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.


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


NiFtY Author: Elaine Cantrell

Today’s NiFtY (Not Famous…Yet) Author is Elaine Cantrell, an award-winning romance novelist. Join us as we learn a little about her life and her writing.

BH: Tell us a little about your latest book, Return Engagement.

EC: I’d love to!  Return Engagement is the book I wanted to write for a long time before I actually sat down at the computer to do it.  I thought about my characters so long and so hard that I once called my husband Richard (the hero in Return Engagement) which he didn’t like too much.

The book is centered around the idea ‘what might have been.”  I think most people have looked back in their lives and wondered how things would be different if they had made different choices; I know I have.  Richard and Elizabeth met when he was seventeen and she was twenty two.  They fell in love, but Richard’s father the powerful senator Henry Lovinggood broke them up.  He didn’t think Elizabeth was good enough for Richard whom the senator plans to make the president one day.

Ten years after their breakup Richard and Elizabeth meet by accident on a California beach and find that their feelings for each other haven’t changed.  When they decide to rekindle their relationship, they find that Senator Lovinggood isn’t their only problem.  There are others who wish them deadly harm.

BH:  Ooh. Sounds good! You’ve published six books, am I right? Are they all romances? Which one is your favorite?

EC: Yes, they’re all romances, and my favorite one is always the one I’m working on at the moment.  If I had to pick just one I’d pick Return Engagement, mostly because I love that Richard so much.  I also like the book about Elizabeth Lane’s cousin Nikki.  That book The Best Selling Toy Of The Season is set at Christmas time and is available at http://www.midnightshowcase.com.

That’s an interesting thing too.  My husband couldn’t stand Richard, and I’ve gotten some reviews where the reviewer praised the book and called it a page turner, saying how filled with conflict and clever plot twists it was.  The reviewer then went on to say that she didn’t like the characters.  I guess I don’t understand that.  If she couldn’t put the book down because she had to know what happened next, why didn’t she like my characters?

Romantic Times Magazine liked the book just fine, though.  They gave the book a 4.5 which means it’s a keeper, and they said, “This touching story is beautifully written and explores the emotions involved when two people who love each other are influenced by outside forces and their own doubts.  Each character is fully developed, and the plot is filled with interesting twists.”

BH: You’re the first romance writer I’ve interviewed. What are some of the joys of writing romance? Are there any aspects of the genre that you don’t like?

EC: The joys are the same as for any other genre I think.  Authors get to create worlds of their own choosing, and things always turn out the way you think they should.  The negative part is that sometimes the characters are stereotypical and flat.  Hmm.  That’s probably why that reviewer didn’t like my characters.  I made them into real people who have warts and make mistakes.  They’re anything but stereotypical.

BH: Which of your characters would you say is the most like you?

EC: I give most of my characters the personality traits I’d like to have myself, so none of them are necessarily like me.  The one I’m most like is Betsy McLaughlin my heroine in A New Leaf.  A New Leaf was the winner of the 2003 Timeless Love contest which thrilled my heart more than you can imagine.  Betsy’s an ordinary girl who makes some life-changing mistakes, but instead of whining about things she does the best she can with the hand she’s been dealt.  I’d like to think that describes me too.

BH: What other literary projects do you have in the works? Can you tell us about a work-in-progress?

EC: My work-in-progress is a sci fi/ fantasy novel which is untitled at the moment.  I’ve had to lay it aside for the moment because I’d doing edits for a new book that’s coming out in June of 2011.  The book is tentatively titled Jilted!, and it’ll be published by Lachesis Publishing.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

EC:  It all started when my son wrote a book.  I was so overwhelmed with pride!  I’d always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t think I could.  I decided to give it a try when he told me that he had always made up stories in his head to amuse himself, and he thought he might as well write them down.  Glory be!  I had always done that too.  I wrote that book in record time, but nobody liked it.  My husband didn’t want the hero to be crippled, and my friend said that my heroine who was a good girl wasn’t as interesting as a bad girl would be.

So, I started another book, A New Leaf.  At the last minute I submitted the book to a small publisher who sponsored the Timeless Love contest.  The prize was publication of your book.  To my great and utter surprise, I won the contest, and A New Leaf was published the following year.

BH: Sounds like a dream come true! What does your workspace look like?

EC: Right now I’m sitting in my living room and writing on my laptop because the computer in my study crashed and died.  My husband bought me a new computer for Christmas so we’re going to redo the study and put in a glass table that stretches from one end of the room to the other.  Then my husband and I will both put our computers on the desk and sit side by side.  We’ll cover the wall behind us in bookshelves and leave space for a TV.

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

EC: I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have one.  I could use the help as much as anyone, but there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is.  If I do read one, Stephen King has something out which my son says is very good.

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

EC: Don’t give up.  I think the major difference between published and unpublished authors is that the published authors didn’t give up.

BH: Thank you, Elaine, for answering my questions and sharing your thoughts and your books with us!

Want more of Elaine Cantrell? Visit her website here, and her blog here. Also, here’s her Facebook page, and a link to buy Return Engagement.

All You Get Is Me by Yvonne Prinz

Set-up: Aurora (“Roar”) lives on an organic farm in a small town with her father. She misses city life and misses her mother, but she finds solace in her photography, snapping photos and developing them in her own garden shed-turned darkroom.

Main character’s goal: Roar’s goal isn’t simple like “run away to find missing aunt” or “defeat the scariest wizard of all time and save the world.” This is more of a coming-of-age story. Roar just wants to take photographs and be happy, at first. Then she witnesses a car accident that sets off a chain of events threatening not only her way of life, but the entire practice of hiring immigrant farmworkers in California. Roar also meets a boy named Forest, and her goals start to change.

My reaction: Something has gotta be said for reading a summer-set romance in November. I may have thawed out a little. Get this: “The first apricot I pluck off the tree smells of roses and sits heavy in my hand” (p 34). Ahhh.

Also, I can’t help but be in awe of an author who moved from a record-obsessed girl in Berkeley, to an organic farmer’s daughter who is watching – and participating – in a setting that involves and revolves around contemporary immigration issues. Talk about high stakes, with the balance of farming practices, the justice system, and the scorching anger of some small-town, small-minded farmers (Note: small-town and small-minded are not always the same thing!).

Of interest to writers: (With very mild spoiler!) The romance angle was handled in a way that surprised me – namely, there wasn’t a lot of conflict. I kept waiting for a fight, or a shameful secret, or some kind of revelation that put everything into question, and…no. Yet there is still tension, even without that conflict. How is it done? I’ll leave that for you to discover, as I’m worried I gave away too much as it is.

As with The Vinyl Princess, this one has a rather lengthy resolution. I was not bothered in the slightest because it was such a pleasant world to be in! Sometimes we’re rushed through resolutions, when maybe we could slow down a little and enjoy them, like fine desserts.

Mmm. Dessert.

Back to the book review!

Bottom line: This book was a great place to hang out in, and Roar’s point of view was engaging. I feel like I made some friends in this book. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Note: the scheduled release is December 21st, so you’ve got something to look forward to – put it on your wish lists!

For Prinz’s site on All You Get Is Me, click here.

You can also visit Yvonne Prinz’s Vinyl Princess website by clicking here.

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

There are a few excellent books I’ve read recently, but I have to write about this one immediately. It was just that good.

Set-Up: Allie, the “Vinyl Princess” as she dubs herself for her blog, works at Bob & Bob Records, a place that her mom says smells “like an octogenarian’s attic” (p. 10), but to Allie is heaven on earth. She is obsessed with LPs. LP: an abbreviation for those ancient things called (long-playing) records that collect dust in your mother’s attic…or, to Allie, the truly righteous and best way of listening to music.

Main character’s goals: to lead a revolution against “corporate rock and downloading and digitizing and Clear Channel” (p. 12). She also wants some romance in her life.  She sets about accomplishing the first goal by starting up a blog and a zine, and she sets about finding romance by fantasizing about a Bob & Bob shopper she calls M (for “mystery guy”).

My reaction: Throughout the book I had a weird feeling. I kept struggling to recognize a name, any name, of a band or musician that I recognized. I often couldn’t, which made me feel sixteen shades of uncool. Then I realized: I wanted to impress Allie. That’s how cool she is – she made me want to impress a fictional character. Name-dropping usually doesn’t put a person on my good side, but it worked for Allie. When she listened to Dark Side of the Moon I might have cheered out loud because for once I knew what she was talking about.

Of interest to writers: the climactic action happens almost 100 pages before the end of the book. This premature climax (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it) works, and I’m impressed. I’m impressed whenever a book goes slightly against the grain. It works for The Vinyl Princess, as there are still some unresolved issues (namely, the revolution and the romance) after the Big Action. Nobody could put it down at that point.

The goals are sort of mixed in with character introduction, background, all that stuff that everyone says shouldn’t happen in the beginning of a novel…well, Prinz makes it work because Allie’s voice is full of awesome attitude (not sarcastic, just cool).

Bottom Line: As soon as I can find a sucker to take care of my kid, I’m heading to the local INDEPENDENT record store to buy one of the albums Allie loves. I’m not sure which one yet. I can be sure of this: I’m not buying it as a record, as I have no turntable. But I’m not downloading it.

Also, I’m so so sorry, but I can’t resist: This book rocks. He he.

For more information on the book and the author, visit Prinz’s website by clicking here.

Flash Burnout by L. K. Madigan

Now, I’m not a teenaged boy, and I never will be. So my assessment of what a “valid” or “true-to-life” male teenager’s voice sounds like might not be one hundred percent accurate. But Blake’s voice in Flash Burnout is convincing enough for me.

The whole sarcastic/funny teenager can be overdone in YA literature. And writing from an adolescent male’s voice is undoubtedly tricky (click here to read the simultaneously scathing and encouraging gauntlet author Hannah Moskowitz throws down on writing books geared toward YA males). Blake’s voice is humorous and poignant, and not in the way that sounds like the author is breathing “look how funny I am” from the white space between the words.

I enjoyed this book. The humor worked, the male point-of-view worked, and without Blake appealing to me-as-a-woman because he was so unbelievably romantic and tragic and sparkly, but instead because he sounds like a real guy experiencing real problems. There wasn’t anything sparkly about the romance here…I don’t even think I want to call it romance, at least not in the traditional way everyone might think of it in literature.

Another interesting point in Flash Burnout: the parents are both present, and they are awesome. A few months ago Julie Just wrote an essay for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, discussing what’s going on with all the absentee/horrible parents in young adult literature. Madigan gives us something refreshing in Flash Burnout: I fell in love with both of Blake’s quirky, fun, and ultimately there and loving mom and dad. In fact, Blake’s family serves as a foil for the families of the two love interests, making the family excellence a double-whammy.

But really, the humor is what did it for me. I love funny books. This was effective, and still had a meaningful story. I’m very sorry to say it, but Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson books are a bit lacking in the poignant, life-changing drama department (click here to read my review of those lovely tomes). Georgia is hilariously funny, but a well-curved character arc is not something she can boast about.

Blake, in Flash Burnout, isn’t a heart-throb. He’s a normal guy, and a funny one at that. His story is worth your time.

To read more about L. K. Madigan and her fiction, you can visit her website by clicking here.

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson

Every now and then it’s healthy to go to the library and grab a random book off the shelf.

Okay, my search wasn’t entirely random. I desperately wanted something with no supernatural elements (yes, you read that right). Quick explanation: I’m tired of paranormal books, mostly because I’ve been revising my own for far too long.

So after a brief jacket check to make sure Saving Maddie had no vampires or were-amoebas in it, I brought it home and, one afternoon, I read it. The story is told in first-person point of view by Joshua Wynn, the seventeen-year-old son of a preacher. His childhood best friend, Maddie, returns to town and she’s no longer the young, innocent(ish) girl he’d known. Not only does Joshua battle with conflicting directives from his parents (help Maddie/stay away from that girl), but he’s also battling conflicting desires (be a good boy/have fun).

Joshua’s conflict was well-written. The pacing and tension alone kept me going, as well as the mystery as to why Maddie turned out to be such a “bad girl.” The prose itself, though, was sensual and sensuous. This paragraph illustrates this nicely:

She closed her eyes and I closed mine. I took in her scent again – I didn’t think I’d ever eat another scoop of vanilla ice cream without dreaming about her.

I’m a huge fan of sensory description, and Johnson does this all over the place (honestly, I just picked a page at random and found that paragraph).

Another interesting point: Johnson took a young adult male protagonist and added tons of girl appeal (a phrase I read in Mary Kole’s blog entry Boy Protagonists in YA). The “girl appeal” reminded me a lot of Beautiful Creatures (which I reviewed awhile ago), and strangely enough, The Virgin Suicides (which I read a long time ago). Which brings me to a total sideways thought: does “girl appeal” mean that the male protagonist has to be totally smitten with a girl character, in order to appeal to female readers? Based on Kole’s post, and my own reading, this might be the case.

But now it’s time to wrap up my review.

Saving Maddie was a refreshing trip back into a time when the end of the world seemed to balance on adolescent moral dilemmas, and everything felt so real, so crucial, and so brand-new.

You can visit Varian Johnson’s website here.