Saturday, September 29, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (13)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It's an opportunity for everyone to share the books which we've added to our shelves.

It's been a while since we last did a Stacking the Shelves post, so we've got a few books to share this week.

For Review:

The Super Spud Trilogy by Michael Diack
The Violet Fox by Clare C. Marshall
Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb by Ally Malinenko
Thanks to Michael Diack, Clare Marshall, and Ally Malinenko!

Ally's Books:

Ten by Gretchen McNeil
Thanks to Epic Reads!

Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Lee's Books:

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
Angelfall by Susan Ee
Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Slammed by Colleen Hoover

What did you add to your shelves this week?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review: Partials by Dan Wells

Partials (Partials #1)
By Dan Wells
Balzer + Bray

To Sum It Up: War with genetically engineered beings called Partials and a virus released by them to target humans have left humanity on the brink of extinction. No new babies are being born with immunity to the RM virus, and they die shortly after birth. Sixteen-year-old Kira Walker is training to be a medic and witnesses the dying newborns firsthand. She believes that the Partials, who are immune to the virus, hold the key to finding a cure. Kira devises a dangerous plan to enter Partial territory and bring one back to the lab to be studied. Her search for answers turns out to be more than Kira bargained for, though, when she discovers some shocking information not only about the Partials but about humans, too.

Review: I hadn’t read any reviews of Partials before borrowing it from the library, so I was a little surprised to find out that it was more of a pure science fiction novel than a dystopian one (though it also easily falls under the dystopian category). Science and I were never really pals in school; it never interested me as much as, say, English and history. Unfortunately, my lack of enthusiasm for all things scientific affected my enjoyment of Partials, which is an otherwise thrilling, intelligent story of humanity’s fight for survival.

I’m used to having to suspend my disbelief while reading fiction, but I thought that Partials asked me to accept a lot of things at face value. The Partials were created to fight for humans in the Isolation War with China, but the genetically engineered soldiers turned on their human makers, setting off the Partial War. An engineered virus called RM, attributed to the Partials, was released, killing most of the human population. The North American survivors are now clustered together on Long Island. Although the characters in the book discuss the Isolation War from time to time, I’m still in the dark about exactly what went on. The book plops you in the middle of a disaster scenario but doesn’t dwell on the details of how you arrived there. In this case, some additional background information on how this world came to exist would have been helpful, at least to me.

There’s even more going on in this story. The government has enacted a law called the Hope Act, which requires females eighteen years and older to be pregnant as often as possible in the hope that a baby with RM immunity will finally be born. A rebel group called the Voice vehemently opposes the Hope Act and creates all sorts of chaos to make its position known. The action in Partials is nonstop and very exciting, but sometimes I felt like I was experiencing information overload trying to keep up with the various plotlines, which apparently, I’m not very skilled at doing.

While I’m all for brainy, take-charge heroines in YA novels, which Kira completely is in Partials, I thought that she also suffered from a bit of a superhero complex. Her determination to save the human race is admirable, but there are times when she pursues her goal so doggedly that she loses sight of everything else, like how much she’s asking from her friends when she requests their help with her mission to find a Partial. On the one hand, I liked Kira’s fearless, can-do attitude, but on the other, her occasional tunnel vision irked me.

Along with the multiple plotlines, there is a host of supporting characters to keep track of. I was really intrigued by the Partial, Samm. The motives behind his actions are quite murky; I’d love to know what he’s thinking. I also liked Jayden and Xochi, two of Kira’s friends, but the rest of the characters sort of blurred together after a while, especially the government officials.

Getting past all of the science talk in Partials was a big hurdle for me, and I just couldn’t do it [hanging head in shame]. Readers who do love this type of thing should revel in the detailed descriptions of Kira’s RM studies. I also felt that the book had a lot of great ideas, but this abundance was also part of its problem. It tried to incorporate all of them, leaving some underdeveloped. Although Partials fell a little short for me, it’s sure to find plenty of fans among science fiction enthusiasts.

All in All: Anyone who likes dystopians which lean more towards sci-fi will probably enjoy this. I might read the sequel one day because I really liked Samm and would like to know what happens to him, but it’s one of those “I’ll get to it when I get to it” type of books.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Painting the Page: The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices' Magnus Bane

We thought that it would be fun to occasionally post some of the images that have been inspired by our reading adventures. This is my drawing of Magnus Bane from Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series. Magnus is one of the most lively and vivid characters I have ever read about. I could easily picture him in my mind and just had to draw him.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Crossed by Ally Condie

Crossed (Matched #2)
By Ally Condie
Dutton Books

To Sum It Up: Cassia and Ky have fallen in love with each other, but the Society has its own agenda and has sent Ky to the Outer Provinces. Out in this harsh environment, where there is talk of a rebellion against the Society, Ky and the Society's other Aberrations and Anomalies are being used as decoys to make the mysterious Enemy think that the Outer Provinces are inhabited and to draw the Enemy's fire. With Ky in grave danger, Cassia leaves her family and life in the Society behind in order to find him, despite being already Matched to Xander, her friend since childhood. Both Cassia and Ky must brave a rugged landscape and put their trust in people they hardly know as they fight to make their way back to each other.

Review: Although I wasn’t wowed by Matched, I liked it enough that I wanted to check out the sequel, Crossed. One of my issues with Matched was the lack of enough action to really keep me glued to the pages. A lot of the time I felt like I was reading a traditional romance novel rather than a dystopian novel that had a romance in it. The protagonist, Cassia, also failed to win me over; I thought that her character needed more complexity to it. Both of these quibbles were remedied in Crossed, resulting in a faster-paced read that I couldn’t put down.

In a departure from Cassia’s solo narration in Matched, Crossed alternates between Cassia and Ky’s points of view. I liked seeing things from Ky’s perspective and learning more about him. He’s been thrust onto the front lines of the Society’s battle with the enigmatic Enemy. The Society is trying to contain the fighting to the Outer Provinces, and so those males whom the Society has deemed unfit for Citizenship have been dropped in the middle of the warzone to fool the Enemy into thinking that it’s attacking populated territory. Ky’s tragedy-filled life has given him a strong survival instinct, and he uses it to plan a daring escape from the village that he’s been jettisoned in. Ky also turns out to be a natural leader, like his late father, who was part of the rebel group known as the Rising. Condie made a very good decision to give Ky a voice in this book, and she did an equally excellent job writing his character.

As Ky attempts to return to Cassia, she is trying to reach him in the Outer Provinces. Cassia has sacrificed a comfortable life back in the Society to find him, and her journey, unsurprisingly, is a difficult one. This arduous mission that she has taken upon herself forces Cassia to toughen up considerably. She matures quite a bit in this book, and I found her to be a much more compelling heroine than she was in Matched. I give her a lot of credit for trekking through rough terrain and not whining about it.

A few new faces appeared in Crossed, and their addition was welcome. I liked both Vick and Eli, who escape from the village with Ky. The latter decides to save Eli because he reminds Ky of Cassia’s younger brother, Bram. Vick is just cool, and he was my favorite among the new characters. Cassia’s traveling companion, Indie, who is in the same work camp as Cassia at the beginning of the book, is a rather shifty figure. It’s hard to tell whether she’s a friend or a foe to Cassia. I can picture Indie striking out with some readers because of her dubious behavior, but I thought that it lent edge to her character.

And what news of Xander, the young man who is Cassia’s Match? Well, Xander only shows up very briefly in Crossed, but we learn some extremely interesting information about him. Going into specifics would head into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that Condie needs to address all of the questions that I now have about Xander in the final installment of the trilogy.

I wish that there had been some more explanation about who the Enemy was, but that was my only gripe about this novel. Obviously, I enjoyed Crossed a great deal more than I did Matched, and I can’t compliment Cassia’s character development enough. I hope that she continues to grow in Reached, which I added to my TBR list as soon as I finished reading Crossed.

All in All: The pace and action really pick up in Crossed and are the main reasons why I zipped through it. I had planned to drop this series if Crossed turned out to be a repeat of Matched, but it was far from it. Based on the ending of Crossed, Reached looks to be a thrilling finale that I look forward to reading.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review: The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

The Demon King (Seven Realms #1)
By Cinda Williams Chima
Hyperion Books

To Sum It Up: Former street lord and thief extraordinaire, Han Alister, is trying to get out of the life. Han is trying to make an honest living for his family by trading with the clanspeople of Marisa Pines. When he and his friend, Dancer, come across three young wizards leading a raging fire through the forest while on a hunting trip, they know they must interfere. Wizards aren't allowed in Clan territory, and they most certainly aren't allowed to burn down the wilderness. Han and Dancer manage to stop the young wizards, but Han can't help himself and insists that one of the wizards, Micah Bayar, son of the High Warlock, give him Micah's amulet. Han has no idea that the stolen amulet once belonged to the legendary Demon King or that his sticky fingers just brought him a whole world of trouble.

At the same time, Raisa ana’Marianna, princess heir to the Fells, has her own problems to deal with. After three years of running free among the Demonai Clan, Raisa must return to court. Raisa's mother, the queen, is hell-bent on marrying Raisa off as soon as she comes of age. Raisa does not want to marry; she wants to be like Hanalea, the warrior queen. But the present queen insists on marriage, and Raisa can't help but question whether this is truly her mother's wish or someone else’s.

Review: Wow. There is no adjective in the world to describe how I felt after finishing this book. The Demon King was a spectacular, mind-blowingly amazing book! I am so glad that I read it, and it is easily one of the best books I've read this year. Let the gushing commence!

The concept of the story was so original and enrapturing that I immediately fell in love with it. The world in which the story takes place is huge. Even though there was a map in the front and back of the book, I was still completely lost. In a way, I was reminded of Westeros from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Not only are both worlds huge, but they are also insanely developed and complex. Much like ASOIAF, The Demon King had a whole background history behind the intense present events.

The setting definitely screams Middle Ages with queens, guilds, and all of that other good jazz. However, you also had the prominent magical element, too. There were the evil wizards, and then there were those who used “good” magic. The balance between the two was just perfect.

Throughout the book, the point of view shifts between Han, a street urchin, and Raisa, a queen in training. This shift was so appealing because they were extremely different. Han is just amazing! You don't realize how cool he is until you read about him from other people's eyes. Han's beginnings are rather peculiar. His father died in battle, which is quite sketchy. Han is amazingly handsome for a man of his status. He has these magical silver cuffs around his wrists that absorb magic and refuse to come off, and he has this undeniable connection to the Clans. Han is a sketchy kid, and I can't seem to figure him out.

Raisa, the other main protagonist in the book, was not my favorite character. I loved her whole “just because I'm a princess doesn't mean I can't play in the mud” kind of attitude. What I did not appreciate was her selfishness and sense of self-entitlement. She caused Amon, her childhood friend turned soldier, so much trouble. I also got tired of her whining about the Clans. I know they're cool, and I know you want to go and live with them, but give it a rest, Raisa! You're a queen in training and you've got a kingdom to rule!

Speaking of the Clans, I thought that they were amazing! I absolutely adored them. The clanspeople were peaceful, while at the same time über powerful. In a way, the Clans were running the whole kingdom. Since they saved the kingdom hundreds of years ago, the Clans had a huge role in ruling and politics. Raisa's father, the king, was actually from the Demonai Clan. Dancer, Han's best friend, was my favorite character and he, too, was also from the Clans.

What really made the book for me was the rough-and-tumble environment of the streets Han once ruled. I loved watching Han interact with the Raggers, a thieving gang from the slums of Ragmarket. It was interesting to see how Han changed to fit the role the Raggers put him in. A decent part of the book was spent in Ragmarket, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The whole book was just amazing. I was awed by Chima's creative world building. I felt like I was part of the world, as though I were there running through the streets with Han or riding horses with Raisa. A lot of books can drag you in, but few can keep you there long after you've finished. I'm ready for the sequel!

All in All: The Demon King has to be up there in my top ten favorite books. I am so hyped to get my grubby hands on the other books that Chima has written.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday (15)

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee's View and
Alison Can Read. It's a great way to meet other book bloggers!

This week's question is:
What hyped up book was worth all of the fuss?

We both put off reading Vampire Academy for the longest time because we figured that it was just another vampire book, and we'd read our fair share of those already. The cover didn't do much to convince us to read it, either. Finally we decided to give it a shot, and man, did we kick ourselves for not reading it a lot sooner. It quickly became one of our favorite series.

If you're a new follower, be sure to let us know so that we can follow you back. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Black Heart by Holly Black

Black Heart (The Curse Workers #3)
By Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry Books

To Sum It Up: Because Cassel Sharpe is a transformation worker, one of the most powerful magic users there is, his talent is highly prized by both the good guys and the bad guys. He’s supposed to be joining the Feds, but his future career as an agent troubles him because it’s in direction opposition to the profession that the love of his life, Lila Zacharov, is entering. She’s preparing to take over the family business from her crime boss father. Lila’s dad is also keeping Cassel’s mother in his Manhattan apartment until the diamond that she stole from him is returned. There’s no such thing as the simple life for Cassel, and when the Feds want him to use his magic for a dangerous operation, he knows that he’ll need every bit of cunning he possesses to get out of this situation alive.

Review: Our favorite snarky curse worker, Cassel Sharpe, returns for the final chapter in his story, and he finds himself in his biggest bind to date. And that’s really saying something, because his previous escapades have included transforming his best friend into a white cat and solving his oldest brother’s murder. Black Heart is every bit as gripping and suspenseful as the previous Curse Workers book, Red Glove, was, with enough plot twists of its own to constantly keep you guessing as to how it will all end.

Black Heart opens with Cassel and his brother, Barron, who’s now working for the Feds, too, in the midst of a little training exercise. They’re tailing Lila Zacharov, heir to her mobster father’s criminal empire and the love of Cassel’s life. Picturing Cassel and Barron sitting in Cassel’s car trying to avoid being seen by Lila made me laugh because it was like a scene straight out of a buddy cop movie. The idea of Barron, a former employee of Lila’s father, as Cassel’s training instructor made me laugh even harder. I’ve never been very fond of Barron; he’s always struck me as the type of guy whose number one priority is himself. I was amused to see that becoming a federal agent didn’t make him any less smarmy or arrogant than he was during his very recent days as a criminal. One of my favorite things about this series is how just when I think I have things figured out, Black throws a few curveballs. Well, in this case, I never pictured sort of liking Barron, but I did by the end of this book. In Black Heart, we catch a few fleeting glimpses of a different side of him, not that he turns into a saint or anything. I’ve always loved how gray the characters are in these books; the moral boundary between the good guys and the bad guys is wonderfully blurred.

As for the younger Mr. Sharpe, Cassel’s knack for extricating himself from sticky situations is really tested here. He’s slated to officially join the Feds once he graduates from high school, but in the meantime, they have a small task for him. The governor of New Jersey’s efforts to get his anti-worker legislation enacted into law have obviously garnered him some enemies, Lila’s father among them. Zacharov had Cassel’s mother, an emotion worker, use her magic on Governor Patton to make him drop his agenda, but the attempt failed and has left Patton extremely unstable. Patton has become so dangerous that the Feds, who count curse workers among their ranks, have concocted a plan to have Cassel transform the governor and thus remove him from the public eye permanently. Coming from a family of con artists like he does, Cassel doesn’t completely buy the Feds’ assurances that they’ll do everything possible to keep him safe during the mission. In fact, Cassel suspects there’s a double-cross in the works. The conclusion to this showdown is as surprising as it is thrilling, not to mention ingeniously plotted. I was flabbergasted by the way in which events panned out; Black wrote these scenes brilliantly.

I found the subplot in which Cassel and his friend Sam try to help a classmate who’s being blackmailed a bit extraneous, especially compared to the high drama of the Governor Patton storyline. Otherwise, Black Heart is a compelling read that should leave fans of The Curse Workers very content. I’ve really grown to like this series, and I’m going to miss it. Should Holly Black ever decide to write about this world and these characters again, it’ll be a very happy day indeed.

All in All: The Curse Workers is an excellent series and a must-read for anyone who likes books about magic, or even if you enjoy books in which the distinction between the heroes and the villains is not so clear-cut. And with Cassel’s engaging, humorous narration, you’ll never be bored while reading this trilogy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Anatomy of a Reader: Why I'm Forever Indebted to Twilight

We thought that it'd be fun to do an occasional post in which we highlight a book, even if it’s not a YA title, that has had an impact on us and shaped us into the readers that we are today.

I’m kicking off this feature with Twilight, the novel that, for better or worse depending on who you ask, introduced the world to average human teenager Bella Swan and sparkly vampire Edward Cullen. I absolutely did not predict how much this book would affect my life, and I’m not just talking about the amount of money that I would eventually spend on the books, movie tickets, books about the making of the movies, etc. Twilight is the book that helped me rediscover my love of reading after a very, very long spell of not picking up a book on a regular basis. And if I hadn’t started reading again, I certainly wouldn’t be here today blogging about books.

As a kid, I was an extremely avid reader and always had my nose buried in a book. Once I went to high school, though, I had a lot less time for leisure reading. My summers as a teenager were filled with required reading, a lot of which wasn’t really my cup of tea and further put me off from books. College left even less time for anything but school-related reading, and by the time I graduated, one of the last things that I wanted to see for a while was a book.

After college graduation, I did read on occasion, but definitely not as much as I once did. That thought saddened me, but I didn’t know how to rekindle the love that I used to have for books. Then in 2008, my best friend asked me if I’d read this book called Twilight. I’d seen it on The New York Times Best Seller list for a while but never paid much attention to it. She had enjoyed reading the book and recommended it, but she did warn me that she didn’t like the second book nearly as much. I decided to give Twilight a try and bought a copy, which then sat on my shelf for about two months until Christmas. It probably would have remained there even longer if my cousin (and our guest blogger), Melissa, hadn’t received a copy as a gift and urged me to start reading mine. So I did.

For the next few nights, I got very little sleep because I could not put this book down. It wasn’t the best book that I’d ever read, but there was something about it that grabbed my attention and refused to let go. I was 31 at the time, and I hadn’t been this obsessed with a book in ages. The day after I finished reading Twilight, I went out and bought the rest of the series. I haven’t stopped reading (and buying books) since.

Although my fervor for all things Twilight has waned quite a bit over time, this book will always hold a special place in my heart because it got me back into reading for good. This is going to sound really corny, but in a way I feel like I’ve been reunited with a long lost best friend. One thing is for sure: we’re never going to fall out of touch again.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Shakespeare's Spy by Gary Blackwood

Shakespeare's Spy (The Shakespeare Stealer #3)
By Gary Blackwood
Dutton Children's Books

To Sum It Up: Widge and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men are back in London, but their troubles are far from over. With Queen Elizabeth’s health failing, there is a lot of anxiety over her successor and the future of the theaters. The unexpected arrival of William Shakespeare’s daughter, Judith, disconcerts not only her father but Widge as well when the latter finds himself smitten with her. There’s also a thief among the company, and Widge’s past deeds cast suspicion over him. To dispel the doubts over his innocence, Widge must go on an undercover mission to unmask the real culprit.

Review: After finding Shakespeare’s Scribe, the middle book in this series, a bit of a letdown compared to the previous book, The Shakespeare Stealer, I began reading this with a little hesitance. I felt that neither the story nor the characters from the first book advanced very far in the sequel. My fondness for The Shakespeare Stealer, which was a delightful read, is what motivated me to finish out the series. While I still think that The Shakespeare Stealer is the strongest entry in the trilogy, Shakespeare’s Spy recaptures some of the charm that made the first book so winning and is a definite step up in plotting and character development from its predecessor.

Whereas Shakespeare’s Scribe focused on the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s travels through the English countryside, Shakespeare’s Spy finds the company back in London now that the theaters have been reopened following a plague outbreak. I didn’t find the company’s journeys very compelling, so I was glad to see the story return to its original setting, as well as proceed at a crisper pace than it during the road trip. In addition to worrying about the future of the theaters, William Shakespeare has a rather large problem to contend with right under the Globe’s own roof: there is a thief among his players. At first a few costumes go missing, but when a member of a rival acting company is caught stealing a script from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, it appears that he had some inside help. Figuring out the identity of the accomplice wasn’t all that difficult, but it was an entertaining plotline nonetheless. I wasn’t as keen to see the Who Is Widge’s Father? subplot reappear because I found it rather labored in Shakespeare’s Scribe. This story line aside, Shakespeare's Spy moved at a pace that kept me invested in the story and eager to see the thief/spy unmasked.

I’ve liked the protagonist, Widge, since the beginning of the series, so it was disappointing when his character in the second book pretty much turned in a repeat performance from the first one. Fortunately, he undergoes significant growth throughout this book. Widge becomes like an older brother to the younger children in the household of Mr. Pope, the member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men who took Widge in when the latter first joined the company. Widge also finds himself competing with two of his fellow apprentices for the attention of Shakespeare’s daughter, Judith, who arrives in London unexpectedly. In an effort to impress her, Widge tells Judith that he’s writing a play. He isn’t really at first, but luckily for him, Shakespeare gives him an abandoned draft and permission to do whatever he likes with it. And so Widge’s career as a playwright begins. By the end of the novel, he has come a long way from the humble orphan of the first book, and I thought that his tale reached a very satisfying conclusion.

Readers who have been with the series from the start should be pleased with this finale. I liked how various threads of Widge’s life from the previous books came full circle. In The Shakespeare Stealer, his knowledge of shorthand is what makes him the perfect person to steal Hamlet by transcribing it from a performance. In Shakespeare’s Spy, it’s that same knowledge of shorthand that helps Widge uncover the real thief who’s been lurking around the Globe. Blackwood really brought this historic era to life. I wish that I’d read a series like this as a kid because I definitely would have wanted to learn more about Shakespeare and his times way before I went to high school, when I finally read my first Shakespearean play (which was Romeo and Juliet).

All in All: The series lost a bit of its luster in my eyes with Shakespeare’s Scribe, but it recovers nicely here. I’ll reiterate what I said in my review of The Shakespeare Stealer: I truly think that these books are a great introduction to Shakespeare for younger readers. Being a huge Shakespeare fan myself, I love seeing other readers fall in love with his work, too.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cousinly Conversation Vlog: The Hunger Debates

* This video contains spoilers for The Hunger Games trilogy. *

In this week's edition of Cousinly Conversation, it's sister vs. sister as Ally and Melissa reignite their never-ending Team Finnick vs. Team Peeta debate. Of course the arguments were all made in jest, and no sisterly bonds were severed after filming ended. (Apologies for the camera inexplicably zooming in and out all by itself a few times. Eventually we'll get all of these technical hiccups ironed out for good.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday (14)

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee's View and
Alison Can Read. It's a great way to meet other book bloggers!

This week's question is:
What hyped up book do you think was not worth all the talk?

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater kind of fell flat for me. The writing and world-building were both outstanding; I just couldn't get into the book. I kept waiting for the action to pick up, but the book maintained a very slow pace throughout (at least for me it did).

If you're a new follower, be sure to let us know so that we can follow you back. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Author Interview with Scott Cramer

Today I'm excited to welcome Scott Cramer, author of Night of the Purple Moon, to the blog. You can read my review of this young adult dystopian novel here. The Kindle edition of Night of the Purple Moon is available for free download from Amazon today! US readers can click here, and UK readers can click here.

Welcome to Rally The Readers, Scott! Thanks for answering a few questions today. First, what inspired you to write Night of the Purple Moon?

I wanted to write a story that people of all ages would enjoy and in the end would inspire them.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry and Homecoming by Cynthia Voight are two novels I really like. In each book the young main characters faced incredible odds and took dangerous journeys.

In thinking about NOPM, I wanted to increase the odds and raise the stakes. Rather than have one or both parents die, what if all parents die? What if the electricity stops and there is no more running water? What if all the survivors have a ticking bomb inside them, the act of growing up; puberty becomes a death sentence.

That is a gut-wrenching, perilous situation for young teens and children to find themselves in, and that is the germ of the idea that led to my writing Night of the Purple Moon.

Did you base any of the characters on people you know in real life?

Every character starts out with elements of people I know, and perhaps even elements of my personality.

But that’s just to get me started. Perhaps like an artist doing a rough sketch with a pencil.

The more I explore the characters the more they take on lives of their own. You know you have succeeded in creating a strong, three-dimensional character when as a writer you start to guide them, rather than dictate what they should do. They take over and very often surprise you with their decision making.

What is your favorite scene in the novel?

I don’t want to give anything away, but I am very proud of a tender scene I wrote with Jordan and his mom that takes place toward the end. There is also a 20-page sequence that involves Toucan. I spent a long time working on it and I think it came out really well. Many people have reported they needed a box of tissues for that part of the book.

Which character did you find easiest to write about? Most difficult?

Actually, they were one in the same: Abby Leigh, my main character. It was difficult because I am not a 13-year old girl, but it was easy because I have two daughters.

In the early stages of writing about Abby, I asked my two daughters lots of questions about puberty and growing up. It wasn’t long before they got used to my questions.

And then, as so often happens when creating characters, Abby took on a life of her own. I no longer needed to ask people questions or do Google research. Abby told me what she wanted to do, how she would act . . . .

If you were one of the kids on Castine Island, what would your survival plan have been?

There is an equal chance I would have done one of these two things.

A) I would have panicked and found a boat, sail or motor, and ventured immediately to the mainland. Knowing what I know, though, that would have been a big mistake, because as difficult as things were on Castine Island, life on the mainland was even more chaotic.
B) I would have tried to plan ahead, way ahead. The catastrophic epidemic took place in April. On the island, there would have been plenty of food during the summer. I would have looked ahead to the winter and thought, what do we need to store for the lean months.

The ending of Night of the Purple Moon perfectly sets up a sequel. Will there be one, and if so, can you divulge any details about it?

I can divulge that I am diligently at work on a sequel and that the title is ‘Colony East.’ More than that? Hmmm, I better follow my instincts and say the story will have to speak for itself.

And now for the obligatory random questions:

Favorite color?

My favorite color is turquoise. But I have an admission to make. I am definitely not color blind, but I have what I would describe as “color amnesia.” If you asked me right now, “Scott, what is the color of your living room wall?” I couldn’t tell you. I would have to guess.

But it’s not as bad as it might seem. Whatever energy/molecules missing in the part of my brain that deals with color, all went to increase my sense of smell. I have an incredible, almost genius ability to detect subtle odors. Sight to the eagle is like an olfactory ability to me.

Once in a while I see on television a person who works for a perfume maker whose job is to smell perfume. I could do that, I think. In fact, I would love to do that, make money with my nose.

One time a woman stepped out of a car 30 yards away. A gentle breeze was blowing my way. I said, “excuse me, but are you wearing L’air du Temps?” She was!

Favorite ice cream flavor?

Mocha chip.

Favorite place to write?

Holed up in my small office in my house, shades drawn, with Misty-Duck (our cat) and a cup of cold black coffee by my side.

Book you’d take with you to a desert island?

One of those 1000-page plus Russian novels by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky.

Thanks again for your time today, Scott! I really appreciate it!

Find Scott Cramer:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer

Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer
Night of the Purple Moon (The Toucan Trilogy #1)
By Scott Cramer
Train Renoir Publishing

* A copy was provided by the author for review.

To Sum It Up:

Like everyone else on Castine Island, a small community in Maine, thirteen-year-old Abby Leigh is anticipating the comet that is supposed to turn the moon purple. The comet’s space dust does indeed create a violet moon and sky, but it also produces unforeseen, and devastating, consequences. Germs in the space dust attack the hormones of anyone who has gone through puberty, decimating Earth’s adult population. Abby and her brother Jordan must band together with the other remaining kids on the island and find a way to survive without the grown-ups. They can only hope that a cure becomes available before they enter adolescence themselves and fall victim to the pathogens, too.


Night of the Purple Moon is a harrowing dystopian novel that is both inspiring and heartbreaking. It’s hard to imagine waking up the morning after watching a comet streak through the sky and finding out that all of the adults have died. This is exactly what happens to Abby Leigh and her siblings, twelve-year-old Jordan and two-year-old Toucan (real name: Lisette), though, and the ensuing story of survival kept me glued to the page. The pacing was spot-on, and I became engrossed in the Castine Island survivors’ efforts to stay alive as they waited for a cure.

The way in which the kids form an organized society is very impressive without seeming implausible. In fact, the novel maintains its sense of realism throughout. Scenes involving the burial of the dead at sea are balanced with lighter scenes, like the surprise party that’s arranged for those sharing the same birthday month. There’s even an ice cream machine that the group’s resident genius, Kevin Patel, manages to get working; I couldn’t help but love geeky Kevin. This picture of a bunch of kids enjoying a day at the bowling alley eating ice cream and cake reminds you that they are still kids, even though the rest of the time they’re working a farm, taking care of the younger children, and disposing of the adult bodies. Everyone on this island has to grow up fast, but it happens at a rate that is convincing.

I thought that the characters were well-developed, and Cramer did an excellent job making the dialogue sound authentic for twelve and thirteen-year-olds. Abby is a selfless, natural leader and a big reason why the Castine Island survivors work together and avoid the chaos on the mainland that is seen later in the book. Her brother Jordan possesses some fine leadership skills of his own, and when the Leigh siblings embark on a dangerous mission together, they must continue to tap into the courage and resolve that they’ve demonstrated all along. Just when you think these two can’t possibly give anymore than they already have, they somehow find the strength to press on. The last few chapters were absolutely riveting, and I couldn’t read them fast enough.

There are a lot of dystopians to choose from these days, but Night of the Purple Moon distinguishes itself with its unique premise and strong, determined characters. I think that middle grade readers would easily connect with Abby, Jordan, Kevin, and the others. Dystopian fans of any age will want to check this one out. The ending hints strongly at a sequel, which I’ll definitely read.

All in All:

How much I enjoy a dystopian novel depends a lot on how believable the world is. The world of Night of the Purple Moon is well thought-out, and I completely bought into it. This was a quick but absorbing read that is also a good introduction to the genre for anyone who hasn’t tried it before.

The Kindle edition of Night of the Purple Moon is available for free download until September 12! Click here to get your copy now!

Check out the blog tomorrow for my interview with author Scott Cramer!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: The Lure of Shapinsay by Krista Holle

The Lure of Shapinsay
By Krista Holle
Sweet River Romance

* A copy was provided by the author for review.

To Sum It Up: On the small Scottish island of Shapinsay, the villagers know to be cautious around the waters that surround them. The sea is inhabited by selkies, seal-like creatures that take human form when they remove their skins. According to legend, the males use their extraordinary beauty to lure human women to their deaths. When Kait Swanney’s friend gives birth to a half-human, half-selkie baby, the newborn is thrown into the sea. Fearless swimmer Kait dives into the water to save the child, but her search proves fruitless. Kait is unknowingly seen by a male selkie who thinks that she is responsible for the baby’s death. He ventures onto land seeking revenge but in the end can't bring himself to kill her. After catching sight of the beautiful creature, Kait finds herself bewitched and willing to do anything to be with him.

Ally's Review: The Lure of Shapinsay was such a fun book to read! I was highly entertained throughout the whole story. This book was so unique; it definitely left an impression on me.

In the book, you have these selkies, which are sort of a variation on mermaids, and they’re described as having the characteristics of seals when they’re in water. Selkies are also supposed to be good-looking creatures who lure humans to their deaths with their godly good looks. So, how in the world do these people on Shapinsay find these creatures attractive? Well, when the selkies head onto land, they shed their skin/fur/coat thingy and are left as awesomely attractive humans. The most interesting part is that the skin is über valuable and alive. Eamon, a male selkie and one of the book’s protagonists, is definitely a one of a kind character. Man, I love that guy!

The other thing that I found unique was the dialect in the book. The people on Shapinsay are Scottish, so their lingo is quite different. Kait frequently threw around words like “bampot” and “numpty,” giving me an arsenal of new insults. Although it was quite weird and confusing going into the book with all the Scottish dialect and wording, I really got into it and barely noticed it by the end. Some of the things Eamon said were also quite funny. Eamon has this strong conviction that land is for the weak and dim. He’s also easily angered and even a bit arrogant at first. I thought that he was insanely cool, though, and his flaws brought something more to the table than other fictional guys sometimes do.

The other protagonist, Kait was an admirable character. She made me laugh, and I loved the way she held her own and didn't let her twin brother, Blair, tell her what to do. Kait was a tough girl; she knew what she wanted, and she gave her all to get it. I felt for her as she struggled with her feelings for Eamon, but I did get a little annoyed with how easily she fell for the guy. She would happily go and die for him, and she told Eamon this multiple times. Other than that, I thought Kait was awesome, and I really did like her.

The most surprising character in this story for me was Tipper Gray. Throughout the whole book she is painted as this crazy old lady who has a bad habit of breaking into people's houses. It is not until the end that you realize what Tipper went through. I loved her, and I think she ended up being my favorite character.

The only thing that I found fault with in the book was the ending. I felt that it was a little rushed and tied together too neatly. With that being said, I did not, for the life of me, see the ending coming. I was completely surprised and could only have wished that it spanned over a more reasonable amount of time.

The Lure of Shapinsay is easily one of the most original books I've ever read. I liked the concept, I liked the lingo, I liked the characters, heck, I barely disliked anything! It's safe to say that I, too, was captured by the lure.

All in All: This book is one of a kind. The Lure of Shapinsay is a fun and quick read with an intense and enrapturing story line. It is definitely not your ordinary love story!

Lee's Review: I wasn’t familiar with selkie lore before reading The Lure of Shapinsay, and so its premise intrigued me greatly. I was not disappointed. This novel is a captivating blend of mythology and romance that instantly pulled me into its vibrantly detailed world. Krista Holle is a fantastic storyteller and breathes new life into the human-girl-meets-not-so-human-guy theme with her take on the selkie legend.

I really loved the world of this book; it was my favorite aspect of the novel. From the first chapter, I was immersed in the island life on Shapinsay, where everyone knows each other’s business and selkie folklore makes residents wary of the sea. Thanks to the vivid descriptions of the island and its surroundings, it was very easy to conjure up the scent of saltwater and envision the waves crashing against the shore. I liked the characters’ Scottish dialect and felt that it gave the setting even more authenticity. Readers who aren’t as enthusiastic about the use of local jargon, however, might need a bit of time to adjust to the book’s narration and dialogue.

Kait is a spirited, determined heroine who isn’t afraid to speak her mind or pursue what she wants. She doesn’t back down whenever her twin brother, Blair, tries to boss her around. Blair has a tiny superiority complex since he’s the older twin by one minute. The sibling squabbling turns serious, though, when Blair tries to marry his sister off to a much older man named Magnum. Kait is too independent to get married for the sake of being married. She’s the type of person who follows her heart, and her heart ends up being captured by Eamon, one of the selkies that she’s always been told to avoid.

Eamon’s headstrong personality makes him a perfect match for Kait, with whom he shares the book’s viewpoint. In the beginning he disdains land “loupers,” but it’s a louper who touches his heart. Although Kait is drawn to Eamon because of the natural allure that selkie men hold for human women, Eamon finds that he can’t stay away from Kait, either. I liked how the “lure” wasn’t one-sided, and how Kait’s feelings for Eamon were also her own and not just influenced by his selkie “magick.” The developing relationship between these two was perfectly paced, and I winced whenever anything threatened to keep them apart (which happened quite often because, well, you can’t exactly expect human/selkie romances to go smoothly).

My only quibble with the book was the ending, which arrived rather suddenly. I’d expected a slightly lengthier wrap up, but I really can’t complain because there’s also a very clever twist towards the end that took me by surprise. I wasn’t sure what kind of note the book was going to go out on, and I give Holle a lot of credit for keeping me guessing until the last minute.

This is such a unique book, and I can’t say enough about how imaginative it is. It’s the kind of novel that you have to read for yourself to fully appreciate the experience. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Krista Holle’s future books.

All in All: If you need a change of pace from run-of-the-mill love stories, The Lure of Shapinsay might just be the book you’re looking for. It was unlike anything I’d read before, and a welcome departure from the type of paranormal romances I usually go for.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: Pledged by Gwynneth White

Pledged (Soul Wars Saga #1)
By Gwynneth White
Swallow Press

* A copy was provided by the publisher for review.

To Sum It Up: Seth and Erin are brought together after his brother marries her stepsister, but they are about to discover that their bond runs even deeper. The two are soul mates, but an ancient curse threatens to keep them apart. Together Seth and Erin must travel back in time to the ancient land of Shenaya to observe the consequences of not following one’s heart, and in doing so, attempt not to repeat the mistakes of others before them who were also destined for each other. All hopes of breaking the curse rest on Seth and Erin’s shoulders, and they face many obstacles ahead of them, including Seth’s own doubts about whether or not his future is truly meant to be spent with Erin.

Review: Pledged is a complex tale of love, friendship, war, and betrayal. And there’s time travel, too. If it sounds like this book has a lot going on in it, it does. There’s also a large cast of characters to become acquainted with. I love reading fantasy, and intricate plotlines and a multitude of characters often just go with the territory. While I admire how ambitious Pledged was in both of these areas, it took me a while to get a handle on who was who and what was going on. I think that some plot streamlining and a few less personnel would have made for a smoother reading experience.

At its heart, Pledged chronicles the age-old battle between good and evil. On the side of good are the Guardians, angelic beings whose opposition on the side of evil are demons known as the Gefallen. The Guardians task Seth and Erin with protecting the Seer-Stone, a unique diamond that can not only take them back in time but also serves as their guide in lifting the curse that dooms soul mates to an eternity without each other. Reuel’s Curse (so named after the bad guy of this book) is actually a lot more complicated than that, and there’s a prophecy (from Gideon, one of the Guardian good guys) that goes along with it. There’s quite a lot of exposition here, and although all of it ties together eventually, the wait is a bit long. I do think it’s worth it, though, because I became engrossed in all of the behind-the-scenes scheming for power going on in Shenaya.

Seth and Erin's mission to learn from the past necessarily means that they spend their time back in Shenaya watching history unfold before them. Just like in real life, they can’t alter the past. While the pair interact with a host of Guardians and are vulnerable to the Gefallen’s influence, they sometimes seem more like commentators than protagonists. Seth’s inner conflict over whether to choose a life with Erin or loyalty to his brother, Kyle, who’s looking for the Seer-Stone, gives his character the most dimension of the two. It’s not that I didn’t like Erin; I just never really felt a connection with her.

Without a doubt, my two favorite characters were Jared, a Shenayan soldier, and Sophia, the very reluctant future bride of Jared’s cousin, and the heir to Shenayan rule, Caleb. Arrogant Jared and fiery Sophia’s personalities clash at first, and their snippy dialogue exchanges are very amusing. Of course the two are soul mates, and of course their path to happiness is loaded with hurdles, like, say, Sophia’s betrothal to Caleb. I love this couple, and I’ll be rooting hard for them to find a way to be together.

Although Pledged started out rather slowly for me, by the end, I found myself quite curious about what was going to happen next to these characters, especially Jared and Sophia. Naturally, there’s a cliffhanger ending just when the action really picks up. It appears that I’ll have to check out the second book in the trilogy, Sacrificed, to find out everyone’s fate.

All in All: Fantasy fans who like multilayered story lines and characters who brave impossible odds might want to give this a try. This book might also appeal to readers looking for a unique take on the concept of soul mates.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday (13)

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee's View and
Alison Can Read. It's a great way to meet other book bloggers!

This week's question is:
Q: What are you reading right now? How do you like it?

Ally's been super busy with school and band practice lately, so I don't think that she's reading anything at the moment that isn't school-related. My current read is Looking for Alaska by John Green. It's the first time I'm reading one of his novels, and although I can see why so many people love his books (he is an amazing writer), I'm not sure how I like the actual story and some of the characters so far.

If you're a new follower, be sure to let us know so that we can follow you back. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George

The Edge of Nowhere (Saratoga Woods #1)
By Elizabeth George
Viking Juvenile

* I received an advance copy through Goodreads First Reads.

To Sum It Up: Becca King can hear the thoughts of others, or at least pieces of them. The only problems are that she can't control what she hears, and what she does hear doesn't always make sense. When Becca finds out that her stepfather has killed his business partner, she and her mother must flee and start a new life. Becca is sent to live with her mom's friend on Whidbey Island. But things go awry from Becca's first night on Whidbey. She faces challenges she never expected. Whidbey Island is full of secrets waiting for Becca to uncover.

Review: Okay, this is a toughie to review. So please bear with me as I attempt to clarify my thoughts. From the beginning, this book really pulls you in. The Edge of Nowhere is one of those rare books that you know is good, regardless of whether or not you liked it. It has an intricate plot that doesn't seem thrown together. Even though there are tons of surprises, everything fits together, and you can tell it was well thought out. Although I was a little frustrated about not getting answers until the last quarter of the book, when everything fell together, it was great. There was such a build-up of mystery and questions that when all the answers came flooding out, they were easy to accept.

All of the characters had their own complex backgrounds and histories. I grew to like the characters, and I can't wait to find out what happens to all of them. I did get a little impatient with Becca because I felt like she wasn't asking enough questions. It somehow worked out with the plot though, so I can forgive her.

The setting really added to the story. It was strange and different, but not quite magical. It was its own little world, but still believable. The Island was full of people, each with their own secrets.

What a cliffhanger!!! I cannot wait until the next book. Elizabeth George has set herself up for another great book.

All in All: This book kept you interested from the first page until the last. It was very well-written, and even if you don't like it, you can at least admit that much. You should definitely give it a try.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dude-ly Discussions with Denis: Review of Enclave by Ann Aguirre

* Possible spoilers for Enclave ahead *

Hi! My name is Denis, and I’m 12 years old. I am Ally and Melissa’s brother and Lee’s cousin. I’ll be occasionally doing a feature on the blog called Dude-ly Discussions with Denis. Today I’ll be reviewing the book Enclave by Ann Aguirre.

In this world, you must live to age 15 to get a name. At this time, you get assigned a class: Builder, Breeder, or Hunter. Deuce was to become a Hunter, but to her misfortune, she gets stuck with Fade for a partner. Fade is an outsider who was brought into the Enclave because he is strong and smart. This misfortune will change Deuce’s life forever.

The reason why Enclave really clicked with me was because I found it astonishing how one person could imagine the destruction of society and how people would act. I also loved how mysterious Fade’s life was and how he was found and imprisoned by the Enclave.

I also liked how Deuce stood up for her friends when they were being exiled by the Enclave. When she sacrificed herself, though, her friends turned on her because they thought she was a traitor. I was shocked when the Enclave exiled both Deuce and Fade. I was also surprised when the gang leader Stalker joined Deuce’s group.

Overall, Enclave was a good book, but I didn’t like how it ended so peacefully. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys dystopians or even if you like a good zombie book.

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