character in a YA novel (scifi/fantasy or otherwise) will not prevent people from buying/reading it.  That, in fact, many readers specifically want more YA fiction featuring LGBT and other minority characters.  We went YA fiction that truthfully and fairly represents the lives of all young adults.  Not just white, heterosexual, middle-class, Christian Americans.

In one small effort to do my part, I am taking a moment here to mention a few of the YA novels I have read personally that featured gay or lesbian main characters.  I tend to read more adult scifi/fantasy featuring LGBT characters, so I don’t have a lot of YA titles to share.  Of course, part of the reason for that is that there simply isn’t much choice in YA fiction.  I’ve also noticed that while gay YA lit remains an overall minority, within that grouping it is far more common to find YA titles with male gay characters than it is to find novels about bi or lesbian young adult girls.  However, the few titles that I own all have female main characters, with one exception, simply because I’m a girl, so that’s what I tend to gravitate toward.  Also, only one of these is a YA scifi/fantasy.  The others are more mainstream coming-of-age.  Again, more because that’s what’s available than out of any particular intention on my part.

My LGBT YA Bookshelf:

Annie On My Mind (1982) by Nancy Garden: This was the first lesbian novel I ever read.  I bought it for a friend of mine when she’d told me she was bisexual our Freshman year of high school, and then read it myself as well.  It is a classic about two teenage girls who fall in love and have to learn how to live their lives when no one around them can understand except for two teachers who happen to know exactly how they feel.  Eventually, the  girls’ secret is revealed to their parents and the rest of the school and the fall-out is enormous.  It is a touching and believable story that all questioning girls should read.

Please Don’t Kill the Freshman(2003) by Zoe Trope:  This book actually began as a chapbook memoir written by a girl under the pseudonym Zoe Trope.  All the characters have names based on a characteristic like “Linux Shoe” and “Plum Sweater,” but all of these characters are painfully, shockingly real.  This diary-esque memoir follows tortured, sharp-tongued Zoe through high school as she deals with the growing apathy of the world, her disdain for everything around her, and the her complicated transgendered relationship with her first girlfriend who becomes her first boyfriend.  This book is profanity-laced, stream-of-consciousness in style, gut-wrenchingly raw, and painfully familiar to anyone who want through high school in the late 90s-early 2000s.

Empress of the World (2001) by Sara Ryan:  This is the story of Nicola Lancaster who goes to a Summer Program for Gifted Youth, a camp filled with intelligent, artistic, and intense highschoolers all living like college students for 8 weeks.  Nicola has never really had friends, and she’s never been in a relationship.  Then she meets Battle Davies, a beautiful, passionate girl who claims Nicola’s heart despite the fact that Nicola always thought she liked boys.  This one is short, smart, and intense, with a bittersweet ending that leaves you wanting more.

The Rules for Hearts(2007) by Sara Ryan: Thankfully, where Empress of the World leave you wanting, Rules for Hearts at least begins to answer.  This one follows Battle in her first year of college, when she moves in with her older brother in his Bohemian apartment building filled with strange characters who all work at a local theatre, including Meryl.  But while much of the focus of this book is obviously on the complicated intertwined relationships of the theatre crew, and how Battle gets swept up into it with Meryl, it also deals heavily with Battle’s relationship with her brother, who had run away without a word years before.

Keeping You A Secret (2003) by Julie Anne Peters: This one is another classic.  Julie Anne Peters has written a number of YA novels with LGBT themes, including one called Luna, about a transgendered boy and one called Between Mom and Jo, which is about a teenage boy raised by his lesbian mothers (neither of which I’ve read yet).  Keeping You A Secret is one of my favorites because it deals with a high school girl with the perfect boyfriend, who suddenly finds herself absolutely fascinated with the new girl: who happens to be an out lesbian.  The romance of this one moves quickly but believably, and the real tension and some terrifying moments (for me at least) come when she has to face her mother.

Far From Xanadu (2005) by Julie Anne Peters: Another one by Julie Anne Peters, this one is about a girl who goes by “Mike” and lives in a small Midwest farming town.  She is the classic tomboy: dressed like a boy, prefers sports and working as a farmhand, and lifts weights.  Her life is already complicated by her father’s suicide and the competition she’s put herself in against her older brother.  Things get even more complicated when she falls in love with the new girl, Xanadu: gorgeous, exotic, rebellious, contrary… and straight.  I think I like this one because it doesn’t have an exactly happy ending.  (Julie Anne Peters newest book, Rage: A Love Story, came out in 2009.  I haven’t read it yet, but I just bought it, so you might be hearing about that one eventually.)

Hero (2007) by Perry Moore:  Last, but not least, my only LGBT YA novel about a gay male, and my only one that is also a scifi/fantasy. Hero is about Thom, son of Hal Creed, who was the greatest of all superheroes until a horrible event left him disfigured and disgraced.  This event also led to the disappearance of Thom’s mother.  Hal wants to keep his son out of the superhero game.  But Thom’s father doesn’t know two things about his son: one, he has special healing abilities; and two, he’s starting realize he may be gay.  Thom isn’t sure which fact is going to disappoint his father more, and he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure he never has to find out.  I love this one because I love it when authors try to find ways to make superheroes fit into the framework of a more realistic worldview.

So, there’s my LGBT YA bookshelf.

If you’d like to share any you’ve read, I’d love to hear about them.  I’m always in need of my book suggestions!  If you’ve written one, that’s even better!  If you have questions about any of these, I’m more than happy to elaborate as well.  Please feel free to chime in!

Also, again, make sure you read the original article written by Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith.  You can find it: here.

And for another reaction to the “Say Yes to Gay YA” article, please read Kait Nolan’s “Don’t Kill Diversity.”

For a rebuttal from the agents discussed in the Brown and Smith article please go here.  It is important to look at all sides of this issue.