Sunday, March 31, 2013

Insta-love: An Insta-Turn Off

Yea or Nay: Otherwise titled Insta-love and Why I Think It's a BIG NO-NO

Only when it's you, Ryan Gosling.

When I see insta-love approaching, I usually react like this:

Insta-love, for those blissfully unaware, is when two characters fall in love pretty much at first sight or soon after. There is no history between them and hardly any basis for their feelings beside mutual attraction. It's usually accompanied by many fervent declarations of everlasting love and a lot of mooning.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love romance. Love it. There's almost nothing more wonderful to me as a reader than watching two characters slowly and realistically come together.

See the key words there? Slowly and realistically.

Romeo and Juliet is the most famous and most classical example of insta-love in literature. Nearly every romantic fairy tale and their accompanying Disney adaptation includes insta-love. Snow White and Prince Boring meeting by the wishing well. Aurora and Prince Philip the Sexy dancing in the forest. Cinderella and Prince Epaulets waltzing about the palace gardens.

If we don't see how they fell in love, then we'll never understand why they are in love. Just because an author claims something on the page doesn't mean we're going to believe it. And when it comes to romance of any sort, readers are quick to put on their skeptical pants. They give it a good once-over before buying into it. What I'm saying is, the love has got to be "real". Or else we react thusly:

All she REALLY wanted was for Snow and Prince Charming to stop singing at each other.

Insta-love vs. Insta-attraction

BIG difference. Insta-attraction happens all the time in real life and in novels. Let's say you're reading about a main character named, um, Julie. Julie is standing in line at Starbucks when someone accidentally bumps into her from behind. She turns to yell at this monumentally stupid person and whoa. Lo and behold, behind her stands a tall, rumpled, sexy dude with gorgeous blue eyes and a devastating crooked smile. The fat paperback tucked under his arm is the same book that's in Julie's purse. Julie's whole body lights on fire and her heart flips over and she forgets how to form sentences. It's like being struck by lightning.

That could be a wonderful start to a love story. I don't need for the two main characters to instantly hate each other, Beatrice and Benedick style (though it's super fun when they do). But as long as these people don't instantly decide they love each other, then it's okay. I mean, what if he's secretly a spy? An assassin? Engaged to her nemesis? Gay? Taken a vow of celibacy? Royalty? Any kind of complication or obstacle will do.

Let's say Julie and the blue-eyed, coffee-drinking sexpot (let's call him Jim) decide to sit down and have their coffees together. They have a lot in common and their chemistry is pretty much off the charts. Julie can react in several ways. She can think Oh my giddy aunt, Jim is amazing. I could totally see myself falling in love with him someday. Maybe I should ask him out. Or she can think Oh my giddy aunt, I'm already desperately in love with him. If a crazy wizard came in here and started Avada Kedavra-ing everybody, I would jump in front of him and die in his place. Because love.

You should know by now which option I prefer.

"But Gillian!" you and Julie cry, tears leaking down your precious, naive faces. "Jim's amazing! It could happen! My parents fell in love that way! My best friend's cousin's college roommate met her husband in a coffee shop and they got married the next day and are still together and have forty seven babies and a dog!"


 But I will shake my head condescendingly and say, "That's lovely, my dears, but it is exceptionally boring. Real life is not fiction, and fiction is not real life. I don't want to read about your best friend's cousin's college roommate. I want to read about two souls growing together through trials and tribulations. I want to read about the hard stuff, the messy stuff, and the exciting stuff. Because that's the fun of romance."

Love is such an amorphous, individual thing that it's hard to say what's love and what isn't. I mean, what's the difference between love and infatuation? Time? Seeing past your original idealized version of a person? I don't know. It'll vary for every story. But basically, I want my book life to be better than real life. It has to be more believable than real life, because, guess what? Someone is making it up. Fiction has to be more believable than fact, so the reader is tricked into forgetting it's fiction. It's a hard thing to pull off, but hey. That's why they pay authors the big imaginary bucks.

The absolutely worst part of instalove to me is how much these characters insist  on verbalizing their twue wuv. When characters get all, "Blahh, my sweet, my turtle dove, I love you more than everything in the history of the universe and I'm in physical pain because we are not currently touching" after knowing each other a week, I roll my eyes and seriously consider throwing them both into a vat of boiling tar.


Seriously? You have a family. Friends. Pets. You care about Hottie McBlue Eyes more than your family? After one week? This is not romantic to me. This is pathetic.

I want the characters' love to be communicated through their actions, not their sappy words. Words can lie. Words can be fake. Actions? Not so much. I also need to be able to see what the two characters see in each other. Do they possess qualities that the other lacks, like Darcy and Elizabeth or Ron and Hermione, balancing and rounding each other out? Is the hero or heroine the first person to truly see and value something about the main character, the way Four always believes in Tris' capabilities? I want to see why these puzzle pieces fit together. I don't want the author to just tell me they do.

Logan knows a true love story when he sees one.

Of course, there are books where insta-love is done well-ish (cannot actually think of any right now, but I'm certain they exist), but I always feel like those are only pulled off by people who understand the trope and are working with it. I've never read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, but I've heard that this is one of them. Obviously I could be wrong, since I haven't read it. But there. I named a book. My work here is done.

It's not the shortened timeframe of an insta-love romance that bothers me so much as the lack of build-up. If a lot of things happen in a book over a couple of days, a week, or a month, the author could possibly convince me with a love story. But things need to happen between the two characters. They can't just be attracted to each other, have a couple heart-fluttery conversations together, vaguely ponder a mystery of some sort, and then declare themselves. Those are often the characters who feel the need to inform each other every ten pages or so that they are desperately in love, like they're worried the reader has forgotten. "I love you," the hero will say, earnestly and with one manly tear glittering on his cheek (TM Dean Winchester), "more than my own flesh, more than the sun and stars," and the reader will say, "Yes, thank you, I've got it, you just said that, can we please move on with the plot?"

Brilliant YA author (and creator of one of my favorite love stories of all time) Veronica Roth has this to say on the matter:

Most of the time, for me, the problem is "You're Hot, So I Love You." That is: the only in-text justification for the intense feelings of the characters is their physical attraction. We get many paragraphs dedicated to description, but none devoted to conversation or experiences that transcend the physical. Maybe the author even tells us something like "they talked for hours about this and this and this," but we don't get to see any of it, so we remain unconvinced.

I love that. That's so perfect and exactly sums up what I'm trying to say. Because she's Veronica Roth, obviously she does it much more cleanly and succinctly and awesomely. We bloggers like to rail on about show vs. tell, particularly when it comes to romance. I want to see them fall in love with what's in the other person's heart. It's not the same if the characters and the author just tell me that they already have.

Day One: Meet. Day Two: MARRIAGE!

(Yes, I know technically Derek and Odette weren't insta-love, as they knew each other their whole lives. Although they did change their minds awfully fast. And those of you who don't know what I'm even talking about, shame on you. This movie is a classic.)

Ms. Roth also warns readers not to brace against insta-love at all times:

And for readers, of which I am one: it's not that I think we should stop evaluating love stories for their believability. But I do think that it's important to make an effort to experience a story alongside the main character, rather than standing over the main character with our experiences or beliefs in hand like some kind of anti-insta!love weapon. And if, after we put the weapon down, we still read something and say "this is insta!love and it's annoying," I say, fair enough. Even if you say it about my books. I promise.

First of all, I just love that she calls it "insta!love", like it's some kind of infomercial product you can buy for $19.99. Like it's a little magic potion that you can throw in someone's eyes A Midsummer Night's Dream-style and poof! The man of your dreams has been smitten by Insta!love! Act now and we'll throw in a free ShamWow!

Anyway, every word she said is true. If you don't believe the love story on its own merits, then the story failed. We shouldn't immediately dismiss a love story because it has insta-attraction or a shorted time frame, because that doesn't fit in with our real-life experiences of love (HAHAHA, as if I have real life experiences of love). But if the romance feels shallow, unbelievable, too fast, or if it skipped a lot of important steps, then by all means, brand it insta-love and dismiss it if you feel so inclined.

Since this is, technically, a "yea or nay" post, you're at perfect liberty to disagree with me. So what say you? Instalove: Yea or nay?

For reference, here's a Goodreads list of Popular Insta Love Books.

Friday, March 29, 2013

March Fantasy Month Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

This review is part of my awesome MARCH FANTASY MONTH project with the lovely Lili of Lili's Reflections. Click here to see Lili's review of The Thief, and follow both of us so you don't miss any of the fantasy madness!

Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Rating: Slow beginning, tremendous mythology, and an awesome main character. This novel feels more like set-up for the rest of the series and is a quick read. I'm SO EXCITED to read the second one, though!

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, #1)

The king's scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king's prison. The magus is interested only in the thief's abilities.

What Gen is interested in is anyone's guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.

The cover: I ADORE this cover. The symmetrical composition is beautiful, the hand and the stone are amazingly illustrated, and do you see that elaborate gold filigree stuff? And the MARBLE BACKGROUND behind the text? And that icy blue in the stone? Even if I knew nothing about the book, I would pick it up for the cover alone.

The story: I'm going to take inspiration from Lili's latest March Fantasy Month review and easily divide my review into things I liked and things I didn't. Overall, obviously, Megan Whalen Turner is a rock stair, and I'm definitely continuing with the series.

Things I liked:

Gen. What a sassy, sneaky, stubborn little dude. He's actually a lot like Sage from The False Prince, but a little less obnoxious and appears perhaps a shade more cowardly. He's an uneducated thief, imprisoned at the beginning of the novel because of his own foolish boasts. He is, in a word, awesome. Completely awesome. It was a joy to hang out with him and watch him antagonize the other men in his traveling group.

Aladdin and the Cave of Wonders. So the magus (Jafar) employs Gen, a lowly thief (Aladdin) to break into a Cave of Wonders and steal a particular magical artifact. (This is where the similarities end, obviously.) They're accompanied by a soldier, Pol, and the magus' two apprentices, Sophos and Ambiades. I loved the distinct personalities of all five guys, and I loved watching Gen ruthlessly mess with them. He loves mischief, and I love that about him. But by far the best part of The Thief was this mission, which was steeped in grandeur and mythology and a good deal of treason.

Sounis, Eddis, Atollia, and their accompanying mythology. I love Greek mythology. Love it, love it, love it. I memorized my D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths when I was about eleven. These three countries and their gods are clearly inspired by ancient Greek culture. The world-building is truly astounding. I could see these countries, I got a good feel for their languages and customs and histories. This is fantasy world-building at its finest, I feel.

Not everything is as it seems. There are secrets. There are reveals. There are TWISTS and people who thought were just ordinary people are suddenly FULL OF SECRET THINGS and you're like, "The hell? So that's been going on this whole time? WOW." I love surprises like. There weren't so much surprises of plot as surprises of character. You may be able to guess the secrets these characters are keeping, you may not be. But it's pretty freaking fun to see them revealed.

Things I didn't like:

The slow beginning. The first hundred pages or so are literally the guys all traveling, arguing, and tellign stories about the gods. Gen's personality, the interplay of the five men, and the quality of the mythology make it readable, but I was craving some action. I don't mean I need a battle every time pages, but some kind of plot development would have been nice. Things don't get really interesting until they arrive at their destination.

Info dumps. Don't get me wrong-- I loved the mythology, and the best way to get the stories of the gods is to sit around and tell the stories of the gods. But it's somewhat inelegant to just present them there in big blocks, especially when the plot is already moving pretty slowly.

The truncated plot. The book is pretty short, and when I got to the end of it, I realized not very many things happen. It's a great story, but it's not the whole story. The Thief is definitely set up for the rest of the series.

A couple odd narrative techniques. Gen describes almost every step the travelers take, every stream they rest beside, every inn they stop it. It gets a bit tedious. And yet he describes and actual fight scene in nearly the same tone. I was reading quickly (truthfully, I was in public, and distracted  by something very loud) and missed that there was an actual battle going on because the tone and look of the words didn't change. I had to flip back and refocus, because what was happening was actually very interesting. And then there's that strange, jarring moment where you think you're reading about and Ancient Greece-like culture and then they mention guns and watches. Totally threw me, and I have no idea why MWT included that kind of technology in her world.

Ultimately, this book is a win. MWT is clearly a master of the fantasy genre and know exactly how to formulate interesting worlds, characters, mythology, and political dynamics. I can't wait to read the sequel and find out how all these things come together. Most of all, I can't wait to get back to Gen.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Literary PSA: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

Recently I decided to start a NEW THING: Literary Public Service Announcements. Essentially, I'm going to pimp a book that I read before I started blogging, but that I want to foist upon the world due to it's high levels of sheer awesomeness, for the good of the public and all that jazz. Instead of me just telling people over and over that they should read something "JUST BECAUSE!!!1!", I've decided to actually explain in a more eloquent fashion just why my favorite books are my favorites.

Last time on Literary Public Service Announcements: IF I STAY by Gayle Forman.
And now this week's PSA:

 The Year of Secret Assignments (Ashbury/Brookfield, #2)

 Three girls. Three boys. Two rival schools.
This could get messy.

The Ashbury-Brookfield pen pal program is designed to bring together the two rival schools in a spirit of harmony and "the Joy of the Envelope." But when Cassie, Lydia, and Emily send their first letters to Matthew, Charlie, and Sebastian, things don't go quite as planned. What starts out as a simple letter exchange soon leads to secret missions, false alarms, lock picking, mistaken identities, and an all-out war between the schools--not to mention some really excellent kissing. Goodreads

I LOVE Aussie YA, and this is probably my favorite Aussie book ever. It's told in letters, emails, texts, school notices, transcripts, diaries, etc., and actually makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. This is my absolute favorite epistolary-style novel EVER. Granted, it's a tough technique to pull off, so there aren't many. But seriously, it's flawless here.

Technically, it's the second in a loosely related series, but I've never read the first book, Feeling Sorry for Celia, so it's obviously not necessary. It's a contemporary, but it has so much spunk and whimsy and quirkiness that elevate it beyond your average realistic YA. What happens in this book would probably never happen in real life, but more's the pity for real life.

TYoSA follows three close-knit best friends attending the upper class Ashbury School: ditzy, bossy, enthusiastic Emily; whip-smart, reckless Lydia; and musical, fatherless Cassie. Tensions have grown between Ashbury and Brookfield, a local public school, and in an effort to ameliorate the tension, the two schools form a pen pal program. Obviously, this leads to shenanigans galore, such as false identities, make out sessions, pranks, secret assignments, and blind dates both successful and disastrous. There will be moments where you CHEER and FIST-BUMP, moments where you might tear up, and probably lengthy sessions where you pee yourself laughing. This book is a great blend of genres and feelings and, most of all, VOICES. All the characters have such distinct voices I'm kind of in awe. Nobody sounds alike. You get first person letters from the three girls and the three boys they write to, and yet it's never confusing.

The only thing that ever did confuse me about this book was basically my own stupidity. See, it's set in Australia, right? Which is in the Southern Hemisphere? And I live in the US, which (basic geography lesson for those tragically raised without globes) is in the Northern Hemisphere. Basically, our seasons are reversed. And the book is divided into sections by season, meaning all the months in my head were TOTALLY THROWN OFF. It's weird! You Aussies have Christmas in the middle of the summer! The school year starts in January! And you have all those weird Easter breaks and things! MINDBOGGLING.

Everything about you is glorious, Australia
...except that.

Anyway, that's obviously not relevant to the wondrousness inside TYoSA. These three vastly different best friends truly adore each other. It was lovely to read about. They're realistic and willing to do absolutely anything for each other. And when things start to go south for Cassie-- and I mean like CRAZY SOUTH-- Em, Lyd, and their awesome pen pals Charlie and Seb decide to do something about it. And it's such a convoluted mess of joy to watch. The plot, it twists and turns with all kinds of fun reveals and surprises. And there is quite literally four laughs a page. Lydia is my favorite. She's a total lunatic in the best way possible. Em is a particular treat as well. She's prone to malaprops and aspires to be a lawyer despite the fact that she's not the brightest bulb. All the characters are varied and complex. They come from different backgrounds and walks of life, and though they can clash, in the end they all come together beautifully. Except for SPOILER. That SPOILER is such a little !#&%(#*&@#.

The romance is awesome, the mystery is mysterious, the setting is fun (AUSTRALIA I LOVE YOU), the characters are the absolute best, and the words will have you rolling on the floor laughing. Why are you not already reading this?

Note: In Australia, and possibly a few other countries, this book is titled Finding Cassie Crazy. Which makes sense, because part of how they're trying to save Cassie is to prove she's sane. Which... who knows? It may be true! You'll have to read to find out!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March Fantasy Month Review: The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors

This review is part of my awesome MARCH FANTASY MONTH project with the lovely Lili of Lili's Reflections. Click here to see Lili's review of The Sweetest Spell, and follow both of us so you don't miss any of the fantasy madness!

Review: The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors
Rating: A sweet, simple fairy tale, with a lovely fantasy world and CHOCOLATE. Lots and lots of chocolate and cows and, unfortunately, some insta-love. But chocolate!

The Sweetest Spell

Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher's daughter, has escaped death twice-first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability-she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.

Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all. But Emmeline only wants one-Owen Oak, a dairyman's son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself. But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains-no matter what the cost to Emmeline.

Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all.

The cover: Pretty! I like the swirly bits and the floaty dress and the castle. The transition to from the forest to the castle is a little awkward, but I LOVE the look on her face and her hair. It's so very fairy tale-ish. Dreamy and whimsical and ethereal.

The story: I hadn't heard to this book until Lili challenged me to read it, and I'm glad she did. I started it on a plane, just as I was taking off from LAX, and finished it before I landed at JFK. It was very enjoyable and very, very cute. The definition of a light and sweet fairy tale with lovely whimsical elements, such as Emmeline's affinity for cows and her ability to churn milk into chocolate, and the fact that chocolate is the basis for the entire mythology of Anglund.


Anglund, basically, is a fantasy version of vaguely old-timey England. I will say that the country names drove me crazy. This is a very light-hearted, fun sort of book, so I understand why Selfors decided to have fun with the various European countries, but honestly they were just silly. The city of Londwin and the countries Londwin, Germundy, Anglund, Franvia, and Italiand (Italialand!)? Okay in theory, but the actual names themselves I just handle. The other major drawback was, for me, the insta-love. However, that began to straighten itself out as the book progressed.

Emmeline and Owen are admirable if not entirely complex heroes. Actually, that's not quite true. I ended up adoring Emmeline, who is gutsy, never mopey, and very strong. She and Owen have some serious insta-love going on-- like, he is just to taken aback by how gorgeous and sweet and rehaired she is and bada boom, true love-- but they're pretty adorable together, and this is a fairy tale, so I accepted it. 

They are such lovely twists on fairy tale tropes. Owen is the every man, the lowly son of a dairy farmer, true of heart and spirit who ended up growing in personality, until he was very banter-y and I was cheering him on like no tomorrow. Emmeline is the Ugly Duckling, Cinderella type. She's a dirt scratcher, a red haired race of people deemed barbaric by the rest of the Anglunders. I simply looooooved the isolated dirt scratcher world, with their superstitions and husband markets. They're kept separate from the rest of Anglund, because the Anglunders are big dirty racists (they could possibly be analogous to the Scots or the Irish or even the Welsh, if one chooses to read it that way, and you shouldn't, because one of the strengths of this book is how little thinking it requires. It's a fairy tale. Just go with it, Gillian). 

Yep, that is definitely Emmeline

I loved the Griffin character, and the royals. All those characters managed to both buck their respective cliches and embrace them. The narrative is utterly charming and quick-moving. Both characters have quests, and stop at nothing to see them through. Nobody sits around waiting for their prince of princess to come. Even when one or both of the main characters is technically imprisoned, they still make decisions for themselves.

The language is beautiful, frothy, and chock(olate) full of imagery. It really felt like I was reading and expanded, idealized children's fairy tale right out a leather-bound, gilded book that smells like old paper and is embellished with full color illustrations. There's humor and wit and a few surprising reveals-- just enough to keep you on your toes. I liked the POV switches-- the book is told in first person, alternating between Owen's and Emmeline's POV, giving you great insight into all they're willing to go through for each other. It's so dang cute.
If you're a hyper-logical sort of reader, unable to overlook shaky magical logic and other fairy tale story telling elements, this probably won't be the book for you. But if you, like me, are just ready to be enchanted, then I recommend giving The Sweetest Spell a shot. Just make sure you've got a chocolate bar or five at the ready, because I promise you'll be craving it something fierce.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Links

Welcome to another edition of Sunday Links, in which I do all the sifting and internet-ing so you don't have to you lazy bums.


On the blog:

 March Fantasy Month continued as I reviewed the absolutely fantastic middle grade fantasy, The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen.

 I listed the top ten books I HAD to buy... but are still sitting on my shelf unread, and then everybody yelled at me for not reading The Book Thief, including author Victoria Scott on Twitter!

I explained why I love re-reading, and asked you whether you were pro-re-reading or con.

And lastly, I reviewed Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder.

Around the interwebs:

 20 Embarrassingly Bad Covers for Classic Novels. The one for The Turn of the Screw is hilariously literal and the ones for Cranford and Anne of Green Gables make me want to DIE and OH MY GOD I just saw what they did to The Wizard of Oz and I am speechless (via Flavorwire)

What We Talk About When We Talk About "Strong" Heroines in Young Adult Fiction, an AMAZING post by Molly Wetta (via YALSA)

Dying to create your own cozy little reading nook? HuffPost Books has some tips for you (though obviously the only real way to obtain a nook is just to gouge a hole in your wall and fill it with pillows) (via Huffington Post)

If you haven't been reading this series of posts from various YA authors on what haunted them at seventeen, in honor of Nova Ren Suma's new book 17 and Gone, you SHOULD. (via Nova Ren Suma)

Y'ALL THERE'S GOING TO BE A BOOK ABOUT CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL and we'll get to see how young twenty-something Clarissa is doing in life. Like the inverse of The Carrie Diaries. I LOVE how rampant nineties nostalgia is intent on resurrecting my entire childhood (via Entertainment Weekly)

Do we need to identify with a protagonist to enjoy a novel? (via Huffington Post)

Classic Authors on Instagram, and yes, it is as wondrous as it sounds. Hemingway has very entertaining selfies. (via Quirk Books)

The Art of Browsing (via The New Yorker)

Author Malinda Lo has excellent things to say about David Levithan's cover for his upcoming novel Two Boys Kissing (via Malinda Lo)

10 Obvious Celebrity Lookalikes from Young Adult Novel Covers. I have ALWAYS though the girl on the Vampire Academy cover looked just like Angelina Jolie, and I'm glad to see my opinion validated. The rest are up for interpretation (via the FW)


Giveaways galore: 

 It's YA Sisterhood's 2nd Blogoversary! Enter to win 3 ARCS!

 Win tons of early YA books BEFORE they come out from Lindsay Cummings!

 Spring Cleaning Giveaway Hop 

Enter to win a March 2013 release of your choice, such as Clockwork Princess, Requiem, Mila 2.0 and more!

 300 Follower Giveaway over at Read, Breathe, Read: signed copies of Tahereh Mafi's books+ secret stuff (INT'L)

 I would like to win twenty books from

 The Bookaholic is celebrating two years! Enter the giveaway for a chance to win awesome books. (via )

March Fantasy Month Review: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

This review is part of my awesome MARCH FANTASY MONTH project with the lovely Lili of Lili's Reflections. Click here to see Lili's review of Poison Study and follow both of us so you don't miss any of the fantasy madness!

Review: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
Rating: A fabulous and inventive fantasy novel which, while not inspiring total devotional love in me, still engaged me from beginning to end. Also, chocolate is a major plot point. Yes.

Poison Study (Study, #1)

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear...

The cover: I TOTALLY love this cover. I like the mysterious, dynamic pose. You can practically see the movement of her sweeping up the staircase and out of sight, with her big sleeves full of seeecrets. I like the slightly academic-looking title treatment and the gorgeous lighting on the castle stone. i find this cover very inviting.

The story: Poison Studyis one of those books that had me from the synopsis. The conflict of the initial set-up is so clear and so interesting and hey, did you see that cover? Yes pleeeeease. The reason I didn't feel punch you in the chest and seize your heart kind of love for this book is because I have read so many amazing high fantasy that it really takes a lot to enthrall me. Poison Study had everything I wanted, greatly entertained me, and made me hungry for the sequels, even if it didn't quite find a permanent place on my shelves.

Yelena narrates in a lofty, mannered, and slightly detached way, which takes a little getting used to, but that I ultimately enjoyed. It suited this high fantasy feel (even if every now and then it would randomly veer into more modern-speak), though I always wish to be plunged into characters’ emotions a bit more deeply. I felt her narration and her character could have used more depth. Let me clarify that: Yelena is a character with a lot of depth. She's incredibly intelligent, resilient, and strong. She's completely brilliant and I loved her. No damsel-in-distress syndrome for Yelena. I just wanted to feel her more. I wanted a little more depth in her emotions. However, she's a murderer, and I just loved that I am not a psycho, honestly.


I love that she's cagy and that everyone else treats her cagily. Because, hello. Murderer. And she didn't just kill anyone-- she murdered the son of her benefactor, the wealthy Lord Brazell (who I constantly kept misreading as Brazil). He ran the orphanage-type thing where Yelena grew up, and he... well, you'll see.

What’s truly aces here is the plot and the world. I've never read a fantasy world quite like Ixia. Most fantasies have kings and queens and whatnot, but Snyder somehow managed to blend fantasy with dystopian. Ixia cast aside its royal rule and now a more militaristic regime is in place. It's not an oppressive dictatorship, or anything, but it's more organized and more workman-like. For example, everybody is required to wear a uniform dictating your job and social level. The leader of Ixia is Commander Ambrose, a pretty fascinating character and the person for whom Yelena is tasting. In other words, she eats all his food before he does to make sure it isn't chock-full of poison.

Don't eat this.
Or this.

I LOVED the poisons. Having just read Poison, I'm clearly in the middle of a toxic substance kick, but the Poison Study poisons are more realistic, more lethal, and of course are accompanied by Valek. Who is, in a word, awesome. He's in charge of protecting Commander Ambrose and teaching Yelena everything there is to know about recognizing potions. He is loyal, dedicated, and exceptionally hot. I loved how slow-building and subtle the romance in this book is. The dynamic between him and Yelena is understated and yet somehow still swoony. I heart them muchly. The very best characters were, obviously, Ari and Janco. They were bursting with personality and just leapt off the page. And they made me go "Awwww" many a time. They're very sweet, loving, protective friends, and I wish I had them in my life.

The plot is full of intriiiigue and nefarious deeds and approximately 3245987 different people all trying to kill Yelena all the time. This is the kind of plot I can fully get behind. I figured out the main gist and perpetrator of the big plotty-twisty things, if not the little details. I wish the final climax had had more emotional impact (I wish this for the whole book, actually. Apart from Valek. Valek is perfection), but it was action-packed. But there should be more Valek. Valek on every page, I say. MORE VALEK preferably with his shirt off or in very tight pants or artistically whittling some butterflies and oh my God

I am not sure how this turned into a Sherlock fan post.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Re-reading: Yea or Nay?

Sometimes life is exhausting, right? You get busy with work or school or family, and if you're a reviewer like me, sometimes you just get swamped with review books. And your brain needs a break, and all you really want is rest. Those are the times where I like to do one of my favorite activities: rereading.

I know some people who never reread. Too many books! they say. Too little time! In the time it takes me to read a book I've already read, I could have read something new. Have you run out of books, or something? What about those huge stacks there on the floor? If you go about rereading things, how will you ever get through them?

Which are, obviously, fair points. Not everybody is a re-reading type of reader, and when you're on reading deadlines, like I am, it makes no logistical sense. But who said reading ever made sense? Here are the reasons why I am an avid re-reader.

Nostalgia. I don't just get nostalgic for that world and those characters I know and love. I get nostalgic for who I was the first time I read that particular book. It's lovely and bittersweet. Rereading a childhood favorite as an adult is a truly transporting, wonderful experience.

It's like a brain-cation. You don't have to work to keep a lot of details straight, because you remember. You can sit back and relax. Plus, if I'm rereading a book, it means I don't have to review it, which means I don't need to read as closely or as critically, which is awesome.

Blackout drunk ON BOOKS

You discover new things! Every single time I reread a Harry Potter book, I discover a new detail, plot point, character interpretation, hidden layer of deepest meaning, you name it. And the words become engraved in my heart just a little bit deeper. The more often you revisit a book, the more it becomes a part of you, and you get to the point where you're capable of reciting the entire Darcy proposal scene from Pride and Prejudice (yes, my mom and I do this. Yes, she is the reason I am the way I am (completely non-functional)).

This is at least the third time I have used this gif. I care not.

Related: Forest for the trees. The first time you blaze through a really excellent, fast-paced novel (like me with The Hunger Games), you get so caught up in the plot and finding out what in heaven happens next that you speed by. You get an imprint of the forest, but you miss the trees. I like going back and looking at those trees. Sometimes they have cool leaves or something.

Hello, old friends. Oh, how I miss certain characters. I love to hang out with them again. Rereading a book you love is kind of like returning to summer camp and meeting up with all your camp friends again. And you get to relive certain events as well.

I missssed you

There may be something there that wasn't there before. Perhaps I read a book at the wrong time. Perhaps I wasn't in the right mindset to appreciate it, or it went completely over my head. I've learned that second time's a charm for a lot of books that didn't work for me the first go around (particularly with a lot of the classics).

Writers are readers. Rereading an author you love is the best way to become a better writer. You really get a sense of what they're doing right and how they're using language.

So are you a re-reader? Why or why not?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Top Ten Books I HAD To Buy...But Are Still Sitting On My Shelf Unread

I choose... THAT ONE!

So, I have a lot of books. A LOT. I believe I've already told you guys about the time I broke my toe on one of the many stacks of books on my floor in the middle of the night. I have over 200 titles on my Kindle and a TBR list a mile wide. It's no wonder, then, that I haven't had time to get to all of them.

1.  Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Just One Day (Just One Day, #1)

I LOVED both If I Stay and Where She Went so much that I bought Just One Day the day it came out. Every review I've read has made it sound amazing, and yet... I haven't gotten to it! Why? I don't know. I've been so swamped with other review books lately, or maybe I haven't been in a contemporary mood. I'll get to it though! I'm determined. After adoring Anna and the French Kiss, I'm desperate to get back to (a book version of) Paris.

2. Sanctum by Sarah Fine

Sanctum (Guards of the Shadowlands, #1)

This is one of those books where I loved the premise so much I just had to buy it. And yet, other books got higher priority, and Sanctum just kid of languished there on my Kindle shelf, waiting for me. Don't worry, Sanctum. Your day will come.

3. The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

The Friday Society

The blurb for this book describes it as a Steampunk whodunit. I mean... that is irresistible to me. So how is it possible I'm still resisting? Even though I know it has three strong female leads and a healthy heaping of humor? I don't know! Hopefully I'll get to this book at some point.

4. Carnival of Souls by Marissa Marr

Carnival of Souls

Confession: I also haven't read Marr's most famous series, her Wicked Lovely series, though I did pledge to do so sometime this year (for the second time). Not sure what my deal is with not starting books I know I'd like, but I did always have an element of self-sabotage in me.

5. The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The Archived (The Archived, #1)

SPEAKING OF NOT READING BOOKS I WILL LIKE. I don't know WHY I haven't just stopped everything I'm doing and read this at once. I was salivating for MONTHS to get my hands on this sucker. You'd think I would devour it the second I had it in my cold greedy clutches, and yet... I bought it at the same time as Unravel Me and Scarlet, two sequels I'd been waiting for so anxiously that I could barely contain myself on the drive to the bookstore. And so The Archived fell to the wayside.

6. The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

The Gathering (Darkness Rising, #1)

Normally this premise wouldn't interest me, but this series has gotten a lot of hype, and I managed to snag a copy on the cheap. I also managed to win an ARC copy of the sequel (not the third one, though), meaning I truly have to read it now, going by the pressuring, nonsensical logic in my head. But I've never been good at doing things I have to.

7. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

 Again, I haven't been in a contemporary mood lately (which is lucky, since it's currently March Fantasy Month), which is the only reason I have for not reading this book yet-- that and the fact that I own it, which sometimes makes me feel less inclined to rush and read it (my loopy internal logic is also highly specific and capricious. Follow it at your own peril). I'm saving it for the day I need a real emotional pick-me-up.

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

The Book Thief

I. KNOW. This book has been deemed by many estimable people to be an absolute must-read, and read I HAVE NOT READ IT. I own it. It's there. If I ever fancy a good cry, I will pick it up. I PROMISE.

9. Underworld by Meg Cabot

Underworld (Abandon Trilogy, #2)

I love Meg Cabot, I truly do. There are few authors as prolific or as capable of making me happy so quickly. And yet because she's so prolific, I feel less of an urgency to get to all her books. I read Abandon when it came out, and it make me look forward to Underworld, and yet I didn't have that addicted feeling I usually have with sequels. So Underworld still sits on my shelf unread. But eh. I'll get to it.

10. Slide by Jill Hathaway

Slide (Slide, #1)

I read such a great review of this book and loved the synopsis so much that I rushed immediately to buy it. I could not tell you why I haven't read it yet. Too busy? Possibly, but I've had this one for ages. I DON'T KNOW. TOO MANY BOOKS. TOO LITTLE DAYLIGHT HOURS. HAVE NOT YET MASTERED ART OF READING WHILE SLEEPING. HOW IS ANYONE EVER SUPPOSED TO GET TO ALL OF THEM?!

So what about you? Which books did you rush to buy but still haven't read? Leave me your TTT links if you've got them so I can come see!