Sunday, February 27, 2011

Intrinsical by Lani Woodland

Beware: Spoilers for Intrinsical galore in this review. Read at your own risk.

Title: Intrinsical
Author: Lani Woodland
Publisher: Pendrell Publishing
Release Date: August 10, 2010
Pages: 286 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

Intrinsical (The Yara Silva, #1)Sixteen-year-old Yara Silva has always known that ghosts walk alongside the living. Her grandma, like the other women in her family, is a Waker, someone who can see and communicate with ghosts. Yara grew up watching her grandmother taunted and scorned for this unusual ability and doesn't want that to be her future. She has been dreading the day when she too would see ghosts, and is relieved that the usually dominant Waker gene seems to have skipped her, letting her live a normal teenage live.

However, all that changes for Yara on her first day at her elite boarding school when she discovers the gene was only lying dormant. She witnesses a dark mist attack Brent, a handsome fellow student, and rushes to his rescue. Her act of heroism draws the mist's attention, and the dark spirit begins stalking her. Yara finds herself entrenched in a sixty-year-old curse that haunts the school threatening not only her life, but the lives of her closest friends as well. Yara soon realizes that the past she was trying to put behind her isn't going to go quietly.


Growing up, Yara Silva was always afraid that she would have the same Waker gene that her grandmother did. She never wanted to be made fun of the way her beloved grandmother was when she came for visits from Brazil. It seems like the trait may have passed her by, but then she enrolls at a boarding school and her dormant powers come to life as she saves fellow student Brent from being murdered by a dark mist. Now that dark mist is following her too and with little control over her powers, defeating it and solving the boarding school's old curse won't be easy for Yara.

First off, thank you to the author Lani Woodland for sending me a friend request on Goodreads (which I accepted, of course). That was a lovely gesture. Intrinsical has been on my radar since I ran across it and its lovely cover a few months ago and I was excited to get reading. I found a great debut novels within these pages. The execution was a little flawed, but that did not stop me from having fun on my journey into Yara's world.

Yara and Cherie were both likable girls and I loved reading scenes where the two of them interacted. Between the two, I preferred Cherie and found her to be a little more interesting. I didn't feel like I knew Steve well enough, so I won't say much about him. Brent... Well, let's just say that at the end of the book, I preferred Dallin over Brent. He may be the male lead, but Brent pulled a few tricks that don't fly with me. Something tells me that if Yara's grandmother had been in the book, I would have loved her like I loved Cherie.

The plot moved quickly and the writing style kept up with that pace instead of slowing it down, keeping me reading even when I got annoyed at one thing or another. There were a few turns of phrase that made me wonder if that was really there, but it was otherwise a book with focused, minimal prose--and that's just how I like it. Overly poetic and purple isn't my style. And the whole "main character is dead" thing going on for half the book? I loved that too. That was a good twist and not one you see often in books.

Along with its strong points, the novel had its flaws. As I mentioned above, there were numerous instances where I wondered if someone really wrote that in a book. The villain came off as a little bit cheesy to me, which made taking him seriously a serious task in itself. Some points in the narrative that were confusing (how does someone smile into the right side of their mouth? Something hits Yara and falls, yet it's on top of her head?) and I ran across a plot hole about time-traveling ghosts and how it reversed Yara's death. Explaining it fully would be difficult and I don't want to make this long review even longer. Just take my word that it doesn't make sense. Time: Don't mess with it.

Within the story, the calendar did not match up at all. Something happened to the top student in Yara's grade five days into classes and yet everyone knew who he was and that he was the top student in the grade. I find this highly implausible; at such an early point in the school year, there had to be multiple students with the same grade average and that would tie for top student. Brent also mentioned that he'd been dead for a couple of weeks. Wrong! When I went back and checked how much time passed between his "death" and when he said that, I found that only four to five days passed.

Now then, my biggest complaint about the book: Its editing. My copy of Intrinsical is littered with red marks where I corrected mistakes ranging from missing punctuation to misspelled words. Classmates laughed all week as I read this book  during class and fixed mistakes with my trusty red pen. Reading is supposed to be an escape and this time around, it didn't feel like one. I felt like I was reading someone's draft and not their final product. While I love editing and little would make me happier than to pursue it as a career, I don't want to read a book for pleasure and be reminded of the mistake-riddled article drafts my classmates on the school newspaper give me to edit.
While the story was enjoyable, I was kept from immersing myself in the story by a large plot hole involving time travel, a cheesy villain, and horrible editing that pulled me out of the story each time I wandered past a mistake. I may pick up its sequel Indelible when it comes out in September 2011 and I may not. We'll see how I feel when the time comes.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer

Title: The Deadly Sister
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: May 1st, 2010
Pages: 310 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

Abby Goodwin has always covered for her sister. Maya's screwups started out ordinary enough--broken curfews, failed classes, hanging out with drugged-out losers.

But now Maya's been accused of murder. And Abby's not sure she'll be able to cover for her anymore.

With the police closing in, Abby helps Maya escape...and then starts investigating, hoping to clear her sister's name. What she finds, though, shows that you can't trust anyone--not even the people you think you know.

From the author of The School for Dangerous Girls comes a page-turning thriller about the things we do for family--whether or not they deserve it.


One Saturday morning on a jog, Abby Goodwin discovers two things: the dead body of Jefferson Andrews, local "good boy" and her rebellious sister Maya's tutor/object of affection, and Maya's cell phone buried in the dirt near his body. Taking on the role of detective, Abby uncovers what kind of person Jefferson really was. A cheater, a manipulative man, a drug dealer,... There are a lot of people that had reason to want him dead. Abby just needs to prove that Maya didn't kill Jefferson and then prove who did do it.

The novels wastes no time drawing the reader into the story. It opens with a short prologue where Abby details how she covered up for Maya all the time when they were children, then moves on to the present time and the discovery of Jefferson's body. Abby's sisterly instincts kick in instantly and the race to prove whether Maya is innocent or guilty begins. None of the characters are ever what they seem to be, from "good boy" Jefferson to Abby's best friend Cheyenne to popular girl Rose Nelson to Abby herself. The major players in the story are all given a believable depth and one will come to find that there is more than one sociopath in Abby's little Florida town.

Reading the book in two or three sit-downs is easy. The plot moves quickly and the writing, while minimal in its description of people and places at most points, aids in the advancement of the story. Its minimal style works best for this kind of book; flowery prose would slow it down and take away a good chunk of the suspense. Abby's narration keeps you reading and as she discovers more clues while investigating out of admirable love for Maya, the urge to keep reading grows stronger. Did Maya really kill him? Did someone frame her? We have to know!

About halfway to two-thirds of the way through the book, the pieces start to come together and an observant reader may figure out who the killer is. Instead of being predictable, it elicits a reaction of shock and keeps you reading so you can see if the conclusion you reached is true. You think that no, this couldn't be, you've got to be wrong and the real killer will show themselves in a twist ending, but you will find that your conclusion is true. It's true and this turns the novel into an amazing example of what unreliable narrators can do for a story. Not only is it the ultimate twist, this twist makes sense when you reread the novel. Pieces that seemed strange before make perfect sense.

I had only two annoyance with this book and the first is a petty one: the motive behind the murder. The motive is a valid one in the real world--there are cases all the time where one person kills another because the killer loved the victim and they feel like the victim betrayed them in some way. It gets points for realism, but I can think of one motive that could have one-upped the story and made it perfect: Jefferson was murdered out of both love for Maya, to protect her from further bad treatment by Jefferson, and the need to punish her for not listening and getting with Jefferson in the first place. Do they always have to kill over a guy? Really? It couldn't be out of a twisted love for Maya?

The other annoyance is one that is implicit and may turn out not to be there at all; it could be a perception I had that was wrong. At points in the novel, I felt like there was a little bit of slut shaming going on. Jokes were made about Maya sleeping around and meanwhile, Jefferson was being exposed as someone who slept around and cheated on his girlfriend. Jefferson isn't being put in a positive light either, but I felt that the girls who got with Jefferson were being shamed because they should have known better than to sleep with him due to his reputation of dumping the girls. Read this book and see if you find the same thing I do because I may be seeing something that isn't there.

Now that I'm finished with The Deadly Sister, I'm left to wonder how this book is not more popular. With a good mystery, interesting characters, and a twist that will blow your mind, this is the kind of book that deserves a place on best-seller lists. Is it because the main character does not fall in mind-blowing love with someone during the course of the story (even though love is a big part of the story)? Read The Deadly Sister. Really. Even readers who don't care much for the young adult murder mystery genre will enjoy this book.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Intrinsical by Lani Woodland

Monday, February 14, 2011

LJ Smith fired from writing the Vampire Diaries novels. Huh?

Some of you may or may not have already heard about what happened: LJ Smith, bestselling author of The Vampire Diaries series that was the basis of the popular TV series Vampire Diaries, was fired from writing the novels. Others have already covered what happened and done it well, but I wanted to try my hand at explaining the situation. There are still many who have no clue what happened. This whole situation interests me not only because of the author, who was once my favorite author but has since lost that position for reasons that shall not be explained here, but because of how unusual this is. How often do you see an author fired from writing their own series?

The tale begins in 1990. Author LJ Smith is contacted by an agent to write The Vampire Diaries novels and she takes the offer. This agent turned out not to be from Harper, the publisher of The Vampire Diaries, but from Alloy Entertainment, a book packager that takes novels, put covers and blurbs on them, and sells them to publishers. The contract she signed was a "work for hire" contract that gave her the copyright, but the ownership of the novels went to Alloy and Harper. By the time she figured this out, it was too late. She had to have Alloy's permission to write the novels and had to write what they told her to write. From how it appears, few to no readers knew this before now. I can imagine why--this isn't something an author would want to tell her readers about.

Cut to February 6th, 2011. An email begins to circulate in which LJ Smith explains the above circumstances and tells everyone that she has been fired from writing The Vampire Diaries series. Why? Because they wanted her to write more Stelena (Stefan and Elena), less Delena (Damon and Elena), and less Bonnie. She refused to bow to their demands and wrote the novels the way her heart told her to. The owners' wishes were to have Stelena be the endgame and from the way Smith was writing the novels, Delena looked like a serious possibility. This led to her dismissal. The new Vampire Diaries trilogy, beginning with Phantom, will now be written by a ghostwriter.

The news sends her fans into a frenzy. Is it fake? Is it real? The fans had to know! contacted the publisher to find out whether or not the rumors were true and did a fine job explaining what was going on. In the comments, people were not happy at all. They immediately reacted by hoping that it was false ("NO.THIS BETTER BE A LIE," said Sabrina Shariff) or implying that it was a hoax. Some fans also expressed sadness, but were not afraid to criticize the Return trilogy or the original books.

On February 9th, Smith posted an entry in her blog asking fans not to boycott Harper over what happened. The entry, while short and slightly vague, was a solid confirmation of the rumors that had been swirling. Reactions were posted all over the Internet, most expressing general outrage at what happened. Talks of boycotting Harper still stirred despite Smith's pleas and I know firsthand that people are already protesting. Someone I spoke to about the situation later contacted me and asked me to sign multiple petitions and send letters to Alloy and Harper to try and get Smith rehired. (Note: the site I linked to on "multiple" is the best one to go to see reactions from fans that want Smith rehired.)

Much to the delight of fans of the TV series and her other novels, neither would be affected by what happened. The TV series would go on without any problems and her other series such as The Forbidden Game and Night World were contracted directly with the publisher so that the rights and ownership belonged to Smith. Stefan's Diaries was never written by her to begin with and would also go on without problems.

Now it comes to my opinion on this matter. What happened was horrible and it is tragic that LJ Smith won't be allowed to keep writing the series she has slaved over since the 1990s. Despite this, I believe that it was within the rights of Alloy and Harper to fire her. It all comes down to the fact that LJ Smith was an employee of Alloy and Harper. They employed her to write the novels the way she was told to and she refused to do so with the Return trilogy. She was an employee who refused to do what she was told and as the right-holders and her employers, Alloy and Harper were within their rights to fire her. Legally, they took a justifiable action, one they might not be willing to reverse.

 I have done my research and provided the facts of the matter. Everything is up to you now. What is your opinion of this sorry situation?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Title: The Sky is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Publisher: Dial
Release Date: March 9th, 2010
Pages: 277 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life--and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon: one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.

Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie's struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.


Since her older sister Bailey died at nineteen due to a problem with her heart, Lennie Walker has been at a complete loss. She's always had Bailey there with her, acting as the companion pony to her sister's racehorse. Still drowning in her grief, she is forced to stand on her own and live day-by-day when all she wants is her sister back. This is all happening at the same time as her sexual awakening and the trouble she has with two boys: new student and fellow musical talent Joe Fontaine and Toby Shaw, Bailey's boyfriend and the boy she seeks comfort in.

I have not seen characterization this strong and this wonderful for a while. For once, I felt like I could tell someone what the heroine's personality was if asked! Not only was Lennie a good heroine, she was a realistic one--she's not without her flaws, such as her insecurity and her selfishness in the wake of Bailey's death. Even Bailey, dead for the entirety of the story, had such great characterization and presence that she was alive in a way. This was the same for many of the characters, including Gram, Joe, and Uncle Big. The notes left in books, on branches, and on bathroom walls offer even more insight into the mind of this grief-addled girl.

Of all the times for Lennie to wake up and realize that boys are there and she likes them, it was horrible that it happened right after her sister's death. The overwhelming grief and new sexual desires tangle up inside of her, leading to more than a few problems (can we say Toby?). My word isn't because I have only lost two relatives (one died when I was too young to remember and the other... well, I had a hard time finding it in me to miss and mourn her because of what she did to my family), but The Sky is Everywhere is a stunning portrait of grief. No, not just of grief. Of the the internal struggle that happens when you're trying to move on with your life after someone's death and yet refuse to let them go because you're afraid they'll think badly of you from wherever they are. Everyone hurts, not just Lennie.

I admit, there isn't much of a solid plot to this book. That's why it took me a week to read it when I probably could have done it in three days: I didn't feel like there was anything to keep me reading. Sometime around page 180, something kicked in. Maybe it was that Lennie was forced to stand on her own after all the people she had been leaning on refused to hold her up anymore. Maybe it was that the hints of something more to everything finally got through my thick skull to my brain. Whatever it was, I sat in my chair for two hours and finished reading The Sky is Everywhere. You want plot? Go elsewhere. You want a character-driven novel? Here's your stop.

Despite its wonders, The Sky is Everywhere is not without flaw. My mortal nemesis good friend, the "love rival is a bitch" trope, made an appearance with the help of Rachel, the girl who holds first chair clarinet in Lennie's class. Did Rachel have any use in the story other than to make Lennie feel insecure and make her angst about whether or not Joe's involved with Rachel? Parts of this story, especially the beginning, were very telltelltell instead of showshowshow and constant telling is irritating, to say the least. There were also a few... interesting and unneeded references in there. We don't need to know that Gram doesn't drive, and that moment of "now I know why that king abdicated his throne for love, love is awesome" was a little overdramatic. Not so much bad as it was strange and out-of-nowhere.

Unless the reader lacks a heart, this book will most likely make someone cry at least once. Stories like this are not my typical fare (I prefer romance to remain a subplot, if it has to be there at all, and action), but The Sky is Everywhere was worth the time spent reading it. The novel is never about just grief or just love: it's always about both of them and how they affect everyone in the Walker family, not just Lennie. For once, there is good reason for all the praise this novel has garnered.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Steampunk by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer