Ink by Amanda Sun

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Holy rats how did it get to be Friday?!

It’s been ages since I reviewed a book, but when NetGalley offered a YA by an author I met through Miss Snark’s First Victim, of course I had to snatch it up. Well, as much as one can “snatch up” an ebook. They’re not very, ya know, physically there. Still readable, though! And this one was. Very readable.

The set-up: After the death of her mother, Katie Greene goes to live with her aunt in Japan. She feels marginalized as a gaijin, or foreigner, because of her blond hair and clumsiness with the language and social norms. Much of that discomfort takes a back seat when she meets Tomohiro, the bad boy whose drawings are a little more than two-dimensional.

Main character’s goals: Throughout the first half of the book, Katie wants to get back to North America – a place where she knows the language and feels comfortable. Her more immediate goal, however, is figuring out Tomohiro and what causes his drawings to be so unique.

My reaction: I was insanely curious how the author would handle juggling the language. It’s an English book, but most of the dialogue happens in Japanese…but it’s in English. And it totally worked. Sun strategically placed Japanese phrases and exclamations so that I’d remember the speech was happening in Japanese…without having to read (or know) Japanese.

And hello! What a gorgey cover!

Of interest to writers: Setting. Setting setting setting. This relates to the dialogue in part – I was able to feel a part of things when I was included in the language, but even more engaging was the total immersion in another culture and place. Katie’s the perfect gateway character to the setting, because it’s new to her as well.

Bottom line: A unique & edgy paranormal with a sweet, believable romance. And blossoms raining down from cherry trees.

To visit Amanda Sun’s blog, click here.

SilverReminds me of: Silver by Talia Vance, for its unique take on an old mythology.


Silver by Talia Vance

Disclaimer: Yes, I am friends with the author. Guess what – it’s still an awesome book!

The set-up: Brianna has always been invisible and has a pretty compelling scientific theory as to why: bum pheromones. She tests this theory on her crush, Blake, who has been introduced to her at least six times and never remembers her.

Main character’s goals: At first, Brianna just wants to be seen. Then, as her heritage is slowly revealed to her, she wouldn’t mind going back to hiding. That wouldn’t make for a very good story, though – Brianna  is way too cool to sit back and let things go on without her. She – and Blake – are in the middle of a centuries-old feud, and when you toss in immortals with medieval weaponry, I’d say survival is her main goal.

My reaction: Sexy. This is the best kind of paranormal romance – a unique, killer concept mixed with the kind of love (and make-out sessions) that sweep you off your feet.

Also, the dialogue and the action just…flow. It’s fast-paced, and hilariously funny at times, and has tons of heart.

Of interest to writers: The tension! Silver‘s got it. Even my second time reading this book, it was still a page-turner. Also, study those one-liners – both the ones in dialogue, and in Brianna’s thoughts. Donald Maass advises writers to have their characters say things we wish we could say, and I totally wish I had Brianna’s wit. Great lines…I’m not sure if I can improve my own one-liners by studying Talia’s, but at least I smile while I’m studying.

And next time I need to write an action scene? I’m looking to this book for some good models.

Bottom line: Refreshing yet hot at the same time.

To visit Talia Vance’s website, click here.

Reminds me of: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. Spunky, powerful heroine and awesome action.


Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien

The set-up: Gaia has run away from the Enclave (the story of Book 1 in the series, Birthmarkedfor that review, click here) and now finds herself in another community, Sylum, which is just as twisted as the place she escaped. Twisted in different ways, of course, and plagued by mysterious reproductive problems. (Translation for “reproductive problems”: all kinds of juicy issues that are scintillating yet tastefully handled.)

Main character’s goals: At first, Gaia’s only goal is to care for her baby sister, but as she adjusts to the customs of Sylum, her goal warps into something that even she cannot recognize, and it takes a good (excuse me) verbal bitch-slap from an old favorite to get her back on track. I hope that isn’t too spoilery; I’m being purposefully abstract.

My reaction: Just as impressed with Prized as I was with Birthmarked. I even had to email the author right away to tell her how much I enjoyed it. The prose is beautiful, Gaia’s character arc (and dip and arc) is rewarding, and the pace is quick. It’s the kind of book I’d be proud to say I wrote. Am also relieved that it doesn’t bear similarities to what I have in mind for my own Book 2 (I had some “issues” with Birthmarked; you can read that review – link above –  if you’re curious).

Of interest to writers: Once again, we have an ending that begs for the next book, yet everything is resolved. Please, please please please! everybody follow the rule of wrapping up your story line even when writing a series. O’Brien’s done an excellent job of that with both books. I’m satisfied in a way that leaves me eager for the next installment. It’s a delicate balance, and one we should all strive for.

Second point of interest: Gaia’s antagonist, the Matrarc, was a fascinating character. She totally pissed me off, but even the bad things she did, I could understand, and I could even sympathize with her reasoning. That’s the mark of a good antagonist.

Bottom line: Very satisfying.

To visit Caragh O’Brien’s website, click here.

For my interview of Caragh, click here.

Reminds me of: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.


NiFtY Author Talia Vance

Today we have a special guest – debut author Talia Vance. Not only is she a prolific writer (two books coming out within the year, AND one more under contract!), but I also count her as a friend.

BH: Welcome, Talia! You have not one, but TWO books coming out between now and next spring. Can you tell us a little about them?

TV: SILVER is a dark romance based on Celtic mythology.  Brianna Paxton accidentally binds her soul to the one guy it might kill her to love. SPIES & PREJUDICE is about a teenage private investigator, Berry Fields, who sets out to discover the truth behind her mother’s death and ends up questioning everything she thinks she knows about love and the one boy she is determined to hate.

BH: What were some of the joys of writing Silver?

TV: I loved discovering the characters’ secrets as I wrote (and there were some big ones), I loved those moments when they said the exact right line of dialogue, and I especially loved that I finished a book.

BH: We all have favorite minor characters in our own books, those characters we wish could have more page time. Who’s your favorite minor character in Silver?

TV: I am going to cheat here, because there are two characters I wanted to give more time to:  Joe is the conscience of the story, a voice of reason among chaos.  His past is full of violence and loss, but he’s always so calm and stoic.  I know what’s made him the way he is, but I often wonder what it would take to make him break. Someday he may get his own book, just so I can find out.

Portia barely makes an appearance in SILVER, but she definitely has her own story.  In early drafts, she began to take over the second half of the book, and I had to cut out her entire story from the final version.  All that background wasn’t for nothing, however.  She gets quite a bit more page time in GOLD. [note for the audience – GOLD is Book 2.]

BH: Switching from fantasy to contemporary is something I’m doing now with my own work-in-progress. Were there any challenges involved with your switch, and how did you overcome them?

TV:  The biggest challenge was switching from Brianna’s voice, which is more introspective and emotional, to Berry’s voice, which is more brash and confident.  Both stories take place in contemporary Southern California, but their worlds and challenges are very different.  One thing that helped me make the switch was having a separate playlist of songs that fit the mood and tone of each book.  I listen to the playlist while I’m writing and revising, and it helps puts me in the “head” of the character and the story.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

TV: I work on a couch with a laptop.  This picture is a pretty accurate depiction of how I write, complete with the lapdog lying across my legs.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

TV:  I am a fan of James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure.  Plotting is something that I tend to do organically.  Which usually means I have to figure out the structure and plan the plot in revisions.  Plot and Structure is a great book for reminding me what a story should look like in its purest form.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

TV:  Put everything you have on the page.  Don’t save your best stuff for another book.  Put it in this one.  You’ll come up with new stuff later.  Make this book count.

BH: Talia, thanks so much for sharing about your books and writing! I can’t wait to hold the published copies of Silver and Spies & Prejudice in my hands!

For more on Talia, including some brilliant blog posts on writing, you can visit her at the YA Muses blog by clicking here.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

The set-up: Aria comes from an enclosed city, protected from the Aether and harsh environments (and people) on the outside. Perry’s had to fight for survival his whole life.

Main characters’ goals: Aria’s goal is to find her mother (even if it means lying to her ally); Perry’s goal is to find his nephew. Their goals are pretty constant, although their methods change throughout the story as the two of them, ahem, get to know each other better.

My reaction: WOW. This is a whole new world, and, honestly, one I only want to encounter between the covers of Rossi’s books. It’s a scary place, filled with scary people – and the people in Aria’s home-pod are just as frightening as those inhabiting Perry’s world on the outside. Beyond the bad guys, though – some of the supporting cast are memorable wonderful people, and I can’t wait to read more about them! (Hellllooooo, Roar!)

Of interest to writers: Personally, I find alternating points of view difficult – not just to write, but to read. In Under the Never Sky, though, the alternating POV was really smooth. So why does it work so well here? Check out how Rossi has expertly differentiated between her characters – not only their personalities, but the differences in their diction, style, and tone.

(Third to) Bottom line: The concept alone will blow your mind. The concept coupled with great writing make this book a total winner.

Reminds me of: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

For more on Under the Never Sky and Veronica Rossi, you can visit her personal blog here, and her blog with the YA Muses here.

Last thing, I promise: While looking for a good image of the cover, I found some of the international covers on Veronica’s blog (click here to go there). Seriously cool. I think the Dutch cover may be my favorite. Which is yours?

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

The set-up: Dash finds a red notebook in the shelves of his favorite used bookstore. Inside Lily (or her brother and his boyfriend) has written a series of challenges intended to weed out unworthy suitors. Instead of putting the book back after he has proved himself worthy, Dash keeps it, writes down more challenges, and gets the book back to Lily.

Main characters’ goals: Two main characters. Dash’s goal is to meet and fall in love with Lily…well, he’s half in love with her already after reading her challenges in the notebook. Lily’s goal is to have a merry Christmas, and to live up to the girl she has become in the notebook (a slightly added challenge because the notebook version of herself is more daring, more opinionated…just more).

My reaction: Dash is a bit of a pretentious ass, but he has vulnerabilities, too, so he’s still sympathetic. While his delight in words and language is not unbelievable, he doesn’t sound like your average teenager. Lily is also above-average intelligent, but I sympathized with her more. Is it a girl thing? I have no idea. I liked Dash, I really did. I loved that the thing he wants more than any other worldy possession is the complete Oxford English Dictionary. But Lily, she’s awesome.

Also, it’s a little bizarre to read a Christmas story when the outside temperature is pushing 100 degrees.

Of interest to writers: I was just reading on Maggie’s blog that in order to collaborate with another writer, you have to work well together…which I take to also mean, you have to like the person. This is Cohn’s and Levithan’s third collaborative YA book (they wrote the turned-into-a-movie Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, as well as Naomi and Eli’s No Kiss List). I heart all of my writer friends, I truly do, but I don’t think I could collaborate on a whole novel.

Bottom line: It’s quirky and funny (the mall Santa who makes Dash molest him is my favorite highlight), and kept up my hope in the world.

Reminds me of: The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen


Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

The set-up: Andi has been too busy grieving and losing herself in her guitar music to take the time to start the thesis required for graduation from her private school. When her dad discovers how bad Andi’s situation has gotten, he whisks her off to Paris (poor Andi) to make her get to work (Paris, but with homework? Really, this time, poor Andi).

Main character’s goals: Andi wants to go back in time, to save her brother. The loss of him is too much for her (she escapes into her music and her antidepressants), it’s too much for her mother (she escapes into her painting and periods of catatonia), and it’s too much for her father (he up and leaves the family). I would say at the start of the story, Andi doesn’t have much of a goal, but once she’s in Paris her goal is to get back to her mother. Then she finds an old diary, and strange things happen.

My reaction: This was a book to savor. I wasn’t rushing through it, trying to reach the end, but I did want to hang out with Andi for awhile, hear what she had to say. And I’m still divided as to what really happened (we have a bit of an unreliable narrator going, what with the substance abuse, so the last half of the book is…a little different. I don’t want to spoil anything by saying more).

Of interest to writers: I really have a hard time with epistolary novels. If you want to incorporate a diary, or letters and notes or emails, then you had better do it well. Otherwise, I will hate your book. Aim for what Donnelly has done in Revolution, or what Jaclyn Moriarty does in The Year of Secret Assignments. For an example of what NOT to do…[] That is the sound of me biting my tongue. I am trying to be kind here. If you really want to know what I read recently that had a sucky diary thing going, send me an email.

Bottom line: So. This book is awesome.

To visit Jennifer Donnelly’s website, click here.

Reminds me of: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.