Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bookanista Review: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

So funny story -- immediately prior to reading this novel, I was chatting with several bookish friends about how I was mostly burnt out on the YA contemporary issue novel -- those dealing with abuse, self-harm, incest, drug use, etc. I tend to gravitate towards the sunny, carefree side of contemporary YA, probably to counterbalance all the dark science fiction and dystopians I read.

CHARM & STRANGE is a strange case, however. It's not immediately clear what genre you're getting. Is it a YA contemporary featuring a male protagonist with some serious mental health issues or is it a paranormal about werewolves living among us? (In this set-up, it reminded me a lot of Justine Larbalestier's LIAR, except that Andrew isn't so forthright or cheeky about his possible unreliable narrator status).

What is clear is that Andrew needs to excise his demons. The action in the present takes place over the course of one night at a party in the woods with Andrew's boarding school classmates, and is interspersed with flashbacks of his family life.  The novel cleverly plays with the idea that we often need fiction to be able to deal with fact and keeps you guessing and compulsively reading to find out what is fact and what is fiction in Andrew's life.

CHARM & STRANGE is available now. Find out more about it at the author's website.

FTC disclosure: Netgalley

See what the other Bookanistas are excited about this week:

Shelli Johannes-Wells gives cover love to FAKING NORMAL

Stasia Ward Kehoe delves into DANCER, DAUGHTER, TRAITOR, SPY by Elizabeth Kiem

Elana Johnson and Nikki Katz adore THIS IS W.A.R. by Lisa & Laura Roecker

Gretchen McNeil is wowed by THE WIG IN THE WINDOW by Kristen Kittscher

Katy Upperman praises WORST CASE OF PASKETTI-ITIS by Kris Asselin

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blog Tour: Proxy by Alex London

Looking for an action-packed dystopian that's different than what's already out there?  You'd do well to pick up PROXY then.  

The synopsis: 

Knox was born into one of the City's wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want—the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death. 
Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own. 
Then again, neither is Knox’s. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox’s father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys’ resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid.
My thoughts:

It's sorta funny that I read this right after putting up my post about animal death in fiction, because PROXY kills off a bunch of zoo animals and some poor horses.  I was able to keep reading though, because although the animal death wasn't entirely justified, it was understandable in the context of the brutal setting. The action flows really well and Syd is relatable and someone worth rooting for.

Even if I didn't 100% buy it from a characterization standpoint, the ending is a great example of poetic justice and sets up some interesting questions for the sequel.

And now, here's the author to talk about the book!

Proxy excerpt: 

“‘…why else do you think I hired you?’
‘Because I have small hands and I don’t steal.’
‘These things are all true,’ Mr. Baram answered. ‘But that doesn’t make them my reasons. Perhaps not even I know my reasons.’
‘I’m sure your reasons are as noble as your visage.’ Sydney joked.
‘My visage, eh?’ Mr. Baram chuckled. ‘You’ve been reading through my library.’
‘You should password protect better if you don’t want readers.’
‘Oh, I want readers, my boy.’ Mr. Baram sighed. ‘A world of readers, I want, and yet, all I have is you. You want information, mere data, just like everyone else. That’s not reading. Wisdom? Inspiration? Phfft! Their time has passed, eh?’ He waved his hand in the air. ‘You cannot nourish the soul with data!’”
– page 35, PROXY

Alex London on the best aspect of the society in Proxy: 

I suppose the technology they have in Proxy is pretty great, but it is also that technology that isolates people from each other and from the context in which they live. If you can afford it, you can do or get or be anything you want anytime you want it. Some might say that kind of freedom is ideal. There are no laws-- only corporate regulations, agreements and contracts. It's an entirely free market, where you get whatever you can pay for...and nothing more.

None of this sounds very good does it?

I suppose the good side of that is, that in that society you are free to be awful and to exploit your neighbors and abuse your proxies--no laws will stop you--but you are also free to be kind, to be generous, to be a boon to those less fortunate than you.

Of course, one of my main characters chooses to be like that and one most decidedly doesn't, but they are both free to change. Exploring that, how much of what they think and know comes from the society around them and how much they can defy its expectations is the crux of the Syd and Knox’s journey. I suppose that's true of everyone growing up, in a bleak imaginary future, or now, in our society, in our time. We all have to decide who the best version of ourselves is and how much we are willing to do to become it.

So the best aspect of the world of Proxy? The people in it, just like our world.

About Alex London: 
Alex London writes book for adults, children and teens. At one time a journalist who traveled the world reporting from conflict zones and refugee camps, he now is a full time novelist living in Brooklyn.

You can find Alex London on twitter and his website.

Find the next stop on the Proxy blog tour on The Compulsive Reader tomorrow!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bookanista Review: All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin

ALL YOU NEVER WANTED is a story of sisters in crisis.  Alex is the older sister, prettier and more popular, but hiding an embarrassing secret that is making her withdraw from life.  Thea has always wanted to be like Alex, and as Alex diminishes, Thea sees her chance to take over, spinning wild lies in her quest for world domination.

It's also a "poor little rich girl" story, in a way, because Alex and Thea's problems are magnified by their new wealth.  Their mother has remarried, to a fabulously rich man who lives in a mansion the girls call Camelot, and while the money can buy lots of things, it has also effectively removed their mother from their life, as she now travels with her new husband instead of taking care of her children.

I absolutely loved how real both sisters came off.  They aren't best book friend material by any means - Alex is very withdrawn, prickly and "ice queen"-ish while Thea is overdramatic, a compulsive liar and could give Hedda Gabler a run for her money in the soul-sucking department - but their struggles are relatable and their motivations fully understandable.

Alex's story unfolds in third person, fitting for a girl who has distanced herself from her own life. Her secret shame came as a direct result of a rich guy power play by her step-father, so she's especially bitter. She's also developing an eating disorder, and no one wants to call her on it - not her drug-dealer boyfriend, her friends or her sister - all for their own underhanded reasons. But fortunately for her, Xander is in her life. And he might just offer the lifeline she needs. (LOVE Xander!)

Thea's story is first person all the way, and we get front row seats to the way she deceives everyone - even herself.

Highly recommended, especially to those readers who value excellent character development. I'd also suggest Bennett Madison's THE BLONDE OF THE JOKE as a read-alike. Thea reminded me a lot of Val, especially in the way she spectacularly self-destructs.

Find out more about ALL YOU NEVER WANTED at the author's website.

FTC disclosure: Bought

Check out what the other Bookanistas are up to this week!

Shari Arnold loves SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL by Trish Doller

Tracy Banghart embraces IMPOSTOR by Susanne Winnacker

Shelli Johannes-Wells delights in Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER and HOMELAND

Nikki Katz gets the shivers for 3:59 by Gretchen McNeil

Stasia Ward Kehoe, Carolina Valdez Miller & Debra Driza sing out for the cover of THE SOUND OF LETTING GO

Jessica Love raves about ROAD TO TATER HILL by Edith M. Hemingway

Katy Upperman celebrates THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Katja Millay – with giveaway!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Animal Death in Fiction: Is it a deal breaker for you?

We all have our deal breakers when it comes to fiction, and mine is clearly the death of animals.  It's why I avoid obvious tearjerkers like OLD YELLER or MARLEY AND ME or WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS (hint: if the animal is on the cover, it's probably going to die). But sometimes, even if you do your best to pick books that seem to have nothing to do with furry creatures, you'll encounter the tragic death of an animal anyway. And the thing is - sometimes these deaths seem gratuitous - a shortcut for the author to show that a character is deranged or a cheap trick to wrangle some emotion out of the reader.  And that's when I'm compelled to exit.

Recently, I was reading AMITY & SORROW, an adult novel about a mother and a pair of sisters fleeing a cult. With spare and haunting prose, Author Peggy Riley shows us the horrors these women have lived through and how difficult it can be to escape our pasts.  She also shows how warped Sorrow has become, detailing her increasingly erratic and destructive behavior. But then Sorrow kills a kitten - and I had to put down the book forever.

Perhaps I'm overly sensitive, but that act seemed unnecessary.  I already knew that Sorrow was seriously messed up - wasn't there another way to illustrate how far she'd go?  Anything other than killing a newborn kitten?

There are other books that have shocked me with their cat and dog killing ways.  One of my biggest hurdles to liking fan favorite JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta is that Taylor drowns a cat - and once she did that, it was very difficult for me to sympathize with her (though I did finish the book). I had to skip a whole chapter in Tiffany Schmidt's SEND ME A SIGN because of a dying pet, and gritted my teeth together when Jerome reveals that he used to kill cats in Martha Brockenbrough's DEVINE INTERVENTION (though this is admittedly a good reason for Jerome to worry he might end up in hell).

There are times, too, that I'll avoid books entirely because other readers have warned me about animals dying within (such as BLACK CITY by Elizabeth Richards and ORIGIN by Jessica Khoury - as much as I find the premises of these books appealing, I just can't go there right now).

That is not to say I don't think there is a legitimate place for animal deaths in some stories.  For example, I thought the way KM Walton handled it in CRACKED was justifiable and moving. See, Victor is friendless, hopeless, and plagued with suicidal thoughts. The family's elderly poodle is Victor's only reason for living - so when he dies, it's the final straw. (Note: I think it was wise that Walton stressed that the poodle lived a full and happy life.)  And Megan Shepherd's THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER would have hardly worked as a retelling of THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU without being true to the original's animal experimentation plotline.

If animal deaths are also a deal breaker for you, you might want to check out this list of books where the dog dies (sadly I couldn't find a similar list for cats) and this website which covers all animal deaths in movies.

(Speaking of movies, I was beside myself with worry for the cat in MOONRISE KINGDOM, and then *pow* the poor dog bites it.)

What's your take? When is it acceptable to portray animal deaths in fiction - if ever? 

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Gilmore Girls Watch Along Week 3

Yes, I am very, very behind, but I finally finished season 3 of Gilmore Girls!  See Melody's recap.

In this set of episodes, Rory and Dean break up (because she couldn't tell him she loved him, even after he gifted her with a junkyard car) and then ultimately get back together in the season finale. I'm really liking Rory's relationship with Dean because it brings out so much of her character.  After the break-up, Rory doesn't want to "wallow" as Lorelei advises, but instead throws herself into completing items on a list -- until she goes to a party, her icky classmate Tristan kisses her, and she realizes how good she had it with Dean. THEN and only then does she break out the ole Ben & Jerry's tub and settle in for a good cry. (aside: why have I never seen these five gallon tubs of Ben & Jerry's?! Get me some Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough STAT!).

Meanwhile, Lorelei gets back together (sorta) with Max when she realizes she's not over him, and then *shocker* he proposes in the season finale. But hey, we ALL KNOW she needs to end up with Luke, so this can so not happen, right?

Looking forward to season 2!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bookanista Review and Blog Tour: Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood

STAR CURSED is the stunning sequel to BORN WICKED (my review).

The official summary:

With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate's friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn't want to be a weapon, and she doesn't want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood's schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she'll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.

In the highly anticipated sequel to BORN WICKED, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess's quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.

I loved this sequel! We get more of everything I adored about the first book -- Cate's complex relationship with her sisters, sweet scenes with love interest Finn, witches using their magic against the evil brotherhood -- plus terrifying and surprising new developments. The ending crushed me.  I need desperately to know that things will be okay in book three.

As part of the blog tour, each day Jess is revealing an annotated snippet from STAR CURSED.

If you add up the page number from each stop during the tour, you can enter to win a one-of-a-kind annotated ARC plus a star trio necklace! Find the other stops below, and on June 21, enter the Rafflecopter here:

Mon, 6/3: Good Books & Good Wine
Tues, 6/4: Ex Libris Kate
Wed, 6/5: Mundie Moms
Thurs, 6/6: Presenting Lenore
Fri, 6/7: Hobbitsies

Mon, 6/10: Green Bean Teen Queen
Tues, 6/11: I Read Banned Books
Wed, 6/12: Two Chicks on Books
Thurs, 6/13: Forever Young Adult
Fri, 6/14: The Story Siren

Mon, 6/17: YA Bibliophile
Tues, 6/18: Marie Lu
Wed, 6/19: Beth Revis
Thurs, 6/20: Veronica Rossi
Fri, 6/21: Marissa Meyer

STAR CURSED releases on June 18. You can read the first chapter here.

Pre-order links: Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Find Jess online: blog | Twitter | Facebook | Cahill Witch Inspiration pinboard

What the other bookanistas are featuring this week:

Carolina Valdez Miller celebrates 17 & GONE by Nova Ren Suma

Carrie Harris awakens you to INSOMNIA by Jenn Johansson…with giveaway

Christine Fonseca praises THE PLEDGE by Kimberly Derting

Corrine Jackson is wild for WHEN IT HAPPENS by Susane Colasanti

Elana Johson invites you to her ABANDON release par-tay!

Katy Upperman is bewitched by NANTUCKET BLUE by Leila Howland

Stasia Ward Kehoe is wild for THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky

Tracey Neithercott highlights WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE by Trish Doller

Tracy Banghart raves over JUMP WHEN READY by David Pandolfe

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cover Reveal: Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland

Have you read VENGEANCE BOUND yet?  I have, and it rocks.  So I was super excited to learn that Justina Ireland has a new book coming out next year (March 11, 2014 to be exact) and that is about a Harpy, one of my favorite mythological creatures. 

Check out this premise:

Zephyr Mourning has never been very good at being a Harpy. She'd rather watch reality TV than learn forty-seven ways to kill a man, and she pretty much sucks at wielding magic. Zephyr was ready for a future pretending to be a normal human instead of a half-god assassin. But all that changes when her sister is murdered--and she uses a forbidden dark power to save herself from the same fate. 
Zephyr is on the run from a punishment worse than death when an unexpected reunion with a childhood friend (a surprisingly HOT friend) changes everything. Because it seems like Zephyr might just be the Nyx, a dark goddess made flesh that is prophesied to change the power balance. For hundreds of years the half-gods have lived in fear, and Zephyr is supposed to change that. 
But how is she supposed to save everyone when she can’t even save herself?

And now, check out the stunning cover:

Here's what Justina has to say about the cover:

My editor asked me what I wanted for the cover and I said "A really cool one."

Not helpful.

So I told her I really liked font-driven covers. She gave that to the designer, Lucy Ruth Cummins, and they came up with this lovely thing.

Awesome! Go ahead, put PROMISE OF SHADOWS on your Goodreads shelf, and visit Justina's website for more info on her books.

What do you think about the cover?