Book Review: Legend, by Marie Lu

December 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

What was once the United States of America has now splintered into two nations. East of the Rockies, the Colonies try to conquer in the name of reunification. To the West, the Republic stands firm against any such thing, even as it teaches that there never was such a thing as a unified state. War is a constant, as is homegrown terrorism from either the Colonies or the Republic-born Patriots who work to bring the Republic down.
For wealth-born June, life has a simple direction. Once she finishes her accelerated education, she’ll join the military’s elite, the only person to have ever earned a perfect score on her Trial. She’ll make her brother Metias proud and she’ll go on to be one of the most celebrated people in the Republic army.
For slum-born Day, things are rather more complicated. Condemned to death after failing his Trial, he now scours the city as a sort of Robin Hood, sharing money and food through the slums to those who need it, including the family he left behind. Now, with his youngest brother sick with the plague that sweeps through the lower sectors, he’ll have to risk everything to find medicine his brother can’t live without.
Day and June live in separate worlds, worlds that are about to collide in a way neither of them could have imagined.

I was very, very excited for this book to come out. There was a lot of buzz about it, lots of bloggers were itching to get their hands on an ARC and then raving about it when they did get one, so I got very excited. Even after a month and a re-read, I’m still not sure if the hype was my downfall or if the book itself sold me short. I enjoyed this book, but it also drove me crazy.

The narration passes betwen Day and June, both of whom have very distinct voices. Distinct enough that the ink probably didn’t need to be different colors to represent them. I understand the impetus (and I’m not laying this piece on the author, I know it’s a pub decision) but the gold was rather difficult to read. If it’s hard for me to read the font, I get much less interested in struggling through the book, even if the story had been as riveting as I wanted it to be.

I loved Day, both as a character and as a narrator. Though his physical feats often border on the blatantly unbelievable, his personality is pure gold. He has an entirely protective nature. Everything he does, all the risks he takes, it’s always for other people. He’s charming and confident, without it actually falling over into arrogance, and he has a refreshingly practical look at things. He’s out to help people, and if embarrasing the Republic is a consequence of the best way to do that, so be it, but he doesn’t go out of his way to force the issue. He’s not out to make himself into the symbol he becomes. I love seeing him interact with Tess, love their history and the way they came together. He has an easy way about him that brings us into his confidence, that lets us see the desperation and the need that exists all around him- and within him.

June was, for about half the book, far less compelling. She’s arrogant, judgmental, convinced of her own superiority without even a thought for anyone who doesn’t meet her standards. Her defiance isn’t charming, it’s obnoxious. For a long time, I really just wanted to reach into the book and throttle her into some kind of sense. She does, however, redeem herself. When June finally falls off her pedestal, when she’s forced to start genuinely questioning things, when she sees another side, when she finally becomes honestly vulnerable, she gets a lot more interesting. She also finally wins my respect. I don’t necessarily need to like a character, but I need to be invested in them. I need to care what happens to them. If I’m more concerned with what happens to the dog while June is out on her hunt, there’s a problem. She gets there, though, for all I wish it would have happened about 150 pages earlier.

What it really comes down to, I think, is that I never really settled into this book. Obviously it’s largely a dystopian, but it also drifted into steampunk and medical thriller and others. I wanted something concrete about the world, something that made me feel like I’m someplace real and distinct. I never got that. We’re told that the schism between Republic and Colonies is essential, but we’re never given any history between them. We don’t know how far in the future we are, but we also don’t know why things from the past have apparently crept back into style (like corsets). We’re given lovely details about why the rich wear white at funerals but nothing about what created the Republic in the first time. Worse than the things that are never given are the things that are given but never fulfilled. Things and events that are certainly handed to us as extremely significant are then glossed over. Yes, this is a first book, so if we’re patient there may be answers in future installments, but there’s more to a full-series arc than leaving us in the dark. For example (and dancing around spoilers), June is introduced to a Very Important Person, introduced in such a way that it absolutely has to be significant, or why have it in there at all? And then…nothing. Not even a hint that it’s going to fulfill it’s significance in another book.

For all the pieces of this book that drove me crazy- like constantly being told by June and Day that the other is “so beautiful”, little too Twilight for my taste if it’s never actually significant in what it can do for them- there were things I really loved. I loved Day. I loved Thomas- his arc was, I think, perfectly executed and one of the best things about this book. It was exactingly paced, flawless in delivery, and brings up strong emotions. I loved the support of the common people for Day- though I wish there would have been small hints of it sooner, so it’s more of a reality than a symbol.

I loved Metias. Specifically- I loved his similarities to Day. They have wildly different personality traits on the whole, not to be confused for each other, but where they overlap is strong and impactful. Those parallels are a large part of why June finally becomes interesting and compelling, why she stops being someone I want to throttle and becomes someone I would- perhaps grudgingly- support in her efforts. There are things I won’t talk about because of spoilers that I want to see come to fruition, see how they continue to affect the story and the characters.

In the end, I guess my feelings for this book could be largely summed up as ambivalence. There were some things I loved, there were a lot of things I hated. Will I read the next installments? Absolutely! I want to know what happened to create this world. I want to know where Day (and, I suppose, June) ventures next. I want what I felt was missing from this book, and there was enough I thought was done superbly to merit that hope.

Until next time~
Cheers~

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Christmas Congratulations

December 25, 2011 at 12:08 am (General) ()

Today’s a day of family, no matter what holidays you do or do not celebrate this time of year. So today’s going to be brief and to the point.

Congratulations to the recent slew of giveaway winners!

From the Gift of Reading Giveawa:

Prize Pack 1: KARINA!!!

Prize Pack 2: PAOLA!!!

From the Nightspell blog tour swag giveaway:

MELANNIE and MICHELLE!!!

AND….*drumroll please*…

From the Top Ten 2011 giveaway:

TRICIA-WA wins an ARC of Under the Never Sky!!!

Congratulations to all the winners!

And happy holidays to you all.

Until next time~
Cheers
Dot

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Book Review: Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi

December 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm (Book Reviews, Giveaway) (, , , , )

In a world where the skies constantly ripple with the cripping aether storms, survivors are sharply divided: there are those who live in the multi-pod complexes, completely cut off from the oustide world, and those who take their chances out in the wilds. Aria has spent all her life in the pseudo-reality of the realms, with limited real contact and, so long as the pods hold out, shelter from the storms. She’s never been hungry or exhausted, never been in physical danger. Peregrine has spent all his life hunting the wilds to keep his tribe alive, his preternatural senses both strength and bane beneath the aether skies. Neither has ever desired contact with the other’s world.
Until.
Aria breaks all the rules to try to contact her mother, cut off from contact in another pod. Peregrine breaks into a pod to search for medicine for his dying nephew.
Now things will never be the same.

This book does an amazing job of easing you into world-specific slang and terms. Most books fall sharply to one side or the other in this arena: either they explain every piece of slang as soon as they use it so it’s all telling no showing, or they use it fluently and never explain it. This is a wonderful balance. The slang is used naturally, the first time left to stand on its own, but the second and third and even the fourth time it’s used in strong context so we understand the gist, and eventually the nuances are given a little more explicitly. Because of that, the language folds around us, bringing us into a very different world with echoes of our own.

It’s an awesome world too. It’s our world, distantly. We’re never given to know exactly what happened, what brought the aether swirling into the skies, but enough time has passed that two very distinct societies have evolved. Within the pods, life is very sterile and clean. The people are genetically designed and illness has all but been irradicated. Personal contact- the actual physical act of contact- is rare. Most of them spend every waking moment in the Realms, countless pseudo-reality realms accessed through a thought and a Smarteye. Things are only echoes there, the sense of a thing without the true feeling. It’s virtual reality taken to an unsurpassed level of integration, where the genuine reality begins to feel unreal. Outside, society has regressed to tribes striving to survive beneath the aether storms and unpredictable food sources. People have evolved in the wilds, taking on nearly supernatural sensory abilities. Loyalties are important, marriages are undertaken with a care to bloodlines, and your name helps define who you are. Half-wild, half-civilized, they’re not far off from the Savages the pod-Dwellers think them to be. Most cling to communities where others can help them survive, some wander in cannibal tribes in the wastes, while others take their chances out on their own. The details are gorgeous, not always pleasant, and fully immerses you in a sharp-edged world.

Aria has never stepped foot outside of Reverie. Her entire life has been immersion in the Realms- and her mother. Lumina is a scientist who can’t discuss her work, but she crafted her daughter’s genes to give her a glorious voice. Off at another pod for research purposes, she abruptly loses contact with Aria. Desperate to reach her mother, she agrees to something reckless, something with only a slim chance of working- and it backfires horrifically, leading to three deaths and her inceremonious exile from Reverie. Dwellers can’t survive outside the pods- there’s nothing there for them. She can feel the aether sickness working through her, a sickness that will either kill her or mutate her (maybe both). Through her journey, she learns to find strength. She has stubbornness right from the beginning but she gradually acquires a real strength that can see her through anything. Well, nearly anything. Love isn’t much a part of the pod world; it isn’t neat, it isn’t always pretty, and it can have more than a little of the sharp, fierce joy that marks a savage life. What skills she has (opera among them) she learns to use, but most importantly, she learns what the world looks like with both eyes open, rather than hiding from reality in a Realm or behind a Smarteye.

I adored Peregrine. He’s wild and fierce, as much a predator as anything on four legs in the wilds. Despite that savagery though, that hint of mercilessness that keeps him from being kind precisely, he has strong loyalties and an even stronger sense of duty. So many of his actions directly relate to his tribe, the Tides, and what he can do for their welfare. It’s constant, an everpresent thread of determination. For all that, he’s also stubborn, generally unwilling to concede, and more than a little arrogant. He’s a bad boy- easy with the women, very sure of himself- but he’s also a leader who generally cares about the well-being of his people and who would move heaven and earth to save his nephew. He’s also occasionally a little over-whelmed. That’s when I really loved him. He has all the prejudices Aria does and then some, as well as a supreme impatience for other people’s weakness, but he is utterly endearing when he has to admit to himself that he is completely lost.

This book does a really good job of balancing exposition and action. We slowly learn bits and pieces of the larger world and the history, plus teasing hints of a possibly mythical paradise called the Still Blue, a place where the aether vanishes into clear blue skies. What happens in the first pages to hurl Aria into the outside world comes back in a major way and will continue to do so, and it is a doozy. The relationship that slowly, even reluctantly, grows between Aria and Peregrine reminds me a great deal of Beatrice and Benedick- utter detestation that treads a prickly path towards mutual respect until the painful realization that respect has become something more. It’s real, full of fits and starts, uncertainties that they sometimes surpass and other times allow to cripple them. Roar and Talon are amazing side characters, fully capable of evoking a wide range of emotions, and I fully look forward to meeting the mysterious Liv. I also loved Cinder- a very, very complicated little creature who suffers under a weath of pain and loathing.

Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi, out in stores 3 January 2012. Want to win an ARC? Hop on over here and tell me your favorite book(s) of 2011, and you’ll be entered to win! (US only, open through Christmas)

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Top Ten of 2011 + Giveaway

December 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm (Giveaway) (, , , , , )

I’ve read a loooooooot of books this year. Some were re-reads, a healthy amount were non-YA/MG, but I still had a lot of books left on my list when the narrowing was done. So, thought I’d share with you some of my favorite discoveries of this year.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. You’ve heard me gush about this a LOT in the past few months but I still can’t get over how much I love this book. It’s gorgeous in every way- in story, in character, in scope…especially in language. This is a book that makes you fall in love with words all over again, a book that makes you close your eyes to savor the image painted across the back of your lids. It’s about the price of wishes, the importance of small things, about all the many, many types of love. This is a book that makes you want to tear through it, devour it whole, except you can’t- sometimes you just have to stop to absorb. This is a book that absolutely took my breath away.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. The Hunger Games changed the landscape of teen writing in much the same way the Twilight did, in creating a thirst for more within a specific genre. Where Divergent steps apart, though, is that isn’t merely a dystopian- it goes beyond its world to ask the more basic- and more important- question of who we are. Perhaps even more than that, it asks us who we choose to be. It’s a simple question but, as we learn through Tris, it’s a far from simple answer. It’s a brutal story, but in that brutality we’re forced to confront some painful truths, accept some painful facts. We- and Tris- are the better for it. This was one I read straight in one sitting, minus some necessary pauses where my managers expected me to actually work, and I can’t wait for the next one in May.

Entwined, by Heather Dixon. I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings and this is a fantastic example of why. This is a beautiful blend of the base fairy tale (in this case, the Twelve Dancing Princesses), a mildly fantasy version of our world, a historical setting, a story of manners, and a thread of superb voice that ties them all together. There’s never any question of what the foundation story is, it’s never buried beneath everything else, but it still makes the story its own. The characters are distinct and rounded, full of surprises while remaining consistent, and it’s a light frolic through an enchanting atmosphere. I actually re-read this one a couple of times through the year simply because it makes me feel better.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson. This book is squarely fantasy and yet it manages to feel historical. Its borrowed influences are so strong and so well built that we open the pages and feel transported to what could be Alhambra in Moorish Spain. The details are amazing. Things don’t just happen around us, we’re fully immersed in them. We don’t just watch the story happen; we hear it, smell it, taste it. Both the good and bad of the full sensory range. Elisa isn’t your typical heroine- she has a strong degree of self-loathing and an overwhelming conviction of her own uselessness in the face of a grand destiny imbedded in her navel. Yes, her navel. Elisa’s journey through a rich, vibrantly crafted world echoes through her internal journey for a story that’s riveting and enveloping.

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver. This is a story that starts cold and painful and terribly alone and grows into something heart-warming and cozy and ineffably beautiful. It’s about losing things and sometimes finding them- and sometimes finding something better. This is a story that made me melt over and over and over while reading it and I can’t even put into words just how much I loved it. It’s a Middle Grade but it’s one that should be read by everyone, regardless of age. At its heart this is a story about belonging to a family, no matter how unusual, and that’s something everyone should have a part of.

The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. Yes, I’m cheating and saying a full series instead of a single book, but I just discovered the series this year and absolutely fell in love. I read the first four (City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, and Clockwork Angel) straight in a row, had to wait about two weeks for City of Fallen Angels, and then promptly reread all of them to do reviews. Yes, that translates to reading all five of them twice in two and a half weeks. I’ve even read them again since. I am all about characters and I love how incredibly complex and well-rounded the inhabitants of the Shadowhunters’ world are. I also love that Clare is rather brutal to them- what she puts them through forces them to continue changing, pushes them against things they think they can never encompass, and then makes things even worse. It’s built off of amazing combinations of mythologies and no matter what, there’s always a thread of humor both bizarre and macabre (cannibal ducks, anyone?)

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. This was my first foray into the insanity that is Maureen Johnson’s everyday life, inspired largely by how crazy and entertaining she is on Twitter and partly from the fact that I went through a Jack the Ripper obsession in late middle school. I should have guessed, from the Twitter feed, that this was not a safe book to read in front of the computer- fortunately, I was able to clean all the soda from my keyboard and other than the N key being a little sticky, it’s still fully functional. Rory is hysterically earnest as a narrator but there’s a dark thread woven through the story that gives us both gravity and danger. There are times when this is edge-of-your-seat riveting. And there’s page 161. This was a fantastic entree into Johnsonland, a story that turns ghost stories on its ear with an inimitable style.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. This is an exceptional example of how characters can be defined by their environs. Puck and Sean as they are couldn’t exist anywhere other than the Isle of Thisby. Everything in this book ties back into what it means to be part of the island. You don’t belong to the island simply because you grew up there- most who live there all their lives are never so much a part of it as Sean and Puck. Between them, they are the island and the ocean and the capaill uisce that straddle the bloody foam of the surf. Absolutely gorgeous.

Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. I adore Rick Riordan, not just because I love the stories but because he’s inspired millions and millions of kids to read. But the stories are amazing too. Son of Neptune continues the grand story of Percy Jackson but also allows it to keep expanding in a world that had a lot to offer. The Roman world, for all it’s borrowed from the Greeks, is very different in execution. We’re definitely not in Camp Half-Blood, with its cozy campfires and Capture the Flag. Then again, at Half-Blood you never see what happens after they’re old enough to leave camp. I love the differences, the way we sink into this larger world, and I love how we get such a mix of emotions through the story. Riordan isn’t afraid to allow hard things to happen to his characters and from that they grow.

The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff. I have a love of broken things, especially broken things that rework themselves into something lovely while still retaining all their broken history. This book is a love song to broken things, lost things, things that careen about in a constant state of half-destruction. It’s a love song, yes, but it’s also a quest and an endless journey into self-discovery and maybe, in a very hard-won sort of way, to self-love. Or at least to loving someone who loves you in spite of all your brokenness. It’s framed by religion yet is never constrained by that. It’s a frame, but not a cage. It’s beautiful and sharp-edged, full of shattered glass and shattered dreams, and clings to that tenuous, dangerous promise of hope.

What are your favorites from this year? Share below and get entered for an ARC of Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi. I’ll draw the winner on the 25th as a special Christmas surprise. (not international, sorry- that kind of shipping is expensive)

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

December 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

It’s nearly November, and on the Isle of Thisby that means two things: death and the capaill uisce. The water horses will flock to the shore, sea-hungry and blood-hungry, and men will try to ride them through the races for the chance of glory and a purse most of them can’t hope to earn in a lifetime. For Sean Kendrick, it’s about the capaill uisce themselves. Specifically about Corr, the red stallion with whom he has an uneasy alliance. He’s won four years already riding for Benjamin Malvern, and with his share of the purse from another victory, he could finally buy Corr and walk away from Malvern Stables forever. For Puck Connolly, it’s about home and family. If she can win, she can pay off the debt on her parents’ house, maybe even keep her brother from leaving the island. As they both stand against the dangers of the Scorpio Races, far more than the untamed capaill uisce, they build an uneasy relationship that has to stand on one painful truth.
Only one can win the races.

Sean and Puck share the narration between them. There isn’t always a pattern to it- it isn’t every other, or two then switch. Instead, it passes between them like the roll of the waves on the tide, easy and shifting and natural. Right away, their voices are distinct. After a few chapters, you don’t need the name at the front of the section to tell you who’s speaking. With their voices comes their personalities, clear as anything, and it’s amazing. Sean’s voice is solid, the words precise and slightly sharp at the edges, calm and deep but with a steady wildness that sneaks out in expectedly poetic phrases. The only times he uses six words when one will do are the rare times he’s speaking on something about which he’s passionate. Puck, on the other hand, is chaotic, frenetic, her words jumbling over each other and jumping very abruptly between thoughts. She’s honest about herself- to both herself and to other people- and aware of her shortcomings, but she’s also very much a piece of Thisby and that shows. Her wildness is out there on the surface, a visual representation of all that the island is. Sean straddles the land and sea, very much like the capaill uisce, but he’s the calm before the attack. Puck is the hunger and the fretting and the need. Puck’s took some getting used to but we settled into it as we get to know her, because her voice is simply a part of her.

I love the side characters, especially at their most enigmatic. Especially George Holly and Dory Maud. We never really get a full feel for them, but we know them. What they are most of all is very well paired. Both serve as a sort of-…well, not mentor, but an understated support. George is the American, a rarity on the isolated Isle of Thisby. He’s well put together, a businessman, but also a man who loves horses and doesn’t mind carrying buckets of manure. He’s laid-back and underspoken; he doesn’t waste words, doesn’t spend them where hints will do. In that, he’s very much like Sean, but unlike Sean, that natural tendency to taciturnity is tempered by charm and exposure to a more complicated- or at least more complex- world. Dory Maud, on the other hand, is sharp-tongued and half-wild, a natural extension of the island and its history. She can go along to get along but she can also stand firm, a woman who knows not only her own mind but the opinions of those around her. The relationships between Sean and George, and between Puck and Dory Maud, run parallel to each other, but each is characterized by the particular traits of those involved. Mutt Malvern is snarly and trying very hard to be misunderstood- when in fact he’s understood all too well- while his father is distant, calculating, and cruel as only a disapproving father can be. Finn Connolly is adorable and vulnerable but also has, deep in his core, the kind of strength that drives his sister. It comes out in different ways, much quieter ways, but it’s there nonetheless. Finn and Puck belong on Thisby- belong to Thisby- in a way that older brother Gabe doesn’t and that’s always clear. I didn’t necessarily want to see more of Gabe, because I thought he was perfectly spread out thin, but I wanted to see more of him. I wanted to see that he’d spared even a thought for what would happen to Puck and Finn, but we really never get that sense of him. Which, granted, could be quite on purpose. If that’s the case, if he really didn’t have that concern, it breaks my heart a little for Puck and Finn.

The capaill uisce are characters as strong as the humans. They’re magnificent. They’re savage and beautiful, completely and utterly untamed and untameable. They’re as feral as the ocean itself, as lovely and as dangerous. They’re blood hungry, desperate to return to the sea but equally thirsty for the hunt on land. The races aren’t just about who can ride the fastest or the best. It’s a test of tradition, of history, but also of manhood. The races are bloody and reckless, completely insensible, but they’re nearly a rite of passage. This is how to mark a man. Which, of course, is why Puck’s entry is so astonishing and ruffles all the male sensibilities. Corr is as strong and poignant a character as any other, never mind the two additional legs. He’s fiercely intelligent, questionably loyal, high-spirited and high-strung and high-tempered. In all sincerity, Corr is probably my favorite character, one who simultaneously lifts and breaks my heart.

I love the folklore and superstition that permeate not just this story but the entire island. They’re steeped in it, and these traditions and belief are a part of who they are. Those who stand outside of it- those who marvel or laugh- clearly don’t belong to the island the way the rest of them do, even if they’ve lived there all their lives. Sometimes the superstitions are part of the everyday routine- a way of tying knots without thinking, carrying bells or cold iron- and sometimes it’s a purposeful sequence of events, like taking manure to crossroads to mark a territory against attack. Most of these rituals aren’t ways to tame the capaill uisce, there’s no way to truly to do that, but to bind them, to hold them contained for a time. They’re rich and organic, growing straight from the island’s history and a mythology that weaves through Celtic lore and Church ritual alike.

The relationship that slowly grows between Sean and Puck- first into wary respect, then into friendship, and finally into something more- is one of the best I’ve ever read. It’s real, and ideally suited. He uses one word where six will do and she streaks up to the topic and then around it like foam spray from the tide, and between them they’re the ocean and Thisby, and as real as the tie between the two. If Sean is the human version of the sea horses, Puck is the human version of Thisby, and their bond is every bit as untamed and wild and essential. It takes both of them by surprise but they trust themselves with it.

This is a book like a riptide, that sucks you under the surface and into the foam where the capaill uisce wait. It’s a race where the race isn’t the point- it’s everything leading up to it, it’s the innate need to tame something that can’t be tamed and the wary respect and love for that some wildness that speaks to something deep inside us, something that we try to tame out of ourselves as surely as the feral creatures. This is a book to savor, a book to break your heart even as it gives you hope.

In other words, it’s an amazing book, and you should definitely read. It takes you into a world that’s equal parts beauty and savagery, where the people who inhabit it are as wild and deep as the island that forms their roots.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, out in hardback and ebook.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Inspiration

December 11, 2011 at 7:44 pm (Writing) (, )

Through the month of November, <a href="http://novaren.wordpress.com”>Nova Ren Suma ran an amazing series about inspiration. We heard from authors, playwrights, and poets, all discussing what inspiration is- or isn’t- for them. And it got to me thinking.

Inspiration is a highly personal thing. Everyone finds it or courts it or ignores it differently. For some, inspiration is the thing that drives their writing. It’s necessary, essential to everything they try to do. For some, inspiration is more of a by-product. They follow a routine, they put in the work, and inspiration is what makes it all go a little smoother. Not the impetus it is for the first group, but the momentum.

For me, inspiration is a million things, sometimes the impetus, sometimes the momentum, and sometimes even the end-result. Sometimes all the hard work is what leads up to the inspiration that acts as a spring board to something else entirely.

Sometimes it’s a gift, something that springs from a normal piece of life and becomes something consuming, something whole. Last June, I went to Gettysburg with some friends and found a character so fully formed, she’s been sitting on my shoulder and talking to me for the past six months. She’s been in my head, consuming my thoughts, driving me to do all the rest of the work so that she can step out of my head and onto the page. This kind of inspiration is, for me, very rare. I’m not kidding when I say it’s a gift- I try very hard to just accept it and not question it too closely.

Sometimes it’s a whip. There’s an idea that’s struggling hellaciously to get somewhere but on its own, it just isn’t happening. Inspiration is the hope and determination that keeps me working. It’s the expectation- not quite a promise- that if I keep working, I’ll get the story where it needs to go. This may sound like an odd definition of inspiration but it’s true. Sometimes inspiration is an emotion, a feeling that something needs to happen.

Sometimes it’s the glue. I work and I work, and I do research and planning and writing and somewhere along near the end, there’s a moment that makes everything else come together. It’s hoped for but still unexpected, that spark and surge and sudden knowing that everything fits. It can also be called the revision fairy. It’s the strange little creature that helps you go back through everything and smooth the rough edges, that threads everything together and shows you how to make everything consistent, how to turn the pages and pages of word vomit into something coherent that people will actually want to read.

Sometimes it’s the distraction. You work and you work and you work on something but keep hitting those dead ends. Call it writer’s block, call it misplaced vocation, call it whatever you will, but what it is most of all is blank space. Space that isn’t getting filled with words. Then an idea comes along, completely separate from anything you’re actually working on. And, because you’re stalled, you chase the fluffy white rabbit for a little bit. It’s not an important plot bunny, it doesn’t solve anything- except that it does. You chase it and play for just a little bit and it clears your mind. You’re not stressing. You’re not getting yourself worked up. You just play with it a little bit and the gift is that it helps you solve your problem. Without any effort, without any thought at all. Distraction doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and sometimes it can even be renamed inspiration.

Sometimes inspiration is a lot of different things.

Always, inspiration is hard to put a name to. It’s hard to tame, perhaps even impossible. It can’t be badgered into a single shape or pattern.

Inspiration simply is.

So what is it for you?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: A Million Suns, by Beth Revis

December 7, 2011 at 9:40 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Note: this is the second book in the trilogy, following Across the Universe. If you have not read the first book, there will be spoilers below. You have been warned.

Things have changed aboard the Godspeed. Eldest is dead. Orion, the previous Elder, is incarcerated in a cryogenic chamber for his murders of frozen military personnel. Elder is technically Eldest now but he’s not the only one questioning his right- or his ability- to lead the ship in a time of crisis. And for Amy, her only chance of ever seeing her parents unfrozen again is to follow a game of clues left behind by a madman. Murder, intrigue, revolt, passions, all hurtle toward a discovery that could tear the ship apart.
Follow the leader.

I was very lucky to be part of an ARC tour for this book. I kept counting the names on the list and trying to figure out how long it would be before it got to me and then it finally did and I….maybe…squealed a little at the mailbox. I don’t necessarily consider myself a science fiction person (which is a little strange because I grew up on Star Trek and Robotech and Ender’s Game) but I LOVE that the genre is starting to get a solid representation in YA.

Pared down to its most basic points, this is a book about contrasts. It’s about the differences in things, in people, in perceptions and how hugely important those things can be. For Elder, the ship has suddenly become a vast world where millions of things can go wrong in the space of a breath. He’s inherited a ship that’s falling apart around him, a system of rule that may not have been right but may have mostly worked until recently, and a constantly frayed temper. Peace and solitude are pipe dreams and hope is just the milli-second between new problems arising. Everyone is looking to him for answers but he has no idea how to go about finding them, or if they’re the right answers, or how to put them into effect if he can convince himself they’re good decisions. Amy, meanwhile, is more alone than ever. The ship closes around her like a tomb, growing smaller with every passing day, and she’s surrounded by an almost overwhelming loneliness. At least half of that loneliness is of her own volition, too. As much as she mourns being the outcast, the ‘freak’ in an otherwise monoethnic society, she deliberately stays away from the other people on the ship. She doesn’t have the answers, but unlike Elder, she has the clues for a scavenger hunt that will show her parts of the ship no one else has even dreamed exist.

It’s more than that, of course. The people on the ship have long been treated like children, every piece of information they were given carefully chosen and censored to feed into an overall atmosphere of productivity and docility. No longer given the drugs that make them passive, suddenly they have an entire world and history to discover. And choices. Behaviors that were kept in check by the drugs are released. Things that have never been questioned before are scrutinized. What evolves from this is sheer chaos.

And I loved it. I loved watching this carefully structured, carefully monitored, carefully controlled society absolutely fall apart in such a short time. Free will isn’t an easy thing and it doesn’t always lead to good results. The Eldest/Elder system has problems, no doubts, but the sudden dissolution of the only system of government they’ve known for generations leaves a vaccuum that others will rush to fill. Those on the ship have never learned anything else, so they’re children playing with dangerous ideas and deadly consequences.

The constant push and pull between Amy and Elder is a steady thread through the story, through all of Elder’s struggles to be a leader and Amy’s quest to learn the truth about what’s happened to the ship. For the most part, it felt very real. For the most part. With that push and pull, there’s a cycle of explosion, sulking, big event, all forgiven, repeat ad infinitum. I would have liked to see them hold on to that anger more, see them have to work together despite/through it. Without that honesty of their anger, without either of them understanding/accepting the source of that anger as problems that need to be addressed, it started to lose some of its impact as it was repeated. Within those many arguments, however, were the foundations of some interesting character details. Specifically, with Amy. For Elder, the anger comes from many sources, mostly from stress with all the problems facing him in trying to run the ship and keep everyone fed and working and alive. His snaps and snarls spring largely from that, and so fades with the weariness that follows the quick bursts of temper. Amy, though, can’t be honest with herself about where her anger is coming from. Part of it is an overall stress reaction but she still hasn’t come to terms with Elder being the one who unfroze her. She snaps and snarls at him over a lot of other pieces, gets frustrated very quickly when he can’t or won’t do something she sees as important- because part of her feels like he owes her that for ruining her life. For putting her in a position where she might never see her parents again. Every time she’s in danger, there’s a part of her that blames Elder for it. And there’s a part of her that hates him for it (or is at least very, very pissed) but because she can’t face that directly, it comes out in a thousand less meaningful explosions. And she does blame him. Even in her own words: “Nothing’s been right since Elder’s fight with me”. Elder’s fight with me. It’s Elder’s fight, Elder’s problem. Elder’s fault. And holding on to that need to blame, holding on to that grudge without actually facing it, makes her more than ever the scared little girl who wants her parents, and like a little girl, things become very black and white. Good and evil, right and wrong, love and hate. There’s no room for scales and what she does she will do with every part of her no matter the consequences, whether that’s a scavenger hunt for secrets that may or may not be truths or hating the man who nearly killed her parents.

Even when they’re gone, Harley and Kayleigh continue to be the most riveting and sympathetic characters. We learn a great deal more about them in this installment, like ghosts without a form. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the phrases I loved most in the book are ones I could imagine Harley painting a scene to, words that hover on the backs of the eyes and paint themselves in more than letters. Both as a piece of writing and a piece of publishing design, there’s a layout of two pages about midway through the book that just took my breath away. In one of the special extras for the YA Scavenger Hunt held the first weekend of December, Beth said she pretty much wrote this book around the phrase “Silence and stars”. When you get there, it’s not hard to understand why. I love the evolution of the rather utilitarian word “frex” from FRX, the Financial Resource Exchange that funded the mission (actually, it rather reminds me of how certain very interesting curse words in our time came about). More than anything what cements how foreign everything is for Amy is how much it means to her when she can share something small, something otherwise insignificant, with someone on the ship, and for just a moment she can pretend like she’s almost home. Like a pinkie promise.

Hands down, though, what kept coming back to me through the entire book, is something Amy says very near the beginning. “I’m the only one who knows what it is to lie in the grass in your backyard and reach up to capture fireflies floating lazily through the stars”. It isn’t just the image of fireflies and stars- which is gorgeous- but the fact that I can remember doing that. My friends next door and I would even bring jars with holes in the lids and we’d catch fireflies so gently and watch our skin glow translucent red like an alien’s for a moment, but then I’d let them go because I couldn’t stand to trap them in the jar. The idea of being the only one among thousands of people with that memory, with the chance to even have that memory or know how the separate pieces could add up to a memory…that’s terrifying to me. And that thought kept coming back to me again and again, each time Amy hid her hair or followed a clue whose context only she could understand.

And, of course, if that’s not enough to make you want to read it, there’s this: Elder without pants.

A Million Suns by Beth Revis, out in stores in hardback and ebook 10 January 2012. Haven’t read Across the Universe yet? Well, that’s rather silly of you to have gone through this entire review then, but you can catch up in hardback, ebook, or a brand new paperback with a totally different (but awesome) cover.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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A Reminder of the Things

December 4, 2011 at 10:41 pm (Giveaway) (, , , , )

If I’m completely honest, I am way too mellowed out by the Christmas happenings today to be able to think coherently.

This weekend had so many things!

Yesterday was the annual craft fair at the O’Dome. This thing is HUGE, over three hundred vendors, and my mom and I go together every single year. It’s the only official mother-daughter thing we do each year and I look forward to it so much. It’s really an amazing thing to see so many different kinds of crafts piled together into one space. We’ve been going so many years that we know the vendors by name and sight and they point out the stuff we wouldn’t have seen before. We see other customers we see every single year, plus other people we recognize from various places. We marvel at some of the amazing stuff on display, and- well… maybe we marvel a little over some of the really kind of ugly stuff too. We tease each other and help each other pick things out and all in all, we emerge four hours later with significantly less money.

The daughter part of me and the crafter part of me (among other things, I make jewelry) have a lot of reasons to love going to the craft fair. Here’s the thing, though- the writer part of me loves it too.

The people watching is extraordinary (and hysterical) but mostly it’s the inspiration. Every single thing on those tables? That was someone’s inspiration! We look for inspiration that results in words on a page but it’s there all around us in so many different mediums. The crafts on those tables started out as an idea- a design that they labored to translate from a picture in their head down onto paper, and from paper into some other format. Whether it’s jewelry, wook work, wreaths, candles, cloth work, soups and spices, or ornaments, or any number of other things. Every single one of those items starts with inspiration.

But between inspiration and the final product is a hell of a lot of work.

Which is why going to the craft fair always inspires me to buckle down and put that hard work into my current projects, whether they’re crafty or wordy.

Then today was the day of the Christmas trees. We put up and trimmed four of them. Four! Not all in the same house, it should be said. Here in the apartment, we have my roommate’s seven footer in front of the windows, with my three foot up on the kitchen counter. She’s haphazard in the way she decorates hers, so there are all kinds of ornaments and different types of garlands strung randomly. I’m…well, to tell the truth, I’m really frexing OCD about decorating my tree. Then over at the mother’s, we helped them decorate their two trees. It’s not that they really have the space for two trees, but more that they feel guilty if they don’t do two trees because they have SO MANY ORNAMENTS. And we add to them every year at the craft fair, plus they’re addicted to the ornaments from Cracker Barrel.

So rather than doing a typical blog today, I’m just going to give a quick reminder of the two current giveaways.

As part of Leah Cypess’ blog tour, check out my review of Nightspell. Any comment at all will enter you into the grand prize drawing across all the blogs on the tour for a one-of-a-kind, uber-cool, annotated copy of Mistwood. For my part of the giveaway, leave a comment answering the question in the post for a chance at some signed swag from both books.

The second giveaway has TWO (2!) prize packs. To enter this one, hop over here and tell me what your favorite part of this time of year.
Prize pack one includes: an ARC of Shatter Me by Tahareh Mafi, copies of Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini, fun swag from multiple authors, and a handmade bracelet (handmade by me, in point of fact, and it came out really good)
Prize pack two includes: an ARC of Shatter Me by Tahareh Mafi, copies of City of Bones and Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, fun swag from multiple authors, and a handmade bracelet that my roommate drool.

Both giveaways will be ending around the 20th (exact dates given in the posts) so be sure to check them out! US only (sorry, international shipping is prohibitively expensive).

Until next time~
Cheers~

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Blog Tour Book Review: Nightspell, by Leah Cypess

December 2, 2011 at 10:00 am (Blog Tour, Giveaway) (, , , , , , )

Four years ago, Darri’s little sister was sent to Ghostland to secure an alliance for her people, to marry their prince once she came of age. Now, time is running out and the Raellians need that alliance too much to wait, so they’re sending Darri to marry in her sister’s stead.
And it’s just the chance Darri’s been looking for to rescue her sister.
But Ghostland is unlike anything she’s known, a country where day and night is reversed, where the dead walk among the living with little to betray which they are, and a sophisticated intrigue quite different from the fierce wars of the plains people. When you can’t tell the difference between the living and the dead, it’s all to easy to become one of the dead yourself.

Back when this first showed up in the computer at work, it was titled Ghostland, and all it had as a description was a line or two about a country where the living and the dead co-exist. That, and the fact that I’d enjoyed Mistwood, was all I needed to look forward to it.

It’s one of those rare books where the setting is as much a character as any of the people walking around. It isn’t just that there are ghosts, it’s that the entire society of this country is based on that co-existence. Anyone who dies an unnatural death comes back as a ghost, driven by the need to find their murderer and avenge their death, whereupon they can fade out of this second life. But- if you can resist the impulse to find out who murdered you, or if a royal decree bans it, you can live for centuries. While ghosts in this land can be translucent and pass through solid objects and float, all the sorts of things we expect ghosts to do, they can also become solid. They can eat and drink, they can touch. Unless they let that mask of living slip, there’s very little way to tell.

And I LOVE that. Intrigue has always been a part of this court but that duality of life and death has elevated it nearly to an art form. The Ghostland court is catty and subtle, very concerned with appearances, and thoroughly unimpressed with anything outside their borders.

Including Darri.

And as long as she gets to save her sister, Darri couldn’t care less. Her sister, however, does. Callie has been within Ghostland for four years. Given the Ghostlander disinterest in external politics, she’s lived in a nebulous sort of honored hostage position. She’s changed a great deal from the plains girl she was- she had to, in order to survive in the court. She binds up her hair, something no plainswoman would do, wears makeup and overly ornate clothing and keeps herself tightly controlled so she can fit in at the court. Her family betrayed her and Darri wasn’t able to save her but that was four years ago- now being ‘saved’ wouldn’t be anything of the sort.

The family relationships in this are amazing and complicated and very, very prickly. Varis, Darri and Callie’s older brother, was changed by the wars out on the plains, becoming far more like their father rather than the indulgent brother who used to sneak in to tell them stories. He sees things in terms of reasonable sacrifices for alliance, obligation for the greater good of their people. He’s disgusted by Darri’s willingness to defy their father for the sake of something that to him shouldn’t matter. Darri is equally disgusted by his willingness to throw away family members and to betray agreements made in good faith. They don’t like each other- they don’t trust each other- but they’re both in way over their head with the Ghostlander court.

And Callie, who could help them, isn’t feeling particularly charitable to either of them. Their arrival puts her in a very poor position. All the snide comments and insults about her barbarian upbringing, things she managed to silence after years of effort to belong, are rising again and her siblings can only look ludicrous in Ghostland, with their clumsy clothing and straightforward blade politics. They have neither the elegance nor the sophistican necessary for the intrigue that surrounds them.

Oh, the intrigue. Mysteries abound in this story, who killed who by whose orders, who’s living or dead, which are the normal mysteries of Ghostland, but there are also larger secrets pressing in against the court. What is it that keeps the dead tied to Ghostland? Can it be destroyed? Controlled? What happens if a ghost tries to leave the boundaries? And, more directly bound to the struggles of court, what power plays are going on, and what alliances will prove the most useful?

This book is full of surprises, small revelations and big revelations and even ones that make you swallow hard and go Wow, was NOT expecting that. It’s a story of family, but it’s also a story of how hard forgiveness can be, about how people change. It’s a story about doing the Right Thing- and that sense of loss and helplessness when you realize the Right Thing maybe isn’t. It’s about hard choices and unexpected allies, and more than anything, it’s a story about what it means to be alive.

The reason this review is posted on a special day is because it’s part of Leah Cypess’ mini-blog tour and giveaway. At the end of the tour she’ll be giving away an annotated copy of Mistwood, her debut novel, complete with random scribblings and sketches in the margins. This is an amazing way to get into the head of a writer with her own book. Every stop on the tour will have mini-giveaways, with a grand prize winner receiving the annotated copy.

To be entered for the grand prize giveaway, the winner of which will be chosen from across all the blog stops, simply comment below.

For my giveaway- signed bookmarks for both Mistwood and Nightspell– you have to answer a question:

If you were murdered in Ghostland, would you want to find out who killed you so you could avenge yourself and fade away? Or would you want that second life?

The blog tour goes through 19 December so comments through then will be eligible for both the bookmarks and the grand prize drawing. And remember- the more blogs along the tour that you visit, the better your chance to win the annotated copy! Be sure to check out:

November 28: Guest post at Fiction State of Mind
November 29: Review at The Book Cellar
November 30: Interview at Library Mosaic
December 1: Guest Post at YA Bibliophile
December 4: Guest Post at Haunted Orchid
December 6: Interview at A Thousand Little Pages
December 7: Review at Ashely Suzanne
December 8: Review at Hobbitsies
December 9: Review at A Backwards Story
December 10: Nightspell excerpt at Arianne Cruz
December 11: Review at Penguin Girl
December 12: Interview at WhatchYA Reading
December 14: Review at Ticket to Anywhere
December 15: Review at Word Lust
December 16: Nightspell excerpt at A Tale of Many Reviews
December 18: Guest Post at Bodacious Bookaholic
December 19: Mistwood deleted scene at A Good Addiction

Until next time~
Cheers!

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