Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fierce Reads Pensacola Signing Recap

The Fierce Reads signing (Saturday, June 16th--I know it took me a while to get this up!) was just amazing, y'all. It was actually my first signing ever, so I was absurdly excited and bouncing up and down a little. Macmillan asked me to blog for the event, so I was invited to come early to interview the authors, who all are crazy nice and so willing. You'll hear all about that in a later post, though!

The signing started a teensy bit late, but the authors introduced themselves and we quickly got going. Emmy Laybourne (author of Monument 14) started. She told us that in writing her book, she had to ask herself multiple times, "What is wrong with me?" In a book filled with such pain, despair, and death, writing it could get difficult, but she said that writing scenes of goodness helped her get through. She also said that Monument 14 is really about "how to be human when times are scary".

Jennifer Bosworth (author of Struck) told us about the book, and how she got into the idea of a "lightning addict". She told us about the man who holds the record for the most lightning strikes (SEVEN) and how he was a park ranger. In her research she learned that he took to keeping a bucket of water in the back of his truck when he was out, just in case. She told us she wondered why he never got a different job, one that was inside, and this got her to thinking that he could have been an actual lightning addict, that it made him feel alive.

Anna Banks (author of Of Poseidon) gave us a quick synopsis of her book, telling us that Emma is just an average girl (pointing to a rather hairy man, "like you, sir".)

Leigh Bardugo (author of Shadow and Bone) told us about how she wanted to explore darkness not being metaphorical, but real. She also told us how she got the idea for the Shadow Fold, and how she woke up in the middle of the night to complete darkness, and as she was walking around the house, heard breathing around her. She decided to explore it as a reality, and what kinds of things would be living in there.

After the authors had their introductions and small spiels, they were asked what kinds of preparations they made to begin writing their books. Emmy Laybourne told us that she would "stalk Targets" to get a sense of their layouts, what kinds of resources they had, how long people could live in the store, and what kinds of safety issues could arise. Jennifer Bosworth told us that she watched just about every earthquake documentary she could find, and how she learned that the Puente Hills fault is real, eight miles below the streets of Los Angeles. She also studied what kind of destruction an earthquake would do in LA and did research on cults, including the cults involved in the incidents in Waco, Texas and the Manson murders. Anna Banks told us that she began her research after seeing a documentary on a colossal squid. She thought that if that is real, what else could be down in the deep of the ocean. She also researched other cultures depictions of mermaids and looked at how they could be hiding now. Leigh Bardugo told us about how after she'd written her first draft of the book she felt that it needed a sense of place, so she went to a bookstore, where she found a Russian imperial atlas. She said the country just "clicked" and played into things and events she'd already written, but also that the location changed her story as well. 

At the end of the questions, the authors were asked how long it took for their books to get out into the world, from beginning writing to release date. Emmy told us that in total it took her three years, beginning to end, but the first two years were her drafts. Jennifer said it took about two years, from her first draft to her release date, but that getting published had been an eight year journey, from the first book she wrote to now. Anna told us about how she'd actually sent out queries before her first draft was due, and one of the agents asked for the full manuscript, so she'd had to rush to finish it. In total, her first draft took four months, but she edited for another two. Leigh said from her first idea to querying it took her one year.

The authors were extremely nice and so eloquent. It was a joy to meet them and listen to them speak (as well as read their books, of course!) As I read this back, I don't think my recapping skills are the greatest, and for that I am sorry. I will be getting some practice, and practice makes perfect, right? :)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Release date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository
Ebook available from: Barnes & Noble | Amazon
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.
You'd think I'd learn my lesson with hype. Despite my previous experiences of eating my words, I still resist. Shadow & Bone was yet another example of why I should get over myself. I'd heard a whole lot about this book and how "OHMYGODSOAMAZING. MUSTHAVESEQUEL. OHTHEDARKLING. OHMAL." it was, so I thought, superiorly, that I wouldn't like it or that it would make me roll my eyes. HA. Shadow & Bone deserves the hype it gets. Yes, it has a large number of the YA norms (love triangle, orphan, girl who suddenly has a magical power and must save the world), but they're handled well and don't distract from the fantastic setting, character, and plot.

It's almost hard for me to get my mind straight when I begin thinking about how to review this book. I loved Alina. I love Mal. I loved Ravka. I loved the Shadow Fold and the Darkling (in their own way, you know).

Alina is just a wonderful character. She gets the fate of her country set upon her shoulders, a weight no one person could handle, but she tries. She has some breakdowns and days where she wants to run away, but she takes it one day at a time. I also think her relationship with Mal is just perfect. They've grown up together, so there is an established rapport, but Alina has realized her feelings for him are not just platonic, so there's also an awkward element. Bardugo just seems to nail this. It doesn't hurt that Mal is utterly engaging and a joy to read about. And rather irresistible... But that's another story.

I've loved Russian history for just about forever, so a book set basically in an alternate imperial Russia is like candy to me. I appreciated that while the words weren't all explicitly Russian, they had the flavor, but they also made sense and had a recognizable feel to them. I read the egalley of the book so I didn't have the map provided in the physical copy (which is just crazy beautiful!), but I felt like the geography made sense. I just want to live there!! (Or maybe not quite yet... After the end of the series, maybe??)

The Darkling was easily the most fascinating character. For a long time you can't figure out his motives and it drives you crazy and all you want to know is if he's bad or not. BUT, even when you find out you're surprised, even if you're like me and totally knew the whole time but didn't want to believe it. (Can't you tell I'm ranting here a little bit??) The sad thing is, good or bad, he's irresistible in his dark, dark way.

I couldn't put Shadow & Bone down and I couldn't get it out of my mind. I cannot wait for Siege & Storm. I don't think another book has captured me this badly in quite a while, and I love it. I cannot recommend Shadow & Bone enough.

Risk a paper cut? Are you actually still reading?? After that rant up there?? And you need to know my final thoughts?? Shadow & Bone has eclipsed all other books I've read so far this year, and is likely to eclipse many more.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Struck by Jennifer Bosworth

Release date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: FSG
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 373
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository
Ebook available from: Barnes & Noble | Amazon
Mia Price is a lightning addict. She’s survived countless strikes, but her craving to connect to the energy in storms endangers her life and the lives of those around her.

Los Angeles, where lightning rarely strikes, is one of the few places Mia feels safe from her addiction. But when an earthquake devastates the city, her haven is transformed into a minefield of chaos and danger. The beaches become massive tent cities. Downtown is a crumbling wasteland, where a traveling party moves to a different empty building each night, the revelers drawn to the destruction by a force they cannot deny. Two warring cults rise to power, and both see Mia as the key to their opposing doomsday prophecies. They believe she has a connection to the freak electrical storm that caused the quake, and to the far more devastating storm that is yet to come.

Mia wants to trust the enigmatic and alluring Jeremy when he promises to protect her, but she fears he isn’t who he claims to be. In the end, the passion and power that brought them together could be their downfall. When the final disaster strikes, Mia must risk unleashing the full horror of her strength to save the people she loves, or lose everything.

Needless to say, Struck has a pretty unbelievably awesome premise. "Mia Price is a lightning addict." With the first sentence of the synopsis, I was salivating. Lightning has always fascinated me, though I know almost nothing about it. Addiction of any type is not explored very often in young adult novels, and I've never come close to seeing anyone write about lightning addiction. I knew instantly this would be a book I had to read, and the synopsis did not disappoint me. Struck is a fast-paced, addicting, and utterly realistic novel that will hook you from the beginning and not let you go even after you've read the last page.

Mia was immediately a stand-out narrator and protagonist for me. The girl knows how to stand up for herself, but she takes countless blows to help her family, and ultimately save them. She is being pulled in several different directions and is trying to make decisions that will do the most good, but not at the expense of her mother and brother's safety. Her loyalty and fierce love drew me to her and made me care about her.

Another aspect of the book that I felt was spot on was the depiction of a city post-natural-disaster. Throughout the novel, Los Angeles is a place like no other. Those who have never wanted are homeless and hungry. No one has enough food. No one has enough money or supplies. Sometimes the water works, sometimes it doesn't. Aid comes, but is often intercepted before it can reach it's destination and is taken by force. You can get what you want if you have enough cash. There is chaos where there used to be order, destruction and sadness in place of normal life.

The cults were just one more thing I enjoyed in Struck. They were presented in a way that showed neither one as the "right" one or the "wrong" one. We explore the pros and cons of both along with Mia, and can understand the decisions she makes. The message to think for oneself is clear here and I think Mia is a perfect example. I also thought the relationship between Mia and Jeremy was developed at a perfect pace and was treated with the caution it needed to be realistic and believable.

Struck is an outstanding debut and a fascinating read. The captivating premise makes for a wild ride. Sure, I could see the big twists coming a mile ahead, but I enjoyed the book nonetheless.

Risk a paper cut? I've been electrified by Struck. It is an experience unlike anything I've read, and definitely one I'd risk.

Announcing Fierce Reads Week!

Hey guys!

I attended the Pensacola, Florida stop in the Fierce Reads tour yesterday. There I met Leigh Bardugo, author of Shadow & Bone, Jennifer Bosworth, author of Struck, Anna Banks, author of Of Poseidon, and Emmy Laybourne, author of Monument 14. Needless to say, it was awesome. It was actually my first book signing ever, so I was ridiculously excited. I can't tell you all enough how much fun I had and how great each of the authors is. There are only three more stops left within the tour, so if you can go out, I highly highly recommend you do. So, in honor of its awesomeness, I'm going to be hosting my very own little "Fierce Reads Week".

Each day this week I'm going to be posting something regarding the tour. I'll have all of my reviews go live, plus a recap of the event, my interview with the authors, and, at the end of the week, A GIVEAWAY! Macmillan graciously gave me copies of all four author's books to give away, so I got them signed and will be giving them to four lucky winners!

So, a little bit later in the day I will be posting my first review. I'd love for you guys to give me links to your reviews and/or to share your thoughts on the books. Those comments will earn you extra entries in the giveaway later! :)

Happy reading, and have a fierce week!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ladies in Waiting by Laura L. Sullivan

Release date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Harcourt
Format: Egalley
Source: Publisher provided through Netgalley
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository
Eliza dreams of being a playwright for the king’s theater, where she will be admired for her witty turns of phrase rather than her father’s wealth. Beth is beautiful as the day but poor as a church mouse, so she must marry well, despite her love for her childhood sweetheart. Zabby comes to England to further her scientific studies—and ends up saving the life of King Charles II. Soon her friendship with him becomes a dangerous, impossible obsession. Though she knows she should stay away from the young, handsome king, Charles has a new bride, Queen Catherine, and a queen needs ladies in waiting. And so Zabby, Beth, and Eliza, three Elizabeths from very different walks of life, find themselves at the center of the most scandal-filled court that England has ever seen.

Going into Ladies in Waiting, I really am not sure what I expected. Perhaps something lighter and less, dare I say it, philosophical. I imagined it would be a typical fluffy book where all of the girls got their happy endings no matter what hoops the real world had to jump to in order to get there. Instead, I got a book that had a grip on reality. One that realized life doesn't just always work out perfectly with a little bow on top, one that knows that the world goes on even after the one true love is gone. While I didn't love it, and may not even recommend it very highly, I was pleasantly surprised by Ladies in Waiting.

We follow the "three Elizabeths", girls who have come to the court of King James II to serve as ladies in waiting to his queen, Catherine. Though they share a given name, that is the only thing similar about them. Eliza is well off, but not noble, and dreams of becoming a famous and revered playwright, in the vein on Shakespeare. Beth is as poor as they come, but breathtakingly beautiful, a gift that her disfigured mother uses to her own advantage. And Zaby was raised a scholar out of the continent and comes to court by saving the king's life. We see the ups and downs of their time in court, see them fall in love, and weasel their way out of trouble.

One of the saving graces of Ladies in Waiting was the characters, especially Zaby and Eliza. While I didn't particularly like what Zaby was doing, I admired her spunk, brains, and her readiness to go after what she wanted. It was the same with Eliza. I found her downright hilarious and loved that she threw caution and convention into the wind to pursue her dream.

I enjoyed the court setting and reading about a king whom I've never seen depicted in fiction. I thought it was researched fairly well and the dialogue and writing flowed well and seemed to fit for the time period. It was well-paced; altogether technically a good read.

Now, back to what I mentioned before, the thing I really admired and enjoyed about the book was that it didn't hold back. There was no just because happy ending. Things worked out for some characters and didn't for others, and it didn't matter if they were the "good guys" or the "bad guys". Honestly, I don't see that very often and I thought it was a breath of fresh air in the young adult market, though I wouldn't really tout this book as very young adult. It's definitely more on the adult side of the genre, just based on content.

Risk a paper cut? If you like court intrigue and airing the dirty underwear of royals, Ladies in Waiting could be just what you're looking for.