Thursday, March 29, 2012

{review} GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers

**Bookworms, do you like this new review format better with the official information at the bottom?  Should I remove the official summary completely, since I usually add a little in my review?  I always think that my summary alone doesn't do a book the justice the official summary does, but what do you think?  Do you read it?  What do you think about the inclusion of the first line and a link to the chapter?**

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

"I BEAR A DEEP RED stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch's poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb.  That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I  have been sired by the god of death himself."  
(pg. 1, US Hardcover Edition)

 While GRAVE MERCY is categorized as YA, it has one foot in the adult fiction category as well.  Novels like this one show how rich and diverse the genre can be.  I love a good fantasy, especially one as layered and textured as this.  It twines lush, slow-building romance (No insta-love here, rejoice!) with political intrigue, deft mystery, and the lore of Death's handmaiden.  Plus, there are female assassins.  Win!  The story unfurls at its own pace and never feels rushed.  Rather, it's one I want to savor.  If you're looking at the fact that GRAVE MERCY is Book I in the HIS FAIR ASSASSIN series, fear no more: This is not one of those stories.  Ismae's tale is self-contained, as are the following novels, though I expect that familiar faces will come back in passing.  The second book, DARK TRIUMPH, will center around Sybella, whom we meet briefly in GRAVE MERCY.  My guess is that the third (and likely final) book in the series, DARK HOPE, will revolve around Annith, a third girl from the convent of Saint Mortain.

Many of the characters in GRAVE MERCY are centered around real people that lived, making the novel historical fantasy, which can be richer than traditional fantasy when factoring in all of the original research.  Robin LaFevers posted an in-depth author's note on her website rather than in her novel so that readers wouldn't be pulled out of the story.  Ismae, the novel's main character, is wholly original, as is Lord Gavriel Duval, the man with whom Ismae leaves the covent on a mission to discover who has been betraying Brittany to the French.  The characters were both detailed and well-fleshed out.  As the novel progressed, we learned more about each one and watched their wariness of one another move tentatively to trust and onward to something deeper.  Ismae is such a complex character.  Her story begins with betrayal:  Her father sells her into an abusive marriage, and only after her escape does she discover the convent of Saint Mortain, a place where she can learn how to be her father Death's handmaiden, a female assassin.
For example:

"'DON'T YOU WISH to learn the arts of Mortain?' I ask. 'How to kill those who have done this to you?' ...'They have promised to teach me of poison...and other ways to kill a man...They will train us in stealth and cunning and give us such skills that no man will ever be a threat to us again.'

Sybella turns toward me, a glint of interest in her eyes, but that is all I know of this new life I've been promised.  I look helplessly at the nuns.

Annith steps easily into the opening I have made. 'They will teach you of all manner of weapons, she says, coming more fully into the room.  'They will show you how to wield a dagger and a stiletto.  How to shoot an arrow and draw a bow...'"  

(pgs. 28 ~ 29, US ARC; changes may be made before book launches in copy is on the way so I can't cross-check this part!)

Once she has spent three years training at the convent, Ismae is giving a position at Lord Duval's side to be the eyes and ears of Mortain, dealing justice to anyone found to be an enemy of Brittany.  She is told to trust no one, and is properly careful around Duval.  And Duval!  This man is one of my favorite heroes to sweep his way into the fantasy genre in quite some time.  I loved the way his character was built up.  LaFevers pulls back layer after layer, revealing him like an onion until you can't help but love him and his unwavering loyalty.  He shares a strong connection with Ismae; their relationship is never forced or rushed the way it is in so many teen novels.  Both characters have reasons to guard their hearts, so when they let that guard down, the result is beautiful and deep.

GRAVE MERCY has been on my "to read" list since the publishing deal went through in 2010.  I coveted it long before the awesome cover reveal that made everyone sit up and take notice.  Sometimes when this happens, my expectations are too high and the book can never meet the lofty bar I've set for it.  And that's always my fault, never the book's.  With GRAVE MERCY, however, I never felt let-down.  I was captivated from the moment I picked the book up and I couldn't put it down until I had turned the last page.  It has been so hard waiting so long to share my thoughts with all of you due to the review embargo; I'm glad that the book's release date is finally upon us so that you can get ahold of this brilliant novel and sink into it yourself.  It's so well-done that I've already re-read parts and will do so again when the finished copy I ordered arrives in the mail next week.

C O V E R   D E S I G N:

This cover is all I ever wanted and more.  When I first received my ARC in the mail, my cover looked like this. -->

I was intrigued by the beautiful font used for the series title and the icon of a wolf stating, "Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?"

I wanted to know more!

I was excited when the book's cover was finally revealed in November and posted a Cover Crazy detailing why I loved the cover so much.  Here's what I said:
This cover has atmosphere. It's definitely a fantasy, though with the weapon she's wielding, she could also be a vampire slayer (Not saying she IS because I know she isn't, but the paranormal crowd might see this and pick it up!!). Her dress is lovely and fits the time period. I love the building in the background.
And to expand on my initial thoughts, SERIOUSLY.  Does that crossbow look sick or what?  The model looks so bad-ass, the weather is perfectly stormy, and that dress cries out historical fantasy.  Who wouldn't pick this up and take a look?  The only thing that might make someone put it down again is that the final hardcover edition looks MASSIVE.  I never felt like the book was 500 pages when reading it, and the ARC is much more slender than the bound copy, though I'm sure it's just the way it printed.  For those of you who fear a big book, don't let this one thing hold you back.  After all, the longer the fantasy, the better the book.  If it's too short, it's in danger of feeling rushed! ^.~

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Robin LaFevers
Release Date: Out April 03, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Received: Review copy courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
(Though I HAVE purchased a final copy that should arrive any day!)


Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Word Count Wednesday: The "I'm Back" Edition!

Word Count Wednesday is my way of sharing my weekly writing progress with you and holding myself accountable for not giving up.

So without further ado, this week's "Word Count" for Super-Secret Project/Codename: FIZZYPOP:
(Why Fizzypop? sounds fun!)

This month: 30 pages
Total to Date: I don't even know anymore!  

But...out of 11 chapters (excluding the fact that ch. 3 currently doesn't exist), I'm currently typing ch. 6 out of my notebook and into Scrivener.  I'm halfway there!  ^^;
Start Date: March 2, 2011

How far is this in terms of a word count? I'm not sure. I get 150-400 words per page depending on how small I'm writing and/or how many cross-outs I have. (Plus, that gets me an extra round of editing!)

I haven't done one of these in MONTHS.  I haven't written in months, either.  I put this to the side for a while and finally came back to it a couple of weeks ago when I had off.  The only thing I wanted to do with my time off was write (and go to a book signing), and I was ecstatic to get thirty pages. 
Granted, it wasn't ALL fun and games.  I completely re-wrote Chapter One, which fixed several smaller issues that I wasn't sure how to address.  I revised parts of the second and now-fourth chapter, as well as changed things out of third-person and into first-person (the only chapters NOT in this tense).  I noticed that I now have about a month gap between Chapters Two and "Three," and they don't flow perfectly, so Chapter "Three" is now "Four," and I need to add a Chapter Three at a later date.  At the moment, Chapter Eleven is super-long, so it might actually break into two chapters during the first full-revision. 

At the moment, I'm anticipating 15~16 overall chapters.  This month, I wrote one of the scenes I always knew was coming.  It didn't turn out at all as I imagined, of course, and I'm not sure whether that's good or bad.  I know I'll have some sort of revision here.  I do like the way some secondary characters surprised me by stepping into the limelight during the scene.  I have two more major events to write as well as a revelation that's been a long time coming (and that I'm personally trying to figure out).

Plus, this month has been my first time REALLY using Scrivener out of demo mode and as a fully-licensed product.  I love that I can store images to flip back and forth to when I'm writing.  This month, I've been flipping to photos of models sporting the hair coloring of three of my characters, especially when determining what looks good with what a character is wearing (even if I don't describe the outfit).  Speaking of clothing, I scoured the internet for the amazing items of clothing I now have stored in my arsenal for later reference!  Scrivener also has a section for characters, so I no longer have to flip around my notebook to figure out how I described someone or see what a minor character's name is.  There's also an area for place location.  I'm just having fun right now!!

As much as I love my characters, I'm still struggling with the fact that this is more contemporary than what I'm used to writing.  I keep shooting the fantasy genre jealous looks, especially after having this seriously awesome (and okay, rather disturbingly creepy) dream a month or two ago.  And THEN I went and listened to my ipod, and a song from The Killers that I haven't heard in a while came on, striking a chord with some aspects of where I'm going with this idea.  I've been trying to sit on it and keep going, but this past week, I DID cave in and start writing the new shiny idea.  Because, I mean, it's high fantasy and I LOVE it...even if I don't know where I'm going with it 100%.  Which is why I must STICK WITH FIZZYPOP!  Because I do love my characters, even if my main gal is a touch too irrational and my main guy is too...nice.  But that's what second drafts are for!  I just need to do a little bit more, and then I can dive into the next wave of this.  I just have to come to the terms with the fact that...I am writing contemporary.  And not stop writing for months again over the fact. 

*is determined*

That's how my week went! Do you have a WIP at the moment? What was your word count this week? To date? Let's support one another!

Monday, March 26, 2012

{Story Excerpt & Illustration Reveal} THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM

Bookworms, with Fairy Tale Fortnight looming closer, I've become a FTF Career Tribute!  I've been prepping my arsenal since January to bring you two weeks of non-stop action.  Last year, Walden Pond Press hinted that they had a middle-grade fairy tale novel up their sleeve that I would love, one set to take out a lot of competition.  Once it was revealed to be THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM by Christopher Healy (coming May 1st) and about the little-seen fairy tale princes, I knew I had to have it.  This book had to be mine.  It had to be one of the books I reviewed for you during FTF.

Not only was Walden Pond lovely enough to send me a shiny ARC, they also asked if I'd be interested in taking part in the Illustration Reveal Tour (It looks like Healy will be updating with links here, and @waldenpondpress will be tweeting them!).  Todd Harris is a talented illustrator and I'm excited to reveal his art alongside Healy's fabulous writing!

Check back next month for my exciting review of HERO as I enter the arena.  For now, please settle with an exclusive excerpt from the novel AND two illustration reveals!  Today, it's all about the trolls, guys!  For even more trolly-goodness, check out my Mythological Mondays post and my TRYLLE review for more ways to celebrate trolls!

I apologize for the lack of indentation.  I have never been able to get Blogger to hold a tab.  I don't know why.  Instead, I added line breaks.  The final version of this excerpt will, of course, look perfect in book form!

Excerpt: Troll/Prince Gustav

**All illustrations ©Todd Harris//Walden Pond Press, 2012**

The thickset, red-faced farmer woman wiped her hands on her apron, threw open the door, and marched back outside. “Get your grimy hands off our beets!” she yelled. Her wild and frizzy carrot-orange hair bounced with every angry word. “We spent the whole morning pulling those things up, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to let you gobble them all!” 

Rosilda picked a shovel up off the ground and raised it over her head, threatening to clobber the vegetable thief, who was nearly twice her size. Her children crowded in the doorway and cheered her on. “Mom-my, Mom-my!” 

The troll looked up at her in shock, as bright red beet juice ran down its chin. “Uh,” the thing grunted. “Shovel Lady hit?” 

“You’re darn right I hit,” Rosilda growled back. “Unless you drop those veggies and head back into the woods you came from.” 

The troll looked from the woman’s scowling face to the long, rusty shovel she waved menacingly overhead. It dropped the handful of beets it had been about to eat.

“Shovel Lady no hit Troll,” it mumbled as it stood up. “Troll make no trouble. Troll go.”
Enter Prince Gustav. Clad in clanking, fur-trimmed armor and wielding a large, shining battle-ax, he charged at the troll on horseback. 

“Not so fast, beast!” Gustav shouted as he approached, his long blond hair flowing behind him. Without stopping his horse, he leapt from the saddle, turning himself into a human missile, and knocked the troll flat onto its back. The prince and the troll rolled through the garden in one clanking, grunting mass, smashing down freshly sprouted beet plants, until the creature finally got back to its feet and tossed Gustav off. The prince crashed through the wooden planks of the farmer’s fence but nimbly picked himself back up, ready to charge the monster again. That was when Gustav spotted the bright red beet juice around the troll’s mouth. 

“Child eater!” he screamed. All the children were, of course, perfectly fine—and had actually filed back out into the yard to watch the fight—but Gustav was too focused on the monster to notice. The prince swung his ax. The troll caught the weapon in its large, clawed hands, yanked it away from Gustav, and tossed it off into a corner of the farmyard, where it shattered several barrels of pickled beets with a crunch and a splat. 

“Starf it all,” Gustav cursed (which prompted some of the older children to cover the ears of the younger ones). 

Now unarmed, the prince stood face-to-face with the troll. The monster was nearly three feet taller than him, but Gustav showed no hint of fear. Gustav didn’t really do “fear.” Annoyance, consternation, occasionally embarrassment: Those were emotions Gustav was familiar with. But not fear.

Fairy tale lovers, click the button to find out how you too can participate in the second annual Fairy Tale Fortnight!

Mythological Mondays: Trolls!

Mythological Mondays is a feature I created to spotlight books brimming with--you guessed it--mythology! I adore this sub-genre and can't wait to share my love with all of my fellow bookworms! This feature isn't just focused on novel reviews; it may also include interviews, looks at original mythological tales, etc. Please feel free to do this with me! If you guys ever do a mythological feature and want to join this and snag my lovely mermaid, I would LOVE to see the feature. Leave a comment for us all to see! It doesn’t have to be Greek mythology, or even mythology per say. It can be mermaids, unicorns, or heck, even fairy tales (because I’m too lazy to do a separate fairy tale feature…). It doesn’t even have to be every Monday. I’m sure there will be Mondays when I skip,, uh, recently?^^;;;

Happy Troll Day!

In honor of the Illustration Reveal of some troll art from the upcoming THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM today at A Backwards Story, I've decided to center today's Mythological Mondays post guessed it...trolls!!

What do you think of when you think about trolls?

Do you think of the cute (or, depending on your state of mind, creepy) troll dolls that were once a big fad?

Do you think of an old,  ugly creature that lives under a bridge, may or may not have a club, and may or may not eat people?

Okay, tell the truth:  The first thing that came to mind was the term used for those idiots who troll the web and post stupid comments in forums just to incite a flame war.  Ahhh, but where do you think that term COMES from!?

My first exposure to trolls was probably the classic children's story THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF, where the troll was an evil creature under a bridge.

My next big memory is from Gail Carson Levine's ELLA ENCHANTED.  Those trolls were slicker, but still evil.  Their voices were like honey and if a person didn't stuff wax in his/her ears, s/he could be enticed to death.

I had never seen a positive take on trolls or their abilities until I read Amanda Hocking's best-selling Trylle Trilogy (which I reviewed today!).  I also never realized that changelings could be troll babies until SWITCHED, having only associated the term with the fae.  After a little online research, however, I was intrigued to see that the term does, in fact, also apply to trolls!

When Walden Pond Press asked me if I would reveal illustrations of trolls for the Illustration Reveal Tour of THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM and asked whether I liked trolls or not, I honestly had no opinion one way or the other.  I hadn't read the Trylle Trilogy at the time, and only had the "trolls are evil, disgusting creatures" mentality to go by.  But sure, why not?

Of course, being the curious fantasy lover I am, I wanted to know more about trolls and set out to see what I could find out about their origins.  It seems that trolls have Norse and Scandinavian roots.  They're often secluded creatures that live away from humans, though they often remain in groups with other trolls.

Trolls are often portrayed as ugly, stupid creatures that lumber and are easy to take by surprise,  though they're so strong that they can put up a tough fight.

What do you think of when you think about trolls?  If you've read SWITCHED, has it changed your perspective at all?  Do you still see all trolls as dim-witted and/or persuasive beings, or are they something more?

Want more trolls?  Check out today's review of Amanda Hocking's Trylle Trilogy and take part in the tour stop for THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM with an exclusive story excerpt and two illustration reveals!

{review} The TRYLLE Trilogy by Amanda Hocking

Happy Troll Day!

In honor of the Illustration Reveal of some troll art from the upcoming THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM today at A Backwards Story, I've reviewed one of the hottest troll series around.  Maybe you've heard about it... It catapulted self-published e-book millionaire Amanda Hocking into a major publishing deal with St. Martin's Press!  Also be sure to check out today's troll-related Mythological Mondays!

Title: The Trylle Trilogy {SWITCHED, TORN, ASCEND}
Author: Amanda Hocking
Release Date: Out now (re-release of ASCEND coming Apr. 24, 2012)
Publisher: Griffin/St. Martin's Press/Macmillan
Received: Review copies


When Wendy Everly was six-years-old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. It isn't until eleven years later that Wendy finds out her mother might've been telling the truth. With the help of Finn Holmes, Wendy finds herself in a world she never knew existed - and it's one she's not sure if she wants to be a part of.

** I'm going to try really hard to keep this review spoiler-free for everyone just diving into the series! **

There's a lot to be impressed about when looking at everything self-published author Amanda Hocking has accomplished.  She's published several novels and captured a sweet mainstream publishing deal.  The series that made her so well-known, TRYLLE, has been/is being published by St. Martin's Press from January through April of this year to bring new fans to the series.  I've always had a mental image of trolls in my head (See today's Mythological Mondays post for more on this), but they're not at all the trolls of Trylle.  In fact, it took me a long time to pick this series up and read it; I might not have if I didn't have ARCs.  I'm glad I did, though, because Hocking shattered my expectations and delivered an engaging tale.

Without going into too much detail, the series revolves around Wendy Everly, who always thought she was a normal girl despite the fact her mother called her a monster and attempted to kill her as a child.  Everyone just thought her mom was crazy.  After all, how could Wendy not be her mother's child?  After a Trylle tracker named Finn finds her, she realizes that her mother wasn't crazy after all.  Wendy is a changeling, a Trylle (or troll, for those more used to the uncouth terminology).  When a warring faction, the Vittra, come after her, Wendy realizes that her family is no longer safe and runs away to Trylle with Finn.  Once there, she discovers that she's a princess posed to inherit the entire kingdom.  The series twines ambition, greed, political deceit, romance, war, familial relations, and fantasy together in a fast-paced trilogy.

While the story's roots aren't that uncommon (long-lost princess set to inherit), Hocking goes about building her world in a unique manner.  The series takes place in present-day, so while it can, at times, be jarring to see modern-day references such as film and music choices thrown around, it also works.  It illustrates the fact that Trylle is still a part of our world and that we COULD be living side-by-side without ever knowing it.  At the same time, I would have loved to see more Trylle music and art that Wendy was unfamiliar with.  It would have added an extra layer of richness to the story.  Some events, such as why the Vittra is after Wendy (which we don't discover until the second book, TORN, and no, I won't spoil it for you), come as a shock, yet make complete sense, as do the horrific discoveries readers learn after discovering more about the Trylle's special powers.  This series actually reminds me a lot of Cayla Kluver's LEGACY trilogy.  Some of the sweeping story arcs remain the same, such as the way marriages are arranged and carried out.  Unlike in LEGACY, however, Princess Wendy isn't whiny and weak.  She will be in charge, not a man, and strives to break generations of Trylle prejudice and expand rights to other caste systems in Trylle.  She can make a true difference in her kingdom.  At the same time, I get the same wishy-washy feeling when it comes to romance, where it's easy to root for multiple men to be Wendy's One True Love (What is it with teen book heroines and the fact that every guy in the book falls all over her?  Why doesn't this happen in real life??).  I won't say anymore, but the final result may or may not surprise you!

TORN was probably my favorite book in the trilogy.  SWITCHED spent a lot of time world building, and while TORN also had a lot of build-up to the final title, it also had the most revelations.  ASCEND seemed to rush by and wasn't quite as fleshed out as earlier titles, since most of the developments had been taken care of before its start.  Characters that start out as one-dimensional beings early on become much more fleshed out and developed, though at time, those same characters become less so later on as other characters take front stage and put them backwards.  The cast was just too big to give the entire ensemble of secondary characters enough page time without reducing some of them to more minor appearances.  At the same time, this can also be seen as Wendy's priorities changing as she embraces her role as future princess and becomes more tied up in the future of her kingdom, though she still cares deeply for characters who no longer make grand appearances.  Hocking never takes the obvious route despite the fact that the story's origins are fairly common.  Readers thinking they know what they'll in for will find themselves surprised by the turn of events.  Some readers love the turns, others don't, which have led to very mixed reviews for this series.  In the end, it's up to you to decide what you think based on the author's merits.  I personally fall somewhere in the middle.  I can appreciate what Hocking has done, even if I don't always love the way she chose to do it.  While I thought getting there was too rushed, I personally liked the way the book ultimately ended, though I never would have seen the twists and turns coming early on.


These books all have great covers.  They're magical and mysterious.  

I think TORN is my favorite of the three.  I love the coloring, and feel that the crown looks just right for this story!  

I also like the way the flowers on the first book are in full bloom, then seeding on the second book, and blowing away on the third.  It's the circle of life and shows the series' progression.

I also love the beautiful sky in the background of each book and the way there's always something different on the horizon.

Which cover is your favorite?

Cover Crazy: ELEMENTAL by Antony John

Cover Crazy is hosted by The Book Worms. Each week, bloggers "admire the art and beauty of a book’s design, so I’m going to post minimal words. It is up to you to write how you feel and what you like about it the way you’d like to."

I just saw the cover for ELEMENTAL by Antony John on GoodReads and omg, I want this book even MORE!  Is that humanly possible?
Take a look:

ELEMENTAL by Antony John:

I recently read and reviewed Antony John's incredible novel FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB, but it's the upcoming ELEMENTAL that has me truly excited.  November is still so very, incredibly far away (So if someone gets an ARC, you know who you should share it with? Hint, hint! ^.~)
I have wanted this book ever since my beloved Ashley from Basically Amazing Books interviewed Antony during Just Contemporary this past November and asked about his fourth novel.  It reminded me a bit of a show I love called AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER.  I always love things that utilize the elements.  The more I hear about this novel, the more I want it.  I covet it.  I MUST read this!!!!!
And this cover?  It's breath-taking!  I will say that it reminds me a bit of Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT, with the fire element swirling in the air on top of a landscape image.  But it's also unique!  I love the font used for the title.  I want to know what that object is underneath the title.  I love the choppy waters and the storm brewing.  Why is that ship on the water in such weather?  Is this a magical storm?  This cover intrigues me and makes me want to know a LOT more.  
I would pick this up blind!!  Would you?

What do you think of my choice this week?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Week in Review & IMM: The Giveaway Edition

IN MY MAILBOX: 02.05.12

In My Mailbox was created by Kristi at The Story Siren because:

"I get books to read and then ultimately share my thoughts about with my readers. As much as I want to, I can’t possibly read every book I receive. Yet, I still wanted a way to feature those books on the blog, even though it might not be in the form of a review. Problem solved! Every week I'd share the books I received that week... ones I'd bought, or gotten at the library, and ones that I'd receive to review on the blog. That way I could mention titles that might not otherwise get some face-time on The Story Siren..."

I find the same thing happening at A Backwards Story. I'm so backed up on reviews atm... That's why I like these videos!


*LOSS mini-poster by Jackie Morse Kessler
(along with entry into blog tour's grand prize!) (until March 30th!)
*ARCs of both HALF-BLOOD and PURE by Jennifer L. Armentrout 
(along with entry into blog tour's grand prize!) (until April 14th!)
*COBBOGOTH (Autographed Copy!) by Hannah L. Clark (until March 31st!)
*EMBRACE by Jessica Shirvington (until March 31st!)


*TAKE A BOW by Elizabeth Eulberg
*SLUMBER by Samantha Young

[link to my GoodReads account so you can see my blurb feed as I read]

(Reviewed this week; see below!)
*THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass
(ack, FINALLY!!!  I was so excited to sink into this one!)
*SWITCHED by Amanda Hocking
*TORN by Amanda Hocking
*ASCEND by Amanda Hocking
(Review of the Trylle Trilogy coming tomorrow!)
(Definitely my favorite in the series to date!)


*LOSS by Jackie Morse Kessler (Blog Tour)

*Cover Crazy: ISLAND OF SILENCE by Lisa McMann
*Mythological Mondays: The Mythology in LOSS by Jackie Morse Kessler
*Top Ten Books on my Spring TBR List!
*Character Word Associations with Logan from Marni Bates' AWKWARD {blog tour stop}
*Covenant GIVEAWAY & a Look at the Series Cover Art with Designer Kate Kaynak & author Jennifer L. Armentrout! {blog tour stop}
*Interview and GIVEAWAY with Billy Ballard from Jackie Morse Kessler's LOSS {blog tour stop}



The Giveaway Edition!

Because, um, if you didn't notice above, I have FOUR giveaways going on right now for you to enter.  That's a lot, guys!  

I'd love to see you enter and win!  May the odds be ever in your favor :)

Physical ARCs/Finished Copies:

*ELEMENTAL by Emily White [Out May 01, 2012] + Spencer Hill Press Swag
{Thank you to Spencer Hill Press! Also mentioned in the video: Cover designer Victoria Caswell, who runs her own blog and often comments here.  Love her! ♥}
*BETWEEN THE LINES by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer [Out June 26, 2012]
{I picked this one up at work.  I was SO excited to see it!  As many of you know, Jodi Picoult is my all-time favorite author.  The fact that she's co-writing a teen fantasy fairy tale exhilarates me to no end.  Check out my review next month during Fairy Tale Fortnight!}


*TAKE A BOW by Elizabeth Eulberg [Out April 1, 2012]
{Eulberg's debut novel, THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB, has the distinction of being the very first book I ever reviewed on my blog!  I was lucky enough to meet the author last year and she's such a wonderful, hilarious person!  I've been really looking forward to this one!}


*LOSS by Jackie Morse Kessler
{Check out this week's review, interview with main character Billy Ballard, and Mythological Mondays entry, plus enter my giveaway to win a poster AND find out how to win autographed copies of the entire series!}
*THE FIRE OPAL by Reginan McBride
*BLACK BEAUTY Anna Sewell (ISBN 9780143106470)
{I love the Penguin Threads imprint and the beautiful embroidery done by Jillian Tamaki on this version of the cover!  It's a true work of art!}*THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett (ISBN 9780143106456)
{I love the Penguin Threads imprint and the beautiful embroidery done by Jillian Tamaki on this version of the cover!  It's a true work of art!}

What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

{interview, giveaway} LOSS by Jackie Morse Kessler

A Backwards Story is happy to be a part of Jackie Morse Kessler's official LOSS Blog Tour!  Check out the tour schedule to see the list of events.  Be sure to check out my previous post to read my review of LOSS, as well as prior reviews of both HUNGER and RAGE, not to mention last year's author interview!  Earlier this week, I also talked about the Mythological Aspects of LOSS!

LOSS is the third book in Jackie Morse Kessler's RIDERS OF THE APOCALYPSE quartet.  The fourth and final book, DEATH, is set to launch in 2013.  The first two books, HUNGER and RAGE, are available now!

Jackie has also written several adult novels under the name Jackie Kessler. 

Check out Jackie Morse Kessler's blog and find her on Twitter.

An interview with Billy Ballard from LOSS

Hi Billy!  I'm so excited to have you with us after all the excitement you've been through recently.

BILLY: Thanks. Yeah, excitement. You could call it that. Or you can call in heart-pounding terror. Whatever works for you.

I know there were some things you hated that went down, but what was the best thing that happened to you throughout everything?

BILLY: That’d be everything in the last chapter of the book. [[GRINS HUGELY]]

Are you glad you made the decisions you did?  Would you change anything, or do you have any regrets?BILLY: I wish I woulda known at the start of the book what I finally figured out at the end. You know—everything with Eddie. Also, I wish I wasn’t a punching bag for so much of the book.

 BILLY: I wish I woulda known at the start of the book what I finally figured out at the end. You know—everything with Eddie. Also, I wish I wasn’t a punching bag for so much of the book.

You had met the Red Rider before meeting Death and taking up Pestilence's bow.  Why do you think she appeared to you so early on?  How did you know who she was, despite having no knowledge of her existence?

BILLY: Oh, yeah, I remember—that was right at the start of the book. [[GRINS]] She was sorta scary. But good scary, like watching a horror movie, not bad scary, like getting jumped outside of school. Why’d she show up when she did? I guess that was to let me know that things were changing. Or maybe she was just messing with me. I knew there was something different about her, but I didn’t really know who she was until after I got the Bow.

Throughout everything, we can see just how much you love your grandfather despite his struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease.  What is your favorite memory of him?

BILLY: I was eight, and Gramps—my grandfather—got me a new bike for my birthday. I didn’t know how to ride it. My dad never showed me before he left me and mom, but Gramps taught me. He held the handlebars steady when I was wobbling, and he ran beside me when I was learning. And then I finally got it, and I just flew down the street. It was awesome. [[SMILES SHEEPISHLY]] Until I crashed into a tree. Didn’t know how to stop. But it was still awesome. Gramps was a better dad to me than my real dad ever was.

Do you have any advice for students like yourself who are being bullied right now?

BILLY: It’s not your fault that you’re getting picked on, and it’s not just how it is. Talk about it. To your teachers. To the school councilor. To your folks. Talk, and keep talking. If you’re lucky, someone will listen, and maybe can help. More and more people are getting angry over all the bullying that’s happening, so there’s a better chance now that people will actually be willing to help you. That might not happen, because there are still lots of jerks out there, but it might. I think the best thing you can do is find something about yourself that you really like, that you’re proud of, and you keep that pride with you, always. You walk with your head high because of it. No one can take that away from you.

Besides Green Day, what else do you like to listen to?  Did Death ever masquerade as any of your favorites?

BILLY: Linkin Park is one of my favorites. And no, Death’s been firmly in a Kurt Cobain place, at least for as long as I’ve known him.

You have so many books at home.  What are your favorites and why?

BILLY: Epic fantasy. Give me Lord of the Rings—and I don’t mean the Peter Jackson movies, even though those were cool. Give me the Belgariad. I like getting away from everything in the real world, you know? My favorite is the Codex Alera series, by Jim Butcher. Tavi, the hero, is just a regular guy at first, you know? He’s small. In the second book, he gets picked on, a lot. But he still does heroic things. And as the series goes on, he learns more and more about himself, who he’s meant to be, what he can do. He’s awesome. The other characters are cool, too, but Tavi’s my favorite.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Billy.  I was rooting for you throughout your struggles and I'm so happy you could be with us today!

BILLY: Thanks!

Bookworms, don't forget to check out today's review of LOSS, as well as previous reviews of both HUNGER and RAGE!  I also interviewed Jackie last year on her RAGE Blog Tour.  Earlier this week, I also talked about the Mythological Aspects of LOSS!  Check it all out to find out more about this unique series!

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of LOSS will be donated to the Alzheimer's Association.  If you are planning to purchase a copy of LOSS, thank you for helping to make a difference!

{review, giveaway} LOSS by Jackie Morse Kessler

A Backwards Story is happy to be a part of Jackie Morse Kessler's official LOSS Blog Tour!  Check out the tour schedule to see the list of events.  Be sure to check out my previous post to read my interview with Billy Ballard from LOSS, as well as prior reviews of both HUNGER and RAGE, not to mention last year's author interview! Earlier this week, I also talked about the Mythological Aspects of LOSS!

Title: LOSS
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Release Date: Out now (March 20, 2011)
Publisher: Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Received: e-ARC courtesy of Graphia/NetGalley/Jackie Morse Kessler; also purchased a finished copy this week


Fifteen-year-old Billy Ballard is the kid that everyone picks on, from the school bullies to the teachers. But things change drastically when Death tells Billy he must stand in as Pestilence, the White Rider of the Apocalypse. Now armed with a Bow that allows him to strike with disease from a distance, Billy lashes out at his tormentors...and accidentally causes an outbreak of meningitis. Horrified by his actions, Billy begs Death to take back the Bow. For that to happen, says Death, Billy must track down the real White Rider—who is lost in his memories. 

In his search, Billy travels through White Rider’s life: from ancient Phrygia, where the man called King Mita agrees to wear the White Rider’s Crown, to Sherwood Forest, where Pestilence figures out how to cheat Death; from the docks of Alexandria, where cartons of infested grain are being packed onto a ship that will carry the plague, to the Children’s Crusade in France—all the way to what may be the end of the world. When Billy finally finds the White Rider, the teen convinces the man to return to the real world. 

But now the insane White Rider plans to unleash something awful on humanity—something that could make the Black Death look like a summer cold. Billy has a choice: he can live his life and pretend he doesn’t know what’s coming, or he can challenge the White Rider for his Crown. Does one bullied teenager have the strength to stand his ground—and the courage to save the world?

From Goodreads

Bookworms, don't forget to check out today's interview with Billy Ballard from LOSS, as well as previous reviews of both HUNGER and RAGE!  I also interviewed Jackie last year on her RAGE Blog Tour.  Earlier this week, I also talked about the Mythological Aspects of LOSS!  Check it all out to find out more about this unique series!

LOSS is the third book in Jackie Morse Kessler's Riders of the Apocalypse quartet, though you don't need to pick up the previous two novels in order to read it. Not only is it the longest book in the series to date, it's also my current favorite (though all bets are off when BREATH comes out because, um, I LOVE Death's character!).  While both HUNGER and RAGE focus more on disorders, LOSS is more a story of circumstance.  It also explores the history of Pestilence the Conqueror in ways not previously seen in the series.

Unlike HUNGER and RAGE, which feature two girls harming themselves and in danger of dying, their disorders closely linked to their roles as Horsmen, Billy Ballard is tricked into becoming Pestilence.  He makes a deal he doesn't understand early on that comes back to haunt him later as the current crown-bearing Horsemen Pestilence lays on his deathbed.  That isn't to say that LOSS isn't without social issues at its heart.  Billy is badly buried at school, sometimes so badly beaten that I could see him dying in an encounter one day.  When he's first given Pestilence's bow with its quiver full of disease-laden arrows, Billy finds out that he can strike back at the bullies who have taunted him for so many years.  The scene where he snaps and teeters on the edge reminds me of what a student on a killing spree at school might think.  In particular, it brought Lionel Shriver's WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN to mind, a book with a scene so horrifying, I still try to forget it.  At the same time, Kessler maintains balance and shows the goodness in humans despite all the trauma we go through in life, the resilience that brings us back from the edge.  On top of the bullying issue, Kessler adds in an issue at home:  Billy's grandfather has dementia and Alzheimer's, so Billy knows a thing or two about illness when asked to be Pestilence.  People who have watched loved ones suffer from these diseases will connect with Billy, who both loves his grandfather and wishes he'd get well, but sometimes wishes he no longer suffered in such a fashion.  In my opinion, LOSS has the deepest themes running through it of the three books in the series released so far.

In addition, LOSS is heaviest on the mythology--and I don't mean Rider mythology.  Pestilence is all about insanity, the way disease can creep in and turn your mind inside out until you can't tell left from right.  When diving into the memories of the current Horseman, Billy must determine what is real and what is false, even as he feels himself going crazy in the process.  The segment is a whirlwind that, at first, can be incredibly confusing, but is designed that way on purpose.  Kessler deftly pulls the readers into Billy's mental frame of mind, which can be hard for author's to do.  The White Rider has lived for centuries, ever since he lived as King Mita, the real-life form of the legendary King Midas.  Rather than turning everything he touched to gold, however, the King can bestow life or death.  The White Rider also spent time hiding from death and shirking his duties as Pestilence in the Greenwood as Robert Hode, whose tales would later become those of an outlaw named Robin Hood.  A couple other scenarios, such as the Children’s Crusade in France, are mentioned as well, fleshing out the the fact that the Riders of the Apocalypse are not mere legend, but bound up in the stories of our everyday life.  I was always so anxious to see what story Kessler would weave into LOSS next, and never disappointed by the results.  Combined with a captivating story and a satisfying resolution, LOSS is my favorite book in the RIDERS OF THE APOCALYPSE series to date.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of LOSS will be donated to the Alzheimer's Association.  If you are planning to purchase a copy of LOSS, thank you for helping to make a difference!


I always love the cover art for his series.  For one thing, it's SHINY.  I love shiny things (maybe I was a dragon in a past life...?).  For another, the covers always feature the symbol of the novel's Horseman.  In the case of LOSS, Pestilence has both a crown and a bow (with arrows full of disease).  Finally, it's got a bit of grunge going on.  the cover isn't perfect, even though it IS shiny.  It shows that perfection doesn't exist, and adds grit, showcasing that the book has harder issues than what one might expect picking it up blind.  The books manage to retain a glossy fantasy look.

I can't wait to see what designer Sammy Yuen does next with BREATH!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

{review} THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED by April Henry

Author: April Henry
Release Date: Out now (March 13, 2011)
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co./Macmillan
Received: Review copy courtesy of Macmillan/NetGalley


Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also works part time as a delivery girl at Pete’s Pizza. One night, Kayla—another delivery girl—goes missing. To her horror, Gabie learns that the supposed kidnapper had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working that night. Gabie can’t move beyond the fact that Kayla’s fate was really meant for her, and she becomes obsessed with finding Kayla. She teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete’s. Together, they set out to prove that Kayla isn’t dead—and to find her before she is.

It's rare to find a good, suspenseful novel in the YA section in the vein of THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED by April Henry.  Even better, while this is technically a mystery, it also isn't, because the novel is told in multiple points of view.  There are times when you see behind the eyes of the man who lured Kayla out, so you always know who he is.  It's more of a thriller, because he's hidden his tracks well and no one suspects him.  The main narrators, Gabie and Drew, are co-workers at Pete's Pizza, and the man on the phone the night pizza delivery girl Kayla went missing asked for Gabie, not Kayla.  Everyone at work is shaken up, and no females are allowed to make deliveries anymore.  The police think the man asked for Gabie to hide the fact he really wanted Kayla, but Gabie and Drew don't believe that.  They form a close bond over the experience and work together to keep hope alive.  This is a REALLY hard book to talk about in terms of summary, so I won't, but if you want something to keep you reading all night, this is definitely a novel worth picking up.

When I first heard about THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED, I noticed that it shared a theme of car kidnapping with Henry's previous novel, GIRL STOLEN.  This is Henry's thirteenth novel, so I'm sure her topics are very diverse, but I've only read the two teen novels she's put out with Henry Holt/Macmillan.  The two books are actually quite different from one another, though.  One of the things that intrigued me the most about GIRL STOLEN was the fact that the main character was blind and completely vulnerable to the world.  As I read THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED, I was surprised to see another hard underlying thread of imperfection.  Drew's mother is a tweaker who has developed a hoarding disorder.  She compulsively hoards items in storage containers, and has taken to stealing such items from other people.  The way Drew views her reminds me a bit of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS by C. J. Omololu, a book I read and enjoyed last year.

I also thought Henry's character development was much stronger in THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED, perhaps because we saw things from the eyes of both Gabie and Drew.  The novel's ending is also much more fleshed out.  With GIRL STOLEN, I wanted just a little bit more.  It felt slightly incomplete.  While this feeling lingers slightly in Henry's latest offering, it's in a way that leaves things to our own imaginations and is satisfactory.  As you'll see if you read my design analysis below, I think the attention to small detail such as 911 transcripts, bloody notes, and more enhanced the reading experience and made the situation feel much more real and immediate.  This was an overall well-put-together novel that makes for a fast, breathless read.


I have to give kudos to designers Rich Deas (who designed GIRL STOLEN as well as several other Macmillan titles and was
interviewed on A Backwards Story in January.) and April Ward.  While the cover itself is dark and mysterious in all the right ways, it's the interior design I'm drooling over.

But first, the front cover!  I like the way the model's shadow falls into the book's title.  This is actually mimicked in the design's interior with both the title page and every chapter heading, seen here:

The image is faint and looks better in person, but you can see the shadow stretching beneath the words, right?

It's funny; I read the entire book, and while I SAW the formatting, I didn't realize it was a shadow until I looked at it again in the final copy. (Though that COULD be because my nook messed up the formatting and the chapter went vertically instead of horizontally as I read...which I'd actually been impressed with, lol!) 

Now that I see it, I totally see how the chapter headings are mirroring the cover!

I also like the use of color and the way they all work together, even the bright red and yellow writing on top of the darkness of the image itself.  And the way the girl is in silhouette, with a car's headlights coming up behind her... The tone is perfect for a mystery novel!

There was a lot of attention paid to detail inside the novel as well.  

From images of evidence such as:

to transcripts of 911 calls and tv interviews such as:

in addition to fun things such as articles that appear after a national tragedy:

There's a lot to look at while reading!  

To me, this doesn't hinder the reading experience at all.  Rather, it enhances it and makes it feel more realistic.  It seems to mirror the writing as well.  

At one point, Gabie googles dead bodies and finds an article that was both disturbing and intriguing.  My nook didn't save my bookmark so I can't quote it, but basically, it was about a body found in a new suitcase that still had a barcode inside it.  The barcode was able to be traced as a Walmart item and after checking security footage from the night of the girl's disappearance, the man buying the suitcase was arrested and found guilty of murder.  I thought the way the evidence was discovered to be beyond cool and wondered if Henry was pulling from a real-life situation.

These are the little things that made THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED feel "real" to me rather than fictional.

And can I just say...completely, 100% off-topic...I LOVE that this:
is the book's dedication, that April Henry dedicated the book to L.K. Madigan.  Her early death last year was completely devastating.  I was so happy to see her memorialized like this, though I never knew her the way April Henry did!