Sunday, October 31, 2010

Review - JESSICA'S GUIDE TO DATING ON THE DARK SIDE

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side - Beth Fantaskey
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
# of pages: 351 (pb)
Publisher: Graphia
Age Recommendation: 14+

**
This is one of my summer reads that I apparently never reviewed. I'm trying to transfer all my Goodreads reviews over here, so here's this one**

I started this book in April and finally got around to finishing it in July. That rarely happens. But I just got to the point where I had to have a break from this sucker (no pun intended). Has that ever happened to you guys?
Well, the beginning was really good, the middle part was rubbish, and the ending was alright. Sorry for sounding crass - usually I try and sound more
objective and mature when I write reviews, but this book just took all the emotion out of me. It's one of those up-and-down books: there were things that were really cool about it. For example:

Jessica as a character: I love well-rounded characters who undergo a transformation throughout the story - keeps them from being stagnate and boring. I l
ike how she learned to be assertive and take charge of her life. Bravo.

I liked the vampire lore here: yes, even the biting. I mean, they're vampires, they bite! That's what they do. I thought the author, Beth Fantaskey, really brought a lot of creative material to the table, and I also enjoyed her writing style.
She gave just enough information without being overdone, but every scene was described with care and precision. That's a very hard balance to maintain and I thought she did a good job. Except for the letters. Lucius' frequent letter-format correspondence to his uncle was meant to be funny and amusing, I know, but it just seemed incredibly... hmm, not a good idea to use the word I would normally use...it seemed incredibly lame.
And here's where I got tur
ned off:
Lucius went from being intriguing to incredibly frustrating and then finally to annoying. I guess I just hate characters like Lucius, because I was not impressed by his actions one bit, and so I kind of wondered what exactly it was that Jessica sa
w in him. He was too bad, with practically no redeeming qualities. So as a reader, I'm supposed to like and connect to Lucius because he wants to keep Jessica safe, so he accomplishes this by screwing around with someone else? Hmmm. And that's my biggest beef with the story: the author had a great premise, but she blew it for me with the stupid Faith subplot. Completely unnecessary - there are so many other ways to have Lucius accomplish the overall goal of what he's trying to do. Wayward characters can just go die in a hole for all I care. Geesh! And so it seemed like Jessica all of the sudden decided she was in love with Lucius because...why? He's messing around with someone else...and she's...jealous? Maybe? I don't know, it was too weird. I don't really understand what she saw in him. I guess I like my boys unspoiled. :P

Anyway, it ended nicely, though, but I really sped through this one, just to be finished with it. A great concept that, in my opinion, was poorly executed. I don't know if I'd recommend this book to anyone - I know it's popular, and I'm sure other readers will enjoy it. I guess when it comes to vampires, I'm just more of an Edward Cullen type of girl. Albeit the sparkles.



In My Mailbox [25]

Been pretty quiet this week, but I did get something in my mailbox!

Received for Review
Haven - Kristi Cook from Simon & Schuster

Reading Stats

Finished...
Just Listen (Sarah Dessen)
^^writing review now!

Still Reading
Beautiful Creatures (Garcia/Stohl)

About to Start
Tyger, Tyger (Kersten Hamilton)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

New Affiliate!

I'm very excited to announce that Imagination in Focus is now affiliated with the amazing blog
I Swim for Oceans, run by the fabulous Melissa!


If you haven't already, be sure to check out her site!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This is *MY* Reality!


In which I try to explain what the beezus I'm doing...
What is Your "Reality"?
I'm continually intrigued by how many reviews and comments I see where someone has said, "This book is so real/realistic" or something along those lines. It's especially interesting to me when the book in question is a fantasy or dystopian, because as a snarky smartypants, I always wonder, "Really? A fallen angel sat next to you in chemistry?"/ "Really? You have to fight other teenagers to death on national TV?", etc. (that's my attempt at sarcasm - I'll stop now).
Earlier this summer I posted a reflection/tirade/diatribe (depending on how you saw it) in which I questioned the true *reality* that YA authors (and the media) are presenting to teenagers. I still think that the "reality" that is portrayed in fiction is mostly cliched and not applicable to the TRUE majority of teenagers, but that's not what this post is about. I thought about my high school experience, and the experiences of teenagers I know and interact with now, and I thought about which books REALLY offered realistic portrayals of teen life.
These books (parts of them, mostly) reminded me of what my life was like, and/or remind me of what life's like for the teens I know. *These* books revealed my reality and they either offered windows of reflection into my own experiences, or they featured a scenario that diverted from the humdrum "normal" actions so frequently seen in other stories:

The Hourglass Door (Lisa Mangum)
As of yet, this book right here is the single most realistic YA novel I've ever read, in terms of portraying teens how they actually are. Abby and her friends are social but not wild, good students but not overachievers, and unsure of where their futures will take them. Author Lisa Mangum portrays a fun high school social scene, without some of the more divisive issues.
And I love Leo's Dungeon, because it reminded me of the places my friends and I used to hang out, all fun and legit places where teens could have fun and be safe (only Leo's Dungeon is far cooler!). I also liked the portrayal of Abby and Dante's relationship. It's always a good idea in YA to go for the 'friends first' factor. That's certainly realistic to me, because I don't know many girls (myself included) who would seriously get all hot and bothered over a slapworthy jerk. But I know plenty (myself included) who would fall for the mysterious, brooding but ultimately kindhearted guy :P

Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) & Breaking Dawn (Stephenie Meyer)
A girl falling in love with a vampire is not realistic. It's pure fiction, pure fun (or not, depending on what you think of the book). But Bella's teen life is actually pretty similar to a lot of kids I knew/know. She's got her circle of friends (Eric, Mike, Angela, Jessica...I didn't say they were *good* friends), she's pretty good student, later she has a job... Besides Edward becoming the center of her universe, Bella's life as a teenager seemed like something I could relate to. She wasn't a club-hopper or a partier, she actually kept to herself and just went about her life. If you take Edward (and what you think of him) out of the mix, I think Bella's a pretty good indicator of how a majority of HS kids live. They're not into all that "crazy" stuff that's so popularized and cliched, they just do their thing and go about their business. And I liked that portrayal.
And I'm probably committing blogger hari-kari here, but there were some things about Breaking Dawn that seemed relatively reasonable, considering the overall story. If Boy loves Girl, and readers have had to read over and over about how much they *Luuuuurrrvve* each other, why wouldn't they get married? What were Bella and Edward going to do, take a break in college and see other people? REALLY? Here's the real-life connection: while I don't know any teen brides/grooms, I *do* know a lot of people who get married the summer they graduate, or during their junior or sophomore year of college. That's not considered strange where I come from. If you know you're in love with someone (fo'real!) why *wouldn't* you just go ahead and get married? I liked that Stephenie didn't beat around the bush and actually did have them get together in a permanent way. That seemed realistic (as realistic as fictional characters in a PNR can get).

Enna Burning (Shannon Hale)
This is part of a high fantasy installment, so it's not all that realistic to begin with, but there is one thing in particular that really impressed me when I was reading. There's a scene were Enna and Finn pitch a tent and camp out together for the night. And. Nothing. Happens. Period.
In a genre where it seems like every boy-girl interaction is hyper-sexualized, I thought it was very refreshing to have characters demonstrate that boys and girls can, in fact, be in close proximity without their inner rabbits taking over. That one scene (and their relationship in general) really had an impact on me :)

The Percy Jackson series as a whole (Rick Riordan)
Long live the lovable know-it-all! Three cheers for Annabeth!
This is just my opinion here, but I think that Annabeth Chase (not Hermione Granger) is the epitome of the rockin' awesome 'smart chick.' Hermione...she's just downright annoying sometimes! I love this series for so many reasons, but the portrayal of Annabeth is one of the story's many strengths. Riordan is a guy, and he has sons, not daughters (even though he was a teacher for over 10 years) and yet he manages to perfectly capture the personality of a teen girl. In a genre where being a 'smart, strong' girl means upstaging, overpowering, and practically emasculating the love interest, Annabeth shows that girls can be smart, strong, and also feminine, too. I could relate to her so well. And I've said this before, but Percy is truly one of the most realistic-sounding narrators in MG/YA fiction. He's hilarious, heartfelt, and never, ever over-the-top (or inappropriate). In a literary world where it seems like readers have two character options - either a childish-sounding and unsympathetic character or an "enlightened" but incredibly raunchy character - Percy was both original and endearing!

The Dark Divine (Bree Despain)
So I have not fallen in love with a werewolf/boy-who-changes-into-wolf or anything like that, but so much of this book rings true for me. The characters portrayed in this book could have been my friends, and Grace's high school could have been my own. It was a picture devoid of the stereotypes one usually encounters with high-school age protagonists. Despite their faults, Grace and Jude were portrayed as responsible, head-on-their-shoulders kids, and so were their friends (except Daniel at first, but...that's kind of the point!). It's nice to get that other perspective in YA lit, because, well, they can't all be Camerons and Kayes :P I also want to mention that many many people in this country are religious, and Despain's portrayal of a religious family speaks to a very large demographic in our culture that is frequently ignored. That will always be a welcome thing to me, to send the message (however small) to religious teens that they are being represented and acknowledged, too.

Nevermore (Kelly Creagh) - I really like this book because it does a *fantastic* job of using cliches but also completely avoiding them. Popular cheerleader girl and loner goth dude...one can almost hear the war-cry of the cliche: RAAAAAW-YOU'VE HEARD ME BEFORE I'M THE SAME OLD STORY-RAAAAAAAWWRRRR!" *But* here's where the story is refreshing: Isobel's got a brain. And not only that, she seems to actually develop a taste/appreciation for English, if she didn't have one before. Our valedictorian was a cheerleader, and most of the girls on the squad were in NHS. Therefore 'stupid, bitchy cheerleader' is a stereotype that just rings extra-false to me. And for the goth, loner dude (and literature extraordinaire) Varen didn't seem so desperate/lonely/starved for attention as is usually portrayed, and he wasn't portrayed as the 'know-it-all with all the answers' either. You know what? I'm just going to stop talking about this book. It's so well-written. Just go read it (if you haven't already).

Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia/Margaret Stohl)
I'm not finished with this book yet, but so far I really like the portrayal of Ethan Wate. His voice sounds a little "sophisticated" for a teenage guy, but his character, on the whole, seems very realistic to me, and I'm confused as to why he's frequently slammed in reviews. Not every teenage boy is, well...gross or shallow, or a pig, etc. Actually, I knew a lot of guys (and still do) that are big readers and are very cultured. They still say "uhhh" and "ummm" and "duuuuude" and tell fart jokes, which are guyisms, but to me Ethan is a very refreshing but realistic character. What also is real about Ethan is that he knows he is different from the other guys and he's in a sense putting on an act for his friends. That's something that I know my cousins and friends can relate to. There's this image of how a guy should be, and when that image is even slightly altered, people seem to freak. But Ethan as a cultured, quiet, dare-I-say-"nerdy" boy?
I like it, I love it, and I want some more of it!

The Harry Potter series as a whole (JK Rowling)
And here's my reality: parents who aren't idiots and grownups who aren't useless. And guess what? That's Harry and company's reality, too! I always love it when books feature parents who aren't clueless and teachers/mentor figures that actually assist the MCs. It's not realistic for teens to have all the answers, and it makes for bad fiction, actually. And who is a better mentor than Dumbledore? Besides Gandalf and maybe Chiron...nobody! Sure, there are the Snapes and the Quirrells and so forth, I'd say that every bad adult character balances with a good one. I loved how adults played such a heavy role in this series, particularly in the battles of the final books. I was really fortunate to have more good teachers than bad ones, and so it just rings true for me to read about characters who work with adult mentor figures. It just makes the 'kid' characters seem all the more well-rounded.

WoW: HAVEN

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. I don't usually do this meme, but I wanted to spotlight a particularly interesting-sounding new book...
HAVEN - Kristi Cook
One month into her junior year, sixteen-year-old Violet McKenna transfers to the Winterhaven School in New York’s Hudson Valley, inexplicably drawn to the boarding school with high hopes. Leaving Atlanta behind, she’s looking forward to a fresh start--a new school, and new classmates who will not know her deepest, darkest secret, the one she’s tried to hide all her life: strange, foreboding visions of the future. But Winterhaven has secrets of its own, secrets that run far deeper than Violet’s. Everyone there--every student, every teacher--has psychic abilities, 'gifts and talents,' they like to call them. Once the initial shock of discovery wears off, Violet realizes that the school is a safe haven for people like her. Soon, Violet has a new circle of friends, a new life, and maybe even a boyfriend--Aidan Gray, perhaps the smartest, hottest guy at Winterhaven. Only there’s more to Aidan than meets the eye--much, much more. And once she learns the horrible truth, there’s no turning back from her destiny. Their destiny. Together, Violet and Aidan must face a common enemy--if only they can do so without destroying each other first.

Haven is scheduled for a February 2011 release from SIMON & SCHUSTER.
What do you think?! Is this in your TBR?


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Winner Announced! & Upcoming Contest


Thanks to all of the entries you guys!!
Without further ado, the winner of an ARC of The Witches Kitchen by Allen Williams is...





Melissa - I Swim for Oceans
(just send me an email so I can get your address!)
Thanks again to everyone who entered!

I'm also really close to having my 500 Followers Giveaway! Really excited about it, and it's only about 50 followers away!! Spread the word :)

Friday, October 22, 2010

In My Mailbox [24]

I'm so proud of myself for not buying any books this week! Woo-hoo! In fact, I've put myself on a 'book buying ban' until November 30. I have got to tackle my TBR pile.
Received for Review
From Simon & Schuster:
Deadly by Julie Chibbaro

From Harcourt:
Tyger Tyger by Kersten Harrison
^^ I've noticed a lot of yall posting reviews for this one recently. It looks AH-MAZING! The publisher's blurb for this book was extremely well-writing. Harcourt has an incredibly talented publicity division, because I'd buy a coffee table book on sock patterns if its blurb was as enticing as Tyger Tyger's! No joke.

I cannot wait to read these! I always love YA historical fiction, and so I'm really eager to dive into Deadly!

PS - If you haven't already, be sure to enter my Witches Kitchen ARC Giveaway--it ends Sunday!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review - THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER

The Truth About Forever - Sarah Dessen
Genre: YA Contemporary/Realistic Fiction
(no joke! I actually read one, yay!)
# of pages: 374 (pb)
Publisher: Viking, Penguin
The Truth About Forever is the first Sarah Dessen book I've ever read, and most of you guys (and people I know in real life) recommended that I start with this book, first for the reason that it's the lightest read (as compared to the 2 other Dessen books in my TBR pile - Just Listen and Lock and Key) and also, because of the freaking gorgeous cover design. I mean LOOK AT IT! That flower and the white in the background...beautiful!
For the most part, I was very impressed with TTAF and I enjoyed it immensely. This is the first Young Adult Contemporary novel I've read/reviewed on this site...meaning that I mostly stay in the realm of fantasy and dystopian. My excuse has always been that those books "feed my need for escapist fiction" and because they're just more interesting. But there's an exception to every rule or principle, and Sarah Dessen books are the exception to the "fantasy rules, contemp drools" (sorry, that was just a joke. Every genre has merit, and they do not 'drool.' I was just kidding. Please do not un-follow me!)
Anyway, I was amazed at how easy it was to absorb myself in the world of Macy Queen, an ordinary high school girl who has long channeled her grief into an excessive drive to please everyone around her...but herself. There's just something about the Dessen's writing that is absolutely captivating, and I had a much, much easier time reading this than the *other* book I'm currently trying to get through (Beautiful Creatures).
Another thing that impressed me was the strong cast of characters. Everybody in this story was relevant and strongly written, even the smaller supporting characters. Dessen knows how to create quirky, lovable and truly unique characters. I especially found the Wish Catering crew (monotone Monica and hyperactive Bert in particular!) enjoyable. The only character that I feel divided on is Kristy. Part of me really liked her and appreciated the insight she provided for Macy, and another part of me, the practical side, wanted to just shake her and say "what are you doing?!?!"
So I really liked seeing Macy grow and learn more about herself over the course of the story. Dessen is a master of subtlety, but there were times, truthfully, when I wish she would have been more explicit in the points she was trying to make. There were several times, particularly towards the end, when I thought I could see the point Dessen was trying to make, but didn't think she made it very strongly. As much as I enjoyed TTAF, I think it could have been "put together" a bit more strongly at the end. I don't know if that makes sense, and maybe it is because this is one of Dessen's lighter books, but it could have done with more intensity. Wes and Macy's relationship, while adorable, didn't come together for me due to what I perceived as a lack of emotional intensity. Their games of "Truth" were a good way to learn more about each other, sure, but they never really seemed to talk about anything "substantial" for very long, and so it didn't seem quite as "AWWWW, SWEET!" when they got together at the end.
And because this is my review, and I am always honest, I have to mention one complaint that severely lowered my enjoyability of the book. Here's the thing: I am all for the message of needing to "live a little" in life, and making decisions for yourself, not just living to please other people... I totally get that, and I liked seeing Macy come out of her introverted shell in the novel. But here's what I didn't like. I didn't like the perceived message that these changes came "brought to you in part by drinking and partying." What soured me on the story was the encouragement of this behavior, and the message to teens that they're missing out on life if they're not sneaking out and going to parties where they're "minors in possession." That really REALLY didn't sit well with me, and it didn't just happen once, it happened several times. In one instance, God only knows what would have happened to Macy if she hadn't been taken out of a particular situation at a party. As an aside, I also think it's weird that out of all the reviews I've read for *this* book, both here and on Goodreads, I only saw one that mentioned this point.
?? Are the rest of the readers out there just okay with the drinking and partying scene? I just think it's a little weird that no one else (save one person) had a problem with that. But okay.
I guess I'm just different...
But overall, this book was incredibly enjoyable. I have Just Listen and Lock and Key waiting on my bookshelf. I was going to try and space apart my Dessen books (didn't want to load up all at once and have the plots all run together) but I really, REALLY want to start JL!!
I'm so glad I read this book. And the cover design is gorgeous! Just looking at it makes me smile. Thank you to everyone who recommended this book!

Final Grade:
I could have gone with either an "A-" or a "B+," but I really did enjoy it overall, even if it may not sound like it in my review. And despite my one *major* complaint, I thought this was a very decent and overall enjoyable read. And since I'm in a good mood, I went ahead and gave this an A grade :)


Monday, October 18, 2010

how do you REVIEW?



I realized that I never exactly laid out a post explaining my reviews. The closest I ever came to doing so was my rating system post, but after looking at some of my reviews, and likewise reading reviews on Goodreads, I started wondering about the process of writing reviews and before long, my mind started rambling, kind of like it's doing now.

I don't know about you, but I kind of look for patterns between my reviews and other people's reviews, too. I realized that I never told yall what I think is important when I write my reviews, the things that I look for, and the things that matter specifically to me. I always thought they were obvious, but now I'm seeing that reviewing is actually pretty extensive and complex.
So I'm going to explain myself and my reviews, and hopefully they'll make more sense from now on.
#1. The most important factor that I consider, when writing my reviews, is ENJOYABILITY. Did I have an overall enjoyable reading experience? Was it a fun, entertaining read? I don't do this for any other reason, right now, than for pure personal enjoyment. Therefore I kind of want to have a good reading experience. Some books were enjoyable but not necessarily 'fun' (I love this book so much, but Speak was not a *fun* read, and I think those who have read the book know what I'm talking about. I'm ever so glad I read it, but I usually don't read books like it, because I like to be uplifted and entertained in my personal time. Ditto for The Kite Runner - another excellent book, but not really a *fun* reading experience).
#2. The 'What the Bleep is the POINT?!' factor.
As much as I like being entertained, I also want to feel like my time wasn't wasted. I want to know why an author bothered to write a story in the first place, and so I look for themes and messages in books. The stronger a message or theme, the more likely I am to give a better grade. A lot of books out there, I've discovered, are fun and entertaining but not exactly substantial (read: Mortal Instruments series). That sounds like such a teacher-thing to say, doesn't it? Yeah, I like it when authors have a point they're trying to make. I actually like books that teach. The current book I'm reading - I'm kind of having an issue with this factor, because I know the author wants me to learn something, but I'm just not exactly sure what it is... hmm!
#3. Technical Writing factor.
This answers the question, 'Was it well-written'? Did it employ the oft-praised (by English teachers) narrative structure? Did it make use of literary terms: how 'bout them metaphors/similes/allusions? I don't know about yall, but some books just seem way more 'put together' than others. Did the author impress me with his/her vocabulary? Etc.
A lot of times though, #3 cancels out with #4, and so I often times don't take off points if books have a good, strong plot but aren't exactly well-written. Just because you're a good writer does not mean you're a good storyteller, and that brings me to the next factor:
#4. Plot/Storytelling/PACING
Was the plot a substantial one? Did it start strong and end strong? Did the author draw me in and captivate me with his/her storytelling prowess? Again, if your story is strong and substantial, I'm more likely to forget the technical writing aspects. This is also where I use a word *a lot* in my reviews - PACING. Yes, pacing is incredibly important to me. That's not to say that a story has to be told at the same speed all throughout, but a reasonable pace needs to be maintained. Have you ever read a book that just started out so bummer slow? Or a book that started well but then just about skidded to a half half-way through? Or how about a book that just stumbles over itself at the end, as if in a race to wrap itself up? Those are all pacing issues, and they take away from the overall flow of the story. This was an issue in one of the more recent books I read, The Maze Runner...
#5. Creativity/Originality
This is almost exclusively the idea behind the story. Have you ever found yourself exclaiming, 'Wow! That is REALLY COOL!' Or 'THAT IS SUCH A FREAKING GREAT IDEA?!?!' Gosh, I hope so, lol! I would be mortified if I was the only one. But #'s 3 and 4 are the execution of #5. Even if a story is creative and original, that in and of itself is not going to sell me on the story. Brightly Woven was an excellent idea that, bless its little heart, just didn't measure up. On the other hand, Nevermore is still one of the most original and creative stories I've ever heard of, and I'm still all nervous&bothered about having to wait a whole *freaking* year to find out what happens next. Way to go, Ms. Creagh! Also, raise your hand if you think it's hard to come up with a truly original story in YA fantasy/paranormal? If authors write about magic/witches/wizards, vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc. I *know* that they're writing about creatures that have been written about before. And I'm going to give them some initial slack--but they need to bring something new to the table. Take Bree Despain's Dark Divine. We've all heard about werewolves, right? Or at least, boys-who-turn-into-wolves. *But* she brought a lot of original material to the table and created a story that I at least thought was incredibly unique.
#6. Content.
Out of all my other factors, this is probably the one that distinguishes me from most blogs and reviewers. And that's okay with me. I don't expect everybody else to pay attention to content in books, but I do...it's my own personal 'baggage,' and I make no apologizes for it. This is just something that is important to me. A heckuvalotta content is going to earn a book a lower grade from me. Not because of its inclusion in the story alone, but because it takes away from the overall enjoyability. It is true - as much as I liked The Replacement (and I gave it an A-, so it did get a good grade), I would have like it *more* if it weren't for the almost-constant F-bombs. I argue that multiple F-bombs are not necessary to establish an authentic voice. I also am really uppity about sex. Again, that's my prerogative. It didn't bother me in Shiver (because it was off-camera mostly and just alluded to) but it certainly did in Graceling. Here's my rule with sex: The author had better - BETTER - convince me that the characters are in love and exclusive. I don't have to agree with the choices they make (and I don't - I don't mind telling yall that) but if sex is presented as casual/recreational/just-something-you-do-when-you're INSERT FEELING HERE...that's going to lower my enjoyability and I'm going to lower the overall grade. I also don't want to be shown anything explicitly. Authors can make the point without going into an ESPN play-by-play. Besides language and sex, the only other thing that gets me majorly annoyed is senseless drinking. If the author is trying to establish a point, like showing the consequences of said behavior, that's absolutely fair game. Same goes for drugs. I don't have a problem at all with authors like Ellen Hopkins tellin' it like it is and scaring the holy beezus out of kids, but don't you dare throw in drinking just for the hell of it. I'm going off on a tangent now (book I'm reading right now did this, and I'm royally miffed) but that's all I'll say.
#7. Characterization
I've talked about characters before, so I won't go into a long production, but I'll just say that I look for characters I can relate to. The more 'extreme' they are, the less likely I am to be able to relate and the less likely I am to care, frankly. Characters are welcome to have flaws (there's nothing more boring than a flat, underdeveloped character) but they need to have some humanity, too, and a touch of decency. And for the MCs - I like to see them undergo a character change. One of the most bummer things about the way the Hunger Games series ended was the lack of a change (emotionally speaking) in Katniss. She's the same self-centered, socially awkward girl at the end as she is in the beginning, and I'm still convinced she's incapable of love. That is the main reason why I rated Mockingjay so low, btw - my enjoyability went down the drain as the MC's characterization got worse (all in my opinion, of course). So to sum: well-rounded characters who undergo a character change are the BEST (read: Ebenezer Scrooge Model)
#8. Humor
The humor factor isn't as important as the other factors, but it is an added bonus. Who doesn't love a laugh? Whether it's the amazingly awesome and hysterical narrative in the Percy Jackson series to the never-gets-old banter between Fred and George Weasley in the HP series, or Magnus Bane's tongue in cheek remarks in the MI series...humor is a powerful tool that, when employed winningly, can make all the difference in a novel or series.

And that's all I can think of! I really wanted to round it out to 10, but 8 will have to suffice. So those are the things that I consider when I write my reviews. My thoughts might be different from yours, and so hopefully now you'll be able to see where I'm coming from and maybe my reviews will help out more. There are a lot of reviews that I have to take with a grain of salt, because I know 'this person is really big on technical writing' or 'this person really loves whacked out characters' or 'oh this person has the same tastes that I do!' You see what I mean.

(For #6 real quick, I do want to disclose that I make every effort not to pick up a book that's going to be have content I won't like. It's a waste of my time to read a book that I know I won't be able to review objectively, and it's unfair to you readers and to the author. So I try to screen what I read. Sometimes you can't tell, though, until you just pick up a book and read it. But I did want to disclose that).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In My Mailbox [23]


Bought from Bookstore
Just Listen - Sarah Dessen
Lock and Key - Sarah Dessen (Melissa, if you're reading this - I bought this book 'cause of you!)

Snatched from roommate's "Take to Half Price Books" box
The Truth About Forever - Sarah Dessen

Arrived from Amazon
The Scorch Trials - James Dashner

Received from Publisher

Those That Wake - Jesse Karp
^^ Thank you Harcourt! I just blogged about this book on Wednesday, and it's already here! WOW.

After my Sarah Dessen post, I really got all obsessed with obtaining as many of her books as I could, and I took yall's top 3 recommendations! I'm reading The Truth About Forever now.

As you may have noticed, I wasn't that faithful of a blogger this week. Midterms just finished last week, and I had 2 major projects I had to finish, plus I was reading 2 books at a time...which *never* happens for me (I usually stick to one at a time) and frankly, I was in one of those 'slump' moods. This coming up week will be better! <3Amelia

Friday, October 15, 2010

Review - THE WITCHES KITCHEN

The Witches Kitchen - Allen Williams
Genre: YA Fantasy
Released October 5, 2010
# of pages:
Publisher: Little Brown

I've said a couple of times, when talking about a book, that 'I've never read anything like this,' and I always mean it. Here I'm saying it again: 'I've seriously never read anything like this.'
The Witches Kitchen is a short, fun, action-packed read that I devoured last week. It was just the kind of book I needed, too: Witches Kitchen reminded me of a fractured fairy tale, and I could totally visualize this as a Pixar or half-live action, half-CGI film (and this would make an excellent film. Somebody call Walden Media!)
We're first introduced to the Toad, who has just narrowly escaped being tossed into a cauldron as part of a spell conducted by two very nasty witches. She then sets out on a journey through the creepy labyrinth that is the Kitchen, along with a diverse and highly amusing cast of characters, in order to regain memories of her past (because is a Toad ever REALLY a toad in these stories?) and try to find a way out.
This was a fun story in and of itself, and it definitely kept me entertained, but there were several factors that made Witches Kitchen so incredibly memorable. First off, it reminded me so much of Beauty and the Beast, with the inanimate objects that are actually alive...only here, the inanimate objects (kitchen utensils like knives, brooms, and a tricked-out cauldron, are a little on the homicidal side). There are also fairies, demons, faun-like creatures, an imp, and some creatures that the author, Allen Williams, thought up entirely from scratch. This book in parts read like a literary, imaginative Discovery Channel - I have never seen so many fascinating and 100% original creatures in one single book! WOW.
And what is cooler than 100% original, highly imaginative creatures? ILLUSTRATIONS of 100% original, highly imaginative creatures. Here's an aside: I absolutely love illustrations in books, even if they're just the little bitty pictures above the chapters in Harry Potter or whatever. I love illustrations in fantasy books. So I was very impressed with the artwork in this book. Granted, I was reading an ARC copy, so I'm not sure how much of the artwork made it into the final book, but what I saw was awesome. And what's even cooler is that the author, Allen Williams, also drew the artwork himself. Massively impressed.
The only thing about Witches Kitchen that could have been better, for me, was the ending. It just seemed a little abrupt, like the story wasn't entirely finished yet. But besides that, Witches Kitchen was an incredibly entertaining, highly imaginative tale that I'm very glad I read.
It may look like it's geared more towards younger YA audiences, but older teens and twentysomethings will enjoy this book just as much! Read it in between the long, nuanced other books on your TBR if you're in the mood for a fun, action-packed fairy tale with lovable characters, creepy witches, a black widow or two, and a Toad with a heart of gold.
Final Grade:PS - check out my Witches Kitchen ARC giveaway at the top of the page! Enter by 10/23!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: THOSE THAT WAKE

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. I don't usually do this meme, but I wanted to spotlight a particularly interesting-sounding new book...


Those That Wake by Jesse Karp

Set in the very near future, a wounded New York struggles with the aftermath of a power plant explosion that plunged the city into fourteen days of violence and darkness. Christened "Big Black" by the media, the presumed terrorist attack accomplished what 9/11 couldn't: killing the city's spirit and draining it of its life force. An enormous bug-like dome hastily constructed to keep toxic gases from escaping the site casts a gloomy pall over the city and serves as a bleak reminder of the tragedy. Deprived of all reason for optimism, New York's inhabitants slowly withdraw from human interaction and into the cold comfort of technology. Seventeen-year-old Mal returns to the Brooklyn home of his foster parents one night to discover that his older brother, Tommy, has vanished after leaving a strange message on his phone. Mal launches a search for his brother that leads to a foreboding, seemingly unoccupied Manhattan skyscraper; once inside, he makes a careless mistake that reveals hidden cracks in the surface of the world he knows. Meanwhile, Laura, a high school senior is shaken from her quiet suburban life when her parents inexplicably abandon her and two agents from Homeland Security armed with a hypodermic needle show up at her home. The two teenagers are thrown together with a cynical and bitter high school teacher named Mike, and Jon Remak, a covert agent for a shadowy cooperative. The strangers share little in common, save for one terrifying fact: someone or something has wiped them from the memories of every single person the four have ever known. Only by working together can Mal and Laura hope to reclaim a past that was stolen from them--and start a future no one can take away.

A new (I think) post-apocalyptic/dystopian, I love those! This book will be released by Harcourt in April 2011.

Monday, October 11, 2010

10 Random Bookish Thoughts! [2]


Part 2 of a fun little post where I look at my bookshelf and write down the first 10 random thoughts that enter my mind.
Wanna do this on your site? It's easy, fun, and just a little zany.

Random Thought #1: magical swords are ALWAYS better than magical wands. Therefore, Percy Jackson and his sword can kick Harry Potter and his chopstick's butt.

Random Thought #2: I think it's funny that the 'Black' in Holly Black is actually bigger than the 'White' in White Cat, so it looks like the book is Holly Black, written by a White Cat

Random Thought #3: The girl on the cover of The Dark Divine really needs to tag along with the Jersey Shore cast to a tanning booth.

Random Thought #4: Look at that really old MP3 player on the cover of Just Listen!
*points finger* That is SO five years ago!

Random Thought #5: I want to know WHAT COLOR lipgloss that is on the Need cover. I *want* it!

Random Thought #6: The...Knife...Of...Never...Letting...Go is a very strange title. It's appealing, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Curiouser and Curiouser!

Random Thought #7: If Meghan Chase of the Iron Fey series *really* looks like the girl on the cover, I doubt that she'd ever be teased or bullied. At least, not at my high school.

Random Thought #8: If Victorian England really had all those steampunky gadgets, fairies...and toilets...it would be the BEST generation EVER!

Random Thought #9: I want to find a dress *exactly* like the one on the cover of Princess of the Midnight Ball and wear it under my graduation gown in May. Wouldn't that be loverly?

Random Thought #10: It's kind of funny, but I think the girl on the cover of Uglies is actually prettier than the people on the cover of...Pretties. Hmm...

this is the creepiest/freakiest/most bummer thing ever

So I'm surfing Goodreads, as I usually do, and I particularly like to look at the lists for upcoming titles, 2010 and 2011.
I found a book that's coming out in the next year and as I'm typing this I still cannot believe this happened:
The synopsis is nearly IDENTICAL to one of my completed WIPs. I almost died. Or maybe I did die. Seriously, I think I might be dead now.
Aspiring authors - do you have horror stories similar to this one? You think that you have an idea or a story that is so creative, original, unique, authentic, whatever...and it turns out that someone else has already written a story nearly exactly like it?
Is it even possible to come up with something so original anymore?
I was so hoping to get this book in particular published, because it's one of my stronger stories. But now I'm afraid it'll be labeled 'imitative' or worse, 'plagiarized.'
Oh.
my.
gawd.
*curls up in the fetal position*

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In My Mailbox [22]

Several packages still en route, but 2 books arrived this past week:
For Review
Darkness Becomes Her - Kelly Keaton
^^ thank you so much Simon & Schuster!

Swapped for
Princess of the Midnight Ball - Jessica Day George
^ very excited to read this one! Our borders and barnes and noble didn't have this and I'd been looking and looking!

Currently Reading...
Beautiful Creatures (Garcia & Stohl) but thanks to freaking midterms, it'll take me longer to read this one. I definitely won't get to Beautiful Darkness by the time it releases... A pox on school!

Reviews to be posted
Witches Kitchen (Allen Williams). The giveaway for this ARC will be open for another week! Make sure you enter!!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review - THE MAZE RUNNER

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1) - James Dashner
Genre: YA Dystopian/Sci Fi# of pages: 374 (hb)
Publisher: Delacorte, Random House
The Maze Runner @ Parental Book Reviews

Poor Maze Runner! It sat on my shelf since March before I got around to reading it. Luckily, it was definitely worth the wait. I highly enjoyed this book, even if it did take me a long time to read.
The author, James Dashner, really did an excellent job maintaining the suspense and a strong feeling of foreboding, and he also did a great job, I think, of describing the world of the Glade and the Maze to us. As far as dystopians go, this book has it all: futuristic, post-apocalyptic feel, absence of useful adult characters (absolutely no adult characters, in this case), which intensified the drama, a perfect blend of action and suspenseful quiet, and the brain-itching question of "What is going to happen next?!"
It seems to me that Dashner treats his readers the way he treats Thomas, the story's narrator - he drops them into this storyworld, right in the middle of all the action, and presents no answers (at first). Thus the purpose of the book is not only to survive and to overcome, but also to figure out what the Sam Hill is going on. And I think he did a fine job. It helped me relate to Thomas and the other boys to feel just as lost and confused as they were.
It seemed like we didn't get any answers until the last 100 or so pages. I would have liked the revelations to be a little more gradual and spaced out, just because it felt like I was being hit with a tidal wave worth of information. Also, there really only seemed to be one "thing" out there in the Maze, the Grievers, and they really weren't that scary to me, so segments that really should have been "exciting" or "borderline scary" just weren't. I would have amplified the creepiness factor of the Maze, made it more terrifying. However, the ending (especially the last few chapters) was EPIC. As in, best spankin' way to conclude a book. It sets up for The Scorch Trials so tantalizingly!
The only thing that could have been better was the story's characterization. The narrative seemed at times to be inexpressive and matter-of-fact, and I didn't really feel like there was a lot of character depth. The narrative told me what Thomas was feeling, for example, but it didn't really show me. I'm interested to see if characterization becomes stronger in the next book.
The 'language,' too, seemed a little overdone. I found the made-up expletives very amusing, but a bit overused. On the other hand, I can't be certain that boys wouldn't speak so colorfully, if they were by themselves in a big shucking maze. :)

Highly enjoyable and highly recommended! And whadaya know! The Scorch Trials is available now!

Final Grade:

Books for Sale/Trade!

Note: I just had a post not long ago similar to this. Sorry for the redundancy!

Just got a paypal and so I figured that I could try selling the books I don't have room for anymore.

If you see something you'd like (either to buy or trade for) please email me at aeimaginer12@gmail.com

Books Available
Beastly - Alex Flinn (pb)
Pastworld - Ian Beck (hb)
Life as We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer (pb) **never been read**
Howl's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones (pb)
Pretties - Scott Westerfeld (pb)
Faerie Wars (Faerie Wars, #1) - Herbie Brennan (pb - British cover edition)
The Purple Emperor (Faerie Wars #2) - Herbie Brennan (pb - British cover edition)
Ruler of the Realm (Faerie Wars, #3) - Herbie Brennan (pb - British cover edition)
Faerie Lord (Faerie Wars #4) - Herbie Brennan (pb - British cover edition)
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation - Lauren Willig (not YA)
The Masque of the Black Tulip - Lauren Willig (not YA)


- paperbacks are $5 each and hardbacks are $8. If you want me to ship multiple books, let's talk via email and we can figure out S&H. Ditto to international requests.

Books I'm looking for
Along for the Ride - Sarah Dessen
The Truth About Forever - Sarah Dessen
Water Song - Suzanne Weyn
The Grimm Legacy - Polly Shulman
Oh My Gods - Tera Lynn Childs
Captivate - Carrie Jones
Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld
Note: This list does not include ARCs I'm looking for. If you have an ARC that you'd like to trade, please feel free to email me and we'll talk! I just usually don't put up ARCs I'm looking for... but I'll consider any!

:) PS - I take very good care of my books!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Blogger Hop & Follow Friday!



The Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Jennifer @ Crazy for Books.Stop by and get hopping!
Follow Friday is hosted by Rachel @ Parajunkee's View.

This week's question is: What's your favorite beverage, while reading or blogging?

Unfortunately, I have a Coke problem. Um, I mean I have a Cola-Cola problem. Usually when I read, it's in the nighttime, and I like to drink caffeinated beverages at night to keep me awake :) Doesn't really make me feel good in the morning, but still...

If you're new to my blog, welcome! I really hope you'll come back again, maybe check out some of my reviews. I've got a giveaway going on, and you can check that out by clicking on the link at the top of the page!

Review - LIES

Lies (Gone, #3) - Michael Grant
Genre: YA Sci Fi/Fantasy/Dystopian
# of pages: 447 (hb)
Publisher: Harper Teen

I had the same reaction to Lies that I had to Hunger: pretty good, definitely entertaining and a strong installment, but not as good as Gone, due primarily to the humongous cast of characters and rotating points of view.
Lies was easier to follow than Hunger plot-wise, I think. There doesn’t seem to be quite so many completely different things going on. Instead, it seemed like in the aftermath of the food crisis of the previous book, Lies focused more on the characters and how their relationships have changed in the months following the Poof - the event in which all adults suddenly disappeared. It’s been 7 months in the FAYZ, and old alliances start to weaken as new ones form. This book is aptly named, that’s for sure.

I really liked how Michael Grant put the main characters under the microscope in this book especially – it made them seem more developed and understandable. Sam and Astrid and Mary and Albert and all the others certainly aren’t perfect, by any means, and sometimes they can get downright ugly. Oh, there were a few times when Sam and Astrid (especially) made infuriating decisions, and there were a few times when I was just moved by Caine and Diana’s struggles, and Diana’s sacrifices to stay with him. All in all, the focus on characters was very well done.
But, like Hunger, several new characters were introduced in Lies. To be honest, I think this ship is pretty full. Every time I turn around there are several new characters introduced that I (the reader) have to keep up with, and at this point, it got a little daunting.

As always, though, the premise of the Gone series fascinated me from the beginning. There’s just something about a bunch of teenagers (and younger) trying to band together and create a society out of chaos – and all the struggles that entails - that is incredibly riveting. I am completely hooked on this series!

Hurry up and get here, April, so we can find out what happens next in Plague!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

**win THE WITCHES KITCHEN**

When Toad wakes up, dangling over a bubbling witches' cauldron, she has no memory of her former life, not even her name. With some luck, she escapes and sets out on a journey to the oracle of the kitchen. Along the way, she makes friends with Natterjack, an imp who refuses his demon ancestry; Horsefly, a carnivorous fairy; and Pug and Sootfoot, residents of the Kitchen. But the Kitchen and the witch sisters it belongs to, is not a place one wants to end up lost. The Kitchen is pitch black and infinite, filled with furniture that constantly moves when unobserved, making navigation nearly impossible. Its residents are both animals from the outside, unwitting victims of the Witches, and creatures who were born or made in the Kitchen itself - many of whom would not mind eating the Toad and her friends. And let's not forget the Witches themselves, who seem to have a special interest in the Toad. With some courage and wisdom, the Toad just might find self-realization yet - and with it, the power to defeat the mighty Witches.


I just finished this book last night and am working on my review as we speak.
But I did want to go ahead and announce this giveaway so you guys will have time to enter!
I don't want to give too much away outside of the review, but yall -
this book was so awesome! I absolutely loved it!
Highly creative, exciting, with nonstop action and lovable characters. This will be the perfect Halloween lite read!

Entries:
Let's keep this simple, shall we?This is for followers only, so make sure you're a follower!
Leave a comment with your email address
+ 2 points for tweeting about this contest
Winner will be announced on Sunday, October 24. PS - I love stories with frog characters! Absolutely love them <3

Monday, October 4, 2010

Review - PASTWORLD

Pastworld - Ian Beck
Genre: YA Speculative Fiction
# of pages: 355
(hb)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
The premise of Pastworld is incredibly engrossing - it's like a historical version of Jurassic Park: the idea is that a park exists in modern day London that is a living recreation of Victorian England, packed with "official" pickpockets, beggars, and a psycho killer running around who's a throwback to Jack the Ripper.
Incredibly interesting premise.
However, the execution was a disappointment for me.This book was just bizarre on so many levels. The way Pastworld is set up is, in my opinion, not a very good way to tell a story. It alternates between a third person "report" and a first person diary-format narrative...incredibly random, and the chapter transitions were incredibly choppy and didn't follow any sort of pattern.
My biggest complaint, though, is in the novel's characterization, or complete lack thereof. Character actions were presented in a very wooden, flat way, and the book never really explained any sort of character motive or emotional depth, which was really disappointing. For example, early on in the story one of the main characters, Eve, decides to run away from home. No reason is given, nor any emotional insight. There's just a major detachment between action and any sort of depth. Also, two characters 'supposedly' fall in love, and yet they never once - never once - have even a private conversation together, nevertheless kiss. It was just weird. And the Jack the Ripper-esque killer just runs around mutilating people...for no real purpose.
The problem with presenting part of the story in the format of a 3rd person "report" is a lack of a connection between cause and effect...

This book did have some noteworthy positives, though. There is a great deal of historical detail in Pastworld, and a lot of really interesting facts relating to Victorian England, and the author did a good job of bringing that aspect of the story alive. But unfortunately, Pastworld is not a textbook, nor is it a travel brochure. It is a novel, so aspects of storytelling like plot and characterization need to be really strong. And they really weren't, which was too bad.

I really, really wanted to like this book. While there's nothing in it that would prevent me from recommending it to you, I can't exactly thing of any reason why I should recommend it, if that makes sense. It was a great idea that was very strangely and bizarrely put together.
Final Grade:










Sunday, October 3, 2010

the SARAH DESSEN post

Quick thing about me:
I read YA/MG almost exclusively. However, I cannot remember the last time I read YA contemp fiction. It's not that there's anything wrong with it, I just usually read for escapism purposes, and realistic books don't really offer me much of an escape. That's why I usually stick to fantasy/dystopian, etc.
However... it is practically undisputed fact that Sarah Dessen is one of the most talented and prolific authors in Young Adult literature, and her books are monumentally popular. I read The Truth About Forever in high school, and while unfortunately I don't remember it at all, I remember liking it. I really, REALLY want to read one/some of her books again, so I need recommendations!
Here's what I had in mind:
I'm going to have this post up while I work on some of my reviews. What I would love is for you guys to leave a comment with your favorite Sarah books, and/or ones you'd recommend. If you could narrow it down to 1 or 2, that would be awesome.
If there's a book you didn't particularly like, I'd like to know that as well!

Thanks a bunch, folks! Look forward to seeing what you have to say :)
 
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