Photo of Milford Sound in New Zealand! Photo of Milford Sound in New Zealand! Photo of Milford Sound in New Zealand! Photo of Milford Sound in New Zealand! Photo of Milford Sound in New Zealand! Photo of Milford Sound in New Zealand!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book Review: Strange Sweet Song


Title: Strange Sweet Song

Author: Adi Rule

Genre: Gothic romance/fantasy/pure awesomeness

Book Blurb:
A young soprano enrolls in a remote music academy where nothing, not even her mysterious young vocal coach, is as it seems
Outside Dunhammond Conservatory, there lies a dark forest. And in the forest, they say, lives a great beast called the Felix. But Sing da Navelli never put much faith in the rumors and myths surrounding the school; music flows in her blood, and she is there to sing for real. This prestigious academy will finally give her the chance to prove her worth—not as the daughter of world-renowned musicians—but as an artist and leading lady in her own right.

Yet despite her best efforts, there seems to be something missing from her voice. Her doubts about her own talent are underscored by the fact that she is cast as the understudy in the school's production of her favorite opera, Angelique. Angelique was written at Dunhammond, and the legend says that the composer was inspired by forest surrounding the school, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. But was it all a figment of his imagination, or are the fantastic figures in the opera more than imaginary? 

Sing must work with the mysterious Apprentice Nathan Daysmoor as her vocal coach, who is both her harshest critic and staunchest advocate. But Nathan has secrets of his own, secrets that are entwined with the myths and legends surrounding Dunhammond, and the great creature they say lives there.

Review:

What a stunning debut novel! Adi "Rules" the pages with Strange Sweet Song. This is one of those books that start off good and just keeps getting better and better as the plot moves on. It's kind of like getting hypnotized and getting drawn into the story the more you read...in my case, I started this book thinking it was okay/good. Maybe 3-4 stars at that point.


And then...halfway through the book, I began to realize Hey, this is actually really quite good! The plot is starting to make sense now! And I would've probably rated Strange Sweet Song a solid 4 stars at that point.

robert deniro taxi driver clapping gif

And then BAM the last third of the book was pure magic. A solid 4.5 stars (rounded up to 5 stars on Goodreads.) I know I've found a gem the moment I finished this novel...it's one of those books that linger on your mind long after you've read the last pages...basically my reaction once I closed the book:

Face

The plot...oh man...the plot was simply amazing. Readers be warned before you take on this book: the story starts out being told from multiple points of view, and from different periods of time. But about 1/2 through the novel, everything catches up together and all the pieces fall in place. It was kind of like an Ah-ha! moment for me once I realized how some of the character from the past relate to the ones in the present.

I think it was really helpful knowing ahead of time the way the novel was going to be structured, or else I probably would've been confused by the jumping back and forth in time stuff going on (hey--what can I say? I get confused easily!)

However, my favorite part of the plot is that it is sooo original! It's been ages since I've read a book that has such an original plot. There are no totalitarian governments, there are no zombies running around, there are no love triangles, there is no weird mutant disease plaguing the world, there is none of that cliche stuff that I've been reading so much (not saying I don't like the whole dystopian theme, but it's nice to broaden my view.) Instead, you get characters coming alive from an opera called "Angelique" set in a modern day boarding school (later I learned that the opera doesn't really exist--but for the whole duration of the story, I believed that Rule was actually basing part of her novel off of an actual opera--so bravo! Rule sure had me "tricked"...that's how good the writing was.)

I loved how Rule paced the book as well. Even though the book doesn't exactly hook readers in with a heart-pounding action scene, it still catches one's attention by having the opening scene told through a crow's perspective. And from there, the  plot just keeps on snowballing downwards and gaining momentum.

And the characters! I liked Sing, the main character. She struggles with finding her identity; on one hand, she wants to fill the shoes her (dead) mother left...but on the other hand, she wants to express her own opinions and beliefs as well. (*cues "Who Am I" from Les Mis*)


But I think my favorite character is Apprentice Daysmoor, aka Playspoor. How does one goes from loathing a character to loving him within the span of 100-150 pages? At the beginning, Apprentice Daysmoor (nicknamed Playspoor due to his one and only terrible public piano performance--a great shame for a student of a prestigious music school) because he seemed to hate the world and did nothing bu aggravate those around him. But then...thinks began to click in my brain as the chapters being written in past tense begin to add up to tell readers the true story regarding Apprentice Daysmoor. Let's just say he's more than he seems, shall we?

Adi Rule really has a distinctive writing style which I find complements the contents of this book quite well. Her sentences flow and her words are lyrical. I think the best comparison I can give is that Beautiful Creatures is written in a somewhat lyrical style as well. Don't get me wrong here--I'm not saying the words are written in stanzas or anything like that. But the word choice really contributes to the whole music-y atmosphere. If a song could be transformed into a book, this would be it.

Okay...so wow...I've written quite a lot for this review. All I can say is that if you like gothic romance, fairy tales (or remixes of fairy tales) or paranormal books, then Strange Sweet Song is the book for you!

Oh, and before I forget, be sure to check out this chat with Adi Rule!

Rating:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Review: Independent Study


Title: Independent Study

Author: Joelle Charbonneau

Genre: YA dystopian

Book Blurb:

In the series debut The Testing, sixteen-year-old Cia Vale was chosen by the United Commonwealth government as one of the best and brightest graduates of all the colonies . . . a promising leader in the effort to revitalize postwar civilization. In Independent Study, Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas—and though the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government’s murderous programs put her—and her loved ones—in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her

Review:

Whew! My feelings regarding this book is quite mixed. But this I can say for sure: I enjoyed Independent Study more than The Testing. Okay....just give me a minute to organize my thoughts....


Alright...now my brain's more organized. Let me start with the plot. What a huge improvement! I found the plot of The Testing overbearingly similar to that of The Hunger Game's, so I didn't really enjoy the book. However, Independent Study is nothing like Catching Fire, so it was nice to read something with a unique plot. Cia, the main character, is finally studying at the University and is training with the brightest minds of the country. However, wiped memories are beginning to resurface and Cia begins to remember things that the director of the University and Testing wouldn't want her to know.  With the aid of her Transit Communicator (Cia made a recording of herself documenting what happened during the Testing before having her memories wiped) and Thomas, Cia begins to piece together why the Testing must be stopped.

I also liked the plot twist towards the end. ***Spoiler Alert*** I wasn't really expecting Symon to be a supporter of Dr. Barnes, the head of the Testing. I mean, I suspected that Symon might be more involved with the government than he let on when Cia heard a familiar voice talking to Dr. Barnes one night at the redirection building. But still, I wasn't positive which side Symon was working for until the end.

Cia, Cia, Cia. I feel like I should like her more than I do. I think the problem with Cia is that...she's too perfect. She's a too perfect character. There, I said it. *dodges death glares being thrown at me*


How can a character be too perfect you ask? It's because she has the right ratio of intelligence and niceness that she becomes too predictable. Cia is very smart--so smart that she basically breezes through all of the tests thrown at her. And she's also nice and has solid moral values; she refuses to sabotage other teams even when they tried to kill her/maim her team. The character I think is most similar to Cia would probably be Hermione Granger (minus the fact that, you know, Cia doesn't own a wand and casts spells.)

I feel like Cia needs some kind of flaw-- an Achille's heel, if you will--for her to make a more dynamic character.

It's kind of strange...even though this novel is written from 1st person POV, it feels like I'm reading in 3rd person POV....kind of like I'm observing everything from above, even though Cia has a quite distinct voice in her narration. Okay, I guess this is how I would sum the characters the best: they are generally likable but not very connectable.

Final thoughts: Worth the read, but probably won't reread the book.  I will finish the series though, because I am interested in how the trilogy will conclude.

Rating:


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fireside Chat with Adi Rule



Fireside Chat: n. The fireside chats were a series of thirty evening radio addresses given by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944...."fireside chats" were the first media development that facilitated intimate and direct communication between the president and the citizens of the United States. Roosevelt's cheery voice and demeanor played him into the favor of citizens and he soon became one of the most popular presidents ever, often affectionately compared to Abraham Lincoln. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fireside_chats

Hiya everyone! I was thrilled to meet Adi Rule, author of Strange Sweet Song yesterday at the local library. Adi was soooo nice and friendly :-) I, along with some other fellow readers, were lucky enough to pick at Adi's brain for a good hour or so and ask any questions we wanted. We talked about a huge variety of topics, ranging from the steps it takes to get a book published to Adi's cat named Scooter.

I've organized this posts into sections discussing different topics for ease of reading.

My Impression of Adi Rule


Adi was such a sweet and friendly person! She didn't mind answering questions and was very funny. She answered each question very earnestly and didn't mind us asking some strange questions either :-) Plus, she also has a good narrator voice (she read a few chapters from her book out loud.)

Bookish "What Ifs" and Other Book Related Stuff

Have you ever read one of those choose your own adventure books? (I used to read them a lot...unfortunately I ended up dead in most scenarios) Now imagine a choose your own adventure series. Let me clarify: instead of making decisions every few pages in the book, readers are presented two options at the end of book one. For example, after finishing the first book in a choose your own adventure series, readers could choose whether the main character joins the rebels or the government. And from there, readers can read one version of book two, depending on the choice the reader makes at the end of book one. In other words, if you choose to join the rebels after reading book one, you would read the version of book number two in which the character joins the rebels. Think of it like a bunch of alternate endings! 

I mean....how cool would that be? Haven't you ever wondered "What if Katniss chose to runaway after returning back to District 13 from the Games?" or "What if Harry Potter decided to attend Hogwarts in his 7th year?"


We also discussed why aren't YA books generally written in 2nd person? My reasoning was that readers will become more engaged in the story because they are the character. Like, you would feel more invested in the novel since you are essentially a character witnessing whatever is going on in the book. But then Adi made a very good point in that authors would be taking a huge risk by writing in 2nd POV because what if you and the character you are suppose to embody simply don't click? Ie. What if you read something in a 2nd POV book like "You bang on the door, but it remains locked. Light seeps out from beneath the cracks. Suddenly, you hear a yell further down the hallway. You ditch the locked door and sprint towards the shout" and end up thinking I would never do that! The yell is probably a trap! Then readers would probably end up hating the book. So, in conclusion, readers will either love (because they can connect to the character's action) or hate (because they can't) a novel if it's written in 2nd POV and isn't a choose your own adventure type of book.

To Publish a Book

If you're like me, the steps to publish a book is probably a huge mystery. Adi was able to shed some light and explains the steps she took to get Strange Sweet Song onto the shelves.

1. Write
2. Write some more
3. Write even more (some authors get their first manuscript accepted; for others, it may be several drafts/manuscripts before they find a willing agent or publisher to back it up)
4. Edit! Although a professional editor is preferred, not everyone can afford one. This is where a good support group becomes very important. Don't be afraid of critiques!  Also, make sure feedback is honest and unbiased. 
5. Now you can query out your novel to agents. Some agents will also act as editors and vice versa. Although an agent is not necessary to break into the publishing world, it never helps to have a guide and representative for your book! Agent Query is a good site to start searching for a literary agent....
6. Send out queries to publishers and hopefully one of them will pick you up! Once again, querying to publishers may be done by the author or by the agent. 

Some things that are good to know once a book is picked up by the publisher is that the author loses some of the control he/she has over the book. For example, the original title for Strange Sweet Song was Sing. The publishers decided to change it because Sing was attention grabbing enough (and Adi agrees with this.) Also, it is also the publisher that decides what the book cover looks like. In Adi's case, she didn't like the first proposed cover for her book, so the publishers proposed the second (and final) design (I personally love the final result--the cover evokes a fairytale atmosphere to me.) I think Adi puts it best in words regarding the control authors have once a publisher has picked up their writing, "The material between the covers is what [an author] has control of." (Okay, so maybe that wasn't exactly what she said, but close enough...lol)

About Writing in General

Just write and don't look back. "Write to edit," as Adi puts it (and I am 100% sure that is what Adi said...because I thought it was a really good quote when she said it and decided to make note of it.) In other words, produce word vomit (haha, I know, that's isn't exactly a pretty description.) Spew out all your ideas and thoughts....get them onto paper (or Microsoft Word) before you forget! It's always easier to cut, rearrange or change your writing when you actually have something to work with.

We also discussed writing longhand vs. typing. Pros of writing longhand: slows down your writing, so you have to put more thought into the words your penning. Cons of writing longhand: your fingers can get cramped and sometimes writing longhand takes too much time (plus you kill a bunch of trees.)  Pros of typing: you can get your ideas onto (virtual) paper faster and it is easy to make copies and distribute your writing. Cons: you're screwed if your computer crashes and you don't have backup. Also, it've very easy to get distracted by the internet.

Speaking of getting distracted by the internet, I learned about an app called MacFreedom which basically cuts off internet on a computer/laptop for a set amount of time. For example, if you downloaded the app on your laptop and set it for 2 hours, then for 2 hours there is no way you can access the internet on your laptop. You can't "undo" the programming; shutting down and restarting the laptop won't grant you internet access.  In other words, you actually have to be productive! *gasps*

Alright...so it's getting kind of late (ugh...still have school tomorrow) so I will try to wrap up this post quickly by bullet pointing the following topics discussed:
  • the increase of how everyday words are being used as names in novels (ie. the main character in Strange Sweet Song is named "Sing"; other character names I can think of that fit this category: Fade, Digger, Cinder, Blue and Four)
  • how names from fantasy novels are often "normal" names with an extra letter here or there
  • the "gimmick" hook that many books start out with; how the book will hook readers in with heart-stopping action in the first few pages, then backtrack in time, and then catch up to the present again
  • "bad" writing teaches us a lesson and often end up seeming funny in hindsight
  • video games are like choose your own adventure books
  • Adi's cat named Scooter that doesn't have any paws!
So that basically wraps up my post! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below or shoot me an email and I will do my best to answer them!

I will be back soon with a review for Strange Sweet Song, so be sure to check back!


Book Description:

A young soprano enrolls in a remote music academy where nothing, not even her mysterious young vocal coach, is as it seems

Outside Dunhammond Conservatory, there lies a dark forest. And in the forest, they say, lives a great beast called the Felix. But Sing da Navelli never put much faith in the rumors and myths surrounding the school; music flows in her blood, and she is there to sing for real. This prestigious academy will finally give her the chance to prove her worth—not as the daughter of world-renowned musicians—but as an artist and leading lady in her own right.

Yet despite her best efforts, there seems to be something missing from her voice. Her doubts about her own talent are underscored by the fact that she is cast as the understudy in the school's production of her favorite opera, Angelique. Angelique was written at Dunhammond, and the legend says that the composer was inspired by forest surrounding the school, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. But was it all a figment of his imagination, or are the fantastic figures in the opera more than imaginary?

Sing must work with the mysterious Apprentice Nathan Daysmoor as her vocal coach, who is both her harshest critic and staunchest advocate. But Nathan has secrets of his own, secrets that are entwined with the myths and legends surrounding Dunhammond, and the great creature they say lives there.

Lyrical, gothic, and magical, Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule will captivate and enchant readers.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: The Runaway King


Title: The Runaway King

Author: Jennifer A Nielsen

Genre: Fantasy

Book Blurb:

Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?

Review:

And my reading-awesome-books streak continues! *Does victory dance*


Love-actually

Jenniger Nielsen wows me again with the second installment of the Ascendence Trilogy. Usually, the second book in a trilogy is usually the worst book (I sometimes feel like authors just throw them in to bridge the gap between the beginning and the conclusion, and are therefore, not really needed.) This is not the case with The Runaway King. I loved this book just as much as I did with The False Prince.
Jaron continues to live up to my expectations in terms of sassitude (sass + attitude) and honorable moral values. He easily makes it onto my top ten fave character list.  Jaron also continues to leave me in awe with his clever reasoning and planning (though I will admit he does have more than his fair share of luck--both good and bad.)  You also beging to see some feelings develop between Imogen and Jaron, but the romance isn't overwhelming, so thank goodness for that! Though Nielsen does kinda pull the star-crossed lover trick out of her hat in The Runaway King, regarding the Jaron, Imogen and Amarinda love triangle situation. 


And the plot...oh my...the plot.  If I had to pick the two best things Nielsen is best at in crafting a novel, it would be: 1. Creating awesome protagonists and 2. Creating a kick ass plot. 

I loved Nielsen's use of dramatic irony in The Runaway King. Knowing that Jaron was eating and sleeping right in the camp of his enemies had me zipping through the pages to make sure he didn't get himself killed. Also, there was the return of an old character from the first book. However, this character (named Roden) is now showing his not-so-nice side. Honestly, in the first book he was quite likable. In this book, not so much...

I guess my biggest quip (if you can even call it a quip) is the way the Pirate King dies...it's so, I dunno, unexpected and undramatic. (Yes, I'm all about the drama!)


***Spoiler Alert*** After so much being said about how invincible the Pirate King was, I found it kind if implausible that Roden more or less kills him by accident. At least I didn't think he was planning on killing the King.

But anyways, this book was still soooo awesome and I read it in one day. Final thoughts? Read the book! Feel free to chat with me about this book after you're done reading it (or any other books I've reviewed, actually) in the comments or on Twitter! I'll be waiting....tehehe (and I mean that in the least creepy way possible lol, thought I guess the gif below begs to differ.)

Little-women-laurie

Oh, and before I wrap out this review....be sure to check out Sofia's review on The Runaway King at Loving The Language of Literacy.  She posts awesome reviews and is always fun to chat with.... especially if you're a Legend fangirl!

Rating:

Book Blitz + Giveaway: Arms of Anu



About the Book:

Blood of body, blood of soul,
Entwined for life, then unfolds;
If blood still runs when magic binds,
Soul is never too far to find.

In ARMS OF ANU, Lia and Kelven battle through a land of tyrants, war and magic.
Can Lia escape the foes who ensnare her?
Will Kelven’s love withstand the darkness taking root inside Lia?
Is freedom too high a crown to reach, or will they forever remain in the hollows?

About the Author:

Christina Mercer is an award-winning author of fiction for children and young adults. She placed in the Semi-Finals of the Amazon Breakout Novel Award Contest, won an Honorable Mention in the 21st Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and took Writer's Best in Show at the SCBWI CA North/Central Regional Conference. She resides in Northern California enjoying life with her husband, two sons, four dogs and about 100,000 honeybees. For more about her and her writing visit her Web Site.
Author links:


Excerpt:
Lia Griene folded birch-white arms against her chest. Wynn stood beside her with his wrists and ankles shackled in chains. Lia winced at the fresh blood seeping from her cousin’s wounds. She might have just enough knitbone sewn in the hem of her cloak to set a poultice on them after they returned to the cart.

If we return.

Royal Sage Conall eyed them, his mouth dripping with jellied pork and wine. “I see your tempers have calmed since leaving Rockberg this morning. Amazing how rebels quiet under lock and key.”

Lia tried to calm the loathing that brewed like bitter nightshade within her. She’d rather fight bog goblins for a thousand years than spend another minute before Nemetona’s nobility. But she held her composure. They still had a fortnight of travel to the royal city of Anu and she’d prefer to face the king with her tongue attached. She met the sage’s glare with silence.

He responded with a snort and continued to stuff his face with greasy meat. His brother, Royal Sage Lorne, cleared his throat and spat in a wrinkled cloth he kept gripped in his hand. He resembled Conall in crimson attire alone. Where Sage Conall was fat like the swine he feasted upon, Sage Lorne was akin to rotting leather over bone. He peered at Lia and Wynn from black hollows set too deep for the candlelight to reach. 

$25 Amazon Giftcard Giveaway: