Book Review: World on a String by Larry Phifer (4/5)

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World on a String is a feel-good, rhyming picture book. I can imagine toddlers would very much enjoy the sing-songy feel of the words. There is a certain appeal in the rhyming scheme. The storyline of World on a String is simplistic, but there is an expansive underlying message about looking at the world — and loss — in a different way.

Remember when you had a balloon on a string? And it was like your whole world because it was so colorful and free? But it also instilled some kind of fear in you…it could fly away at any moment. And needless to say, you accidentally let go and watched it disappeared into the blue, blue net of the sky. You realized that the sky represented some place you couldn’t go to, some place out of your reach. Even your all-powerful superhero parents didn’t have the ability to bring back your world on a string.

It was then that you felt the consuming edges of loss. Things could be taken from you. You could lose whole worlds, whole feelings that could never be replaced.

I do have a soft spot for picture books, and I was very much disappointed when I couldn’t see the pictures in this galley. I can’t judge very well, because I couldn’t see the illustrations — that’s the main point of a picture book: the interplay between the artist and the writer!

So it’s a 4/5.

But I’m sure I would have found this a charming story as a toddler. It’s nothing amazing and astounding; it’s actually one of the “safe” books. It won’t challenge ideas or plant unconventional ideas in budding minds. But charming.

***eBook provided by Netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review

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On My Reading, Writing and Life Palette: Am I Overbooked For the Summer?

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Reading List (28 titles I am currently too lazy to type up):

  1. 17 Netgalley books
  2. 5 library books
  3. 1 Litpick book that I should really get to soon because I want to finish it and then request a possible little gem of a story…
  4. 3 books won from Figment
  5. 2 books I ordered from Amazon

It’s the summer between high school and college. I don’t have a lot to do (except for all that paperwork and testing stuff I’m putting off till the last minute)…But it’s also the first time I’ve actually done a 9 to 5. Also, my parental units hold highly the concept of chores and family time. 

My dear friends, the lovely Inkspelt and the wonderful bluelazuli are both summer interns too (at different places)… But you see, the other day I compared my schedule with Inkspelt’s. And it appears that my parents are quite on board with the “chores” and “long dinnertime” parenting platform. So my free time every day starts at around 8 to 8:15. 

And my mother wonders why I read so late into the night. I need to! To keep my sanity. 

I’m also becoming very devoted to this blog, much like my dear Tumblr counterpart snowraindrops. This new devotion could be the source of my wavering presence on Figment. I’ve been less active on my Figment account. There was a time when, regardless of tests and homework, I’d feel obligated to enter every flash-fiction contest. Now my 8-month long obsession with Figment seems to be wearing off. Figment definitely helped me polish the conciseness of my writing, and quite literally forced me to practice writing “sweet and short.”

Also there’s the NaNoWriMo Camp coming up in July. Alongside my fellow reviewers, Inkspelt and bluelazuli, I really want to do it. I want to write again. 

Some of my art buddies are painting masterpieces, finding inspiration in the nooks and crannies of their summer minds… I need to paint, too. But also… I need to exercise, I need to swim, I need to go to the library, I need to volunteer, I need to get a parttimer, I need to see my friends, I need to organize my closet, I need to spend time with the younger sibling, I need to start multiple blogs, I need to enter contests, I need to submit to journals/anthologies I can now submit to now that I’m almost 18, and most of all: I need to write. 

What’s wrong with me? I’m weeks from turning 18 and I haven’t moved an inch towards that ink dream. 

How do I find time? By reading less? Blogging less?

Or perhaps it’s just a lack of creative spirit. I always thought summer was the best time for an aspiring novel to bloom. Perhaps not. 

This was an extremely erratic blog post. Leave me a comment and tell me what you think. Have you faced similar issues before? How do you writers find time to write? How do you shift into the creative mode from the “reality” mode?

 

 

Book Review: Carniepunk

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Carniepunk consists of 14 short stories in a steampunk anthology with the theme of…wait for it…surprise, surprise…carnivals! My opinion is somewhat scattered along the spectrum, since the stories were written by 14 different authors. To make things simpler, I’ll be rating each story separately.

Overall, I feel like the themes are disjointed — too loosely connected in terms of the type of reader they’d appeal to. I don’t know how the stories were chosen and I’m sure it’s a very tough process, but I feel like the styles and moods decline in quality until a belated spike at the very end. But that’s just my opinion.

Painted Love by Robyn Urman (4/5)

  • very lyrical, bitingly beautiful writing style
  • balance between the harshness of reality and the wonder of moments
  • very interesting characters
  • striking plot twist makes you double back and think
  • psychological references
  • surreal time and place

The Three Lives of Lydia by Delilah S. Dawson (4/5)

  • breathtakingly magical writing style: astounding word choices, heart-shattering imagery, descriptions interwoven with striking emotions
  • delightfully surreal mood
  • dark and wonderful setting — this is probably my favorite “carnival” of the whole anthology
  • also a nice slice of psychology
  • interesting and sad twist
  • my one complaint is the instalove — the instalove with Charlie just made the whole story shallower! It could have been a 5 but instalove peels back the story’s merits.

The Demon Barker of Wheat Street by Kevin Hearne (1/5)

  • I couldn’t get into it. Maybe because it’s part of a series
  • the conversations with the dog are amusing

The Sweeter the Juice by Mark Henry (2/5)

  • zombie apocalypse…typical stuff
  • nice and gory details
  • tries to be deep, somehow, but misses the point
  • redeeming try at being new — the main character is transsexual

The Werewife by Jaye Wells (2/5)

  • interesting, holds on to your attention till the end
  • entertaining with a hint of satire
  • not really extraordinary
  • lacking in thematic element
  • cliches

The Cold Girl by Roxanne Longstreet Conrad (1/5)

  • I remember reading about another reviewer describe it as  too “teenage”. Yes, it’s too typical. That annoying stock teenage girl voice, the abuse, the vampires…
  • It was trying too hard to be interesting
  • Cliches

A Duet with Darkness by Allison Pang (3/5)

  • interesting writing style, characters and premise
  • but just wasn’t presented in the right way; there was something off about the buildup and resolution
  • imbalance in climax

Recession of the Divine by Hillary Jacques (1/5)

  • could not get into it
  • confusing writing style

Parlor Tricks by Jennifer Estep (1/5)

  • could not get into it
  • feel like it was part of a story that already exists and if you haven’t read it, you won’t get it

Freak House by Kelly Meding (1/5)

  • couldn’t get into it
  • perhaps a bit too plot-heavy for a short story

The Inside Man by Nicole Peeler (1/5)

  • couldn’t get into it
  • might have a good plotline, but not for me

A Chance in Hell by Jackie Kessler (1/5)

  • couldn’t get into it
  • original, of sorts, I suppose, but not compelling for me

Hell’s Menagerie by Kelly Gay (1/5)

  • maybe it was a story meant for kids?
  • the emotions of it didn’t feel real for some reason, didn’t rise off the page and project themselves onto the reader

Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid and the Open, Lonely Sea (4/5) by Seanan McGuire

  • the writing was nice stuff, sprinkled with bits of striking imagery and the personality of the protagonist
  • intriguing premise
  • could have been something more mystical, more of the surreal, saltwater feel
  • emotions mixed in nicely
  • and the title is just wonderful

**eBook provided by Netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review

Book Review: Cobweb Bride: Book One By Vera Nazarian (4.5/5)

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“He came to them in the heart of winter, asking for his Cobweb Bride. He arrived everywhere, all at once. In one singular moment, he was seen, heard, felt, remembered. Some inhaled his decaying scent. Others bitterly tasted him. And everyone recognized Death in one way or another, just before the world was suspended.” ~ Cobweb Bride, Chapter 1

Isn’t that one of the most beautifully written openings ever? As soon as I read it, I was enchanted. I hoped then, that I might be in the hands of a master storyteller…

A retelling of the myth of Persephone, Cobweb Bride is set in an alternate, mildly magical Renaissance Europe — I read about some site considering it “steampunk,” but it doesn’t quite give off that steampunk vibe for me. IT feels like dark fantasy, bare to the bloodless bone. Wild and imaginative and different.

The setup is this: Death ceases to exist. Yes, people stop dying! In the deathly cold of winter, everyone and everything can no longer die (until Death receives his Cobweb Bride). Beheaded knights rise up and continue to battle. The murdered Infanta, heir to the throne  survives her assassination. And Percy’s grandmother lies on her deathbed, suspended in a torturous and painful state. Of course, there are terrible implications…What if one particular Duke desires immortality, for instance?

Middle daughter Percy, whose real name is Persephone, comes off as an immediately likable character. Sandwiched between “her mother’s two favorites,” Percy believes she can never be as good as her beautiful older sister and lively younger sister. She’s clumsy, homely and can’t seen to say or do the right things. I felt so much empathy for Percy; her character development is the main highlight of the book.

The kingdom proclaims that one daughter of marriageable age from each family must journey North to become a potential Cobweb Bride. No one is really sure what Death wants, but girls start pouring into the Northern forests. Being the least loved in her family, Percy, of course, decides it must be her.

The pros:

  • Percy’s character and development
  • the Infanta’s character (she’s truly kind, even after death…in fact, one might say she starts living after death)
  • other characters
  • it’s a retelling!
  • dark fantasy
  • beautiful, poetic writing
  • wonderful world-building
  • the mystery surrounding Death
  • romantic lines are not annoying — they’re very different, actually, since both lines involve death

Cons

  • some may think the beginning feels slow (this is for character development room)
  • balance of plot feels skewed (probably since it’s a trilogy. I’m becoming less fond of trilogies and more admiring of stand-alones)
  • some of the storylines aren’t that interesting (there are many storylines), and I felt emotionally invested in only two: Percy’s and the Infanta’s
  • the writing style, gorgeous as it is, becomes unedited and perhaps too gaudy towards the middle and end (obviously not a liberal editor there)
  • the words “perfect” and “beautiful” were used too often
  • we can’t judge till the end of the trilogy…

It’s not a perfect book, but 4.5 stars because I’m a sucker for dark fantasy and beautiful writing. I will definitely read the 2nd and 3rd books.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Chapter Review: Unhinged — Chapter Sampler By A.G. Howard

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Unhinged, the sequel to Howard’s first novel Splintered, is coming out in January 2014. Splintered is a dark retelling of Alice in Wonderland. I previously got an advance copy of Splintered to review for Creative Kids — and I liked it. Didn’t quite make my favorite’s shelf for various reasons…writing style, themes, plot distribution, the existence of a love triangle…but still, nice YA fare.

Unhinged’s 1st chapter starts off with Alyssa being taken into the netherworld (where she goes when she’s dreaming or unconscious, I believe) by Morpheus. Morpheus…how do I explain Morpheus? He’s an awesome character…possibly one of the best. I usually hate the dark mysterious love interest, but Howard pulls it off really well for some reason…. Morpheus is just a master character. And he IS the caterpillar. The whole scheme is a macabre, delightfully terrifying Wonderland! I would never miss that.

I enjoyed the first chapter and will definitely be on the lookout for Unhinged once it comes out.

***e-sampler provided by Netgalley

Book Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall (4.5/5)

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In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla is being raised in Mississippi by her paternal grandmother. Starla tries extra hard to be good and looks forward to attending the fair. When her strict grandmother grounds her, Starla decides she’s had enough. In the spur of the moment, she runs away with a dream in her heart. She’ll find her Momma – a “famous singer in Nashville” whom she hasn’t seen since she was three. And her Daddy, who works far away, will come to live with them. They’ll be a family. Along the way, Starla gets into more trouble than she bargained for. But she also finds an unlikely companion in Eula, a kind-hearted black woman with deep emotional scars and a kidnapped white baby.

Whistling Past the Graveyard warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I have little knowledge of the 1960s aside from what I’ve learned in history class. I’ve never been to the South. I’m not feisty, red-haired or outspoken like Starla. I’ve never run away from home. It’s been eight years since I’ve been nine years old. But the best stories manage to embrace the souls of anyone, bring readers into totally different when’s and where’s.

Hailed as a coming-of-age story reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird, Whistling Past the Graveyard stirs emotions. The Southern-accented voice of nine-year-old Starla is endearingly real and infused with personality. It does not hinder the writing style of the author but rather makes it flow. Through Starla’s innocent eyes, we see her journey as something both dangerous and life changing. We understand more than Starla does and that makes us want to protect her all the more. Crandall tells the story realistically. She spares none of the violence, brutality and heartbreaking reality — which may be why it’s classified under Adult Literature/Fiction rather than Children’s.

The characters of Whistling Past the Graveyard are well developed and memorable. Eula, in particular, contains layers and layers of development and emotion. She is just as important to Starla as Starla is to her. Eula teaches Starla things about herself, provides Starla with the love and emotional guidance that her grandmother and mother have neglected to give her. Through her interactions with Eula, Starla sees beyond skin color. Starla’s compassion and strength burns inside of her; she helps heal Eula’s broken heart and soul. In turn, Eula loves her in the way that Starla wishes her own Momma would.

Terrible things threaten Starla’s strength and love for the world. Terrible things like violence, racial tensions, and crushed dreams. But Whistling Past the Graveyard is about hope, compassion and the special gifts one finds in one’s self. Because of the language and graphic violence, I recommend Whistling Past the Graveyard to the YA audience 12+ and adults. 4.5/5

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Book Review: Abandon Book 3: Awaken by Meg Cabot (1/5)

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I will begin by stating that I’m not a paranormal romance fan. I actually kind of detest it. But I made an exception for this book because 1) I had reviewed the first book, Abandon, three years ago and found it okay. I haven’t read the second book, if it’s worth mentioning. 2) The series is a retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone 3) I’ve got a soft spot for Meg Cabot, since she’s the author of the Princess Diaries (though I didn’t read the book until I was older, the movie was every 6-year-old’s dream, wasn’t it?).

Awaken continues the story of Pierce Oliveria, a rich girl with a supposedly soft heart. Our modern Persephone is passionately in love with the ruler of the Underworld – the totally dark and mysterious John Hayden. However, tragedy happens when a classmate murders her cousin Alex and the Furies bring trouble to the Underworld. Most of the plot was jumbled, messy and predictable – I felt like the stakes weren’t really set up.

Cabot desperately tries to portray Pierce as a likeable character. She writes the book in first person perspective and wants the voice of an excitable teenage girl to make the reader feel familiar and closer to the story. But instead of feeling acquainted, I just felt annoyed. Annoyed by the voice. Annoyed by the plot. Annoyed by the relationship between Pierce and John. Annoyed by the portrayal of John as the stereotypical “bad boy” tamed by the “good girl” Pierce. Yes, the whole romance is irritating.

I think I might have liked the story if it was written differently…well, if it was completely different. My main problem with the story was how fake Pierce’s personality and voice seemed to me. Pierce’s POV is supposed to be that of a 17-year-old who’s the queen of the Underworld and mature enough to be in love with a king who’s spiritually 200 years old. To me, another 17-year-old, Pierce’s narration and thoughts feel too simplistic. There’s little depth to themes, action scenes, emotions and world building (I’m so curious about the Underworld; I want to know more – the Underworld is not just the love interest, John!) It’s almost like the voice would have been appropriate for a middle grade or chapter book. But then it couldn’t be for younger kids, because the romance is annoyingly passionate and unrealistic.

Everything I’ve written in this review is purely my own honest opinion. Some teenage girls might very much enjoy the premise and voice of Awaken.  I don’t know if it would be considered a good book or not. Maybe it’s actually a very good book. But it just wasn’t the story for me. 1/5

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review