Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Your Vote Counts: The 50 Cent Cover Contest

Hey all!  As promised here are the fabulous entries for the 50 Cent Cover contest!  Special thanks to all the great artists who participated!  Without further ado, here we go (with some commentary from the judges)!

ENTRY 1


ENTRY 2
  

"I love the desolate feel of the playground, and the title type choice. Major fistpump for using Curtis James Jackson III!"
-Capillya from That Cover Girl

"I like how entry 2 used his whole name instead of 50 cent:)"
-Jenny from Supernatural Snark








 
ENTRY 3
 


"Definitely a striking photo!"
  -Capillya from That Cover Girl














ENTRY 4




Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why 50 Cent's Young Adult Book Matters: Some Points (& Pointy Ends)

Very soon, the public voting for the 50 Cent Cover Contest will begin here.

But first, I'd like to explain why I even care.

When I first heard that Razorbill would be publishing a young adult novel by 50 Cent, I laughed.  Way outloud.  It seemed like such a ridiculous farce!  In what world would someone think that the man who penned these (warning - they're really lewd and inappropriate) tweets would be a adequate author for young adults.  I still feel this way.

However, as I sadly have to remind myself, publishing companies do not exist to be purveyors of good taste, nor should they: to a degree, that would be censorship.  The bottom line is that they exist to make a bottom line.  I'm quite certain that there are book lovers in their ranks; but, to keep those jobs, companies have to make money.  To publish promising new talent, they have to have the resources to do so.  Let's remember, Razorbill is the publisher that put books by Beth Revis, Scott Westerfeld, Maureen Johnson and Breanna Yovanoff on the shelves.  Popular, respected authors.  Of course, the question as to whether Razorbill inked this deal just to make money exists.  Given the cover in the Spring 2012 Penguin catalog, I'd say it's a possibility, or at least part of the reason:  


That's a mighty big name for such a small title.
Taken from the Spring 2012 Penguin catalog:

A hard-hitting and inspirational novel about the redemption of a bully from international icon 50 Cent.

Thirteen-year-old Butterball doesn’t have much going for him. He’s teased mercilessly about his weight. He hates the Long Island suburb his mom moved them to and wishes he still lived with his dad in the city. And now he’s stuck talking to a totally out-of-touch therapist named Liz.

Liz tries to uncover what happened that day on the playground—a day that landed one kid in the hospital and Butterball in detention. Butterball refuses to let her in on the truth, and while he evades her questions, he takes readers on a journey through the moments that made him into the playground bully he is today.

This devastating yet ultimately redemptive story is told in voice-driven prose and accented with drawings and photographs, making it a natural successor to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  

Loosely inspired by 50 Cent’s own adolescence, and written with his fourteen-year-old son in mind, Playground is sure to captivate wide attention - and spark intense discussion.

Well, Razorbill is right about that last point.  To some extent.  At least on this blog.  Some of you may not agree with me about bringing attention to this book, saying that I simply am feeding the fire.

Good.  I want to.

Here's two things to keep in mind:  1) My pee-diddly little blog isn't big enough to bring attention to jack outside of the YA book blogging community, and I'm not even big enough to cover that.  I know this.  I see who my top commentators are, and I check out my traffic sources on a daily basis.  Trust me: I'm not selling any books for this man; and 2) the more this book is discussed, the more it has to live up to.

Here's why Playground needs to be discussed more, and it's partly a personal anecdote:  once upon a time about six or seven years ago, I was a reporter in New Mexico.  A principal in one of the communities I covered and I were talking one day.  He administered a school for children whose community had high dropout and truancy rates.  He desperately tried stressing the importance of education, but often his reasoning ran into deaf ears, especially when parents would take their children out for days at a time for cultural fairs ran by their nation (this was a high Native American population area).  He understood, but at the same time, he needed education to be a priority.

However, he would absolutely delight in the students' enthusiasm when a major book came out.  Part of him wanted to rebuke sleepy-eyed kids who stayed up way too late reading the latest Harry Potter, but in his heart, he was glad they were at least reading.  He loved watching them devour the book in question during lunch and as they sneakily read under their desks during class.  He didn't say it out loud, but he was willing to make his peace with this if it encouraged them to read more.

Fast-forward about four years, give or take, and I was in grad school studying to be a teacher.  Specifically, an English teacher for middle and high school students.  My heart was always with the junior high kids, though.  The 12 thru 14-year olds who were starting to test their mettle that would serve or underserve them during their high school years.  I loved their pluck.  It's the age group for which Playground is geared.

No matter how much we regret that 50 Cent got a book deal for a young adult book, no matter how much we hate that celebiauthors are getting these deals, this isn't going to stop this book from being published.  50 Cent's YA offering matters because of the same reason he got the deal in the first place: his name.  Some kids will want to read it for that reason alone.  The discussion about it needs to happen because it needs to be a book worthy of them.

Truly, I am hoping that it will be, but if it isn't, I won't be surprised.  Just another hustle, right?



Monday, July 18, 2011

REVIEW: Divergent by Veronica Roth


Divergent
(Divergent #1)
by Veronica Roth (website)
Released: 05.03.2011
487 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins (website)
Source: my fabulous library


In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.
(from GoodReads).


REVIEW: I like lot of things in life.  I like a lot of cream in my coffee, cinnamon and honey in my oatmeal and when the evil cat I live with doesn't attack my feet.  I like these things.  They are a part of my daily routine (the daily cat attacks included), but having or not having them does not make or break my day.  That's kind of how I feel about Divergent.  I 'liked' it.  I just 'liked' it, but truly, I could take it or leave it.  Veronica Roth is a good writer, and I read the entire book in one day (don't let the almost 500-page length scare you - the print is big and the margins wide - the pages fly).  However, there's nothing standout to me about it, nothing that makes me want to shove this into someone's arms and say, "You HAVE to read this."  The 'zing' you get when you meet that magic book didn't happen for me, and I am pretty sure I can boil it down to a single thing:

The premise.  I didn't buy it, not one bit.  

Now, let me back up here.  I think the human race is capable of many things, both truly good and absolutely evil.  I can buy the possibility of being assigned lifetime occupations (it's happened before), being matched to spouses (take e-harmony and regulate it - there you go), and the possibility of a xenophobic, post-apocalyptic future (ever watch Alfonso Cuaron's The Children of Men?  It's the worst of possibilities, but I can buy that it could happen).  I even can believe that a religious faction could take over by gaining a government majority.  However, I cannot buy a society based on people circumscribing their lives to the devotion and pursuit of a singular, chosen virtue.  It's too simple, too fractious, and I didn't see enough historical context in Divergent to give me a reasonable basis as to why a government would set up shop this way.  I can believe that individuals might choose to live that way (nuns and priests of various religions prove this, but even then, it's usually devotion to a group of virtues), but a government doing this does not make sense, particularly one based in the possibly former state of Illinois, political home of the late Mr. Abraham 'A-House-Divided-Cannot-Stand' Lincoln.  Especially with any group of people with a U.S. cultural footprint.  We admire commitment but tend to sneer at fervent belief in abstract concepts.  It's a fine line; I think the political term for it is 'moderation'.

Given the above, you might think that I didn't like Divergent.  Not true.  I did.  I just didn't get emotionally involved in it.  Granted, Tris belongs to the the 'Katniss'-class, a fantastic group of strong, unflightly and practical female characters.  I hope they don't become cliched by being in every book, but I love that we are seeing more of them.  Tris is well-written, relatable and brave.  More than that, she's an honorable badass.  She wants to do the 'right' thing, but she understands that absolutes have no place in 'the' moment.  If it comes down between you and her walking away, she's going to do her absolute best to make sure it's her.  Her romance with Four is a believable first-love attraction with all its uncertainty and awkwardness.  Four might be my favorite male lead of 2011 with his aloof tenderness and adherence to personal values.  I also like Roth's name choices (for those of you who pay attention to that, the name 'Beatrice Prior' must have given clues - that was fun).  I also love that she didn't flinch at depicting the brutal violence that Tris endures in no uncertain terms.  Her use of sparse language also made the story flow and really made Tris' physical and emotional experiences pop, but occasionally, it felt like the sparseness was carrying on with the style of writing rather than adding substance to the storyline.  Additionally, the story simply lacked for me a 'hook'; I've actually given better reviews to books with plots that weren't as well-executed or as well-edited, simply because the emotional element was stronger or the premise more original or believable.

I guess in the end, I just didn't feel that Divergent added much to dystopian YA.  It's a solid story with good writing and a steady plot, and I basically read it one sitting.  It's enjoyable but not a standout.  I think I might be a little picky because 1) SO much dystoian is out now.  Books that aren't technically dystopian are being marketed as such - it's overkill;  2) Roth actually IS a good writer.  This is a GOOD story.  I just don't think she's hit her full potential here.  Which is fine.  How many authors do we know of who had stunning debuts, but lack-luster sophomore efforts?  I'd like to think that the best of Roth's writing is yet to come.  I may or may not pick up #2, but I will be on the lookout for her fist non-Divergent novel, definitely. 

Quotes:

"My mother and father would not approve of my kicking someone when she's down.
 
I don't care."
page 173

"Somewhere inside me is a merciful, forgiving person. Somewhere there is a girl who tries to understand what people are going through, who accepts that people do evil things and that desperation leads them to darker places than they ever imagined.  I swear she exists, and she hurts for the repentant boy I see in front of me.

But if I saw her, I wouldn't recognize her." 
pages 299-300

"'You think my first instinct is to protect you. Because you're small, or a girl, or a Stiff. But you're wrong.'

He leans his face close to mine and wraps his fingers around my chin. His hand smells like metal. When was the last time he held a gun, or a knife?  My skin tingles at the point of contact, like he's transmitting electricity through his skin.

'My first instinct is to push you until you break, just to see how hard I have to press,' he says, his fingers squeezing at the word "break."  My body tenses at the edge in his voice, so I am coiled as tight as a spring, and I forget to breathe.

His dark eyes lifting to mine, he adds, 'But I resist it.'
'Why  .  .  .' I swallow hard. 'Why is that your first instinct?'

'Fear doesn't shut you down; it wakes you up. I've seen it.  It's fascinating.' He releases me but doesn't pull away, his hand grazing my jaw, my neck. 'Sometimes I just  .  .  . want to see it again. Want to see you awake.'"
pages 313-314

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lit News To Note 07.07.2011

General 'This & That' News

Did you miss the Meghan Cox Gurdon and Maureen Johnson talk on WHYY over darkness in YA?  Here you go for the full audio: "Is Young Adult Fiction Too Dark?"   Also Lauren Myracle was on NPR's Talk of the Nation, as well: "YA Author Apologizes To 'Wall Street Journal' Critic".  Both audio and article are included.

Also, this radio station is some kind of awesome, because today. Push author Sapphire will be on to discuss her new book, The Kid: "Sapphire's "The Kid" chronicles life of Precious' son". If you don't know, Push is the book on which that the critically acclaimed film Precious was based.  I believe the program starts at 11:00am EST.  Also, here is an article with audio from NPR: "Sapphire Releases Graphic Sequel To 'Push'".

The Wall Street Journal has noticed the buzz around John Green's latest: "Tweeting from a La-Z-Boy, An Unfinished Book Hits No.1"

We had The Giver: The Movie news last week, and this week, it's, "New Musical 'The Giver' To Make West Coast Premiere At COC".

Oh boy, this sounds like one to watch.  From the The BookSeller.com: "OFT set to probe Book Depository deal" and "Book Depository to "operate independently" of Amazon".  Here's the latest from BookSeller.com: "BA and PA set to oppose Amazon-Book Depository merger". 


Very nicely done op-ed piece on Daniel Radcliffe's recent admission that he struggled with alcohol.  From Salon: "Daniel Radcliffe: Young and sober"

Oh boy, get ready to squeee.  From the Examiner.com: "Sneak peek at new 'Twilight Breaking Dawn' posters – photos".

Op-ed piece from The Wall Street Journal: "Cherish the Book Publishers—You'll Miss Them When They're Gone".

I love this piece by Stephen Kind done for Entertainment Weekly: "J.K. Rowling's Ministry of Magic".

From The Economist: "Goodbye to bricks and mortar."



via Shelf Awareness

From The National Post's lit blog, The Afterward: "Margaret Atwood is Canada’s most popular BBQ guest".

From HuffPost Books: "8 Fascinating Facts You Probably Don't Know About Famous Authors".

From Entertainment Weekly: "'Harry Potter': Sneak peek at Harry's Gringotts Bank break-in -- EXCLUSIVE VIDEO".

From The Guardian: "Rupert Grint on the end of Ron Weasley: 'It's like grieving'".

Woot!  Go free press and access to info!  From CNN: "Our favorite banned books in Hong Kong and China; Savvy mainland tourists come to Hong Kong to spree at book stores for these censored tome"

Amazing.  A new, permanent exhibit at the Children's Book Museum in The Hague: "A Museum Exhibit On Books, Made Of 40,000 Books".

This is cool.  From EW.com: "'Harry Potter': 23 Astounding Props".


via Publishers Weekly

Boo - this one is for subscribers only, but it looks like a good article: "YA Series Making Fast Tracks". 

Oh, YEA, for Kate!  "Kate Middleton's Fondness for 'Anne of Green Gables'"  The Duchess of Cambridge has good taste in something other than clothes!


Award Winners Announced

The The Romance Writers of  America announced the winners of the RITA Awards for 2011.  The winner in the Young Adult category is The Iron King by Julie Kagawa.  The winner of the Golden Heart for Young Adult Romance is Irresistible by Suzanne Kaufman Kalb.

The Canada Council for the Arts has announced the recipients of the 2011 Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Awards.  The Awards, Awards, worth $15,000, are awarded annually starting in 2005 for outstanding artistic achievement by Canadian mid-career artists in the disciplines of Dance, Inter-Arts, Media Arts, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts and Writing and Publishing."  The winner of the writing and publishing category this year is Duncan Thornton, a the author of 1999 YA offering Kalifax.  Read more from the Winnipeg Free Press.

Cover Reveals (pssst - the Penguin catalog for Spring 2012 is out - behold the glory for more fun cover reveals)

The cover for Truth, the sequel to Julia Karr's XVI, was revealed on Tuesday:


The cover the The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler was also revealed:


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

REVIEW: Blood Red Road by Moira Young



Blood Red Road 
(Dustlands #1)
by Moira Young
Released on 06.07.2011
464 pages
Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster
Source: S&S GalleyGrab

Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she's a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Blood Red Road has a searing pace, a poetically minimal writing style, violent action, and an epic love story. Moira Young is one of the most promising and startling new voices in teen fiction.

REVIEW: This book is fantastic.  It coaxed my long dormant inner Star Wars fangirl out of her little shell (it was the desert world thing - love the Tatooine feel), and I couldn't help but wonder about the conversations Saba and Katniss would have if they met up in literary wonderland.  It's that kind of rad.

First off, the characters: can I tell you much I appreciate that Young wrote Saba in the vernacular?  To most readers, I think Saba's language appears to be a variation on (forgive me) stereotypically 'redneck' talk (the kinder word is 'folksy' - if that even is a word).  It's very much in keeping with idea that she grew up in deserted, desert-backwoods.  But keep in mind that famous quote from Sweet Home Alabama: "Honey, just because I talk slow don't mean I'm stupid."  You need to adjust to her talk because she is so running this show, and her speech juxtaposes smoothly with her keen survival skills, and this makes her a formidable opponent for the odds against her.  Furthermore, I think the speech allows you to really get to know her on a personal level and shows what she's up against.  It separates her a bit from everything new coming into her life.  Other characters follow suit in that they are well-developed and defined, form the much despised Emmi (Saba's younger sister whom she loathes; I pitied that little girl something fierce), and Jack.  Oh, JACK!  I love Jack, the incorrigible young devil with heart of mischievous goodwill.  Adore him, and adore how he adores Saba (even when she is awful).

Does it sound like I dislike Saba?  Sigh.  I don't.  I really like her, and moreover, I respect her.  She had a straightforward mission: rescue and be united with Lugh (major dependency there).  She had a similar approach: let NOTHING get in her way.  And she didn't.  Saba only compromised when forced or shamed into it.  You can call this a fault, and I guess mmmmmmmmaybe, when it came to letting people in and helping her, it was.  Personally, I like her grit.  I think an attitude made of anything less would have weakened her resolve.  Dux femina facti, baby.

Okay, let's talk the best character of all in the book: SETTING.  This is what makes Blood Red Road  have Amazing Movie Potential.  The sweeping desert, the field of airplanes, a city of junk with a Colosseum, a field of deadly I'm-Not-Going-To-Ruin-It-And-Name-Thems, and a scene that feels like a cross between Gone With the Wind and Versailles.  I am not a huge fan of the Systematic Whoring of Young Adult Lit for Hollywood profits.  They rarely do justice to the books they film flip, and then there are the ridiculously redundant marketing campaigns aimed at people who never read the books in the first place.  HOWEVER, this film has screen potential of EPIC proportions.  Ideally, I'd like to see something with the set design vision George Lucas combined with the screenplay prowess of David Franzoni and David Hare (book gods know that Lucas can't write the script - did you see SW 1-3 - shudder).  Since she was outed from the role of Katniss, I think Hailee Steinfeld would be old enough and talented enough to play the tough, rough, intelligent and conflicted Saba.

Of course, this whole thing could turn out horribly wrong and end up like Waterworld.  Just saying.  If it even is made into a movie (the rights have been acquired by Ridley Scott).

Anywho, if you are worried about how you will adjust to Saba-speak, don't.  If you are worried that the minimal punctuation will give you trouble, I wouldn't.  It develops a rhythm and you just go with it.  You likely won't even notice it after a while.  This book was so enjoyable to read.  It was full of adventure, chance and romance.  Odd thing, and please let me know if you felt this way, too - I didn't have this overwhelming feeling of 'grey' reading it, despite its post-apocalyptic grittiness.  The inherent hero quest aspect of it made it feel more exciting than suspenseful (although it was, at times).  The characters were so well-described, so colorful, and added so much heart that it was hard to feel a prolonged sense of despair.  Was there bleakness?  Oh yeah, definitely, especially during the opening attack and later captivity scenes.  There's a real desperate overtone in certain scenes, but. . .  I don't know, I kept thinking Princess Bride while I read it.  My only little complaint is that it has Just-In-the-Nick-Of-Time syndrome - seems like when all is lost, something or someone unexpectedly comes to the rescue.  Still, taking that into consideration, I really enjoyed  Blood Red Road and definitely recommend that you give it a shot (dare I even say that I 'loved' it, perhaps). 

I give you far warning, though:  Jack is Mine. He's got a young Han Solo with a twist of Peeta-like accessibility and advice thing going.  MINE, I tell you!  You have been advised.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Solemnly Swear: On Getting Through the TBR Pile

I'm a lucky girl.  Oh-so-lucky.  Like you, I have an unruly and beautiful stack of unread books that loyally sits on my bedside table, patiently waiting for the day that I will flip open various covers.

And then, every month, new books come out with shiny, pretty covers and (sometimes) captivating synopses.

Then, I glance at my nightstand, and I feel so, so guilty.  Some of the books there I have bought.  Some are ones I received otherwise, and while they remain there unread and unreviewed, they sadly are something else: a waste.  Because of me (insert puritanical guilt complex).  If books are not being read and discussed, then they merely are decorative dust catches, and that's a crying shame.  

So, here's what I'm going to do:
  1. I will not buy another book until I've gotten through this pile.
  2. I will not request more than two NetGalley or S&S GalleyGrab books per month until I get through my pile
  3. When I get through this whole pile, I will reward myself by buying a book series that I've wanted for a while: The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. 
  4. Two exceptions: I am scheduled for a few books tours, so I have to read those as they come in.  Also, if I don't get through this list before Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Star comes out, I don't care.  I'm getting that one!
 Here's the list I am determined to get through: 


Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Ada: Legend of a Healer by R.A. McDonald
Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne
Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner
Chime by Franny Billingsley
You Against Me by Jenny Downham
Misfit by Jon Skovron
White Cat by Holly Black
Spinning Out by David Stahler Jr.
Across the Universe by Beth Revis
The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner
Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Tighter by Adele Griffin
Torn by Erica O'Rourke
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach





These are only the 'physical' books, but they've been sitting around for a while, and oh, the NetGally books I have in addition!  ***bites nails****


So, how 'bout you?
1) what's the size of your TBR pile; and 
2) what are some books you've been 'meaning' to get to, but just haven't managed it yet?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

REVIEW: Bloodspell by Amalie Howard



Bloodspell
(Bloospell #1)
by Amalie Howard (website)
Released: 06.01.2011
394 pages
Publisher: Langdon Street Press (website)
Recognition: selected by Seventeen Magazine as a Summer Beach Read
Source: received by publisher for fair and honest review for the Teen {Book} Scene tour



The spell was simple...

Cruentus Protectum (Defend the Blood)

But what do you do if your blood is your enemy?

Victoria Warrick has always known she was different. An outcast at school, she is no stranger to adversity. But when she receives an old journal for her seventeenth birthday, nothing prepares her for the dark secrets it holds -- much less one that reveals she's a witch with unimaginable power.

What's more, when she meets the dazzling but enigmatic Christian Devereux, she has no idea how much her life is about to change. Enemies will hunt her. Friends will turn on her. The terrible curse that makes her blood run black will stop at nothing to control her. And Christian has a sinister secret of his own...

Without knowing whom to trust, can Victoria survive her blood's deadly desires? Or will she lose everything, including herself?
(from GoodReads).


REVIEW: To be honest, the synopsis doesn't do the book justice. And to be fair, the book shares similar plot devices with other books which feature an 'outsider' female and a vampire male love interest.  I've read those books and their fallen angel counterparts.  It made me nervous to pick this book up for that reason, as I've found some of those other YA offerings to be rather boring.

Here's the difference between them and Amalie Howard's Bloospell: her writing is better, her characters more dynamic, and the plot far richer and more compelling.  This is a great read, and it takes the washed out 'supernatural forbidden love' premise, adds some twists and makes it exciting to read again.  Truly a breath of fresh air!

Let's talk writing.  At first, I was worried.  Until page 16, I wasn't into the story.  I didn't care for the dialogue, and I just wasn't engaged.  Then BAM!  Victoria turns 17, the clouds parted, the sun shined, and Ahhhhh!  I was hooked.  The writing picked up, and it pretty much flowed from there on out.  Victoria is a sort of tragic character: she's lost both parents to a horrific car accident, she always been an odd one and feels very alone, and she is attacked, both verbally and physically by her classmates.  She moves onto another school after turning 17, and that's where the story really begins.  Howard is a debut author, and here are some instances of using cliched phrases, and there are a few, very few, awkward moments.  However, there is an eloquence to her simple word choices that make the book flow easily and really grabs your attention.  It's been a while, but I truly didn't want to put the book down.  I just wrote this review today, and I am itching to get back to it and reread a few things. 

Oh, and here's another great thing about this book.  Obviously, there is a romance, but what the synopsis can't tell you is that Howard's writing of it is very sensual.  Not slutty.  Not sexy.  Sensual.  She really appeals to your senses as you read it, and that made the romance more compelling in a way that I haven't read in YA.  Observe:

The words stuck in her throat as Christian unclenched his jaw and forced himself to face her, gently grasping her shoulders.  Liquid silver started stared into molten jade, and he touched his lips to hers, the kiss tentative at first, as if he were afraid to give himself over to it.  But as the warmth within her bloomed, decimating walls and reason, his lips sank into the softness of hers with desperate urgency.  Victoria dug her fingers into his arms, caught.  It felt as though her life began and ended in that kiss.

Kind of hot, huh?

The fact that Bloodspell is also written from both Christian and Victoria's points-of-view also makes the story more compelling, particularly as Christian's character becomes more developed.  While he occasionally displays the "I want you, but I'm too dangerous for you," syndrome, the interesting twist here is that Victoria is a witch, and not just any witch, but The Witch.  She's lethal, and it's not a stretch to say that she is more so than Christian.  If need be, she could kill Christian.  Boyfriend better watch his neck, because no one is putting this baby in a corner.  If he every tried to put her up against a rock so he could take care of a sitch, she'd be like, "Yeah, okay. Bare your fags while me and and my awesome witch amulet make short work of this."  Okay, maybe not, because Victoria is actually a kind and laid back character, but there's no doubt that her powers are badass.  There seems to be a respect between the two in acknowledgement for the what the other is, both the good and the bad.  There's something feral in them both and at times attempts to posses them.  For Christian, it's his bloodlust, and for Victoria, it's her blood, or rather, the power in it.  While Christian does show his "I gotta protect her" jones, it never felt possessive or stalkerish to me, as it has in other books.  It felt more like a practical response to an actual threat to Victoria.  She is brand new to this world; he's been in it as a vampire for almost two hundred years.  He knows exactly what she's up against, and at the same time acknowledges that she likely is every bit the potential danger her enemies fear her to be. Added into the mix are secondary characters that are much more than filler - every one of them has a purpose, and it was SO refreshing to find they are not merely background noise.

Here's what makes this book a standout in urban fantasy/paranormal YA: Howard entwines personal, family, and mythical history and adds in a good dash of the 1800s.  It feels seamless and makes the plot so interesting.  Howard is descriptive, but not overly so, and thus the world building here is done naturally and as-it's-needed.  The history and the world building combine and produce a story that is rife with politics, rivalries, betrayal, violence, and yes, death.  In other YA paranormal/UF books, it sometimes can feel like that it's romance painted with a supernatural brush.  In Bloodspell. the paranormal element feels like an established world with its very own conflicted history in which a Romeo and Juliet type romance takes place.  It makes the story richer, the stakes higher, and I certainly am looking forward to #2.  The last critique I would give this book is that the ending could be shorter and more tightly written - it's a tad drawn out, but overall, Bloodspell is a great twist and a welcome addition to the young adult section.  I recommend it.

Who I think will like this book - fans of:
  • Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Bloodspell isn't as emotional as this one, but both Donnelly and Howard are good with research and historical detail.
  • Nightshade by Andrea Cremer: completely different books, but both have that world building and political intrigue that really keeps the plot moving.  
  • The Greyfriar by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith: no, it's not steampunk in the least, but there's something about the descriptions of how things are run, as in people, not clockworks and gears, that had me thinking about the world building in steampunk.
  • Also, if you are a fan of Denise and Spade in the Night Huntress/Night Huntress World series by Jeaniene Frost, you may also like Christian and Victoria.  They reminded me a little of them.





Quotes:

"'My father was quiet, ' she told him.  'My mother was not.  They were polar opposites, but you'd think they were a match made in heaven the way he loved her and she, him.  He'd sit and listen to her play for hours like it was their special language.  I miss that the most, their music.  It made me feel . . . part of something beautiful.'" (this line really got me)

"Don't be afraid of who you are.  You cannot hope to control your power if you do not understand it and who you are.  You must protect yourself at all costs, even against those you . . . love.  He hesitated lost for a moment, and Victoria felt his thoughts flicker briefly into a strange nothingness before moving back to the consciousness she recognized.  His words were hard.  Love is a breeding ground for betrayal.  Guard against it." (she's a witch - did I mention she can have rad metal conversations with her familiar?)

"After a while Lucian spoke, curiosity evident in his tone.
'So why do you care so much?  Giving in to the temptation of a little forbidden snack?'  Lucian's laugh was derisive.
'None of your damned business.'
'That's forbidden, too, in case you forgot.  Not that I don't mind a little witch blood myself from time to time.  We always crave the illicit, don't we?  I just didn't think my straitlaced, uptight brother would indulge in such inclinations.'" (Christian also has a twin, and Lucian is one arrogant, power hungry piece of ew)