Monday, April 29, 2013

Top Ten Topics That Instantly Make Me Pick Up A Book


Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Sometimes book descriptions possess the magic words guaranteeing my total undying interest.

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It's not hard to get me to show up places, either. Seriously, tell me there's dessert and I'll show up early with my spoon in hand.

The same principle applies to books.

One thing about me is that I love a lot of things beyond sanity. Like, not only do I have a lot of interests, but I am passionately obsessed with all of them. So if any books contain any of my geek-trigger topics, not only am I there, but I am there with jazz hands.

Without further a do, here are just sampling of the topics that instantly make me pick up a book:

1. Russia and France
I don't know why, but these are two of my country obsessions. Any historical fiction set in Russia (particularly revolutionary Russia, and extra mega awesome bonus points if it involves the Romanovs) automatically makes me salivate. I also would love to read contemporary YA set in Russia. And France? Well, that needs no explanation. Who doesn't want to travel to Paris, modern day or historical, or traipse through the breathtaking countryside? Or, hell, storm the beaches of Normandy? No, I wouldn't have liked being there, but I sure as heck love reading about it from the safety of my home.

2. Fairy tales
I find them utterly fascinating, simply as a part of our culture and as stories themselves. I love seeing people reinterpret the plots and themes we're so familiar with. I love to see authors give old stories new spins.

3. All things British
Be they boys, bands, bustling cities, ancient manors, sexy footballers, dashing and dead historical figures, or sleepy villages overflowing with seeeecrets-- I am there.

4. Baking and/or cakes
I like baking. I like cakes. I literally just start baking whenever I am the slightest bit bored, and it's kind of a problem, you know, health-wise. Combining cakes with books can only lead to happiness, I feel.

5. Bookstores and books
I love reading books about books. Whether they're magical or contemporary, set in bookstores or just told from the point of view of someone who reveres books, I'm always interested in these stories.

6. Spaceships
I love this new trend of YA sci-fitaking place on spaceships or involving space. Books like Scarlet and These Broken Stars and Across the Universe. Me likey.

7. Jane Austen and other classic literature inspirations
I'm not talking about the ones that read like fan fiction (admittedly very good fan fiction. At least some of them.) I'm more interested in the books that borrow from or are inspired by classic novels, such as For Darkness Shows the Stars, Epic Fail, The Madman's Daughter, and the like. Like with the fairy tales above, I like to see authors reinterpret and play with classic stories and characters by either changing them or placing them in a new setting.

8. Thieves/assassins/potioneers
I love a good anti-hero. I love a main character involved in nefarious and deadly deeds. I like to live vicariously through them and pretend I'm all twisted and bad ass while sitting on the couch in my polka-dot pajamas bottoms eating Thin Mints.

9. Royalty
I was a history nerd as a child. Okay, I still am, but I was obsessed with British royalty when I was a kid. Queen Elizabeth I was my homegirl, but I loved all the princesses I ever read about. British ones, French ones, Austrian ones, Spanish ones, Hawaiian ones, Indian ones. ALL THE ONES. So if I see the word princess, whether in a historical of fantasy or dystopian or whatever context, I am automatically interested.

10. Gothic anything
For obvious reasons, I am all other this Gothic trend. I like dark twisty secrets, haunted things, ghostly mansions, and psychological horror.

11. Travel
 I looooove traveling, both in real life and in stories. Throw in some international, jet-setting fun and I am all aboard. PUN INTENDED.

 Of course, my number one favorite thing to read about is magic, but that's kind of a vague category and I couldn't make myself narrow it down in any way.


Honorable mentions: The 1920's, the 1930's, Los Angeles, serial killers and murrrrrrder (yes. There is something wrong with me. I've been informed and made aware of this), Shakespeare, mythology, dreams or nightmares, unconventional romance, superheroes, small towns (this big city girl finds small town people FASCINATING), boarding school, boats, time travel, the beach, summer, prom, competitions, musicals, the Civil War, the Renaissance, and once again, scores more. I could go on for a very long time, so I'll just stop.

What about you? What topics or words automatically pique your interest? Leave me your links if you have them, please!

Review: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney


Review: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney
Goodreads
Rating: Sigh. I finished this book like twenty minutes ago and already I have forgotten this book. It wasn't bad, exactly--there are moments of good dialogue-- but it's bland, boring, and a carbon copy of every other paranormal YA out there.

The Iron Witch (The Iron Witch, #1)

Freak. That's what her classmates call seventeen-year-old Donna Underwood. When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna's own nearly fatal injuries from the assault were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Navin Sharma.

When the darkest outcasts of Faerie—the vicious wood elves—abduct Navin, Donna finally has to accept her role in the centuries old war between the humans and the fey. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous half-fey dropout with secrets of his own, Donna races to save her friend—even if it means betraying everything her parents and the alchemist community fought to the death to protect.

First and foremost, I must thank the lovely Lili for supplying me with this book, which I won from her, in addition to MANY others

The cover: "Did I forget to put on deodorant this morning!?" *sniffs* "Shit. I forgot to put deodorant on this morning."

The story: Here's a recipe for a run-of-the-mill YA paranormal story.

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--1 dull, self-loathing girl with a tragic backstory, feelings of ostracism, and an overwhelming need to be "normal"

--1/4 cup of moaning and secret pain

--1 dose Super Special Snowflake Powers

--1 hunky supernatural boy with a tortured past and distinctly colored eyes 

--A dash of love triangle undertones with a male best friend who clearly wants something more. This male best friend is also the only one in the entire book with a sense of humor, which means he is obviously going to be kidnapped

--5 tsps. Insta!love

--At least 7 SECRETS that remain SECRETS just because the plot demands SECRETS

--Extra tablespoon of pain. Extra brooding. A lot of talking about said pain and brooding.

--A heavy heaping of supernatural infodumps

--a pinch of a vague "mystery" of sorts the heroine is compelled to investigate due to tingling spidey senses

 --long stretches where nothing happens at all

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, then transfer to the prepared pan. Bake for 300 pages. Remove before fully baked. Let cool until every single page is tepid, then throw out or give to someone else with very different tastes.

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Am I being fair? No, not remotely. There is good YA paranormal out there. But to me, the good paranormal romances are the ones that diverge from the recipe. Or, if they follow it to a T, they manage to do something different or interesting with it. They have super stellar world-building or immensely likable, vivid characters. The Iron Witch, sadly, doesn't have either of those things.

And again. This book wasn't truly bad. It wasn't offensive, like so much of what I'm forced to read these days. Except for one tiny little thing about scars that I'll get to down below.

The basic gist of the story is this girl Donna, who is part of this secret world of alchemists, which is basically a secret society of iron wizard people who battle wood elves. That sounds cool, right? I mean, alchemy! Like Nicolas Flamel! The Philosopher's Stone and the elixir of life and... oh, we don't really get to learn about that? Oh, we have to have yet ANOTHER conversation with Xan about our scars and our pain and our pasts instead? Um. Okay.

I mean, it's not like Mahoney holds back on info. There's a loooong scene where Donna explains the entire setup of the world to her friend Navin, but it is exceptionally dull and we never really get to the interesting stuff, like how alchemy works. Also, they spend the whole book gasping in terror whenever someone mentioned a wood elf and eventually it just sounded rather silly. "No! Not a wood elf! Anything but a wood elf!"

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UTTERLY HORRIFYING.

Donna, of course, absolutely hates this secret and AWESOME world she lives in. She just wants to be normal and not special and not have crazy awesome superman powers because blahhh, that would be exciting. No. She's too tragic. Look, I didn't dislike Donna as a narrator. Sure, I found her boring and a little flat, but obviously she's had it rough. Her dad died in the fey attack that "scarred" her hands and gave her her powers, so every time she sees them they just remind her of what she's lost. I get that. But at the same time...This particular average girl, writing this review, would so trade in the banality of normal live to be part of a secret society of alchemists. I doubt Ron Weasley ever pitched a fit about being a wizard instead of a Muggle. Why would you want to be a Muggle when you can be a wizard? You wouldn't. It got tiring listening to Donna whinge.

At the ripe old age of seventeen, Donna had decided that "happily ever after" didn't exist for freaks like her.

She was so tired of thinking about it all; why couldn't she just have a normal life?

Why can't I have a heroine who enjoys at least one solitary aspect of her life beside the boys who happen to be in it?

This review is coming off a lot more negatively than I meant it to. There is some action, though I never got involved in it because I never got connected to the characters. The writing is decent, though I cringed each and every time Xan the sexy brooder's eyes were described as "veridian". Just say they're green, okay? Green is fine. (I blame Edward "onyx/liquid amber/ocher/topaz eyes" Cullen). But I sort of just skimmed along through the book, mildly bored, mildly interested, vaguely curious. Nothing really aggravated me (a first). I felt no desire to fling it across the room, or anything. I guess the only thing I really feel compelled to nitpick is the scars.

Donna hates her scars, thinking they brand her a freak. However, her scars are a result of some life-saving alchemic magic, meaning they are made of iron and silver, and they lattice across her hands and arms in an attractive, whorling pattern. Yeah. That's hardly the Mark of Cain you got, girl.

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Good God, it's hideous. Kill it with fire.

Personal story time: I've got a burn scar on my leg. It's not born of any tragic past or anything. Voldemort didn't kill my parents, nor were they eaten by wood elves. Long story short, listen to your parents why they say don't play with batteries. Apparently I was a dense two year old who never got the memo. Anyhoo, I was never branded a freak or anything growing up. On the contrary, most kids didn't give a rat's butt about a stupid scar. But obviously, preteen girls are self-conscious about anything that marks them as different, and I subconsciously trained myself to always sit with my legs crossed to cover it, just to avoid the awkwardness of stares or having to explain (fun fact: I convinced someone once that the scar was from a full leg transplant. I led another person to believe I had been shot. I am an evil person). I'm not ashamed of my scar, but I would love to read a touching story about someone who is.

So on the one hand, I get that Donna was unconfortable with her "scars", and especially their loaded backstory, which my scar certainly doesn't have. BUT. Donna's scars are beautiful. I mean, look at the pattern on the cover. Gorgeous, right? So not only are they all swirly and pretty, but they're silver and shiny and give her super strength. So Donna complaining and brooding and suffering over them... it kind of reminded me of that friend we all have. You know, that friend who looks like a supermodel but who's always complaining about how hideous they are and agonizing over non-existent breakouts and all you want to do is smash a mirror over their head.

In the end, The Iron Witch is perfectly passable, decently dull, and forgettably flat. I wouldn't recommend it, necessarily, but reading it wasn't exactly painful, either. It feels very 2011, if that's even a thing I'm allowed to say and not get struck by lightning. Which is fitting, since that was when it was published. But basically, I closed this book with little more than a shrug before moving on.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lending People Books


What a mixed bag. On the one hand, I want EVERYONE IN THE WORLD EVER to read my favorite books. I want everyone to understand the awesome, and I feel like if they just read this book, they will suddenly know the secrets of the universe and their lives will vastly improve. When someone reads a book that you've loved, they get to know you a little better, too, and you them. You bond a little on the astral reading plane. You've both walked through the same fictional world and met the same fictional people.

But lending books... Well, it comes with a certain risk factor.

Like the time I lent my annotated version of Lolita out and never got it back. The same happened with my second copy of Atonement. Then there was the time I lent my very best friend a certain favorite fantasy series of mine and it came back with dog-ears every twenty pages.

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"But Gillian!" she said, mystified as to why I was bright red and gulping with rage. "That's how I read! I don't use a bookmark. When I reach the point I want to stop, I fold down the corner. Then, when I pick it up to read again, I never bother unfolding the corner, I just leave it down like the total heathen I am so I can visually see how far I've read. Why? Did I do something wrong?"

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So after that, I gathered all my books about me like a crazy book lady, barricading myself in my house and telling the poor traumatized dears that from now on, it would just be me and them. I wasn't going to send them out in the world any longer. The people out there were dangerous. They didn't understand how books ought to be treated. Some of them drank coffee while reading. Some of them licked their fingers before turning a page. Nope. The books were staying with me. My friends would just have to deal with it.

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See, this does not look unhealthy to me. This looks like good sense.

Okay, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration. I am, after all, committed to the cause of spreading the word about my favorite books. Nothing makes me happier than when I get someone to try a book they wouldn't have, or I get them to fangirl about something I like to fangirl about. 

And nobody should lend their books out if they're not comfortable (I mean, my books are part pet, part art--I adore them on a personal level, like they are living creatures, but I revere their wholeness and die a little every time they're damaged. Perhaps this is not sane, but SO BE IT). But lending books is a beautiful things. In high school and college, I was the biggest reader of all my friends. I've got the sagging bookshelves to prove it. I was the one friends asked for reading recs, and I knew I couldn't--wouldn't--stop lending. So I came up with reading ground rules to the Gillian Library.

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of the Gillian Library

1. Always return The Book to me. There's no time frame, really. Just please give it back after you've read it.

2. If you decide you're not going to read The Book anytime in the foreseeable future, give it back to me. I'll re-lend it when you find the time.

3. DO NOT drink beverages around The Book. Do not eat soup around The Book. Keep The Book away from any and all foodstuffs that might spill or stain. Do not take The Book into the bath unless I say you can.

4. DO NOT dog-ear one single corner of The Book. Here is a bookmark. If you lose it, I will give you another. I have stacks.

5. If The Book is a hardcover, then no, I'm not giving you the dust jacket. The dust jacket will be perfectly preserved in a holy shrine until it is once more reunited with The Book.

6. Don't get mad if I don't feel like lending out that particular book. Maybe it's a book my grandpa gave me. Maybe it's a certain edition that I'm extra fond of. Don't worry. I'll find you something else you'll love more.

7. Treat The Book like you would want The Book to treat you.

8. Do any underlining or highlighting in The Book and I shall jam your writing utensil up your nostril.

9. I will not crucify you for every tiny imperfection in The Book. I'm not expecting it to return in mint condition, because The Book is out there living its life, you know? Every crease is a sign of love. But be gentle, please.

10. If a meteor does fall out of the sky and land precisely on The Book, ruining it forever, I will forgive you. Don't worry. Just be honest, do your best to save The Book (I am willing to teach book CPR and can do wonders with some clear packing tape), and apologize. Offering to replace The Book will earn you my unwavering devotion.


I'm not nearly as fastidious as this when I'm reading my own books, but you know? They're my books. Sometimes I dog-ear my own books, but I would never dog-ear somebody else's. So it's just a matter of courtesy, because books are so very personal, aren't they? They're our babies. We've loved them in a way we've loved few things, because few things get inside of us the way they do. If you're lending out your own books, you can set the ground rules. Don't mind dog-ears? Let people dog-ear. Really want your friends to underline the parts they like? Let them go to town. But if you're a book borrower, don't do anything to the book that the lender hasn't said is okay.

So now every day at the Gillian Library can be like this:

Oprah - You Get A Car
AND YOU GET A BOOK! AND YOU! AND YOU!

Do you have rules for book borrowing and lending? Do you ever lend or borrow? Have you had good or bad experiences doing so? Sound off!


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: The Elite by Kiera Cass


Review: The Elite by Kiera Cass
Goodreads
Rating: I don't even know who I am anymore.

The Elite (The Selection, #2)

The hotly-anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestseller The Selection.

Thirty-five girls came to the palace to compete in the Selection. All but six have been sent home. And only one will get to marry Prince Maxon and be crowned princess of Illea.

America still isn’t sure where her heart lies. When she’s with Maxon, she’s swept up in their new and breathless romance, and can’t dream of being with anyone else. But whenever she sees Aspen standing guard around the palace, and is overcome with memories of the life they planned to share. With the group narrowed down to the Elite, the other girls are even more determined to win Maxon over—and time is running out for America to decide.

Just when America is sure she’s made her choice, a devastating loss makes her question everything again. And while she’s struggling to imagine her future, the violent rebels that are determined to overthrow the monarchy are growing stronger and their plans could destroy her chance at any kind of happy ending.


My review of The Selection
My review of The Prince

The cover: That is one mega gorgeous cover. Not as captivating or enchanting as the first one, but this one has more atmosphere and a darker edge. I love the red and the strips on her dress and the pretty, pretty crown design. Also the mysterious look on her face, like shenanigans are afoot. I always approve of shenanigans.

As always with sequels, there be spoilers for Book One in these waters. Ye be warned.

The story: So, I can't begin this review without at least somewhat addressing the bad experiences I've had with reviewing this series. There. That's me addressing them. ONWARD.

If you read my previous reviews of Cass' books, you'll know I had heaps of problems with them, from characters to world-building to plot, but that there was something about them that kept me reading. They're like deep-fried oreos, or Easy Mac, or all sorts of things I don't actually like but that I love to consume. I don't know why. I don't feel like psychoanalyzing myself today. All I knew was that I HAD HAD HAD to get myself an ARC of The Elite, that I'd read it feverishly, and that I'd end up hating it. Well, alert the media, because I... DID NOT HATE IT.

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You can put down your pitchforks now, trolls.

It wasn't perfect by any means, but still. I was looking forward to this book because I was hoping the metaphorical crap would finally hit the fan, and I'm happy to say it did, making The Elite a much more exciting reading experience than The Selection. How much better, of course, is tricky to say. I had such low expectations for this book that me saying, "Well, reading The Elite was better than scraping out your eyeballs with a rusty spork!" is practically a rave review. Despite its obvious flaws, The Elite is not gouge-yourself-blind painful. I even seriously got into it at times. Grading on a The Selection curve, The Elite is crazy awesome. Pulling back and looking at it objectively--pitting it against the other YA books I've enjoyed reading--it's still not exactly a masterpiece. I rolled my eyes a whole lot, particularly in the beginning, and I groaned, and I fantasized about shearing Aspen's head from his body, but I kept reading.

 And I must be honest: I kept reading for MAXON, the only character in The Selection I liked and the true star of The Elite. I even ended up liking America a lot more here than before, thank the Lord. Even though I wanted to shake her in the first portion of the book almost all the time. But MAXON. I don't know how this complicated, unusual, layered, wonderful and not-so-wonderful guy ended up in this cheesy book, but he reveals different parts of himself you wouldn't expect in The Elite. Some of them weren't so pretty, but that made him feel more real to me. At first I was like, "Kiera Cass, if you ruin my baby like Suzanne Collins ruined Gale there will be HELL TO PAY" but then I was like, "Okay... I see what you did there. I got it." Clearly, my Team Maxon badge is FIRMLY IN PLACE.

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So let's talk about the love triangle, shall we? America, you fool. My issue is not that she can't choose. I'm actually okay with that, as I am not fundamentally averse to the concept of triangular love, and given all the WEIRDNESS of the relationships in this book. I mean, one of the guys she loves is a prince, and he's dating like five other girls, and he may or may not like them and they may or may not like him and wait, her ex-boyfriend is here, and woah, America, I totally get why you're confused. Take your time, girlfriend.

My issue was that she did choose in the first half of the book... about eight times. Literally, every time she was all, Yes! Him! It'll stick this time!, I just rolled my eyes and thought, Yeah, we're 20% of the way through, and you only were just claiming you chose the other guy. And lo and behold, fifteen pages later, she flipped again. She committed way too hard too many times, to the point where I stopped believing her. I liked her best when she was genuinely confused (and when she was genuinely aching for Maxon, because MAXON). In this book, her flaws are relatable, and what's awesome is the other characters see that she's flawed. Everyone in The Selection was all "AMERICA YOU'RE PERFECT" and I was like, "No. She's not. I HATE HER." Now that the characters are saying, "America, you done screwed up," I'm like, "I know. I LIKE HER NOW." Even if she was more rash and gave the appearance of being more fickle and did some things that were so embarrassing and foolish that I wanted to hide.

Also: Aspen. NO. No, no, and thrice no. If you're Team Aspen, well, I am sure you are a very reasonable and astute and worthy person, but



If I the relationships were the strength of this book, then I feel the world-building and the godforsaken NAMES were the weaknesses. Can we all agree that Officer Woodwork is the world's dumbest name? Except for possibly Amberly Station Schreave. Or Maxon Calix Shreave. Or Abby Tamblin Illea.

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A lot of the world-building holes I found in The Selection, like the complete economic fallacy of the caste system dictating what jobs you can get, are addressed in The Elite, albeit in a pretty convenient way. I like that things got more political. But I'm not sure that stuff is really Cass' strength. She's better at the romance (except for Aspen, because NOTHING HE SAYS is swoony. This isn't just my prejudice talking. I honestly find a lot of fundamental and even misogynistic problems in their relationship). Also, America and her maids should probably warm my heart a bit more, but she's still pretty patronizing of them, and though they're sweet, they're also way too slavishly adoring.

There are still some oddly amateurish moments, mostly in the beginning. There's some clumsy writing (is it actually possible to "purse your forehead"?), telling-not-showing, unbelievable dialogue, and supremely cheesy conversations. But hey, I expect the cheese here, so bring it on. On the other hand, I think Cass has become a much better plotter. Nothing happened in The Selection, but there's actual action in The Elite. And relationships grow appropriately complicated and messy. Ulterior motives develop. There are ACTUAL DYSTOPIAN ELEMENTS. And there's daaaaaaaaaanger. I love me some dramatic stakes, and Cass was finally considerate enough to put them in for me.

Could I predict a lot of the things that happened? Sure. Marlee's secret, for instance, I had pegged about midway through The Selection. I totally knew what SPOILER the rebels were after SPOILER. And I knew that not only would Kelly Clarkson King Clarkson be the absolute worst, but he'd also be the absolute best thing for the story. It really needed an antagonist. The rebels are still a bit faceless, but amping up the King's suckitude can only benefit. Winnowing the pool of Selected girls also helps. We don't have to wade through character soup any longer. So, yes, sometimes having dirt-low expectations can skew an average book into a win. I don't know. Maxon was there, okay? He distracted me from the badness (and the ethnic stereotypes... oh, you graceful Asians, dour Germans, and celebratory Italians) with his Maxon-ness. I don't even know what to say any longer.

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So if I get any more nasty emails, I will come at YOU with a pitchfork. Capisce? Great.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Top Ten Books I Thought I'd Like MORE/LESS Than I Did


hosted by The Broke and Bookish

So, obviously first impressions are very often wrong.

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As Lizzie Bennet taught us, discovering a book (or a boy) is better than you thought it (he) would be is one of life's greatest pleasures. But when a book that looked so lovely and pretty on the outside isn't as good as you thought it'd be... well, it's kind of like the time I unknowingly put spoiled milk in my cereal. Or the time I put salt in my coffee.

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Not good.

Books I thought I'd like MORE, aka the disappointments:

1. Taken by Erin Bowman

Simply put, I found practically nothing in this book to enjoy. I was in love with the concept, smitten with the cover, and overjoyed to receive an ARC. Finishing it was like pulling teeth. With rusty pliers. That have been dipped in acid.

2. Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Oh, God, this book. I adore high fantasy. It's my first literary love. But this book was just flat, flat, flat. The characters that did have any depth to them I positively hated, but at least that was something. I felt nothing else for any of the other characters. The plot was a Game of Thrones rip off. And INCEST. Incest. And not even in a provactive-those-scheming-Lannisters kind of way. Just a way that made me go "NO."

3. Undeadly by Michele Vail

When I saw the cover of this book and read the synopsis, I was salivating. By the end, I wanted my money back. Not only was the plot shallow, and not only did it waste an awesome premise, but Molly was written as the most juvenile, simple-minded, cliche of a teenager I've ever had the misfortune to read. If you click on my review above, you can read me rant about it for ages and ages, because I was actually insulted by it.

4. Easy by Tammara Webber

I'd been hearing all over the place how inspirational and powerful and moving this novel was. And it almost was, except not quite. I got almost zero feels from the book. There were a lot of cliches and Jacqueline felt cardboard flat to me for most of it. I was expecting so much from Easy, and the high expectations just ensured disappointment.

Tied for 4. Prophecy by Ellen Oh

To me, this book did not live up to the potential of its cover and synopsis at all. I got no feels and no deep characters. I think I actually compared reading this book to playing a video game, because that's how uninvolved I was emotionally and how little impact the many dry action scenes had. 

5. Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

Oh, you beautiful book. Why didn't you enchant me? Why didn't your perfect prose and haunting atmosphere seduce this fairy tale lover? Why was I bored instead of beguiled and frustrated instead of frightened? I'm still upset about it.


Note: These are not necessarily all books I hate. Just because I was disappointed in them doesn't mean I didn't find something to like. It just means they didn't meet my high expectations.

Not-so-honorable mentions: The Selection by Kiera Cass, Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter (it has nothing whatsoever to do with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), Matched by Allie Condie, Confessions of an Angry Girl by Louise Rozett (still worth reading), Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (which I ended up quite liking in the end).


On to one of the most glorious experiences as a reader: the moment a book SURPRISES you.

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Books I thought I'd like LESS, meaning the unexpected delights:

6. Dark Star by Bethany Frenette

This book was recommended to me by Lili, and though I'd never heard of it before, I gave it a shot. I must admit, since the book had never come across my radar, that I didn't have my expectations up too high. Well, that just goes to show that you can't put much stock in kneejerk opinions (emphasis on jerk). This book is so much fun, and while it wasn't at all what I was expecting (this is not a superhero book), I had such a blast reading it. I love these characters.

7. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick 

There are some contemporary reads that I adore, and there are some that, to be blunt, annoy the heck out of me. My Life Next Door is one of those reads that I completely got. I went into it sort of, ho hum, boy next door, how original, but I'm in the mood for something easy to read and highly romantic. And then I basically fell in love.

8. The Duff by Kody Keplinger

Again, contemporary is a very hit or miss genre for me. The cover, which I like, is usually the kind of cover I find on books I don't like. But I LOVE THIS BOOK. I've been planning on doing a Literary Public Service Announcement on it for a while. I love Bianca, a bitter, confrontional package of awesome, and I love Wesley, and yes, there are a few cliches in here, but I love how Keplinger plays with them and how she realistically depicts modern teenagers. (Fitting, since she wrote this when she WAS ONE.) I read this book in a day. I was mildly obsessed with it, and it was so much more than I was expecting.

9. Catching Jordan by Miranda Kennealy

More surprise contemporary reads. I love, love, love football, but I admit I loathe the cover. It makes the book appear like it's going to be cheesy when in actuality Catching Jordan is a cheese-free zone. Jordan's awesome. But obviously the real star of this book is SAM HENRY my god hello Sam Henry come into my life and my bed as soon as possible please.

10. Legend by Marie Lu

I thought this would be "just another dystopian", but it's so much more. Action-packed but brimming with relatable characters, Legend is ten different kinds of awesome. Only after reading it did I hear that Lu was partially inspired by the Jean Valjean/Javert dynamic, and if that doesn't make you more interested, I don't know what to tell you. Get yourself a copy STAT.

Honorable mentions: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (while I really liked the first one, I still had some doubts. CoE BLEW ME AWAY), The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen (READ THIS NOW), Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, Defiance by C.J. Redwine.

As always, what books surprised you the most, good or bad? Leave me your links if you've got them, please, so I can come visit!



2013 YA Cover Trends: Part Three



Note: My cover compilations are by no means exhaustive, meaning I left out a whole lot of applicable covers, and while I tried to limit it to just 2013 releases, a couple 2012s or others may have sneaked in there.

Last time on Cover Trends, we descended into full insanity, but what else is new? Onward, friends!

It's the End of the World as We Know It

I couldn't exactly put my finger on why all these covers look the same to me (Particularly Not a Drop to Drink and Taken-- cover twins!), but I think it's the color schemes and the apocalyptic-dystopian landscapes. Also, a lot of figures looking from a distance at the world they live in, none too fondly, which understandable, because they all look rather hostile.



I See a Little Silhouette-o of a Man


ETA: I discovered even more!

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Letting Their Lips Do the Talking

Hormones run amok. I think there are far fewer of these than in years past, which is interesting. At least among purely YA books-- they are ALL OVER THE PLACE in the New Adult cover world, and I think a couple in here are technically NA. NA could be great, but cover-wise it's all mouth-to-mouth and generic titles I can't keep straight like Be With the One You Love or Falling Hard or or Burning Up, all of which are titles I just made up right now but could very well be real. In YA, at least, I think we're slowly moving away from pretty dress covers and kissy face covers, though obviously they will never disappear completely.



To Dye For
Even fake redheads are getting in on the redhead craze! (thanks to Twitter followers Emma and Susan and the lovely Sarra Manning for helping me out!)

 Third Lie's the Charm (The Liar Society, #3)A Touch Menacing (A Touch Trilogy, #3)Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains)
 Over YouConfessions of an Almost-Girlfriend (Confessions, #2)You Look Different in Real LifeRedMe, Him, Them, and It

Only those few today, because my computer is (surprise!) malfunctioning and my eyes are starting to cross from staring at so many covers. As always, have you noticed any cover trends lately? What about other types of trends? See if you can guess what the next trends I'm highlighting will be! I'll give you a cookie if you do.*


*No, I won't. But I'll eat a cookie in your honor.

 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Series vs. Standalone


There's nothing (well, almost nothing) more frustrating than getting to the end of what you thought was a really great standalone novel and running face first into the words "END OF BOOK ONE." You stand there, agape, like you just ran into a brick wall.

Then there are the moments where you reach the end of a standalone, and the ending can either be perfect and tidy make your heart swell with joy... or you're like a cake addict and someone has just taken away your cake. "MORE!" you demand. "How am I supposed to live without these characters? What happens next?! How could the gods be so cruel?"

Which begs the questions: Series or Standalones?

Sometimes suffering through a loooong, drawn-out series, waiting waiting waiting for the final installment, can feel like this:

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Or sometimes it's just too much. A plot that could have easily been handled in one or two books is stretched out to three or five or some other heinous number. The characters regress and relearn lessons that were taught to them in earlier books. Characters stagnate. They get repetitive. You get bored. You get frustrated. You forget to stay dedicated to your series, and you miss the next installment, or you pick it up and realize you've forgotten everything that happened previously.

OR... you get to know these characters so deeply and so well they feel like your best friends. As always, I'm going to cite Harry Potter. Being with those characters through so much and for so long makes me feel like I know every facet of them. I'm even more invested in them than I would be in characters in a standalone. They've lived inside me for years, after all, and I've experienced the process with them.

It's a tough call, series vs. standalones. I think it depends on the book, myself. I know a lot of bloggers who lately are SICK TO DEATH of series, and just want to read a book with some damn resolution in it, because everything is a series nowadays and it would be nice to read a book with a real ending. Which is totally true. There's something so lovely about a book that opens, has dramatical excitements, and then closes just as it ought. It's so satisfying, and you shut the book with a sigh and lean back and say

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I mean, books aren't like TV shows. You don't get the next episode a week later. The season finale and season premiere are not just a summer apart. You have to wait usually a year. A full year. (Sherlock fans understand that kind of pain.)

But there's something to be said about leaving you wanting more, more, more. Some stories can't be told in one volume. Some stories are all the better for being extended. And in the end, it's just a matter of preference. ETA: For me, for example, I usually like my genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and dystopia) to be series, because that lends itself to better world-building and more epic plot lines. For contemporary fiction, I'm usually more than satisfied with a standalone.

So which do you prefer: Series or Standalones? Sound off!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: Taken by Erin Bowman


Review: Taken by Erin Bowman
Goodreads
Rating: Ugh.

Taken (Taken, #1)

There are no men in Claysoot. There are boys—but every one of them vanishes at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends…and he’s gone.

They call it the Heist.

Gray Weathersby’s eighteenth birthday is mere months away, and he’s prepared to meet his fate–until he finds a strange note from his mother and starts to question everything he’s been raised to accept: the Council leaders and their obvious secrets. The Heist itself. And what lies beyond the Wall that surrounds Claysoot–a structure that no one can cross and survive.

Climbing the Wall is suicide, but what comes after the Heist could be worse. Should he sit back and wait to be taken–or risk everything on the hope of the other side?



The cover: I adore this cover. I love the colors, which instantly let you know it's a dystopian novel. I love the silhouette of the tree above them and the smooth reflective surface below them, and how the k in Taken is being slowly lifted into the air, like it's being abducted by aliens or something. Could have done without the unnecessary birds, because birds are the most overdone cover trend, but whatever.

The story: Taken was such a colossal disappointment for me that I'm actually having a hard time putting this review together. Normally I'm good at the ranty ones, but this one pains me. I was so excited to get an ARC of this. I love the premise, and I think the author is a delightful person, but Taken just failed for me on almost every level.

I'll start with the positive: I like a lot of the beginning of this book. I find the concept of Claysoot fascinating. I felt real emotion when Gray was forced to say goodbye to his brother Blaine on the day of Blaine's eighteenth birthday, which is the day that all the boys in Claysoot mysteriously vanish. I like the premise and that aspect of the world-building. But Gray, I'm sorry to say, annoyed the crap out of me.

We meet Gray while he's out in the woods pulling a Katniss, hunting game with a bow and arrow to sell in the market to crabby old ladies. Unlike Katniss, however, at said market he proceeds to beat up a girl half his size until she's bleeding from the mouth, all because she said something bitchy. I... I get anti-heroes. I'm a feminist, so I'm not upset about the fact that the person he pummeled is female, but rather that it was brutal, he was clearly bigger, and it was unnecessary. Hardly self-defense. I get that Gray is meant to be reckless and passionate. I get that the things the girl/victim was saying were almost unrealistically shitty. BUT I CANNOT WITH YOU, GRAY.



I'm not necessarily someone who always requires a main character to be "likable". I mean, there are some books like Lolita, for instance, where of course Humbert Humbert isn't likable. Neither is Madame Bovary. Katniss herself is pretty prickly and unforgiving. For god's sake, I'm completely in love with Jaime Lannister, and that dude has done some of the least forgivable things in literature. But these characters are fascinating in their awfulness, or contain multiple layers, and you like them in a different way. You're interested in them.

But there are certain stories that hinge on your ability to connect with the main character. The author is trying to make them likeable, and wants you to view them as noble, and wants their flaws to become their strengths. This is the case in most YA literature, and it's not a bad thing. In those cases, likeability is super important. Taken is one of those cases. And, to put it bluntly, I wanted to slap Gray Weathersby upside the head about 99% of the time. He starts out annoyingly reckless and douchey, and he ends the story annoyingly reckless and douchey. I never got depth of emotion out of him. Not even when SPOILER his brother was practically dying in his arms. Nothing. SPOILER.

Also, I think Gray Weathersby is a terrifically silly name. Weathersby is so what I would call my British butler if I had one. "Weathersby! Bring me my tea! And butter my crumpets (dirty) while you're at it! Spit spot!" Okay, I've officially gone mad, but I let out a snigger every time that word was on the page. There are a lot of other magnificently stupid names, notably a  little girl named Kale and a girl named Chalice Silverston. Chalice.

So Gray lives in Claysoot, this village with no technology and where boys vanish on their eighteenth birthdays. He's super jealous of his perfect older brother, though he loves him a great deal, which is nice. He also claims to be in love with a dull girl named Emma, but correct me if I'm wrong, but this hardly sounds like true love to me: 

And even though we spent countless hours together as children, Emma was always closer to Blaine. I’ve never been able to shake the jealousy, but I suppose I brought it upon myself. When I was six and the two of them seven, I pushed Emma over and stole the wooden toy she was playing with. She favored Blaine from that day forward, and naturally that’s when it started. As soon as she favored Blaine, I favored her. 

At first it was a childlike thing, but my affection never faded. I watched her change over the years, abandoning her thin frame for the curves that now fill out her dresses. She’s become increasingly pretty as she nears eighteen, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in no one else. I’ve made my rounds in the slatings, (aka the utterly squicky process of assigning these teenage boys to fertile woman so they can make babies) but I’d be kidding myself if I said I didn’t want just Emma. I guess it’s fitting that I’ve never been paired with her. I probably don’t deserve it.

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 I've said before that I can forgive a lot of plotting issues if I'm invested in the characters and getting all the feels. But no feels, NO FORGIVENESS. Clearly, strange things are afoot at the circle Claysoot, and because I've seen The Village and read Running Out of Time, I pretty much guessed a lot of the big twists. And once Gray goes over the wall, the book becomes an entirely different story. One that is rife with cliches, and is like almost every other dystopian out there. I don't know. I just didn't believe it. The plot tried so hard, practically going into overdrive, but it didn't work. I didn't care what was happening. The liars were obviously lying.

The first part of this book is intriguing because you want to know what the mystery is. You want to know what the big, shocking secrets are. It's like playing a good game of poker. Your opponent has this look on his face like things are going to get GOOOOD, so you're all excited and keyed up. Then he starts bluffing, and you can tell he's lying his pants off, but you go with it because you want to know the truth of those cards, dammit! And then the first card is revealed... and all your excitement slips away. Because it's exactly what you'd though it would be. And you know exactly what the rest of the hand is. And you're just left disappointed.

Yes, I positively murdered that analogy, but it's sadly still pretty apt.

The romance is where this book REALLY falls apart. From page one, I was not a fan of Emma. She absoltely hates Gray, and her reasons are somwhat unfair, even though Gray does kind of suck. But then POOF! She's changed her mind! She loves him! And I didn't get it, but I was hoping I would by the end. AND THEN. UGH. No spoilers, but Emma does something which I seriously couldn't blame her for, and Gray is an unforgiving, self righteous jerk and I want to hit him with a frying pan.

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And then. And then. And then. There came a love triangle. A late in the game, utterly superfluous, bang-your-head-on-the-wall love triangle. And that's about all I'll say about that, because it's not worth our time. It's poorly executed, grating, and makes me cranky.

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I used it.

The timing and pacing is strange. Bowman will take you through every second of the day, sometimes tediously so, and then all of a sudden it's like, "The next two months were difficult." Confession: I hate when significant chunks of time pass in sentences like that. It instantly distances me from the characters and plot. One such jump skated over details about the new place Gray was in, making it difficult for me to sense or picture it. The world-building doesn't entirely fly, logic-wise, most of the plot is super convenient and cliche, the characters are flat, and the romance actually made me growl and throw things. Bowman has a nice prose style--clean and direct-- but I can't get past those issues, and I can't get past the narrator. I'm sorry, book, but I'm just not Taken with you. At all.

Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab


Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab
Goodreads
Rating: The most original and intriguing world-building I've read in ages, with a strong heroine, haunting themes, no small bit of action, and a love interest who pleased me greatly. I'm feeling some serious book love. ALL THE BOOKISH FEELS.

The Archived (The Archived, #1)

 Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.



The cover: Just look at it. I assume you have marginally functional eyeballs of some sort, eyeballs which are currently orgasming. That haunting, ghostly blue, those eeries stacks, that beautiful key, the swirling smoke, the way the light lines her profile, and the look in her eyes... This is one of my favorite covers of 2013 by far.

The story: The first time I read that synopsis, I fell in such deep lust that I knew I needed to buy this book the instant it came out. Because I am stupid, I waited a month after buying it to finally read it, but oh, the wait was worth it. I'm so glad I didn't plow through The Archived in desperate search for answers. I'm glad I let the mystery unfurl slowly in front of me and letting my brain submerge in this mesmerizing world that Schwab has built.

The rules of the mythology are fairly simple, but contain so much depth. When you die, a record is kept of you-- a History. It takes your form and holds your memories, but it's not you. These sleeping Histories are stored in filing cabinets in the Archive, which is manned by Librarians and exists in some kind of other dimension-type place. Between the Archive and the Outer--our world-- stretch the Narrows, the creepiest, darkest, skinniest network of hallways you could ever imagine. They exist so to catch the Histories who escape. Because sometimes... the dead don't stay dead.

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Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper, tasked with battling unruly Histories and returning them to the Archive like overdue library books. I loved her as a narrator. The novel is told in first person, and Mackenzie's thoughts are so layered and full of emotion that I felt her instantly. Schwab does something a little strange in this book, narration-wise. Intercut with the first person, present-tense stuff are a bunch of flashbacks about Mackenzie and her Da, or her grandfather, the man who taught her all she knows about the Archive and being a Keeper. These sections are told in second person, as if you the reader are Da and Mackenzie is talking to you. They totally threw me for a loop originally, but I ended up loving them. Schwab uses these short and beautiful little anecdotes to reveal important information, deftly avoiding clunky info-dumps, which are the bane of my existence.

Mackenzie is an easy girl to connect to. She's tough as nails, but she's dealing with some serious heartache. She recently lost her little brother, and oh my gosh, does it break your heart. I felt so many feels. Mackenzie makes you fall in love with Ben, and Da, and having to experience her pain of losing them both is truly heart-wrenching. I simply loved the parallels Schwab drew between the main mystery of the Archive--which centered around one's inability to let the dead rest and the living move on-- with Mac's inability to overcome her brother's death. Mackenzie frustrated me in a few moments, but only a few. She withholds some key information from people who DEFINITELY could have helped out. There were one or two instances were I was yelling, "TELL THE TRUTH, YOU FOOL!", because I usually LOATHE when characters do this, but then something totally refreshing happened: Mac actually told the truth. To someone who really truly needs to hear the truth.

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NO. NO WAY. YA HEROINES NEVER TELL THE TRUTH.


A lot of the book centers around a Keeper's need to lie to basically everybody about everything, because obviously discretion is imperative if your main hobby is having knife fights with dead dudes inside the walls. But Mackenzie's lies start to drain her, so it was lovely to see her learn to deal with this and open up to Wes. Which brings me to the second best part of this book, after the basic premise of the book: Wesley Ayers.

Wesley freaking Ayers, I demand to know why you are not a real person, and if you are, why you are not currently in my bedroom with your shirt off. Wesley is charming, funny, and genuine. He has spiked black hair and guyliner and is a big ball of sexiness. He's a Keeper (IN ALL SENSES OF THE WORD) and watching him play off Mac made me giggle with glee. Wes. I mean, Wes. What do I even say.

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 I loved quite a few of the secondary characters. I mean, Ben made me cry, Owen was fascinating, Lyndsey was a fabulous friend, Roland was the best, and Mackenzie's parents broke my heart. They're dealing with their grief in totally different but believable ways.

The writing is stellar. Seriously so gorgeous. It's evocative, and is lyrical without being flowery. I could see every inch of the Archive. I could hear it. Feel it. I was walking around the Coronado with Mac. It's rare that I get transported to a world the way I did with The Archived.

I had perhaps a few tiny little niggling nitpicks, because, well, I always do. I'm a tough customer. I wanted more background on Wesley--for example, I'm pretty sure he's missing from home for a good couple of days there are one point, and he sustains some pretty serious injuries, but his family is never mentioned as noticing. I'm assuming there will be more Ayers family stuff in the sequel (huzzah!), and I know that Wes was trying to get away from his family, but still... we got hardly anything. I also wanted a little bit more resolution with the Ben storyline, but again. Sequel.

I understand why Mackenzie's parents believed her lies. They're grief-stricken, numb, and not in a position to investigate even though they obviously love their daughter, but perhaps their obliviousness strained believabillity in some parts. Again, the injuries. Mackenzie is totally beat up like all the time in this book-- girlfriend gets her ass kicked like every thirty pages, Keeping is no joke-- and her parents don't seem to think it's weird that their sixteen-year-old has broken ribs and a fractured wrist and the occasional knife wound.

 As for the mysterious reveal, the larger aspects of it I saw coming, but certain details completely took me by surprise. I had the main villain pegged, but I loved the way their motives dovetailed with Mac's emotional journey. The biggest shock to me was the one about the Librarians. My stomach actually curdled with that one.

If it's not entirely obvious to you by now, I adored this book. Most of the 2013 reads I've read so far have been horribly disappointing, and I'm delighted to say that The Archived was not one of them. I loved this book from beginning to end, and totally suggest you pick it up stat.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Clockwork Princess Giveaway and Authorly Discussion with Cassandra Clare, Lily Collins, and More!



Way back on March 21, Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Princess Bus Tour, in which Cassie Clare spirited across the country, spreading joy and causing mayhem far and wide in honor of the release of Clockwork Princess, the final book in The Infernal Devices trilogy, came to Los Angeles. Guess which lucky girl got to go? This girl!

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It was quite the epic day. Not because I had to wake up early to trek all the way across town (those of you who have ever been to LA know that all the way across town means many, many miles in which you must traverse freeways and battle orcs and scale Mount Doom and it is basically a Herculean task that should not be attempted by those with weak spirits). No, it was epic because I got to meet THREE of my favorite authors and a movie star or two. Just an average day in the life of Gillian. No, not really, but I certainly could get used to doing thrilling bookish things like this. Minus the traffic.

Not only was Cassandra Clare in attendance, but so were two of my FAVORITE AUTHORS, Sarah Rees Brennan and Maureen Johnson, co-authors of the of The Bane Chronicles, whose first installment was just released! And because that's not awesome enough, Lily Collins, star of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones movie, and the director of said movie, Harald Zart, were also there, answering questions! Another fun Gillian fact: I went to high school with Lily. I was two grades below her. ISN'T MY LIFE EXCITING?

To say that the Barnes and Noble at the Grove was packed would be the understatement of my life. I had no idea what I was getting into. They started selling wristbands, basically the tickets for the event, at nine am, when the store opened. I got there at eight and the line was already a block long. By the time nine rolled around, the line was quite literally six times as long. No. Seriously. The wristbands were lettered A through K, I believe, with A's getting front row seats and K's forced to watch the proceedings for Outer Mongolia. Though I'm a Barnes and Noble member, all the A's were sold out, but I got a B and was super excited for that, since that meant I'd be near the famous people and practically within worshipful stroking distance. Then I bought a mountain of books to get signed and went home.

Fast forward to six thirty PM, and I am waging a valiant war against the frightful LA traffic, and the traffic is WINNING. I've lived in this city all my life, and I've never seen it like that. I blame it on Miss Clare, of course. Everybody west of the 405 was going to see her. Eventually I made it, but just barely. The audience was divided into three sections: those on the third floor, where the authorly discussion took place (I was here! Yay!), those on the second floor, and the poor buggers outside. I have no clue what the set up down there was like, whether they had TV screens and watched the discussion, or what. I was too focused on my own good fortune. Yes, I thought, I'll be able to watch the discussion panel directly! I can ask the hard-hitting questions like who would win in a shirtless sarcastic brood-off, Jace or Will? Can Magnus be naked for the entirety of The Bane Chronicles? Will Simon Lewis ever come to life and make me his bride?

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Because of said crazy crowds, I was sadly in a place where I couldn't actually SEE the panel. In fact, hardly anyone but the A's and the pushy B's could, due to the strange funnel-like shape of the room, and since the microphones were... less than stellar, I'm afraid, most of what I heard were the people around me going, "WHAT? WHAT DID SHE JUST SAY?" But still, I was in the presence of greatness, and I bullied myself as close to the front as possible (I have pointy elbows). I did get to shriek at the guests of honor as they walked past me. I took a few grainy cell phone shots of the back of Cassandra Clare's head. Then my phone promptly died because of course. And I did get to hear a lot of great quotes from the discussion, which covered all sorts of Cassandra Clare related things, though most of the questions were about the movie, since we were lucky enough to have two of the people who actually helped make it.

Courtesy of the awesome Youtubers Booktobigscreen and Jasmine Albitos (make sure to check out her site!), below is almost the entire Q&A session for your viewing pleasure, thereby rending my hastily and inaccurately scrawled on-site transcript obsolete! Thank the book gods, because deciphering that wouldn't have been fun. I swear I wrote this thing in runes. Be aware that you are actually seeing and hearing even more than I did, and I was physically there.

Yes, I'm somewhere in that room, far to the left, trying desperately and in vain to see through solid wall and the backs of people's heads. I particularly liked when somebody directly next to me yelled "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU" and Lily started laughing and apologizing. Bear in mind that the crowd up on the top floor was at least a hundred or so strong, and they extended away from the panel area about thirty or so yards, and there were multiple bookshelves in people's ways. So I was pretty fortunate to be as close as I was and not squashed up against a biography of Napoleon.