October 18, 2014

Why book bloggers use pseudonyms

Last January, I read NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU and thought it was a funny little mystery, just falling onto the right side of the twee line.  Yesterday, author Kathleen Hale published a piece for the Guardian, "Am I being catfished?" that reveals that a) she has no idea what catfishing is and b) stalked a book blogger without realizing she was doing anything wrong.

It is a horrifying article.  She finds the woman's address and work address.  I sometimes consider just going by my real name here, since it is a bit of an open secret.  But then I read this.

So yes authors, many of the book bloggers you interact with are using fake names.  Maybe lying about their personal details to muddy the waters.  Obviously, this is one incident with one disturbed person.  (See another article by Hale where she throws hydrogen peroxide in a girl's face and stalks her for two years and yet still makes herself out to be the victim.  Wow.)  Still, I think I'll keep my pseudonym. 

Also, kudos to HarperTeen for backing away from this mess.

October 17, 2014

Review: Avalon

Avalon First in the Avalon series
By Mindee Arnett
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I love YA science fiction, and I love Joss Whedon's short-lived space western Firefly.   Thus, I couldn't resist a YA sci-fi novel inspired by Firefly.  AVALON definitely wears its inspiration on its sleeve, which is sometimes a detriment.  (Every time there was a paraphrased Firefly quote I was jolted out of AVALON.)

At the same time quite a bit of the influence is good.  There's the obvious, like a close-knit crew and young girls with mysterious powers.  Then there's the less obvious tropes that Mindee Arnett cultivates, like being stranded in nothing and strange horrors at the edge of the universe.  It's all stuff I like and was eager to read about.

Jeth is a young captain working for a crime lord known as Hammer Defoe.  He and his crew take advantage of the fact that children aren't suspicious.  When a new job comes up that can only be performed by the Avalon, Jeth takes advantage of the chance to win back his ship and his freedom.  At the same time, he knows escaping Hammer won't be that easy, because Hammer has his own plans for Jeth's future.

Things quickly get complicated, and horrifying.  Worst of all, Jeth's crew is stuck with three survivors who aren't supposed to exist and who are being hunted from all sides.  It was fun to watch the characters come up with a plan, and then come up with another, and another, always adjusting to try to survive.  Not every step is brilliant, but there's some good problem solving going on.

I did feel like quite a bit of AVALON was set up for future books in the series.  There is plenty of action in the novel, but very little payoff for the secrets that are revealed.  I'm more curious about what the protagonists will do with what they've learned than satisfied with what they did in the immediate aftermath.  I also felt like Hammer's interest in Jeth was a bit overplayed.  Some of his other crew members had more unique skills, for instance.

Still, AVALON is a promising start to a new series that should satisfy science fiction fans.  I don't think it will be of much interest to readers outside of the genre, however.

October 16, 2014

Review: Damsel Distressed

Damsel Distressed By Kelsey Macke
Available now from Spencer Hill Contemporary
Review copy

Imogen Keegan knows she's the ugly stepsister.  Heck, her stepsister is named Ella Cinder.  But her stepsister moving in is just another thing going wrong in her life.  There's her mother's death, her weight gain, her hopeless crush on her best friend, and her depression.

Imogen is not an easy heroine to like.  She's unhappy with herself, and tends to think badly of others in return.  She has very little empathy.  Debut author Kelsey Macke, however, understands that her heroine is no angel.  Throughout the book, people tell Imogen when she goes to far, or she eventually realizes that for herself.  Often, she judged people harshly before they could judge her, and she learns that maybe she should get to know people a bit more before making such decisions.  Macke also maintains a careful balance with Imogen's depression.  It colors how Imogen sees the world and her struggle is very sympathetic, but it is also not a free pass to treat other people badly.

DAMSEL DISTRESSED will appeal strongly to artsy YA fans.  Imogen is in charge of the sound booth for the school musical, Once Upon a Mattress.  All of her close friends are involved in the crew in some way.  There is art before each chapter, and Macke recorded an album with her duo (Wedding Day Rain) to accompany the book.  It adds some nice layers to the whole package.

DAMSEL DISTRESSED also has a lot of appeal for fans of contemporary YA retellings and books that deal with serious issues with humor.  Imogen's difficulties are definitely lightened by her own humor and that of her closest friends.  The Cinderella angle is a nice hook, but DAMSEL DISTRESSED diverges quite a bit to be its own story.  There is a Prince Charming, but he's no distant, half drawn figure.  In addition to depression, bullying figures prominently, as does Imogen's acceptance of her weight.  There's quite a bit going on, but it all gels.

October 15, 2014

Review: God's Play

God's Play By H.D. Lynn
Available now from Curiosity Quills Press
Review copy

H.D. Lynn's debut novel GOD'S PLAY is the story of Toby, a hunter; William, a shapeshifter; and Cassie, a Gorgon.  Although it is mostly Toby and William's story, with Cassie's point of view thrown in to explain who some of the many characters are.

I thought Cassie was very interesting.  She's an older monster, one of the oldest, and had to live in isolation due to her abilities.  She's terrified by Toby, who has the ability to lift the Veil in addition to being a monster hunter.  The Veil is a bit of magic created a long time ago that makes the monsters look human and keeps the vast majority of them from using their powers.  It's allowed Cassie to live a normal life, including developing an on-again, off-again romance.  Cassie's sections did a good job of expanding the world of GOD'S PLAY and emphasizing the importance of the Veil.  They furthered the plot, but were pretty irrelevant to the character section of the novel.  It made the separate point of view feel a touch awkward.

Toby and William meet when Toby's group of hunters (including his mom and uncle) are ambushed.  William comes by late and takes the wounded boy home, for reasons he's not entirely sure of.  The two form an uneasy alliance, both wanting to kill Fennis, the wolf who lead the ambush.  They go seeking allies, and along the way develop mutual crushes on each other.  I don't know if there are sequels planned, but there's definitely room for them since the romance doesn't even really begin in GOD'S PLAY.  What does begin is the beginnings of mutual respect and a tentative reach beyond prejudices.

The plot of GOD'S PLAY is fairly straightforward.  Pretty much all of the monsters want Toby since he can take down the Veil.  Some want to make him take it down; others want to prevent him from taking it down.  The hunters just want him back.  Meanwhile, Toby is mostly on the run by accident because he's focused on revenge. 

I think GOD'S PLAY is a fun debut.  Lynn weaves together a variety of mythologies in an original fashion and writes top-notch character interaction.  The few domestic scenes are particularly well done.  She even manages to weave in flashbacks fairly organically.  However, there is a very large cast, so I wish there had been more time to develop more of the characters.  (And maybe some time to deal with the age gap between sixteen-year-old Toby and been-around-for-decades William.)  I wish that Cassie had played a more active role in the climax or made more of a personal change to give her point of view equal weight.  Still, if there are any sequels in the future, I'd be happy to give them a try.

October 14, 2014

Review: My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

My True Love Gave to Me Edited and with a story by Stephanie Perkins
Stories by Holly Black, Ally Carter, Matt de la Peña, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin
Review copy

For her first anthology, Stephanie Perkins did not play fair.  She gathered up a veritable who's who of YA authors to deliver a nearly perfect anthology with something to offer for everybody.  Some of the stories are speculative fiction; some are contemporary.  All have at least a touch of a romantic edge.  There's also a smattering of diversity.

For me, the weakest link was Jenny Han's "Polaris Is Where You'll Find Me," the story of a human girl adopted by Santa.  There were hints of an interesting elf world and two potential love interests, and it was all a bit much for one of the book's shorter stories.  It felt like the beginning to something longer.  My favorite was Kelly Link's "The Lady and the Fox," a sort of Christmas retelling of Tam Lin with a young girl who loves costumes and an old family with lots of stories.

David Levithan, Rainbow Rowell, Matt de la Peña, and Gayle Forman and more deliver solid contemporary Christmas and New Year's stories.  I liked that Levithan's brought in some Jewish heritage to the proceedings.  Holly Black did what Holly Black does.  So did Laini Taylor to deliver a memorable closing story.  I found Kiersten White's "Welcome to Christmas, CA" took longer to charm me than the others, but by the end I was under its delicious spell.

I appreciated that MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME skewed a little older.  Almost all of the characters are in their first year of college.  It united the anthology in a way, and gave it a bit of a different vibe from similar YA holiday anthologies.

This is a charming collection and an excellent choice for anyone who likes at least one or more of the twelve authors.  It's rare to come across an anthology this solid.  And with so much winter cheer, it's hard for me to be a Grinch.


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