September 30, 2009

September Round-Up

Want to know if you missed anything exciting this month? (Probably not, but humor me.)

I nominate September as the Month of Fire, considering I reviewed two books with fire in the title and another with fire on the cover.

My favorite posts this month are my interview with Libba Bray and my review of BALLAD.

Contests and Promotions

End of Maximum Ride Promotion
Winners: haley and Jen
Please e-mail me with your address if you see this before I e-mail you.

Signed hardcover of FIRE by Kristin Cashore, runs until October 3

Interviews and Guest Blogs

Kristin Cashore

Libba Bray



GEEKTASTIC: Stories from the Nerd Herd

SO PUNK ROCK: And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother



BALLAD: A Gathering of Faerie




September 29, 2009

Review: DupliKate

By Cherry Cheva
Released Sept 29 from HarperTeen

Read her guest blog!

Book Cover

I bought SHE'S SO MONEY, Cherry Cheva's YA debut, with my own money. (Full disclosure: it was actually a gift card from my former roommate, but that makes the sentence less snappy.) It was well worth it - funny and romantic. And I luckily finished it a mere two minutes before it was my turn to drive. So I was quite happy when I opened a mysterious package that included DUPLIKATE (along with Never Cry Werewolf and two other books that I shall review later). So happy that it was the first novel I read after returning to my permanent address from the UK. (Why are you only reading this review now? Because it's the release date.)

Kate Larson has a plan. She's gonna score well on her standardized tests and go to Yale with her hot and intelligent boyfriend Paul. Yeah, she's working herself into the ground, but it will be worth it. Then she falls asleep after opening up her old account on a game similar to SecondLife. She wakes up to Rina, her avatar, come to life - complete with a love of glitter and pink. But while Rina has the style of a preteen, she's got a brain of her own and a desire to get out of the house. The two begin switching, and things go wrong in classic storytelling fashion.

To me, DUPLIKATE was not as funny as SHE'S SO MONEY. However, it still made me laugh. I also enjoyed the complicated romantic dynamic between Kate, Rina, Paul, and Jake, Kate's former best friend. Both Jake and Paul are good guys, which makes any triangle more interesting. And Cheva knows overachieving teenagers. There's the self-imposed pressure, the desparate allocation of time . . . I managed my time and stress better than Kate when I was in high school, but I remember the drive and knowing that every one of my college admission essays sucked. (I still got in. I'm sure most college admission essays are pretty terrible, if only because the prompts are insipid.)

If you enjoy humorous, relationship-driven stories, you'll probably enjoy DUPLIKATE. Don't worry about the science fiction elements - Rina's existence isn't pondered much, it just is. And please ignore the cover, which I find boring. I prefer the motion of the SHE'S SO MONEY cover, even if it made me think the main character was Latina.

September 26, 2009

Review: Ballad

By Maggie Stiefvater
Coming Oct 1st from Flux

Book Cover

A little less than a year ago, I received an e-mail promising me homicidal faeries. I, being the sort too dumb to know when a deal is too good to be true, said yes. In return for the novel, I became a fan of the affable and clever Maggie Stiefvater. And now that I've read BALLAD her insidious claim is stronger than ever. I'm waiting for the paperback of SHIVER, but maybe I shouldn't. I might owe her my collection of shamrock memorabilia.

When BALLAD opens, James is still recovering from the events of LAMENT. He almost died and the only person who knows why he almost died can't help him recover since she's pretty much shattered by the events too. Along comes Nuala, attracted by James's talent with the bagpipes. Of course, she might be attracted to the piper himself as well. Of course, that might not be his only problem, since the faeries aren't overly found of Deirdre. Of course, James is too neurotic to really process any of this.

Maggie Stiefvater knows how to string together a sentence. She knows how to haunt you with a motif. She knows how to write music so that you hear it in your heart. She knows how to create a unique narrative voice, so that you don't need the name before the chapter or the epigraph to know whether James or Nuala is speaking. (Or to separate them from Deirdre's voice in LAMENT.) She knows how to rip your heart out of your chest without resorting to tearjearker tactics. All it takes are Dee's unsent text messages, full of everything she needs to say to James but can't. (And she would be the absolute bitch Nuala thinks she is if we didn't have those messages to tell us what she's repressing.)

If Blogger eats this review like it did my first review of LAMENT, I'll cry. I don't want to think about this too much, I just want to pour it out. That's what reading BALLAD was like: an experience that swept me away into James and Nuala's world of music and love and pain and desperate hope. Also, the book is funny. James and Nuala are both sarcastic and quick-witted. Many of the side characters hold their own. I love the side characters, especially Paul. They sneak up on you, going, "Hey, I've been here this whole time. Being awesome. Now that you know it, I'm going to level up in awesome just to blow your mind." They're like Stiefvater herself in that way.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hug my book. And cry over the fact I don't have time to re-read it or LAMENT.

Now, both B&N and Amazon are showing BALLAD as In Stock despite the fact the release date is Oct 1st. So go ahead and click on the cover and buy yourself a copy. You won't regret it . . . except for the fact you'll be a slave to Stiefvater's brilliance.

September 24, 2009

Required Reading (2)

Psst! I interviewed Libba Bray. She's hilarious and put up with the million questions I sent her.

I've finished all of the books from my first RR post, in addition to UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud. So here's the current batch of school books.

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS by Jonathan Swift
"Major Writers of the Restoration and 18th Century"
I've read this one before, which is a nice leg up. However, even reading a text with 18thC capitalization, Swift is pretty readable. On the other hand, my professor is on exchange from France, and she's hard to predict. I am still confused on a writing assignment where she told me to put my references in the text. I can look at it and see my citations. (I use parenthetical/MLA style.)

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
"British Novel in the 20th Century"
I've been meaning to read Woolf forever, so I'm glad this class is making me do it. Until now, I've read none of the Modernist classics. (Also, when I was in England I attended all the Woolf related trips - she and her sister had interesting personal lives.) I enjoy how she uses point of view. My sympathies change based on whose head I'm in. I am still working out the shape of the novel, or why certain characters are important enough to be narrators. It's faster going than I expected it to be.

MUSIC OF JAPAN by Bonnie C. Wade
"Studies in Music Ethnography: Art Musics of Asia"
What to say about a textbook? This one is simple and easy to read, though sometimes I wish Wade went into more depth. That's what lecture and the course packet are for.

ON PHOTOGRAPHY by Susan Sontag
"Narrative Photography"
Sontag is one of the first people to write serious photography criticism. I like her style, though I definitely don't agree with many of her arguments. I'm still trying to figure out how she's defining Surrealism - my professor told me to hold the question because it would fit better into lecture later in the semester.

QED by Richard P. Feynman
"Problems in Modern Physics"
I may dislike this class, but I do like Feynman. (I just read his memoir this summer, after I won it.) The man makes advanced physics sound as easy as pie. Then you try to work problems and you realize just how much he hasn't told you. This series of lectures is a good way to get some idea of what is meant by quantum electrodynamics, even though it makes true understanding elusive.

September 23, 2009

Review: Graceling and Fire

Before you read the review, please tell me how you feel about the new layout!

Both by Kristin Cashore.

Book Cover

As a child, Lady Katsa killed her cousin when he reached out to her, because something in her feared his touch. Now, her uncle the King, uses her to intimidate his nobles - tourture and death are Katsa's trade. But she's tired of it, and working behind his back to do good deeds. This puts her in the path of Prince Po, a man Graced with fighting. Together, they attempt to solve the mystery of who kidnapped Po's grandfather and why.

At first, it's hard to remember all the country names and positions. But soon enough Katsa and Po are on the road and things start moving quickly. Even with the page length, it's hard to imagine how much occurs in GRACELING. Kristin Cashore keeps the action and revelations flying fast and furious. And for those not into fight scenes, there's a wonderful romance between the oblivious Katsa and perceptive Po. (I also enjoyed the relationship between Katsa's cousin Prince Raffin and his assistant Bann. At least, I believe there's a relationship between them.)

I enjoyed Cashore's characters. Katsa is somewhat atypical for a heroine, wanting neither marriage nor children. She makes a reasonable argument for not wanting either, but doesn't deny herself a relationship when the opportunity comes to make one work. Each of the surrounding characters have interesting personalities as well. The perceptive Bitterblue is a favorite of mine, so I'm happy that Cashore is hard at work on a novel about her.

GRACELING explores prejudice, child abuse, and other dark subjects. But it does so while maintaining a light, adventurous tone. It gives weight to the reading while leaving it a fun experience. I certainly enjoyed the novel.

Book Cover

FIRE begins before GRACELING, connected only by the character of Leck. It is set in the land of the Dells, home to beautiful monsters. The ending, however, implies that the Dells may not remain separate and unknown from the other lands for long.

Fire is beautiful and irresistable, the last of the human monsters. She'd rather be plain and unnoticed, for her cruel father caused the previous king to lead the land into disrepair. The civil war is reaching a height, and recent events prevent Fire from remaining apart from the action.

She also dislikes spending time with Prince Brigan, whose shields can prevent her mind control, and who reminds her of her father's worst actions. Fire nurses her guilt, and it only becomes clear as the novel continues how much she holds herself responsible for. She's both a larger than life heroine and a young girl who likes to play with puppies.

Once more, the characters are the standout, though some are certainly irritating. I like that Cashore doesn't condemn sexual relationships nor ignore possible consequences. There's a tangled web of relationships in FIRE, on par with the most glorious of soap operas. It makes a nice background to the war and Fire's place within it.

The only problem with the climax is the knowledge of what happens in GRACELING. It dims some of Fire's triumph, though she and Brigan certainly accomplish many other things. FIRE moves just as quickly as GRACELING. I can see why fans of YA fantasy have been going crazy over these novels. I know I'm already ready to read the third.

September 22, 2009

Guest Blog and Contest: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore's first novel GRACELING received various accolades and is now available in paperback. But it's companion, FIRE, won't be available until October 5th. However, you can get to know the characters now with Kristin's blog tour.

Book Cover

King Nash, the oldest son of Nax and Roen, is… well, he’s trying, really hard. It’s just that there’s an awful lot of chaos these days, and imminent civil war is enough to put any king off his game now and then, and, well there’s that problem wherein Fire is so mesmerizing that he turns into a romantic saphead every time he sees her… embarrassing behavior for a king, really. Maybe he should apologize. In person, with a bouquet of flowers?

Not excited yet? Then check out the awesome sample Penguin made available on scribd.

Fire by Kristin Cashore

In addition, you can come back tomorrow to read my reviews of GRACELING and FIRE. But you don't have to take my word for it - I'm giving away a signed copy of FIRE to one IBWB reader with a Canadian or US mailing address. Just leave a comment saying which character from FIRE you think sounds most interesting.

There are two chances for extra entries:
Tweet about the blog tour, preferably including a link to my stop, with hash tag #firetour.
Post the widget.

This contest is open until October 3rd. However, my Maximum Ride contest ends 9/28.

September 21, 2009

Books of Summer 7/7


Book Cover

Summer's finally closing, but there are a few summery books still coming out, like this recent offering from debut author Heather Davis. Shelby's at camp, but that's a bad thing. Her stepmother finally convinced her dad to ship her off to "brat camp." And if Shelby slips up, she's going to be moved to the kind of camp you see on the news, the management being arrested for abuse. I never do grasp why the father is willing to give in, given the terrible things you hear about brat camps, but he does.

Of course, it turns out the counselors are the least of Shelby's problems. Austin Bridges III may be super hot, but he's got a family secret and the full moon is coming. If Shelby helps him out, she'll suffer the consequences.

NEVER CRY WEREWOLF is a super-quick, light read. You might think it's too late for this summer, but save it for the next. Imagining the creepy woods will keep you cool on a hot day.

September 16, 2009

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Ballad

Ya'll probably already knew I wanted to read BALLAD, based on my review of LAMENT and my intro to her guest blog. But it's almost here (October 1), and it bears repeating, especially since cool prizes are up for grabs.

Book Cover

Blurb from Amazon:
Remember us, so sing the dead, lest we remember you

James Morgan has an almost unearthly gift for music. And it has attracted Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and then feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. James has plenty of reasons to fear the faeries, but as he and Nuala collaborate on an achingly beautiful musical composition, James finds his feelings towards Nuala deepening. But the rest of the fairies are not as harmless. As Halloween—the day of the dead—draws near, James will have to battle the Faerie Queen and the horned king of the dead to save Nuala's life and his soul.


He turned towards me. For a long moment, he stood facing me. I was held, anchored to the ground – not by his music, which still called and pushed against the music already in my head and said grow rise follow – but by his strangeness. By his fingers, spread over the ground, holding something into the earth, by his shoulders, squared in a way that spoke of strength and unknowability, and most of all, by the great, thorny antlers that grew from his head, spanning the sky like branches.

Then he was gone, and I missed his going in the instant that the sun fell off the edge of the hill, abandoning the world to twilight.

September 14, 2009

Review: Geektastic and So Punk Rock

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd
Edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Book Cover

Stories by John Green, M.T. Anderson, Kelly Link, Cassandra Clare, Greg and Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kelly Link, Libba Bray, Tracy Lynn, David Levithan, Barry Lyga, Garth Nix, Wendy Mass, Scott Westerfield, Lisa Yee, and Sara Zarr
Illustrations by Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley

Why does something I loved this much feel like such a misfire? This book contains stories for every kind of geek: lj RP, cosplay, D&D, Buffy, and more. For pan-fandom geeks, it's a godsend. Like any short story collection I loved some more than others, but the writing was generally strong.

However, I felt like I relied on the knowledge I've learned from seven or so years as a Queen of Nerds (ask me for my credentials). GEEKTASTIC is not inclusive. I think most people without geeky or nerdy inclinations will be left behind. And I hate to admit it, but geeks are the minority. (I could be wrong. As I said, I'm a knowledgeable audience. This is pure extrapolation.)

I hope there is a huge audience for GEEKTASTIC. It's a celebration of subculture. Who wants to be mainstream when having a hobby can be so rewarding? And these authors have a sizeable following for a reason - and I know some of their fanbases are pretty nerdy.

If you're a geek, do yourself a favor and pick up GEEKTASTIC. It's hard to choose a favorite, but it might be "Quiz Bowl Antichrist" by David Levithan, which brought back days of junior high Whiz Quiz and organizing my high school's St. Jude's Trivia Challenge.

So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother)

Book Cover

By Micol Ostow
Illustrations by David Ostow

Which brings me to a book to which I am an outsider to the culture presented. Most of what I know comes from reading the Old Testament and talking to my friend at Girls State who had trouble with the meals. (Apparently you can only have one dairy item with a meal, which is difficult when everything has cheese on it.)

Ari Abramson knows who he is. He just doesn't know how to reveal that person to others. So he convinces his friend Jonas Fein, geeky Yossi, and Yossi's sister Reena to start a band. Though they start out not knowing how to play their instruments, pretty soon they're a MySpace sensation with a real gig. Of course, they still have SATs, parents, and holy days to worry about. It doesn't help that Jonas is kind of a jerk.

SO PUNK ROCK is a quick read that manages to share a great deal about being Jewish-American without bogging down the proceedings. There's a great glossary in the back, but I didn't need to use it while reading.

I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of standard prose with graphic novel sections. It makes you wonder whether the comics are supposed to be a representation of Ari's work or if Ari's work is totally different and they simply represent how he thinks. SO PUNK ROCK continues Flux's history of rocking my socks. It doesn't hurt Micol Ostow's track record with me either.

September 11, 2009

J'existe! and Contest Winners

I am cancelling the Prophecy contest due to a lack of entries. Don't forget the giant Maximum Ride prize packs, which are still up for grabs!

I hate physics. Maybe if I were doing real physics I'd like it, but no. It's weird, theoretical physics. Why did I take the only Liberal Arts program in my university that requires upper-division physics? Seriously, I love my program to death, but I hate this class.

In good news, my university invited me to apply for a nomination for a Truman Scholarship, which is awesome. I'm not sure I'm a good fit for the scholarship, but it gives me warm fuzzies.

Reviews coming soon, I promise. I've been reading some great books lately.

Thanks to everybody who participated in the Harlequin TEEN contest. However, I think I need to write a post defining the term 'theme.' (I am partially an English major, after all.) But here's what you really want to know . . . the winners:

What a Girl Reads

Shooting Stars Mag

Jill of the O.W.L. Blog


Now that I'm back from England, moved into my apartment, and readjusted to school, blogging should be smoother. . . . one hopes.

September 5, 2009

Meme: Create Your Debut Novel Cover

I took this meme from Maggie Stiefvater's awesome el jay. She released SHIVER last month, and in October we'll be graced with BALLAD, the sequel/companion novel to LAMENT.


1 – Go to “Fake Name Generator” or click
The name that appears is your author name.

2 – Go to “Random Word Generator” or click
The word listed under “Random Verb” is your title.

3 – Go to “FlickrCC” or click
Type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.

4 – Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in.

5 – Post it to your site along with this text.

My first verb, disentangle, was not found on flickr. However, I did find a photo for my second verb. I have Photoshop on my laptop but not the desktop, so I used Picnik. It's very easy - this cover took me less than half an hour and I've never used the software before. (Most of the time I was playing with fonts. I love fonts.)

Now the question is . . . do you want to read my book?

September 3, 2009

'09 Debut Authors Challenge Update

The Story Siren's '09 Debut Authors Challenge is well underway, and my goal is 30 books by debut YA or MG authors. I've read quite a few more since my original post.

So far I have read:

1. Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey
2. Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
3. Hottie by Jonathan Bernstein
4. Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King
5. Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell
6. Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott
7. Bite Me! by Mel Francis
8. Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev
9. Knife by R.J. Anderson
10. Wings by Aprilynne Pike
11. Willow by Julia Hoban
12. Initiation by Susan Fine
13. I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President by Josh Lieb
14. Never Cry Werewolf by Heather Davis
15. hush, hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
16. Secret Society by Tom Dolby
17. My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent
18. Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon
19. Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford
20. Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 by John Barnes
21. Dull Boy by Sarah Cross

I own but haven't yet read:

1. The Forests of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
2. Beautiful Americans by Lucy Silag
3. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
4. Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten
5. Hold Still by Nina LaCour
6. Lipstick Apology by Jennifer Jabaley

Feel free to suggest more debut books to me.

September 2, 2009

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Burning Ambition

I've been sitting on this cover since June, but it's time to discuss a HOTTIE cover once more. (Yes, that has has been done here three times. But the trailer is still a saving grace.)

Now, I am looking forward to the sequel. I enjoyed HOTTIE. I appreciate that this cover matches the redesigned HOTTIE cover, since branding is important to realizing two books belong together.

Let's build up, no?

The background: Simple, but fun. The blue balances the brightness of the red and yellow, and the contrast illuminates how the two figures in the foreground oppose each other.

The foreground: Love the expressions - these girls clearly don't think much of each other. But the clothes! I don't think there's a summary yet, but I've determined the plot is from their outfits:
Superheroine Hottie has a new nemesis, but she doesn't know who. She narrows it down to the Valley, given the girl's propensity for wearing a gold elastic belt over a yellow polyester prom dress - with a hair accessory that is so 2000. To blend in, Hottie throws a pleather jacket over her LBD and replaces her "H" with a "U" for "Undercover." She's going to show this hot mess the literal meaning of the words. But her nemesis has a burning ambition to escape the world of itchy, synthetic fabric clad villainy . . . and you can't fight fire with fire.

The typography: I like the tagline and author name, but wish a more exciting but complimentary script had been used for the title treatment. As is, it's easy to read but boring and doesn't balance out the figures on the bottom half of the cover. Maybe if the font were smaller and the girls took up more of the cover.

What do ya'll think?

ETA: Actual summary from Amazon:
Alison Cole and the Department of Hotness are back and ready for action in the sizzling sequel to Hottie—all about a Beverly Hills princess who can shoot fire from her fingertips!
Ever since defeating her evil stepmother, Carmen, Alison’s life has been totally fla-mazing. But when she wins a coveted internship at Jen Magazine, she’ll have to take on fifteen-year-old Editor-in-Chief Pixie Furmanovsky—the biggest Superbrat the world has ever seen! Pixie always gets what she wants, and now she’s after Alison’s boyfriend, T!

Can Hottie give little miss BratGirl a Super Sweet Sixteen that she’ll never forget? Or is this Superteen about to get superfired?

Current release date is 6 April 2010.

September 1, 2009

Review: Catching Fire

By Suzanne Collins
Official site

Book Cover

This should post on September 1, CATCHING FIRE's release date. But I read it and wrote this before then, thanks to Lenore. She let me read her (signed!) ARC as long as she was able to keep track of me while I was reading it. So thanks Lenore! I may have to visit her again when the third ARC comes out, because there is a doozy of a cliffhanger and I know Lenore has the clout to receive an ARC and I don't. (Not that I have the money to make this a feasible plan.)

CATCHING FIRE begins awhile after THE HUNGER GAMES ends. Katniss has developed a new routine, providing for her and Gale's families with both her winnings and her hunting, as well as trying to bring more prosperity to District 12 by spreading her money around. But while Katniss would enjoy fading into obscurity, the world doesn't want to forget about her. So she receives a visit from the President, telling her to ramp up the silly-girl-in-love act while on tour with Peeta . . . or else.

Suzanne Collins knows how to move a story along. She adds a bevy of new characters to those already established, but I never felt lost. I do feel worried that I'll never know the exact fate of some of these characters, which will probably make me think terrible things happened to them. The government is worried about rebellion, so it's a bad time to show any spark. And though Katniss tries to keep her head down, her actions keep igniting the people.

I don't think I would like this series as much if it were from Peeta's point-of-view. I like Katniss's coldness. She's a good person, but she's also ruthless and practical. She lacks political savvy, but her other survival instincts are dead on. It would be very easy to hate Katniss from another POV, but it's hard not to sympathize with her while inside her head. Her own qualities also allow her to appreciate the qualities that make other Hunger Games survivors formidable, if sometimes unpleasant and dangerous.

Collins is brilliant at humanizing her characters, even the ones that oppose the protagonists. However, their main opponent, President Snow, is somewhat disappointing. He's just evil, with no attempt at roundness. I want to know what makes him tick, since he's at the root of everything. I know Collins can deliver more with him, so I hope to see that in the conclusion.

I also hope to see more of the rebellion. My main problem with Collins is I feel she has a tendency to take the easy way out. To describe why exactly would spoil both books, but feel free to discuss it with me in the comments as long as you preface your statement with SPOILER for those who have yet to read THE HUNGER GAMES and/or CATCHING FIRE.

While CATCHING FIRE is a children's book, the violence might be a bit extreme for the under-ten crowd. Collins ramps it up even more, and some scenes even made me a little queasy - and believe me, I've read some sick stuff. The premise pretty much guarantees it's going to be a violent novel, but it never hurts to give an extra warning.

Despite my quibbles, CATCHING FIRE is a wonderful book. I have no doubt that everyone who enjoyed THE HUNGER GAMES will find the sequel as engaging. I also encourage fans watch or read BATTLE ROYALE, which uses a similar premise but emphasizes different themes, particularly exploitation.


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