Tag Archives: reviews

Good Reads and Goodreads

Lately, I’ve been doing a ton of reading alongside my writing. While the school year poses an insane challenge to getting everything done, even a quick fifteen minute read before bed leaves me content.

So, what have I been reading?

A whole mix of things, really. Sometimes, I’m reading short stories. Others, I’m reading books in advance of my freshmen English students. I tend to bounce a lot, switching between literature and young adult, then fantasy, then suspense, etc., and on the nights I can only cram in a small amount, I’ll knock out a short story. I admit I switch back to young adult fairly regularly, a fact I attribute to originally writing YA, and to the genre “growing up” a bit over the years. Currently, Christopher Pike’s Thirst 2 has taken up residence on my nightstand, alongside Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and an anthology of H.P. Lovecraft tales—all of them equally adored as my go-to reads before bed.

Speaking of that nightstand—no matter what the genre, it seems the books are piling up. This is due to my currently exploding To Read bookcase (yes, I said bookcase), which is about to get fuller with the six book order I just placed on Amazon. I should probably put a hold on any more book purchases, or break down and get a Kindle, but I’m still a greedy little kid whenever I hit a bookstore or hop onto Amazon. The only thing that would make it all better would be finding more time to read, since over meals and before bed is simply not enough!

In the past, I wrote some [long-winded] reviews of books here on my blog, and posted what I was reading on my Links Page. This worked out great, until I ended up finding I was tackling more books than I could keep up with while simultaneously writing about writerly topics. So, I moved on over to Goodreads to both write about what I’d read but also keep track of what I’d finished. Hopefully, you’ve heard of Goodreads, and if you haven’t, I’d like to tell you a few reasons you should check it out.

Goodreads is a social network-style website devoted to readers and all their reading finds. On the basic level, you can keep track of books you’ve read and are currently reading, as well as books you want to read. You can also share detailed reviews that you can link to your social media sites, and create customizable badges to proudly display your books on any blog or website (like the one I have to the right, for example).

But the networking aspect of Goodreads is what makes it the true reader’s home—here you can find readers of similar styles and choose to friend them or follow their reviews. You can also find your favorite authors and follow their blogs, books, and reviews. This might be my favorite feature, as I love hearing what some of my favorite authors are reading and their thoughts on books I might have read as well. In addition, Goodreads hosts groups and forums so that you can share your love of books/authors/genres with other like-minded individuals. I haven’t taken full advantage of this feature, but for those more into the social media aspect, it’s a real boon.

While I am no longer writing the detailed reviews I used to, I’ve still made a habit to share some thoughts on my reading on Goodreads for anyone who might be interested. I don’t follow others’ reviews as much as I’d like to, instead keeping tabs on a few connections that have exhibited similar interests or solid, thoughtful reviews.

What about you—do you follow book reviews and share your reading on Goodreads, or do you use/reference an alternative website? If you do use Goodreads, what features do you use, and have you found it helpful in connecting with other readers and writers?

If you are on Goodreads, I’d love to be connected. You can find me here. And if you aren’t there yet…well, I guess we know what you’ll be signing up for momentarily…. 🙂

Happy reading, everyone!

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A Brief Review of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, By Jay Asher

***Before I begin—a quick reminder that I am still taking suggestions for Third Thursday Flash topics up to 8 p.m. PST tonight. Be sure to email me at evariederauthor@gmail.com with your suggestions, or head on over to my contact page to send it in!***

I’ve been a maniacal reader lately, doing my best to devour as many good reads despite having far less time with the start of the school year. I tend to alternate between short stories, novels, and a handful of young adult books to keep it interesting, and there was one I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is now one I’d like to share with you.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a gripping young adult novel about the death of a high school girl named Hannah Baker. Hannah died of a suicide, and while everyone dismissed her death as that of a lost and selfish teenager, the narrator, Clay Jensen, is about to discover that there was a lot more to Hannah’s death than everyone suspected. There were thirteen reasons, as it turns out—thirteen people who affected her life in the worst of ways when she cried out for help, and thirteen people to whom she’s addressed a box of cassette tapes as a pseudo-suicide note to be passed around after her death.

Hannah’s voice plays through the entire book, taking us on the haunting journey of a misunderstood teenaged girl, whose life was worth far more than anyone gave her credit for and for whom the impact of rumors, gossip, and bullying teens drove her to a tragic and terrible choice. In listening to her tapes, Clay leads us through all thirteen people who brought Hannah down. He changes his perspective about how we as humans treat one another on his path to understand her, and the result changes his life forever.

The book was a New York Times and International Bestseller, and it’s really no surprise why. Moving, heartfelt, and devastating, the book makes you rethink how you interact with those around you, each moment creating tiny cracks in the surface of our being that together have the potential to form one gaping hole. Most of us adults have learned how to get past this sensation—but for our teenagers, it’s a heavy stress that they may not yet be ready to handle.

I think this book is one that everyone should read, particularly teenagers. I also wish it was on our district’s reading list, but alas, I don’t know how most parents would react to such a moral lesson told in the pained, distant voice of a lost little girl. Instead, I’ll just recommend it here—over and over again.

Great book, friends. Be sure to check it out.


Juliet Dark’s THE DEMON LOVER

Oh my goodness, am I excited to tell you about this book!

For years I’ve loved Carol Goodman‘s work. You’ll even find her book, The Lake of Dead Languages, listed as one of my favorites on my Links page. Ms. Goodman’s stories usually fall into the genre of contemporary/mainstream literature, and her style is quite gothic and eloquent. So, suffice it to say I was delighted to discover she’d made a crossover, writing a gothic paranormal romance under the pseudonym of Juliet Dark.

And what a read it was! Goodman/Dark’s prose is enchanting, and her imagery is mind-boggling and rich. Every time I read her work, I find passages to read over and over for their lush beauty.

The same held true in The Demon Lover, in which a college professor with a background in the supernatural—vampires, fairies, incubi, and the like—found her way to an unusual college in the remote town of Fairwick, New York. Callie McFay has spent her life sharing her knowledge of supernatural creatures in literature, and something about the town draws her in. She is also captivated by an old Victorian home in the area, but soon finds there is something more to her love of the house than she realized. Callie has a demon lover, a man made of shadow who comes to her in her dreams and sucks her life breath in exchange for the love they share, and while she realizes the danger of their affair, she must find a way to separate her heart.

What I found delightful about this book—besides breathtaking love scenes and settings filled with beautiful detail—was the collection of other mythical creatures Callie finds in Fairwick. Callie learns a lot about herself as well as her supernatural studies through these people, and the relationships between the characters are natural and well-portrayed. In truth, when I finished the book and realized it was the start of a series, I decided I might very well have found my next Sookie Stackhouse collection. The difference between Charlaine Harris and Juliet Dark, however, is tremendous. Callie’s tale sits closer to the dark, gothic world of Thornfield Hall in Brontë’s Jane Eyre (another favorite!) than that of Sookie’s Louisiana world, and her story is far more serious.

I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. I am a slow reader, but I found myself reading it everywhere—on the cardio machines at the gym, at stoplights, standing in lines, and for an hour or two every night—because the world Goodman/Dark creates is so detailed. She is an author able to make characters out of setting, breathing life into things as simple as snow, wind, and plant life, and thus it is no wonder I found myself as seduced by the shadowed incubus as poor Callie.

I highly recommend this one, folks. For now, I’m off to pre-order the second book.

Happy reading! 🙂


Stephen King’s ON WRITING

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. —Stephen King

About a month ago, my friend loaned me a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. The friend, Mari Naomi, is a brilliant San Francisco based graphic memoirist and cartoonist, whom I look to as a mentor. The book—well, it is a genius piece of insight that I think every writer should look to as a mentor of sorts.

In my younger years, I read a lot of Stephen King (fun fact: I originally wanted to write YA horror). I tore through his tales because I found his work riveting for content, but also because he used blatant and perfectly concise language. Cut to many years later, and Mr. King completed a book about the craft! It took me a long time to stumble upon it, but thank goodness I did.

Besides a compelling section on the path that led to the King of Horror becoming such, the book contains a thoughtful and articulate take on the writing craft. King shares his views on the “writer’s toolbox,” as well as clarity on things all writers should avoid (for example, excessive use of adverbs or passive voice). His is a lesson in get to the point, and one warranting of every writer’s attention.

Personally, I’m delighted I found the book just before I tore my own apart for its final edit a couple of weeks ago. The advice is invaluable, and it would be a shame to not have checked it out.

I think non-writers can also enjoy the book, both because it reveals some of the work and secrets behind the craft, and because King’s distinctive voice is present throughout—the same clever master of horror we all know and treasure, but this time talking about something personal and craft-based instead of purely fictional.

So, in summary, if you have not yet read this book, I suggest you rush right out to grab it and start. 🙂

Happy reading!


Hacksaws, FRINGE, and Some Darn Good Books

One of the upsides to my current once-a-week blog schedule is that I’m finding myself stocked up on things to talk about! Picture me as the little kid with my cheeks poofed, holding my breath all week long to say something… 🙂

First item: Hacksaws

A hacksaw would be the metaphorical utility I’m using to edit the crap out of Kyresa. Somehow I’m still working on it (!), but I’m having a good time. I noticed at some point that Kyresa had started sighing too much. They say some of your traits appear in your characters, and I’m a sigher in real life—less because I’m a romantic than because I tend to over-analyze and think too hard—but this is clearly not an acceptable trait for a powerful, immortal Queen. Nope, nope, nope. So, we had a long pep talk, and now she’s a much stronger character. Phew!

I’d also like to share this nifty editing software my friend passed along, SmartEdit, which helps you track overused words, phrases, adverbs, etc. You name it, this program will find your errors and blow your mind with your redundancies. The catch? It only runs on PCs. I myself run on a Mac platform, but fortunately my netbook is a PC, so after a few file transfers…boom! I learned that my real-life tendency to smile all the time is getting a little old in my characters. “Find and replace” is currently my best friend, and I’m delighted to report that so far, between an ending change, some general cleanup, and my recent obsession with tightening up my manuscript, I’ve cut Kyresa from 111,400 words down to 98,400! I’m not done yet, but I’m thrilled with this progress. THRILLED.

Second item: FRINGE

I am fairly intrinsically motivated, but I like a good reward on occasion. My latest “gift” has been one episode of Fringe a night after I reach my editing quota. At 22 episodes per season and four episodes to catch up on, you might imagine this has taken me an extraordinarily long time—it has! But it’s been such a great reward, and now I can’t wait for the fifth and final season to start in the fall!

If you haven’t checked out this incredibly intelligent Sci-Fi series, please do. I’ve talked to a couple people who said they started but couldn’t get into it, and it’s my belief that Fringe takes a few (read: four or five) episodes to get completely sucked in—unless you’re a Sci-Fi person, in which case I suspect you’ll be in by Episode 2. Fringe follows the FBI’s Fringe Division, a super secret department responsible for solving unusual and otherworldly cases. They might involve radically unknown toxins, strange disasters, shape shifters and DNA mutations, telepathy, or even trips to another universe! In fact, there’s a whole element of this other universe flowing beautifully through Fringe, and it’s quite fascinating. What’s thrilling about this show is that it’s not just about the Sci-Fi elements (which are indeed spectacular) but also about the dynamic between the four main characters. Anna Torv plays Olivia Dunham, a uniquely talented FBI agent who partners with an offbeat genius scientist, Walter Bishop (played by John Noble) and his wickedly clever son, Peter (played by Joshua Jackson). Jasika Nicole plays Astrid Farnsworth, a big-hearted FBI agent who assists Walter in his research. Walter and Peter Bishop have a touching father-son relationship, which is complicated by a serious faux-pas Walter committed in the past. It is this very faux-pas that creates many of the Sci-Fi elements of the series (that I cannot describe without giving away the geniusness of this show), and which forces them to work through several definite tangles. Meanwhile, Astrid and Walter have a kind closeness, sharing some really lovely moments as she helps him—a once-committed, wild scientist—work through the cases. Anna Torv as Olivia is the most complex of all; she’s a strong agent who works through the cases with ease, but she must also shuffle through the trauma of her youth which makes her so essential to these cases. At first she comes off a bit flat, but as you go through the series—wow. Her range proves to be completely astounding as the story unfolds. As-tound-ing!

Add a little romance, some good special effects, and a bit of clever dialogue to these stellar characters and you have one of my favorite shows of all time. The only negative thing I can say is that the show ends after season 5. Boo!

Third Item: Darn Good Books

I finished a book and started a book this week. Currently, I’m about 100 pages into Stephen King’s On Writing, and it’s great. I can’t wait to share more after I’m done!

The book I finished is preparation for the fall semester, when I become the Math-English teaching hybrid. (I feel a Sci Fi story here. Truly.) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is well-written and sweet, and narrated by Christopher John Francis Boone. Christopher is an autistic teen who leads you through his investigation of the “curious incident,” one that also happens to carry through the relationship between him and his father, as well as the connection between his parents. Christopher is an intelligent young man, and Haddon’s portrayal of his eccentricities is pure brilliance. Haddon worked with autistic individuals in his past, and his empathy shows on every page. Christopher is lovable, clever, and detailed, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in his adventure. It’s also a great experience to follow the mind of someone in his shoes—it really makes you reevaluate the way you look at the world. I highly recommend it!

All right, the little girl pushed her fingers into her cheeks, expelling all the intel she’d held for the week for this one information-packed blog post! 😉 Now time for some more editing.

Hacksaw at the ready!


Review of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

I have long anticipated the premiere of Snow White and the Huntsman, and so of course I was nearly ecstatic to catch a nice and packed 8:30 p.m. show last night!

Directed by relative newcomer Rupert Sanders, Snow White and the Huntsman stars Charlize Theron as the evil Queen Ravena, Kristen Stewart as Snow White, and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman. The entire piece is a dark retelling of the treasured fairy tale, and I think it worked out well.

I’ve always enjoyed a nearly gothic twist on fantasy, so for me, the director’s cinematic choices were exquisite. The focus was no longer on the incredibly beautiful Snow White and her silly little love affair with Prince Charming—this was a tale of a tortured Princess whose inner beauty was part of her destiny, and whose strength and conviction overturned the tyranny of an extraordinarily evil Queen. In addition, this take focused on the kinship between Snow White and the Huntsman, thereby removing it from the everlasting “Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, boy finds girl through some trial and tribulations, and girl and boy fall in love and live happily ever after, yay!” tradition of most fairy tales. This version was about honor and loyalty, kinship and companionship, belief in one’s strength, following one’s heart, and rising up against evil and wrongdoing—a real fairy tale for actual grown ups!

Overall, the cinematography was beautiful and lush; Sanders used a wonderful play of light and dark to emphasize the dismal nature of the kingdom as well as the madness of the Queen. Also spectacular was the repeated contrast of blood against snow, which is of course the epitome of what we’ve come to recognize as Snow White’s unique characteristics—dark hair, fair skin, and blood-red lips. Many scenes in the movie were reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow, Alice in Wonderland, and Lord of the Rings, adding it to a long line of visually stunning fantasy work.

The casting was also surprisingly workable—though honestly, Charlize Theron is fairly hard to swallow as an ugly queen (nonetheless, the effects team did a splendid job of aging her to fit the part). Theron played a jealous, obsessed Queen with great skill, and paired with the creepy images of her soldiers, mirror, and magic, her onscreen presence was ferociously chilling. Stewart, with her girl-next-door prettiness, did a good job of playing a Princess coming into her own strength, the emphasis in her part on the beauty she carried within. Finally, the handsome Chris Hemsworth portrayed a believable Huntsman, whose personal torment is made good through his assistance to a would-be queen.

I’d also like to mention the unbelievable costume work of Colleen Atwood—she truly deserves an Oscar for this film. Complete with the decadence of real feathers, skulls, and jewels, some of Ravena’s pieces were remarkably gorgeous!

All in all, I found the movie to be an impressive redux of a classic tale, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Sanders’s work in the future. If you haven’t had a chance to get to the theatre, make sure you check out Snow White and the Huntsman soon.

Happy viewing, everyone!


Review of SUCCUBUS IN THE CITY, by Nina Harper

Almost two years ago, I wrote a short story about a succubus (which, by the way, I’ll soon be building into a full length novel—more details to come). Since I hadn’t read much fiction on the fascinating creatures, I took a perusal of good ole Amazon and found Succubus in the City, by Nina Harper. 

Though the style, context, and plot is far different from where I’m headed with my tale, I enjoyed Nina Harper’s take. Succubus in the City is actually the first book in a trilogy and follows the life—or rather, part of the long life—of Lily, a succubus living in New York. Spoiled as one of Satan’s chosen, Lily has a day job as an accessories editor for a fashion magazine, and a night job as a sex demon who delivers male souls to Hell. The book is a light, fun, and entertaining read, merging elements of Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, and also the classic tale of the demon spawn that is a succubus—except this particular succubus wants to find love. Lily, it seems, can’t catch a break with men, since certain details of her demon contract put a damper on her dating life.

If this sounds hilarious, then you’ve caught the general feel of the book. It’s one part fashion, one part fantasy, one part romance, and two parts comedic sass. I couldn’t help but giggle at Lily’s plights, while also appreciating the gal-pal power that Harper weaves throughout the story. Lily’s closest friends are Eros, the Demi-Goddess of Sex; Desi, the Demon of Desire; and Sybil, the Demon of Greed. Together they make a sort of Spawn and the City quad, each of them exhibiting the classic Miranda, Samantha, Charlotte, and Carrie traits that a SATC audience member will most certainly recognize.

It’s definitely not a deep book by any stretch of the imagination, and the plot is perhaps spread a little too thin since it’s part of a trilogy (I myself probably won’t make it through all three). Nonetheless, it is a fun, quick read. Something I really enjoyed was Harper’s attention to the fashion detail both at Lily’s job and in her own clothing; the author has some experience with these pieces having been in the fashion industry herself, and it showed. I’m not sure that these details would appeal to a broad audience, but I appreciated them.

For many years, my favorite books were those you could find on the shelves of a grocery store checkout stand—the paperback bestsellers that boasted suspenseful, smutty plots filled with sex, crime, and some sort of female protagonist who usually fell in love with the wrong man. (Erica Spindler, by the way, is one of my favorite authors in this style.) Though Succubus in the City lacked the crime and thriller elements I favor, it did have that silly, over-the-top raunch drama that I can appreciate in my reading.

I’ll give it three stars. I like a little fluff sometimes, so this one did the trick.

🙂


Review of THE HUNGER GAMES, by Suzanne Collins

First take: WOW.

Second take: Thank god I borrowed the next book from my friend so I can start it tonight!

I read about The Hunger Games in Entertainment Weekly about nine months ago and found the concept incredibly intriguing. Kids fighting to the death on demand of a Capitol entity, as a punishment for the people’s rebellion? What an insanely unique idea for a novel!

Over the summer I vacationed to Aruba; on the plane, a young man of about twenty sat beside me reading the third book in the series, Mockingjay. He barely acknowledged his soda and peanuts as he pored over the book, eventually lowering it to his tray table with a big sigh.

“What did you think?” his girlfriend asked.

“It was incredible,” he breathed.

He then proceeded to go on and on about the book to the point where I finally said, “Um, hey, some of us still haven’t read it. Can you maybe not give away the whole story just yet?” We had a good laugh, and he informed me that he’d been reading the series nonstop over the last few days and simply couldn’t put it down. 

I proudly purchased my copy just after I returned home. Sadly, I got distracted working on Kyresa (okay, that’s not such a sad thing), the school year started, and various other bouts of drama abounded—but I swore I would read that darn book before the movie came out if it killed me. Well, I finished it, and you know what? The kid was right.

From the first page, I refused to put this book down. Narrated by sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl in the poorest District who volunteers in place of her twelve-year-old sister, Hunger Games contains a carefully blended scene of both science fiction and fantasy. Gone is the world we know, replaced instead by a cruel Capitol bent on punishing the people for their past defiance. Katniss is a skilled huntress who has spent her life unintentionally preparing for the Games, by providing for her family since her father’s death. Headstrong, clever, and hosting a keen understanding of the natural world around her, Katniss is a phenomenal teenage heroine. She bravely enters the Gamemakers’ world, hoping to survive the brutality that has reminded the world of their place under the Capitol in a manner vaguely reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. Once in the arena, Katniss fights against a collection of terrifying opponents, both human forces and natural elements alike. Meanwhile, she also struggles against an acquaintance from home, the questionable Peeta, with whom she learns a bit about herself as well as her transforming emotions throughout the course of the Games.

Though the book is geared toward a younger audience, any adult can enjoy this book (I personally know of four who can’t stop raving about it). The reading is smooth and intriguing, with rich and engaging characters whose complicated flaws and endearing traits wrap you up in concern as you follow their journey. Even the dangerous, bully teens who seek to snuff the lives of those around them are characters you can’t help but feel sorrow for, as their morals are caught in the Capitol’s inhumane rules and expectations. I had a few flashes back to Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” as well as Golding’s Lord of the Flies as I read, though, I have to admit, I took far more pleasure in this read—and I’m a pretty big fan of the aforementioned pieces.

At the gym today, a gentleman asked me how I could move so fast on the elliptical machine while still reading [and clutching] a book. My response?

“Because this book is amazing! You should read it too!”

I’m so excited to read the next book of the series that I’m afraid it’s now time to sign off and read!

(Be sure to check out Suzanne Collins’s website: http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com/index.htm for more information on the trilogy.)


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