Monday, March 29, 2010

Brightly Woven Review

Brightly Woven - Alexandra Bracken
*March 23rd, 2010 EgmontUSA

When Wayland North brings rain to a region that's been dry for over ten years, he's promised anything he'd like as a reward. He chooses the village elder's daughter, sixteen-year-old Sydelle Mirabel, who is a skilled weaver and has an unusual knack for repairing his magical cloaks. Though Sydelle has dreamt of escaping her home, she's hurt that her parents relinquish her so freely and finds herself awed and afraid of the slightly ragtag wizard who is unlike any of the men of magic in the tales she's heard. Still, she is drawn to this mysterious man who is fiercely protective of her and so reluctant to share his own past.

The pair rushes toward the capital, intent to stop an imminent war, pursued by Reuel Dorwan (a dark wizard who has taken a keen interest in Sydelle) and plagued by unusually wild weather. But the sudden earthquakes and freak snowstorms may not be a coincidence. As Sydelle discovers North's dark secret and the reason for his interest in her and learns to master her own mysterious power, it becomes increasingly clear that the fate of the kingdom rests in her fingertips. She will either be a savior, weaving together the frayed bonds between Saldorra and Auster, or the disastrous force that destroys both kingdoms forever.

It's like Alexandra Bracken is a wizard who has infused Brightly Woven with a certain majestic magic.

To be honest, I haven't read a lot of fantasy recently. Since the pandemic a few years ago where [the genre] became commercialized to the point of repetitive "epic journeys" with preposterously named characters and overtly pompous language, for the most part I found solace in science fiction and contemporary, paranormal and mystery - just about anything else. However, when I heard about Brightly Woven and saw its pretty cover1, I must admit, my interest was piqued.

I'm pleased to report that I was not disappointed by my foray into fantasy once again. There's some sort of very magnetic - an almost charismatic - quality to Brightly Woven. It's a very cute story with lots of sweet moments, lots of action-packed moments. In terms of world-building, Bracken has painted - or woven, if you prefer ;) - a bright and vivid picture. It's familiar enough that we can relate to it, but simultaneously exotic enough that it stimulates the imagination to remain firmly planted in the fantasy realm.

Sydelle is also quite the leading lady. The story Bracken has sketched around her is an intriguing one to unravel, for sure. Unfortunately, characterization [of her, North, the antagonist, etc.] sort of fell through and wasn't quite as strong as it should've been. It would've been nice to see to a little more depth, a little more development to them and their relationships so that less suspension of disbelief would've been needed.

The "journey" of Brightly Woven is pretty remarkable, and it's great to see the characters embark on it. Plot-wise and diction-wise, it felt like there were moments of inconsistency and again, could've been stronger.

And yet - in spite of all this - there's just something about Brightly Woven that really draws [you] in. Once the slightly incredible beginning is past and the story really starts, this is one book that's immensely hard to put down.

Seriously - Alex Bracken must be a wizard of some sort because Brightly Woven is a magical read, one of the top ones of the year thus far.

1I actually prefer the cover on the ARC over the one on the finished copy. It's the same image, but I personally find the more vivid and brighter colours of the ARC more eye-catching than that of the finalized one. Here's an image of the original colours, in case anyone wanted to compare.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

In My Mailbox [31]

Pretty sweet week this time around. First I got The Vampire Diaries, The Return: Shadow Souls by L.J. Smith, which was a superb surprise (so thanks for that! :) The CW show The Vampire Diaries (based on the books, of course) is pretty amazing so far. I was quite blown away by this week's episode. What did you guys think of it?

And of course, have to love Ian Somerhalder's portrayal of Damon - so much fun to watch. The facial expressions, the humour... brilliant. Nina Dobrev is awesome as Elena, as can be expected considering her great job on Mia (on Degrassi: The Next Generation). I'm pretty sure the first time I noticed Steven R. McQueen (who plays Jeremy) on Everwood (which was also a great show).

Surprisingly, the [Vampire Diaries show] seems to be getting better with each successive episode, and it's definitely exceeded my expectations from before the series premiered. Has it for you?

Moving on, I also got Maureen Johnson's Scarlett Fever from the absolutely awesome Megan Crewe. (An autographed Give up the Ghost bookmark was also included in the package, but I forgot to take a picture of that.) I have interviewed Megan and reviewed Give up the Ghost. Thank you, Megan!

And lastly, I also received a poster of the spores that's for imagine the future from Swagbucks, which is pretty cool. If you haven't signed up already, you definitely should. It's basically a search engine, but you get "swagbucks" for searching, which can then be exchanged for prizes. So what're you waiting for? Go sign up! :)

Now that you've seen the contents of my mailbox, it's your turn - what was in yours this week?

*In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Hershey's Better Basket Blog Hop

Hershey has partnered with the Children’s Miracle Network for over 20 years. CMN is a non-profit alliance of children’s hospitals dedicated to providing state-of-the-art care, life-saving research and preventative education across North America.

This Easter season, Hershey is celebrating it’s new Easter products sold exclusively at Walmart and their legacy of making a difference and Hershey’s will donate up to a total of $5,000 to the Children’s Miracle Network together with bloggers.
How can we do this together? It’s simple:
  • Create a blog post with the specifics listed here.
  • Hershey Company will donate $10 per each blog post to CMN, up to a total of $5000.
  • One blog post per URL counts towards the donation, but you can give as many virtual Easter baskets as you want.
  • The Hershey’s Better Basket Blog Hop will officially begin at 12 AM EST on March 18th and end at 12 PM EST on April 4th, 2010. Blog posts submitted to us before or after that time period will not be counted for.
  • The blog post link has to be submitted to us for the donation to be counted. (Submit here.)
  • In addition copy and paste the following text in your blog post:
  • Copy and paste these rules to your blog post.
  • Create a blog post giving a virtual Easter Basket to another blogger – you can give as many Virtual Baskets as you want.
  • Link back to person who gave you an Easter Basket.
  • Let each person you are giving a Virtual Easter Basket know you have given them a Basket.
  • Leave your link at comment section. You can also find the official rules of this #betterbasket blog hop, and more information about Better Basket with Hershey’s there.
  • Hershey’s is donating $10 per each blog participating to the Better Basket Blog Hop to Children’s Miracle Network (up to total of $5,000 by blog posts written by April 4th, 2010).
  • Please note that only one blog post by each blog url will count towards the donation.
I received this Easter basket from Kristi over at Books and Needlepoint. And because this is such a great initiative with such a great purpose, I don't want to limit things by selecting specific recipients. If you're reading this post - I'm passing a basket along to you.

(Feel free to pop me a link to your post in comments section below.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Epitaph Road Review

Epitaph Road - David Patneaude
*March 23rd, 2010 EgmontUSA

2097 is a transformed world. Thirty years earlier, a mysterious plague wiped out 97 percent of the male population, devastating every world system from governments to sports teams, and causing both universal and unimaginable grief. In the face of such massive despair, women were forced to take over control of the planet--and in doing so they eliminated all of Earth's most pressing issues. Poverty, crime, warfare, hunger . . . all gone.

But there's a price to pay for this new "utopia," which fourteen-year-old Kellen is all too familiar with. Every day, he deals with life as part of a tiny minority that is purposefully kept subservient and small in numbers. His career choices and relationship options are severely limited and controlled. He also lives under the threat of scattered recurrences of the plague, which seem to pop up wherever small pockets of men begin to regroup and grow in numbers.

And then one day, his mother's boss, an iconic political figure, shows up at his home. Kellen overhears something he shouldn't--another outbreak seems to be headed for Afterlight, the rural community where his father and a small group of men live separately from the female-dominated society. Along with a few other suspicious events, like the mysterious disappearances of Kellen's progressive teacher and his Aunt Paige, Kellen is starting to wonder whether the plague recurrences are even accidental. No matter what the truth is, Kellen cares only about one thing--he has to save his father.

With an innovative and intriguing concept, David Patneaude poses some very interesting and thought-provoking questions in Epitaph Road.

Nowadays, gender equality isn't an issue that [we] think about on a daily basis. But in history - and even presently - male dominance has driven society. Imagine this - a future where 97% of the male population has been wiped out, a society where females govern, a seemingly idyllic place. Dystopian fiction often has a satirical flavour, erecting hypothetical futures or taking one (flawed) feature of society and exaggerating it. With Epitaph Road, Patneaude has woven a very interesting potential future.

World-building is definitely one of the fortes of Epitaph Road. And interwoven with that is a nail-biting little mystery and a mind-blowing conspiracy. One of the cool things about Epitaph Road is the way it keeps you guessing. Just when it seems the characters have gotten the conspiracy figured out, another curve ball is tossed into the mix. Keeping the reader guessing is always great.

Some of the core requirements of good dystopian are originality and creativity. In addition to a great premise, the whole concept behind Epitaph Road is quite cool, as are the little epitaphs themselves.

Once the story got going, it was chockful of pretty action-packed adventure. The beginning exposition was a little slow-going to wade through though. In terms of characters, they were all interesting, but could've used a little more fleshing out, as they are kind of hard to relate to.

Thought-provoking and intriguing, David Patneaude's Epitaph Road creates a pretty cool dystopian world.

In My Mailbox [30]

I've been out of town for the past week, which explains the absence around the blogosphere recently. March Break was a great week, albeit a little too short ;) How was/is your guys' March Break/Spring Breaks?

This week, Claudia Gray's Hourglass arrived in the mail for me while I was gone. Unexpected, but a nice surprise for sure! And over the course of the months since my last IMM post, I also got some autographed book plates from Melissa de la Cruz (thanks Melissa!) who I've also interviewed, some autographed book plates from Susan Beth Pfeffer (thanks Susan!), who I've also recently interviewed, and some bookmarks from Brooke Reviews (thanks Brooke!).

Your turn now - what was in your mailbox this week?

*In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Recreate a Cover: The Mark

Princess Bookie's Recreate a Cover contest is on now. The basic concept is to take a YA 2010 release, and re-create a new cover for it. For my entry, I've re-done Jen Nadol's The Mark, which was published by Bloomsbury on January 19th, 2010. Pop by the Goodreads page or Jen's website to find out more about it!

All photography used is (c) Deltay/Lucid Conspiracy. (Original versions of Veil of Lashes and
shh - silence.) Feedback is of course welcomed and appreciated.

The official/actual book cover is included below on the left. On the right hand side was the original book cover. I've included the little snippet-text from both on my version, one of which reads, "If you had the power to see death, would you wish it away?" while the other poses the question, "If you knew today was someone's last, would you tell?"

So, what do you think?

Interview: Susan Beth Pfeffer

YA science fiction - especially speculative &/or dystopian stuff, seems to be a rising market at the moment. And today, we have an interview with a pretty cool YA author who's been writing some sci fi lately. You may have heard of her - she's the author of Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, and coming soon, This World We Live In. So without further ado, presenting: Susan Beth Pfeffer!

Let's start off with something fun. Your latest book, This World We Live In, is coming out soon. Summarize the book in twenty words - while tossing in as many alliterations as possible.
Lonely life. Laughter lingers. Longing looks. Loathing loses. Lust. Lying. Love lasts.

Very impressive - every single word! The Moon books seem to contain an element of speculative science fiction. Why this particular hypothetical future? How did these concepts come about?
I've always been intrigued by the fact that the moon controls the tides. And I wanted a worldwide disaster that wasn't the fault of human beings (as so many things are) or something humans could change (since my main character was a teenage girl, and unlikely to save humanity). I also favored what I called a rolling disaster, one bad thing leading to another and another.

So I nudged the moon a bit closer to earth and tried to figure out just how bad that could make things. I have a basic sense of gravity, and I figured the moon's gravitational pull could cause all kinds of miseries.

Which, thanks to me, it did.

Definitely original! Life as We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In - all rather eloquently phrased titles. How did they come about?
My editor, or someone at the publishing house, named Life As We Knew It. My working title had been In The Sunroom.

Once I came up with the concept for The Dead and The Gone, I knew that would be its title. I zipped on over to Amazon to see if there were any other books with that title, and while there were a number of Dead And Gone(s), there weren't any The Dead And The Gone, so I figured I was safe.

When I was trying to come up with the title for the third book, someone commented on my blog that the first two were five single syllable word titles. So I played around with various combinations until I came up with This World We Live In. Amazon didn't show any serious conflicts, so that became my choice.

That's smart, checking titles on Amazon first. Now, you've accumulated quite an impressive list of publications over the years. Is there one particular book you enjoyed writing more than the others?
I had a wonderful time writing all three moon books. I love the set up and the characters. When I wrote LAWKI it didn't have chapters, and I think when I wrote d&g, I was reminded to put chapters in. Even with TW, the chapters were an organizing ex post facto addition.

I love writing books without chapters. There's something liberating about not having to deal with that structure.

I wrote a book a long time ago called Courage, Dana, for younger readers. I remember really enjoying writing it. A tiny section of it is used on standardized reading tests, so I still make a little bit of money from it.

That's really cool that it's used for testing! If you could meet any character from any of your books, who would you chill with for a day? What would you guys do?
I introduce a new character named Charlie in This World We Live In. He's your basic all purpose nice guy, and I think I'd enjoy spending time with him.

Since I mostly write for kids, I mostly write about kids. In real life, I tend to hang out with grownups. So I think Charlie would be the one I'd have the best time with.

I have no idea what we'd do though, since I only know him after the world has come to an end. That cuts down considerably on possible activities.

Haha, that probably would. If the apocalypse were coming tomorrow and you could only choose three books (in the entire world) to keep safe and bring into the "New World", which ones would you pick?
Agee On Film by James Agee.
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
Church, State, and Freedom by Leo Pfeffer (my father)

Words of wisdom - what do you do when the muse has gone on vacation?
I go on vacation also.

I do a lot of pre-writing, so I always have some comfort level about what I'm going to be writing from one day to the next.

If I wake up in the morning with a big I Don't Wanna, I simply give myself the day off.

It doesn't happen often, but I respect it when it does.

Wise words. When writing, do you have any specific rituals?
I try to clean my home before I begin a book, have things all nice and tidy at least at the getgo.

And generally, I don't read fiction when I'm writing.

Beyond that, I pretty much keep to my regular routines.

Outline first or writing on the fly?

Outline, outline, outline.

For the most part, I don't outline on paper. But before I begin writing a book, I do an enormous amount of thinking about it. And when I'm writing, I focus on what's going to happen.

I'm a very fast worker. I always have been. But the pre-writing lets me cut down on the rewriting, since I've worked out most of the problems before I start putting words on paper (or on screen).

There's no right way or wrong way, and in the end it probably takes the same amount of time as it would if I sat down and improvised.
But my favorite part of writing is working the story out, and I always wait until I'm comfortable with the beginning, have a very strong sense of where the story is going to end, and am reasonably confident I know the middle, before beginning the actual writing.

More great advice! Really on a roll here. (And from peachiemkey of TWFT): What's one hard truth you've had to learn about writing?
That just because I think something is wonderful doesn't mean anyone else will.

I am my own biggest fan. I write the stories I would most enjoy reading. My primary goal in writing is to entertain myself.

Alas, not everyone else on earth has my exact taste.

Anything else to add?

Just that I'm very glad the world isn't anything like the one I created in my moon books and that I don't have to hang out with imaginary characters!

Thanks for joining us!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Unwritten Rule Review

The Unwritten Rule - Elizabeth Scott
*March 16th, 2010 Simon Pulse

Everyone knows the unwritten rule: You don't like your best friend's boyfriend.

Sarah has had a crush on Ryan for years. He's easy to talk to, supersmart, and totally gets her. Lately it even seems like he's paying extra attention to her. Everything would be perfect except for two things: Ryan is Brianna's boyfriend, and Brianna is Sarah's best friend.

Sarah forces herself to avoid Ryan and tries to convince herself not to like him. She feels so guilty for wanting him, and the last thing she wants is to hurt her best friend. But when she's thrown together with Ryan one night, something happens. It's wonderful...and awful.

Sarah is torn apart by guilt, but what she feels is nothing short of addiction, and she can't stop herself from wanting more...

Elizabeth Scott's The Unwritten Rule uses written words fluidly and gracefully to weave an achingly beautiful contemporary coming-of-age story.

It's like Scott has an extra sense when it comes to chronicling the tale. The little tidbits of back-story are incorporated into the present-day occurrences perfectly to maximize the effect of them. One of the great things about YA is that oftentimes, they deal with situations that affect today's youth directly, situations that they may experience. Liking your best friend's boyfriend is a tricky situation, regardless of context, but it is something that does happen. Scott tackled this issue head-on and masterfully in The Unwritten Rule, in a way that everyone can understand and relate to.

Which brings me to my next point: credibility. Sarah was brilliantly developed, and it was amazing to see her transition from someone who felt almost inferior, to someone who was willing to stand up for herself and live her life the way she deserved to. Very inspiring journey. The thing is, usually real-life doesn't have one clear protagonist. There are always reasons, and motivations, behind everything, everyone. Scott portrays that in a very real way here. Brianna really comes alive as a real person, because of the context surrounding her character.

Length-wise, The Unwritten Rule is pretty perfectly proportioned; it's a prime example of "start at the beginning, and finish when you get to the end [of the story]." I suppose that technically it could have been a little longer in order to incorporate a little more of [the characters'] lives outside of the primary plot line. At this age, things like college apps, SAT preparations, etc. could have factored in a little too, but that's fairly minor, and it didn't really detract from the story much.

One measure of a novel's success is its ability to make its audience feel, to evoke emotion, to thrust those words off the page and fling them at the readers so that they react. With The Unwritten Rule, this has been done. The emotions come alive, you can empathize with the characters, feel indignance on their behalf, have pride in their decisions. And that's a pretty cool thing, because it draws you into the story.

With realistic characters, fluid writing and a dash of panache, Elizabeth Scott's The Unwritten Rule is a touching exploration of one major unwritten rule.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (9)

Dreaming of Amelia - Jaclyn Moriarty
*June 1st, 2010 Arthur A. Levine Books
This is the story of Amelia and Riley, bad kids from bad Brookfield High who have transferred to Ashbury High for their final year. They've been in love since they were fourteen, they go out dancing every night, and sleep through school all day. And Ashbury can't get enough of them.

Everyone's trying to get their attention; even teachers are dressing differently, trying to make their classes more interesting. Everyone wants to be cooler, tougher, funnier, hoping to be invited into their cool, self-contained world.

But they don't know that all Amelia can think about is her past -- an idyllic time before she ran away from home. Riley thinks he's losing her to the past, maybe even to a place further back in time. He turns to the students of Ashbury for help, and things get much, much worse.

In the tradition of the gothic novel, this is a story about ghosts, secrets, madness, passion, locked doors, femmes fatales, and that terrifying moment in the final year of high school when you realise that the future's come to get you.

So don't quote me on this, but I think Dreaming of Amelia may be being released earlier in Australia (& the UK?) than [North America]. Either way, still a couple months away.

Why is this week's pick Dreaming of Amelia? I'm glad you asked. In April of 2009, I actually had the great fortune of getting to interview the fabulous Jaclyn Moriarty (interview can be found here), which was quite an honour. It was one of my earlier interviews, from back when Lucid Conspiracy was still merely a fledgling blog, and Jaclyn Moriarty is an author whom I've admired for a long time now, so I was quite happy that she was willing to take time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions.

And if you haven't been exposed to her books yet, you simply must be - immediately! I particularly enjoyed The Year of Secret Assignments. So it's definitely great that there's another installment coming soon in the Brookfield-Ashbury chronology. (Especially since this latest addition may have been alluded to in the interview?)

So there you go - now that you've seen my pick, what are you waiting on, this Wednesday?

*WoW is hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine
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