Friday, December 7, 2012

Review of Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Little Brown Books for
Young Readers
The Days of Blood & Starlight (Bk. 2 Daughter of Smoke and Bone)
By Laini Taylor
5 Scribbles

No one builds worlds as well as Laini Taylor—well not since Tolkien anyway. And now that Karou knows who she truly is, she is plunged headfirst into the broken world of her people, the chimaera. Filled with vengeance and righteous anger, Karou chooses to join her people in the fight against the angels—and against Akiva—in a crucial role.  But is her choice to turn her back on love worth it?

The characters in this novel are even more lifelike and vivid than in the first. It is easy to become immersed in the world of Elsewhere while reading about wolves, Naja, Kirin and winged creatures designed by Karou’s artistic hand. From Thiago’s glossy white fur and menacing eyes, to Ziri’s lithe, antelope-human body, to Akiva’s special beauty and glowing red wings, the reader is treated to a kaleidoscope of images that become virtual candy for the imagination.  And if the descriptions of the creatures and the world of Elsewhere don’t captivate the reader, then the bloody conflict certainly will. Karou and Akiva, soul mates and lovers in book one, find themselves as sworn enemies in this second installment. For Karou, this means filling Brimstone’s shoes as the new Resurrectionist and trusting Thiago, the wolf she still hates with all her being, but must follow to avenge the deaths of her people. It is a strange situation that places Karou as a sort of voluntary prisoner and amplifies the fact that the need for vengeance now controls her. Akiva, on the other hand, is ready to make amends to Karou, and to cease his killing ways, because “a drop of mercy dilutes a lake of hate.” And while there is truth in this, Karou has not had the benefit of years to heal that brought Akiva to this conclusion—thus, she has sworn to hate him.  How much will Karou be willing to endure, and how many angels will she have to kill in order to find any semblance of peace? And if both sides can come to some peace, will the physical marks of Hamas and tattoo marks of the slain on the angels’ hands, be too much of a reminder of atrocities past for the opposing sides to accept one another?

While the conflicts are heavy, bloody, and battles constant, some comic relief is thankfully present via Karou’s BFF Zuzana, now hooked up with Mic from book one. The two provide welcome foils to the newly-sworn-enemies-once-lovers Akiva and Karou. Zuzana and Mic also show an ironic tolerance for the strange creatures and help illustrate the power of music and kindness on the human (and not so human) soul. Perhaps most importantly, these two characters keep the story grounded, and add a human element to the second book which hints at the idea that humans may play a critical role in book three which I am anxiously awaiting…

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review of The Dead and the Buried by Kim Harrington

The Dead and the Buried
by Kim Harrington
4 Scribbles
To be released January 1, 2013

Jade never dreamed she’d live in a big house in an upscale neighborhood, and she’s overjoyed when her dad and stepmom move the family, even if she knows it’s really so her baby brother, Colby can have a better education than she did. But then Jade discovers the things that go bump in the night. Turns out, there is a reason the house was such a good deal. Local “it” girl Kayla Sloane was pushed down the stairs to her death in the house just the year before. Now, Kayla’s ghost is threatening to kill her baby brother unless Jade finds Kayla’s murderer.

Realistic characters and spine-chilling events make for a truly creeptastic read!  Jade feels like an outsider in her family now that her father has remarried, a situation many teens can relate to.  Jade misses her mother, who taught her the metaphysical powers of gemstones. Without her beloved mother, who died of cancer, Jade has no idea who to trust with her stories of Ouija boards and threatening specters, and she’s pretty sure her stepmother will think she’s crazy. Add to this the fact that her dad is always traveling for work and Jade feels alone and helpless. But Jade loves her brother, Colby and is willing to risk anything to save him. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Jade is that she picks friends based on integrity and not popularity, even though she is tempted to choose poorly in order to “fit in” to her new school. Secondary characters, like Kayla’s brooding ex, Donovan (who makes for a tantalizing love interest), and Jade’s quirky, anti-social friend Alexa add a feeling of diversity and realism to her new school, and also create doubts about who Kayla’s true killer might be. I also liked that Kayla was such a hateful girl and didn’t change after death; sometimes people are just rotten, and dying does not change that, no matter how much people pretend it does.  This mystery is incredibly solid, with clues gleaned from Kayla’s cryptic diary and frequent episodes of haunting and possession that chill the marrow.  Readers who grove on shows like Ghost Hunters and Paranormal State will love this book!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Dutton Juvenile
The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
5 Scribbles

Hazel is a grenade. She lives under the constant pressure that any day could be her last. She has terminal cancer held in check by experimental drugs—cancer that will eventually explode and destroy her weakened body. Hounded by her parents to be more active, Hazel meets cancer survivor Augustus Waters in a weekly support group, and soon the two teenagers are on the verge of something more than friendship; yet, Hazel doesn’t want to be loved, not when at any moment her cancer may ignite, and those loved ones she leaves behind will be forced to pick up the pieces.

Only John Green can take two teenagers whose entire lives, whose circle of friends, whose very experience of life revolves around cancer—and make it funny.  For the first half of this marvelous novel I chuckled at the quirky dialogue and quips exchanged between Hazel, Augustus and their friend Isaac, and enjoyed the cynical sense of humor shared by these three cancer victims. Despite their weekly visits to the “literal heart of Jesus” where they listen to a social worker discuss his earlier bout with testicular cancer (insert ball jokes here) the three seem to have an incredibly positive and realistic outlook on life.  Imagine going to a meeting every week where you are reminded of your mortality, given a list of the recently deceased children who’ve gone before you, and generally soaked in the presence and culture of death. How many of us could smile, let alone laugh? As the story develops and through the voices of Hazel and Augustus, who clearly love one another but fight the attraction, we meet Peter Van Houten, author of Hazel’s favorite novel, An Imperial Aflliction.  It is Van Houten’s work, his voice, who in many ways bring the two “star crossed” lovers together. In fact, it is Van Houten who first points out that that the fault of a future that “sucks” may have nothing to do with us, or our choices. Sometimes fate decides. Good people have bad luck, young people get sick and die. It happens. The fault is not in ourselves (a reference to lines from the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar), it really is in our stars. This honesty is what makes the novel so tragically wonderful, so incredibly moving, and the unexpected twist so heart wrenching. And yet for each tear I shed in the novel, I laughed twice as much. And isn’t that really what life is supposed to be about, no matter how brief that life might be?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review of The Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead

Last Sacrifice
by Richelle Mead
4 Stars

Rose stands accused of murdering the queen of the Moroi, and only has weeks before she must face her possible execution. On the run for her life, she seeks shelter with an odd group of Moroi, Dhampir and humans who live in West Virginia and who inter-marry and live by the old ways of the Moroi. These people can keep Rose safe. But when she hears there may be a secret Dragomir sibling, will the promise of answers cause Rose to compromise her safety yet again?

I’ve been a fan of this series since book one when I had the pleasure of meeting quirky, bull-headed, impulsive and exasperating, Rose Hathaway and her dear sweet best friend Vasilisa Dragomir.  Why do I continue to read on? The same reason I loved this sixth book in the series. First off, I’ve grown to love the characters and am highly invested in what happens to them—even Rose, who I sometimes want to strangle. She’s all the things I am not—thin, physically fit, sexy, a warrior, decisive to a fault, and dating the hottest guy around. Note: I am not talking about Dimitri Belikov either, although there is some delicious conflict in this novel between Rose, Adrian, and Dimitri. Despite all of those things I envy about her, I adore her! Rose is her trademark self in this novel, jumping into highly dangerous situations in order to discover the mysterious possible hidden sibling of her BFF Lisa Dragomir; Lisa has lost her place on the royal council since council members must have living relatives, and a sibling could help her and the Moroi kingdom—since Lisa might then be eligible to become queen. And let’s face it, with the increasing danger from Strigoi, the kingdom could use a gentle-hearted and courageous queen like Lisa—but I digress. Rose, worried more about empowering Lisa than her own possible death by execution, displays her typical bravery, and readers will love her for it. A new/previously introduced character has a bigger role in this novel, Sydney Sage, who introduces Rose to the Keepers, a group of “backwoods” Moroi, Dhampir and humans who live together in peace while keeping the old ways of the ancient Moroi. I’d like to see more of this group, frankly, because I found them primitive, yet insightful. The mystery of the queen’s killer takes precedence in the novel, and while I sort of suspected who the killer might be early on, I still enjoyed the character development and the kick-butt battles along the way. Hats off to Richelle Mead for another VA hit!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review of The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Greenwillow Books
The Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Rae Carson
5 Stars

Lady Elisa is special. She is the bearer of the Godstone, a stone placed in her navel by God which marks her as someone who will perform an important act of service during her lifetime. Elisa loves God and studies constantly to know God’s will for her life. But she has been sheltered, and there are things she doesn’t know about the Godstone. There are enemies that would happily kill her to harness its power, and Lady Elisa is in danger. Now, married to the handsome King Alejandro of Joya d’Arena as the seal to a bargain that will provide troops against the enemies of both countries, Elisa wonders, when will her act of service occur, and will she, like most Godstone bearers, die young?

Before I go on and on about how pleased I am to find a tough, independent, resilient, and overweight protagonist who is also a princess, let me first give an enthusiastic shout out to the author of this phenomenal novel; hello and thank you, Rae Carson (OH-IO)! I feel certain that Ms. Carson is going to be one of those YA novelists from the great state of Ohio who stands arm and arm with other gifted YA writers from this state—Cinda Williams Chima, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Sharon Creech, Angela Johnson, Sharon Draper to name a few—all of whom make me proud to be a Buckeye.

First, let me say that while the synopsis of this book (above) makes it sound like a religious book, I would argue that the religious overtones do not at all come off as overly didactic. In fact, when religion is referenced at all, it comes off as highly generic in nature; faith becomes the greater theme that Lady Elisa deals with. Lady Elisa’s character seems naturally concerned with faith, it suits her—especially at the start of the story when she is married off to a handsome stranger who doesn’t really desire her at all, and she is taken to a strange country. Faith is all she has. Will King Alejandro ever desire her? After all she is very, very fat. Like many of us, when Elisa becomes stressed out, concerned, or simply bored, she eats—and because of this, she is a fat bride. Thus, her self-confidence suffers, at least at first, but her faith and intelligence trump her insecurities and help to make her a formidable future queen against her enemy—the neighboring country Invierne. The dynamic changes Elisa goes through during the action in this novel (and the action and conflict between Joya d’Arena & Invierne is the primary focus of the work) make her perhaps my most favorite female protagonist ever!

The secondary characters in the novel are equally interesting. It’s not hard to see early on that the handsome King Alejandro, who Elisa worries over in the start of the novel is a flake. He is spineless and cannot take a stand, even when it comes to acknowledging his own marriage. Indecisive, adulterous, cowardly, and inexperienced, Alejandro cannot hold a candle to Elisa.  Equally as interesting, but not nearly as spineless, are Elisa’s devoted nurse, Ximena, who clearly has a secret past, and the spiteful Cosmé, the handmaiden to her husband’s mistress who seems hell-bent on Elisa’s destruction. But perhaps the most endearing character is Humberto—a humble desert boy who treats Elisa with love and honor, whether she is obese or thin. Who doesn’t love a guy like that?

The writing in the novel is incredibly strong. Unlike many other YA novels that include such disturbing plot twists as arranged marriage, espionage, and war, as this novel does, sensitive situations are dealt with tactfully, and there are absolutely no sexually explicit scenes.  The author uses Spanish (or perhaps Italian?) words to add an exotic feel to the narrative, and this, coupled with the fantastic descriptions of deserts and sandstorms made this Ohio native feel like I’ve traveled to lands far away. Each chapter was short and punctuated with enough action and intrigue to keep me on the edge of my seat.  

Happily and in her own words, “God is not done with [Elisa] yet”—book two, Crown of Embers is already on the shelves, and I’ve just ordered my copy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review of Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Little Brown Books for
Young Readers
Beautiful Chaos
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
4 Stars

Some powerful, otherworldly force is out to destroy Gatlin and the residents who live there. Lena’s Claiming has disturbed the natural order of things, and Gatlin is experiencing apocalyptic events that have the whole town terrified. Under the devastation of locusts, raging storms and stifling heat, the landscape is changing. Worse, Ethan doesn’t feel quite right, and he suspects the town is not the only thing changing.  How can Ethan, Lena and their friends stop the coming end? Will they discover the correct offering in time to save the town and their loved ones, and more importantly, who will have to pay the ultimate price in exchange for the town’s salvation?

This is one of those series that has made me an avowed fan of the authors. The third book in the Beautiful Creatures series is, I am happy to proclaim, just as satisfying as the first two. All the creeptastic characters from earlier books make an appearance, the spooky town is rendered somewhat spookier given the paranormal attacks that are taking place, and a new, more powerful force from beyond the tunnels rears its head. What’s really satisfying is the fact that the authors recognize the need to lose important characters in a series from time to time, and they seem to be willing to do this in this installment (l’m not telling who!) which ups the ante for book four. And unlike in former books where some characters were resurrected after their deaths, I’m pretty sure these characters aren’t coming back. Ethan and Lena still take center stage—their chemistry as hot as ever—Link is still pining for Ridley, which makes for some interesting, charged scenes, and a surprising new couple emerges. The cliffhanger ending is a bit frustrating, but guarantees a repeat customer (not that I wouldn’t have finished this incredible series anyway).  So for those on the fence about whether or not this series will continue to go strong, pick it up! At least then, you’ll be prepared for the movie franchise which will be releasedFebruary 2013.
This reader predicts that this movie franchise, given its Southern flavor and spooky charm, will outsell Twilight. Why? There’s something for the male element in this series—after all—the main character is a guy!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review of Speechless by Hannah Harrington

Harlequin Teen
by Hannah Harrington
5 Stars

Chelsea loves secrets, precisely because she never keeps them. In fact, sharing the secrets of other people has put her at the top of the social food chain. Chelsea is one of the most popular girls at school after all—everyone wants to bask in the spotlight with her and Kristen, Chelsea’s best friend—so, she’s not planning to clam up any time soon. But one night at a party Chelsea has too much to drink, and before she knows it she shares a secret that threatens the life of a student at her school, and threatens to make her a social outcast in the process.

The perspective in this edgy novel is what makes it so very powerful. At first, the story seems to be told from a villain’s point of view; let’s face it, Chelsea comes off as a heartless human being. Yet, it doesn’t take long before the reader starts to sympathize with her—to imagine what she must be going through. This story could take place in any high school, and we all know high school is a warzone. Like most people, Chelsea would rather feed on the misery of others than be a nobody, or worse, a meal for the social elite. And let’s face it, Chelsea loves that she matters and that people are jealous of her. Who doesn’t want to matter? So when Chelsea finally chooses to speak out for the right reasons and is (ironically) punished for it, it’s hard not to jump in her corner.  

The secondary characters, Asha, Sam, Andy, and even Noah are equally interesting; they all work at a local diner and have a tight bond. When Chelsea meets Asha in detention and starts hanging out at the diner with her, each of these characters begins to guide Chelsea without even realizing it, towards much-needed healing. Through each meal served and dish washed, Chelsea learns that forgiveness is a gift, “hate is easy,” and love “takes courage” especially love for self. Perhaps most amazing of all is that Chelsea remains quiet (or “speechless”) through the majority of the novel, and in her silence the author allows the reader to become her voice, to speak, and feel, for her as if by magic; it’s hard not to walk in Chelsea’s shoes and want to be her advocate—to fight for her. This is the brilliantly crafted story of a girl who learns from her mistakes and changes, really changes, by standing up for what is right.  And while the message is important, this is not simply a morality tale. Harrington takes the reader on an entertaining journey with truly interesting and relatable characters, funny dialogue and a little romance for seasoning –the message is just gravy.
Applause to Harlequin Teen for picking another winner!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

Little Brown Books for
Young Readers
Why We Broke Up
by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman
5 Stars

Walk into any high school in America and you can find a couple who really don’t seem to “fit” with one another. Min and Ed Slaterton are like this; Min is an artistic film fanatic, and Ed a handsome and athletic football God.  Everyone is shocked when these two hook up. But when the two start dating they fall hard for one another, and despite their differences it works. It really seems like Ed and Min will make it. That is, until they break up. Now Min is ready to return the box of mementos she’s kept during her relationship with Ed, and with that box, she’s writing him a letter. Once he reads it he won’t have any questions about just exactly why they broke up.

In the past I’ve had reservations about reading a book by two authors. Lately, books like this one have completely changed my mind. Min’s character is so relatable and loveable. She’s your sister, your cousin, your best friend; and, while you can see that perhaps she might be wading into treacherous waters with Ed, you want her to be happy and so you cheer her on, hoping against hope that the splashing motions she’s making after diving in the water aren’t the signs of her drowning. And although I have to say that Min’s constant allusions to vintage films are a bit annoying at times, I completely get Min’s personality and I love her for her quirkiness. Perhaps that’s what Ed feels about Min too—all the way to the bitter, bitter end. This is a realistic story about a girl, who like so many of us girls, sees the best in everyone, or perhaps wants to see the best in everyone, or maybe just wants to see an inner character that matches outer beauty. This is a cautionary tale about sexuality, about passion, about emotion, and about sex. Every girl who has even considered giving her virginity to a boy should read this book. This is a happy tale about friendship, kindness, and about what a boy who loves you is really supposed to be. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a story about what true friends do when they see you drowning—they might go down with you—but they still jump in to save you.  This is perhaps the finest novel about teenaged relationships I’ve read this decade. Read it—and maybe you won’t get caught flailing alone in the deep end.

To share your break up story, check out Why We Broke Up Project here:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review of A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master

Albert Whitman Teen
A Beautiful Lie
by Irfan Master
3 Scribbles

Is it ever acceptable to tell a lie?

Ask that question in a crowded room and you’d fracture the crowd into multiple camps of opinion, but ask that same question of Bilal’s best friends, and they would all agree—sometimes a lie is the right thing to protect the one you love. Thirteen-year-old Bilal isn’t so sure, but he’s sworn to control his own destiny. His father is dying of cancer, and it’s 1947. The India they have always known is about to split down the middle along religious and political lines. Hundreds and thousands will likely die, and the proof is in the streets—long time friends are fighting and minor skirmishes abound—India is a literal powder keg of tension. To protect his father from the knowledge that the country they love might also suffer a sort of death, Bilal, with the help of his band of friends, denies his father any visitors who may inform him of the upcoming Partition.  Is this lie of omission the right thing to do?

While this novel is translated into English, there are many universal elements to the narrative. For instance, Bilal’s’ relationship with his friends is one that guys will certainly appreciate. And while the environment might make the day-to-day activities and hangouts of the boys a bit strange to teens in the U.S. of 2012, the banter and harassment between Manjeet, Vickesh, Jaghtar, Saleem, Chota and Bilal, as well as their fierce loyalty is a “guy trait” that boys can recognize and respect despite the distance in time or language.  Secondary characters, like the Doctorji, and Mr. Mukherjee, are also important and well-developed, illustrating India’s heart, and the feelings of those who prefer peace over Partition. The author admirably uses irony, symbolism and humor, especially when Bilal, wise beyond his years, “calls out” the three holy men of the town who seek to scold him for his secrets.  Mature readers will get a laugh out of this scene and at the same time appreciate Bilal’s humility, even though the holy men are clearly deserving of the criticism.  From the first signs of division at the vendor’s stalls to the violent cock fight in the cemetery, readers will be on edge wondering about Bilal’s fate, and the fate of his father and friends. This novel will take readers on a journey to an India they might never experience. Those who are curious about world culture and history, or those who just want a great story about the bonds between boys who live like brothers should definitely add this book to their reading list.

Review of Forge (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson

Antheneum Books for
Young Readers
Forge (Seeds of America)
by Laurie Halse Anderson
4 Stars

A soldier’s life is grim, and it was even more so during the Revolutionary War. Often supplies were scarce, conditions were harsh, and death and disease were no strangers. Those who volunteered for this life at least had the pride in knowing that they were among the few and brave who stepped up to fight for their right to exist as a free country.  But what if their service was not by choice? How much worse might the suffering be?

Curzon is one such soldier—originally pressed into service by his owner in exchange for freedom—who now faces a second enlistment through no fault of his own. Those who have read the first book in the Seeds of America series, Chains, may remember the Patriot slave-boy Curzon, friend of the main character, Isabel. This installment is told in Curzon’s point of view, and brings new insights into this historical period and into Curzon’s strong character. And where has Isabel gone? Will Curzon ever see her again?

The setting of Valley Forge plays a huge part in this story. Through Curzon’s resilient eyes, the reader sees the brutal, freezing conditions that soldiers lived in during the course of one winter. Deprived of clothing, food, and even shelter, many soldiers died of the cold, starvation or disease, while officers lived in nearby housing with warm clothing and plenty of food.  It’s amazing the soldiers had enough discipline and respect not to mutiny! And yet, through Curzon, the reader begins to wonder which is worse, to live every day with starvation and pain yet live free, or to have plenty of food, warm clothing and safe conditions in exchange for being treated as a possession?  The irony of enslaved soldiers fighting for freedom is dumbfounding. The first portion of the novel does not have a great deal of action, yet reading about the lives of the individual soldiers, learning about their personalities, and seeing how they change is very satisfying and entertaining. Additionally, the historical documents and letters peppered throughout the story add depth and relevance to each character’s tale.  The second half of the novel is also quite satisfying as Curzon schemes against his former master and seeks a means of escape. Most fulfilling is the ironic ending that will make readers either applaud or chuckle—either way, its’ an ending that will satisfy and entertain. This story is so good, readers reluctant to read historical fiction won’t flinch they’ll be so sucked into the narrative. I’m excited to read book three in the series, which is rumored to be entitled Ashes, and which is scheduled come out in Februray of 2013.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review of Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

Antheneum Books for
Young Readers
Copper Sun
By Sharon Draper
5 Stars

Imagine your whole world and everyone you love disappearing in an instant. You are beaten and dragged away in chains. How would you feel? What would you do? This is Amari’s fate when her village in Africa is visited by strange-looking men the color of “goat’s milk.” At first, the villagers are excited to host a welcome celebration. But their joy is cut short when the celebration turns into a savage and deadly attack. Amari suddenly finds herself shackled and driven on a march to the sea where she is branded and taken aboard a ship, never to see her homeland again. She is now a slave, and her future holds nothing but misery, anguish and grief, unless she can escape.

Perhaps too many Americans think of slavery as a thing of the past, and not the Holocaust that it was—the genocide and enslavement of a people. But through Amari, a character who is far from flat or cliché, the reader can relate to the suffering and loss of the slaves who built America with their blood and tears. Amari is so real, so gentle, and so innocent, that it is hard not to instantly become invested in her fate.  But it isn’t just Amari who makes the story interesting. Each character in the story contributes a perspective to this woeful tale that is different but historically significant. For instance, white characters are not a stereotype. They each represent the perspective of a community that made slavery happen. Even the “kind” whites like Sailor Ben, who occasionally takes mercy on Amari, or indentured servant Polly, who could care less for negroes but comes to sympathize with Amari, or Doctor Hoskins, who like so many whites opposes slavery but remains a bystander and does nothing to prevent the abuse, all share guilt for the deaths of many thousands of slaves. Villians like slave-owners Percival and Clay Derby who are on the front lines of purchasing slaves bring the cruelty of the institution to life even when they aren’t being directly cruel.  Each of these characters, and their historical counterparts, allowed their prejudice and self-preservation to stand in the way of humanity. Even African characters, like the Ashanti who betray Amari’s village, bear guilt for slavery—no angle is left unexamined. Draper truly reveals the complicated social ramifications of the slave trade in a way that other novels do not.

The novel is very well researched. Readers will be shocked to know that slaves in the field rarely lasted more than five years before they died and were replaced, or that the knowledge of slaves often far exceeded the expertise of the master. Perhaps most disturbing is the number of slave women who were raped by masters and other whites with power over them. Yet, despite its gritty detail and shocking truths, the story is as easy to understand, exceedingly interesting, and accessible for readers who struggle.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review of Legend by Marie Lu

Putnam Juvenile
by Marie Lu
4 Stars

June’s Republican roots go deep, before their deaths, June’s parents were scientists for the Republic of America, and she and her older brother Metias are soldiers proud to serve against the Republic’s main enemy, The Colonies. But when tragedy strikes, June swears revenge, and Day, a gifted street-kid turned most-wanted criminal is at the top of her list—bad news for Day, since June is a prodigy, having earned a perfect score on the Republic’s Trials, and June intends to use every last one of her superior skills to find Day and get some payback. Yet June doesn’t realize that Day didn’t earn his notoriety for being stupid, and she certainly doesn’t figure catching him might be the hardest thing she has ever tried to accomplish.

Probably the most refreshing and perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this novel is June’s character. June is a perfect example of what propaganda and privilege can accomplish when used as a weapon. June feels a sense of entitlement and possesses a hardened nature at the start of the novel which is disturbing and unusual in a protagonist. She turns a blind eye to prisoners of war as they are brutally tortured in front of her and by her brother’s best friend. She clearly believes there has never been a United States, and while half of her country suffers in poverty and with a constant fear of the deadly plague, she shrugs it off, figuring this is of no concern to her since she’s been vaccinated. In fact, a more ruthless and despicable protagonist is hard to imagine. Yet her character changes, and not because she spends time on the streets sympathizing with the commoners; June only begins to change when she discovers evidence that her beloved Republic has been keeping secrets. Less impressive is Day’s character; he is far too forgiving and kind in my opinion, given his circumstances. And while the post-natural-disaster-science-fiction premise is lurking around every corner nowadays, Lu’s work has solid plotting, teeth-grinding action and plenty of intrigue to keep this novel plowing all the way to its fiery conclusion. This action, coupled with unique characters, will have readers excited to read Prodigy, book two in the Legend trilogy, out January 29 of 2013.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review of Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Antheneum Books for
Young Readers
Where Things Come Back
By John Corey Whaley
2 Scribbles

Since this novel has received so many awards, and since it is narrated in the voice of a teenager stuck in a small town, I was excited to read it. I grew up in a small town and couldn’t wait to escape it! And while I will say that Whaley does capture the feeling of cynicism felt by many teenagers stuck in small towns who have little vision of the future, that feeling of cynicism is pretty much the only thing I could identify with in the novel.

The story is told mainly through the eyes of Cullen, a bored teenager who works at a local convenience store and hangs out with his friends. Cullen and his crew are amused by the current excitement in their hometown, Lily, over the possible reappearance of a long-extinct species of bird named the Lazarus Woodpecker. Alternating chapters are told in third person and describe the lives of Benton, raised to be a missionary by his dictatorial and overly-zealous father and Cabot, college-boy player extraordinaire turned nutcase. Eventually, the bizarre connection between the three narratives becomes clear.

Although the author skillfully weaves truisms into the dialogue that I appreciate as insightful, usually through the words of Cullen or Gabriel, I still have difficulty identifying with characters in the novel. Gabriel’s character is too briefly seen, Lucas and his girlfriend are ever-present, but have little to say, and reading about Cullen is, in the words of his own mother, “like watching someone with multiple personalities.” Even Ada and Alma, Cullen’s female companions for lack of a better description, are barely distinctive—not only do their names have similar meaning—but they both take advantage of Cullen and have little interest in him as a person. In short, the characters are very flat, and none of them (with the exception of perhaps Cabot) are particularly dynamic. Perhaps Whaley is attempting to write a modern Holden Caulfield, and indeed the text does have a literary edge to it, but Cullen is no Holden. The symbol of the Lazarus Woodpecker is a bit over-the-top, and frankly the symbolism of many of the names, for instance Gabriel, while perhaps necessary to incorporate the religious zeal, are overstated. Let’s face it, most teens just want a great story, one they can connect with, one they feel accurately reflects issues and concerns in their own lives, and one that moves. Perhaps teens may connect with Cullen’s feelings of negativity and isolation, but only if they can continue past the first few chapters. Couple the dragging plot with the dull cover, and without those award winning stickers, I doubt teens would pick up this novel, let alone finish or applaud it. Perhaps Whaley’s work would be more appropriate for older readers with more patience to trudge through the heavy handed symbolism and bizarre circumstances that bring this work to its completion.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

Review of Jepp Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh

Jepp Who Defied the Stars
by Katherine Marsh
5 Scribbles
Released October 9, 2012
The lives of dwarves brought to royal courts during the Renaissance were challenging, often filled with humiliation and hardship at the hands of nobles, especially when they were made court jesters. Such is the case for the tender-hearted young dwarf, Jepp, who begins his journey as a boy leaving his beloved mother. Jepp is promised knowledge, status and grand experiences to entice him to leave Astraveld, all things he’s dreamed of, but none of them related to his true desire—to know who his father is—and in this way to know who he truly is and where his destiny lies.

This well-researched and sophisticated story told through the eyes of the protagonist, Jepp, is a welcome offering for strong young adult and adult readers with a solid interest in historical fiction—especially historical fiction with such rich description and such strong period language. Marsh weaves fiction with real historical events and persons to breathe life into the era with much success. Jepp is an old soul, intent on finding his destiny through his lineage, curious and intelligent well beyond most boys his age. Through his myopic vision early on in the novel, his mother is faultless, loving and warm, anemic, romanticized characters like Lia become great lovers, and giants like Robert robust heroes. The actions of the villains, Don Diego, Pim, and even Tycho, reflect the value of court dwarves of the time; clearly they were little more than slaves to the royals and novelties to entertain. And yet through the seasoning of Jepp’s heart and his fortuitous education, the novel becomes more than just a story of the oppressed, instead it becomes a living experiment, an examination of the idea that one can long for something he has never had. Perhaps more importantly, Jepp’s life becomes a challenge to the idea that our fates or our birthright “constrain[s] us,” and a proclamation that one can “through our will and intellect—and most of all our heart” defy our stars and make our future what we like—a message that, despite the ages, still holds true today.

Review of Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

Grand Central Publishing
Unholy Night
by Seth Grahame-Smith
5 Stars

Ever wonder what really happened on the night Jesus was born? Of course, you can look to The Holy Bible for details, but the text of The Bible is so old-fashioned and hard to understand. Combine this little hiccup with the fact that not a lot of information is provided outside of the star, three wise men and stable thing, and The Bible version comes out as more of a sketch of what happened the night Jesus was born than the entire story. This is why Grahame-Smith’s version of that night is so enjoyable.

For those devout Christians out there, I’ll admit the tale takes a few liberties with the original story, and may be a bit unorthodox in places, plus it’s a bit edgy what with all the bloody skirmishes and the psychopathic King Herod and his harem and all, so thin-skinned readers may want to pass. But without sounding too blasphemous, I find Grahame-Smith’s version much more entertaining since every moment of the event is meticulously described in living color. The story is told through the eyes of Balthazar, one of the three “wise men,” who is actually an incredibly skilled thief known as The Antioch Ghost. Balthazar is on the lam (no pun intended) from Herod’s soldiers when, through a series of serendipitous occurrences peppered with heavy-handed irony, Balthazar ends up in the stable just after Jesus’s birth. The miraculous birth is so much more entertaining through the eyes of The Antioch Ghost and his companions! For one thing, characters become more rounded and just the tiniest bit cynical. For example, Mary is a real pain in the tuchus, which is to be expected since she recently gave birth on a heap of animal manure (in my humble opinion), and Joseph comes off as sort of naïve and wimpy (Balthazar gets a good laugh when Joseph declares his wife a virgin). Herod, well, they just don’t make villains as vile and disgusting as Herod is in this story, and there’s more to Pilot than what we see at Jesus’s crucifixion. But the best part of the story is not the constant action and superior narrative, but the coincidences that work together to create a rock-solid foundation for the birth, not only of Jesus, but of the Christian religion. For older teens, for the faithful with a great sense of humor, or for those looking for a funny work of historical fiction—this one’s for you.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review of Dark Star by Bethany Frenette

Dark Star
by Bethany Frenette
3 Stars

To be released, October 23, 2012
Audrey comes from a family of very powerful and unusual women. Her mother is is a superhero, the “Morning Star,” a woman who spends her nights in The Twin Cities preventing crime, her grandmother is a"Seer," and Audrey herself has powerful psychic abilities. So when girls from Audrey's high school turn up murdered, Audrey's figures her mom will stop the killer. But when Audrey's BFF, Tink, is attacked, Audrey uncovers evidence that her mother may be the killer's next victim. Now, Audrey must use her psychic gifts to save the only parent she has left, and in so doing she discovers secrets about who she really is.
In an unusual blend of superhero crime fighting and the paranormal, bored sci-fi readers may find a welcome change. Manga, mystery and graphic novel readers will be attracted to the concept, and if they can stick with the first 70 or so pages of backstory, they will be rewarded. In spite of the slow start, the fight scenes eventually become plentiful, the setting suitably creepy, and fans of Daren Shan will appreciate the gruesome descriptions of the "Harrowers" when they first appear on the scene. Audrey's family dynamic will attract female readers, although the love connection at the end is unneeded and predictable. This will likely be a first in a new series by debut author Bethany Frenette, and readers who want to know more about Audrey's mysterious past will certainly be unable to resist reading a second installment.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review of Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Across the Universe
by Beth Revis
5 Scribbles

Despite following every series in the Star Trek franchise, I have always been reluctant to read science fiction set in space.  I suppose I feel that odd-looking aliens and artificial gravity translate better to the big screen than to paper. Thus, I was a bit reluctant to embark on the inter-galactic journey depicted in this novel. But, oh, am I glad I did!

The first page immediately sucks the reader in as Amy watches her parents be cryogenically frozen in preparation for a journey through space that will last 300 years. 300 years!  No one really knows what being frozen is like. Does one sleep? Does one dream? Amy’s dad leaves her with a choice shortly before he is frozen, Amy can stay with her friends and her beloved aunt and uncle or be frozen with her parents and wake up in a new world on a new planet after 300 years have passed and everyone on Earth has long since died. The choice seems like a simple one, but it is really? What would you choose if you were in Amy’s shoes?

Fast forward 250 years and the reader meets the second main character, Elder, who was born on the ship that houses the “Frozens” and will one day be its leader. It’s amazing how the culture on the ship has developed since Amy’s freezing, how the residents have become mono-ethnic, non-religious, and uneducated about their planet of origin—Earth.  What’s really amazing is that despite thousands of residents, everyone obeys Eldest, the leader, without question, there are no police or prisons, and peace reigns.Residents don't even mate unless a particular "season" is declared so that incest doesn't become an issue. How has Elder’s teacher, Eldest, made this happen? The descriptions of the ship, its life-sustaining biosphere, and its people are meticulously drawn in an artist’s detail on the page. While reading I imagined myself walking in the small green fields amongst genetically modified plants and animals, imagined myself visiting the colorful gardens and the pristine learning center, and imagined what the 250-year-old recycled air must taste like. The ship runs beautifully, or does it? It doesn’t take long for secrets to start being exposed, for murders to happen, and for Elder to discover that life aboard this ship is not the utopia he thought it was. What’s really pleasing about the novel is that no one is exactly who or what they appear to be—twists and treachery reside on every corner—and that adds mystery and suspense to the story.  The first murder Elder discovers isn’t the only murder that’s taken place on this ship—but how can this be? And when the final secret is revealed the reader will shiver with delight.  

Lastly, good news! You don’t have to wait for the next installment. A Million Suns, book two in the trilogy is already at your local library!

Review of Hero by Mike Lupica

by Mike Lupica
2 Scribbles

Let’s face it, the closest thing to a sport I will ever take part in is a race to the bestseller shelf at Barnes. Yet, I love how Mike Lupica can take a subject that would typically put me to sleep, like baseball and football, weave it into a cast of awesome characters, and keep me riveted to the action. The novels, Heat and Million Dollar Throw captured me for that reason, and it is because of those novels that I chose to read Hero. Sadly, however, Hero didn’t keep me nearly as glued as the others.

Zach’s dad is something of a hero, he’s the president’s right-hand man, scares the bejesus out of “The Bads” (or bad guys) and has the love of everyone around him—especially Zach—who doesn’t get to see his dad nearly as much as he’d like.  When Zach’s dad dies in a plane accident, Zach and his family are stunned, but Zach is more stunned when he discovers that his father had a secret, and now it’s up to Zach to discover what that secret was and what it has to do with Zach. Chapter one begins with butt-kicking action, but then the action slows instantly.  Zach and his friend Kate live in New York City, the city that never sleeps, and yet I was finding myself hard-pressed to stay awake while Zach explores first the plane crash site, and then the park in search of answers. Even when Zach encounters trouble and has to fight for his life, the action slows immediately after each conflict, making the story’s momentum stagger. Couple that with the fact that each conflict is followed by long, suggestive conversations between Zach’s “Uncle” John and the mysterious Mr. Herbert, and it can be easy for even the most motivated reader to stay invested in the outcome. Too little information is provided as the story moves on, and frankly, the identity of the villain and the good guy are a little too easy to figure out.  The best part of this story is Kate’s tough-as-nails attitude, and reading about what living in New York City is like for the well-to-do.  Overall, I prefer Lupica’s previous efforts.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Review of Pure by Julianna Baggott

Grand Central
by Julianna Baggot
4 Scribbles
Why would anyone want to leave a perfectly safe, protected environment like "The Dome" after a nuclear detonation, especially when those who survived outside The Dome are dangerous, hungry mutants? Partridge wants to leave, but only because he believes his mother may be alive and living somewhere amongst the "Wretches" outside, and he knows he has to find her. After his escape, he meets Pressia, running for her life from the deadly OSR, a militant organization that rules the new world. Unexpectedly, the two join forces, but neither can anticipate the truths nor the treachery their partnership will uncover.

What makes this novel unique might also be its only real weakness. The Wretches who live outside the dome all have experienced scars, deformities, mutations or fusions as a result of the nuclear detonation. This is science fiction and some stretching is required, but it’s hard to imagine people with birds, dogs, rocks, and even other people fused to their bodies; it’s even harder to imagine both humans and creatures still living after such a fusion. And yet, it is that very quirky detail that adds flavor to the work and sets this novel apart from a sea of post-apocalyptic works. The author makes the reader see these creatures and this scorched earth through incredibly descriptive language. Pressia survives with a doll head fused to her hand, her grandfather has a fan fused in his throat, Pressia’s nemesis-turned-friend, Bradwell ,survives with birds "nesting" in his back, and El Capitan, the vicious and emotionally broken OSR captain, lives with his brother Helmud fused to his back. Perhaps these deformities, and the deformities of every character outside the Dome, every character who is not "Pure," add a fascinating, morbid level of interest to the novel. Told in the alternating voices of Pressia and Partridge, the story contains plenty of fighting and bloody battles along the way to satisfy even the most hard-core zombie fans, while at the same time keeping characters realistically drawn with very human weaknesses and emotions. But what really cements the story and makes it enjoyable are the clues that Pressia and Partridge uncover on their journey, unexpected clues that reveal secrets about the past neither could have ever imagined—secrets and new evidence that those who think they are safe in the Dome may be even more at risk than the Wretches outside.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review of The Raft by S.A. Bodeen

Feiwel & Friends
The Raft
by S.A. Bodeen
2 Scribbles
After reading The Compound, I dedicated myself to reading everything written by S.A. Bodeen in the hopes of finding that all of her works would cause me to flip the pages in earnest while gnawing on my nails and leaning forward in my seat like The Compound did.  So, after minor disappointment with her second work, The Gardener, I was excited to see The Raft hitting the shelves—so much so that I pre-ordered my copy—something I seldom do. 

First let me say that the cover of this novel is rockin’! It promises a riveting and adventure-soaked ride. Alas, that’s where the excitement ends. Robie is a teenager who lives on a remote island near Hawaii where a great deal of research takes place. Because of this, sometimes Robie stays on the mainland with her aunt. During one of these visits, circumstances force Robie’s aunt to leave, and when Robie tries to make the flight home, she finds herself in a plane crash.  Miraculously, she survives, but in the process becomes a hostage of the sea.  Perhaps part of the problem with this novel is that stories like these have appeared so many times in the past before in film and have been done so well (Castaway anyone)  although perhaps not with teenaged characters.  It seems like being in a raft at sea would pose far more risks than Robie faces, and the risks that are mentioned, hunger, dehydration, torn raft, sunburn, sharks, are too far understated. The biggest risk in Robie’s ride seems to be boredom—and perhaps that’s the problem. Being in a raft floating at sea would be boring, and the author hits too close to home. And while there are a few minor twists to the story, and Robie’s knowledge of nature and geography is impressive, there isn’t enough tension to drive the story forward. Robie’s character is sort of ho-hum and she’s very hard to identify with. She has no real friends because she lives on a remote island most of the time anyway, and other than her newly-pierced nose and henna tattoo, she seems to have little depth. It’s hard to say who or what she lives for—other than her parents—and that just seems odd. The reader really has to be committed to this journey in order to finish the novel.  Very short chapters help that problem, but the mysterious finding at the end borders on hokey. Overall, this work just doesn’t meet the expectations set by the cover. Perhaps Bodeen’s next novel, The Fallout, which is the sequel to The Compound, out next year, will be her next masterpiece, but unless you’re a hardcore Bodeen fan, I’d float right past this one.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review of Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

Simon & Schuster BFYR
Unwhollyby Neal Shusterman
5 Scribbles

Everyone thought that “unwinding,” the practice of using every body part from a living teen for transplant, was a humane way to solve two problems at once. After all, The Unwind Accord ended The Heartland Wars that began years ago between the pro-life and pro-choice factions, thus saving thousands of lives and resolving the abortion conflict once and for all in the United States. At the same time, unwinding gave frustrated parents a way to deal with their troubled teens. However, the solution of unwinding isn’t nearly that simple. Now, rogue crooks capture teens (whether Unwinds or not) and sell them for parts on the black market, religious extremists tithe their children to the Harvest Camps, and thousands of AWOL Unwinds are hiding in the desert—but that’s not all. A top-secret, underground group has an even bigger plan now that unwinding is legal, and readers will be shocked when they find out just what that plan entails.

Following the action-packed, tension-filled style of book one in the trilogy, Shusterman hooks the reader and doesn’t let go until the last page. Key characters return in book two, although they are much changed. Connor has become a burdened, brooding young man with more responsibility than he ever wanted—and yet he is in a unique position to understand and guide the AWOL Unwinds under his guardianship. Lev too has grown, although he has begun to struggle spiritually, not fully understanding what his purpose in life might be.  Risa, now confined to a wheelchair, becomes more of an observer, slowly watching her relationship with Connor crumble under the weight of his leadership responsibilities. Despite the heavy character development, however, the introduction of new conflicts and players creates grand culture clashes and skirmishes the reader will scramble to keep up with.  Clever and ironic Public Service Announcements riddle the story, encouraging teens to accept and embrace the special, “divided state” and advertise that unwinding is “an adventure.” Other PSAs encourage adult unwinding, voluntary unwinding, and repealing the 17-year age restriction for Unwinds. All PSAs conclude that citizens should see “Unwinding. [As] not just good medicine, it’s the right idea.” Yet, even more disturbing than the repeated propaganda is the appearance of a new, brainwashed character, Miracolina, who wants more than anything to be unwound for God.  And finally, but perhaps most importantly, is the introduction of a new character so disturbing and chilling that Mary Shelley would be proud to claim him, a character named Camus, who wonders, —“If a human being has a soul, then where is his?”

This timely trilogy speaks to the ethical dilemmas of our generation and promises to become a staple in YA literature. Applause to the next installment in Shusterman’s disturbing vision for the future of our country.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A response to Life Happens Next by Terry Trueman

Harper Teen
Life Happens Next
by Terry Trueman
5 Scribbles
When I read Stuck in Neutral, Trueman's first book, ten years ago, I remember being impressed by the story of Shawn, moved by Shawn’s character, his realistic and cynical voice and his internal struggles, and sympathetic to Shawn’s family. What must it be like to be trapped in a body which will not obey? I pondered this for a few weeks then went on with my life. I had no idea that, fast-forward ten years, I would be one of those family members caring for a severely disabled young man, and that Shawn’s story would at least in part, become my own.

Above right is a photograph of my stepson, Thomas. Thomas is 21 years old, weighs 64 pounds, is tube fed, nonverbal, wears diapers, has cerebral palsy, seizure disorder and other various developmental disabilities. Unlike Shawn though, Thomas does have some limited motor control. I married Tommy’s dad, Terry, several years ago, after thinking long and hard about whether I was ready to jump ship from my single, no-responsibilities life into a family situation. I knew that Thomas was in his father’s sole custody, and was to be our full-time responsibility. Top that off with the fact that Thomas’s dad travels for sometimes days at a time and at a moment’s notice, and you can see how my lifestyle might change. And oh, has it changed! Over these past three years I have cared for Thomas: fed him, changed his diapers at three A.M., bathed him, washed his bedding, cleaned up his accidents, wiped his nose and mopped up pools of drool, lifted him in and out of wheelchairs, cars, his bed…you get the picture. I have become his advocate, learning how to prepare for doctor’s appointments to make them rapid and efficient, how to file an appeal to a health insurance denial, what types of paperwork needs to be done in Thomas’s support on a yearly basis, what a “Trust” is, how to hold Thomas’s wondering hands and write a check at the same time at the grocery store, how to manage my time better so that I can work full time and still be there to get Thomas ready for school, what “Home Health Care” means and how to keep my tears under wraps when Tommy’s nutritional formula is delivered late. It’s been challenging, but I’ve learned much about myself and others in the process.

What I love about this sequel is what the reader learns about humanity through Shawn’s jaded thoughts and Debi’s tender, humorous voice. I have never heard my dear Thomas speak, but in these pages Trueman has gifted Thomas with a voice, and it shouts from every page. Thomas is very smart—I see it in the way he looks at me, in the way he laughs when his father and I kiss, in the way he reaches for me when I am sad, in the way he flirts with his sister’s friends, and in the way he becomes fixed on television shows and music. Thomas is magnetic—people recognize him everywhere, and he has a hug and a smile for everyone who gets near enough to touch him. So, in Shawn’s words, “what is God’s big plan” for Thomas? I have often wondered this myself as I bathe him or feed him. How will people grieve Thomas when he is gone? How will they remember him? What will he leave behind when he cannot work, get married, have kids, or even talk? In the words of Shawn’s mother from the novel, we live “in a society…that gives a material value to everything and everybody,” but that’s not really what it’s all about is it? We need to look past our bodies and see what Shawn calls the “souls and spirits” that live on forever. Unless we learn to “pay attention to [our] world” and to one another, we may never really know the wonderful people like Thomas and Shawn who have a little something to give—or people like Debi, who give us the gift of knowing ourselves.

Thank you once again, Terry Trueman, for giving kids like Shawn, Debi (and Thomas) a voice.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Guest blog by THE author Kelley York & Drawing

Today I am forunate to welcome author Kelley York to The Scribbler in the Rye! Kelley, author of Hushed, which was released in 2011 and the most recently released Hollowed (Half Light) both received rave reviews. Kelley is going to speak about traditional publishing versus self-publishing--a publishing trend that every writer is curious about. Since she has done both, and since I've very positively reviewed both of her works on this site...

I am excited to share the post below from Kelley! Look below this post for a drawing for a free book!

Self-pub versus Traditional Pub
Hi everyone! I know I've talked a bit about the self-publishing process versus the traditional process in other posts, but for this post, I thought I'd do a side-by-side comparison of some of the aspects of both routes.

Well, write a book. Whether you're going for an agent, a publisher, or self-publishing, the next step should be:

Traditional Publishing: You're assigned an editor. Maybe more than one. With Entangled, I went through a few edits with my main editor for content editing. We fixed any inconsistencies, plot holes, and issues with the actual storyline and flow. Only when that was done did another editor get hold of it. She checked for spelling and grammatical errors. The fine tuning, if you will.
Self-Publishing: This falls all on the author. Send it out to a bunch of betas, preferably ones with strengths opposite your own, so they catch things you don't. Let it sit for a few weeks or months. Then come back to it. You'll find a lot of things you missed. Pay attention to ARC reviews prior to release date because they're likely to pick up on even more things you missed.

Cover Design
Traditional Publishing: You don't have to worry much about this, do you? Your publisher will take care of it. Maybe you'll have some input, but maybe you won't.
Self-Publishing: You have ALL the say! However, keep in mind you have to either pay someone to design your cover, or do it yourself. Always ensure you have the license to an image to reproduce it for e-book and print. (Dreamstime has nice images and is cheaper than most other stock sites.) Also, not all fonts are free to use! I suggest Font Squirrel, which carries only royalty free fonts.

Traditional: Another thing your publisher should take care of. (Unless they're a publisher who doesn't send these out.)
Self-Publishing: I don't see many self-pubbers sending out ARCs. They're a pain. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for my reviewers, so I did a crap load of formatting to ensure I had epub, mobi, and PDF files that would read properly on all e-book readers. They came in handy and helped me catch typos I wouldn't have caught otherwise.

Traditional Publishing: Of course your publisher takes care of all this. They made sure all digital formats will display properly on Kindles, Nooks, iPads, in print copies, etc. Chances are, they'll even send you a copy and you get one last chance to "galley proof" and look for errors.
Self-Publishing: While I used programs like Calibre and Sigil for my ARC formatting, that didn't do me any good when it came to uploading to places like Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Smashwords has an e-book formatting guide that is for their site,'s incredibly useful for anyone. I followed every single step in the Smashwords guide, and had ZERO errors uploading. I was approved for the Smashwords premium catalog within a couple of days.

Distribution and Marketing
Traditional Publishing: If you're lucky, you'll have a publicist, someone assigned to marketing your book. They'll arrange blog tours, signings, help in the way of designing swag—and if they're a large publisher, they might even supply the swag. All you have to do is keep a good online presence so people don't forget about you.
Self-Publishing: I hope you don't have to do anything else with your day, or sleep or something. (I'm kidding.) Be prepared to organize your own tours. Chances are, you aren't going to find many book signing opportunities because you're self-pubbed, but it's worth a shot if you have print copies on hand. Your books also aren't likely to see the inside of a book store unless you have a local indie store that would be willing to stock them. All the swag (I used Overnight Prints) and promo is also up to you, so get ready for lots of computer time.

And there you have it! I hope some of these resources will be helpful to those of you planning a similar journey, or who just like to know the process.

Thanks, Erin, for having me!
And now...for the drawing to win Kelley's latest novel...
a Rafflecopter giveaway