Rummanah Aasi
  If you've been visiting my blog for the past few months, you've probably noticed that the cover of Unearthly has been in my upcoming review widget for quite sometime. I can explain. I hit a really bad streak of reading pretty bad angel related books with gorgeous covers. I began to think that maybe the subject of angels was turning me off so I was hesitate to pick up Unearthly. Reading glowing reviews about the book around the blogosphere made me to decide to give this book a shot. So I moved it from the bottom of my to be read pile to the top and I can honestly say that I glad I did.

Description: Angels are given a purpose on Earth. Clara Gardner is a Quartarius, a quarter-angel, is about to realize her angel purpose. She is constantly receiving vivid visions of saving a teenage boy from a forest fire in Teton County, Wyoming. Who is this boy? Where is he and why does he need to be saved?

Review: To be completely honest, I had very low expectations for Unearthly. The previous angel novels I read had lots of potential, both plot and character wise, but the writing quickly fell apart. Thankfully, Unearthly made me realize that there are indeed good books about angels. It made me realize that with the previous books, my complaint wasn't necessarily about the subject of the books, but rather how it was written.
   The book begins with Clara receiving a vision of saving a teenage boy from a forest fire. The vision clues that Clara remembers such as a license plate lead her family to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Clara has never seen the boy's face in her vision, only the back of his head and body but on her first day of school, she meets the boy of her vision face to face: the super popular and devastatingly handsome Christian. Clara's sole focus is trying to learn as much about Christian as she can in order to make sense of her purpose. Along the way, she befriends with two very different girls: the easygoing, sweet and adorable Wendy (a character I would love to be best friends with), and Angela, the intense loner. Clara fits nicely with both of these girls, who balance her angel and human characteristics. It's really Wendy’s twin brother, Tucker, though who unknowingly seems to change Clara's purpose and makes her question about blindly following her unknown destiny.
  Unearthly does have the usual tropes of a supernatural romance: new girl at a school, two love interests, a secret she can't share, but its Hand's deftly crafted unique angel mythology and interesting characters that held my interest. Though the book is well over 400 pages, I was amazed on how quickly I read it.
  Clara is an endearing heroine who is realistically portrayed, well as realistic as you can get in a supernatural romance. She fears not meeting her mother's expectations of her purpose while desiring to find answers about what it means to be an angel. Is she merely a puppet? What happens if she refuses to accept her purpose once she realizes what it is? Or succeeds? Or even worse fails? Clara is also struggling with her feelings for the two love interests. What I loved about Clara is that she is a honest, ordinary girl who actually interacts with her family, which is composed of  a single mother who is half angel, and her brother, who is also a quarter angel. Readers are spared the "I can't tell you because it's not safe" routine. Clara does tells the truth to those who are important to her and to those who drive the story.
   As for love interests, I'm completely captivated by Tucker Avery. Tuck is someone who exudes natural charm. He is genuinely warm, straight forward, and incredibly funny. I loved how he called Clara "carrots" because it reminded me so much of the banter between Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. Tuck and Clara fit perfectly. Watching these two develop from friendship to a potential relationship was definitely a highlight for me. I didn't mind Christian, the boy of Clara's vision, but I didn't really feel like I got to know him. He is much more reserved than Tucker and I had a hunch that he was also holding back a secret, which isn't revealed until later in the story. I'm sure we will get to know him better in the later installment of this series.
  While Unearthly is a trilogy, the ending doesn't leave you with a major cliffhanger. There are enough unresolved questions that will bring readers back for the next book without feeling like we got the carpet pulled out underneath our feet. I'm really curious about Clara's purpose, the information her mother is withholding from her, and of course how a potential love triangle is in the works. I'm glad that I picked up Unearthly and I suggest you should pick it up too if you are in the mood for a relatively clean, sweet romance.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a very minor scene of underage drinking at a party, but it only lasts for a couple of sentences. Other than that, it's a pretty clean book. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Dark Divine series by Bree Despain, Halo by Alexandra Adornetto, Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton
Rummanah Aasi
  When Slumdog Millionaire was released, many people were shocked to learn about the slums of India. Unfortunately, the movie didn't shock me but rather reminded me of the poverty and injustices that ravage our society. I picked up White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, which won the Booker Prize in 2008, and expected to be hit with the same gritty issues as the Oscar winning movie. From the book's synopsis, I was anticipating a dark, psychological/morality tale. What I did read instead was a dark satire about class and social structure of the working class in India.

Description (from inside panel): Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life--having nothing but his own wits to help him along.

Review: White Tiger is a brutal account of what it is like to be a lower class citizen in India. The India that Adiga presents here is not the lyrical, exotic India readers are use to reading, but rather it's the seedy and corrupt nation ruled by those who have money and power. The novel is told over a period of seven nights and written in a letter format to the premier of China, who is expected to visit India and a person Balram thinks can a learn a lesson about the real India. Balram narrates his childhood, how he was employed as a chauffer, and how he managed to become a business man by simply murdering his boss.
  Balram is a clever, witty, and surprisingly resourceful narrator. He managed to survive by relying on his street smarts and keenly observing how his boss manages his financial and personal affairs. Though he he is constantly degraded and viewed as invisible to his employers, Balram begins to understand how his world works. Even though he rails and rants about corruption growing in India, he allows himself to be abused by his bosses and eventually benefits from the society he grows to hate.
  White Tiger was a strange reading experience for me. I didn't like Balram though I felt bad for his situation. I would have liked a bit more of an exploration of the moral ambiguity or how he is dealing with the guilt of killing his employer. I enjoyed the novel's dark humor and Balram's sarcastic voice. While I got to know him, I didn't really get a sense of his employers who remain one dimensional throughout the book. The novel abruptly ends and doesn't really give us any hints of what will happen to Balram in the future. While enjoyable, I don't think I would have picked it up if it had not been nominated or won the Booker Prize. Part existential and part satire, White Tiger is the antithesis to the lush, exotic stories generally told in novels about India.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, drug usage, and allusions to sex in the book. Recommended for adult readers only.

If you like this book try: The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri
Rummanah Aasi

  I would like to thank everyone that participated and followed the Cornucopia of Dystopia blog tour. I wold also like to thank those who entered the Memento Nora ARC Giveaway. According to, The winner for this giveaway is: Nikki at Wicked Awesome Books! Congrats, Nikki! I sent you an email, please respond within 72 hours with your contact information. If I don't hear from you then, I will choose another winner.

Readers, be sure to enter my Cornucopia of Dystopia International Giveaway for another chance to win a copy of Memento Nora. The giveaway ends May 2nd. So hurry and enter!

Rummanah Aasi

It's Tuesday and time for another Top 10 list from The Broke and the Bookish. We all have characters we can't stand, which sometimes detriment our reading pleasure. I, personally, can't enjoy a book where I don't like the characters. The following ladies made me either chuck the book against the wall, abandon the book completely, made me walk out of a movie, or I just simply love to hate.

Top 10 Female Characters I Can't Stand

1. Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights- I'm absolutely head over heels for Heathcliff. Despite my many rereads of this book, I can't understand what he saw in Catherine. Spoiled, bratty, and shallow. Did this woman have any redeemable qualities?

2.  Madame Bovary from Madame Bovary- So it took you to sleep with the entire city of Paris in order to realize that the love you are seeking doesn't exist and I'm suppose to feel sorry for you? Sorry, but I can't help but be happy with what happened in the end to you.

3. Emma Woodhouse from Emma- The only Austen heroine who I hate with a passion. I couldn't digest her stuck up, "I'm right and you're wrong" attitude and she forced me to abandon this book by page 20. I really have no desire to pick it up again. I'd rather watch Clueless again.

4. Zoey Redbird from House of Night series- I use to tolerate you. I know that people make mistakes and then they try to correct them, but when you keep making the same mistakes over and over again and you can't pick one guy from a harem growing around you, it gets old really quickly.

5. Ever from Evermore- How can you like a guy who keeps making you feel bad for not sleeping with him? Grow a spine and get a personality.

6. Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind-  If you ever want me to get out of a room, put this movie on and I will leave immediately. All of the characters are atrocious. While people may admire Scarlett for her determination, but in the words of Rhett, "Frankly, my dear. I don't give a damn". Yep, that pretty much sums up my feelings for her, the movie, and book.

7.  Penelope Hayes from the Luxe series- I loved watching you scheme your way to the top. I just have one question for you: Are you happy now?

8. Jenny Cavilleri from Love Story- I didn't read the book, but my sisters and I watched the movie. It was pure torture. I might be the only one who clapped and said "Finally!" when the movie ended.  To my sisters, "Love means saying your sorry for making me watch this movie with you".

9.  9. Circe from the Gemma Doyle series- A megalomaniac witch. Need I say more?

10. Helen of Troy from the Illiad and various other myths/plays- I can't believe you don't feel one ounce of guilt of bringing down destruction on a city.  

 Which ladies irritate the heck out of you?
Rummanah Aasi
  I really enjoyed reading Anne Ousterlund's Academy 7 which is a mash-up between Star Wars, The Outsiders, and Rome and Juliet with a fabulous cast of characters. I wanted to read more by this author, so I picked up her debut novel Aurelia in order to prepare for her latest release and companion novel Exile which is released next week.

Description: Royal life isn't all that great. Just ask Princess Aurelia who is trying to deal with a cold, distant, and highly critical stepmother, a powerful neighboring king who is as old as her father and seeks to marry her for the sole purpose of political gain, and an unknown assassin who wants her dead. After several unsuccessful attempts on Aurelia's life, Robert, a former classmate, friend, and son of a former royal spy, is hired to join court life and investigate. Who wants Aurelia dead and how far is the assassin willing to go to make sure she is dead?

Review:  Aurelia may sound like any other princess story, but I really enjoyed its well cast of characters and the right balance of romance, mystery, and drama. As the story begins, we are introduced to the kingdom of Tyralt, where a lavish party is thrown for Melony, Aurelia's younger sister. The king is on the lookout for a suitable suitor to marry his eldest daughter, Aurelia, who is beyond bored and makes no hesitation to show her irritation. Unlike the king, Aurelia is unaware that she is on someone's actual hit list. Two failed assassination attempts have been discovered. Ousterlund balances the lavish parties, talks of stallions, and betrayals with intrigue. Her descriptive narrative and spot on dialogue are concise and did not cause me to skim several passages. The mystery is well conceived and woven neatly into the story, which kept me turning the pages.
   In addition to the mystery, I also really liked the characters. Aurelia is the rebellious crown princess of Tyralt. She hates being called "your Highness" and longs for a time where she can take control of her own destiny. She goes against the constraints of court composure and political etiquette by disguising herself as a commoner and going to the villages to talk to her people. She is feisty, outspoken, and determined. She is not afraid to speak her opinion when it comes to making and challenging laws that effect her land even if it's going against her father and stepmother. She refuses to be persuaded and forced to many any suitable (read rich and old) husband. Aurelia doesn't see what's so great about being royalty. In her eyes, it's just another cage she is struggling to break out of.
  Robert is Aurelia's childhood friend whose father was once the king’s own spy. When he hears the news that Aurelia's life is in danger, he volunteers to take on the case and find the assassin. Robert is charming and chivalrous. He understands Aurelia's desire to break free from her restraints, he too would like to live his own life on his terms. There is definitely chemistry between these two characters, which definitely shines through when the characters slowly unveil their insecurities and fears. I was happy to see that Aurelia stays her ground and doesn't become mopey with Robert around while Robert play the "I like you but you'd be in danger if you're with me" card that is used all too often in YA romances. Another interesting characters include Chris, Robert's happy go lucky cousin, and Melony, Aurelia's sister who has no qualms about being a part of a royal family.
  While Aurelia isn't a story that is plausible, it is definitely entertaining. Readers looking for a princess fix that isn't seeped into history or fantasy will highly enjoy this title. I'm looking forward to see what is happening next in Exile, which I hope to review later this week.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. A squeaky clean book that could be easily recommended to Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Exile by Anne Ousterlund, A Countess Below the Stairs or The Reluctant Heiress by Eva Ibbotson
Rummanah Aasi
  Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferrais has been in my to be pile read for quite sometime. The book is a mystery set in Saudi Arabia and was listed as an Alex Award in 2009, both of which piqued my interest. What really made me want to read this book, however, is learning how a male and a female detective are going to work together to a solve a mystery when their society imposes such strict restrictions on the interaction of the opposite sex.

Description: When Nouf, the daughter of a wealthy family, goes missing the family calls upon desert guide Nayir ash-Sharqi to investigate her disappearance. Her body is found in the desert and the cause of death is cited as death from drowning; however, Nayir isn't fully convinced because newly discovered evidence points to murder. Nayir teams up with a female lab worker named Katya Hijazi to find out what really happened to Nouf.

Review: I've read several reviews of Finding Nouf when it first came out. Some have herald it as a "CSI" meets the bestselling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, both of which I don't really care for and didn't really didn't excite me at first. While it is a mystery, Finding Nouf is also a cultural study of modern day Saudi Arabia. Ferrais who was once married to a man from Saudi Arabia and has lived there from sometime, has  has created the first devoutly Muslim sleuth, Nayir ash-Sharqi.
 As I was reading Finding Nouf, I was pleased that the author keeps a balanced viewpoint of the contemporary Islamic state. While she is critical of the strict gender laws placed up on the citizens, she also provides enough information to discuss why these laws were initially placed. Although the mystery is tightly woven and kept me on my toes, I was more riveted with the two detectives. Nayir, Palestinian born, is a desert guide to Jeddah’s elite. When he is approached by a wealthy client to investigate a case of a missing person, he agrees to play private investigator. I liked Nayir because he was intelligent, religious and genuine though a bit too traditional. By traditional I mean that Nayir restricts his interactions with women whenever he can. He won't look at them in the eye or speak directly to them, not because he feels the opposite sex is inferior but rather to uphold his prized value of modesty. As Nayir learns more about who Nouf is through his investigation, he begins to understand that ideas that were initially placed to enrich the lives of all citizens in Saudi Arabia doesn't really work in the modern society, which is not to say that the values are wrong just that they should be interpreted with the lens of the 21st century. His worldview and personal opinions are further stretched by Katya, a female forensics technician connected to the victim’s family.
   Katya is a modern woman who fought for her right to get an education and a job. She walks that thin line between tradition and modernity yet stays to true to her own beliefs. Her voice alternates with Nayir’s as they defy legal and spiritual precepts to cooperate on the case. Katya and Nayir's chemistry is unique in that there isn't much sexual tension which commonly happens in most mystery novels. They are of the same mind and desire the same things in life. My favorite part of the novel is when Katya and Nayir are having a frank discussion during lunch when they show each other their true vulnerable selfs.

  As I mentioned early, the mystery is quite good but without the engrossing characters it does falter. Clues are given in bits and pieces and the slow pace of the novel may not hold up interest for many readers who are looking for a quick read, but those are who curious about taking a sneak peak in a society that often called 'exotic' should be satisfied. I do know that these characters appear in another mystery together called the City of Veils, which I plan to read soon, but I hope there will be many more.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusion to sex in the book along with some language. Although the book is marketed to adults, teens interested in learning about another culture along with mystery will enjoy this book.

If you like this book try: City of Veils by Zoe Ferrais
Rummanah Aasi
  Today I finished Hope Larson's latest graphic novel called Mercury. I have heard of Larson's name before as she was awarded the Eisner award in 2007 but not have read anything by her before. Mercury has received critical acclaim and lots of glowing reviews by many review journals such as Booklist and School Library Journal.

Description:  In 1859 Josey fell in love with a mysterious man named Asa Curry, who claimed to be a gold dowser. In the present, Tara Fraser, a teen who is forced to living with relatives and being once again the new girl in school after her home burns down. A necklace that reportedly has the power to find gold serves as a link between these two descendants.

Review: Larson's Mercury is a multiple genre graphic novel that contains magic realism. Set in Nova Scotia, this graphic novel connects two coming-of-age stories and shows how the past influenced the present. In alternating chapters, we meet Tara and Josey. In the present, Tara and her mother have lost their old farmhouse in a fire. Tara's mother, who is presence is restricted by phone calls, is struggling to financially support her family from far away while Tara lives with relatives. Tara loved the old house and wants to rebuild it, but her mother feels it is unrealistic and is pressured to find a job elsewhere and sell the land. In 1859, Josey, Tara's ancestor, falls in love with a gold dowser, Asa Curry, who has persuaded her father to open a mine in order to find the undiscovered and unclaimed gold.
  The stories collide as Tara retrieves the necklace, once worn by Josey, from her mother's old and unused jewelry box and goes searching for the gold said to have been hidden on her property. There are elements of supernatural powers, however, how the powers are achieved are never explained which I found disappointing. The graphic novel moves at a slow pace, taking it's time to unfold for its readers, which may deter some readers looking for a quick read but those who are hooked should be satisfied.
   I really liked Larson's storytelling. Each timeline feels and looks distinct, however, if you take a closer look you can find similar physical features of her characters, particularly of Tara's relatives. The graphic novel also portrays the history of Nova Scotia by wordless pictures in the first few panels. Despite the alternating timeline and stories, I didn't have a problem following the story. I did find myself more vested in the past than in the present, which is why I felt that the ending was a bit abrupt. Things are left dangling for Tara and her mother's future, however, I think there might be enough information to predict that the family will be financially well off.  Despite these short comings, I still enjoyed Mercury and I would recommend it for readers looking for a different type of graphic novel to read. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and some sexual comments. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: This War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks
Rummanah Aasi
  Today marks the end of the Cornucopia of Dystopia blog tour. I hope you had a blast joining us in this fabulous blog tour. I'd like to thank both Casey at The Bookish Type and Danya at A Tapestery of Words for including me in this tour. In celebration of our last day of the tour, we are featuring an author interview scavenger hunt with Delirium author, Lauren Oliver.  The interview will be spread across eight blogs, each linking to the next in the chain. Be sure to follow the link trail to see the interview in its entirety! To make things even more exciting, I am also hosting an international giveaway. Please read below for more details!

My question for Lauren is: I was very interested to read how the teens in your novel interpreted Romeo and Juliet as a horror story. It is generally taught in high school as a tragic love story; however, after rereading it with an adult lens I'm not quite so sure that the play was meant to be a love story, but rather an allegory of the collateral damage that is caused by one trying to attain power. Romeo and Juliet are impulsive, passionate, and the very embodiment of youth and innocence who are essentially killed by their feuding parents over power. How do you interpret the play in terms of the context of your series?

Lauren's answer: Romeo and Juliet are characters denied a natural progression of their feelings because they are not treated as people, but as pawns (by their families, because of the feud, etc). I think it is a story about love, but not a sophisticated kind of love-it's the early stages of love as idealization, and to some extent, that is even what Lena and Alex feel for each other, which is why their situation is so desperate. I think the most amazing, incredible thing about love, and why it should be valued, is actually the love that you nurture and eke out and preserve over time-through hardship, resentment, jealousy, even hatred-but that requires time. Rome and Juliet are victims even before they die, because they are deprived of the only thing that one ultimately needs in life: time to see it through.  

The next stop in the scavenger hunt is Midnight Blood Reads

INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY is now closed and the winners have been selected.
Rummanah Aasi
  Teenage sexuality has always been a hot issue. We seem to be in two extremes on the issue with abstinence only classes, chastity balls, and the hugely popular television shows such as Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. Books on sex education are frequently banned and/or challenged in our libraries. Programs such as planned parenthood have also recently came under attack by the government. What would happen if in the distant future where only teens can give birth? What if unprotected sex is a societal obligation? What would that world look like and are we really that far from this fictional world? These are the questions that floated in my mind as I read Megan McCafferty's young adult dystopian novel called Bumped. Thanks to Netgalley for giving me an advanced reader's copy of the book in order for me to do an honest review.

Description (from Amazon): When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.
    Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.
    Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.
    When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

Review: Bumped is the most disturbing book I've read so far this year. I can't tell you how many times my jaw dropped while reading this book. What terrified me isn't the writing of the book, which I thought was brilliant and innovative, but rather the world that McCafferty created isn't too far from where we are now. It is a biological fact for women that after a certain age, the probability of having a baby is slim. In McCafferty's world, everyone under age 18 is either a liability or a commodity. Years ago people were infected by HPSV, the Human Progessive Sterility Virus, where people were infected are sterile by the time their bodies reach full maturity. HIV and STDs doesn't exist in Bumped. So the only way the population can grow is for teen girls to become pregnant. Consequently, the lives of these girls are bombarded by parents who train their daughters to be the best candidate and by couples who lure them with luxurious offers in order to get the baby.
   Bumped is told through the first-person perspectives of identical twins Melody Mayflower and Harmony Smith, who were once separated at birth and adopted by two extremely different families.  Melody has been raised as a prized commodity. She is a high-achieving student, a terrific soccer player, and loves to play the guitar. Her exceptional genes and traits make her a high ranked candidate on the fertility circuit.  Unlike Melody, Harmony was placed with a devout, religious couple who brought up to live by God's words. Where Melody tries to stay afloat and maintain her brand, Harmony is on a religious mission to save her sister.  While both characters seem one dimensional at first, they begin to grow and take form, which is very similar to the pattern of a woman's pregnancy. Each section of the story introduces characters, establishes the world, and adds layers of introspection and epiphanies. The story flows nicely and is well paced despite the constant flipping back and forth perspectives. Through each chapter, the girls become alive as we step inside their shoes, experience their emotions, insecurities, and confusions.The last section of the book, cleverly named rebirth, gives us a completely different Melody and Harmony from we first met them. Adding a voice of reason and clarity is Melody's best friend Zen, who seems to cut through the superficiality plaguing their world and really sees what their world really is. His is incredibly funny and warm, which gives us hope that their society is capable of change.  
   Reading Bumped was a surreal experience. I was horrified and shocked, but I could not stop reading nor talking about it to my friends. While free love is covered in some dystopian novels, I couldn't believe how the adults in this book behaved. It is not so much the teens, but rather the adults who are so focused on not only getting a child, but on having the perfect child birthed for them and rearing their sons and daughters to be the ideal candidate. Forget about genetic engineering which takes too long and not deemed "natural", teens are sought with specific traits and an entire industry is created to fulfill this request. Contraceptions and 'making love' are illegal. The products that stores thrust at these girls to promote pregnancy such as garments that show how you would look if you are 6 months pregnant and pills that leave Viagra in the dust, are overwhelming and begin when teens barely hit puberty. Agents scout girls and sign them up in matter of seconds. Girls are under constant pressure to keep themselves marketable until their optimal sex partner has all the specifications their paying couple desires. Though Melody was geared to actively participate in this baby making industry, Harmony faces the similar situation but it under the guise of a religious obligation. Whether controlled by religion or helping the population to grow, teen girls are raised as a profit regardless of their upbringing, where, essentially, legalized prostitution has become a way of life. The only people who do not seem to have ownership of their body or have any say in the matter of the child they conceived are the girls themselves. Those who refuse to take an active role in the industry are ostracized and basically commit social suicide.  
   Women who are treated as objects and solely used for procreation isn't new in the dystopian genre. What frightened me the most about Bumped is how familiar the world is: everything is highly sexualized from clothing to music to how everyone talks. McCafferety doesn't ease you into her world, but you rather plunge in from the beginning with little understanding of what the characters are talking about. You do quickly float and find your rhythm as details are uncovered. I found myself at home with Melody's chapter because she immediately comes across as an ordinary teen girl who complains about her friends, school, and likes to shop at the mall. She just so happens to talk as if she just landed the best deal of a full ride scholarship to college, a brand new BMW, and an all paid for cosmetic surgery and all she has to do is just sleep with a guy and pop out a baby. This is exactly how the girls in Bumped talk. The book's humor is deliciously dark and satirical. There are many times where I found myself laughing because, really that's all that you can do in this situation, and then immediately feel guilty for laughing-mainly because the subject matter isn't really funny once it settles in your brain and you slowly begin to process it.
   I thought about Bumped long after I finished reading it. I talked about the book to several people, who are now anxiously awaiting it's April 26th release date. I will say, however, that the book is not for everyone. It might be one that people either love or hate, but it is undeniable that it will be talked about for a very long time. There are several themes that will spark great discussion such as the media's hypocritical viewpoints of
sexuality, in particular teen sexuality, pregnancy, the increasingly blurry lines of where reality and celebrity meet and end. It also touches upon our crazy need to design the perfect person. All of these issues are current in our society, which is what makes a book like Bumped so important because it deliberately makes us feel uncomfortable and forces us to think about things that we would like to push in the back our minds.
  Bumped is a fascinating, page turning, and head spinning novel and by far my favorite book in the Cornucopia of Dystopia blog tour. The ending leaves the door wide open for the next installment of this story, which I believe is in the works, and I can't wait to read it. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: Since this is book centers around sexuality, there is strong sexual content. There are sexual innuendos and euphemisms throughout the novel. There is also allusions to sex and some language. Recommended for high school students and adults only.

If you like this book try: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Anthem by Ann Ryand, The Handsmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, or Wither by Stephanie DeStefano
Rummanah Aasi
  Free will versus preordained destiny have been a subject for philosophers for centuries. This theme is also prevalent in the tropes of dystopian fiction. We can't help but feel uncomfortable when choices are made for us and we are given no freedom in any aspect of our lives. Possession by Elana Johnson poses the question: are rules made to be broken even if it means deciding between duty, family, and love? And if so, what/who do you choose? Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance readers copy of the book provided by Simon and Schuster and had no influence on my opinions of the book.

Description (from Good Reads): Vi knows the Rule: Girls don’t walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn…and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi’s future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

   But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they’re set on convincing Vi to become one of them….starting by brainwashed Zenn. Vi can’t leave Zenn in the Thinkers’ hands, but she’s wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous: everything Zenn’s not. Vi can’t quite trust Jag and can’t quite resist him, but she also can’t give up on Zenn.

This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.

Review: I was really excited to read Possession after reading a lot of positive reviews in the blogosphere. I wished I liked it a little more than my fellow bloggers, but I was a bit disappointed. Possession has a promising premise that explores the themes of abuse of power, manipulation, and the notion of choice.
  Johnson's two leading characters, Violet and Jag, are characters that pique your curiosity. They both refuse to bow down to their society's status quo and like to think for themselves. While they come from different backgrounds and histories, they are more alike than what they seem. Both carry a dark past and talents. Though their relationship is of the instant love kind, given their meeting circumstances I can understand why. I enjoyed their banter and liked seeing them together.
   Unlike the strong characterizations of the main characters, I thought the important secondary characters were flat. We are told constantly by Violet about her feelings for a boy named Zenn, however, I didn't feel like Zenn came alive for me nor did I feel any connection to him. Thus I didn't buy the love triangle in the story. In fact a lot of the plot twists and turns seemed a bit arbitrary mostly because they involve characters that are mentioned briefly and/or don't make an impression on the reader. I can see Johnson making her points about nothing being in absolutes (i.e. nothing is black and white) and the significance of the choices that Violet and Jag make, however, there is no emotional punch to either of these issues.
   While I thought the plot was fast moving and engaging, I had a big problem with the book's editing. I felt there is a lot of key information discussed between characters off the page that weren't included, particularly Jag and Violet's early conservation when they first meet, and the notion of people having special talents in Johnson's world. I also found the chapters to abruptly end in one setting and pick up at another and in the meantime characters seem to randomly pop up. Due to the hazy world building, especially when it came to organizing and defining the different roles and statues of the authority figure, I was totally caught off guard about anyone having any abilities in the society. I felt as if I was suppose to know this information already and checked back many times throughout my reading to make sure I didn't skip a page.
  Possession is a standalone book, from what I gather from reading author interviews, and its wide open ending may deter some readers. I, personally, think the story should have been a series. Yes, I know I complain about reading many series, but I truly think that having a series would not only strengthen the plot arc but also flesh out the themes, characters, and emotions the author is trying to convey. Overall, I thought the book was okay and has similar traits as Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. If I had to choose between Possession or Incarceron, I would choose to read Incarceron instead. Possession will be available on June 7, 2011.

 Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and PG-13 violence. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Incarceron series by Catherine Fisher or Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld
Rummanah Aasi
  I needed a mini break from reading a string of YA books. Don't get me wrong, I love YA but sometimes after reading them back to back everything tends to blur into one big mass and I have a hard time separating titles. Thanks to Joseph Lewis, I was able to escape to a different world momentarily by reading his short story collection called Tales of Asha, Volume 1: Death. I was given the book in an exchange for an honest review.

Description: The Tale of Asha series is a collection of fantasy short stories following the strange adventures of the herbalist Asha and the nun Priya as they travel across India. The collection is composed of three short stories. In the first story called "Lotus Cave", the title character Asha is introduced. She is a traveling herbalist, who is investigating a local legend about a demon who once drank up a river and the young Buddhist nun who helped restore the river but never returned from the loctus cave.  As Joesph mentioned in his post yesterday, the first story establishes the setting as well as introduces the main characters, Asha and Priya. In the second story, "The Fever Mist", Asha and Priya tend to a sick boy who is sensitive to light and sound. Only the boy's father's mysterious past can help cure his son, but the only cure could be death. The third and final story in this volume is called "The Shinning Scales", where Asha is attracted to a man who has lost his wife and is willing to do anything to keep his wife's memory alive. 

Review:  I enjoyed reading the first volume of the Tales of Asha. I absolutely loved Lewis's description of Asha's world. The words he chooses are so precise and chosen with care. I could almost hear, see, and feel the heavy rain fall and the arduous climbing that Asha takes in "The Lotus Cave". The theme of death is present in each story and takes on a different meaning to each of the characters presented in the story.
  Asha and Priya are intriguing characters who come from different backgrounds. Asha is a herbalist with a special talent due to a childhood accident. Priya is a 200 year old Buddhist nun, who balances Asha's cynicism with her world. The two work well together and have good chemistry. I had a little bit of a hard time connecting to these characters because of the third person narrative writing style. Though we are given some background information about the lives of these two heroines, I wasn't able to get into the heads of these characters as much as I would have liked to.  I did, however, get the sense there is more than meets the eye to these characters in the last and my favorite story, "The Shinning Scales", where Asha is emotionally invested with her case due to her own loneliness despite the stoic face she tends to put on.
  While  the stories are a blend of historical fantasy and paranormal mystery that is set in India, I would have loved a more developed world building. India has a rich history and lots of mythology. Perhaps it was my mistake to think that these would be included in the short story. There were many times where I completely forgot I was in India until a sari or a village name was mentioned.
  Overall, I did enjoy reading this collection and would recommend it to readers who want to read about books in a different world or society. I'm definitely interested in the characters would love to learn more about them and their world. If you would like to get a taste of Lewis's writing and a feel for the story, you can read the first story for free on smashwords.   

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is a small sex scene in the third story, but it's not very graphic. I would recommend this title to high school students interested in fantasy short stories and to adults.

If you like this book try: Tales of Asha Volume 2 (coming Summer 2011) or Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor
Rummanah Aasi
  Today I'm excited to bring you a guest post from independent writer Joseph R. Lewis. I have always been curious as to the writing process of short stories, particularly how to fit everything in a few pages instead of a novel. I posed this question to Joseph while I read his current short story collection called the Tales of Asha, which I will review tomorrow. I hope you enjoy this post and return tomorrow for my review of Tales of Asha!

    Modern fiction breaks down into a lot of categories based on length: novel, novellette, novellini, novella, short story, flash fiction, personal ad, and so on. And these categories have evolved over time. Novels have grown from 50k words to 100k words and beyond. Many of these sizes or limits were created by print publishers who had certain spaces to fill in magazines columns or newspaper racks, so writers invented stories to fill those spaces.
 This post is supposed to be about short stories, but we could spend all day talking about the history of the modern short story just to define what it is. So let's all just agree for the next few minutes that a short story is a piece of writing between 2k words and 10k words, okay? Thanks.
 From an old fashioned literary point of view, a short story is a very specific creature. It's a story meant to hit the reader over the head with a powerful emotion or a clever idea. That's all. Just a BAM! and it's over. The purpose is to shock or inspire the reader, to plant the seeds of new ideas or personal experiences.
  A classic example from my high school reading list was "The Story of an Hour" in which a housewife learns her husband has died in a train wreck. She grieves, but then she experiences an intense euphoria as she realizes that she is free to live the rest of her life however she wants. A whole world of freedom and possibility blossoms in her imagination. Then her husband comes home (he took a different train that day) and she drops dead of a heart attack. Talk about hitting the reader over the head with an emotion!
  One of the great things about ebooks and indie publishing is that authors are more free to experiment with short fiction. But one problem with short stories today is that so many people prefer novels (it's notoriously hard to sell short fiction). Most folks still want one big story instead of lots of little ones. And I'm often in that same camp. I want to invest in complex characters and luxuriate in richly developed fantasy worlds. I don't want it to be over after just a few minutes. And yet. Short stories let us try out worlds and characters and ideas just like trying on clothes at the store. We're not sure if we like the color or the cut, so we try them on for a minute, walk around, sit down, and do some uncomfortable squats in the dressing room. And I don't just mean readers, but writers too.
  I write short stories for a couple of different reasons - some artistic and some business. The business reasons are simple. I can give short stories away for free as samples, or bundle them together for sale. I can use them as prologues to novels, or other supplements to draw attention to my longer fiction for sale. Short stories are a great way to expand your offerings to readers.  But the artistic reasons are more interesting.
 Sometimes a great idea just isn't big enough to support a whole book. Or sometimes you have a great image, or a real zinger of a line. Why write 100k words just to deliver that line or paint that image?
Sometimes you might want to experiment outside your comfort zone. For example, my first novel was a good old fashioned science fiction adventure, and my second novel was a fantasy thriller. I plan to write more of both, but I also want to write other types of stories. I want to try sentimental pieces, mysteries, and romances.But should I really try to write a whole novel in a new style or genre right away? What if readers don't like it? What if I don't like it? I'd hate to waste all those months on a dead-end project. That's a very expensive learning experience! So instead, I write a short story. I try it out. And I let readers try it out (usually for free).
  Some authors say that you should write short fiction to develop the skills to write long fiction. In general, I disagree with that advice. Yes, you can practice writing dialog and descriptions in short fiction. But short stories and novels are as different as dog houses and skyscrapers.  Here's a better metaphor. Writing a short story is like a building a bridge over a little creek using a log. All you need to do is get that one log into position and Ta Da! you have a bridge. But writing a novel is like building the Golden Gate bridge. You need very different materials in huge quantities, all carefully prepared and installed in sequence, and then tested and retested. And no amount of log-bridges will really prepare you for engineering a Golden Gate.
  So how do you write a good short story? What goes in, and what should be left out? First off, you probably don't need an outline. Second, you need a crystal clear vision of the focal point or climax of the story. Is it a sudden discovery or realization? Is it a bizarre image or turn of phrase? Is it the punchline to a joke? Understanding the climax is key. What do you want the reader to think or feel at that moment? Third, you need to set up the climax as cleanly as possible. Try to limit your characters to only those you absolutely need. Only give names to characters worth remembering (others can just be "the lady" or "the doctor"). Minimize the number of scenes or settings. Don't distract the reader with too many extra images or ideas if they don't build to your climax. But do use little hints and foreshadows throughout the story to help build to your climax.
Fourth, be prepared to toss these rules right out the window. (Sorry!) Different stories are meant to serve different purposes. You'll just have to decide for yourself what your story needs to be.
  In The Tale of Asha, the first story ("The Lotus Cave") is about world building, establishing setting and atmosphere, and providing character back stories. It's all about getting the reader in the mood for the series, which is very important because the series is much more about mood and setting than plot or action. It's about the journey, not the destination. To carry that notion forward, the story contains three flashbacks that describe very different personal experiences that led up to The Lotus Cave story itself. (In one sense, these flashbacks are tangents that seem to break my rule about focusing, but since the goal of the story is to paint a picture of this world, the flashbacks are important tools to reaching my goal!)  But critically, all of the stories can stand alone. You don't need to read The Lotus Cave to understand the rest of the series. It just adds more to the overall mythos and ambiance, the mystery and complexity of the world, as well as the relationships between the living and the dead.
  The second ("The Fever Mist") and third ("The Shining Scales") stories focus more narrowly on individuals suffering from strange or tragic circumstances and how Asha tries to help them. Again, these stories are about setting and mood and personal experiences. My goal is not to hit the reader over the head with a single emotion or idea, but to transport the reader to another time and place, just to have the experience of being there.  And the third story ends with the emotional climax for the complete Volume (which is subtitled "Death"), a climax I tried to build toward across all three stories. In one sense, this collection of stories is actually a novella built around a single line of dialog, the last line in the last story.
  So my best advice for writers, for writing short stories, is to figure out exactly what you want to accomplish with your story, and then bend all your efforts toward that one goal. Avoid distractions. Avoid tangents. The key is focus. And then step back and see if you like it. If you don't like it, well, at least you learned something about your writing without having to invest too much time. But if you do like it, great! Publish it and then go write some more!

Thank you, Joseph! Readers, if you would like to learn more about Joseph and The Tales of Asha be sure to visit his website.
Rummanah Aasi
  I am super excited today to bring you an interview with Memento Nora's author, Angie Smibert! Angie was born in Blacksburg, Virginia. She grew up thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian, but organic chemistry changed her mind. Though she loved science, writing was something she always loved. After a few degrees and few cool jobs, including a 10-year stint at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, she pursued her dream to be a full time writer. Though Angie has written science fiction stories, which can be found on her blog, her debut YA novel Memento Nora was released at the beginning of this month. If you would like to read my review of Memento Nora, click here. Angie and I spoke about her writing process and her book. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I do!

Welcome and thank you so much for stopping by! In your novel people can forget a memory by popping a pill. Sometimes that doesn’t seem like a bad idea. :)  What is one memory that you would like to forget and why?

I agree. Forgetting isn’t always a bad idea. I might like to forget getting stood up one particular New Year’s Eve—on which I was pretty sure my longtime boyfriend was going to propose. I was worried sick all evening that something had happened to him (like a car accident). I was phoning hospitals, his parents, etc. Nada. When I found out later what had actually (allegedly?) happened, oh, I was pissed. Let’s just say that even though he did later propose, we did not get married.

Ouch. I would have liked to forget that too if I were in your shoes. I can't believe he proposed later! *Shakes head* What was he thinking?! Your novel is written from three different perspectives in the first person format. Did you have a hard time flipping back and forth between the characters? Did you find yourself enjoying writing from one character more than the others?

I wrote Nora’s point of view first, and then added in Winter’s and Micah’s. Occasionally, I found myself not being Micah-enough in his chapters. Reading everything aloud really helps with voice, though. I enjoyed writing all of the characters, but Winter is my favorite. She has a decidedly different take on everything.

That's really interesting! I didn't have any problems with Micah's voice, but I do agree that Winter is one cool chic. I wish I was talented and creative like her. Speaking of creativity, I love how your characters work together in creating a graphic novel. It’s so cool! Why did you decided to have them create a graphic novel instead of a written manifesto for their revolution?

Underground comics have a long revolutionary history. You can lull the powers that be into thinking a comic strip isn’t that serious and/or dangerous yet more people may read it than a written manifesto. From a story standpoint, though, I wanted each character to bring a visible talent to this creative effort. Nora writes, Micah draws, and Winter makes things work.

As a librarian, I have a hard time convincing people to read graphic novels. It seems as if I have to work 10 times as hard to book talk the graphic novel than an ordinary book. Do you have any marketing advice for me? 

I don’t know about marketing advice, but I tend to like the more literary graphic novels such as those by Art Spiegelman and Marjane Sartrapi. If people think graphic novels are just for superheroes, tell them to read Maus or Persepolis. Maus is about the author’s father’s experiences in Nazi concentration camps. The graphic novel won the Pulitzer.

It's funny that you mention those titles because they are the same exact ones I use to argue with the notion that all comics are only about superheroes or the have less literary merit because it contains illustrations. Most dystopian novels create a world that seems to be perfect and then slowly unveils how it is not, but your book is the complete opposite. How do you define a dystopian novel and would you categorize Memento Nora as such?

A lot of dystopian novels do present a world that seems like utopia, a perfect world, but it turns out to be a false one. Lois Lowry did that brilliantly in The Giver. However, a false utopia is not the only kind of dystopia. I think of a dystopia as dysfunctional (future) world that might have resulted from any number of reasons, from a war to a natural disaster to a plague. Or even just a political movement. The world of Memento Nora is certainly dysfunctional, but I think it’s more on the slippery slope down into that false utopia. To me, the descent into the abyss is a more interesting (and trickier) place to explore.

It's definitely interesting and I'd love to know more about it. When you are writing, what comes first: world building or your characters?

It depends on the story. In Memento Nora, the idea came first. I saw a world where a memory erasure pill might be doled out like lattes and frozen yogurts. Then I built the world where that might be possible. Next, I created the least likely hero (Nora) for this world.

*Laughs* They sure do hand those pills out pretty readily. What would you like your readers to take away after they finish reading your book? 

First of all, I want them to enjoy the book. Then maybe I hope it makes them think and questions about any number of things about our world.

After reading it, I'm sure they will do both. I know that you mostly write science fiction. Do you have a favorite science fiction writer or novel?

My favorite YA science fiction novel (so far) is FEED by MT Anderson. That’s one of those books that I really wished I had written. I want to be that brilliant.

Yes, I love Feed! Feed is absolutely brilliant, disturbing, and funny all rolled into one. I have to ask, how did you like working for NASA? What did you do?

Loved it! I worked at the Kennedy Space Center for over 10 years. I wrote training videos and developed online instruction, among other things. I know more about nondestructive evaluation of ground support equipment that I really need to know. I loved learning about new things and then breaking the concepts down for the appropriate audience (engineers, public, etc.). Plus who wouldn’t like to step right outside to see a Shuttle launch? I only quit to pursue my real love, writing my own stuff.

Wow, that sounds amazing! Is there a sequel to Memento Nora? What is next for you?

I’m working on the revisions for the sequel right now. It’s tentatively called The Forgetting Curve and is scheduled to come out in Spring 2012 from Marshall Cavendish.
I'm really looking forward to reading it, Angie. Readers, if you'd like to know more about Angie, please visit her website, blog, Facebook, and on Twitter.  

GIVEAWAY:  Thanks to the sponsors of the Cornucopia of Dystopia Blog Tour, I have 1 copy of the Memento Nora ARC to giveaway plus some mystery swag. To learn more about the details of this giveaway, click here. The giveaway ends April 26th!


Rummanah Aasi
  Most dystopian novels that I've read so far center around a first glance of a utopian society where its citizens are made to believe that the status quo must be upheld. It is not until the hero/heroine of the book looks closely enough at what is happening around them that they start to realize that things are far from a utopia where their rights have been usurped. This is a general trope of the dystopian genre, however, there are a few books that take a different approach as they watch a society slowly descend into chaos, which makes even more curious if we could prevent the situation from getting any worse.

Description: It is 40 to 50 years in the future America, where there is a struggling economy and terrorism is at an all time high. Car bombings happen every few days. A facility called the Therapeutic Forgetting Centers (TFC), which helps people forget any traumatic event in their lives by giving them a pill. Not only does the pill alter your memory, but it might change your identity too. Would would happen if you resisted? Who is responsible for the terrorist attacks?

Review:  Memento Nora has an intriguing and quickly established world where there is mystery yet familiarity. The world echoes of today, with privacy concerns, a bad economy and a very high priority of homeland security. The only difference between our world and Nora's world is a chain of "therapeutic forgetting clinics" that allow you to forget disturbing memories. 
 As the book opens, Nora and her mother witness a suicide bombing at a bookstore. Traumatized by the event, both mother and daughter go to the TFC in hopes of erasing the memory out of their minds and resume life without any blemishes. Upon visiting the TFC, Nora finds out unspoken secrets between her parents and decides she will never take the pill to forget because someone must remember. In her rebellion, Nora befriends two other students in school from different walks of life, Micah and Winter. Together the three create an underground comic called Memento, which chronicle the harmful effects of TFC and the mystery surrounding the terrorist attacks.
  The book is written from Nora, Micah, and Winter's point of views. Each chapter and character voice is distinct. Nora is our reluctant heroine. She is financially well off and somewhat popular in school. She never really thought about her society until the situation hits close to home and pops her safety bubble, leaving her reeling from secrets and lies. Micah is a boy who is lives on the fringes of society. He and his mother are living in poverty and barely surviving on their own. Winter, Micah's best friend, is a Japanese girl whose parents have gone missing. Winter is very artistic, shrewd, and can easily see through people as if they are clear transparencies. I loved how Smibert takes three unique and diverse characters and have them come together to show that the harms of the society affects everyone yet in different but significant ways.
  The best part of the book is watching a slow and relatively quiet resistance unfold by creating a graphic novel. Smibert does a great job in explaining how graphic novels form and how it can be just as powerful as narrative. While I read the book, I couldn't help but wonder if Memento Nora would have more of a punch if it was released in graphic novel format instead of a novel. I think the graphic novel format would allow the book a bit more room to play with emotions and add more layers of depth to this already thought provoking novel. 
  My only problem with the book, however, is the lack of character development amongst our three main characters. We are given glimpses of their lives yet remain at a close distance so we never seem to really connect with them. One of the characters that stood out the most for me is Nora's mom, who perfectly embodies the complexities of the world in Memento Nora. By watching her, you can easily see why taking a pill at TFC makes sense and might be a temporary yet dangerous answer to her problems. I know there is a second book in the works called The Forgetting Curve, which is set to release next year and I hope it fleshes out the characters a bit more. I love Smibert's world now I just want to be part of it.  
    Even though Memento Nora is less than 200 pages long, it has me thinking long after I finished the reading the last page. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next to Nora, Micah, and Winter in the book's sequel. I would definitely recommend this book to those who like dystopia but doesn't necessarily enjoy science fiction.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the book. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Little Brother by Corey Doctorow or Brain Jack by Brian Falkner

Rummanah Aasi
 With our economy in peril, many of us are readjusting and reevaluating our needs. Most of the time these changes are not easy and we miss living our lives in luxury. Other times these transitions help us distinguish what is really necessary and important. This idea is explored in Corrine Demas's timely middle grade novel called Everything I Was.

Description: After Irene’s father loses his high-paying job in the city, her family leaves their penthouse apartment and elegant life to spend the summer on Irene’s grandfather’s upstate New York farm, where she helps in her grandfather's plant nursery, makes new friends, and begins to learn what she really wants and needs.

Review: I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed reading Everything I Was. I was afraid that I was going to meet your stereotypical spoiled rich girl who is forced to "step down" when she lives with the poor folks in the country. Thankfully, Irene doesn't fall into this predicament and which made me really like her. Irene's life seems to be a slice of our daily lives in today's tough economic times. Her father, a vice president of a large company, lost his job as company is downsized. Irene is pulled out of her luxurious life in New York City and forced to almost start her life over from scratch. Of course she is at first appalled by the change, but slowly warms up to the country lifestyle of working in the nursery, riding her bike as she wishes and making new friends, which allows her to appreciate her new freedom that she might never have if she lived in the city. Irene's desire to have a close family and become a real family member is palpable and rings true.
  Demas's storytelling is solid and never too sweet. Her adult characters are multidimensional. Irene's once powerful father who supported his family financially struggles with depression. Her mother refuses to accept her reality and fights to retain her pride with purchasing expensive items to cover up her new social status. Irene's grandfather, one of my favorite characters in the book, advises his granddaughter yet allows her to make her own decisions.
  Irene's new found friends are also delightful and very down-to-earth. Their family lifestyle is a great comparison of a working family that supports and loves one another. It's no surprise how Irene is so taken with them. In addition to Irene's self discovery, there is a also a sweet and budding romance. Everything I Was is a delightful coming of age story that offers hope to those in harsh financial times and reminds us that money isn't everything.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a handful of profanity in the book. Recommended to Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley
Rummanah Aasi
  When Cassandra Clare announced the Mortal Instrument series will be a six book series instead of three, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was worried because I thought City of Glass wrapped things up so nicely and was afraid that this series would get drawn out. On the other hand, I was excited to meet the cast of characters that I had grown attached to again and was curious as to what could possibly happen to spur three more books. Since City of Fallen Angels was released just this Tuesday, I'm sure many of you either have just started the book or waiting anxious to get your hands on a copy which is why I decided to post a spoiler free review.

Description: It's been two months since the earth shattering events that took place in Idris. Our starring heroes and heroines are trying to readjust to life and find some normalcy, but of course that easier said than done. There has been a mysterious string of murders that are taking place in New York City, which has caused hostility between the Shadowhunters and Downworlders. There seems to be one thing that connect these crimes: Simon Lewis, who was once use to the comfortable shadows, but is now forced to be in the center of everyone's attention. Why does everyone want Simon and who is the mysterious murderer? Love, blood, betrayal and revenge: the stakes are higher than ever in City of Fallen Angels.

Review: I didn't just read City of Fallen Angels, I devoured it. I couldn't put the book down. Trying to do work instead of picking up the book was extremely hard. I started Tuesday night and finished it Thursday afternoon during my lunch break at work. It goes without saying that I was sucked into the book and comfortably back into Clare's world where fantasy and contemporary New York City seamlessly blend. I actually felt as if I never left her world. I finished the first three books in the series and I wasn't sure if I remembered everything thing. Thankfully, Clare does give us enough information about past events that jogs our memory but it doesn't bog down the book. For readers who are completely new to this series, I would highly suggest you read the first three books in order (City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass) before reading this book. Important events and people are mentioned, but aren't fully explained which might cause confusion to new readers.
  City of Fallen Angels reminded me a lot of what I loved about City of Glass, my current favorite book of the Mortal Instrument series, mainly because there is non-stop action, plenty of romantic tension, and snarky humor that has made this series so appealing to me. I have heard from many that this book is called "Simon's book", but that is not necessarily true. Simon does have a larger and important role in the book, but Clare does a great job in providing each character their time on the page, which is why the third person narrating style works so well in the book. While we still get to see our romantic couples in their phases of ecstasy and despair, we also get a sense of a new budding relationship in the works, which I really hope is fruitful.
  I will say that some of the annoying habits of the characters are still prevalent in this new volume of the series. Jace irritated me to no end, but then again he did annoy me in the first three books too with his false bravado and baggage. There were many times when I said to myself  "Here we go again" but after knowing his hardships from the previous books, it still bothered me but I managed to overlook this.
  My favorite part of the book is getting inside Simon's head (he's my favorite character in this series followed strongly by Magnus and Isabelle) and learning how he is adjusting to his new identity along with his power/curse. Through his eyes we can see what it is like to be the insider and the outsider simultaneously. I also loved seeing a different side of Isabelle and Alec, who were more reserved in the first three books, but become more three dimensional in this book. City of Fallen Angels does have a dark tone than its previous books and Clare doesn't hesitate to put her characters into the grinder, which makes us realize that not even fictional characters can escape the consequences of their actions.
  Readers who have read Clockwork Angel, the first book in the prequel series called Infernal Devices, will either see or hear familiar names. We also meet a few new characters along the way too. While some of the plot twists were predictable, many new questions have been raised. Things are just going to get more complicated as they go along and I'm intrigued to know how the events in Victorian England have an effect on our contemporary world. Of course the book ends in a cliffhanger, we are in a YA series after all, and we do have quite a while to wait for the next book in the Mortal Instrument series, City of Lost Souls which will not be released until 2012. Fortunately, we do have to wait only a few months until the second book in the Infernal Devices, Clockwork Prince, which will come out this summer. If you're like me and really enjoyed City of Glass, I don't think you'll be disappointed with City of Fallen Angels and if you are, I would love to know why.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some intense make-out scenes, some language and PG-13 violence in the book. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Dark Divine series by Bree Despain, Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray, Angelfire by Courtney Moulton, Demon Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm very excited to bring you this interview I had with Sara Grant, the author of Dark Parties. Dark Parties is one of the many books featured in the awesome blog tour, Cornucopia of Dystopia, that I am participating this year. If you'd like to read my thoughts about Dark Parties, you can read it here. Dark Parties will be available on August 3, 2011.
  Sara Grant was born and raised in Washington, Indiana. She graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, with degrees in journalism and psychology, and later she earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Sara now works as a senior commissioning editor for Working Partners, a London-based company creating series fiction for children. Dark Parties is her first young adult novel.

Sarah, welcome and thank you so much for stopping by! What is it about dystopian novels that attract young adult readers?

I read an article in The New Yorker where Scott Westerfeld compared high school to a dystopia. Perhaps that is why the genre appeals so much to teens. Dystopian novels allow readers and writers to explore ideas and themes in a way contemporary fiction can’t. They also can offer a complete escape from everyday life. Practically it allows writers to rid teen protagonists of pesky parents, cell phones and the internet, which allows for greater adventure and risks.

I loved Westerfeld's comparison of high school and dystopia, because it is so spot on. Teen years are the years that you begin to question yourself and challenge authorities. I wonder if teens also thought it was a way to get away from the mundane of everyday life too, which is an interesting thought. What is the best part about writing dystopian fiction? What’s the worst?

The best part is the freedom. Anything is possible in a world completely of your own making. With dystopian fiction, you can really shine a light on a particular aspect of society or human nature. You whittle away the parts of the real world that don’t serve your story.
  The worst part is also the freedom. Changing one thing in the world/future you’ve imagined can change so much. You not only have to write an interesting story with authentic characters but you also have to build a believable world. I had to consider how growing up in a protected and closed society would effect not only the environment and resources but so many other things, such as how the characters spoke and thought.

I completely agree. Unlike some other genres, with dystopia you really start from zero. You have to create everything. It definitely sounds daunting.  What do you think sets your book apart from the other YA dystopian fiction?

This is a difficult question. There are so many amazing dystopian writers. You’ve generated an impressive list and I feel honored to be included. I wanted to combine an atypical love story with elements of adventure and intrigue. I’ve tried to create a compelling story and engage readers on many levels. But ultimately, this is a question better answered by you and your readers.

Are there any books that inspired you to write Dark Parties or did you have the concept in mind for some time?

I came up with the idea for Dark Parties as the result of my move to the UK. Both the US and UK are struggling with immigration issues. I believe that diversity makes us stronger. So I said: what if we closed our borders to people and ideas? Dark Parties is my answer.
  Once I understood what was at the heart of Dark Parties. I began to read and re-read every dystopian novel I could get my hands on. However, I waited until I had a first draft before engaging with other dystopian books so that they didn’t unduly influence my creation process.

I was wondering if your move had influenced your story. Immigration laws have become more complex with the unfortunate rise of terrorism. It's so interesting that you read other books after finishing your first draft. What comes first: world building or your characters?

Actually the theme came first. I wanted to explore issues of identity – both personal and national. I built my world and developed my characters to enhance my ability to examine this theme. But in the writing, the world, characters and plot evolved and influenced each other in a way that, I hope, ties them inextricably together.

You are probably the first author I spoke to that mentions how the theme comes first! Many talk about how they envisioned their world or had characters that spoke to them and demanded a story. I know that you are a commissioning editor for Working Partners, a London-based company creating series fiction for children. What does a commissioning editor do exactly and could you tell us a little more about Working Partners? How does the process work and how can writers join you?

Working Partners has created successful series for children –such as Warriors, Rainbow Magic, Dinosaur Cove, Faerie Path, Beast Quest and Animal Ark – since 1994. From young chapter books through sophisticated YA novels, we produce the full range of children’s fiction. Our team of editors develops storylines and hires writers to bring the stories to life. Writers who are interested should visit our website. Fill out and submit the writers form. We review writer forms and invite writers to try out when their interests, expertise and experience match one of our new projects. Not every writer who submits a writer form will be asked to try out, but we do endeavor to find new writers – both published and unpublished.

That's great news for aspiring writers who are looking to get their works published! Did having some experience working in the publishing industry help you write your novel at all? If not, what important lessons did you learn along the way of writing your debut novel?
Absolutely. Working at Working Partners is a daily tutorial on writing and editing. I am fortunate that I get to learn from an amazing group of writers, who work on my series, and a talented group of editors at Working Partners as well as editors in the US and UK who publish our books. It has taught me that there’s not one way to tell story. I practice storytelling on a daily basis and am constantly being edited. This creative collaboration helps when agents and editors give me feedback, and also helps when I need to re-envision and improve a story. Having a novel published is a collaboration. I feel very fortunate to have the best agent in this or any world and a stellar team of editors in the US, UK and Germany who helped make Dark Parties a much better book than I could have created on my own.

 While writing Dark Parties, which character would you say surprised you the most and in what way? 

Strangely enough…Neva’s mom. The novel grew from an idea I had for a short story, which started as a letter from Neva to her mom, telling her that she was escaping. When the idea expanded into a novel, Mom took more of a backseat, but she definitely continued to surprise me. Neva loves her mom but sees her as someone who has given up and given in. I don’t want to spoil anything for future readers, but I love the fact that Neva is keeping secrets from her mom and soon realizes that her mom has her own set of secrets.

I really liked Neva's mom and was surprised by her actions towards the end of the novel. I'm curious as to what secrets she has of her own. I have to ask: What is your favorite dystopian novel?
I love The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The first book in her trilogy is a master class in deftly creating a world but not letting the world take over. She blended a compelling love triangle with page-turning action.

Hunger Games is well loved by many for the same reasons you stated. Is there a sequel to your novel? What is next for you?

I have ideas for a sequel and have planted a few seeds in Dark Parties for a follow up, but no plans yet for publication.
   My second book will come out in the fall of 2012. It’s another dystopian novel. Its working title is Half Lives. It’s very much a work in progress, but here’s what I know so far: Half Lives chronicles the journey of two unlikely heroes – Icie and Beckett. Both struggle to keep themselves alive and protect future generations from the terrible fate that awaits any who dare to climb the mountain. Even though they live hundreds of years apart, Icie and Beckett’s lives are mysteriously linked.Half Lives is a race against time and the battle to save future generations. It’s about the nature of faith and power of miscommunication – and above all the strength of the human spirit to adapt and survive.

Wow, you definitely piqued my interest and I'll be on the lookout for this one. Thank you so much for stopping by!

To learn more about Sara, be sure to visit her website and her blog.
Rummanah Aasi
  We all have done stupid things when we are angry. We suspend logic and consequence just for a moment where we can unleash our frustration. It's only after the fact that we take action, we often realize that sometimes ideas are better left in our minds. Welcome to Alex Gregory's life where confusion, anger, and teen angst collide which result in a bittersweet, humorous, and poignant story.

Description: Alex thought he was over his parents' divorce that is until his mother went on her first date and his father left Alex's family to pursue a relationship with one of his former teachers. Angry, hurt, and confused, Alex wanted to get revenge from his dad. What really happened? Alex decides to get drunk, steal his mom's car, and drive to his father's home. The result? A damaged car, a decapitated gnome, a drunk driving charge, and community service. How is Alex going to get out of this mess?

Review: Notes from a Midnight Driver could have easily been a book that is seeped with serious overtones, yet Sonneblick spins his own tale infusing humor while tackling responsibility, consequence, and forgiveness. Alex seems like your everyday teen boy who is just trying to live his teen years day by day. His impulsive decision to get drunk and drive isn't glamorized and we can't help but shake our heads in dismay in his incredibly stupid and dangerous action. Alex knows that we did wasn't smart, but thinks his sentence to 100 hours of community service at a nursing home, where he is assigned to Sol Lewis, a notoriously difficult resident with a reputation for practical jokes isn't fair. He desperately writes appeal letters to his judge in requesting a lighter sentence, but he is constantly rejected.
  Alex is an enjoyable character who revels in self deprecation. He admits to his irrational and impulsive actions, but we can understand and feel his frustration and confusion when it comes to his family life. He never really understood why his parents split up and he can't help but feel abandoned by both of his parents. It is only through his time spent with the acerbic and hiliarious Sol, does Alex come to several epiphanies regarding love and forgiveness.
  In addition to Alex's personal growth, there are also other subplots in the book such as Sol's past and his love of music (a passion he shares with Alex) and Alex confusing, romantic feelings for his best friend named Laurie. These subplots are woven nicely, realistic, and enrich the novel. I particularly liked how this book discussed the importance of volunteerism and working with the elderly. Notes from a Midnight Driver is a great book that discusses important issues without being heavy handed and book that I'm sure many young adults will really enjoy.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene of underage drinking and drunk driving as well as some language. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jonathan Sonnenblick
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