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A Reader of Fictions

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Friday, January 24, 2014

Audiobook Review: The Mysterious Howling

The Mysterious Howling
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1

Author: Maryrose Wood
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Duration: 5 hrs, 28 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio
Read: July 9-11, 2013
Source: Audiobooksync

Description from Goodreads:
Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?

Listening to The Mysterious Howling has further gotten me thinking on the subject of what makes a book marketable for a particular age group. The Mysterious Howling has a pretty sophisticated writing style and the heroine and villain (of sorts) are both teenagers. Yet it's marketed as a middle grade. With this, I give up. Books are books and we should read them if we want to, no matter who they're supposedly for. Who's with me?

Why Did I Read This Book?
Two reasons. First, April of Good Books and Good Wine talks to me about audiobooks pretty often, and Katherine Kellgren is her favorite narrator, so, of course, I wanted to listen to a Kellgren book. However, most of them have been books that I already own in print or that just aren't my thing. Then this one showed up on Audiobooksync and I was like BOOYAH. Plus, I don't have any more review audios, and it was there all ready to go.

What's the Story Here?
Fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley has graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females with a wonderful education and is ready to make her way in the world. She obtains her first position, caring for three children, who turn out to have been raised by wolves. Thankfully, Penelope has enough affection for and understanding of the ways of non-human animals, as well as enough whimsy, to be able to handle these strange, howling children. Basically, it's like Mary Poppins if Mary were just barely a teenager and assigned to Mowgli.

How are the Characters?
The characters of The Mysterious Howling are interesting, but they're a bit more like a tableaux of people than a full play. Most of them are pretty one note, particularly Lady Constance, who is a spoiled brat and seems younger than Penelope, though she's not. Little consideration is given to motivations or anything like that, which really fleshes out character's personalities. Still, Penelope was entertaining, especially since she has no clue how odd she really is. The children are perhaps most interesting, but they're really not the focus of this first book and more of a plot point.

Am I Going to Continue with the Series?
Certainly. Though it wasn't a hundred percent love for me, it did keep me entertained, and I do love me some short audiobooks. I'm hoping that the plot of the next one gets a bit more substantial, since not much really happened in here. I'm presuming that the reader will learn more about where the children came from as they get skilled enough in language to explain what they can remember, which could be quite interesting.

How was the Narration?
Kathereine Kellgren does a really good job, as April promised. She has a sort of high class British accent (to my ears anyway, though I admit to not being an expert with British accents, though I would totally take that class), but is also completely willing to do, and perhaps delights in doing, all the voices and sound effects. I mean, the fact that she can deliver the children's lines (most of which involve howling or barking) without laughing (yes, it's edited and all but still) is impressive. She really goes for it. NGL, the howling and stuff was pretty annoying sounding, but it was also just right for the story, so I had a love/hate relationship with that.

Sum It Up with a GIF:

Rating: 3/5

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review: The Burning Sky

The Burning Sky
The Elemental Trilogy, Book 1

Author: Sherry Thomas
Pages: 464
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Read: September 15
Source: ARC from YA Books Central

Description from Goodreads:
It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

First Sentence: "Just before the start of Summer Half, in April 1883, a very minor event took place at Eton College, that venerable and illustrious English public school for boys."

In my experience, YA novels written by romance novelists generally go one of two ways: awesomely or atrociously. Now, this may not be the case for most, but, personally, I go to a romance novel and a YA novel for totally different reasons, and I don't want a romance novel from my YA; romance can (perhaps should) be a part of that, but there should be more going on than that. Thankfully, Sherry Thomas has written an absolutely amazing YA novel, bursting with fabulous characters, action, delightful writing, and a swoon-worthy romance.

Where do I even begin with what I loved when there is so much? Okay, let's start at the beginning, where we meet our stubborn, hard-working, thoughtful heroine Iolanthe. She's practicing hard to do the lighting at a wedding ceremony with her elemental magic, all to protect the job of her guardian, though he's done little to deserve it. Then in he comes, ranting and raving and reminding me of Haymitch (his name is Haywood - coincidence?). He tells her not to perform at the wedding and ruins her light elixir. Consulting a magic text, she learns a thunderbolt (or more accurately lighting bolt) can save her elixir, so she discovers some powers she never knew she had just like that. No big deal. This alerts everyone, both good and bad, to the fact that she is a seriously kick butt elemental mage, and they all want her for something.

Enter Titus: spoiled Prince or hope of the Domain. Because of a prophecy, he knows that he needs this elemental mage to help him save everyone from the tyrannical, apparently immortal ruler of Antlantis. Titus believes in the prophecy and will risk everything, including both of their lives to fulfill it. Though he's very goal-oriented, I took to Titus immediately with his spell-casting and his weird hobby of reading ladies' magazines because he finds them comforting.

Now we're getting to the really good part, namely the one where one of my favorite tropes comes in, and this really isn't a spoiler I promise, since you will guess it in the tiny prologue. Basically, to hide out from the super terrifying bad guy, Iolanthe has to go undercover at a boys' school, because Titus, misguided, assumed the mage of prophecy would be a guy, so he had a male's disguise ready. Oops. Lucky for him, Iolanthe is brilliant and totally rocks at gender bending. Why do I love this so much? Because reasons. That may have to do with the fact that there's always an adorable lgbt subtext. Like, yeah, Titus is straight, but he's totally not bothered by all the rumors that he and his friend Fairfax are actually gay lovers, which is a quality I find charming in a guy. Also, it means the heroine isn't super gorgeous all the time or fretting over her looks, and he likes her none the less for that.

Okay, so, obviously, there's a romance here, and obviously I love it. They have a total hate to love thing going, which is my favorite. They also, true to that romantic arc at it's best, excel at bantering with one another. Thomas really makes you feel the chemistry between them, and I was essentially trying to reach into the book and make them kiss all the way through. Even better, the romance doesn't follow traditional lines, Iolanthe generally being the aggressor physically and Titus the more emotionally committed. In fact, Titus totally spends a lot of time daydreaming and doing the fantasy novel equivalent of doodling her name on his notebooks, and my goodness but it's precious. Oh, and, even better, he doesn't mind letting her save him sometimes.

Leaving the romance behind, I also want to praise Sherry Thomas for how powerful women are in The Burning Sky. On both the side of good and of evil, in the past and in the present, women have achieved both high rank and high power. So often, it's just the heroine who really takes a strong female role, the better to stand out, but the Inquisitor, Helgira, and even Lady Callista are certainly to be feared and admired, in their ways. For once, this is a fantasy world in which everything isn't intensely patriarchal, even more rare in a historically-based fantasy.

My only quibbles lie in the world building, which is a bit of a pop culture hodge-podge. While this didn't detract from my enjoyment one bit, it's a bit to process and might annoy other readers with similarities to other works. For example, I was strongly reminded of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Howl's Moving Castle, and Stardust (one of the cutest scenes of that movie - and maybe book, but I don't remember - gender swapped). On top of that, I found the interweaving of our culture's fairy tales into this fantasy world rather puzzling. I guess this must be an alternate universe then? I'm not quite sure, which is sort of my point. There's a lot happening and it's all fun, but I'm left feeling a bit shaky.

The Burning Sky kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. If you enjoy the fantasy works of Maria V. Snyder or Kristin Cashore, odds are you will appreciate Sherry Thomas' YA debut. The sequel cannot come quickly enough. In fact, I loved the romance and themes in here so much, I may even try her romance novels.

Me, to this book.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Quote:
"'Did they believe you? All boys tell such tales about their wands.'
     He glanced up, his eyes first blank, then lit with mischief. 'Maybe they do, but I actually possess a superior wandthe finest of its kind no less. The sort of fireworks my wand can produce will leave any girl breathless.'
     They both burst out laughing."

Don't Take My Word for It:
Good Books and Good Wine's word: "it’s a total fricken boss" - 5 stars
Snuggly Oranges' word: "It hit all the right notes." - 4.5 stars
A Girl, a Boy and a Blog's word: "Thomas’ style was very difficult to read." - 3 stars

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Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
Okay, so there are a lot of books on my October-December reading list already, so I'm picking out the ten that I am most convinced I will like. Then, later, I can look back and see if I have a good sense for my own taste or not. Wish me luck!

1. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland #3) - Catherynne M. Valente
Okay, so I actually still have to read the sequel, but I loved The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, and I'm pretty damn confident that I will love both of these. The third book comes out on October 8th.

2. Reality Boy - A. S. King
Even though Lili (Lili's Reflections), who sent this to me, didn't like what she read, and I've seen some unfavorable reviews, I'm still really hopeful that I will love Reality Boy. Ask the Passengers, The Dust of 100 Dogs and Everybody Sees the Ants all impressed me, so I'm willing to bet that King will live up to that.

3. Crash Into You (Pushing the Limits #3) - Katie McGarry
Based on early reviews, Katie McGarry will not let me down with this installment either. Loved both Pushing the Limits and Dare You To, and I'm excited to see if McGarry can make me love Isaiah.

4. Parasite (Parasitology #1) - Mira Grant
MIRA GRANT. That is all. Okay, maybe not. From what I've heard, I won't love this as much as Newsflesh (Feed/Deadline/Blackout), but what the heck can I possibly love that much. I fully anticipate that this will still be brilliant.

5. Racing Savannah (Hundred Oaks #4) - Miranda Kenneally
Miranda Kenneally has proven herself with Catching Jordan, Stealing Parker, and my personal favorite Things I Can't Forget. This one has HORSES. How can I not love this?

Already Published:

1. Nantucket Blue (Nantucket #1) - Leila Howland
To be honest, when this cover was revealed, I had no interest in this book, because it looks like it would some poor little rich kids at their family's beach house or something. However, all the good reviews have made me crave this and I will be reading it soon for Sadie Hawkins Sunday

2. Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling
Over the holidays, I'll be rereading the whole series and I am SO EXCITED. Basically, I do not remember much that happens in the last three books and this must be rectified.
3. Belle Epoque - Elizabeth Ross
The reviews for this one have been great, and it's a historical! There's too much contemporary on this list, so I need some more balance. :-p

4. Burning - Elana K. Arnold
Jenni (Alluring Reads) recommended this one highly to me, and we tend to agree on contemporaries. Even Renae (Respiring Thoughts) loved this one. Ashleigh Page (Birth of a New Witch) wasn't as sold, but I'm still pretty convinced this will work for me, even though I wasn't initially attracted to this blurb or cover at all.

5. What Goes Around - Courtney Summers
Oh hey, Courtney Summers books. This omnibus includes Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are, the two Summers novels I've yet to read. This Is Not a Test blew me away and I enjoyed Fall for Anything, so I expect these two to be epic as well.

Are any of these on your fall TBR? Have you already read any of them? What did you think?


Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life

Author: Leila Sales
Pages: 288
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Read: September 11-12, 2013
Source: ARC from publisher

Description from Goodreads:
Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE is an exuberant novel about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.

First Sentence: "You think it's so easy to change yourself."

Just the other day on Twitter, I mentioned the fact that I couldn't really think of any YA heroines whose high school experience in any way recalled my own, and along comes This Song Will Save Your Life. For this reason, This Song was a really personal read for me, one that I found immensely moving, comforting, and beautiful. As a teenager, I wish Leila Sales' book had already been out, because it would have immensely helped and comforted my teenage self.

In the opening chapter of This Song Will Save Your Life, the reader meets Elise Dembowski, an incredibly unhappy but brilliant girl. Elise does not struggle academically and has a loving family; her divorced parents have worked out a great system, and do the best they can for her. However, Elise has never fit in with the other kids at school, and she's sick of being friendless and lonely. Being a girl who generally can accomplish anything she sets her mind to, she spends the whole summer learning how to be cool and just like the other kids. However, the first day of sophomore year does not go as planned and Elise decides to skip the second half of the day and commit suicide, all hope lost. And, I promise, this really is all in the first chapter.

Now, this may seem melodramatic to you, but all of this resonated with me so incredibly strongly. I see so much of myself in Elise Dembowski: her bitterness and desperation, her thoughts that maybe it won't be better and that it would be best to end it all. In my case, I never seriously contemplated suicide, but I did think about it, imagining everyone fraught with guilt and sadness that they never appreciated me in life. Like Elise, I really didn't have friends and could not understand why everyone was either antagonistic to me or completely ignored me. In her, I see what I also later learned about myself: the fact that part of the reason people avoided me was my own attitude, one I hardly realized I had. Though I was not actively bullied like Elise (at least in high school), everything she felt and experienced was so close to my own life in that period.

From there, Elise's experience no longer mirrors my own, but continues to be emotionally resonant and touching. This Song Will Save Your Life really is a story of a girl finding herself and discovering her passions. She's learning to accept who she is and how much happier life is when you stop judging yourself by the rules of society, and do and be what makes you happy. Accepting society's definition of yourself is so easy to do; learning to reject this is a crucial life lesson. I myself learned that in college and I have been so much more satisfied with life since, because I could finally quit chasing after things I don't actually want just because society says I should want them.

Unlike so much YA fiction, This Song Will Save Your Life focuses much more on family and friendship than on romance. I love Elise's family so much. Sales depicts a healthy example of both divorce and remarriage. Both her single father and her mother, remarried with two more children, love her and take good care of her. Elise's family situation is healthy, and, even when Elise misbehaves, they support her and really do encourage her in her pursuits. Even Elise's little siblings are adorable, and her relations with her younger sister Alex broke my heart.

With regards to friendship, Sales presents a realistic portrayal of high school dynamics. There's the stereotypical mean girl and brutish jocks, as well as the outcasts. However, Sales goes beyond the stereotypes and shows the ways that people can surprise you if you let them. Again, Elise's journey highlights the way that she pushes people away without realizing she's doing so, all the time desperately wishing for someone to like her.

Finally, the romance, which me being the person I am, I can't not talk about. Elise differs so greatly from the average YA heroine. There's not an instaloving bone in her body. She clearly distinguishes between lust and love. When a guy does something questionable, she will call him on it, being the forthright person she is. For once, I understand the motivations and logic of a YA heroine in her reactions with guys. All I'll say is that the romance was handled perfectly, precisely the way I hoped, and entirely in an atypical way for young adult novels.

This Song Will Save Your Life is a book that I could see saving lives. I sincerely hope that young people who are friendless and desperate, who do not understand why no one likes them, find this book and know that they're not alone. It will get better, maybe not as soon as it did for Elise, but, out there in the world, there are kindred spirits and, if you hold on, you'll find them.

Rating: 5/5

Favorite Quote: "Sometimes people think they know you. They know a few facts about you, and they piece you together in a way that makes sense to them. And if you don't know yourself very well, you might even believe that they are right. But the truth is, that isn't you. That isn't you at all."

Don't Take My Word for It:
Birth of a New Witch's word: "took far too long for a book just 288 pages long" - 2.5 stars
The Social Potato's word: "painful (in a good way)" - 4 stars
Lili's Reflections' word: "It took me to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows." - 5 stars

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #33: Across a Star-Swept Sea

Across a Star-Swept Sea
For Darkness Shows the Stars, Book 2

Author: Diana Peterfreund
Pages: 464
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Read: September 2-5, 2013
Source: Gifted ARC - thanks, Lenore!
Recommended by: Christina of Christina Reads YA

Description from Goodreads:
Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever.

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

In this thrilling adventure inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, Diana Peterfreund creates an exquisitely rendered world where nothing is as it seems and two teens with very different pasts fight for a future only they dare to imagine.

Previous Book in Series:
1: For Darkness Shows the Stars

First Sentence: "If the Wild Poppy dared return to Galatea, Citizen Cutler was ready."

There's a life lesson in this series for me. Much as I think I'm going to love the books that retell favorites, I'm probably actually going to prefer the ones that retell books I didn't like or that I haven't read. The latter is the case with The Scarlet Pimpernel, though I do have it on my shelves, along with a fifth of the other books I hope to read someday but haven't. Initially, I was a bit skeptical to a sequel to For Darkness Shows the Stars, but Peterfreund weaves Across a Star-Swept Sea into that world brilliantly, creating a read I found much more emotionally resonant.

Not being particularly familiar with The Scarlet Pimpernel, I cannot tell you with any degree of accuracy how well the retelling has been done, but I suspect quite well, as Peterfreund did a fantastic job with Persuasion. Even better, Peterfreund has done a gender swap and made The Wild Poppy. Persis Blake pretends to be an air-headed socialite so that no one suspect that she is in fact the most notorious spy in the kingdom.

Peterfreund really digs into gender roles and the absurdity thereof. In Across a Star-Swept Sea, three different cultures mingle, all with different gender roles for women. Even in Galatea, where women have been able to hold rank and rule for ages, everyone automatically assumes that The Wild Poppy is a man. Of course, this feeling that women cannot be so clever or powerful does make it easier for Persis to totally mess with their minds. I liked how, even though she makes use of the resources available to her, even if that means the assumption of her weakness or stupidity. Persis is a truly remarkable girl, intelligent, focused, resourceful, and a skilled actress.

The reason The Wild Poppy exists is to save Galatean nobles. In that country, the regs revolted and overthrew their leaders. However, they're not happy with equality; they want payback, and are punishing their leaders with Reduction. The world building is a bit complex and won't make much sense if you haven't first read For Darkness Shows the Stars, so I would really start there, even though this is marketed as a companion novel. Anyway, the pink pills simulate actual Reduction and remove a person's mental faculties, so that the regs can force the aristos to labor for them for a change. Medic Justen Helo, a symbol of the revolution because his grandmother Persistence Helo developed the cure to Reduction, fears that the new government has gone too far and seeks to escape to Albion. All of the medical stuff surrounding Reduction, both the sort that happened organically because we tampered to much with genes, and the created sort are entirely horrifying. Society, can we please not do this?

The plot runs largely more to intrigue than to daring rescues. In fact, she only goes on a couple of Poppy missions throughout the course of the novel, stuck instead at feigning a romance in her home country of Albion for most of the book. Romance is pretty central to the plot, not that I think the world building is neglected or anything, but it's key. Justen and Persis have this great hate to love thing going, and have the added complication of having to pretend to be a couple to explain why he's in Albion, since the Galateans don't know he no longer supports the actions of the Revolution. Basically, I ship this QUITE a bit. They have excellent banter, and it's fun to watch their feelings slowly change. Justen, of course, is in the difficult position of thinking Persis is an idiot, as she very much pretends to be.

However, much as I loved Persis and Justen, a couple of the secondary cast were wonderful too. Isla, the young leader of Albion is clever like Persis, and she has the cutest little romance going that she's not meant to. Watching her stop deferring to the old men in her council was super gratifying in patriarchal Albion. Tero and Andrine, the reg siblings, are fabulous. The show stealer, though, is Slipstream, aka Slippy, Persis' seamink. I picture him looking mostly like an otter. He's basically the cutest and also very useful. I would like a sea mink, though I doubt my cat would approve.

Across a Star-Swept Sea was pretty close to perfection for me, except for one thing: the hackneyed way that the novel resolved. Now, with a large aspect of Across a Star-Swept Sea being the romance, certain aspects of the ending are pretty much definite. Essentially, I was left feeling unsatisfied, because the romance aspects were left hanging. The book ends in what feels like the middle of the scene. No doubt this was done intentionally, but, as a reader, I am really tired of spending hundreds of pages getting emotionally attached to a particular couple but never getting that emotional payoff in the end.

On top of that, a very large plot point was left wholly unresolved. Without going into too much detail, there's a crossover with the plot from For Darkness Shows the Stars. We get to see those characters briefly, but they essentially don't serve any plot purpose that couldn't have been done more neatly with other characters. Yes, it's nice to show how the book's fit together, but that doesn't mean the characters can show up and have their plot entirely dropped.

Diana Peterfreund's follow-up to For Darkness Shows the Stars truly is best read as a sequel, and not a standalone, at least if you like to have all of the knowledge, like I do. Across a Star-Swept Sea is more light-hearted and romantic than its predecessor, with the same excellent writing and intriguing world building. Long as it is though, it did feel a bit abbreviated, though I still recommend it quite highly.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote:
"'You think they like you because you're soft on them. But all you're teaching them is that you're soft.'
     Now Isla did turn, and fixed Councilman Shift with her most royal glare. 'And if I let your insult pass unpunished, sir? What am I teaching you?'"
Don't Take My Word for It:
The Social Potato's word: "Is it really good? Hell to the YES." - 5 stars
Good Books and Good Wine's word: "this novel was a pure delight" - 5 stars
The Biased Bookie's word: "not a book you should read drowsy" - 4.5 stars

Up Next:
The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book will be If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch. This one was recommended by two separate people convinced I will love it, so *crosses fingers*

Want to tell me what to read? Fill out the following form with a suggestion! For more details, check this post.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reflections on Turning 26, or, What It's ACTUALLY Like Being a New Adult

On today, the day of my birth, I thought I would commemorate this momentous occasion, with a reflection on the years that came before. As I leave my early 20s and embark on the upper ones, officially (?) leaving new adulthood behind, I want to talk a bit about that experience and how it compares to fiction. This post will be a good deal more personal than my usual ones. Also, I do ask that any family members who might be reading this post (Mom, Dad, Grandma, I'm looking at you), please stop reading now or have the grace never to discuss these things with me unless I choose to bring them up.

In the past, I've complained pretty vociferously about the paltry smattering of offerings in New Adult fiction, and about how I still can't get behind it as a concept. Partly, I just hate the name and don't think a new genre classification is requisite. However, I also feel like New Adult, in theory, could fill a gap in fictional offerings, should it ever actually choose to be about the process of transitioning from dependence to independence, rather than solely about sexy sex times.

My new adult experience is perhaps somewhat atypical, but, still, I think is one that many people will go through, and one I've not seen reflected frequently in fiction. About the only books that have really reminded me of the feelings of that transition are Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and Gayle Forman's Just One Day. All the others, whether I liked them or not, were solely about sexy romance.

College, or, The First Step
Due not to skipping a grade but to the technicalities of cut offs for when students can begin public school, I graduated from high school at 17, and entered college shortly before my 18th birthday. Living out of my parents' roof for the first time, I had begun a new phase of life, one where I could be much more independent. Though still in all ways financially dependent, my parents could no longer control my day to day life. They had no say in who I saw or what I did. I could drink (though I didn't drink any alcohol at college freshman year), stay up late (you bet I did), and have all the sex I wanted (or, you know, not), and they would be none the wiser. Freedom, glorious freedom.

I'm a bit of a strange duck (quack!), prone to daydreaming over action. The assumption one might draw about an innocent, sheltered only child heading off to college, the one predicted to me by an RA who was harmless but a bit of an asshole, is that I would go off the rails, drinking and making lots of unwise sexual decisions. To be honest, I probably would have done a bit more partying that first year had it not been for that pronouncement, which stubbornly made me decide not to drink at all, not that I would have ever been the girl puking in the bushes outside, just to put him in his place, not that he probably remembered the incident at all. In fact, I'm the girl who lives in her head, and thinks about these options being open to me, but hesitates.

College was amazing in most every way. I made wonderful friends, finally finding people who got me and appreciated me for everything that I am (smart, bitchy, sarcastic, prickly, fangirly, nerdy), rather than liking me in SPITE of those things. In college, I learned a lot about who I am as a person and started to slough off the insecurities that had buried me since elementary school. Sure, I learned facts, but I think the most valuable lessons I got in college were about the way that I relate to myself, and realizing that it's alright for me to be who I am and that I do not have to try to reform in someone else's image. What the freedom and the fresh start really did was give me a chance to find myself free from the expectations of anyone who knew me before.

Unlike what I see in most New Adult books I see in college, I didn't find myself through a guy. There was no epic romance in my college years, a fact which seriously stressed me out, since both my parents, my roommate's parents and one set of grandparents had found each other in college, and I SO thought that was in the cards for me. A relationship didn't help rebuild me, or at least not a romantic one. Making true friends who didn't want to put me in a box or demand anything of me except that I be me did help.

Friends helped me see the good within myself that I had been blind to, but that knowledge still had to come from me. To this day, I have trouble taking or believing compliments. When it comes down to it, only MY opinion of myself matters.

Congratulations! You Have Degree(s)!, or, Now What the Hell do I do?
Oh my Zeus, but the end of college is freaking TERRIFYING. I've taken a whole bunch of classes, received a fancy piece of paper, and now have a degree in history (in my case). Well, what the fuck do I now? Seriously, in what way is history a marketable skill? Why did I take these classes? Are there any jobs that won't feel like someone's digging my eyeballs out with a melon baller every day in some sort of Promethean eternal torture?

What I personally did is going for stalling tactics: grad school. I decided my calling was librarianship, largely because of my passion for books and reading, and also because a lot of my soul sisters were going this route too. Sounded better than anything else at any rate. One more year of school and seven more wonderfully dear friends later, and I have another costly piece of paper. Unless you're one of those lucky people with BAMF skillz who gets headhunted right out of college, this is probably how you will feel at the end of it:

Job Hunting, or, How to Lose All of Your Self-Esteem and Drive Your Parents Up the Wall
At this point, my parents have spent an absurd amount of money on my education, and now I can't find a goddamn job. Now, this may not be the case with every profession, but library jobs are thin on the ground, and really difficult to get if you don't have years of experience, which you can't get if no one will hire you because you don't have enough experience. It's a big ha-ha of a catch-22.

I sent out hundreds of applications and lived in my childhood bedroom, days spent on my parents' couch. Not exactly the glamorous adulthood I'd pictured. But, hey, at least I didn't have debts and my parents LET me move back in. Perhaps what sucks about job hunting most, at least in the library world, is that you will NEVER hear back about the status of your application in 99% of cases, and the hiring process generally takes months from the time the application is actually due. Sloths could hire new librarians more quickly.

During this period of boredom and renewed self-loathing, I did finally start up that blog I'd been planning. And, now, it's finally on my blog in a real way. Wooo, full circle. I only wish that I'd known about Twitter and the community earlier (I didn't really find out about it until I'd been blogging for a year and a half), because I was really lonely at this point. Downside of starting fresh at an out of state school is that if you move back to your hometown, you don't have a network of friends.

Eventually, I found a job outside of librarianship, working for a small software company, which at least uses my information organization and writing skills. It's fine, but totally not where I ever expected to end up. That's life. Of course, I also didn't expect to end up back in Atlanta, so close to my parents, so who knows. Prepare for life to throw you curveballs, as much as that is something for which one can prepare.

Adultiness, or, I Guess I'm a Grown Up Now
My last few years of being a new adult were the setting out on my own thing. I moved out of my parents house as quickly as I can, convinced by my father that buying a townhouse was the right move. I'm still on the fence about home ownership, frankly, but I like having my own space. I have insurance on my body and my house, a mortgage, an American Express Card, disposable income, and a cat. When shit goes down, I have to take care of it, and it's pretty terrifying.

What I want to see in so-called New Adult fiction is just that: the confusion and struggle of finding oneself and learning how to deal with responsibilities you're rather underprepared for, and making it out the other side. As a teen, I read tons of books about people in a new adult age range (18-25), and, like now, they were almost all romances. From that, I imagined that by 25, I would have my life fully sorted and perfected, but that's such a laugh.

Today I'm 26, and, honestly, I'm still not entirely sure what I'm doing and I sure as hell do not feel like a "grown up." Though sex and romance are no doubt a huge aspect of most new adults' lives, even if they're not mine, that's still only one experience among a myriad. Real life isn't just about romance, and I want more fiction that reflects these sorts of experiences honestly.

What would you like to see in New Adult books, fellow people who are in that phase of life or past it, that you've not been seeing? For those who are younger, do you think fiction has given you unrealistic expectations?


Friday, September 13, 2013

15 Day Book Blogging Challenge, Day 6: Book Buying

Okay, so I'm late boarding this train, but I want to be part of the fun too. I asked on Twitter for buddies, so that I wouldn't be alone in taking this epic journey. Thankfully, bloggers are awesome people, so I quickly found three friends to travel with me through the book blogger challenge: Lili of Lili's Reflections, Mickey of I'm a Book Shark and Jessie of Ageless Pages Reviews, so make sure you check out their responses too! We'll be doing one challenge a week every Friday for fifteen weeks. For more information on the challenge itself, go visit Good Books and Good Wine's explanation post here.

Today, April wants me to describe how I shop for books. There are essentially three different book shopping methods in my world (when I'm shopping for me).
  1. Poppin' Tags: I am ALL about used books. Do you have any idea how many unread books in beautiful condition go to the Goodwill? Bunches. This is where the bulk of my extensive library came from, and you can't beat the 2 dollar price tag. However, I have so much now that it's hard to find much I'm interested in anymore, so I do less of this than I used to.
  2. The Amazon Shuffle: Oh hey, I want this hardback that's coming out like fire, so to Amazon I will go. Yes, it's an evil corporation, but where else will I get a new hardback for ten dollars? Nowhere. In case you couldn't tell from the first answer, I am cheap.
  3. Rocking it Indie Style: If I buy books from a brick and mortar bookstore, then I buy paperbacks, usually for events. My favorite store to give my money to is Little Shop of Stories, which is the best bookstore ever. Rarely do I buy a hardback because I actually prefer trade paperbacks and list price for them is just ridiculous. Again, cheap.
So that's it. I am money-grubbing.

How about you guys? Where are your favorite places to buy books?


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cover Snark (71): The One with Great Imaginations

Welcome to Cover Snark, where the people are snarky and the covers quiver in fear. Since I don't write many snarky book reviews here on A Reader of Fictions, Cover Snark is my outlet. If you click on the title of the book, where possible, I've linked to Goodreads. Clicking on the cover itself will show you the cover in a larger size, in most cases. Feel free to love covers I hate and vice versa. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

This week's edition is special, because I have Kara (Great Imaginations) here with me or should I say I'm here with her, since I'm visiting her in Florida! That means it should be extra snarky up in here.

Shiny and New:

1. Of Metal and Wishes - Sarah Fine
Kara: I love love love the font, but maybe would like to see it in black.
Christina: The white is a bit hard to read on the grey, but I am in love with this girl and her dress and her weird plastic looking curtain.

2. Entwined - Cheryl S. Ntumy
K: This cover's very boring, minus the pretty girl.
C: Agreed. She also needs to get her ass up out of this creepy forest before those shadow people get her.

3. Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2) - Libba Bray
K: Somebody's about to get hit by a train.
C: The ghost of Anna Karenina is possessing the people of New York City. Oh nooooo.

4. Johnny's Girl - Paige Toon
K: I love covers with palm trees, but there's too much font business happening. Also, are these cutesy little butterflies necessary?
C: No, the butterflies are definitely overkill. Not a fan of the motorcycle either. And the titles of these books. Are we kidding with Johnny Be Good and Baby Be Mine?

5. Off Chance (Off Series #5) - Sawyer Bennett
K: The shadows make him look like he has a unibrow.
C: Damn it. Just when I thought one of these dudes was kind of hot. Also, that bicep is grosssss. It looks fake. AND he would be more hot like fiyah without fake ass flames.

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
C: Well, it's certainly representative, but you could have done better, Tesco. Plus, if it's going to look THIS much like a chocolate bar, I'd rather actually have a chocolate bar.
K: The gold ticket and chocolate look way too fake.
C: The oompa loompas need to step up their game, yo.

7. Perfection Challenged (Double Helix #4) - Jade Kerrlon
K: Is that a roller coaster?
C: I don't know, but, if it is, I want to ride it.

8. Moonlight on My Mind - Jennifer McQuiston
K: That dress is about to fall off. There might actually be tits hanging out the front.
K: Moonlight isn't on ANYBODY'S mind.

9. The Fifth Season - N. K. Jemisin
K: I like it, but....
C: Yeah, I know what you mean. Kinda boring.
K: The fonts and the horizontal rules are pretty clinical. Doesn't hold a candle to her other covers.

10. Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #3) - Laini Taylor
C: Did Hannibal design this one?
K: I LOVE IT. I can't criticize a thing.

11. Burn (Spark #2) Brooke Cumberland
K: *snorts and rolls on the floor laughing* *revives* IS THAT NICK LACHEY? And that headband. *falls again*
C: Check out those rocking undies.  I can see a D and an I. DICKHEAD brand undies coming to a store near you! Warning: they are highly flammable.

12. No Place Like Oz (Dorothy Must Die #0.5) - Danielle Paige
C: There's also a version of this with a bluer background, but it was small. I really like the combination of the balloon and the yellow brick road.
K: Me too! And the font of Oz is wonderful and Asian-looking.

13. Killer Frost (Mythos Academy #6) - Jennifer Estep
K: These covers bore me.
C: Agreed. Isn't this about the Greek myths? There's so much fascinating stuff in there and a posing girl with fake eyes is what you come back with for 6 books and some novellas?

14. While We Run (When We Wake #2) - Karen Healey
K: I hated the cover of the first book.
C: Well, at least this is an improvement?
K: *said grudgingly* Marginally. I guess.

15. Battle of the Beasts (House of Secrets #2) - Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini
K: I love this, and it goes well with the first.
C: Fucking giant series title. I do like that Aslan's going to eat that kid.

16. Catching Fire: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion - Kate Egan
K: She looks super fake, and her eyes look different than usual. Like she's a wax figure.
C: Agreed. She also looks a bit fishy, because the costume looks like scales.

17. Cibola Burn (Expanse #4) - James S. A. Corey
C: Science fiction with SPLOSIONS.

18. The Widow's House (The Dagger and the Coin #4) - Daniel Abraham
K: If someone wants that shield, they better rescue it before it sinks.
C: Or maybe these belong to a magician, and they're about to fly off and do his fighting while he has some tea and crumpets. That's what I would do, though I don't actually know what a crumpet is.

19. Soar (The Empire Chronicles #1) - Alyssa Rose Ivy
C: I really hate these covers. They've made her books distinct with that font treatment, but that's not how I would want to be remembered.
K: Oh, hey, Freddie Prinze Jr. I guess the career's not going so hot. They're also not soaring. Though they might be if they don't stop making out in the damn street.

20. Aspen - Rebekah Crane
C: All I can think looking at this is how much it's going to hurt when she tries to get that tiara out of her hair. I have a curls and the answer to how much is: LIKE A BITCH.
K: That must have been one hell of a convertible ride in front of the float to do that to her hair. Or, she did whatever I did to my Barbies when I was a kid.

21. Sidelined - Kendra C. Highley
K: He's got a lot of arm hair.
C: It's normal, but body hair on covers is so freaking creepy.
K: Also, GROIN. It's all I can see. What does that tagline mean?
C: Well, clearly, he has been sidelined in basketball, but his girlfriend also won't let him below the waist. Note the way she is keeping his arm higher. So, the other way to suffer, aside from sports failure is blue balls.

22. Secrets and Lies (Truth or Dare #2) - Jacqueline Green
K: I agree. Totally boring in every way.

23. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
K: This is kinda cool. Really creepy though. Little kids creep me out anyway.
C: Me too! Children are frightening! This makes me think of this song. SHE HAS ALL THE THINGS. And gizmos. And thingamabobs!
K: Well, it makes me think of Firestarter. Seriously, creepy children.

24. The Path to Power - Karen Miller
K: This looks like a Christian fiction cover to me.
C: Well, there goes that. I thought it looked like HBO's Rome, which is the other direction.

25. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North
K: Ooooh, I love this.
C: Me too, except maybe for the person as the I. It's a bit gimmicky.

26. The Ripper Affair (Bannon & Clare #3) - Lilith Saintcrow
C: The guy's pretty cute, but the steampunk couple posing has been done to death.
K: At least it matches the first two. Though they do look like they went to one of those Western photography places.

27. Reign of Ash - Gail Z. Martin
C: Are these my only options? I choose cowardice.
K: This cover is exceedingly phallic.

28. Heaven's Queen (Paradox #2) - Rachel Bach
C: This cover is brought to you by Machiavelli.
K: Orrrr it's straight from the Backstreet Boys video for Larger Than Life.

29. Cursed Moon (The Prospero's War #2) - Jaye Wells
C: I'm pretty sure I have cooked AND gotten burned on more than one occasion.
K: Seriously, what the fuck does that mean? But I guess I'd rather burn if I had to.
C: Me too. Cooking's the worst.
K: Also, those Os look like boobs. UNSEE IT.

30. Sisters' Fate (The Cahill Witch Chronicles #3) - Jessica Spotswood
K: I'm not over it either. This makes me angry as well.
C: The sisters' fate must be to have shitty covers.

31. Saving Raphael Santiago (Bane Chronicles #6) - Cassandra Clare & Sarah Rees Brennan
C: Are these ever going to stop being boring blue swirlies? I mean, I get they're going to add up into a giant picture, but they should still be interesting individually.

32. Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid #3) - Seanan McGuire
K: This is just so bad.
C: I know. It's like True Blood as a graphic novel or something. And not in a good way.

33. Proxy (Avalon #0.5) - Mindee Arnett
C: Agreed. Still trying to figure out what the fuck this is a picture of.

34. The Violet Hour - Whitney A. Miller
K: I do like this, because the background Angkor Wat.
C: Too freaked out by the eyes and the smoke on her face.

35. Cracked (Soul Eaters #1) - Eliza Crewe
K: *sighs deeply*
C: Yeahhhhh, this is telling me nothing.

36. Heated - J. Kenner
C: Don't you like the way they imply he has a GIANT penis by drawing the t from his crotch all the way up?
K: No, no, no. Put your pants back on, sir.

37. The Midnight Witch - Paula Brackston
C: These look like shoes I would have thought were the fanciest when I was like 7.
K: I like this A LOT. Purple is my favorite color, and I definitely want to check this out.

38. Bad Luck Girl (The American Fairy Trilogy Book 3) - Sarah Zettel
C: Love her dress and hat! I want them.
K: Goes well with the other books in the series but...
C: The background looks a bit cheesy and fake.
K: I'll stay in that hotel, if that's what it is, though.

39. Half Bad - Sally Green
C: This is so awesome, though the title is really hard to read.
K: I like it, but I'm not sure if it's right for the intended audience. I don't look at this and think YA. More like badass zombie book.

40. The Oregon Trail Diary of Willa Porter - Andy Marino
C: Love the art on Tor's ebooks.
K: Not my type of illustration.
C: I can never make it to Oregon, because all of my damn oxen die, and those rattlesnakes think I'm delicious.

41. The Wicked We Have Done - Sarah Harian
K: Ooooh, love! Blue covers are my favorite.
C: Mine too!
K: The font's great as well.
C: Some nice blood spatter too.

Cover Battles:

1. The Diviners (The Diviners #1) - Libba Bray
UK vs. Australian vs. US Hardback vs. US Paperback: Kara: I LOVE the Aussie cover. Christina: I'm cool with either the UK or the US hardback covers. The US paperback is a freaking travesty.
WTF of the Week: 
WTF of the Week began as a special category for one cover I saw, but was so popular it became a recurring feature. Here, I highlight covers, both new and old, that I've found, which, upon viewing, made me either snort or say something along the lines of "Dear God, what is that thing?" If you would like to be part of the fun and have spotted a truly hilarious or horrifying cover, submit it and your snark to cynicalsapphire@gmail.com and you might be included, though I will filter through submissions and limit the number of entries per week.

1. The Dumont Diaries -Alessandra Torre
C: This is how I always covort in my pool. Naked, but for a scarf.

2. Winters Heat (Titan #1) - Cristin Harber
K:Cristin Harber might know how to write guns and studs better than anyone, but she sure doesn't know where to place her apostrophes.
C: I guess as long as the heroes know where to place their...

3. Panic (Rook and Ronin #3) - J.A. Huss
C: Now is the perfect time to panic.

4. Now and Again (Now #2) - Brenda Rothert
K: Ewwwwww, it looks like a conjugal visit. And the armpit hair and the hairy chest and the photoshopped ring and her Mike Tyson mouth chomp.
C: Also note the creepy tagline and how the "and" in the title sort of looks like the knotting on a noose above her head.

Outstanding Cover of the Week:
The Oregon Trail Diary of Willa Porter by Andy Marino

The Outstanding Cover of the Week is now chosen by a Cover Snark reader, not me. They are free to pick any of the week's covers, whether they're to my personal tastes or not. If you'd like to choose the cover for a week, either email or tweet me. You will need to be available Wednesday evening to consult.

Today, Frodo (Frodo's Blog of Randomness) chose the outstanding cover and here's why he picked The Oregon Trail Diary of Willa Porter:

"The artwork is beautiful in a haunting way. It looks like a guarantee to be used in schools. If my reading material had a cover with that style and emotion pouring out of it I'd have thanked the teacher that gave it to me."

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