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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Love Story

Love Story by Jennifer Echols

Grade: 3.8 stars out of 5
Erin Blackwell wants to have a career as a romance writer. One day all that hard work will pay off and she can show those people who made fun of her passion. Her grandmother, however, wants Erin to become a business woman so she can take over the family farm in Kentucky. Her grandmother pulls the plug on Erin’s inheritance and gives it to Hunter, the son of one of the workers on the farm. 
What I love about Echols’ works is just how effortless she pulls the readers into her stories. One moment I’m shoving cereal right before class and the next I’m in a farm where a woman runs off into the night with the stable boy as her lover. And that’s just the first chapter. Love Story is a world of the rich and fabulous, and the hardworking and determined in New York City. The backdrop of the novel is impressive but what is even more impressive is the effort and whatever knowledge/research Echols put into Love Story to make it realistic. Erin grew up rich, which I am assuming that many of us did not, but somehow Echols made Erin likable, smart, funny, and someone you want on your side of a fight.

Love Story is just as sexy as Echols’ other MTV books with the same level of intensity. Erin and Hunter’s story go past than what meets the eye. Love Story shows off Echols range from writing from the female perspective and male perspective; as a contemporary writer and19th century writer; and writing things with heated tension.

Love Story is a story within a story. It is a race to see which finishes first. Erin and Hunter drew inspiration from their lives and weave it into their stories. Those narratives give readers a backdrop to their lives before New York and what created this sexual tension and angst between the two. It is a creative way to give readers what they need to fully understand dynamics between the two. As the story progressed I looked forward to those little tidbits behind Erin and Hunter and what drove them to become what they are: two strong teens fighting for what they want. It’s fun to see the face behind the masks and to read stories where they clearly poured themselves into. The battle between Hunter and Erin builds the tension until it becomes palpable and unavoidable.

And just when I thought I finished I remembered something. Going back to the character is Erin and her many layers, I wanted to mention Erin’s family history. It’s heartbreaking when a father leaves his child but the child still wants so desperately to meet him; it’s tragic when a mother dies and the child is left parentless at a young age; it’s angering when the child is forced to live a life she doesn’t want. And yet Erin doesn’t let all that hold her back. She is committed to be an author and will do all she can to reach her goal. It is an admirable trait and one I think many of us should carry; sheer determination can take us so far and what we’re willing to give up may end up being rewarded tenfold. The passion of being a romance author, a teen author, or whatever you want to be is all in the passion. Erin shows that passion in her decision to not be held done by an inheritance, by her past, and by life’s cruel humor. For that and other reasons I love Erin as a female character and Echols’ ability to write strong witty characters.

Her male characters are equally as strong: gentle without being smothering; wicked without being cruel; able to lend a shoulder without carrying the protagonist through the novels. I can’t say I hate Hunter, but I was displeased with him in certain moments on the novels. But that isn’t a bad thing. Echols, I believe, intentionally made him so to give Hunter depth and inner turmoil that he faces when it comes to Erin. Life is not black and white and novels shouldn’t be either.

However, what I found lacking in Love Story was the clean, precise ending. Echols leaves things open-ended with many possibilities and promises of what ifs. Where I would normally be content with the ending of her other books, Love Story had just too many strings left unattended. The question is could there be a sequel or at least a little novella? For me I’m greatly interested in Erin’s and Hunter’s roommates as a couple. I wanted to explore whatever possibilities that duo can have.

In all, I would recommend Love Story to readers who enjoy contemporary novels that has a bit more risk and pulls you in (until you can’t seem to stop at just one Jennifer Echols novel).

Cover B+
it fits so nicely with her other MTV books, but doesn't really show the potential of the novel
Published: 2011 July 19
Source: accepted review pitch from author
Amazon (available for preorder)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flying Blind

Flying Blind by Deborah Cooke

Grade: 4 stars out of 5
There is only one Wyvern of the Pyr at a time and Zoë Sorensson is that lone female dragon shape-shifter. That is when and hopefully all her powers start to manifest. It is already proven that Zoë can shift when in a fit of rage, Zoë shifted to defend her friend against bullies. But controlling her powers and not letting the white hot blind rage take over will be Zoë’s biggest issue. Maybe the camping trip with the other shape-shifters will help things along.
In her debut young-adult series, Deborah Cooke already proves that she can string the readers in a sky-high tale. Make no mistake, readers will not want to be “Flying Blind” when delving into this new series or else miss all the actions, juicy romances, and dangerous twists and turns. Mystic powers, cryptic dreams, and a hot guy with an equally hot motorcycle make Flying Blind a joy to read.

Before Flying Blind, I already had a few books about Wyverns under my belt. And yet, Flying Blind was so much different because Cooke focused on structuring the story and building upon itself. Rather than concentrating on appearance and those small insignificant details, Cooke takes the time to engage the reader in the history of the shape-shifters. And what a history it is. I must admit I have a love-hate relationship with Romeo and Juliet coupling and was so pleased to find that Flying Blind does feature that, but not as the focal point. That’s not to say Cooke doesn’t take the effort to extend the reaches of the history. Opposing enemies and other shape-shifters play a large role in Flying Blind with just enough background information and motive to make actions plausible and the storyline fleshed out.

Zoë and the rest of the gang were a joy to read. Readers will get a feel on their different personalities and shortcomings within the first several chapters but I’m expecting more in the upcoming sequels. I can already imagine a romance budding out to be quite steamy if the smoldering looks weren’t enough. That being said, Cooke has the potential to do a lot with the relationships: romantic ones, friendships, family connections, etc. Tons to dissect. Though I wish the best friend would be included more, but the sequel should definitely make up for that.

I desperately want fun dialogues between two people in the near future just to get a sense of where they stand and how balance their relationship can be. What I find lacking in the novels I read are the simple everyday talk, not the whole stay ‘away I’m no good for you’ or ‘the his eyes pierced through my soul’ (gag). Fun, teasing bantering that reflects personality and can convey emotions. Flying Blind does include some great dialogue scenes where things become filled with tension, red rage starts to cover characters’ eyes, and long drawn out anguish takes over. Now I’m just waiting for the softer approach.

Okay before I end this review I must, must mention families and what it means in Flying Blind. Yes! to dads taking a center stage in a YA novel. I’ve read tons of novels where the mothers are seen more and the fathers are somewhere in the background. In Flying Blind fathers rule the air.

Cover C+/B-
Published: 2011 June 7; paperback
Source: review copy from NAL

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Winner of the Elizabeth Scott Prize Pack

...is Prima A.! who said that her favorite Elizabeth Scott's book was
"Living Dead Girl-I love this book but I'm also terrified of it if you get what i mean. All her books were amazing, but Living Dead Girl were a different side that i haven't seen in her previous books. Taking a spin on her typical books gives me more excitement and gratitude. I love authors who take a chance, aren't afraid to widen their variety and then end up wow'ing us all. AH i love her."

I totally agree with you there Prima! Now that I got my copy of Living Dead Girl back from a friend, I think it's time I read it!

If you didn't win, don't despair! I have another on-going giveaway for a copy of A Discovery of Witches.

Instructions for a Broken Heart + Interview!

Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson

Grade: 2.8 stars out of 5
Jessa is a busy girl with a plan, but does that plan include a boyfriend? When boyfriend Sean cheats on Jessa, best friend Carissa is there to cheer her up. Sorta. Perhaps the trip to Italy and a cute boy will help Jessa.
In many ways I’m torn on Instructions for a Broken Heart. With its many praises and awards I’ve set the bar high for Culbertson. This is the second novel I’ve read by Culbertson and while Instructions for a Broken Heart was better than the first, it still lacked substance for me. It was still quite good with so much room for potential. Instructions for a Broken Heart could have been a favorite summer contemporary read: redemption and personal growth, bittersweet romance, and a gorgeous setting.

Instructions for a Broken Heart was too short of a novel for me for all the subjects it touched. There were too many unfinished businesses for many of the characters for me to be left satisfied. I loved the beginning and the middle and the climaxing explosive Jessa had, but I was uninspired by the ending. Coming out of it I felt that Culbertson should have left the romance alone and focused on Jessa just healing.

When I first read the synopsis for Instruction for a Broken Heart, I immediately thought of 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. Seeing as how I never read the book (lightly skimmed then passed it on), this plot was still very new to me. I found the idea to be endearing and motivating where the best friend can uplift the main character’s mood even across the ocean. And with another best friend to help guide the main character and to explain the reasoning behind each instructions, it was to a fool-proof plan. That was until I read the book. Culbertson juggled too many things.

SPOILER: The confession of the best friend, the kiss with the teacher; the break up and hook up of Natalie (the girl who Jessa’s boyfriend cheated with); the nasty wife of the other school’s chaperone; the dashing boy who had trouble in school; the other boy who sort of hovered in the background only to come in the last minute, etc. The list goes on and on about what the novel touched on. It was too much for this little book since all these characters were so one-dimensional. I could only imagine reasons/motives/the emotional guilt each one of the side characters held, but I was never shown aside from a sentence or two. By the time I started to connect to them they were gone.

It’s so frustrating when the author has so many great ideas but then I’m not connecting. Less, in this case, is more. Sticking with just one or two problems for an almost 300 page novel and focusing on that to flesh everything out would have been better.

Cover C+/B-
Published: 2011 May 1; paperback
Source: review from Sourcebooks

Why did you chose Italy for the backdrop of the story instead of, say, France or England?

In my second year of teaching, I took 16 students to Italy with another teacher friend of mine.  We had an amazing trip.  I’ve always wanted to go back to Italy and when I thought about writing a book set in another country, I immediately went to my journal from Italy and started flipping through it.  Something about the colors of Italy, the light there – it’s different.  It’s transformative.  I just knew it would make the right backdrop for Jessa’s own artistic and personal awakening.

Were you part of a drama club when you were in school?

I was a big drama nerd in high school.  And I taught high school theatre for eight years. There is something about the community of a theatre group – I just love how close everyone becomes working together on weekends, after school, long evenings.  It does become a big family…often a big, dysfunctional family, but a family.  I miss it sometimes.

What's your favorite part of a play? The acting, the costumes, the mechanics of a play, etc.?

I’m a writer so the script is always really important to me.  I have to love the pacing of a play, the energy of the words.  But I also really, really liked being a director.  I directed a lot of shows those years I was teaching drama and there was something quite magical about the page to stage process…taking the words on a page and ending up with a finished, polished play at the end.  Writing a novel has a bit of the same energy – taking a thread of an idea and fleshing it out until it becomes its own entity.

And because I'm reading classics this semester, what is your favorite classic?

Classics…hmmm.  Well, I’m a big Shakespeare girl.  I absolutely love Hamlet (it always seems to make its way into my novels).  Obviously, I love A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce which is featured in Instructions for a Broken Heart.  I love his language in that book, the way his character just splays his heart out on the page and all that conflict between the “right” thing to do and what he truly wants to do as an artist.  I love that book.  

Spring is almost here! Any plans for spring cleaning or gardening?

My six year old daughter is redoing her room into the colors she wants (as opposed to what we painted it before she was born).  We’re having fun sorting through her stuff and letting her get rid of the things that she’s outgrown and make room for her “big girl” things.  I’m loving working with her on that project (even if it’s pulling on my heart a bit to bid farewell to the butter yellow walls).  

Thanks so much for having me on your blog!