February 27, 2014

Review: The Shadow Throne

The Shadow Throne Book three of the Ascendance trilogy
By Jennifer A. Nielsen
Available now from Scholastic
Review copy
Read my review of The Runaway King

THE SHADOW THRONE brings Jennifer A. Nielsen's popular Ascendance trilogy to a close.  It is firmly in the upper middle grade category.  It's a bit to simple to be young adult, but the violence is too intense for lower middle grade.

Jaron can't avoid it any longer: his country is going to war.  He and his loved ones are all at risk of capture, torture, and death.  Jaron might have a head for clever plans and infiltration, but he's used to working on a small level.  A multi-front war is something else entirely.

I thought that it was a wonderful opportunity for Jaron to stretch himself and really show some new qualities.  I don't think that really happened, but as the story went on THE SHADOW THRONE fell into a groove and really moved along to the thrilling conclusion.  THE FALSE PRINCE remains my favorite book in the trilogy, but THE SHADOW THRONE is a truly fitting end.

It's hard to talk about the third book in a series without giving too much away!  I would say that THE SHADOW THRONE can stand on its own, but I can't see it being half as much fun without the first two books.  This is one of the best middle grade series of the past few years, and I highly recommend it.  The trilogy is full of delightful twists, intrigue, and action.  It also pairs quite well with Megan Whalen Turner's fabulous Queen's Thief series.

February 26, 2014

Review: Night Owls

Night Owls First in a series
By Lauren M. Roy
Available now from Ace (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I didn't get very far through the blurb for NIGHT OWLS before I knew I had to read it.  Vampire bookstore owner?  Yes, please.  (I was ultimately a little disappointed that there wasn't more bookstore-ing.)

NIGHT OWLS has a fairly expansive cast.  There's Valerie, the vampire bookstore owner, and her Renfield and another bookstore employee.  There's Elly, a Creep-hunter out to avenge her mentor, and her estranged brother.  (And a few allies.)  You see, in the world of NIGHT OWLS there's more than one kind of human-eating monster.  The Creeps are dying off, but they might've found a way to reproduce.  It's up to the five good guys and their friends to stop them.

The large cast kept me from falling entirely in love.  They were appealing character types, but there were so many main characters to be sold on at once.  (Especially when almost all of them have at least a little mysterious past to be revealed.)  I would've preferred a tighter focus in NIGHT OWLS, perhaps just on Valerie and Elly, to be expanded in the future books of the series.

NIGHT OWLS does introduce an appealing world.  The Creeps are being led by a new, mysterious smart Creep.  Valerie is being sucked by into vampire politics - and Elly might be getting sucked in too.  There wasn't anything that particularly struck me in NIGHT OWLS; it's fairly standard urban fantasy fare.  At the same time, it's not a string of bad cliches.

NIGHT OWLS doesn't reinvent the genre, but if you want a book about a vampire bookstore owner, it's the only one I know.

February 25, 2014

Review: Tin Star

Tin Star By Cecil Castellucci
Available now from Roaring Brook Books (Macmillan)
Review copy

In the future of TIN STAR, humans are not the dominant species.  In fact, they're pretty low on the totem pole and mistrusted.  Tula is part of a group of colonists, heading out to start human planets and raise the interstellar power of the species.  Then she's abandoned and left for dead on a remote space station.

I loved TIN STAR from beginning to end.  The science fiction setting is used wonderfully.  The station is isolated and subject to mechanical and other problems.  It's populated by a variety of alien species, each with their own culture.  As Tula explores the station and encounters more people, she starts to realize everything she never knew.  TIN STAR is a glimpse at an expansive universe with complicated politics.  The status of humans is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Tula's used to sticking with humans and has to find a way to fit in and make money if she wants to survive.  The other inhabitants of the station are sympathetic to her abandonment, but they aren't just going to let her freeload.  Tula starts off simply wanting to escape the station and revenge herself on the man who beat her half to death.  But things start becoming more complicated as she forms bonds with others on the station - and when another group of humans becomes stranded.  Tula must decide on her priorities. 

There is romance in TIN STAR, though it is rarely a focus.  I did, however, truly love the romance and wish that there was more time for it to be explored.  I understand that it wasn't the focus of TIN STAR, but I would adore a sequel.  I know I've been clamoring for more standalones, and now that I've got them, I keep falling in love and wanting sequels.  TIN STAR tells one heck of a story about a teen girl stranded in space.

February 20, 2014

Review: Bright Before Sunrise

Bright Before Sunrise By Tiffany Schmidt
Available now from Walker Childrens (Bloomsbury)
Review copy

Kelly Jensen of Stacked's glowing preview of BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE convinced me that I had to read this book.  She was right, so she gets to keep her blogger librarian street cred.  BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE is a story of a day in which reserved Brighton and surly Jonah collide.

Brighton has lived in Cross Pointe all her life.  She's got her place there - she's the nice one, the one always getting people to volunteer, the one everybody is nice to in return.  Beneath her purposefully polished surface, she's still figuring out who she is in the wake of her father's death four years ago and dreading his memorial in 36 hours.  Jonah recently moved to Cross Pointe as a senior, after his parents divorced and his mother remarried to a rich man.  He doesn't want to fit into the school and doesn't get along with his stepfather.  His biological father completely left him behind in the divorce.  He's left defining himself by what his life used to be, back in Hamilton, and counting down to the end of high school.

It's a classic odd-couple setup, but Tiffany Schmidt doesn't push things toward romance quickly.  In fact, by the end, there's no true love or together forever soulmates.  But there are possibilities.

The time constraints of the setting give BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE a heightened sense of reality, but as intense as Brighton and Jonah's night is, it never crosses the line into unbelievability.  The clashes between Jonah and Brighton's outlooks and personalities feels real, as does their journey to stepping outside of their (personally imposed) boxes and giving new experiences a chance.  It's believable that two teens would find themselves attracted to each other after sharing a such a night.

BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE is a real treat.  It's got all the strengths of a good contemporary, particularly three-dimensional characters and emotional authenticity.  The gimmick of everything happening within 24 hours ensures that BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE doesn't overstay its welcome.  It was a charming novel that entertained me for a couple of lunch breaks.

February 19, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Promise of Shadows

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

Promise of Shadows I've been excited about PROMISE OF SHADOWS since Cecelia mentioned it in her post about upcoming 2014 books.  Her reasons for wanting it - "Mythology, young adult and the promise of funny, smart writing.  Well, yes!" - sounded pretty awesome to me.

Below is the blurb for Justina Ireland's PROMISE OF SHADOWS:
A teen who is half-god, half-human must own her power whether she likes it or not in this snappy, snarky novel with a serving of smoldering romance.

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 changed when her sister was murdered—and Zephyr used a forbidden dark power to save herself from the same fate.

On the run from a punishment worse than death, an unexpected reunion with a childhood friend upends Zephyr’s world—and not only because her old friend has grown surprisingly, extremely hot. It seems that Zephyr might just be the Nyx, a dark goddess that is prophesied to shift 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 else when she can barely take care of herself?
Doesn't that sound awesome?  Plus, the typographic cover would look so pretty on my shelves.  PROMISE OF SHADOWS will be released March 11, 2014.

February 18, 2014

Review: Ripper

Ripper By Isabel Allende
Translated by Ollie Brock and Frank Wynne
Available now from Harper (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Isabel Allende has a tremendous reputation, and I was excited to see that her latest novel was genre: a thriller.  However, her literary roots are obvious.  The crimes and their investigation tend to take a background to character vignettes and digressions.

At first, I thought that RIPPER would focus on teenage Amanda and her leadership of a group of kids (and her grandfather) determined to research true crimes.  But the book quickly turns its focus to her mother, Indiana, and Indiana's various loves, customers/patients, and friends.  Although Indiana seems entirely peripheral to the crimes, it doesn't take a great detective to realize she'll be central at the end.  (It's that fact that gave away who the killer was for me, although there was a brief moment where I doubted my own guess.)

Thus, RIPPER took awhile to capture my attention.  There was much flipping between a large cast, and I didn't find Indiana all that compelling.  She's a touch too beloved by every other character.  However, I read it while waiting for car repairs, which forced me to push through and eventually fall into the rhythm of the novel.

I particularly liked the setting.  RIPPER is set in San Francisco and makes good use of the city's various neighborhoods, social classes, gay friendliness, and reputation for hippie-ness.  Also, the various characters seemed to connect in natural ways, although it took awhile to put together who knew who and how.  To be fair, that seemed to be Allende's design.

I think that RIPPER has a bit too much literary fiction in its blood to be a truly compelling thriller.  The same details about the crimes are endlessly rehashed, and since the police characters aren't the focus, there's rarely an actual scene with someone discovering a new clue, just reporting it.  I must admit, I'd also rather read a novel about ambitious, morbid Amanda than healing, maternal-except-with-her-daughter Indiana.  It was fun to read a thriller that didn't pay much attention to the conventions of its genre.   I enjoyed RIPPER by the end, but think I'd've given up if I had more with me to read.

February 17, 2014

Review: Starling

Starling By Sage Stossel
Available now form InkLit (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I've always enjoyed graphic novels, but I've found that there are very few in the United States aimed at women past their teens - particularly not superhero comics.  Thus, STARLING was a bit of fresh air.  Sage Stossel is a cartoonist whose work has appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic.  I wasn't into the art at first, since it looks like magazine-cartoon style.  But it grew on me.

Amy Sturgess is Starling, a popular superheroine.  (Although she might be more popular with one of the more revealing costumes she refused, in one of the graphic novel's funniest sequences.)  She's also an employee at an ad agency, where she's on the rise despite her frequent absences due to "Irritable Bowel Syndrome."  She has to pay the bills, but she's also determined to help as many people as possible even when it affects her sleep and personal life.  (Also funny: Starling going out to fight crime in her comfy pizza-eating clothes because she can't be bothered to change.)  Unfortunately, a slimy coworker is attempting to steal Amy's accounts, using her work.

There's also a romance to go with the drama of balancing work and unpaid work.  Amy is hung up on a former boyfriend, which becomes complicated when she meets and likes his wife.  She's also meet a new guy, one who might be able to understand her life as Starling.  And to make things even more complicated, Amy's hapless younger brother is in trouble.  It's pretty standard superhero stuff, but it's nice to see it happening to a normal, not rich, not super sexualized woman.

STARLING is a charming graphic novel.  It's also the first book I've read from Penguin Random House's InkLit graphic novel imprint.  I might have to check out more of their books if they're all of this quality.  STARLING is a terrific choice for readers searching for a low-key superhero comic and for DC fans (and Marvel fans) fed up with how their favorite superheroines have been treated.

February 13, 2014

Review: Mistwalker

Mistwalker By Saundra Mitchell
Available now from HMH BFYR
Review copy
Read my reviews of Shadowed Summer and The Elementals

Willa Dixon's life changed forever when she made a rash decision that led to lasting consequences for her family (and career).  Despite her guilt, she's not ultimately responsible.  But when that person might get off scot-free, it just makes everything worse.

Enter the Grey Man.  A local legend, they say he can grant you anything you want.  Since MISTWALKER switches between his point of view and Willa's, it quickly becomes clear that that is not true.  He's the prisoner of a curse, and Willa just might be his way out.  Ordinarily I like books with multiple point of views, but I'm not sure the Grey Man's worked for me.

I really enjoyed Willa's story.  She's going through an unbelievably tough time, and it is uncertain whether she can make it through.  She's got what it takes to make it through, but she also has reasons to self destruct.  I also liked that romance wasn't a big part of her story.  She has a boyfriend, but he's rarely the focus.  Her best friend and her parents are far more important.  The ocean is more important too.  Willa is a fisherman, and her number one goal and interest is getting her own boat.  There's absolutely nothing between the Grey Man and Willa, which meant no love triangle.  Thank goodness.

The Grey Man's story didn't work quite as well for me.  He's pitiable, and never quite as sinister as he should be.  The atmosphere is terrific, all small coast town smothered in fog, but it's undercut by the sense that the Grey Man doesn't have it in him to truly threaten the town.  He'd be so much more forceful as an enigmatic mystery.  He doesn't quite make the emotional journey that Willa does either, mostly serving as a walking plot device.  I appreciated his epiphany in the end, but just felt that the book would've been stronger and scarier focusing totally on Willa.  (Plus, his fate left so many lingering questions for me, questions that might not have occurred without reading passages in his point of view.)

I thought MISTWALKER was a fine atmospheric, short read.  I liked the details of the setting and the relationships between the mortal characters.  Saundra Mitchell continues to combine contemporary issues with paranormal activity in original, meaningful ways.  MISTWALKER has some truly heart-wrenching moments, all leading to a wonderful catharsis.

February 12, 2014

Review: The Tyrant's Daughter

The Tyrant's Daughter By J.C. Carleson
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Laila, her mother, and her younger brother are sharing a small apartment in America.  They fled their home country following Laila's father's death in a coup.  He was the leader of their country, the king (as Laila understood it).  Now, they have to find a way to survive in a new country with few of their old connections.

I loved Laila's point of view.  She's just at the right age to really start questioning her parents, and of course any normal teenage issues are compounded by the questions of just who her parents are.  Was her father a king or a dictator?  That's the obvious question, but many questions arise about her mother too.  Laila has access to information and people she never would've encountered in her home, but she knows how hard it is to get the full picture.  After all, she's been blind to it her whole life.

Much of THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER deals with the culture clash Laila experiences.  Sometimes I wish things were clarified more.  For instance, it becomes clear that Laila isn't religious, but it still takes awhile to figure out why she leaves wearing a veil behind immediately.  (Especially when one of the book's early passages dwells on the benefits of a veil.)  Or, when Laila remembers her mom removing layer after layer on a flight to France, there's no indication of whether Laila changed her appearance too.  However, I thought THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER did a nice job of not demonizing Laila's culture while illuminating flaws and restrictions she never noticed before because she had never experienced anything else.  Plus, not all American culture is presented as good.

There's quite a bit going on in THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER.  There's the aforementioned culture clash in addition to espionage and a romance.  Laila's country remains unnamed and is obviously made up, based on a variety of real places.  But there's a nice level of detail to the politics, believably curtailed by Laila's own naivety and lack of experience.  There's a nice amount of material in the back about J.C. Carleson's research and good nonfiction to read afterwards.

I thought THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER was absorbing.  It was just the right length.  I thoroughly enjoyed Laila's journey and felt for her as she searched for the truth and tried to do the right thing, all while trying to build a new life for herself.   Sometimes the high school stuff was a bit bland, but it was saved by Laila's through self-examination.  She's a memorable narrator.

February 11, 2014

Review: Grasshopper Jungle

Grasshopper Jungle By Andrew Smith
Available now from Dutton Juvenile (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Rising star Andrew Smith did not rest on his laurels with GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE.  This is one of the weirdest books I've had the pleasure to read.  And no, I don't mean weird in a bad way.  GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is a uniquely pleasurable reading experience.

Austin lives in the dying town of Ealing, Iowa.  He's very much in love with his girlfriend, Shann, to the point where he zones out thinking about her.  He's also very much in love with his best friend, Robby, and not entirely sure where that leaves his sexuality.  But Austin doesn't have long to just be in his normal state of confused horniness.  That's because he and Robby just witnessed the end of the world, although they don't know it yet.

GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is strongly driven by both the plot (unstoppable praying mantis people doing what praying mantises do) and the characters.  You know Austin survived the apocalypse, since he's writing down what happened, but it's hard to figure out how he could make it and whether anyone will make it with him.  (I know I was often worried when I thought a favorite character might not make it.) And Austin's voice is so well done.  Smith has created a truly believable, foul-mouthed, and horny 15-year-old boy.  Plus, Austin truly is driven by his love for Shann and Robby.  He might be highly distractible and short sighted, but in the end, he's out to save lives.

I think that GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE will appeal to fans of contemporary fiction and speculative fiction.  The relationships are pure contemporary and all the praying-mantis-apocalypse stuff is a little closer to blackly comedic magical realism than true science fiction.  Smith's approach to the fantastical elements reminded me somewhat of A.S. King's style.  GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is a hard book to define, so perhaps it has the most appeal to readers who are tired of reading the same old, same old.

So this review isn't entirely positive, I will mention that I felt that the ending of GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE was somewhat rushed.  I'd be hugely interested in reading another book or two fleshing out Austin's future.  At the same time, I'm glad that GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE didn't wear out its welcome.  After all, as interesting as the apocalypse is, it's really a catalyst for Austin's coming of age.  And if he doesn't mature perfectly, who does?

(Unstoppable corn!)

February 10, 2014

Review: The Geek's Guide to Dating

The Geek's Guide to Dating By Eric Smith
Available now from Quirk Books
Review copy

I was instantly drawn to THE GEEK'S GUIDE TO DATING.  The cover is cute and, well, I'm a geek and not all that great at meeting new people.  I am, however, a girl.  THE GEEK'S GUIDE TO DATING is aimed almost entirely at straight guys,  which is made clear inside, but not on the back copy. 

Now, there are plenty of bits of advice I found helpful, but I'd've liked for THE GEEK'S GUIDE TO DATING to try to make more than a few cursory gestures toward the whole dating spectrum.  (In fact, I think there is more advice for transgender daters than gay, lesbian, or bi daters.)  The advice I found personally most useful is about places to meet people.  I'll not give away the secrets of the book, but there were some fun activities suggested.  The book was very right in guessing that the bar scene isn't really my scene.

I can't see THE GEEK'S GUIDE TO DATING appealing outside of the subculture.  The references fly fast and furious.  I'm sure I missed some of the video game ones, at least.  The guide does excel in showcasing the diversity of geekhood.  It's also pretty good about how showing geeky skills like picking out which show to follow next or which merchandise to collect can apply to dating.

THE GEEK'S GUIDE TO DATING isn't perfect, but it is funny and contains plenty of good advice.

Con or Bust Auctions Open

Con or Bust is a program dedicated to helping non-white science fiction and fantasy fans attend conventions.  I think that's a wonderful goal, because anyone should be able to attend a convention if they want to.

(Side note: If there's a convention near you, try volunteering.  Volunteers often get free admission.)

Anyway, Con or Bust funds its activities through an annual auction. This year's auction starts today and runs through Sunday, February 23rd.  Up for grabs are books (some not out yet and some highly collectible), manuscript critiques, baked goods, crafts and more.

So go on over and get to bidding!

February 6, 2014

Review: Black Dog

Black Dog By Rachel Neumeier
Available now from Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Review copy

BLACK DOG is super cool.  I don't even know where to start.  It's such a rich world with such intriguing characters and I just want to read it again or have a sequel or something so I can roll around in it some more.  It struck me as something like a Maggie Stiefvater novel.  I want to talk to people about what they think certain scenes meant, or how they interpret certain actions, or what they think will happen next.  (I mean, I adore stand-alones and want more, but at the same time, I wouldn't kick Rachel Neumeier out of publishing for writing a sequel.)

Natividad, her twin brother Miguel, and their older brother Alejandro have immigrated to the USA to find the Dimiloc pack and ask them for protection.  Their parents were killed by one of their father's old enemies and they know their only hope is the respected Dimiloc pack; however, the pack doesn't tend to be kind to outsiders. 

You see, Alejandro and the pack are black dogs.  They're angry and territorial and can shift with their shadows.  Miguel is human, but Natividad is Pure.  It's sort of like being a recessive carrier, except you also get to do spiritual magic.  Thus, Natividad is the only one with a good in, but it's one that means she'll probably be married off pretty young.  This could be very skeevy, the book acknowledges that it could be skeevy, and Natividad's agency in her romantic choices is explored.

Things BLACK DOG has: protective siblings, protective parents, protective friends, spectacular magic, brutal fights, comic fights, silly boys, clever boys, dangerous girls, sweet girls, an exploration of both fantastic prejudice and real racism.  It's all grounded in the tight bond between the siblings and the potential for them to bond with the pack too.  I loved how detailed Neumeier is about both their lives before and their potential lives now.  It's not just surviving the danger, but little things like how eggs are cooked in the morning and remembering to speak English.  And it's all told so beautifully.

I heard people sing Neumeier's praises when HOUSE OF SHADOWS came out, but I never read it.  BLACK DOG makes me regret that.  I am so going to devour Neumeier's backlist.  Also, I'm going to make the time to read this one again.

February 5, 2014

Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy By Karen Foxlee
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Given that Frozen is tearing up the box office, I suspect that many kids now have some interest in Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen."  It's the perfect moment for Karen Foxlee's modern retelling OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY to come out.  And this was a wonderful book to curl up with on a cold day.

The Marvelous Boy was chosen by wizards to bear a sword and deliver it to the person who can defeat the Snow Queen.  Ophelia is a young girl grieving over her mother's death and feeling ignored by her sister and father.  (They are, of course, reacting to the mother's death in their own way and the book is very fair about this.)  When Ophelia finds the Marvelous Boy, locked up for centuries by the Snow Queen, she reluctantly agrees to help free him and find his sword.

I've always enjoyed the way this story subverts standard gender roles and love that Foxlee kept that aspect.  The Marvelous Boy is the damsel in distress and Ophelia is the hero who finds her courage to save the day.  Of course, they can only do it by working together and trusting in each other, which is a nice message.

I thought OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY did a good job of updating the story without losing the fairytale charm.  The Marvelous Boy tells Ophelia how he came to be trapped and his stories are basically pure fairytale style.  Ophelia, meanwhile, lives in a fairly typical modern city - even if it does happen to snow all the time.  But she's constantly in the museum where her father works and the Marvelous Boy is trapped, and a museum is a terrific setting for blending history and magic together.  I liked the descriptions of the various exhibits; it sounded like a fun museum to visit.

I think OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY is a wonderful choice for middle grade readers.  It deals with themes of grief, death, and change in a whimsical, light story.  This would be a particularly good choice for kids who are slightly too young for Claire Legrand's THE YEAR OF SHADOWS.

February 4, 2014

Review: Be With Me

Be With Me Wait for You, Book 2
By J. Lynn (Jennifer L. Armentrout)
Available now from William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Jennifer L. Armentrout has had major success and I've been meaning to read her forever.  (I've even bought the first couple of Lux novels.)  I just . . . haven't done it.  So when I got the chance to review her New Adult novel BE WITH ME, I jumped on it.

BE WITH ME is the story of Teresa Hamilton and Jase Winstead.  Tess had her life planned - she was going to be a professional dancer.  In fact, she was accepted to the Joffrey School of Ballet on a scholarship.  An injury has left her unable to dance until she recovers, so she's now at college as a backup.  She's frustrated and worried that this might end up being her life, if she injures herself again.  Jase is her brother's best friend, good looking and good with the ladies.  He also never called Tess back after they kissed at a party, and it's awkward now that they're back in each other's orbit.

I thought BE WITH ME was a cute romance, albeit one that went on a bit too long.  The last second relationship hurdle made me roll my eyes; I would've preferred more of Tess and Jase being together and working out the details of their relationship instead of pointless drama to finish out the book.  I didn't like that BE WITH ME wasn't all about them.  Tess escaped an abusive relationship when she was a teenager and thinks that her roommate is in a bad situation.  However, she doesn't know how to approach her and help.  But, clearly she can't just let it happen.

I know New Adult has a reputation for being steamy.  There are sex scenes in BE WITH ME, but they aren't over the top and they don't take over the book.  I felt like there was less sex than a Harlequin Presents, for example.  Mostly, it was just a contemporary romance that happened to be set at a college.  I enjoyed that.  (And I definitely enjoyed that it was clearly a college, not a vaguely disguised high school.)

I'm sure that J. Lynn/Jennifer L. Armentrout's fans will enjoy BE WITH ME.  It certainly didn't scare me off of reading more of her books.  It was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning.

February 3, 2014

Review: The Scar Boys

Book Cover By Len Vlahos
Available now from EgmontUSA
Review copy

THE SCAR BOYS is the first novel from Len Vlahos, and it is a notable debut.  It's the tale of Harry Jones, who is both extensively scarred from a childhood encounter with lightning and in a band.  Both of these things are important to his story.

THE SCAR BOYS caught my attention from the very beginning.  It's framed as a college essay, but Harry quickly gets fed up with the 250-word limit.  I've filled out college application and scholarship essays; I know that frustration of trying to sum up everything interesting about your life into a single page.  From there, Harry delves into his history, particularly his relationship with his best friend, the golden boy Johnny.  They've been friends for a long time, but maturing and going off to college puts a strain on every relationship.

I thought that THE SCAR BOYS was an interesting, compelling novel.  The relationships between the four band members are all different (although the drummer gets the least attention, sadly).  It addresses disability and disfiguration without being cloying or reduced to pat inspiration.  It has a disastrous road trip, and road trips are always good fodder for fiction.

THE SCAR BOYS will appeal to fans of Stephanie Kuehnert's I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE as well as teens who are into classic punk.  (THE SCAR BOYS is historical fiction, not contemporary.)  It's a fast-paced, character-driven novel delivered with appealing verve.  If I were that faceless college administrator, I'd accept Harry.

February 2, 2014

Month9Books 2014 trailer

In October, I reviewed VERY SUPERSTITIOUS, a charity anthology from Month9Books.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, so I'm happy to share this trailer for their upcoming 2014 releases.  This is what they have to say about the trailer:
Month9Books is proud to present a trailer for its 2014 list. This year's theme is Month9Books for everyone! From middle grade and young adult readers who love horror, paranormal, fantasy and whimsy, there's a Month9Books title for everyone in 2014. This video features 16 titles, 5 of which make their cover debut here. Visit www.month9books.com to learn more about our books and authors.


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