Something Strange & Deadly Book Club: Weeks Three & Four

SS&D book club

If you’ve followed my SS&D book club posts, you will know that Epic Reads chooses a new book to read every month. Lo and behold: excitement! Because Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly was chosen for August, and Susan sprinkled in extra SS&D fun by hosting her own book club. Not only was A Darkness Strange & Lovely added, but an assortment of weekly prizes. As if that weren’t enough, there is an additional participatory prize of A Dawn Most Wicked or a cut scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely–just for participating in one discussion. Pretty awesome, am I right? This week’s prizes are:

  • a signed copy of A Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
  • a signed copy of Something Strange & Deadly or A Darkness Strange & Lovely
  • signed SS&D swag

Well, today marks the end of the SS&D book club, and I’m sad to see it go. (But keep an eye out for its return next year!) Last week I turned lazy and missed the third discussion, so–just for the sake of it–I’ve lumped it in with this week’s question. I’d hate to ignore week three completely! Seeing as how today, Sunday, is the September 1st, I might’ve missed the deadline to enter for this week’s prizes. No matter, because the discussion questions alone pique my interest and, as a sucker for book discussions, I enjoyed answering them. To see my answers for weeks three and four, continue reading below the cut: Continue reading

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Something Strange & Deadly Book Club: Week Two

SS&D book club

Over at Epic Reads, a new book club read is chosen each month. For August, Epic Read’s pick is one of my favorite comfort books: Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly. Well, Susan decided to spice up this month’s SS&D fun by hosting her own book club, and by adding A Darkness Strange & Lovely and prizes into the mix as well. Each week is an opportunity to win other great books–including signed hardcovers!–as well as a participatory prize of A Dawn Most Wicked or a deleted scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely. Read more about it here and sign up if you like!

This week’s question is a difficult one to answer, and I can’t say I responded with eloquence—but I hope it’s lucid enough, however weak. (Sorry!) Continue reading, if you dare, below the cut: Continue reading

Something Strange & Deadly Book Club: Week One

SS&D book club

Over at Epic Reads, a new book club read is chosen each month. For August, Epic Read’s pick is one of my favorite comfort books: Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly. Well, Susan decided to spice up this month’s SS&D fun by hosting her own book club, and by adding A Darkness Strange & Lovely and prizes into the mix as well. Each week is an opportunity to win other great books–including signed hardcovers!–as well as a participatory prize of A Dawn Most Wicked or a deleted scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely. Read more about it here and sign up if you like!

I had lots of fun answering both discussion questions this week (they were both too interesting, and I had things to say!), which you can read below the cut: Continue reading

ARC Review: Skin by Donna Jo Napoli

SkinSkin by Donna Jo Napoli
Release date: August 6th, 2013
| GoodreadsB&NThe Book Depository |
My rating: ★★☆☆☆

I should know better than to read a Donna Jo Napoli ARC. I really should, and now I am kicking myself in the shin with my other foot for requesting it. What possessed me? Because now I am left to write a negative review for a book that sounded interesting but disappointed me as a reader—and I knew it would. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew. It goes back to Napoli’s 2006 novel, Bound. I must have read this book when I was nine or ten years old, and Xing Xing’s story only had me half-absorbed. I wasn’t engrossed, but it is a light book that I did enjoy. Fast-forward to a couple of years later, however, and I found myself disappointed upon revisiting the same book. Bound, I discovered, is a book that tells a simple yet unoriginal story that lacks in profoundness. It was no longer this fanciful Cinderella re-telling I had cooked up in my head, and I wished to never pick up another book by Donna Jo Napoli.

But is it fair to base the entirety of an author’s work on one book? A book from seven years ago, no less? It’s safe to assume that Napoli’s craft in storytelling has matured since—that is what I told myself. I’d seen a few bloggers talking excitedly about Napoli’s books, and their excitement did a bad thing: it infected me. I was eager to read Napoli’s books. Me. Little old me—with a sad habit of scrutinizing literature—felt excited, and I ignored that twinkling sensation that said, “Warning: Approach with caution.”

This was bad. But not as bad as the situation Sep finds herself in.

I’ve been telling myself vitiligo is just a lack of coloring, so no matter how far it goes, it can’t look that bad. But it does. I can’t understand how—but it does. It’s revolting. A little shiver hums inside me, elusive and eerie.

Normally, I would be ashamed of myself for thinking this way, for being such a shallow jerk. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t think this at all. Normally, I would have empathy. If it weren’t me, I could look and be kind, charitable. But it is me.

On the first day back to school, high schooler Giuseppina, or simply “Sep,” awakens to white lips. No amount of scrubbing, waiting, and hoping will make the whiteness go away, as Sep soon discovers that vitiligo is taking over. What she does learn, however, is the lengths she will go to hide it. Her condition is nothing a little lipstick and clothing can’t cover, until it begins mapping her skin is places she can’t conceal: the palm of her hand, her neck, her face… Shaken with fear and embarrassment, Sep feels desperate to make her skin’s white patches revert to normal—and angry that they won’t. In Sep’s eyes, vitiligo has won, for once it becomes too wide-spread to mask, it will have doomed to her a loveless, lonely life.

As the saying goes, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. It’s skin-deep. But isn’t it easier to believe this when addressing other people’s flaws and not your own? I’m like Sep: a person who can sympathize and empathize. I’m not a shallow jerk who stares at and makes fun of someone for the way she or he looks, and I certainly don’t think any less of that person. Yet, if I were in Sep’s shoes, I’d feel horrified, angry, terribly unlucky, and self-conscious, because my appearance matters to me. I relate to Sep in this way, yet worrying about her looks and trying to keep vitilgo hidden is the novel, and this is not the story I had hoped to read.

Skin is difficult for me to review, as I am torn between the story I had imagined versus the story Donna Jo Napoli has written. Not only does Sep waste too much time trying to cover up her condition, she spends it rushing to experience love and romance before it’s too late—before vitiligo conquers her body, because no one will want love her then. If she can’t love herself, who else will? The novel, overall, carries a noble message within its pages—that beauty and love go deeper than surface appearances—yet it’s a cliché sitting on top of a weak story. While Napoli’s message is an important one to learn, I don’t buy it. Not here, not for Sep.

I can’t just look to others to be kind to me. I can’t control that. I have to learn how to be kind to myself. To the animal that is me. To this body. This skin. This me.

The rational part of me knows that this is the job ahead.

It sounds so simple.

The world is a giant deception. Hardly anything is simple.

But for Sep, it does seem simple.

Through most of the novel, Sep focuses on covering up vitiligo with lipstick, cream, clothing, and lies, and within four chapters I am to believe that she reaches an overnight understanding of what it means to love oneself? Sep stops battling her skin and finds inner-peace in return. No doubt some people in this world, like Sep, quickly discover equanimity—however temporary—or a deeper-than-skin acceptance of who they are. I am not one of those people, and I know that feeling comfortable in my own body is easier said than felt. What I think of Skin doesn’t amount to very much, as the shallow storyline limits its own power and ability to move readers, but I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that it took over 300 pages for Sep to accept herself. I’m disappointed by how suddenly, and so simply, she overcomes this nightmare she fights against for months. I wish Sep came to this realization sooner in the story, as quarreling against the public perception of beauty—and still learning to accept oneself—beats a story about trying (and failing) to blend with the herd.

Thank you to NetGalley and Amazon Children’s Publishing for providing a free copy of Skin in exchange for my honest review.

ARC Review: Extremities by David Lubar

ExtremitiesExtremities: Stories of Death, Murder, and Revenge by David Lubar
Release date: July 23rd, 2013
| GoodreadsB&NThe Book Depository |
My rating: ★★☆☆☆

I’m a person who avoids horror. Not because horror scares me, but because it bores me, and if it doesn’t bore me, it frustrates me to the point where I scream at the television or the book in my hands. As a child, however, many things frightened me—scary things. Back in the glorious 1990s, Nickelodeon aired Are You Afraid of the Dark? (which I most certainly was). Kids gathered around campfire, spooking each other with ghost tales, and I will never forget the story of the haunted pool. The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float episode didn’t frighten me of ghosts or even pools; it made me fear water. Shower time? Not before it the water-monster strangles me. Take a swim? I’ll pass. Glass of water? He’s going to suffocate me from the inside!

So what does a ridiculous ‘90s show have to do with Extremities? Just like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, who will get the most enjoyment or thrills from Extremities depends on the reader. Looking back, Are You Afraid of the Dark? is as cheesy as cheesy gets. But the fact is that it still scared me and gave me an irrational fear of water. Now that I’m much older, what scares me has changed. People-eating giants makes me shiver, zombies are creepily fascinating, eerie dystopian settings horrify, and the psychological aspects to all these both terrify and excite me. Reality itself, even, can zap me dead in a second. These concepts put me in a panic—zero of which I find in Extremities—but none of this stopped me from reading Lubar’s book.

If there is one thing Lubar wants to note, it’s that “this is not a book for children.” Indeed it’s not, but I think who Extremities is most appropriate for varies. “At rare and random times, without any plan on my part,” says Lubar, “a story will emerge that is too dark, too heartless, or, dare I say it, too evil, for my young readers.” But that’s exactly it, that’s my problem. I didn’t find any of the stories within Extremities too dark, heartless, or evil. What I did find was a lack of suspense, predictable twists, and writing that wants to be smart but falls short.

When I first spied David Lubar’s Extremities, I felt a pull that I couldn’t resist. My lack of acquaintanceship with horror drew me to Lubar’s collection, as if we were a cute match but doomed to a petty break-up. While I thought I would like Extremities, the book serves as a reminder why I scarcely wander into this genre. David Lubar’s collection dances familiar paths of similar stories that have come before it. Although this doesn’t deem the book ‘poor quality,’ why didn’t the author take new turns? Hold my hand and lead me to a place I haven’t been before. Be daring and dangerous. Take risks. Whatever you do, dream beyond what’s already been done.

For each story, events flip-flop for the hero or heroine—either the character comes out the victor or victim, depending on how the story opens. Lubar’s tales take expected turns and end in likely fashion, which strips away the element of shock. Once the story reveals itself, usually paired with the title, the end becomes clear before the reader gets there. Prior to starting Extremities, I expected stories that weren’t horrifying or dark, but original ideas that held interest and surprise. These stories should have captivated me by their warped characters and by the irony of events, or at least that is what I wished for.

Well, Raya, maybe the fright doesn’t come from the conclusions. Maybe David Lubar’s point has nothing to do with unprecedented twists. I get that. Extremities is not intended to make the reader scream or spend a restless night waking from nightmares. It is intended to make the reader shudder, perhaps, at the thought of what these character do, witness, and experience. At the same time, I can’t deny that ingenuity would’ve helped improve the collection as whole. As one reader out of many, I didn’t shudder. I snickered at the irony and turn of events, and only because I saw them coming. If I wasn’t eyeballing the text with an ‘I told you so,’ I felt nearly bored. And yet… Extremities mildly entertained me.

For all that I’ve said, not everyone is doomed to have the same reaction. What Extremities needs most is the right audience—and that does not include me. There is something to be said for entertainment value, and for these reasons alone, David Lubar’s collection is one I still recommend. If haunting stories of any kind suit your fancy, then by all means, let this book find a home at your bedside and prepare to unleash some horrors from its pages.

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing a free copy of Extremities in exchange for my honest review.

Waiting on Wednesday #4

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by  Breaking the Spine, which spotlights upcoming releases that bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine, which spotlights upcoming releases that bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

A Darkness Strange & LovelyA Darkness Strange & Lovely (Something Strange & Deadly #2) by Susan Dennard
Release date: July 23rd, 2013

A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Something Strange and Deadly, #2)

Goodreads Summary:

Perfect for readers Libba Bray’s The Diviners and Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel series, this spellbinding sequel to Something Strange and Deadly delivers a mix of intrigue, supernatural forces, intense romance, and revenge, all set against the enchanting backdrop of nineteenth-century Paris.

With her brother dead and her mother insane, Eleanor Fitt is alone. Even the Spirit-Hunters—Joseph, Jie, and the handsome Daniel—have fled to Paris. So when Eleanor hears the vicious barking of hounds and see haunting yellow eyes, she fears that the Dead, and the necromancer Marcus, are after her.

To escape, Eleanor boards a steamer bound for France. There she meets Oliver, a young man who claims to have known her brother. But Oliver harbors a dangerous secret involving necromancy and black magic that entices Eleanor beyond words. If she can resist him, she’ll be fine. But when she arrives in Paris, she finds that the Dead have taken over, and there’s a whole new evil lurking. And she is forced to make a deadly decision that will go against everything the Spirit-Hunters stand for.

In Paris, there’s a price for this darkness strange and lovely, and it may have Eleanor paying with her life.

| B&NThe Book DepositoryAuthor Website |

I will be honest: this is the first time I fully read through the summary, and… I think it spoiled me. Did I want to hear the news of Eleanor’s mom just yet? Nope. Did I want to hear about Oliver so soon? No. Much of my excitement for A Darkness Strange & Lovely comes from the unknown, wanting  to know what transpired after Something Strange & Deadly‘s conclusion — what happened to Eleanor’s mother, the family’s financial burden and social standing within the city, and of course: Eleanor herself. Eleanor is nothing if not tough, as I think she proved herself by the first book’s end. Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly, while not flawless, became one of the more addicting, fun reads of 2012, and I anticipate the sequel’s release with much excitement! I have a copy pre-ordered, so you can guarantee I’ll be stalking my mailbox until the book arrives.

What are you waiting on?

Waiting on Wednesday #3

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by  Breaking the Spine, which spotlights upcoming releases that bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine, which spotlights upcoming releases that bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

CanaryCanary by Rachele Alpine
Release date: August 1st, 2013

Canary

Goodreads summary:

Staying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

| B&NThe Book DepositoryAuthor Website |

I can’t say I have felt like reading contemporaries lately, but I’ve wanted to read this since the cover first caught my eye. For the most part, it looks like my summer is filled with plenty of fantasy reads, but I think I can step back and take a break for Rachele Alpine’s Canary. It addresses a sensitive issue, which (depending on the author) can turn out to feel raw and painful when given a realistic portrayal, but stories like this are often touching and empowering. Handled carelessly, and the story can feel offensive. Early reviewers of Canary, however, have given positive feedback, and I look forward to reading Kate’s journey.