Blog Watch Wednesday and GIVEAWAY winners!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
So today is the 30th, otherwise known as the end of my "Daughter of Smoke and Bone/The Iron Knight" Giveaway. Two winners have been emailed, so everyone: check your spam folders and EMAIL ME BACK with some addresses. I can't wait to get these two books out to the winners!

Reviews I've Posted:

Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey - 3.5/5, fairytale retelling

Death Watch by Ari Berk - 4/5, supernatural fiction, young-adult
Lord of the Abyss by Nalini Singh - 3.5/5, supernatural fiction, fairytale retelling

Crave by Melissa Darnell - 2.5/5, supernatural fiction, young-adult fiction

Between the Sea and the Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore - 2/5, mythic fiction, young-adult
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins - 4.5/5, young-adult, realistic fiction

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine - 3.5/5, fairytale retelling, young-adult

Tankborn by Karen Sandler - 4/5, dystopia, science fiction, young-adult

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel - 3/5. steampunk, horror, young-adult

Fun Internet-y Stuff:

Have you seen these Save Community posters? You really really should. Know what else you should do? Watch the show. (NY Mag)

Tim Burton is going to direct the acclaimed Miss Peregine's Home for Peculiar Children movie. I'm alsready buying my ticket. (The AV Club)

There's a rumour circulating the internet that HBO is going to order seasons 3 and 4 of Game of Thrones and film them back-to-back. (

THIS is revolting. A teacher writes a novel about a true affair he had with a 17 year-old girl while in Paris. And now he's gathering all kinds of sick praise and hype for his book. (Jezebel)

Bookriot has a fun classic novel jumble up. Can you figure it out?

BookRiot also let me know there are 130 million books in the world. I've only managed just over 1,000. Both strangely encouraging, and disheartening at the same time.

You know you want to read this scathing review of the Kardashian sisters' "novel" Dollhouse. My favorite bit: "Kardashi-trash." HA.

The Lovely and hilarious Cleolinda has a Breaking Dawn in 15 Minutes up. If you've read ANY of her hilarious, on-the-nose m15ms, this isn't one to miss.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn or however it is punctuated (I really could not care) made the 5th best opening weekend of all-time.

Author Mark Z.Danielski, of House of Leaves fame, just signed a TWENTY-SEVEN BOOK deal with Pantheon books. That, ladies and gents, is just insane.

I LOVE this! Check it out: steampunk lego inventions. People are just so clever.
Comparing the two Snow White movies due out this year: Mirror, Mirror starring Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer and Lily Collins versus Snow White and the Hunstman with Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth (AND HIS ARMS.) My money is on Charlize alll the way, even with K-Stew dragging her down. (NY Mag)

Ender Wiggin has been cast! Asa Buttterfield, from Hugo and Nanny McPhee has been chosen as the pint-size warrior. That kid has a lot of expectations to live up to! (

And from CRACKED:

Don't forget to check your email for a giveaway winner! 

Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Monday, November 28, 2011
Author: Lia Habel
Genre: steampunk, horror (zombies), young-adult
Series: Gone with the Respiration #1
Pages: 384 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: October 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

I had my eye on this novel for a while before a copy of it fell into my greedy, cover-loving, teenage-steampunk-heroine craving hands. Dearly, Departed is indeed a great read for most of the novel, lively with NeoVictorian humo(u)r and futuristic themes, though it is hampered sadly by two (maybe three) too many POV's and overly-cartoonish and cliched villains. Dearly, Departed tries to do a lot with its 384 page length, with an eclectic mixing of a multitude of dramas and an inter-life relationship and it succeeds for enough of them - which is why I kept reading in spite of apparent issues early on in the novel's narrative. I liked the mix of a horror flair with the steampunkish nature, as I'd read a series with a similar bent but felt it lacked the urgency of a real zombie novel and I had a disconnection with the characters - a situation I hoped to find remedied in the intermingling of the genres here in Dearly, Departed.

I'm personally quite a large fan of steampunk novels and have been for about three years so this recent upswing in production of young-adult and adult novels with a Victorian bent and sly British humour is deeply appreciated when done right. And happily enough, one of the things that Lia Habel's series introduction Dearly, Departed nails on the head is the steampunk aspect of the freshman novel. With a mix of advanced tech and old-school steam function-ery (digidiaries, ID Chips, holographs, the required mention of "aether" with "Aethernet" ) in conjunction with highest (read: primmest) manners and ideals of the Victorian age, Dearly, Departed excels at creating a viable, evocative atmosphere with an original yet familiar locale. It certainly feels that the author researched and thought out everything about her society reborn from the ashes of destruction. Though the recent destruction seems ferociously apocalyptic in nature (massive climate issues, catastrophic storms, destroyed nations, new diseases and pandemics, a Second American Civil War, nuclear destruction, a SUPERVOLCANO!!, etc.) humans have survived and in this time of panic, they turned to manners, extreme social order and conformity. It's understandable and admittedly clever way of the author to authentically introduce such an anachronistic lifestyle into the year 2193.

Nora Dearly is a student at St. Cyprian's School for Girls. I really wished for more from this character, buton the whole I found Nora Dearly is a decent-to-good protagonist for this novel. I occasionally wanted to ask what the hell was wrong with her, but I didn't find her emotions and actions as off the rail as other reviews seem to have. Nora is definitely all over the place - the girl has the emotional range of ten people - but she goes through a lot in this novel. I didn't mind her rapid moodswings because they were within reason and not hysterical whining and crying.  Nora wasn't my favorite POV by far, that honor belongs to the charming and dashing and dead Captain Griswold, but in this novel of FIVE POV's she's not my least favorite, either. With both good zombies and bad zombies out for her blood, Nora's hesitation to trust is understandable and leads to a real friendship to blossom with the aforementioned Captain. I liked Nora best when with Bram (or maybe I just ignored her more ;]), and I loved their sweet but slightly cheesy and predictable romance. It worked for me, even though he's dead and she's a little bit self-centered, and a whole lot of crazy. I also wish the plot-line with Nora's girlish and silly "enemy" Vespertine Mink had been explored more: it seemed haphazard and random. .  . and I loathe the cliched, overdone "popular blonde girl" with a random hate-on for a main character. I wanted some reasoning, some valid explanation besides fomenting drama and girlfights.

Now, the other four POV's. We, as readers, are treated to insights not just from our erstwhile and goofy young lovers Nora and Bram but to: Victor (Nora's father), Pamela (Nora's best friend), and Averne Wolfe (the Commander in Charge of Bram's unit/division). Of these, I would say only Pamma's actually contributed much worthwhile to the plot of the story, and that was emotionality and mostly humor. I think Victor's perspective, endearing though it may have been, and Wolfe's should have been left on the editing room tables. They all ultimately end up feeling like filler, like a purposeful delay before returning to the more pertinent and relevant POV's of Nora and Bram. I actually quite enjoy Miss Pamma: she brings a little diversity into a whitewashed society and a little female ferocity to the table, but I couldn't look past her less-than-involving pages. I also found Averne to be quite comical - but probably not in the way (if she meant to at all) the author intended. His tirades and monologues to/at Bram were over-the-top and quite obvious. But Bram! I love Bram! I loved Bram's POV from the moment he appeared - the first page, the first paragraph. His is a prologue that is heart-wrenching, foreboding and appropriate. I loved his gentlemanly and refined interactions with nearly everyone: he may be dead, but he is still a gentleman, thank you very much. Though Bram is from a hostile country/territory to Nora's, they have far more in common than they do in differences. I would've enjoyed the entire novel so much more if it had been from this character's eyes alone.

I also admit to finding the zombie department of Dearly, Departed to be a bit wanting. With that prologue and the multiple, often intelligent, versions of the "Grays" (crawlers, lone wolves, bands of mindless flesh-eating machines. . .) I expected....well, more horror. With such a thorough background into the details and effects of the "Laz", I wished the author had conjured up a little more creepiness into her creatures. I liked the whole original and fresh idea of the origin of the zombies and the quest for the cure, but I wasn't impressed with the author's execution of them, particularly later in the novel. It seems that Nora is at least trying to duck the murderous degenerating undead for the first half and then. . . the attacks slow, trickle out. . . and, in the end, leave a lot of suspense to be desired. I never felt the urgency, the anticipation of the first part and that made finishing the latter bit a little harder than anticipated.

Dearly, Departed is, admittedly, quite far from perfect. It's also a lot more fun than I can seem to let on, and there are numerous aspects of this novel that I quite enjoyed. I just wish more had been trimmed so that Nora and Bram coudld shine a bit more, and that it had more chill and creepiness to it. I will certainly still definitely be seeking out the sequel Dearly, Beloved as soon as it is available, and hope that the steampunk gadgets and NeoVictorian charm have not worn out.

Two Minute Review: Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Saturday, November 26, 2011
Title: Fairest
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Genre: young-adult-ish, MG, fairytale retelling
Series: N/A, though set in same universe as earlier novel Ella Enchanted
Pages: 326 (hardcover edition)
Published: September 2006
Rating: 3.5/5

I was born singing. Most babies cry. I sang an aria. Or so I believe. I have no one to tell me the truth of it. I was abandoned when I was a month old, left at the Featherbed Inn in the Ayorthaian villiage of Amonta. It was January 12th of the year of Thunder Songs.

The Fairy Lucinda has once again given a dreadful gift. This time it's a mysterious magical mirror. The gift is disastrous when it falls into the hands of Aza, who never looks in a mirror if she can help it. In the Kingdom of Ayortha, Aza is most definitely not the fairest of them all. Many spurn her. Many scoff at her. She keeps out of sight.

But in the land of singers, Aza has her own gift, one she's come by without fairy intervention: a voice that can do almost anything, a voice that captivates all who hear it. In Ontio Castle, merry Prince Ijori is drawn to it, and vain Queen Ivi wants to use it for her own ends. Queen Ivi would do anything to remain the fairest in the land. 

Gail Carson Levine is one of my longest-held favorite authors; since I was eleven years old and stumbled across a still-current-favorite (Ella Enchanted) this has been an author that I keep my eye out for her novels. That charming, original and fun version of the Cinderella tale stuck in my brain and for years, Ella and Charmant's were two parts of one of my all-time literary couples. Gail Carson Levine returns to her magical and charming fairy-tale world created over ten years ago for another outing in Fairest, but this time the retread is of the classic Snow White story. Like Ella, Aza is a strong female character and one easily identitied with for the intended audience. Even for a reader well outside the target audience for this novel, I still found Fairest to be a creative interpretation of an ages-old myth.

While I readily admit to liking Aza, I didn't fall in love with her or want to be her best friend the way I did with Ella after that novel. I didn't mind the social awkwardness the girl exhibited routinely throughout - it was entirely believable and even to be expected in a peasant girl thrust into a Court with no knowledge, but her repeated lies wore thin. It's hard to feel true sympathy for a character that backs herself into a corner so very effectively. I wish I could invest into her relationship with the prince of Ayortha as well - it was a bit insta!love for my taste. Ijori comes off as nice enough, but there's very little personality there and no further development as the story progresses.

The magic of the novel, though exceedingly slight, serves as a nice backdrop to the more human problems Lady Aza faces with Ivi, Ijori, and missing her family. I liked that the focus was more on the character of Aza, and less upon her rare and unique magic. But sadly, here we are, at The Bad of the novel. I hate to say this, really I do, but for a society built around song and singing . . . the music portion was by far the weakest part of Fairest. The lyrics were odd, didn't fit, or just jarred as a "song" from the musical land. I wish a little more finesse had been applied to that (and pretty much the only) attribute of the Ayorthan people. Well, besides the birds flying in, out, around the palaces and castles. A little more time, detail spent on fleshing out basic elements of the novel would've added up to a more well-rounded, nicely-executed novel.

If you're looking for a quick read (and I mean quick - this tidy little novel only took me two hours to read cover to cover) with humor and singing, Fairest is for you. Though sadly not quite up to the high standard set with Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine once again whisks her loyal readers into a magical land of whimsy, insane and unhinged fairies, wise gnomes, and fearsome trolls with Fairest

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Thursday, November 24, 2011
Genre: young-adult, general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 372 (hardcover edition)
Published: December 2010
Rating: 4.5/5

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, √Čtienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.
There are some novels that are so good you have to draw them out, as a reader. You must eke out every page, every minute to savor the experience to the last little bit, until it's over, all too soon. Then there are other books, just as good, that compel you to finish, even resist even being put down for life's necessities. The latter is how I felt about Anna and the French Kiss (I walked around my house with my nose in the book and banged into several pieces of furniture while doing out) - I was ensnared within the first page. Stephanie Perkin's effervescent first-novel is one of the most charming pieces of young-adult realistic fiction I've had the fortune to come across in some time.

Anna Oliphant was breath of fresh air. I loved her vivacity, her enthusiasm for film, her flawed relationships with nearly everyone, and especially her everpresent sense of humor. I knew from the first page, first paragraph,
"Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either actually is. Napoleon, Marie Antoinette and a lot of Kings named Louis." 
I was amused. I even sniggered. ON THE FIRST PAGE. This was one novel I knew from that alone, would meet my high expectations propped up by a year and a half of hype. I can't limit myself, here are my other favorite quotes from the Atlanta native:
"...and no one will invite me to watch the mimes escape from their invisible boxes, or whatever it is people do here in their spare time."
"Who sends their kids to boarding school? It's so Hogwarts. Only mine doesn't have cute boy wizards or magic candy or flying lessons."

Anna is witty, flawed and just plain fun to read for nearly 400 pages of novel. I was happy it was a first-person, one POV novel and Anna shone in the starring role. She pops from the page with life and flair, and total individuality. From her very real, very rounded personality to external pressures in Anna's life (parents acrimonious divorce, a fractious relationship with her father) this is a character that will resonate (and already has) with a multitude of readers. I liked Anna's relationships with other characters a great deal: these girls actually like one another! It's refreshing to read healthy, valid relationships between female friends - especially teenage ones.

Ms. Perkins doesn't hoard all her talent and life only for her main character, happily. From love-interest Etienne to friends like Meredith and Rashmi and enemies like Dave, most of the people in the novel are well-rounded, flawed human beings. Etienne, one of the few YA love-interests that has genuinely caught my eye, is just as flawed, interesting, damaged as his female counterparts: not all detail or information about him is centered on his great hair and dreamy English accent. He's one of the few out there worthy of fandom and bookcrushes. I did wish he'd manned up a bit sooner with his situation - I hate romantic procrastination for it leads to gamesplaying (though he is innocent of that last bit to be fair) - but I loved his interactions with Anna for the entire book. I thoroughly enjoyed a novel that took the time to create a real friendship/foundation for two love-interests instead of just throwing them at each other and expecting sizzle. It's also worth noting that Anna doesn't hone in and focus solely on the American-born, French-named, English-toned sex magnet: Anna dates around, is attracted to others . . . basically: Etienne is not the end-all, be-all of Anna's social or even romantic life.

Paris. Ah, Paris - I have to admit it is one of the most perfect locations there could be for such a novel about young-love, unrequited love and the meaning of home. While I do wish the City of Lights had been explored more and been featured more prominently in Anna's year at School of America in Paris, what is shown is marvelous. Ms. Perkin's charming style easily extends to her locales and even from a novel, one could fall in love with her version of the famous city. It was just beautifully enfolded within Anna's life, a change of pace heralding her more international style soon to come. I also appreciated the fact that Anna didn't immediately fall in love with gay Paree - some resentment over her enforced move is to be expected and would've been unrealistic had it been lacking. However, once Anna gets over her anger and ventures to love the iconic city, it shines as one of the best parts of the novel.

Simply put, Anna and the French Kiss is a charming, easy-to-read, reluctant-to-finish read. The humor, the flawed but utterly likeable characters, the gorgeous setting all make for a novel that will hold appeal for all ages of reader. It will make you smile, laugh, and maybe even despair a little for the desperation of young -but true - love.

Review: Crave by Melissa Darnell

Monday, November 21, 2011
Title: Crave
Genre: young-adult, supernatural fiction
Series: The Clann #1
Pages: 431 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: October 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 1.5/5

Savannah Colbert has never known why she's so hated by the kids of the Clann. Nor can she deny her instinct to get close to Clann golden boy Tristan Coleman. Especially when she recovers from a strange illness and the attraction becomes nearly irresistible. It's as if he's a magnet, pulling her gaze, her thoughts, even her dreams. Her family has warned her to have nothing to do with him, or any members of the Clann. But when Tristan is suddenly everywhere she goes, Savannah fears she's destined to fail.
For years, Tristan has been forbidden to even speak to Savannah Colbert. Then Savannah disappears from school for a week and comes back…different, and suddenly he can't stay away. Boys seem intoxicated just from looking at her. His own family becomes stricter than ever. And Tristan has to fight his own urge to protect her, to be near her no matter the consequences…
With one of the few prologues that has excited me rather than dismayed me, Crave was an. . .  experience from start to finish. Crave is a very hard beast for me to categorize within my usual systems. One one hand, there were so many cliches and unnecessary elements that felt like filler, but on the other hand I had fun reading the novel and was intrigued by the lore/mythology of this supernatural world. Melissa Darnell's Crave has had several ratings from me in the day of reading and two days of analyzing I've had with it. From a 3, rationalized to a 2, again rationalized to a 2.5 out of 5 as the fairest I can do for this novel with my extreme mixed emotions. Savannah and Tristan's stories from Crave made me intensely want to smack them both, separate them, laugh at them. . . and ultimately want to read its sequel, Covet, as soon as I can get my grabby, contradictory hands on it in 2012. The only thing I can say is that it's like a bad movie: so bad it's good and you can't help but enjoy the often ridiculous, but hard-to-stop ride.

As said earlier Crave is all about two teens: Savannah Colbert, the "social outcast" of her high school and "golden boy" Tristan Coleman. The reader gets in both characters heads quite intimately with the switching, dual POV chapters from each. While I liked the switches between the views of Sav and Tristan, they came much too frequently in the flow of the novel and often without seeming to really need to change to the other's mind. With such a slow plot, with little to nothing happening (seriously the most exciting "event" in the first two hundred and fifty pages is some creepy guys and one guy grabbing Savannah's wrist) the shifts just exacerbated the problems already present. What kept me most interested was the lore and mythology of the Clann, it's secretive ways and just why the two kids were separated at such a young age.

Savannah was an okay protagonist, I suppose. I enjoyed her after a while, but she definitely didn't jump off the page in a burst of life and vivacity or anything, for me as a reader. She was a nicely rounded-out character, one who actually (amazingly, astoundingly) had a group of female friends with brains. I especially loved her friend Anne: protective, sarcastic and smart she was instantly relate-able to me in a way Savannah just wasn't. But, as more and more is revealed about Sav as the novel progressed, I warmed to her. Slight spoiler: especially when Sav was revealed as a half-witch, half vampire/succubus with powers! Tristan was more of a hit with me, though he too was far from ideal. I liked his struggles with his family and their expectations for him and his life -I feel that is something a lot of kids go through and Tristan's issues came across as genuine. He was a charming and even kind kid, apparently a rarity in this town/school. His overtures with Anne showed a lot about his personality and he helped me to warm to his girlfriend. I did laugh that his dream was to play in the NFL, but hey, he's a teenage boy. I did think idolized Savannah a bit much, as well. He constantly narrated, commented on, was angered by how saintlike and giving and perfect she was. We get it - we got it two chapters ago - move on, dude..

One thing I hated about both Tris and Sav: their relationship is practically Twilight but with witches and a part-succubus. Their teenage relationship is chock full of insta!love (no, being best friends in 4th grade does not negate years of independent growth/change/apparent hatred for each other with no communication - Sav and Tris do NOT know each other after reuniting, at least, not enough to be so "deeply" in love), "protectiveness" on part of Tristan that is borderline controlling and stalking, and of course, Tristan's blood is Sav's perfect cocktail (what, does he smell of lavender and freesia, maybe?) - so much so she is always aware whenever he is near. While happily Savannah does have dating experience other than her soulmate, I just had to knock a star off for this ridiculous relationship. It's laughable and like I said, been done before, many, many times. There's also no explanation just why it is Tristan, out of all the Clann, appeals just so much to Miss Savannah. If it's power, Tristan stated both his sister and father were stronger and more dedicated than he was with the magic, so it seems like unnecessary addition. I also wished for more from the vampire side of the novel: from Sav's dad to ominous Council, they seemed to swoop in randomly and then be ignored as part of the novel for quite a while.

I also soon realized just why the prologue was alluring, danger-filled and exciting: it's because the rest of the novel isn't. At all. This is a 400+ page novel with a plot consisting for the first 300 entirely of an old Friends trick: will they or won't they, can they, should they date? Seriously. It's all build-up and "oh no, I'm not allowed to date her!" "I can't be with him, it's against the rules!" when all along everyone - the characters, the reader, the author - all know it's a long-gone, foregone conclusion that they will. Ms. Darnell just dragged this unnecessary dating-or-not-dating drama out for far too long and other concerns that should have been pressing and important (the bloodlust, the council) are relegated to the back until the last 100 pages. For the first half, clueless me sat there wondering, "where's the action? When are the vampires, The Clann, anyone at all! going to do something/anything besides threaten and lurk offscreen?" This is a slow read, and if I hadn't been particuarly zealous the day I read it, I would probably still be struggling through the four hundred page length of the tome. There's no impetus to read besides finishing the novel, because there's no climactic build-up or suspense. Even the end of the novel lacks suspense or real excitement. Maybe Miss Darnell can fix these issues with the second, but I know I will be reading it regardless.

Added This Week!

Saturday, November 19, 2011
No lies here, I went a bit crazy this week. I found some very cheap books, both for my Kindle app on my new iPad and physical books. I have no will power, so clearly I gave in and splurged on the following:

I loved love LOVED The Distant Hours so I snatched up The Forgotten Garden

Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra's life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.

Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace - the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century - Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself. 

 I also found the entire Study series by Maria V. Snyder. I just finished my ARC of her fantasy TOUCH OF POWER and loved it so finding all three for less than $1 each made me ecstatic. The first is Poison Study and sounds fantastic.

Choose: A quick death…Or slow poison…

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear…

and the second in the series, Magic Study:
 You know your life is bad when you miss your days as a poison taster...

With her greatest enemy dead, and on her way to be reunited with the family she'd been stolen from long ago, Yelena should be pleased. But though she has gained her freedom, she can't help feeling isolated in Sitia. Her Ixian background has changed her in many ways—and her newfound friends and relatives don't think it's for the better...

Despite the turmoil, she's eager to start her magic training—especially as she's been given one year to harness her power or be put to death. But her plans take a radical turn when she becomes involved with a plot to reclaim Ixia's throne for a lost prince—and gets entangled in powerful rivalries with her fellow magicians.

If that wasn't bad enough, it appears her brother would love to see her dead. Luckily, Yelena has some old friends to help her with all her new enemies.

The third and final book in the series is Fire Study:

The apprenticeship is over—now the real test has begun.
When word that Yelena is a Soulfinder—able to capture and release souls—spreads like wildfire, people grow uneasy. Already Yelena's unusual abilities and past have set her apart. As the Council debates Yelena's fate, she receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by a murderous sorcerer she has defeated before....

Honor sets Yelena on a path that will test the limits of her skills, and the hope of reuniting with her beloved spurs her onward. Her journey is fraught with allies, enemies, lovers and would-be assassins, each of questionable loyalty. Yelena will have but one chance to prove herself—and save the land she holds dear.

I also got the second in Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tale series, Valiant:

When seventeen-year-old Valerie runs away to New York City, she's trying to escape a life that has utterly betrayed her. Sporting a new identity, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city's labyrinthine subway system.
But there's something eerily beguiling about Val's new friends. And when one talks Val into tracking down the lair of a mysterious creature with whom they are all involved, Val finds herself torn between her newfound affection for an honorable monster and her fear of what her new friends are becoming.

and two Jean Plaidy historical fiction novels: The Lady in the Tower and The Courts of Love, tales of Anne Boleyn and Eleanor of Aquitaine respectively.

Young Anne Boleyn was not beautiful but she was irresistible, capturing the hearts of kings and commoners alike. Daughter of an ambitious country lord, Anne was sent to France to learn sophistication, and then to court to marry well and raise the family’s fortunes. She soon surpassed even their greatest expectations. Although his queen was loving and loyal, King Henry VIII swore he would put her aside and make Anne his wife. And so he did, though the divorce would tear apart the English church and inflict religious turmoil and bloodshed on his people for generations to come.

Loathed by the English people, who called her “the King’s Great Whore,” Anne Boleyn was soon caught in the trap of her own ambition. Political rivals surrounded her at court and, when she failed to produce a much-desired male heir, they closed in, preying on the king’s well-known insecurity and volatile temper. Wrongfully accused of adultery and incest, Anne found herself imprisoned in the Tower of London, where she was at the mercy of her husband and of her enemies.

 Eleanor of Aquitaine was revered for her superior intellect, extraordinary courage, and fierce loyalty. She was equally famous for her turbulent relationships, which included marriages to the kings of both France and England.

As a child, Eleanor reveled in her beloved grandfather’s Courts of Love, where troubadours sang of romantic devotion and passion filled the air. In 1137, at the age of fifteen, Eleanor became Duchess of Aquitaine, the richest province in Europe. A union with Louis VII allowed her to ascend the French throne, yet he was a tepid and possessive man and no match for a young woman raised in the Courts of Love. When Eleanor met the magnetic Henry II, the first Plantagenet King of England, their stormy pairing set great change in motion—and produced many sons and daughters, two of whom would one day reign in their own right.

In this majestic and sweeping story, set against a backdrop of medieval politics, intrigue, and strife, Jean Plaidy weaves a tapestry of love, passion, betrayal, and heartbreak—and reveals the life of a most remarkable woman whose iron will and political savvy enabled her to hold her own against the most powerful men of her time.

I also found a collection of short stories from one of my favorite ya/fantasy authors, the amazing Garth Nix. Across The Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories should be enough to tide me over until Clariel comes out.

Nicholas Sayre will do anything to get across the Wall.

Thoughts of Lirael and Sam haunt his dreams, and he has come to realize that his destiny lies with them, in the Old Kingdom. But here in Ancelstierre, Nick faces an obstacle that is not entirely human, with a strange power that seems to come from Nicholas himself.

With "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case," Garth Nix continues to explore the magical world of the Abhorsen Trilogy. In additional short stories that range from two widely different takes on the Merlin myth to a gritty urban version of Hansel and Gretel and a heartbreaking story of children and war, Garth Nix displays the range and versatility that has made him one of today's leading writers of fantasy for readers of all ages. 

The next two up in my readthrough of Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires series were also purchased #7 Fade Out and #8 Kiss of Death:

 Without the evil vampire Bishop ruling over the town of Morganville, the resident vampires have made major concessions to the human population. With their newfound freedoms, Claire Danvers and her friends are almost starting to feel comfortable again…

Now Claire can actually concentrate on her studies, and her friend Eve joins the local theatre company. But when one of Eve’s castmates goes missing after starting work on a short documentary, Eve suspects the worst. Claire and Eve soon realize that this film project, whose subject is the vampires themselves, is a whole lot bigger—and way more dangerous—than anyone suspected. 

Claire Danvers has a few things on her mind. First of all there is the laundry, which is now an unfortunate shade of pink. Then there is her boyfriend, Shane, who is never too far from her thoughts. Finally there is her best friend Eve’s relationship problems. As if life as a student wasn’t complicated enough, Claire just happens to be studying in Morganville. A town run by vampires.

Trouble seems to follow Claire and her friends like a shadow and tonight is no exception to the rule. They must find the most difficult documents for a vampire to acquire; people passes that will allow ‘bad ass’ Morley and his friends to leave Morganville. But it’s proving incredibly difficult, and with the odds seemingly stacked against them, the biggest question of all is...

Will they survive?
Fairest, by perennial favorite of mine Gail Carson Levine seems just in tune with her fun, effortless classic Ella Enchanted.

 The Fairy Lucinda has once again given a dreadful gift. This time it's a mysterious magical mirror. The gift is disastrous when it falls into the hands of Aza, who never looks in a mirror if she can help it. In the Kingdom of Ayortha, Aza is most definitely not the fairest of them all. Many spurn her. Many scoff at her. She keeps out of sight.

But in the land of singers, Aza has her own gift, one she's come by without fairy intervention: a voice that can do almost anything, a voice that captivates all who hear it. In Ontio Castle, merry Prince Ijori is drawn to it, and vain Queen Ivi wants to use it for her own ends. Queen Ivi would do anything to remain the fairest in the land.

In this spellbinding tale filled with humor, adventure, romance, and song, Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Leine invites you to join Aza as she discovers how exquisite she truly is.

In Kindle books I got The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie, an author I quite liked for his The First Law trilogy as well as his deliciously vengeful Best Served Cold. I also got Bree Despain's The Dark Divine because omggorgeouscover it was cheap and Amanda Hocking's free zombie offering Hollowland.

War: where the blood and dirt of the battlefield hide the dark deeds committed in the name of glory. THE HEROES is about violence and ambition, gruesome deaths and betrayals; and the brutal truth that no plan survives contact with the enemy. The characters are the stars, as ever, and the message is dark: when it comes to war, there are no heroes...


Curnden Craw: a ruthless fighter who wants nothing more than to see his crew survive.

Prince Calder: a liar and a coward, he will regain his crown by any means necessary.

Bremer dan Gorst: a master swordsman, a failed bodyguard, his honor will be restored - in the blood of his enemies.

Over three days, their fates will be sealed.

. . . . . . 
Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared--the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in his own blood--but she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night held.

The memories her family has tried to bury resurface when Daniel returns, three years later, and enrolls in Grace and Jude's high school. Despite promising Jude she'll stay away, Grace cannot deny her attraction to Daniel's shocking artistic abilities, his way of getting her to look at the world from new angles, and the strange, hungry glint in his eyes.

The closer Grace gets to Daniel, the more she jeopardizes her life, as her actions stir resentment in Jude and drive him to embrace the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind the boy's dark secret...and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it--her soul.

and last, and only because it was free:

"This is the way the world ends - not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door."

Nineteen-year-old Remy King is on a mission to get across the wasteland left of America, and nothing will stand in her way - not violent marauders, a spoiled rock star, or an army of flesh-eating zombies.

Review: Death Watch by Ari Berk

Friday, November 18, 2011
Title: Death Watch
Author: Ari Berk
Genre: young-adult, supernatural fiction
Series: The Undertaken Trilogy #1
Pages: 546 (Nook edition ARC)
Published: November 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

They say the dead should rest in peace. Not all the dead agree...
 One night, Silas Umber's father Amos doesn’t come home from work. Devastated, Silas learns that his father was no mere mortician but an Undertaker, charged with bringing The Peace to the dead trapped in the Shadowlands, the states of limbo binding spirits to earth. With Amos gone, Silas and his mother have no choice but to return to Lichport, the crumbling seaside town where Silas was born, and move in with Amos’s brother, Charles.
Even as Silas eagerly explores his father’s town and its many abandoned streets and overgrown cemeteries, he grows increasingly wary of his uncle. There is something not quite right going on in Charles Umber’s ornate, museum-like house—something, Silas is sure, that is connected to his father’s disappearance. When Silas’s search leads him to his father’s old office, he comes across a powerful artifact: the Death Watch, a four hundred year old Hadean clock that allows the owner to see the dead.
Death Watch in hand, Silas begins to unearth Lichport’s secret history—and discovers that he has taken on his father’s mantle as Lichport’s Undertaker. Now, Silas must embark on a dangerous path into the Shadowlands to embrace his destiny and discover the truth about his father—no matter the cost.

Ari Berk's slowly plotted but excellently told tale of teenage Undertaker Silas Umber is a magical, enchanting, if occasionally macabre, tale - one I found hard to put down. The smooth, mellifluous flow of the writer's style eased me into an alternate world of revenants, lichs and ghosts in the necropolis of the book's setting, in the town of Lichport. I can't stress enough how much I enjoyed this quirky, individual young-adult novel with a supernatural bent. Death Watch may take a while to sink its clever claws into a reader, but once I began there was no turning back for me: I had to get as much time as I could with this strange but completely, morbidly fascinating tale and Silas himself. This is a heavy, almost haunting novel - mournful without being too much, but very readable. I went into this expecting perhaps a modern, male Sabriel (shepherd of the dead with unusual tools, dead/missing father, etc.), but Death Watch is a creature of its own making and name.

Silas is one the best parts of the entire endeavor. While his name is both a clever hint and a subtle foreshadowing of his death-centric life (Silas is veeeerry similar to "solace" and "umber" is a brown pigment, hinting at the dirt of the deceased), Silas isn't a creepy character at all: he's kind, quiet, disappointed, sad, lonely (sly mentions of invisible friends allude to the persistent loneliness of the young Umber's life) - all normal, understandable teen emotions. He's a well-developed character that's very aware of words and the power they can have, and as an empathetic young man in a house of brutes or drunks he stands out as the only likable main character in the whole novel. I found Silas' reaction to his father's mysterious disappearance and his mother's complete indifference in response to be wholly compelling and added a nice familial conflict to add in to the more supernatural elements in Silas' life. I also very much enjoyed the arc of Silas development while in Lichport: from a passive but angry young man, he evolves into one of my favorite male protagonists of the recent past.

Silas's job as the Undertaker of Lichport remains vague for the most part of the first half of the novel. I was very curious about this and the role the dead were to have in Berk's tale - fearful he'd veer into caricature or horror - but my fears were unfounded. The role of the Hadean Clock, or Silas's tool to see the ghosts the Death Watch itself, played a minor if very vital role. After so mant paranormal/supernatural reads I loved that the focus of the novel was on Silas himself rather than his "magic" or his Watch. While I found the repeated and varied ominous warning anf fear of the "mist ship" to be less than effective for creating suspense, other characters more than made up for the lack (coughCharlescough) that the supernatural failed to bring. What did more than add to the general atmosphere and the feel of history of the story/family were the notes/addendums/quotes taken from previous Undertaker's collection of knowledge. These little bits and pieces of scattered information did a lot to sate my ever-growing curiosity about the Undertakers, but did not give away too much detail to spoil the story. The supernatural elements the author does choose to include within his mythology all work together marvelously with the mundane, humane aspects to create a very fun novel for readers of any age.

I did wish for a more developed cast of background character in the case of Silas's mother, the very off-putting Dolores Umber. Silas has a strained relationship with his gin-happy mother, but Dolores is painted only one color for the whole novel: black of heart. She is never shown to have a heart or even care for her son and I felt that "disappointed in her life" was a lame and quick sop to explain her extreme apathy for her husband and their child. The slightly Hamlet vibe between Dolores and Silas's Uncle (aka Dolores' brother-in-law) is just plain creepy and did more to establish "Uncle's" character than anything else said about him. The third-person perspective used by Ari Berk is done quite well: equal light, both favorable and disfavorable, is shone upon all the characters of the novel. I just wished for a more believable motivation behind Dolores' actions and vitriol. Her bitter, typical woman-done-wrong routine seemed out-of-tune with the otherwise (mostly) superbly plotted novel. The other periphery characters of the novel - the friendly but dense Mrs. Bowe, the question of Bea - add more flavor and mystery to the novel, but none were what I would call fully-rounded and developed characters. In a novel with so much prose dedicated just about the importance of the past, of ancestors and history, I found Silas's extended family to come up a tad wanting.

While I loved the style, the voice and the characters I did have issues with the plot-lines central to the story. From the initial and almost McGuffin-esque disappearance of Amos Umber to the mysterious ghost ship to the creepy Bea, nothing felt wholly explained or even thought-out by the end of the book. Bea in particular seemed quite unnecessary and like filler for the alternate plots within the story - I would have rather more time with search, in Uncle's house, etc. These essential plot-lines also tended to get lost in the story and the details in Silas's explorations of the town and probably didn't help later on when the novelty itself flagged and I got slightly bored. The mist ship, source of so much worry and fear for 500 pages was a complete let-down and a bust. Its end was sadly all-too-predictable and lessened my overall opinion of Death Watch for it felt out of tune with the rest of such an atmospheric and affecting read. It also doesn't help that it takes quite a while (nearly 250 pages in the 540 page tome) to get any kind of real explanation of basic principles of the world/the magic/the Undertaker job itself.

Another love of mine throughout the pages of Death Watch was the town of Lichport itself. With such an obvious harbinger for a name, I loved the random but delightful flares of supernaturality in the town. From "the Restless" (basically a reanimated corpse/lich) to angry and unsettled ghosts, Lichport is a field of deadly imagination.While I thought Silas explorations of the misthomes/shadowlands fell way short of its potential for awesome. Instead of showcasing the individuality and flair of the nearly-dead town, it was an extended yawn for me after about page 350 until just about 100 pages later. I will admit to chuckling at the sailor's club line about their wives, but one quip does not save 100 pages of meandering novel. It is very impressive that the rest of Ari Berk's novel is strong enough to carry a 4 star rating, even with that 100 pages of yawns. Also: Mrs. Bowe's ridiculous reticence to tell Silas ANYTHING! made me very frustrated and cranky with her character. That also was a situation drawn out too-long and made both Mrs. Bowe and Silas act in ways contradictory to their personalities.

I love love LOVED the author's unique way with words. Ari Berk can write, make no mistake. While I might have minor issues with select parts of the novel, I cannot deny I was repeatedly struck by a passage of a quote in the middle of a page, a paragraph. I know quoting from ARCs is supposed to be a big no-no, but this is a perfect illustration of why I adored the reading experience itself from Death Watch:

"The day his dad didn't come home, it was like a huge window over their heads had shattered, and every day they were walking through the broken pieces. Nothing fit together. Nothing made sense or seemed connected to anything else, and every step hurt."

This is an author that doesn't delve into purple prose or overdone phrases laced with unnecessary adjectives and adverbs: his is a style of simple lyricism and ease, with a vivid picture easily attached. I loved the frequent descriptionary verbosity as it built a vivid and compelling frame for his characters, but I can see why some readers may be put off by his intensely wordy writing, in addition to the slower pace of the novel. This is certainly not for everyone and I will understand most complaints a reader could have for this story, but for me, this was a wonderful read that left me more than eager for its sequel. Death Watch is best summed up as: a compelling, morbid, weirdly fascinating tale of Wailing Women, Peller-Men, families of mutes, ghosts, lichs, revenants and a great hero, all told in unique and fresh stylings of Mr. Ari Berk.
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